Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court may call on Gorbachev

Russia's Constitutional Court may call Mikhail Gorbachev and other leaders of the former Soviet Communist Party to the stand in a landmark case that will determine whether or not the country's former ruling party acted unconstitutionally.

Eleven witnesses representing the Communist Party have testified since the court reconvened on Tuesday. But the court's 13 judges said Thursday that the witnesses, who were mostly regional party leaders and middle-level Central Committee bureaucrats, had not been able to give them enough information about the party's activities.

In a 7-6 vote, the judges decided to wait before taking a final decision on whether to subpoena the former Kremlin chief. But it seemed likely after the court's hour-long deliberation that unless the remaining witnesses are able to answer key questions, the judges will vote in favor of the subpoena.

The men who would then take the stand include Gorbachev, the party's former general secretary; Alexander Yakovlev, a former Central Committee secretary and an architect of the ideology of the Gorbachev era; former Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov;

the disgraced KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov, and other former top party officials. They would be asked to clarify key issues about the party's finances, its role in the August coup and other matters.

Yury Rudkin, the judge who asked to subpoena Gorbachev, said that the former party leaders should appear in court to "reveal the truth" about the activities of the Communist Party.

"In two days of testimony we have still not had answers to many concrete questions", he said. "We have been hearing from people who did not hold key positions in the party".

The judges must determine whether decrees issued by President Boris Yeltsin banning the party after the August coup were legal. Central to this decision is clarifying the role the party played in orchestrating the failed putsch.

The lawsuit was filed by 37 pro-Communist parliamentarians who argue that Yeltsin overstepped legal bounds by banning the party's activities in decrees of Aug. 23 and Nov. 6, 1991.

The judges are simultaneously examining a countersuit filed by 52 progressive members of the Russian parliament who contend that the party was unconstitutional because it dominated the government and oppressed the Soviet people, and that this factor is crucial in considering Yeltsin's ban.

The judges discussed subpoenaing Gorbachev and other leaders after a day-long testimony from Nikolai Kopanets, the Central Committee's deputy budget manager, failed to reveal to what extent the party had made significant use of state funds or funded terrorist organizations abroad.

Under questioning, Kopanets revealed that the party had received membership fees in hard currency from Communists abroad. But he said that he did not know about the party's funding of foreign organizations.

Neither he nor other witnesses shed light on the party's role in the August coup. Gennady Sklyar, a former party chief from the city of Obninsk and the Communist's first witness, said that he had learned of the coup from television reports. Other regional Communist Party officials echoed his statements.

"I can testify that the Communists

of Obninsk did not take part in any coup d'etat", he said.

While the lawyers representing Yeltsin sifted through the party's history, often asking questions related to Communist activities in the 1930s and '40s, the witnesses concentrated on the period after March, 1990, when Article 6 of the Soviet Constitution, guaranteeing the leading role of the party, was removed. They portrayed the party as a progressive social organization which had led reforms.

Defending the party, Roy Medvedev, a historian and former dissident, testified that it had been in the midst of deep reform when Yeltsin banned it.

"The party was transforming itself with difficulty and painfully", he said. "It was a very difficult process psychologically for many party leaders".

A black sheep who has returned to the party fold, Medvedev, 67, was the highlight of the three days of testimony. He was kicked out of the party in 1969 after the release of his book, "Let History Judge", which critically examines Stalin's purges. For many years after that, he lived as a dissident, under watch and harassment by the KGB.

He rejoined the party in 1989, after being elected to the Soviet parliament, and became a member of the Central Committee in 1990.

In an eloquent speech, Medvedev maintained that the party had transformed itself into a democratic, lawful organization under Gorbachev. But he also argued that the party had started to lose power, that the legislature grew to dominate the political arena, and that Gorbachev lost interest in the party, eventually appearing at his Central Committee office "once a month or less".

Gorbachev, who was initially excused from appearing in court as a representative of the side defending the Communist Party, has accused both sides of turning the lawsuit into a political battle.

"I am sorry that this is all happening, and under no circumstances I won't take part in it", Gorbachev said in an interview published in Literatumaya Gazeta as the trial opened on July 7.

But if the court decides, after hearing scheduled witnesses from both sides, that it needs his testimony and that of other former party leaders, they will be required to appear.