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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Old Faces in New Places

Now, when some time has passed since the Congress of People's Deputies, where Boris Yeltsin suffered a crushing defeat, many articles have appeared in which the authors try to explain exactly when and how the president made his mistake. Many suppose that the mistake was made during the final stages of the Congress, when Yeltsin lost the game from a position of strength.


Maybe it was the absence of Burbulis, the faithful ally, who never gave the president bad advice. Or maybe Yeltsin's nerves just gave out, and he got tired of defending Gaidar.


But it seems to me that Yeltsin made his mistakes earlier, in the first days and weeks after the putsch in August 1991. and these mistakes can be ascribed not to a lack of attention to one or another aspect of tactics or strategy, but to the world view of our president.


In the decisive days of August-September 1991, when the country stood on the threshold of a new life, Yeltsin made two unforgivable errors, which a man with his past in the party and the nomenklatura, or civil service could not help but commit: First, he decided to build a new, "democratic" society on the basis of the existing nomenklatura. In this society the whole class structure was reduced to the opposition of two groups: the nomenklatura and the rest of the populace.


Second, he could have dissolved the KGB, that powerful totalitarian organization that had penetrated all of society, the state within a state. He did not do this.


The reason for Yeltsin's error regarding the KGB is clear. He preferred to use this monster to defend the president's interests. In this he was successful: The KGB is used to defending any power, cynically refraining from delving into ideological nuances. But a powerful repressive organization carrying out political investigations is not compatible with a genuine democracy.


The nomenklatura represents no less of a threat to democracy than the KGB. The apparatchik, the member of the nomenklatura, does not need democracy - it is dangerous for him. If democracy holds sway he will lose everything that separates him from the common man: special housing, special medical care and special food stores, special vacation spots, special schools for his children, etc. It is difficult tor a Westerner to understand such a desire to isolate himself from the rest of society. But the reason is very simple: the greyness and poverty of life around him.


Right after the putsch I was one of the members of a commission formed by the president to inventory the properly of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I saw how armed guards, Sent by Yury Petrov, chief of the president's staff, threw militia men out of many Central Committee buildings, militia which had been sent by the Moscow mayor to protect the buildings from looting.


This operation was called: "taking the premises under jurisdiction". After the wonderful, intoxicating days of August, this action against the property of the Central Committee was terrible - from a war for ideals it had turned into a war for property.


The bureaucrats were just as adept at grabbing other premises that had belonged to the disgraced Party: dozens of vacation resorts, young pioneer camps, hospitals, pharmacies, kindergartens. The Central Committee even had its own furniture factory, a huge warehouse at Vnukovo, its own bookstore - the president's apparatchiki took everything for themselves, their wives and their children.


A bit later the apparatchiki from the Supreme Soviet, no less greedy, joined their ranks. Both bureaucracies started to grow, new departments and directorates were formed: places had to be found for colleagues and former members of the old nomenklatura. No one was left out in the cold.


Yury Petrov had barely managed to finish the inventory of the fabulous wealth of the Central Committee when the Soviet Union collapsed, and together with it the Soviet ministries and departments. Once again there were resorts to seize, more hospitals, etc.


All of that could have been given to the people, could have been turned into municipal property. It would have been possible to sell it all to Russian or foreign firms and fill our empty coffers, start paying off Russia's foreign debt. Moscow could have received almost $2 billion from the sale of 15-20 buildings.


In short, our masters are still the same: the nomenklatura. They despise the rest of the world. They have their own cars and chauffeurs, and separate medical services and food shipments. They do not even have to use regular pharmacies, they do not walk in regular forests, they do not ride in regular train cars. They have their own infrastructure for every aspect of life.


The bureaucrat, regaining his senses after the cataclysms of August, got organized, determined where his interests lay and, refraining from key political and economic decisions from a time, waged a fierce battle for power. Civic Union has become the party of the nomenklatura, uniting in its ranks former party functionaries and directors of large enterprises. Their victory is obvious: they have influence over the president and the parliament, they have moved their people into positions of power everywhere. Viktor Chernomyrdin, a former member of the Central Committee, now prime minister, is one of their victories. For all of last year we saw intelligent, cultured faces - I am referring to Gaidar and half a dozen of the young minsters he brought with him. Of course they had to go, and now we have the old faces in front of us in all their former glory. The comrade-citizen.


Andrei Malgin is editor in chief of the weekly news magazine Stolitsa.