Install

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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Democracy? What Kind Can This Be?

What kind of democracy is this? Newspapers are being closed out of their offices, ethnic minorities are being moved out of the Russian capital, families of anti-Yeltsin legislators are being thrown out of their apartments - and the KGB is moving in.


For those among us who were willing to give the Russian president the benefit of the doubt for the first few frightening days after the White House siege, the time has come to start asking tough questions about where Boris Yeltsin is leading this country.


The most ominous sign to date is the resurgence of the KGB. Security Minister Nikolai Golushko's call Thursday for "constant monitoring" of political parties by the secret police is more than alarming. His qualifying phrase - that the monitoring should apply mainly to militant groups - is not reassuring. Who is to interpret which groups are militant at any one moment?


Defenders of the Yeltsin administration may argue that monitoring of extremist factions is carried out by intelligence services in the West. But Russia's recent and sinister totalitarian past makes the notion of infiltration of political groups totally unacceptable here.


Then there is the question of the press. Liberals here argued last week that censorship for two days after the rebellion was a tolerable evil. The closure of certain newspapers during the state of emergency was also accepted. But now Vladimir Shumeiko, minister for press and information and erstwhile democrat, has ordered more than a dozen opposition newspapers shut down forever and threatened Pravda and Sovetskaya Rossiya with the same fate unless they change their name and editor in chief.


Whatever the merits of those two newspapers, they certainly have the right to exist under the title and with the editor of their choice. How abominable, then, that they had to learn - by fax - that Shumeiko was threatening to seal their offices if they failed to comply. They may not support Yeltsin and his ideas, but is that not the right of a free press in a democracy?


An invigorated KGB spying on political opponents, an emasculated press dependent for its existence on toeing the government line - all this smacks of the Soviet past.


The eviction of non-Slavs from Moscow is something new, enough to make one look back with longing to the days of "internationalist brotherhood" when at least the myth was maintained that all Soviet peoples got along together.


As for reports of the eviction of families of anti-Yeltsin legislators from their homes, if this proves true it will strike a deadly blow against any remaining notion that this administration is committed to the ideals of democracy and human rights it once vowed to defend.