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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Duma Visit Right Move For Yeltsin




Until last Friday, the short walk between the Kremlin and Okhotny Ryad was the embodiment of the ideological distance that for the past four years has separated President Boris Yeltsin and the Communist-controlled State Duma.


Fearing he would receive a raucous and disrespectful reception, Yeltsin had stubbornly refused to attend a session of the country's lower house of parliament although it is located just a few hundred meters from his office.


Yeltsin's reluctance to visit the Duma was understandable. It was the product of his bitter confrontation with its predecessor, the old Supreme Soviet, where he was forced to sit and listen to invective from his sworn enemies.


But the four-year cold war between Yeltsin and the Duma cost Russia dear. Feeling spurned and irrelevant, deputies responded by stonewalling the government's legislative agenda and spent their time plotting Yeltsin's downfall, either by threatening votes of no-confidence or passing resolutions that were futile acts of defiance.


Yeltsin's visit Friday thus has enormous symbolic significance beyond the president's immediate goal of securing passage of the draft 1998 budget. Gestures of this sort count for a lot in Russian politics.


The visit confirms the policy Yeltsin has adopted since October of trying to develop some sort of working relationship with the legislature.


The future of this policy and chances that Yeltsin will once again drop by the Duma depend on a continuation of the detente.


The chances of this are fair. With Yeltsin apparently in good health and more secure in his presidency than he has ever been, the deputies realize that if they continue to flout his authority they will be sidelined politically.


Of course, despite his talk of compromise, Yeltsin is not offering the Duma much real power. He retains the discretion, which is granted him by the Constitution, to form major policies and appoint key officials.


But Yeltsin now seems willing to discuss the details of economic policy with the Duma. He will offer slight compromises on particularly sensitive issues for the Communists like private ownership of land and compensation for pensioners from hyperinflation.


This may not be parliamentary democracy, but Russia's Constitution does not provide for such democracy. At the least, the new policy is a step in the right direction.


The Duma cannot expect to see Yeltsin very often. The president is not at the Duma's beck and call. Just like the U.S. president, Yeltsin should only use his powers as a lobbyist on crucial issues. The budget was just such a case.