Mr Ruslan lmranovich Khasbulatov must be taken seriously, though it isn't always easy to do so: he can be so self-regarding and flatulent, so biased in his handling of the Russian Parliament, of which he is the Speaker, and so contradictory in everything he says. But he has become one of the most important men in Russia; and because of the state of that country, and the great danger it will pose for the rest of the world if its reform movement implodes and sets off a chain of internal and external conflicts, he is a critically important world figure. It is true that he has found himself in this position by a mixture of chance and opportunism. The same may apply to much of the contemporary Russian political establishment, but he, more than most, has exploited a difficult situation with great skill and ruthlessness. It is now clear that the challenge he mounted to the Presidency, and the counter-challenge mounted by Boris Yeltsin to him and the Parliament, are part of a profoundly important struggle which will affect, even set, the future course of Russia. It would be wrong to regard this contest as a clash of personalities, or to see it, as many Russians do, as irrelevant posturing on the part of corrupt politicians whose one concern is to keep their noses in the Moscow trough. The personal issues are more than usually important, since the two men seem to hate each other, but several things are at stake here: the balance of powers in the state they are now attempting to construct; the possibility of reform via the remnants of the Soviet system, as opposed to authoritarian reform from above; the possibility, or lack of it, of maintaining a democracy where a civil society is barely appearing.
LRB 8 April 1993 | PDF Download