Correspondents' Correspondence Restless Soviet Workers


Correspondents' orresponaence BRIEF TAKEOUTS OF MORE THAN PERSONAL INTEREST FROM LETTERS AND OTHER COMMUNICATIONS RECEIVED BY THE EDITORS Restless Soviet Workers Munich—Scant attention, if any,...

...Correspondents' orresponaence BRIEF TAKEOUTS OF MORE THAN PERSONAL INTEREST FROM LETTERS AND OTHER COMMUNICATIONS RECEIVED BY THE EDITORS Restless Soviet Workers Munich—Scant attention, if any, has been paid to the impact the unrest m Poland has had on the behavior of the Soviet Union's leaders within their own country, especially their handling of the potentially explosive mixture of nationalism and worker discontent in the non-Russian border regions Yet the Kremlin, it appears, is now quietly trying to defuse the threat this poses to the domestic status quo Late last January, when most Kremlin watchers were focusing their attention on the forthcoming 26th Communist Party Congress in Moscow, a small group of nationality experts at Radio Liberty in Munich turned to studying the proceedings of the regional Communist Party congresses then being held in the 14 non-Russian republics of the USSR Their findings included a startling fact For the first time m at least 25 years, blue-collar workers had been "elected" to the Buros, or top policymaking bodies, of the Communist Party organizations of five border republics Latvia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia To lully appreciate the importance of this development, one must recall that membership in the Buros of the republics has traditionally been confined to trusted Party and government leaders or heads of major Party-controlled organs, such as the Young Communist League or the Council of Trade Unions It represents the highest achiev-ment for Party professionals, short of sitting next to Leonid I Brezhnev in the Kremlin Of course, official spokesmen for the USSR are fond of asserting that workers have always been the Soviet Union's "leading class ' At the February Communist Party Congress, for instance, Brezhnev noted that 43 4 per cent of the Party's nearly 17 5 million members are workers Moreover, he continued, 59 per cent of the newcomers accepted into the ranks since the previous Congress, five years ago, were the "best representatives of the working class " The proletariat is also said to have a prominent voice in the affairs of state According to government statistics, workers comprised 34 8 per cent of the 1,500 deputies elected in 1979 to the Supreme Soviet ot the USSR—theoretically the "highest organ ot slate power in the country " In addition, the Part\-controlled tiade unions now reportedl\ have over 129 million members Nonetheless, woiker discontent apparently has been on the rise In January 1978, Ukrainian coal miner Vladimir Klebanov founded the unofficial Association of Free Trade Unions of Workers Within a few months the Association was decimated by arrests, and Klebanov was placed in a special psychiatric hospital in Dnepropetrovsk The following October another dissident labor group, The Free Interprofessional Association of Workers, appeared in Moscow, and it too has been subjected to police repression In April 1980, a new organization, the Ukrainian Patriotic Movement, issued an appeal in support of Klebanov and urged Ukrainians to organize independent trade unions at their places of work The most recent incident involved Aleksei Nikitin, a mining engineer in Butovka in the Donetsk region of the Ukraine Nikitin had already spent over seven years in Soviet prisons and psychiatric hospitals for taking up the causeof fellow workers cheated of their wages and forced to work in unsafe mines On December 12, 1980, three days after discussing working conditions in Donetsk with Western correspondents, he was arrested and incarcerated in the Dnepropetrovsk psychiatric hospital Two months later, Dr Ana-toly Korvagin, a Kharkov psychiatrist who had pronounced Nikitin completely sane, was arrested while traveling to Moscow The cooptation of rank-and-file workers into leading Party positions in the Baltic states and the Transcaucasus can only be viewed as an attempt bv the Kremlin to stem the "fallout" effort of Poland's Solidarity movement Significant , at the Moscow Party Congress Lithuanian Partv chief Pvatras Gnsh-kvauchus emphasized that "Souet Communists and the workers ot our country [the USSR] are following the development ot the situation in Poland with concern " Lithuania, it should be noted, is the So\iel republic with the longest and closest historical tics to Poland The prospect ol workei disal-tection interwcnen with pent up national emotionsob\ iousK weighs hea\-il\ on the minds ol Moscow s stolid leaders —Rom \\ Sou n \\s...

Vol. 64 • April 1981 • No. 7

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