MOSCOW: The attempt ten years ago to create the first democratically elected parliament in the USSR proved to be the most unpredictable of Gorbachev's reforms; the domestic equivalent, indeed, of his decision to allow Eastern Europe to break with communism. Gorbachev's other domestic reforms dealt with economic and cultural problems, even alcohol abuse; here was a bid to reform the system of power. Like much else about perestroika, it foundered on a lack of clear goals.
A former dissident, I was not only one of the first elected people's deputies of the Soviet Union and the Supreme Soviet, but also a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. After almost 20 years of banishment from work, even as a school teacher, I suddenly found myself near the seat of power in the Kremlin! As an historian, I saw this as a unique opportunity to witness history first hand. Let me review some of what I saw.
Communist leaders, first and foremost Gorbachev, expected increased democratization to strengthen the party's hand. Instead, the new parliament soon got out of control by passing laws that destroyed the Communist monopoly on power and undermined Gorbachev's authority.
The new parliament also provided an outlet to confront the country's mushrooming problems. Soon, the new Congress of People's Deputies, as well as the newly-formed parliaments of the Russian Federation and other USSR republics became political battlefields, unleashing processes that lead to the collapse of the Communist Party and the USSR. The fate of that first democratic parliament was ignominious – it functioned for only half its term and was abolished by Yeltsin's Russian parliament. But the fate of that Russian parliament was more dramatic – it was dispatched in 1993 by paratroopers under the rumble of tank fire.