Communist Rebellion in Russia 1993

(Second October Revolution)

[ 1993 ]

Russia's most serious internal crisis since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 came to a head in two days of bloody street fighting in early October 1993 when communist members of the Supreme Soviet (parliament) tried to bring down the government of President Boris Yeltsin (1931-) by force. Exasperated by numerous hardline legislators' continual blockage of his efforts to liberalize the economy and other aspects of Russian life, Yeltsin had drafted a new constitution in June 1993 which would not only give the presidency much stronger powers but also dissolve both the Congress of People's Deputies (supreme legislature) and the Supreme Soviet and replace them with a bicameral legislature. Although the Constitutional Committee of the Congress of People's Deputies participated in the drafting process, the Supreme Soviet, dominated by conservatives and communists, instantly rejected the draft. After two months of increasing intransigence on both sides, Yeltsin unilaterally dissolved the two legislative bodies on September 21 and announced elections for a new two-chamber parliament for December. The Congress's speaker, Ruslan Imranovich Khasbulatov (1942-), and Yeltsin's vice president, Alexander Vladimirovich Rutskoi (Rutskoy) (1947-), along with 150 supporters, promptly occupied the parliament building (the "White House"); the Supreme Soviet then dismissed Yeltsin and declared Rutskoi president, naming new key ministers as well. Efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church to effect a compromise failed. Western governments and former Soviet states supported Yeltsin, who decided not to use force unless the opposition did so first. On Sunday, October 3, thousands of pro-communist demonstrators, many from the provinces, appeared on Moscow's streets, easily breaking through police barriers at the White House and mayor's offices but failing in a bloody struggle to take the Ostankino TV studio, an important strategic site. On Sunday night Yeltsin ordered the army -- whose loyalties he had not been entirely certain of -- to mobilize, and at 7:30 on Monday morning tanks began firing on the White House. During sporadic cease-fires defenders inside the burning building were allowed to leave; Khasbulatov and Rutskoi surrendered late in the afternoon and were taken to Lefortovo Prison. Perhaps 200 persons died in the fighting, and over 150 were arrested. Yeltsin had triumphed, but formidable barriers remained: strong communist opposition in regional and federal councils; the growing popularity of fanatical nationalist Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky (1946-); a populance angry at continued economic hardship and skeptical about the value of democracy; and an army expecting to be repaid for having saved Yeltsin's presidency. Approved in the December elections, a new constitution expanded Yeltsin's powers and created a bicameral parliament consisting of the State Duma (lower chamber) and the Federal Council (upper chamber). Communists made strong gains in parliamentary elections nonetheless.

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