MOSCOW -- Anti-Communist protesters overshadowed the Revolution Day celebration in Moscow Tuesday, and nationalists disrupted parades in at least four republics, burning the Soviet flag in Georgia and battling police in Moldavia.
Even the official military parade through Red Square was subdued, with President Mikhail Gorbachev using the occasion to call the nation's economic crisis a 'sword of Damocles' hanging over the Soviet people.
Parades in Georgia, Moldavia and Lithuania were disrutped, while Armenia's leadership decided not to hold the event. The anti-Communist disruptions were the first ever in some 65 years since the the U.S.S.R. was constituted in 1922 as anation of 15 republics five years after the Bolsheviks seized power under Vladimir Lenin on Nov. 7, 1917.
In Georgia, tens of thousands of Georgians burned the Soviet flag, chanted, 'Down with the Soviet empire!' and brought traffic to a standstill in Tbilisi, National Independence Party spokesman Giya Popkhadze said by telephone from the southern republic's capital.
'Today the capital of Georgia did not observe the annual holiday in the usual way with a parade on the city streets,' the official Tass news agency said. It said that 'gatherings, rallies, various mass political actions' took place in Tbilisi and other Georgian cities.
In the Moldavian capital of Kishinev, the 'irresponsible actions of (nationalist) Popular Front leaders led to a disruption of public order and darkened the holiday atmosphere,' Tass said.
Urya Rosha, a leading member of the Nationalist Front, said by telephone from Kishinev that police and National Front members clashed after a group of Front members were beaten up early in the morning.
Rosha said that as the tanks were being brought up for the parade, nationalist demonstrators broke through a cordon of 1,000 security people guarding Victory Square, forcing cancellation of the military portion of the parade. The disturbances forced the local Communist Party leadership to leave the festivities, Rosha said.
Several hundred people marched through the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius with signs reading 'Red Army go home' and 'Occupiers out,' and police dragged away other protesters who formed a human chain in front of the official parade, said Pimontas Karapenis, spokesman for the Sajudis nationalist movement in the Baltic republic.
In Yerevan, the official parade was called off and city residents laid wreaths of mourning at several memorials, a Kommunist newspaper correspondent told United Press International by phone from the Armenian capital.
The disruptions in Tbilisi and Yerevan occurred several days after Georgian nationalists won the right to hold a referendum on Georgian independence and the All-Armenian Nationalist Movement's founding congress vowed to fight for independence in the neighboring republic.
At Moscow's Olympic Stadium a mile from Red Square, 10,000 protesters staged a counter-rally to the official Revolution Day parade, walking 10 abreast and hoisting signs that read 'A fish begins to rot at the head' and '72 years leading to nowhere.'
Protesters entering the stadium at one point nearly collided with workers on their way to Red Square to march in the nation's largest official parade, but police prevented the two columns from meeting. Police did not intervene in the counter-rally itself.
The annual Red Square display on the 72nd anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution was a shadow of previous trumpetings of Soviet military might.
Only 183 military vehicles, a fraction of earlier armadas with hundreds of artillery pieces, rolled across the vast cobblestone square. Previous mainstay portraits of the ruling Politburo members were absent, and the bombastic banners of the past were replaced by signs like one urging 'Action, not talk.'
In another first, Gorbachev gave an interview to Soviet television from high atop the Lenin Mausoleum where the other Politburo members joined him in viewing the annual parade in the heart of Old Russia.
'The expression I am about to use is a tough one, but I want to say it,' Gorbachev said. 'Like the sword of Damocles, the problems of food and our market situation are hanging over everyone. It makes them anxious and troubles them.'
According to legend, Damocles, a courtier in ancient Syracuse, was seated under a sword suspended by a single hair to teach him a lesson about peril.
With his arch-conservative Politburo member Yegor Ligachev casting wary glances over Gorbachev's shoulder, the Soviet leader said the parade this year was less pompous than in the past.
Only 25 tanks led off the display of military hardware in a deliberate symbolic expression of the 'new political thinking' heralded by Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.
'This is a tangible reminder that the numerical strength of the Soviet army has been reduced this year by 6,680 tanks,' Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov told the crowd after he mounted the granite mausolem.
The government, facing a $192 billion deficit this year, had also said it was planning a scaled-down celebration to cut expenses.
The exhibition of military vehicles lasted only six minutes, one-third the time of previous displays, and the Soviets' giant red-tipped strategic ICBM missiles were excluded for the first time.