MOSCOW, Oct. 28 -- In his first official speech since his return to Russia last spring, former Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn blasted his nation's leaders for blocking the development of democracy in the country, and nurturing the unchecked growth of corruption and lawlessness. Solzhenitsyn told parliament that the evil of the Soviet system, which crushed the individual beneath the monstrous indifference of the power elite, still thrives in the new Russia. 'The masses of our people are dismayed, stunned and shocked by humiliation and by the shame of their powerlessness,' he said, calling the government a self-interested 'oligarchy' living in thick-skinned detachment from 'the agony of the nation.' The bearded nobel-laureate portrayed post-Soviet Russia as a multi- faceted failure, in which three years of nominal democracy had provided 'no evidence that the reforms and the government's policies are being undertaken in the interests of the people.' Solzhenitsyn's censure of the government came a day after the parliament fell 32 votes short of ousting President Yeltsin's Cabinet, thickening the atmosphere of discontent shared by many Russians. Drawing on his experiences during a two-month train trip around the Russian provinces this past summer, Solzhenitsyn said the Russian people, severed from access to power and lacking a legal base for economic and political activity, 'are faced with a poor choice: to accept a beggarly and submissive existence, or to find criminal ways to cheat the government and each other.' In addition to sowing the seeds of the corruption and destitution, Solzhenitsyn accused the government of aiding and abetting the criminals in its midst.
In the two and a half years since Yeltsin signed a decree pledging to combat corruption throughout the echelons of Russian power, 'not a single paragraph (of the decree) has been implemented,' he said. Solzhenitsyn said the attention placed by the Russians on the Western perception of the economy as an indicator of Russia's progress during reforms is misplaced. 'They always say the free market will take care of everything, but the market will not dissolve the system.' While he blasted Yeltsin's government, Solzhenitsyn also trained his anger at parliament, calling legislators overprivileged perkmongers who see the people they represent as no more than slips of paper in a ballot box. Solzhenitsyn compared his audience of lawmakers in the State Duma with the four pre-revolutionary parliaments that gave the current Russian legislative body its name. He said discord and apathy in those parliaments eventually led to the downfall of the monarchy, and then of Alexander Kerensky's democratic government at the hands of the Bolsheviks, and he warned that if today's Duma does not not start working harder and with more heart, it could be put out on the street by a power-hungry executive branch. Solzhenitsyn's acceptance of the Duma's invitation to speak before it, which was extended to the former exile last spring, was seen as a sign that he would plunge into the political world upon his return to Moscow. But despite lively anti-government speeches during his provincial tour, and again upon his return to Moscow in July, Solzhenitsyn pledged he would not join any political party, preferring to bill himself as a lone mouthpiece for the masses in the halls of power. In Friday's speech, the prolific writer came closer than ever to a direct political commitment in his praise of the zemstvo movement, a currently anemic revival of a system of local government he said had put power into the hands of the Russian people in earlier centuries. Though vague, Solzhenitsyn's praise of the zemstvo system was also his first suggestion of a concrete alternative to the corrupt bureaucracy he has hounded since his return. He sketched a skeletal blueprint of a Russia in which local representative government would 'seize the main economic sectors' from Moscow's control and the bureaucracy would wither away, leaving a healthy balance of power between a strong Kremlin and equally resolute local structures. 'I see no other way to battle the layered nomenklatura system we inherited from Communism,' the Gulag survivor said. Solzhenitsyn bashed a recent and virtually unnoticed Yeltsin decree stating that Russia's local governors will be appointed by the president, rather than elected, as a major step backward in what he has repeatedly portrayed as the Russian leadership's tragically twisted path toward the democracy it has promised its people.