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Politburo Members Fly to Baltic

November 11, 1988

MOSCOW (AP) _ Members of the ruling Politburo flew to the restive Baltic republics Friday, and one warned residents against pushing too hard for economic and cultural autonomy from Moscow, local journalists reported.

Dissatisfaction in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has been fueled by political reforms proposed by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Baltic residents say the changes will void their constitutional right to secede and give Moscow control over their economy and other aspects of life.

The Politburo, the Communist Party’s supreme body, promised Thursday to hold a discussion on expanding the rights of the 15 constituent Soviet republics. But the dispatching of three of its members to the Baltic region indicated the Kremlin wants to draw the line now on what sort of political changes can be contemplated.

The 1,500-member Supreme Soviet parliament is to meet in special session in Moscow on Nov. 29 to approve Gorbachev’s blueprint for political change, which also increases the powers of the presidential post and creates a new national legislature.

Viktor M. Chebrikov, the former KGB chief who now heads a party Central Committee commission on legal and judicial reform, opposed demands for local economic independence in comments to workers at a plastics factory in Tallinn, Estonia, according to Tarmu Tammerk, an Estonian journalist.

″He said very strong words against economic independence. He said the whole of the Soviet economy is so tightly linked that one cannot speak of independence for one of its parts,″ Tammerk, who works for the newspaper Homeland, said in a telephone interview.

Chebrikov’s remarks were broadcast on state-run Estonian radio in an attempt to give them the widest possible exposure.

″His words sounded like a grim warning to people here,″ Tammerk said.

″Economic Independence″ has been the watchword of a widespread movement in Estonia called the Popular Front, which seeks greater control by Estonians over the affairs of their Switzerland-sized republic.

Estonians say the fruits of their labor are siphoned off by Moscow to subsidize poorer regions of the country, including the giant Russian federation, the largest Soviet republic.

Two of Chebrikov’s colleagues on the Politburo traveled to the other Baltic states, ideology chief Vadim M. Medvedev to Latvia and Nikolai N. Slyunkov, who is in charge of formulating the party’s social and economic policy, to Lithuania.

Their arrivals were reported by state-run media in the Baltic republics, journalists there said.

Later, the evening television news program Vremya broadcast brief reports on the visits. Tass, the official news agency, said Medvedev outlined limits to political activity in meetings with workers at two factories in Riga, the Latvian capital.

Tass said Latvians agreed with Medvedev on the need ″to subordinate group ambitions to the interests of society as a whole in the conditions of perestroika.″

However, during his visit to the Norma factory in Tallinn, Chebrikov heard Estonians object to elements of Gorbachev’s political reform plan, Vremya said.

The westward-looking Baltic republics, independent states until the Soviet Union absorbed them in 1940, have become a proving ground for bold economic reforms that are part of Gorbachev’s drive for ″perestroika″ or restructuring.

Granting a greater degree of autonomy to the small republics on the Soviet Union’s western edge is fraught with political risks, since many residents resent Moscow’s control and some openly say their ultimate desire is complete independence.

The Estonian Popular Front and a similar organization in Latvia have condemned Gorbachev’s political reform plan, which is embodied in proposed amendments to the 1977 Constitution. The Lithuanian Restructuring Movement is to meet Sunday in Vilnius, the republic’s capital, to consider the issue.

Members of the three popular fronts are now gathering signatures on petitions asking that the amendments be dropped and rewritten, Algimontas Vaishnoras of the Lithuanian group said in a telephone interview.

The Estonian Supreme Soviet, or parliament, has scheduled a meeting on the political reform issue for Wednesday, and Lithuania’s legislature will meet the next day.

The 12-man Politburo, in a report on its Thursday night meeting, said authorities will consider changing the draft constitutional changes in response to more than 80,000 suggestions and comments from citizens and organizations.

Friday night the Central Committee announced it would hold a special plenary meeting in mid-1989 to review policies dealing with the country’s more than 100 ethnic groups.

″The task of perfecting relations among nationalities is acquiring special importance and urgency,″ a Central Committee statement said according to Tass.

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