Soviet Visitors View Congress With Admiration, Envy
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Soviet legislators, tasting real power for the first time in the history of the communist state, are trooping to Capitol Hill looking for ways to make the Supreme Soviet operate more like the U.S. Congress.
″I’ve asked for a copy of this law, and I’m going to have it translated into Russian and take it home for a model,″ a visibly moved Ilya Zaslavsky told reporters in a room just off the Senate floor during the roll-call vote passing legislation on civil rights for the handicapped.
Zaslavsky, 29, who lost both legs due to medical malpractice in his childhood, was the guest of Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas, whose right arm was crippled during World War II.
After a sweeping victory last March in the voting district of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Zaslavsky has emerged as a champion of the handicapped and one of the most articulate reformers in the Soviet parliament.
Five Soviet legislators who made the pilgrimage to Capitol Hill over the past month told The Associated Press they were impressed by the power of congressional committees and size of congressional staffs.
″I’m very jealous,″ said Volodymyr Yavorivsky, a legislator from the Soviet Ukraine who visited the Capitol on Tuesday.
A Soviet lawmaker is lucky to have a staff of two, compared with 14 for a member of the U.S. House and 34 for the average Senator.
Yavorivsky, who was raised ″with a hatred of capitalist society,″ said that since arriving in the United States last week, he has been deeply impressed by American tolerance for divergent views.
And Americans traveling to the Soviet Union recently have been astounded by newfound tolerance there.
Two U.S. congressional delegations traveled to Moscow this summer spreading the gospel of American democracy, and several members found Soviet parliamentarians eager to receive copies of U.S. laws. Rep. Dave Dreier, R- Cal., left Moscow impressed with Russian sincerity in studying Congress.
″This is not the KGB,″ said Dreier. ″These are people who want information on the way Congress does business.″
The Soviet parliament, known as the Supreme Soviet ″has been used to second-class status,″ said Dreier. ″They do not yet know the power they have.″ But they are eager to learn.
In the past, the Supreme Soviet rubber stamped decisions made by the ruling Communist Party Politburo.
Since semi-free elections last March, Soviet lawmakers have challenged the authority of the government, turning down a dozen cabinet nominees, grilling the heads of the military and secret police, and last week rejecting as unconstitutional a proposal by Gorbachev to ban strikes for 15 months.
″I have come to the United States with newly opened eyes,″ said Yavorivsky. ″For 70 years, the authorities have pounded into the Ukraine a hatred of capitalist society, which we were told was rotting away.″
″We were wondering when we would smell the stench of rot,″ he said. ″Instead, we smell sausage, ham and meat,″ commodities that have all but disappeared from stores throughout the Soviet Union.
In his home district of Kiev, still crowded with refugees from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster, Yavorivsky has turned part of his three- room apartment into an office, and enlisted his wife and daughter as helpers without pay to work on constituent problems.
Like other Soviet lawmakers, Yavorivsky is a man with a mission, working on a parliamentary committee to block pollution in the Ukraine, the second largest of the 15 Soviet republics.
Yavorivsky belongs to the 2,250-member Congress of Peoples’ Deputies that was elected in March and selected from its ranks the 542-member Supreme Soviet, the sitting legislature.
Konstantin D. Lubenchenko, a Moscow State University law professor elected to the Supreme Soviet, said his mission is among ″the first generation of Soviet congressmen who ... are attempting to build a legal-based government, a government based on the rule of law.″
″You should think about us as bricklayers who are building a house without having a good blueprint ... In order to construct a blueprint for this house, we have come to the United States to study,″ said Lubenchenko.
Soviet lawmakers, he said, are especially interested in learning how Congress ″asserts control over the executive organ of power.″
Before Gorbachev’s reforms, ″the real power lay in the hands of party apparatchiks,″ said Lubenchenko.
For Lubenchenko, chairman of the subcommittee on constitutional legislation and reform, one of the most startling discoveries was the size of congressional staffs, 15,000.
Staff size involves more than prestige in an age where information can equal power, and in a system where the government has withheld key facts.
In theory, each of the 542 Soviet deputies is entitled to 300 rubles ($480) a month for staff, but that barely covers the salary of a secretary plus an assistant who is expert in the lawmaker’s area of speciality, said Lubenchenko.
Soviet deputies have been promised office space in Moscow, he said, but now they must settle for a room in the Hotel Moskva, near the Kremlin.
″We have so little technical support that I had to get my son to try to rig a computer to help us out,″ Lubenchenko said, laughing. ″His payment isn’t bad, though. I’ll give him a few pairs of bluejeans from this trip.″