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During the October 1993 events, Boris Yeltsin's forcible dissolution of parliament took Russia to the edge of civil war. Seen as decisive and essential by his supporters, the dissolution was a radically divisive action, the consequences of which continued to reverberate through Russian society in the early twenty-first century.

In 1992 and 1993 a deep divide developed between the executive and legislative branches of government. The root cause of this was President Yeltsin's decision to adopt a radical economic reform strategy, urged on him by the West, for which he and his government were not able to generate sustained parliamentary support. Faced with resistance from the legislators, Yeltsin made only minimal concessions and on most issues chose to confront them. This subjected Russia's new political and judicial institutions to strains that they could not adequately handle. In addition, the confrontation became highly personalized, with the principal figures forcefully manipulating institutions to benefit themselves and their causes.

Apart from Yeltsin, key individuals on the executive side of the confrontation were Yegor Gaidar and Anatoly Chubais. They were the ministers most responsible for launching and implementing the radical economic reforms known as shock therapy. Leading the majority in parliament was its speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, a former ally of Yeltsin and an inexperienced and manipulative politician of high ambition. Over time, he was increasingly joined by Yeltsin's similarly ambitious and inexperienced vice-president, former air force general Alexander Rutskoi.

On March 20, 1993, Yeltsin made a first attempt to rid himself of parliament's opposition. Declaring the imposition of emergency rule, he said that henceforth no decisions of the legislature that negated decrees from the executive branch would have juridical force. However, the Constitutional Court ruled his action unconstitutional, some of his ministers declined to back him, and the parliament came close to impeaching him. Yeltsin backed off.

At this time, Khasbulatov and the Constitutional Court's chairman, Valery Zorkin, separately sought to engage Yeltsin in a compromise resolution of the "dual power" conflict. The proposed basis was the so-called zero option. The centerpiece of this approach was simultaneous early elections to both the presidency and the parliament. However, Yeltsin had no desire to share power substantively, even with a newly elected parliament.

In taking this stance, he sought and obtained the support of Western governments by repeatedly inflating the negligible threat of a communist revanche. He also got some qualified backing from the Russian public, when an April 1993 referendum showed that a small majority of the population trusted him, and an even smaller majority approved of his socioeconomic policies.

On September 21, Yeltsin announced that to resolve the grave political crisis he had signed decree 1400, which annulled the powers of the legislature. Elections would be held on December 12 for a parliament of a new type. And the same day a referendum would be held on a completely new constitution.

In response, the Supreme Soviet immediately voted to impeach Yeltsin and, in accordance with the constitution, to install Vice President Alexander Rutskoi as acting president. Rutskoi proceeded to annul decree 1400 (whereupon Yeltsin annulled Rutskoi's decree) and precipitously appointed senior ministers of nationalist and communist views to his own government, thus alienating many centrists. On September 23, with pro-government deputies boycotting the proceedings, the congress confirmed Yeltsin's impeachment by a vote of 636 to 2.

The next ten days were occupied by a war of words between the rival governments, as they

sought to build support around Russia, and by official acts of harassment, like switching off the electricity in the parliament's building, known as "the White House." Although most Russians remained passive, adopting the attitude "a plague on both your houses," small groups demonstrated for one or the other camp, or sent messages. According to Yeltsin's government, 70 percent of the regional soviets supported the parliament. From five locations around Moscow, Kremlin representatives solicited visits from wavering deputies and offered themif they would change sidesgood jobs, cash payments equal to nearly $1,000, and immunity from future prosecution.

On September 27, Yeltsin explicitly rejected the zero option. Three days later the Orthodox patriarch suggested that the church should mediate. The two sides agreed and began talks the next day. However, on October 3, events moved rapidly to their denouement. The exact sequence of events remains murky. A march organized by purported supporters of parliament was mysteriously allowed through a cordon around the White House. Then, apparently, hidden Kremlin snipers fired on it. Then Rutskoi, instead of calling on the crowd to defend the White House, urged it to storm the city hall, the Kremlin, and the Ostankino television center. Thereafter, acts of violence on both sides, and an unexplained episode of the Kremlin not at first defending Ostankino, ensured that events got out of control and many people were killed. Throughout, the Yeltsin team appeared to use cunning methods to create a situation in which it would appear that parliament's side, not its own, had used violence first.

That night, the Kremlin team, not wanting to order the army in writing to open fire, had great difficulty persuading key military leaders to go take action. However, the next day a light tank bombardment of the White House softened up the by now depleted body of parliamentarians, who soon surrendered. Twenty-seven leaders were arrested, only to be amnestied four months later. According to the Kremlin, a total of 143 people were killed during the confrontation. However, an impartial investigation by the human rights group Memorial gave an estimate of several hundred.

Over the next three months Yeltsin exercised virtually dictatorial powers. He shut down the Constitutional Court; abolished the entire structure of regional, city, and district legislatures; and banned certain nationalist and communist parties and publications. With minimal public debate, he pushed through a new constitution that was officially approved by referendum on December 12, although widespread charges of falsified results were not answered and the relevant evidence was destroyed. He also broke the promise he gave in September to hold a new presidential election in June 1994, and postponed the event by two years.

Although in September 1993 most of the parliament's leaders were no less unpopular than Yeltsin and his government, and although Russia would probably have been ruled no bettermore likely worseif they had won, Yeltsin's resort in October to violence instead of compromise seriously undermined Russia's infant democracy and the legitimacy of his government.

See also: chubais, anatoly borisovich; gaidar, yegor timurovich; military, soviet and post-soviet; rutskoi, alexander vladimirovich; yeltsin, boris nikolayevich


McFaul, Michael. (2001). Russia's Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Reddaway, Peter, and Glinski, Dmitri. (2001). The Tragedy of Russia's Reforms: Market Bolshevism Against Democracy. Washington, DC: U.S. Institute of Peace Press.

Shevtsova, Lilia. (1999). Yeltsin's Russia: Myths and Realities. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Peter Reddaway

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October the tenth month of the year, in the northern hemisphere usually considered the second month of autumn. Recorded from late Old English, the name comes from Latin, from octo ‘eight’, being originally the eighth month of the Roman year.
October Revolution the Russian Bolshevik revolution in November (October Old Style) 1917, in which the provisional government was overthrown, leading to the establishment of the USSR.
October surprise in the US, an unexpected but popular political act or speech made just prior to a November election in an attempt to win votes, used especially with reference to an alleged conspiracy in which members of the 1980 Republican campaign team are said to have made an arms deal with Iran to delay the release of US hostages in Iran until after the election.
October War Arab name for the Yom Kippur War.

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Oc·to·ber / äkˈtōbər/ • n. the tenth month of the year, in the northern hemisphere usually considered the second month of autumn: the project started in October | [as adj.] on an October night.

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October tenth (formerly eighth) month of the year. Late OE. — L. octōber, -bris, f. octō EIGHT; ME. octobre — (O)F. was superseded by the L. form.

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