Mikhail Gorbachev, calling his reform drive the "salvation of socialism," defended ethnic Russian dominance of the nation Saturday and attacked secessionists for trying "to sow discord, bloodshed and death."
The Soviet leader passionately defended his "perestroika" drive for social renewal at the second Congress of People's Deputies, where he rebutted radical lawmakers' charges that the program was disorganized."My stand is unambiguous," Gorbachev thundered, waving his hands. "We must heal an ailing society. Serious, radical (economic and political) measures are essential."
"Only in that case shall we be able to provide oxygen and give a second wind to our country, society, and the people," he told lawmakers. "At pres-ent, perestroika is the salvation of socialism."
Gorbachev defended his reforms amid fierce debate over a proposal to establish a permanent government commission on constitutional compliance to guide the nation in its movement toward law-based rule. The Congress approved the proposal with a 1,639-137 vote, over the objections of deputies from the rebellious Baltic republics.
In a rare display of ethnic partisanship, Gorbachev also defended the Russians who make up slightly more than half of the nation's 286 million people and whose Russian Republic takes up three-quarters of the vast country.
"The Russian people are not to blame for what has affected all the (nationalities) of the country," he said defiantly.
Gorbachev invoked the name of the great 19th-century novelist and Russian nationalist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, quoting him as having written that "the Russian heart is perhaps more open to unification than all others."
Gorbachev, a Russian, praised his own ethnic group for its "outstanding role" in Soviet history and for its "huge store of internationalism, benevolence and humanism."
The Soviet leader, briefed all day on events in the violent upheaval in neighboring Romania, lashed out at other nationalist groups demanding independence from Moscow.
"To exercise self-determination through secession is to upset the union, to pit peoples against one another and to sow discord, bloodshed and death," Gorbachev declared.
Gorbachev also criticized opponents of the government's recently approved economic-recovery plan, which radical lawmakers said fails to institute free-market forces but conservatives said introduces dangerous forms of property ownership.
Gorbachev called for a "more just, more human and democratic" Soviet society, based neither on "past Stalinist values nor those that promote the `back-to-capitalism' idea."
He said the problems confronting the Soviet Union "cannot be resolved on the basis of any values other than socialist ones."