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SOVIET UNION: Southern Corruption

3 minute read

They are a proud, dark-eyed people who love music, drinking and all that goes with the good life. Anywhere else in the world, their talent for living would be found at least amusing. But in the Soviet Union, the self-indulgent lifestyle of the 5,000,000 Soviet Georgians has become a national scandal. The Kremlin has ordered a purge of the Georgian section of the Communist Party.

The trouble is that Georgians appear to be allergic to Communism as practiced by the more austere Slavs to the north. Georgians generally tend to behave as if they have already done enough for the cause by producing a son like Joseph Stalin for the Party.

Until recently, there was a tradition of official tolerance for the way free-enterprising Georgians cut the corners of Communist economics. A stock figure in Soviet folklore is the Georgian with a suitcase of scarce goods in one hand and a bribe ready in the other. But the scale of Georgian wheeling and dealing grew intolerable to party officials in the Kremlin, mainly because it began to spread, Mafia-style, beyond illegal business deals into politics. “Noxious influences led to corruption, moral and political,” admitted a report of the Georgian Communist Party central committee two weeks ago. “Party and economic leaders were led on a leash by dark dealers and became their obedient servants.”

The latest purge was instigated by the new Georgian party leader, puritanical former Police Chief Eduard Shevardnadze, 45. He was put in his job a year ago to bring the Georgians into line and reduce what a party paper calls their “deviations from the norm of Communist morality.” So far he has swept at least 45 officials out of the local party. In addition to economic crimes, the purged party officials were accused of accepting payoffs and, equally vile, indulging in ideological slackness.

New Leaf. Part of Shevardnadze’s campaign is to expose shocking examples of Georgian gracious living like the one recently revealed by the local party newspaper, Zarya Vostoka. It reported that 4,000 families, including those of many party officials, had simply dropped out of the Communist economic system and were living by private enterprise—on choice acreage along Georgia’s Black Sea coast. The most lurid revelation was saved for the grave pages of Pravda itself. The party newspaper reported that with “party connivance” scores of “marble dachas” had sprouted “like mushrooms” all over Georgia, while shortages persisted in school buildings and housing for the average Soviet factory worker. One dacha had a billiard room and marble floors in the bathroom. Another, built “with the lavishness of the czars,” cost 350,000 rubles ($490,000) to construct and another 158,000 rubles ($221,200) to decorate.

The Georgians this time have obviously gone too far. But despite the purge, there is no evidence that they intend to turn over a new leaf. Party Boss Shevardnadze has felt it necessary to warn offenders: “No one will have indulgence regardless of rank, age or former merit.”

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