Of all the Soviet citizens who participated in this week's parliamentary elections, none could be more pleased with the outcome than Boris Yeltsin.
Yeltsin, who was yanked from his position as Moscow party chief in November 1987 after he suggested President Mikhail Gorbachev's reform program was moving too slowly, surged to victory with 89 percent of the vote.What's more, his victory over party-approved candidate Yevgeny Brakov, director of Moscow's Zil automobile factory, followed a campaign based on calls for the abolition of party privileges and even formation of an opposition political party.
Those who have been understandably skeptical about the veracity of Gorbachev's Glasnost program of economic and political reforms may wonder what to make of this new development. Could it be that true democracy has taken root in the land President Reagan once dubbed "the evil empire"?
The significance of Yeltsin's victory should not be exaggerated. Despite his election to the Congress of People's Deputies, Yeltsin will be grossly outnumbered by Communist party members.
Although non-party candidates finished strongly in some parts of the vast country - most notably, in Lithuania, where independent candidates stood to gain 39 of 42 seats - 82 percent of the candidates are party members, thus assuring the party a comfortable parliamentary majority.
In addition, Gorbachev, although pleased with the overall tenor of the elections, made sure Yeltsin and his supporters understand that the pace of his reforms should not be considered a negotiable point. Gorbachev has also refused to allow rival political parties.
Nonetheless, it is impossible to ignore the significance of Yeltsin's victory. Not only has Yeltsin publicly disagreed with the president of the Soviet Union - an occurrence that, in itself, is remarkable - but he has ridden those political views to an overwhelming victory in what appears to be the first genuine elections the U.S.S.R. has seen since the 1917 revolution. Since that time, the party had allowed just one approved candidate to run for each seat.
Yeltsin himself publicly thanked Gorbachev for the opportunity to run, and Western observers also seemed impressed with the country's meager move toward democracy.
Said Secretary of State James Baker: "Once you give people a taste of the fruits of freedom, it's pretty hard to reverse that process."
It's true that any new taste of freedom can be intoxicating, but it would be a mistake to expect a headlong rush to move the Soviet Union toward an open society. The road ahead will be long and difficult, yet there's no denying that a small, hopeful beginning has been made.