Monday, March 12, 2012

Muscovites defiant, resigned

MOSCOW Ordinary Muscovites reacted to news of Soviet PresidentMikhail S. Gorbachev's overthrow Monday with a mixture of disbelief,indifference and anger.

"Why tanks?" screamed a gray-haired woman, waving wildly as acolumn of tanks passed. "Tanks against whom? Boys! Boys! You areour children! What are you doing? What do you want?"

Column after column of tanks, armored personnel carriers andtrucks swarmed the Soviet capital to enforce the ouster of Gorbachevby hard-line leaders, including the heads of the military, police andthe KGB.

Muscovites built barricades of concrete blocks, iron bars,benches and parked buses to prevent the armor from passing. Defiantprotesters held nonstop rallies near the Moscow City Council and thecentral Manezh Square and planned to stay all night.

But the crowds were much smaller than political rallies havedrawn in far less tense times.

And after midnight, crowds had largely disappeared near the CityCouncil building and at Manezh Square, where about 400 paratroopersand 20 armored personnel carriers had moved in.

Most of Moscow went about its daily grind of finding food.

"Here we go again. They're acting on behalf of the people,"said Igor, a 30-year-old butcher. "Well, no one asked the people."

"This is the saddest and darkest thing that could have happenedin our country," said retiree Sergei Ivanov. "I'm sure it won't makemy life better, nor that of my children."

"What do I care? A pair of boots costs 60 rubles and I earn 300a month," one middle-aged building worker snarled.

While most Soviet citizens have welcomed Gorbachev's politicalreforms, many also blame him for the sharp drop in living standardssince he began trying to transform the centrally planned economy intoa free market.

"Perhaps he wasn't our ideal, but those who've come to power arecertainly no more able to cope," was one typical reaction, fromVladislav, 26. "They're spitting into our souls."

Asked what could be done, he said: "Nothing. We have noweapons, no means. The people have become dumb and passive."

The president of the Russian Republic, Boris N. Yeltsin, "is ouronly hope," said Zoya Bonch, 60, echoing several others. But fewexpected that he could do much.

For one woman in her 60s, Zinaida, long years of suffering atthe hands of various regimes meant that another political upheavalwas hardly worth more grief:

"There has been so much pain already, I no longer pay attentionto what I hear on the radio or television," she said.

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