Three days that shook the world . . . THE SOVIET COUP ONE YEAR LATER


MOSCOW -- Marina Raikin was in tears the day the coup fell apart.

They were tears of relief, but also of foreboding and regret. Russia had gone through three days of pure nerves, three days on the edge, three heartsickening days. And then the crash.

Like so many others, Marina Raikin felt a sudden clarity of mind. Before dusk turned to dark, on the evening of Aug. 21, 1991, she grasped for the first time that what lay ahead was all new.

She wept.

The coup that shook the Soviet empire and the world one year ago was a long time coming. It could be traced back to a thwarted parliamentary revolt in June, or to Boris N. Yeltsin's accession to the presidency of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, or to Mikhail S. Gorbachev's attempts at perestroika, or to events in 1964, or 1956, or 1917 or back beyond that.

But when it happened, it was like a clap of thunder, or a window shattering in a hurricane, flying to shards. There was no going back. Yesterday was history. Today was a beginning.

Marina Raikin sat out the coup. While thousands heeded Mr. Yeltsin's call and gathered at the Russian parliament -- known as the White House -- to stand and defend their newly minted democratic government, she stayed in her apartment. Today she'll spend an hour explaining why. As a mother, she had no right putting herself in danger. The people at the barricades were young and reckless. What were they against tanks and bullets, anyway?

Across Moscow, across the Soviet Union, there were many millions like her. They listened anxiously to Radio Liberty beamed from Europe, they grilled their neighbors for news, and they waited. Most were horrified by the crude grasp the hard-line putschists made for power, but they waited.

Where do responsibility and citizenship begin? Where does acquiescence end?

Today, those questions won't leave Marina Raikin alone.

"At the White House there were a lot of young people. They were free. They didn't have children to be responsible for. I had a child. I was being responsible. I shouldn't go," she says.

She looks up. "On the one hand I believed that. On the other I didn't. What is it, to be responsible? If everybody had thought that way then, life for my child would be worse. We would be leaving him a life under a fascist regime."

She may not have quite understood it during those terrible, overwhelming days, but the choice was hers. She stayed away.

Aug. 19, a Monday, began gray and turned colder. A light rain began to fall toward evening and continued intermittently throughout the brief life of the State Committee for the State of Emergency, as the putschists named themselves.

The focus of those days was Moscow. The eyes of the world were on Mr. Yeltsin, in the White House; on the plotters, in the Kremlin; on the troops, of uncertain loyalty, in the streets; and on the crowd of thousands, building barricades from anything at hand on the avenues leading to Mr. Yeltsin's redoubt.

What happened there, in those three days, led to the creation of 15 different nations out of the Soviet Union, to the expulsion of communism from its homeland, to the fanning of bitter, bloody ethnic conflicts throughout the empire, to deep and dangerous economic reform, to the slashing of nuclear arsenals, East and West, to hope and pride, disillusion and doubt, opportunity and despair.

Along the shores of the Baltic and in the mountains of Central Asia, people reclaimed their national birthrights, cast out the Cyrillic signs of Russian domination and took charge of their affairs -- all because of the August showdown in Moscow.

Across Russia, factories are closing now, prices are soaring, and yet so far people are willing to put up with it, willing to bet on the future -- all because of what happened a year ago.

Yet few, even today, want to consider their personal role, want to talk about individual responsibility, about choosing, about guilt. The system that went before was bad. Why did it exist? It was overthrown. Who acted to overthrow it? And who did not?

And what of the future -- who is shaping it?

Maybe these questions are too hard.

Lives of contrast

Marina Raikin met her husband, Andrei, at a party 10 years ago. Leonid I. Brezhnev was first secretary of the Communist Party and president of the Soviet Union. His was a regime marked by cynicism, corruption, decay and brutal intolerance of dissent.

She was 20 at the time; he was 24. She would soon land a job with the in-house newspaper of a large Moscow factory. He was already building a career in radio.

Their life together is a study in contrasts.

Ms. Raikin's father abandoned the family when she was born, and her mother worked all her life as a civilian employee at an army base. Ms. Raikin was the first member of her family to get a university education.

Today she is restless, ambitious, impulsive, creative. She ditched the newspaper job years ago and is a free-lance critic of rock music and sometime concert promoter. She has plans.

Andrei Raikin comes from one of Russia's first families of the theater. An uncle, Arkady Raikin, was among the foremost satirical actors on the Soviet stage. His father, Maxim, and two cousins are still prominent in the theater.

Mr. Raikin's mother, also named Marina, grew up in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where her father was Soviet ambassador in the 1930s. Later he was recalled, then fired and then in 1949 sent into the gulag, accused of being a German spy. He was released in 1956, and he ended his career by making instructional films.

Mr. Raikin has led a steady, cautious life. After receiving a degree in journalism he took a job at the "Peace and Progress" station of the State Radio's international service. There he was an editor, and later commentator, on a typically Soviet-style, uplifting program called "Peace Through Culture."

Although "Peace and Progress" was shut down in April 1991, Mr. Raikin today works on a similar program for Moscow International Radio.

In 1987, Mr. Raikin was recommended for membership in the Communist Party -- the party that had clapped his grandfather into a prison camp 38 years earlier -- and he felt it would be a bad career move to decline.

There followed four years of perestroika and glasnost. The party gave up its "leading role" in Soviet life. Three million of its 19 million members resigned. The summer of 1991 found Mr. Raikin tempted to quit the party as well. He says he asked his boss about it but was rebuffed.

But his real focus was on the dacha that he and his parents had bought the winter before, a wooden cottage in the village of Yamuga, about 60 miles northwest of Moscow. It's a simple summer home, with no heat or plumbing, but the air is fresh when the wind is in the right direction, and it sits on the edge of a large forest, with a swimming hole nearby.

The Raikins spend every weekend at the dacha, and their 7-year-old son, Andryusha, is there the whole summer with one or another of his grandmothers.

In July 1991, Mr. Raikin undertook an elaborate job to make the dacha more comfortable. To get out of his way, the family rented another dacha for the summer, in the village of Zhavoronki.

On Aug. 18, a Sunday, Mr. Raikin's wife threw a party for his 34th birthday, at the rented dacha. In the evening, she decided to go back to Moscow to get some work done. Mr. Raikin, tired of carpentry, thought he would stay at Zhavoronki for a few days to take it easy, along with his son and his wife's elderly


While the dishes were being cleared away, and the last of the champagne was sipped, there was another gathering, at another far more splendid dacha to the south. Guards from the KGB, the secret police, were taking up positions, communication lines were being cut, and a delegation from the Kremlin was informing Mr. Gorbachev that he had been stripped of his authority as president of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Raikin heard the news on the radio the next morning.

"My first idea was to go back to my office and try to do something," he says. "That was my first idea. But then I understood that if I did go, I might be involved in these putsch events as a journalist. My chiefs might order me to write something [supporting the coup], and if I refused it would be the end of my career. So I stayed at the dacha."

He couldn't go to the White House, either, he figured -- he couldn't leave his son and his wife's grandmother alone.

For three days and three nights, he clung to the radio. He knew he couldn't work as a journalist if the coup succeeded and Moscow's free press were brought to heel. He thought he might go into business making wooden toys, a hobby of his. Or the family might emigrate.

He remembered how two weeks earlier he had been told to prepare a script based on a statement by Gennady I. Yanayev, the Soviet vice president who had emerged as the figurehead leader of the putsch. "It was so obscure you absolutely couldn't understand what he was trying to say. I told my chief, 'Maybe he's a madman.' I felt like someone had hit me on the head. And now, I was thinking, this man is in power?"

When the coup fell apart, his neighbors came out of their dachas into the damp evening, laughing and crying.

"All the terrible dangers were over. For those three days Boris Yeltsin was a real national leader, who was with his people, who tried to defend them," Mr. Raikin says. "He was the only political figure who told the truth, who wasn't afraid. He was the only figure who tried to act."

Trying to act: Who did and who didn't? Who was willing to take responsibility? And, as Russians always feel compelled to demand, who was to blame?

For all that had gone wrong in the Soviet Union, blame today falls on the leaders of the Communist Party. Sergei Kovalyov, chairman of the human rights committee of the Russian parliament, a friend of the late Andrei D. Sakharov, the giant among dissidents, and himself a 10-year veteran of Soviet prison camps, believes this is wrong.

"Every member of the party has his responsibility, and people who were not in the party, also. Until we accept that each one of us has a role in this guilt, we will never get out of this hole," he said.

" 'Why did I listen to these people with empty eyes?' Nobody in our country asks himself this question. We see ourselves as victims. A 'victim' becomes a parasite -- one who feels no responsibility. Give me a job, give me money, give me goods in the shops.

"One who is to blame, and feels himself to blame, can try to improve himself and his situation.

"Instead, we go around blaming Communists, Jews, Caucasians. Anyone but us. And nothing gets better."

In the word "responsibility," there is the sense of guilt and the sense of self-reliance. The two go together.

Tired of politics

Marina Raikin seems to grasp the same idea. "We can't change any

thing, so the only way to keep from going mad is to try to see our life in perspective, and laugh and smile," she says, her eyes twinkling. "If you're a pessimist, oh, it's awfully hard. Of course, that's a characteristic of Russian people.

"But you know," she says, turning serious, "I want to live in a nice house. That means I want to be able to work, and work hard, and profit from it, so I can afford to live in a nice house."

She wants to be able to count on herself. But all around her she, too, sees a nation of parasites, of people who expect to be treated like children.

The frustration seethes within her.

All through the fall, the talk was of nothing but politics in the Raikin household as prices went up, food grew scarce, politicians maneuvered.

"We're tired of politics," says Mr. Raikin's mother. "No, we're not tired. We're exhausted."

Right after the coup, Mr. Raikin's radio show was filled with political debate and barely any culture.

"Now we're trying to cover something which is interesting to people," he says. "The death of the czar, civilizations on other planets, things like that."

The Raikins are not so poorly off as many. They grow their own vegetables; they don't have a car. They live in an uncramped apartment that Mr. Raikin's parents bought 24 years ago. They ** miss being able to eat in restaurants, which were like clubs for the young writers and musicians of Moscow -- but where a meal now costs a month's pay. Still, they're not hurting.

"And yet in a normal country, you can plan your life," says Mr. Raikin. "Here, you can't. I made it today -- Thank God. What happens tomorrow, I have no idea.

"Yeltsin tells people things will get better in a year. Of course he does. He has to. How could people go on, if they were told that things probably won't get better in their lifetimes? I'm not sure even my son will see a normal life. Even when he's 65."

There wasn't such pessimism abroad last August. While millions stayed home and bit their lips, thousands of Russians took events into their hands, willing to do anything to defeat the tyrants of August.

The images of those who did go to the White House is unforgettable.

On Tuesday night, Aug. 20, in the rain, Yvetta Ulankina was just one of a great mass of ordinary people, scared, expectant, filling the streets and parks around the White House.

"We will lie down under the tanks, if they come," she said then. "I will be here all night. We will save the government. Only the people can save the government."

Andrei Raikin's mother remembers two neighbors bursting up the stairs of their apartment house during the coup, just back from the White House, their faces flushed with giddy tension, their eyes red from campfire smoke and no sleep, crying out to her, "It's exciting! It's dangerous! It's wonderful!"

Thursday that week, the sun came out and there was a great parade, a sort of victory stroll, from the White House all the way to Red Square. The route was packed. Everyone was smiling, ambling, basking. It may well be, as some say, that Moscow has never seen a happier crowd. Not delirious, but profoundly at peace.

"I was in a bad way," says Marina Raikin. "I was very afraid, afraid of what might happen next. Of course I was happy, but I couldn't shout, 'Hurrah!' I had no right. It wasn't my victory. I hadn't been there."

Andrei Raikin watched the parade on television. He remembers thinking of an old Russian folk saying: "Nobody knows where the wind comes from, or where it goes."

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