Our Man In Moscow



Slava Glazychev




Hot and Cool


DATELINE: October 7, 1998 -- I’ve just returned from Krakow, Poland, where the Woodrow Wilson Alumni Association held its meeting under a nice title: "Reconciliation in Europe." So, we’ve reconciled successfully, and in the meantime I’ve had firsthand experience -- the last time I was in Poland was in memorable 1981, two months prior to Jaruzelsky’s attempt to save socialism from the Solidarity movement. I could hardly believe my eyes: our Polish brothers have changed their affections from everything chic to a blanket modesty, hard work and the accumulation of money. Shopping districts, their windows and interiors are modest. A lot of new inexpensive cars, both local Fiats and imported. Not many stupid "castles," but instead - new roofs, and new fences, and new windows in old structures.

I am writing about this because it makes a nice contrast to my homeland, where after decades of repression and reservation enforced by Communism everybody had the urge to not only get everything, but to get it immediately. Greed and lack of temperance -- these are the things that have nearly destroyed this country, so much so that here political argument is to a certain degree senseless.

Everybody here has been agitated because the Communists have been giving daily assurances that no less than 40 million people would join today's big countrywide protest, with no less than 250,000 in Moscow alone. The Communists were pumping themselves up as usual, and yet no less than 60,000 people have participated in Moscow marches and meetings.

I do not know what was shown by TV newsmakers worldwide, but I am pretty sure that one local disturbance occurred at Red Square when a group of very young people warmed by bear tried to break their way through the police line without success. Some twenty of them were detained, and half of them were immediately set free. Unbelievable!

Something might have changed in Russia. I’ve already written about how I have been stupefied twice so far this year. First was the miners’ Ghandi-like behavior -- several months of protest blocking the railways, several months of sit-ins next to the seat of Russian Government, and no violence. Second was the Big Compromise, even if temporary, between the Parliament and the President, of which I’ve already written here. Now we’ve got it for the third time.

Sure, people have more reason to protest than ever. They are damned tired of yet another successful attempt to leave them penniless by the Big Shots. The day was chilly, but the sun was bright - perfect conditions for rioting. And… strict order, nothing unusual.

The strangest thing is that the Trade Unions that used to be something purely decorative in former times and seemed to have simply dissolved for a number of years, are back like the Cheshire Cat's smile. They took the lead at the rally today so the Communists had to admit their role. Everything was picturesque enough -- the Trade Unions chose blue as the official color for their banners, some of them added black giving a nod to the Anarchists.

So, the head of the march was blue and black, even the posters were dark-blue on white. And then:

This was a rare sight -- groups that hate each others guts marched peacefully enough, never mixing their ranks, so that small disturbances were quickly quieted.

Opposition is getting more and more inventive. Some were holding Yeltsin’s portrait crossed with a red X while others were bearing the same portrait upside down, and still others were gluing these portraits on the ground so that people stamped upon the hated image (some, who were sure that the TV cameramen were attentive, found time to use the image as a door rag).

So far, so good.

Bread consumption rose some 30% -- for most people any other food besides bread is getting too expensive.

And people are buying flowers.