Attempted Soviet Coup Galvanizes Russia's Youth
Young people led the defense of parliament and faced down tanks
BURSTING up the stairs, climbing out on the roof and then up a ladder, a group of students ran the Russian red, white, and blue tricolor up the flagpole on top of the headquarters of the Komsomol, or Communist Youth League."We put up the Russian flag because we're on the territory of the Russian Federation," says Anatoly Simon, a medical student, savoring the moment. "The red flag with the hammer and sickle is for Communists only." Mr. Simon is one of tens of thousands of the under-25 generation experiencing a political awakening in the aftermath of last week's failed coup and subsequent anti-Bolshevik revolution. "It's time for us to participate in politics," says Simon, who is studying in the central Russian city of Chelyabinsk. Only a week ago, the vast majority of Russian youths appeared generally apathetic. Many seemed more interested in the latest styles or videos on MTV than in politics. At massive rallies sponsored by the Democratic Russia movement in the years before the coup, young faces rarely appeared in the crowd. But youth got in gear once they saw the tanks rolling in the streets. Simon says he had been generally apolitical, concentrating mainly on his studies, until the coup attempt. "As for myself and all of my friends, we all could see very easily what the coup meant if it succeeded," says Mukhamed Yanov, a Moscow State University student. "There was no way we were going to remain idle." The takeover of the Komsomol headquarters Friday was a particularly significant event for many young people across the country, says Valery Petrov, a long-haired high schooler, who had helped run up the Russian flag on the building. "The Komsomol was used to destroy my desire. Now I can see I have a future," Mr. Petrov says. "Going abroad no longer has to be the only thing we can look forward to," Mr. Yanov adds. At the height of the crisis in the early hours last Wednesday, young people could be seen leading the defense of the Russian parliament. They furiously built barricades and formed the bulwark of the human chains that protected the Russian parliament, the center of the resistance. Many made the most of the military training they had received during their time as conscripts to keep themselves and others calm. Some youths, wearing headbands or armbands with the Russian colors, ran up and down along the human chains shouting instructions through a megaphone. "When the tanks arrive speak to the tank drivers, but be careful not to insult them," was a typical instruction. Defense organizers formed special "crack units" called "the hundreds," comprising mainly young men. When reports of tank movements were received, these "hundreds" could be seen moving double time in columns of three to reinforce the expected area of attack. "It was no joke. I was very scared at times," says Rustam Gimramov, a 17-year-old student, referring to his 72-hour stint as a Russian parliament defender. As he speaks, he reaches into his coat and pulls out a folded piece of paper. It is a copy of a certificate with Russian President Boris Yeltsin's signature, showing Mr. Gimramov had been a defender at the parliament building. m going to be proud of this for the rest of my life," he beams. Young people are still active in trying to keep order in the city, guarding certain sensitive areas, such as the KGB headquarters and a statue of Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet state. "It's very difficult work," says Alexander Bogolobsky, a 19-year-old who is helping to guard the Lubyanka, or KGB headquarters. "People are still very angry at the Communists, and sometimes they are hard to control. "We must be careful because there are still some crazies around who might try to provoke something," he continues, his face breaking into a broad grin. "You know," he says, "I can imagine now that someday we will be able to live almost like people in the United States."