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Relief, Unease Mix On Moscow Streets

ALEXEI GUBIN stood near the entrance to a downtown Moscow subway station, enjoying the bright sunshine and eating a banana, a once-scarce commodity and symbol of the benefits of Russia's market transition.

Mr. Gubin, an economist with the Primorsky Sakhar sugar concern, says he was breathing easier, following two days of fighting in Moscow to determine the fate of the nation. President Boris Yeltsin's forces won that struggle against neo-Communists and ultranationalists, and like many, Gubin is happy.

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``It would have been a tragedy for the nation if the Communists had returned. They would have destroyed reforms,'' Gubin says.

But Gubin's joy is restrained by uncertainty about Russia's future. Many here feel Yeltsin's defeat of the so-called red-brown axis does not necessarily translate into a victory for democracy. ``Things can now go in many ways. Will Yeltsin become a Russian Pinochet?'' Gubin asks, referring to the Chilean dictator. ``That's a question no one can answer right now.''

After the Oct. 4 assault on parliament, Yeltsin moved immediately to ban extremist political organizations that he blamed for the Moscow violence, including the National Salvation Front and the Communist Party. He also banned opposition publications, including the former official Communist Party newspaper Pravda.

``After the bans, you can no longer call Russia a democracy,'' asserts Vasily Sukhimin, a history professor at a Moscow university. Mr. Sukhimin says he worries that the president would now move to disband regional legislatures - just as the Moscow mayor disbanded the city council on Oct. 5 for being an antireform bastion - leaving the executive branch, namely Yeltsin, with virtually no restraints.

``It all depends on how you interpret democracy. It's a tricky question,'' said one Army officer, who declined to give his name, as he stood beneath the burning White House late on Oct. 4.

Some, including Gubin, say they are not so concerned about the democratic process, as long as economic progress continues. ``I would support a Yeltsin dictatorship, if it helped advance economic reform,'' he says.

He also sees nothing wrong with the banning of extremist groups. ``There were no true Communists left in the Communist Party, only insane people,'' he says. ``I realize that it's impossible to eliminate a mentality, but at least by banning the organizations we'll be able to live more peacefully.''

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THERS hold more zealous anti-Communist views. ``We'll only be able to have democracy in our country, when we wipe out the Communists,'' says Alexei Svyadenko, a 17-year-old freshman at Moscow's Bauman University, as he stood around a bonfire on Oct. 4 near the White House.

In general, the younger the person, the more willing to move from the Communist past and embrace capitalism. Many older people, steeped in the mentality of cradle-to-grave security provided by the state under Communist rule, remain bitter opponents of reform and are critical of Yeltsin's recent actions. ``It's fascism,'' says Grigory Vyacheslov, an elderly factory worker. ``If there are elections, I'll vote for soviet [legislative] power.''

The Yeltsin administration is trying to reduce fears about authoritarianism by pushing ahead with plans for December legislative elections. The new parliament would replace the conservative legislature banned by a Sept. 21 presidential decree.

Somewhat ironically, however, a majority may have supported Yeltsin's move against the old parliament, but many say they might not vote for Yeltsin in the next presidential election, scheduled for June 12. ``I would never vote for Yeltsin. He's not a good politician. It's only that [Ruslan] Khasbulatov is worse than Yeltsin,'' Svyadenko says, referring to the former parliament Speaker, who is now under arrest.

On the morning of Oct. 5 near the smoldering White House, Mr. Popov, the entrepreneur, said the assault on parliament was justified. ``You can't have dual power,'' he said. ``If he [Yeltsin] didn't act, it would have meant civil war.''

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