Glasnost Shines In the Midst of The Moscow Coup
THE first visual scene the West saw in Moscow on the morning of Aug. 19 was a column of tanks halted by protesters outside the Kremlin walls.As one young soldier popped his head outside the tank he was confronted by an elderly babushka, who proceeded to lecture the young man, saying that the recent move by the conservatives to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev's regime was "illegal." Further, she told the soldier that the move was "morally wrong, you should be ashamed!" It is already apparent that the reaction of the Soviet populace to the earth-shaking news of the recent coup in Moscow underlies the profound impact of the Gorbachev revolution on Soviet society. Whereas in the past, Soviet citizens had hoarded food and quietly listened to the classical music on official Radio Moscow while awaiting news of leaderships changes behind the Kremlin walls, this time around the Soviet people are choosing to vote with their feet. In virtually every part of Russia and the Baltic republics where military units have been mobilized those units have been confronted by ordinary citizens who have pleaded with the soldiers to disobey the orders of their superiors and refuse to move against the people. Across one Red Army tank a protester wrote, "Put [Soviet Army leader Dmitri] Yazov on Trial." While Gorbachev's commercial policies and previous attempts to streamline communist ideology have failed absymally, we see clearly now in the harsh dawn of the military-conservative crackdown that his policy of glasnost and questioning illegal authority has succeeded. No longer will Russians stoically endure the repressions that have followed every historical attempt at reform. There are indications now that the conservative collegium of coup-planners have pleaded with Gorbachev to support their endeavor in the name of order and decency. So far, however, Gorbachev has resisted. Leadership of this nascent resistance movement has passed from Gorbachev to Boris Yelstin, the elected leader of the Russian Republic. He has bravely defied the conservative authorities, who warned him to accept the coup leaders and the state of emergency. He stood atop a tank and defied the army to shoot him, treating Muscovites to the impassioned political dialogue for which he is famous. Mr. Yelstin is trying to go over the heads of the military commanders and political coup leaders to appeal to the common conscripted soldier in the street not to fire on his fellow countryman. That is the success of glasnost. The scene around Moscow in many ways resembled those tragic days before Tiananmen Square when unarmed Chinese faced off against the mechanized fury of the Communist Chinese leadership. That may be the price of glasnost. Gorbachev and Yeltsin, for so long at each other's throats, in their mutual struggle for political power now find themselves in the unlikely position of the closest alliance two Soviet politicians have ever experienced. The hopes of the democratic resistance now are clearly on the shoulders of Yeltsin, who must avoid capture and organize his massive following to defy the political coup that clearly belongs to the era of Khrushev and Breshnev rather than the post-cold-war world we now live in.