Russian Crisis: Citizens' mixed feelings about 'temporary men'

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The Independent Online
TENTATIVELY at first - because they were not sure if snipers were still active - shocked Muscovites began coming out yesterday morning to examine the wreck of the White House after its storming by forces loyal to President Boris Yeltsin. Interior Ministry troops prevented the curious from getting inside the building but, by lunchtime, thousands of sightseers were wandering among the shattered glass, twisted metal and half-eaten plates of congealed buckwheat porridge that had been the soldiers' battle rations.

Some citizens were just dazed by the sight of the now-blackened and still-smouldering parliament. Others of an enterprising nature were already calculating how much they could charge tourists for strips of razor wire, which they were pulling off with their bare hands. Yet others were haranguing each other over which side was right and which wrong.

'Good for Yeltsin. He should show no pity to Rutskoi and Khasbulatov. We need to cut out this cancer of Communism once and for all. And get rid of Lenin from the Mausoleum,' declared Alyosha, an architect. 'But it's not so simple,' added his wife, Olga. 'The hardliners will try again. This is not the end.'

'Yeltsin was right but it's terrible that it had to come to such violence,' said Vladimir, an arms- factory worker recently made redundant. 'It's hard to respect Rutskoi now. I did not expect he would turn out to be a criminal. And I was sure he would shoot himself if he was defeated, after all he said about honour and being ready to die.'

'I am shocked, I am in pain,' said Yevgenia Dmitrevna, who described herself as an 'intelligent pensioner'. 'They (Mr Khasbulatov and Mr Rutskoi) were real fanatics, real bloody fanatics. They should get the toughest possible punishment.' Would she vote for Mr Yeltsin again after this? 'No, because he is old, but in future we will build a monument to him. History will judge him kindly.'

But there were still those ready to raise their voices in support of the parliamentary chairman and the vice-president who declared himself head of state after Mr Yeltsin dissolved the Soviet-era assembly last month. 'John Major said it all. So much for the great democracy (Britain),' sneered one middle-aged man who refused to give even his first name to the 'voice of London'. He was angry that Britain had so clearly backed Mr Yeltsin.

'CNN got it all wrong, they lied in a most blatant way, there was no shooting coming from inside the White House,' fumed Vladimir Vasiliev, a pensioner. 'I will keep struggling although now we have a dictatorship and I won't be able to go to rallies anymore. Yeltsin was as stubborn as a bull. The deputies made a great mistake in not impeaching him when they had a chance.'

An army lieutenant, not involved in the fighting, said he was distressed to see the military abandoning its traditional neutrality. 'These problems should have been solved peacefully without the army getting mixed up in politics.'

Opinions abounded but there were those who preferred merely to comtemplate. Vyacheslav Lopatin, a film-maker, was taking photographs. He said he might make a film about what Russians are calling the Second October Revolution. 'But for now this is just for the family album.'

Sergei, a volunteer medical officer, was recounting how he spent Monday evening. 'We piled up 36 bodies and took them away in a lorry. Some were fascists, some were just onlookers who did not understand the risk they were taking by coming so close. There was a girl of about 18. It was a real nightmare. What a waste of life.'

I asked if Mr Yeltsin had been justified in taking such extreme measures and before Sergei could answer, someone called out from the crowd: 'Yeltsin is just a temporary man.' 'We are all temporary men,' sighed Sergei, and walked slowly away.