Unfaithful first love leaves Russians all mixed up

Four years after the defeat of the Communist coup, Steve Crawshaw in Moscow tries to find hope for a fragile democracy

Outside what was, until 1917, the exclusive English Club, near Pushkin Square in central Moscow, stands a burnt-out orange trolleybus. It looks like a forgotten piece of junk. And, in a sense, it is. It represents a key moment in Russia's recent history. In Moscow, almost nobody cares.

Four years ago today, the Soviet coup - which put tanks on the streets of Moscow in a doomed attempt to say "no thanks" to history - collapsed.

The trolleybus, in front of Moscow's 70-year-old Museum of the Revolution, played a crucial cameo role in that collapse. It blocked the path of armoured troop carriers which tried to reach the Russian parliament building in the early hours of 21 August 1991. The failure of the assault led to the failure of the coup itself, just a few hours later. In short, a historic bus.

Briefly, Russians felt proud of what they had achieved during those August days. But that optimism soon vanished as Russia was enveloped in gloom. esentment, fear and apathy set the tone.

Things have only got worse in the meantime. As the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets noted this weekend: "August 1991 was like a first love, which seems as though it will last all our lives. We swore loyalty to democracy, we were proud of ourselves and of the fact that for the first time we had made our own choice. But that pride went away, like first love. Our chosen one turned out not to be as it had seemed in the first flush of emotion."

President Boris Yeltsin, meanwhile - unpredictable, but in favour of reform four years ago - now seems to have little to offer his country, except as a least-worst bulwark against the Communists or the far right.

The president who sent Russians to kill and be killed in a disastrous war is increasingly incoherent, too. When Mr Yeltsin spoke to Russian journalists in the Kremlin last week, the irreverent NTV channel broadcast his comments about Chechnya which included a slurred series of "sort- ofs", "you-knows" and "so-to-speaks". An Russian friend said: "I felt that I was watching Brezhnev, all over again."

The idea that a leader of the new Russia might resemble the most doolally of all the geriatric Soviet Communist leaders seems alarming, to put it mildly. But, if Russia is lucky, it may be that its prospects can no longer be torpedoed by the bizarre behaviour of its leader.

Before the coup, it was possible to say: "It is clear that a violent clampdown can provide only the most short-term of solutions," but that "the Russian revolution will never have the sweet simplicity of the Prague revolution in November 1989." The impending collapse of the Communist system, I suggested then, would be both exciting and terrifying. "Terrifying because - especially ... in Russia itself - there is little concept of what a democracy or market economy might really mean."

The essentials have not changed. For many Russians, the market equals poverty and theft; democracy means anarchy and fraud. All the old sense of security has vanished. That is true throughout Eastern Europe - but in Russia, where millions genuinely believed.

But that resentment is not yet the end of the story. Younger generations are beginning to envisage new opportunities; economic changes are continuing.

Buying, selling, cutting deals: everybody is doing it now, not least because a state salary is rarely enough. These days, it is not Russians' lack of entrepreneurial skills that seems most alarming, but their sharkishness. Perhaps, the middle way between the old passivity and the new sharkishness is chaos. Perhaps, though, this could merely be a stormy prologue to a kind of normality, at last. The end of a first love does not have to mean an emotional crisis that lasts for ever.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own