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.

Sport
sportGareth Bale, Carl Froch and Kelly Gallagher also in the mix for award
News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
Life and Style
The reindeer pen at the attraction
lifeLaurence Llewelyn-Bowen's 'Magical Journey' and other winter blunderlands
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Tana Ramsay gave evidence in a legal action in which her husband, Gordon, is accusing her father, Christopher Hutcheson, of using a ghost writer machine to “forge” his signature
peopleTana Ramsay said alleged discovery was 'extremely distressing'
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Windsor and Aljaz Skorjanec rehearse their same-sex dance together on Strictly Come Dancing
TV
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
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

Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

Argyll Scott International: Risk Assurance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Hi All, I'm currently recruiting for t...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Day In a Page

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'