'The people are exulting' - narod likuyet. The phrase was spoken with impassive distance - perhaps even irony - by a heavily-armed commando in the White House, as we looked down at the first, still rather scattered and tentative outbursts of revelry among the crowds camped in the night below round the Russian Parliament. There was still no hard news of what had happened in the Crimea, but by the evening of 21 August the rumour outside was already of victory. Inside, there was the traditional mêlée associated with a revolution - corridors flowing with confused eddies of soldiers, activists, politicians, journalists, militia, interlopers of every kind; real tank crews rubbing shoulders with stage Cossacks; a balcony priest moving alertly through it all. An Australian could be overheard saying it reminded him of Managua. Hispanic echoes were, as it happened, everywhere in Moscow in those days. Resistance broadsheets read No pasaran; graffiti denounced the khunta; citizens demanded of armoured units if they were prepared to re-enact Chile. Popular celebrations and revolutionary images were in place. But the nature of the overturn in August is only partly suggested by them.
LRB 26 September 1991 | PDF Download