Soviets forgetting October revolution Anniversary is noted but no longer revered

November 07, 1990|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Red flags on Great October Day,

Bright lights on Great October Day!

All over Soviet land

To tell of the workers' might,

To call all workers to unite

And struggle hand in hand!

The song has not been dropped from the latest edition of a 7th grade Soviet English-language textbook. But if any children are still singing on this year's revolutionary holiday, their call for unity has fallen on deaf ears.

The polarization of Soviet political life has crystallized in preparations for today's 73rd anniversary of . . . what, exactly?

Communists still call it the Great October Socialist Revolution. Thousands will troop through Red Square in the wake of the traditional display of tanks and missiles as if nothing has changed. But the Communist Party is so worried about the turnout that KGB employees and military academy cadets have been ordered to march in civilian clothes.

Meanwhile, the growing number of anti-Communists deny there was anything revolutionary about the revolution and have taken to referring to it as "the Bolshevik coup d'etat." They will mark the anniversary with mourning for the victims of Soviet totalitarianism and will protest against continuing Communist rule.

For millions of Soviet citizens, especially older people, Nov. 7 -- Oct. 25 by the old calendar -- remains a "sacred" day, as President Mikhail S. Gorbachev put it last week. It is the day the Soviet state was born, the day the people allegedly made their "socialist choice."

By no means least important, it is a day to sit back, hoist a vodka bottle and relax with friends and family. The apolitical masses are reluctant to be deprived of any holiday simply because of someone's ideological scruples.

Historian Roy A. Medvedev gave a rousing defense of the holiday in parliament, although he looked west for a model, as is the Soviet habit these days.

The French revolution, like the Russian, "was accompanied by terror, overthrowing a regime and civil war," he said.

Yet "everyone celebrates Bastille Day. It's become a norm of national life in France. And we should have the same attitude to the birthday of our state. To turn such a tradition into a subject of political speculation is shameful, in my opinion."

Another member of parliament, Lt. Nikolai D. Tutov, took the floor to answer Mr. Medvedev. As a military man, Lieutenant Tutov might seem more likely to defend the holiday than Mr. Medvedev, long considered a dissident. But at 29 years of age, Lieutenant Tutov is 36 years younger than Mr. Medvedev and considerably more radical.

"Roy Alexandrovich forgot to mention that the French revolution was connected with the overthrow of monarchy and establishment of a democratic bourgeois republic," Lieutenant Tutov said. "We, too, had such a revolution -- in February of 1917," when unrest on the streets persuaded Czar Nicholas II to abdicate.

"However, in October, 1917, as a result of a military coup, the democratic republic was overthrown," the lieutenant said. "I think we should refrain from celebrating such a holiday."

Lieutenant Tutov's view is increasingly common, as today's hard economic times and open discussion of the dark side of Soviet history overcome decades of propaganda. Many say and write openly that the regime installed by Lenin has in seven decades produced little but genocidal brutality and economic backwardness.

"We see this day as the anniversary of a national tragedy," Orthodox priest Gleb P. Yakunin, a leader of the Christian Democrats and organizer of a counter-rally, said last night.

The latest national poll shows people split almost evenly on the topic: 39 percent said the October revolution represented the will of the people, 36 percent said it did not, and 25 percent couldn't make up their minds.

Here in the capital, the changed atmosphere is palpable. Fewer flags, banners and lights are on display than ever; banners announcing the Bayer Aspirin Kremlin Cup, a capitalist-sponsored tennis tournament, rival in number those dedicated to 1917.

Moscow kindergarten teachers have been advised by their superiors to talk less about "revolution" and "the bourgeoisie" and more about "autumn" and "harvest."

An appeal by Mr. Gorbachev and the Soviet leadership to cancel counterdemonstrations was swiftly rejected by Moscow's more radical leaders. City officials said Communists should not have a monopoly on the right to demonstrate, and authorized the two anti-Communist events.

One will march from Communist Party headquarters to the apartment building of the late physicist and human rights activist Andrei D. Sakharov, symbolizing the ideological transformation of the country. Another will cross Red Square and rally outside the Kremlin on Manezh Square, so named for the riding school now used as an exhibition hall.

Until Monday, Manezh Square was called 50th Anniversary of October Revolution Square. But the Moscow leadership, dominated by non-Communists, chose to rub salt into the Communists' wound by picking this week to restore old names to 27 central streets and squares.

The Lenin metro station has been renamed Tsaritsino. Marx Prospect once again is Okhotny Ryad, Hunters' Row, so named for the game shops that once lined it. Sverdlov Square, bearing the name of Bolshevik Yakov Sverdlov, has regained its old name of Theater Square.

Kalinin Prospect dropped the name of one-time President Mikhail Kalinin and is New Arbat Street. Gorky Street, earlier renamed Tverskaya Street within Moscow's inner ring road, has disappeared altogether: Outside the ring it is now Tverskaya-Yamskaya Street.

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