Soviet Return to Abnormality

August 20, 1991

The sons of Lenin and Stalin have once again demonstrated their true nature. After repeatedly denying rumors of a coup, the KGB, the army and police rose against a lawful government. In staging the Putsch, they circumvented the newly prescribed constitutional mechanism for removing a president and the Communist Party's own rules for ousting a leader. They wanted to take no chances. So much for communism with a human face!

The history of Russian empire, whether ruled by czars or the Bolshevik usurpers who overthrew the legitimate government in 1917, is a series of failed reforms. With Mikhail S. Gorbachev forcibly removed, his often erratic perestroika is coming to an end. While Acting President Gennady Yanayev and other ringleaders may be mouthing fiercely reformist slogans, they already have shown their scorn for glasnost and democratization, the twin pillars of the Gorbachev experiment to modernize and humanize his country.

Only too late may Soviet people truly appreciate what Mr. Gorbachev did in his six years of power. His main achievement was not the new rule of law -- which was trampled by the coup masters. Neither was it anything in the economic arena, where changing tactics and practices created unproductive chaos and a morass of conflicting rules.

No, Mr. Gorbachev's greatest achievement was transforming the Soviet Union from a giant lunatic asylum of paranoia into a relatively normal society where people could express their thoughts freely, light a candle and pray in peace or broaden their horizons through travel and provocative books. Mr. Gorbachev freed his countrymen of the Stalinist legacy of suspicion and fear.

Though it may prove short-lived, this liberation of minds was seen in Moscow yesterday as men and women, old and young, verbally challenged the armor that had been sent to tame them.

If the Red Army conscripts appeared confused, they were not alone. At the ouster of Mr. Gorbachev, after years of never-ending reform strategies but little visible achievement, the whole nation was confused and overdosing on change.

Throughout the vast Soviet Union, people wanted more material goods but no harder work; they wanted more plentiful food but not at the price it cost to produce. Yesterday, the coup masters wasted no time announcing that wages would be raised and prices lowered, which seems like a peculiar solution to the economic problems of a nation where too many rubles always have been chasing too few consumer goods.

If the Yanayev clique indeed represents the dogmatic old-line communists and inward-looking Russophiles that have so long been clamoring for Mr. Gorbachev's downfall, it will be a disaster that neither the Soviet Union nor the world needs.

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