Soviet citizens watch from Goucher Anxious times at international study center.

August 20, 1991|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Evening Sun Staff

English is the foreign language at Goucher College's Thormann International Media and Educational Center, where students come to study or watch foreign news broadcasts captured by satellite dishes atop Froelecker Hall.

Russian was the language of choice yesterday, as professors, students and foreign visitors got a look at what Soviet citizens are learning about the coup in their country.

Watching the Russian news program "Vremya," which means "Time," they got a view decidedly different from what Americans see and hear now that coup leaders have banned all non-censored media.

"It was like an old Soviet program, like in Brezhnev times," said Vladimir Voinovich, an author exiled from the Soviet Union in 1980 who is teaching a Russian literature course at Goucher this summer.

"When something important happened in the Soviet Union, they would try to conceal it. Now, they're doing the same thing, like everything is going the right way, like [the coup] prevented disaster. At the same time, they're saying that Gorbachev is ill, that they're waiting for his recovery," he said.

Voinovich, who traveled here with his wife from Munich to teach, noted that the Soviet broadcast made no mention of Russian Republic President Boris Yeltsin or his opposition to the new leadership.

American news organizations broadcast pictures of tanks rumbling through Moscow. Russian news showed people calmly going about their business.

Voinovich said he first learned of the coup Sunday night from Russian friends who work in Washington.

"My first reaction was, I felt terrible," he said. "It's a very unpleasant situation . . . I had hope that the process of perestroika would be more smooth and normal."

Goucher has an annual exchange program with Odessa State University in which 18 students from the two countries further their studies in Russian or English.

Olya Samilenko, an assistant professor of Russian at Goucher, said her participation in the program makes the events in Russia seem "more immediate."

"It brought things home. . . . You feel that you're sort of caught in a vortex of events," she said.

The coup creates an eerie coincidence for Voinovich, who wrote of an August revolution in his book "Moscow 2042" published in Russia in 1985, and in the United State in 1987.

"It's a fiction, but when I started to write it, [the late Soviet President Leonid] Brezhnev was still alive, and I wanted to imagine what could happen if the system tried to change. And this is a novel about such a failure of a system like perestroika."

Voinovich says he is somewhat worried about his two adult children who live in Moscow, but he has been unable to reach them, since they're on vacation.

"They are not involved directly in this . . . but when it's martial law, it's serious."

Those interviewed at the center yesterday are doubtful about the pTC long-term success of the coup, saying that most Russians won't support it.

"I don't think the people will allow times to turn backwards," says Samilenko. "They're just too primed for democracy. . . . Nobody's going to support these people who are harking back to the Stalin era."

"Yeltsin, he called them state criminals -- they are not only criminals, they are fools," agreed Voinovich.

"They did not count all the consequences they will have in the next days . . . they've launched a situation that could lead to civil war. If civil war were to start, that could last very long. The people who created this coup will disappear, but civil war will continue. . . . The death of communism will come sooner" as a result, he said.

"It will be a good thing, but I expect bloodshed," he added. "It will be good for historical reasons, but not for people now."

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