'Tomorrow could be too late!'

Alexei Vinogradsky

August 21, 1991|By Alexei Vinogradsky

EVERYTHING crashed in just one night. When I heard the news of the Soviet coup on the radio early Monday morning, I thought I was still sleeping. But the nightmare didn't disappear. The tragedy had happened.

Can an American imagine waking one morning in another country to hear news that there are tanks in the streets of Washington, the president of the United States is held under house arrest and the Ku Klux Klan or Skinheads are in power?

But for me, a Soviet citizen living in Baltimore, such a nightmare came true. Tanks in the streets of my native Moscow. For 24 tTC years, before coming here last November, I had lived there. I love Russia. I love my people.

My first concern when I heard the news was for my mother. I rushed to call her. For two hours I tried to get through. At last I succeeded. "Mom, what's happened?" I asked. "Should I come over?" So many anxious questions crowded in my head that I could hardly speak.

My mother told me not to worry. "Everything will be all right sooner or later," she told me calmly.

I was a journalist in the Soviet Union, and I have kept in touch with my country in the past nine months, regularly talking with my mother and friends and greedily swallowing any information from there. I tried -- calmly -- to figure out what had happened.

The military and KGB had taken power. Before this coup, not so many people in the Soviet Union had believed the anxious predictions of former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Mikhail Gorbachev's former top aide Alexander Yakolev about the possibility of a military and hard-line takeover. Now these predictions came to be the terrifying truth.

I was heartbroken and outraged. Only extremely stupid people could have taken such action. What will they do now? It seems to me they don't even have a plan. All foreign aid will be frozen. No food, no technology no money. All hopes for Western investments drown in chaos. It means complete disaster for the very weak Soviet economy. The putchists didn't look forward.

The coup also has brought rising opposition inside the country, creating even more disorder than before. Hard-liners cried about unemployment, but now they have closed the independent mass media, laying off thousands of workers. If they will try to close the private businesses as well, there will be millions without work. After that, what kind of order and stability will there be?

How will the military feed the people this winter? The right-wing communists take power now when store shelves are empty. How will they fill them?

Today, many simple people are staying home, hoping the new rulers will feed them and treat them well. But tomorrow these people will see again the empty shelves, and they will be on the streets. It will not be the thousands of protesters we saw in the first day after the coup. It will be millions.

According to the latest news, the Soviet soldiers who occupied Moscow don't even know why they are there. The army is splitting. The soldiers are leaving their units and joining the civilians. Others are sitting on their tanks and doing nothing.

At the same time, the new president, Gennady Yanayev, makes stupid and pitiful speeches about the possibility of Gorbachev returning and pledging to continue economic reforms. Who can believe all these betrayers? The members of the "emergency committee" have not brought law and order. They have threatened to create civil war.

I= I appeal to them to stop now. Tomorrow could be too late!

Alexei Vinogradsky is a former journalist for Trud, the Soviet 1/2 Union's labor newspaper. He now lives in Baltimore.

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