Scenes from Moscow stir admiration, even affection in American THE SOVIET CRISIS

August 23, 1991|By Roberto Suro | Roberto Suro,New York Times News Service

HOUSTON -- In the hearts of many Americans, the Cold War finally ended this week.

Attitudes toward the Soviet Union have been slowly changing since Mikhail S. Gorbachev came to power in 1985, but scores of interviews around the country during and after the coup revealed a wave of admiration, even affection, for a nation that had been an object of suspicion, even hatred, not long ago.

More than at any time since World War II, Americans are describing the people of the Soviet Union as kindred spirits who share a love of freedom.

During Moscow's dark nights when it seemed that the hard-line Communists might triumph, many people in this country said they experienced a revival of the anxieties that had marked the decades of confrontation with the Soviet Union.

But, like the Russians they saw on their television screens, these Americans were sure they did not want to go back to the old ways.

On Monday evening, Roxann McMurry Allen, an artist in Dumas, Texas, said: "The way Gorbachev disappeared and the lies they're telling about him being sick just bring back that feeling that you can never trust these people, and that's downright scary."

That was when the tanks were still in the streets of Moscow.

Yesterday, Mrs. Allen said:

"You can see that these people really have learned the value of democracy and that something has really changed over there. I was amazed at how deeply I felt for them. It even stirred patriotic feelings in me to see them fight for their freedom; and if they are willing to risk their lives, then I think they deserve our encouragement and support."

As Mary Murphy, 72, watched the people of Moscow defy the tanks, she felt a growing bond with them.

"I realized that they live, they love, they bleed, they die the same as anyone else, even though for years we had been taught different," she said yesterday.

Attitudes changed even among some who had felt deep personal antagonism toward the Soviet Union.

Norma Shaffer of Miami was born in Cuba 34 years ago. "I didn't like Russians," she said. "They were supporting Communism. Communism was breaking apart families in Cuba."

But on Wednesday, Ms. Shaffer joined a vigil at St. Simon's Episcopal Church to pray for a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Yesterday, she said: "I admire them for standing up for what they believe in. I was really scared when the hard-liners came in. I thought, 'Oh, no. It's going to set everything that they've accomplished back.' I felt for them. I prayed for them. I prayed that they would find a peaceful resolution. I felt so thankful when it was over."

The relief at the end of the crisis seems all the more profound becauseof the distress while it was in progress.

In Philadelphia, Khalua Corprew, 22, said that the club where she works as an exotic dancer had been unusually crowded Monday night as people sought to escape their worries.

Along with the usual whistles and hoots, Ms. Corprew said, "I heard all this talk all night about Russia. Some of them say he was crazy; some of them say things are going to happen. Some of them said Dance World ain't going to be here anymore because we all are going to be blown up."

Even though the crisis was resolved peacefully, some said it would leave the American people with a hangover.

"We have been on an emotional roller coaster ride since the fall of the Berlin Wall," said the Roman Catholic bishop of Amarillo, Texas, the Most Rev. Leroy Matthiesen.

"First there was the elation over the end of the Cold War, then there was Kuwait and the war, and now this.

"I think people see a world out there that is getting more complex and confusing, and it fills them with real concern that it will have a negative impact on their lives."

The failed attempt to overthrow Mr. Gorbachev increased his stature here.

But many of those interviewed blamed him for precipitating the coup by pushing too many changes too fast without the backing of his people.

At the same time, Boris N. Yeltsin, the Russian president, acquired new status for his defiant stand, but many people said they knew little about him.

But achieving a status even more heroic than either politician were the people who defied the coup in the streets of Moscow.

Andrew Brison, 16, a student at Houston's Bellaire High School who went to the Soviet Union on an exchange program last spring, said from the start that the coup would fail.

Watching the news with the club Monday, he said, "The older people might let the hard-liners get by, but the younger generation never will."

His confidence in the future has been greatly bolstered. "The image of the people on the barricades has changed, maybe, the Soviets' image of themselves," he said. "They realized they can make a difference instead of being robots of their government. They are heroes."

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