At ease among toppled giants, Soviets look legends right in the eye Around statues in park, rancor begins to soften THE SOVIET CRISIS

September 09, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- On a chilly weekend day in a quiet park near the Moscow River, children climb up to sit on the bronze lap of Mikhail Kalinin, play hide-and-seek around the giant legs of Yakov Sverdlov, balance on the head of Felix Dzerzhinsky and chase each other along the prone, granite body of V. I. Lenin.

Their parents snap pictures, argue about the identity of the bald, white-marble bust with the nose missing, and wonder aloud at changing times.

Here, for now, Moscow authorities aredumping the statues of Bolshevik leaders toppled in the triumphant celebrations that followed the ignominious defeat of the August coup.

In a country where such symbols were powerful tools in building the totalitarian system, their removal from pedestals all over the city is political dynamite. But the demolition has already entered a calm, reflective phase, and the atmosphere in this graveyard of Soviet communism is part playground, part museum.

"In Paris, in Rome, I understand that all the statues remain standing and no one objects for political reasons," said Igor Pugachev, watching his 9-year-old-son, Oleg, scramble atop Dzerzhinsky. "But in Soviet conditions, at this moment in our history, I think taking down the statues is only positive. We have to take them down to take the fear out of people's eyes."

Mr. Pugachev, 36, is a dealer in postage stamps from Rostov who flew to Moscow against his family's wishes as soon as he heard about the coup. He spent two days on the barricades around the Russian parliament building.

"Something rose up in me and carried me away. I didn't even think of it as a choice I made," he says. "I felt not so much anger as despair."

But now, the powerful emotions of three weeks ago have given way to other feelings. "I came here to feel 'deep satisfaction,' which is what they always used to say the Soviet people felt when [former Soviet Communist Party leader Leonid] Brezhnev gave a speech or made some decision. We've all awaited this feeling very, very long," Mr. Pugachev said.

Off their pedestals, approachable in the grass, the statues seem neither awesome nor aesthetically remarkable. They look like historical curiosities. Some entrepreneurs have reportedly carted away some of the smaller busts already, presumably mindful of the small fortunes made selling chunks of the Berlin Wall.

A radio journalist climbs inside the hollow Dzerzhinsky statue to conduct interviews. An Italian tourist expresses disappointment not to find gold that legend said the Communists had hidden inside.

A young, bearded Russian looks at the upright Sverdlov, carrying a briefcase, and declares: "The first Soviet bureaucrat." An elderly woman with dyed yellow hair scolds a couple for allowing their children to run and play noisily around the statues: "Not well brought up, not well brought up," she fumes.

But the revolution has not left such relative peace everywhere in the city. Some divisions are appearing in the united democratic frontthat originally formed in response to the coup.

Russian Federation police armed with automatic weapons forced Moscow police out of the old Communist Party Central Committee headquarters Saturday, Soviet television reported. It was an ominous dispute between the two reformist bureaucracies over who will inherit the spacious, cushy quarters of the ousted party bosses.

Moscow entrepreneurs staged a demonstration yesterday to declare the capital "Territory Hostile to Business" in response to Mayor Gavriil K. Popov's moves to seize control over prices and other aspects of the local economy. They are joining a large faction of the City Council that has long accused Mr. Popov of trying to build a local dictatorship.

Since Mr. Popov has for several years been considered a pro-market economist and democrat, his standoff with grass-roots activists and business people is a reminder thatdefeat of the Communist Party by no means signals the end of political conflict.

Those not involved in the new battles can follow the unfolding detective stories involving the Communist Party and KGB, the closed, powerful institutions that for so long controlled Soviet lives.

What is likely to be the beginning of a long train of revelations from KGB safes and archives has begun, with the discovery that a large percentage of Soviet television employees worked for the KGB.

Komsomolskaya Pravda has printed the suicide note of Nikolai Kruchina, the top financial official of the Communist Party, along with a tantalizing investigative piece suggesting that party officials may have billions of dollars of public money in foreign bank accounts.

The shift in politics that has taken place here can be hard to follow. Pravda, for so many years the prevaricating voice of the Soviet empire,declares in a banner headline, "The Empire is Destroyed," as if the editorial board had always been in favor of its destruction.

On a suburban train, two old women argue about the logic of the new era: If they have just re-renamed Leningrad St. Petersburg, one woman demanded, what sense does it make to take Lenin out of his Moscow mausoleum and bury him in St. Petersburg, as that city's mayor has proposed?

But most people are taking the changes in stride, pleased to see Lenin's legacy slip into history and pleased to assimilate new symbols.

Newly married couples have traditionally laid flowers at the World War II memorial outside the Kremlin.

Now some brides and grooms are taking their bouquets to a new memorial, leaving their flowers instead at the highway median strip where the three young demonstrators were killed trying to stop tanks during the failed coup.

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