True believers wear red on Communists' holiday

November 08, 1991|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Desperately unhappy, fearful of the future, a crowd of demonstrators pushed their way up to a flatbed truck at the close of a Revolution Day rally here yesterday, thrusting their 10- and 25-ruble notes into sacks held open by Communist Party officials.

That the party had been completely banned by Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin just the day before served only to goad these true believers into action.

For a few thousand angry people, yesterday was a day to pin their red ribbons on, to wave their red banners and denounce the free market and the governments of Mr. Yeltsin and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, to honor the memory of what until recently had been called here the Great October Socialist Revolution.

For millions of others, it was a different sort of day altogether.

What had once been the most important Soviet holiday -- a day when division after division of troops and armament paraded through Red Square, paying homage to the glory and might of the Communist Party -- was this year a quiet day of snow, slush, bread lines and memorials to communism's victims.

Where once the party reigned supreme, yesterday its tattered remnants organized threadbare protest marches and cadged rubles.

"They need the money," said Vladimir Remazev, a constructionworker who plopped 10 rubles into the gray sack. "What they do with it is for them to decide."

Yet, 74 years after Communists seized power and just 10 weeks after the fizzled coup of August led to their fall from grace and wealth, their grip on the minds of some is still strong.

"I am a Soviet man," said Maxim Reider, a student at the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Relations. "Before 1985, my family and I felt protected. We didn't worry about where we would find a loaf of breador a carton of milk. We're here today to protect our civil rights."

"I'm a true communist," said Albert Sambukov, an engineer. "If we try to explain that communism is the bright sun for everybody, where everyone would find happiness, and the working people in particular -- that's what this rally is all about."

The communists and their sympathizers met at October Square, still dominated by a huge statue of Lenin. It seemed as if they couldn't quite believe what had happened to their country in such a short time: the party outlawed; heroes toppled; a free-market economy pending; unemployment rampant; the ruble worthless; a Romanov -- heir to the throne of the czars, vacant since 1917 -- greeted this week as a celebrity in renamed St. Petersburg.

A brass band struck up the "Internationale," the socialist anthem. Mr. Sambukov lustily sang along. Tears streamed down his cheeks.

"It's temporary," he said. "The people will find out who is right and who is wrong."

But even many of those at the rally itself weren't sure about where right and wrong lay.

"I came here today because I don't like what is happening in our country today," said Ivan Yurokhin, who called himself an energy and information specialist.

"I've never been a Communist, but I have a grandson whom I love very much -- here, I can show you a photo -- and I want him to live a good life. I voted for Yeltsin, but I lost faith in him. I don't like the Communists, either. But the ideas, the essence, of communism, these are good."

A few thousand demonstrators then marched noisily to Red Square, in the shadow of the Kremlin and of Lenin's tomb. While speakers railed against capitalist bosses scheming to take over the country, even one of their supporters, a middle-aged woman, was moved to say, "We're facing joblessness, and the Communists have millions in the banks abroad. I can't get bread."

A few blocks away, a memorial to the millions who died under communism was dedicated, strewn with carnations and chrysanthemums. It lies just outside the Lubyanka, the massive yellow-stone headquarters of the KGB.

Galina Sokolova came to the dedication because two of her uncles were killed under Stalin. So was her husband's grandfather.

"Since I was 7, I always knew there was something wrong with my life," she said. "My father always said, 'Keep silence! Keep silence!' This is the generation that was afraid. We were afraid of everything."

The demonstrators at Red Square wanted to go back to those days, she said. It must not happen, she said.

Three blocks away, Nina Chezhikova shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She was on the street, in a line, waiting to buy some canned goods sent to Moscow as part of a package of humanitarian aid from the West.

"Before August, I was a member of the Communist Party. But now our party no longer exists. I'm not a member of any party any more," she said.

"This is no holiday. Today we just spend the holiday in line. I spend all my life in line. I work at a ministry and I'm about to lose my job. What'll I do? I can't imagine. I'll wait for my pension. All I ever do is wait."

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