Letter from Moscow

A.M. Rosenthal

December 18, 1991|By A.M. Rosenthal

Moscow EVERY DAY here is so full of fear and hope, rising and fading, HTC so many startling things happen so erratically, the present is so taut and the future so murky that life sometimes seems like the day itself -- cold, fogged over, too suddenly dark.

The city and its people seemed hard and remote at first. Then I remembered the habit I had as a foreign correspondent -- trying to jump out of the limitations of my own head by thinking local. So I practice thinking like a Russian -- not masses of Russians but just one, say a teacher in a high school.

As a Russian, I tell you my gorge is rising and my half-empty belly fills itself with anger. Yes, part of my anger comes from the lines, lines, lines. They make me feel grungy and poor and abused every day of my life. But I know I won't starve and I am tough. The deeper part of my anger comes from something else.

I am an educated man, a cultured man. But they -- Yeltsin, Gorbachev, all of them, they insult me every day. They don't tell me what is happening to me and my country.

Who runs this new thing, this union? What is its name and what will it be called next week? Who makes the laws? Are there laws?

Next week, what will I have to pay for bread? For a dress for my little daughter, if I can find one in the street market? What will I be paid for my job? Will I have a job? If not, who will feed my family, in Heaven's name?

Glasnost! Now it means telling me what they have decided. I thought it meant telling me beforehand, asking what I thought of a plan. But there is no plan, just decisions. I see these men on TV sometimes talking to journalists, but never to me straight on. They are acting already like the arrogant communist czars they were just yesterday.

Never mind; I will hold on a while. I am a Russian, tough. Even the Germans were afraid of us. I know what freedom means; what fool doesn't? The world thinks I will turn to fascism unless I get some hope. No, not I, or my friends. But others will, the army generals, the KGB officers, ready and waiting.

Yeltsin, or whoever, must hurry up and tell us what they plan for us, and maybe even ask our opinion. If not, they will be finished and so will our dreams. But I have hopes; things will get better, I am sure, I think.

Now I am back in my own, American, head. I check my thoughts with some real Russian heads. They say that's about the way it is; no great Moscow mysteries anymore.

Outside, the West cries doom for this place. I find myself believing Russia can pull it off, so can the Ukraine and most other republics.

There will be trouble, maybe shooting someplace. But nothing except fascism can match communism for cruelty, criminal waste and murder.

True, fascists are waiting. But they can be blocked -- by Boris Yeltsin, if he has the courage, and by the U.S. Yeltsin's job is to come out fighting against the Russian fascists. He has to take them on as he did Mikhail Gorbachev, but he seems afraid of them, as Gorbachev was himself.

So far he has been mealy-mouthed about Pamyat, the Russian fascist organization, and never seems to notice that army funds finance some of the anti-Semitic propaganda, Hitlerian filth.

President Bush can help prevent a fascist takeover by announcing now that the U.S. will do everything possible politically and economically to destroy it -- including denying any republic's putsch government a seat at the U.N.

If fascism is fought in advance, the road should lead up. Why not? The republics could be sleek with meat, grain, oil, gold, timber when their riches no longer lie rotting in the genetic corruption of communist production and distribution. The system could deliver military shuttles to space but not milk to children 50 miles from the farm.

In Moscow these days it seems so grievously past time that the U.S. stops seeing the end of the Soviet Union as an unknowable threat but as a reward to the people for decades of known suffering.

From what the Bush administration is saying and doing now, maybe that is taking hold in Washington. I certainly pray so, as an American, and also my Russian head.

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