MOSCOW -- Down by the Parliament, things looked hopeful. Over by the Kremlin, it seemed as though Armageddon was around the corner. And beneath McDonald's golden arches, Russia's winter woes vanished amid mounds of burgers and fries.
Yesterday in Moscow was a confusing affair as democrats, communists and capitalists vied for the minds, hearts and stomachs of Russians.
Outside the Russian Parliament building, the White House, an estimated 15,000 demonstrators backing Russian President Boris Yeltsin shuffled through the slush to show their support for the difficult economic reforms he launched last month and -- some said -- to show that democrats have better manners than communists.
"I am a pensioner, but I am fully behind the president and his plan," said Nikolai Kidin, 62, a retired steelworker who joined about 100 people forming a ring around Parliament, symbolizing a similar human cor
don that protected the building in August during a coup attempt. "His plan is absolutely correct."
This judgment came from many other retirees in the group -- people probably affected the most by Mr. Yeltsin's economic reforms and his decision to lift state subsidies, which sent prices soaring by 350 percent in January alone.
Many pensioners, who have seen their monthly state stipends rise 50 to 100 percent, say they simply can't afford to feed themselves properly anymore. Medical experts say the average daily food intake among the elderly is now well below the minimum prescribed 2,000 calories a day.
"If this was a communist meeting, the mood would be different," said Vladimir Minayeva, who joined the human chain along with his wife, Mila.
A few miles away, by the Kremlin walls, there were thousands of communists shouting a simple message -- a democrat was the same thing as a fascist, with a little capital ism thrown in.
"In 1941 it was Hitler and the fascists," read a banner above 15,000 pro-communists marching through another part of town. "In 1991 it is Yeltsin and the democrats."
The protests centered mainly on the recent price increases and what the crowd clearly felt was the purposeful destruction of the Soviet Union by Mr. Yeltsin and his predecessor, Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Although there are serious food shortages in Russia this winter -- as there were last year -- and while sharply higher prices have forced many lower-income families away from the counters, there is no sign of widespread hunger.
Certainly, nobody was suffering at McDonald's yesterday.
As on most days at the country's only McDonald's, thousands of people packed the giant restaurant, elbowing, pushing and bellying up to the counter for "Beeg Makhs" and sodas.
"You see, we don't come here all the time, but now and then it is good for the children to see what life can be like," said Igor Karpatkin.