The Old Split: Westernizers vs. Those Who Seek a Russian Way THE NEW OCTOBER REVOLUTION

October 10, 1993|By LIZ ATWOOD

The Russians who held the Parliament building, attacked thenation's television studios and savagely attempted to take over the streets of Moscow this week were not just fighting Boris N. Yeltsin and his reforms.

Some of those in the crowd also were fighting against Winnie the Pooh, Mars candy, Michael Jordan and Ice-T.

Ever since Peter the Great turned to Holland to learn ship making, Russia has been torn between those who look to learn from the West and those who believe Russia should make its own way.

More than 200 years ago, Peter forced Russian men to shave their beards and wear more Western clothing. He imported thousands of English, German and Dutch workers to modernize his backward country. And he killed those who resisted, including his own son.

Times have changed since then. The reforms initiated by Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Mr. Yeltsin have been remarkably bloodless. But still both leaders have looked to Western economic and political models in creating their reform programs.

Mr. Gorbachev reportedly resolved to embark on his perestroika and glasnost reforms after visiting a Canadian wheat farmer. Mr. Yeltsin has gone even further than Mr. Gorbachev intended, and actively sought U.S. aid for carrying out his plans.

Today Russia is a splintered, disillusioned country. While Yeltsin supporters share his vision of a Western-style democracy and free market, the rebels who backed Vice President Alexander Rutskoi believe that Russia must develop its own economic and political systems.

The nationalists' main message -- that Russia is a great country that will find its own solutions without Western intervention -- resonates with many apolitical Russians, who never would think of marching in the street.

One elderly Russian lawyer, who considered herself a Yeltsin supporter, fondly recalled Stalin's rule. "I suppose some people suffered, but I wasn't hurt and everything was more orderly," she said.

Another Russian pensioner -- who threw away her Communist Party card years ago -- believes that the American government somehow played a role in the downfall of the Soviet Union. She reminisces about the days of Leonid I. Brezhnev when the stores were full and people lived peaceably.

The nostalgia many Russians feel is understandable. The Soviet hTC government instilled pride in the people by feeding them a constant stream of propaganda about the great Communist future they were building. Newspapers were filled with pictures of happy workers and glowing reports of grain harvests.

Today, the newspapers and television programs are filled with pictures of corpses gunned down in "Mafia" turf battles, reports of government corruption and criticisms over the faltering economy.

Juxtaposed with pieces on the dismal life in Russia are stories detailing the lives of American and British rock stars, features on happy Russian immigrants living in America and the latest update on Western fashion and culture.

On the radio, Russian singers belt out rap tunes, a weekly children's program chronicles the adventures of Barbie, teen-agers in the subway wear Chicago Bulls athletic jackets, and every Russian kiosk sells Snickers candy bars. At a small Communist demonstration in March, an elderly woman railed against Winnie the Pooh for invading Russian Sunday night television.

Sick of the Westernization of their culture, Russians are rebeling, and anti-American voices are growing louder. Russians complain that Americans have cheated them in business. Sessions of the Moscow City Council open routinely with speeches decrying Western intervention.

Protesters frequently appear with signs labeling Mr. Yeltsin as a tool of American agents and blaming the CIA for Russia's downfall. During the latest crisis, a demonstrator at the Parliament told an American woman that he would rather die than let her live.

The defeat of Mr. Rutskoi and the hard-liners in the Parliament probably means the end of their political careers, but it does not mean an end to nationalism.

Mr. Yeltsin must start to show his people some tangible evidence that Western political and economic systems work in Russia, or he will continue to face challenges from those who want to do it the Russian way.

Liz Atwood, a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, spent seven months in Moscow this year researching a doctoral dissertation.

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