Volgograd Forum, September 1, 2001

Ten Years After Moscow Coup Attempt 

Developing last month's theme about visa requirements for aliens wishing to enter the USA, there was a story in our media about a Ukrainian immigrant in California who murdered six members of his family and escaped. It was reported that, when in Ukraine, that man was pronounced by a medical board unfit for military service as mentally unstable.

Question: how did that man get a residence permit in the United States?

We know about former citizens of CIS countries with shady past or even criminal record who were comfortably settled in the United States. When those people have problems with the US law, they write in newspapers about "Russian Mafia".

But who allowed Mafia to strike root in the USA?

At the same time law-abiding citizens like Dr. Zhavoronkova, or Maya Guglin, or Olga Leontovich had or have problems entering your country.

This is what we do not understand here, not the severity of your laws, which could be understandable, if applied scrupulously and justly.

Now more countries that want to enter the European Union introduce entrance visas for Russians. Recently it was the Chech Republic, Poland and now Hungary. The Baltic states have had a visa regime with Russia from the very beginning of their independence.

Thus, ten years after the fall of Communism Russians feel they have less opportunities to travel abroad than even under Mikhail Gorbachev.

In his first interview to a Russian newspaper (the Moscow News), the new US Ambassador Alexander Vershbow (hope I spell it right) recognized the existence of the problem and promised to work to soften it.

Freedom of travel was one of the rights that Russian citizens stood for defending democracy against the reactionary coup in August 1991.

I know that all major US newspapers marked the tenth anniversary of that event with their own stories and comments. So, you may have an idea how the past decade is estimated in this country.

The Volgograd Forum could not pass by that anniversary either. In fact, it has come into being largely thanks to those August days.

To our Forum meeting, which took place August 17, we invited people who were major players on the city's public scene of the period. Citizens of Volgograd who organized demonstrations of protest against the Moscow coup plotters, first democratically elected delegates to the then acting Soviet Congress of People's Deputies etc. I also invited the last Soviet Communist Party Secretary of the Volgograd Oblast before it was banned by President Yeltsyn in August 1991 but he declined the invitation.

It was a nostalgically emotional meeting. In deviation from tradition we met not in a restaurant, but in the office of the last remaining independent Volgograd newspaper "Inter".

There were people in the audience whose single word alone could bring thousands of Volgograd citizens to a meeting on the frozen Volga waterfront in winter 1990-1991.

On the wave of public enthusiasm many of them were elected to different public offices.

Now very few of them occupy any positions in the government or even are active in politics. Others are in the margin of the public life, like the once popular People's Deputy Boris Pylin who for years has been trying unsuccessfully to recruit support for Mikhail Gorbachev's party.

All the talk spun around one theme: what went wrong, why the reforms did not go the way they wished them to, why "democrats of the first tide", as we call them, could not retain power.

One of the obvious reasons was that they could not be united under one leader. They all wanted to be leaders. (That was why we did not have a traditional speaker to address the audience, they were all jealous of each other and could not let anyone be more prominent than the others).

The other reason was that the former Soviet Communist Party bureaucracy was the force that even President Yeltsyn could not do away with. Though many of them renounced their Party membership, they still clung together and helped to promote each other. Now they again occupy leading positions in politics and the economy.

For me and, I hope, for young people in the audience it was an interesting and instructive event and I do not regret that we organized it. Though the coup anniversary went practically unnoticed by the city's media and only one newspaper published stories on it, including a short report on our Forum.

To pass to more optimistic news, the Volgograd farmers gathered in a good harvest this year - 2.8 million tons grain against 1.6 mln. last year. Since most harvesters and other machinery they have are depreciated many farming cooperatives had to hire combine operators with their machines from abroad, mostly from Turkey. They took as payment one third of the yield. But they say it is still better than to harvest with Russian machines, that third would simply be lost.

Alexander Yevreinov

Volgograd Free Speech Forum


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