Magazine article Russian Life

Memories of Perestroika

Magazine article Russian Life

Memories of Perestroika

Article excerpt

THIS YEAR MAKES 25 since Mikhail Gorbachev embarked on his brave--and ultimately hopeless--attempt to rescue the Soviet system. The following are random memories of an ordinary visitor during those years.

[paragraph] The sudden death of my favorite morning routine--ice-cream with champagne at the Lyagushatik cafe on Nevsky Prospect. Orange punch was a lousy alternative.

[paragraph] Vehement and wildly incoherent street debates on the new "Speakers' Corner" outside the Moskovskiye Novosti offices, where, to a Westerner, violence seemed imminent but, these being Russians, never happened. Though I did once flee, pursued by an acid-faced female pensioner-terrorist screaming "Trotskist!"

[paragraph] In 1987, in a Leningrad kitchen, listening to the BBC ... un-jammed.

[paragraph] Long arguments with liberal stalwarts, especially Irina Osipova and Lev Razgon, about the obligations of the newly-liberated Russian Intelligentsia. Party politics was anathema! Russian idealism and maximalism (irredeemably noble and frustrating to a Western sympathizer) scorned the practical politics of deal and compromise. The intelligentsia would thunder from the sidelines in its historic role as conscience of the nation. But from about 1987 there was a radical shift in kitchen-table visions. Memorial was founded as a human rights "conscience," an educator of the people. But it rapidly accepted evolution into a single-issue pressure group and finally embraced despised party politics, entering the Inter-regional Group (later Dem-Rossiya) in the elected Congress of 1989. Razgon, who was always more pragmatic, became Memorial president. But I always felt that the maximalist instinct would inhibit liberals like Yavlinsky and Afanasiev in a politics in which old CPSU street fighters (like Yeltsin) were far more adept.

[paragraph] Watching a sour-faced Yury Solovyov, Leningrad Party boss, demonstrating his conversion to democracy by abandoning his usual airy wave from the Winter Palace podium to march (flanked by bodyguards) in parade with the common people (in the unprecedentedly free elections of 1989, his was the only name on the ballot, but he still lost).

[paragraph] Joining a joyful crowd breaking through bewildered police lines into a sealed-off Red Square, with our leader brandishing the newly minted credentials of an elected "Narodny Deputat" (People's Deputy). …

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