Four days in August: activist remembers the coup

19th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

A phone call woke rights activist Alexander Cherkasov on August 19, 1991. "Are you listening to the radio? There has been a coup," a friend told him.

As a member of the Memorial rights group, where he is now a member of the board, Cherkasov found himself in the thick of the action as ordinary Muscovites turned out to defend the White House, he remembered in an interview.

"That morning a friend called me at 6:00 am and said 'Are you listening to the radio? There has been a coup in the country.' I turned on the radio. And it turned out to be true."

"Moscow continued to live its ordinary life, but it was also a city invaded by troops... We used to follow the caterpillar tracks on the streets of Moscow to work out where the tanks had gone."

"People would call and say: a column of tanks just went past. At night, the tanks looked strange standing here along the Garden Ring road."

"When I heard about it, I felt it was like a farce. With coup leaders who did not look much like real people. Who were these people? I felt that I was important in this country, not them."

"Those who came out against the coup were ready to pay a high price and had a sense of being in the right."

"Not everyone saw it as a farce. Maybe because they understood it could end with bloodshed. Because by then there had been plenty of experience of bloody deployment of troops. In Tbilisi in April 1989 and in Baku in January 1990."

"On August 22, victory came and huge crowds poured onto the streets. They were not only the people who had spent days around the White House. You could spot those ones straight away because they were carrying gas masks."

"At one point, people had feared they would use gas and everyone was given gas masks in green bags. They had tired, not very well shaven faces, and not very fresh clothes. But those were the minority."

"People came to celebrate at the source of evil: the crowd surged around the White House, and for Memorial the important thing was that the archives should not go missing."

"But it was not the archives that people carried out from there. It had been the last time that the canteen of the party central comittee had received some good food, which was not issued to the general public.

The central committee workers came out not with the archives but with gourmet dishes."

"Then the news came that they were going to topple the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky on Lubyanka Square... I also went along, once I was sure the archives were safe."

"I had a look at the toppling of Felix, then I spent 50 rubles on drink... For 50 rubles, you could buy a lot: cognac and champagne. And then on the evening of August 22, we had a celebration at Memorial."

"I remember when they buried the three people killed, I was among those who kept order at the cemetery. And I don't remember any more, because in the course of 20 years, there have been so many events that have wiped away those memories. But those were not the worst days of my life."

© 2011 AFP

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