Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A New Russian Roulette

A cruel pastime was devised by Russian officers in the last century. A revolver would be loaded, but only every other chamber would contain a bullet. An officer, out of his mind with drink and boredom would pull the trigger, and trust to fate. He would either get a bullet in the brain or hear an empty click.

This diversion was given the name "Russian roulette", and this term has stuck to this day. Or at least until Monday, Oct. 4, the bloodiest day in Moscow's modern history.

Now tourist buses stop in front of the burned-out White House, and I have seen the curiosity on the faces of Moscow's guests as they look on this awful testimony to Russia's tragedy. Groups, couples, and people by themselves are photographed with the White House in the background: An instant polaroid snapshot costs 4, 000 rubles. It is possible that only the police cordon is keeping souvenir hunters from taking the White House apart piece by piece.

It's only been a few weeks.

We became accustomed to it, we adapted ourselves. We looked on the White House as if Brezhnev's architects had planned it that way - black on top, white on the bottom.

In the same way the storming of the White House was seen by many as an entertaining spectacle. Mothers with their offspring, old women with their dogs, shoving each other in their excitement, crowds of gawkers - all forgot about the danger of the bullets whizzing past their ears - just like the old-time players of Russian roulette.

Maybe the whole world was shocked by the crowd of spectators, more involved in the show than in the actual events. But we, who live here, and have no intentions of leaving. . .

What happened? Why? Who is to blame?

I was watching television a few weeks ago, seeing again the same pictures, the same faces, the same images repeated again and again as if to convince us once and for all that the White House was just a fancy set from the Mosfilm studio.

But suddenly something new emerged. Something that, for me, at least, was touch more sensational. A young soldier, from the Vityaz group, squatting in the corridors of Ostankino, was answering a question about what be felt as he was repelling the attack of the rebels on the television center. He did not say that he was defending democracy, or that he was fighting fascism or the remnants of Soviet power. He did not say that he was for Yeltsin and against Khasbulatov, or even, as soldiers are supposed to say in such situations "I was just following orders".

What he said was: "What good can come of brother against brother". And, after a pause, he continued, "How am I going to explain this to my parents? "

At that moment that young man, who was no more than 20, became closer to me than many people I know, read, or watch on stage or screen. It was he who symbolized the event.

Unlike many, he did not shout, "Kill the hydra", and he did not try to convince anyone that censorship was necessary. He did not express joy at the police methods of one of the newspapers that announced a million-ruble prize for the head of an enemy, and he did not try to print denunciations of his rivals in the newspapers.

He was sorrowful about what had happened.

Perhaps it was only then that I understood that a new generation had grown up in the country, a generation that had turned out to be morally purer than those who profess to know what morality is, but cannot seem to separate it from the Bolshevik lesson they learned in childhood: to shout, in unison, "Shoot! "

The generation of "the fathers of democracy", having quarreled with each other, having divided the world into "us" and "them" has nothing to teach the new generation, which has already assimilated democracy - not from books, not in theory, but real democracy, democracy they have felt from their youth.

It was the older generation, with their childhood habit of dividing the world into black and white, that called their supporters onto the street like hawkers at a carnival.

But it was the younger generation that died.

The ones who escaped now look at those who sent their comrades to their deaths without hope and without faith.

Yury Shchekochikhin is a prominent Moscow journalist, now head of the investigation department of Literaturnaya Gazeta. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.