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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin's Former Supporters United in Apathy

Standing outside the main Stalinist building of Moscow State University on Friday, Konstantin Smogin, 19, delivered a thoughtful, carefully considered explanation of his pro-reform political views.


But for all his gesturing, the mathematics student was not aware of the current session of the Congress of People's Deputies.


"I might have heard something about it from my parents", he said, his book bag flung over his shoulder.


A visit to the country's largest university illustrates that such political ignorance and apathy is not uncommon among Russia's youth.


They are one of the significant blocks of Yeltsin supporters who overwhelmingly elected him president, then stood behind him during the failed coup attempt in August 1991, but have now retreated into political hibernation.


Even among young Muscovites who risked their lives at the White House to support Yeltsin during the coup attempt, few feel any desire to take to the streets again - even if Yeltsin says the country is on the verge of returning to communism.


"It's not clear that there is black and white anymore; it's black and grey", said Leonid Ivanov, who was at the White House within hours of the start of the August 1991 coup. "What happens in the Congress sounds dramatic, but I don't think it really was; during the coup, it was different".


For Ivanov and many other Muscovites, a conviction that the Congress will not make any difference to their lives is fueling their apathy.


"I don't regard this conference as serious; I don't think it is deciding anything", said Tolya Khmelmitsky, another White House defender. "Normal people only go to protest meetings in extreme cases. If something really serious occurs, the people will come".


Both Ivanov and Khmelmitsky said that Yeltsin's lack of true radical reform, his inability to bring to trial Communists that abused power, and growing corruption within the government had dampened their enthusiasm for the president.


Such sentiment has contributed to the lack of visible public support for Yeltsin. At both the current Congress and its predecessor last December, the number of anti-Yeltsin demonstrators outside the Kremlin walls has consistently been greater than the democratic forces.


If the number of demonstrators outside the Kremlin were any measure of support, Yeltsin would lose his post to a mixture of communists, Stalinists, monarchists and anti-Semites. While this vocal minority has turned out in force for the present Congress, Yeltsin supporters are far more difficult to locate.


Part of the contrast has to do with better political organisation by some of the radical political groups, Yeltsin supporters say. Another reason is the growing gulf between Yeltsin and some of his former strongest supporters. That is the view of Anatoly Tsiganok, who managed the pro-Yeltsin defense of the White House two years ago and is a member of Living Ring, an organization of those who helped to defend the White House.


Tsiganok, who leads a branch of the city's security force, said it would take a presidential request to take to the streets before he would publicly demonstrate again.


"I think it is a very dangerous, serious moment in which we'll decide if what we started a year ago will continue", he said. "Yet I'll go to the streets only if there is a presidential request to preserve order on the streets".


On the Moscow State University campus, Alexander Korilovo, 24, shrugged at the suggestion he should back up his support for Yeltsin by demonstrating outside the Kremlin. "What little time I have I spend listening to music or playing sports", the engineering student said. "I have no time for politics".


Few students interviewed on the university campus Friday believed the Yeltsin camp's warnings that communism was creeping back into Russia. They say they are certainly not ready to organize a defense against a possibility they deem remote.


"That's funny", said Ksenia Kosygina. "It's all just the government saying things to get more power".


But at least one student was encouraged by the prospect of communism's return.


"A return of communism would not be bad", said Igor Moltsov, 20, a chemistry student. "I think the country needs a strong hand".


But even students who support reform do not necessarily support Yeltsin.


"Russia is such a great, rich country and yet our people are struggling to buy bread", said Irina Smirnova, 18, a language student. "I can't support Yeltsin, but I don't want the communists to come back either. The main thing is that people keep doing their business".


Smogin, the math student who did not know Congress was in session, sees nothing negligent about his lack of interest in politics.


"I like the present move toward capitalism more than the socialist views of some of our leaders", he said. "So I support Yeltsin. But politics - I'm sick of it all".