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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Media Skew or Ignore Events of October 1993

On Oct. 4, exactly four years after President Boris Yeltsin's tanks shot up the Russian White House, a friend of mine invited me and my wife to take a walk with him near the former parliament building.


I had been in the United States when Yeltsin sent in the tanks, so I did not get shot at. Instead, I started calling friends in Moscow to find out what was really going on. CNN footage was scary but inconclusive. I ran up a phone bill that was too big for me to pay on my scholarship. I had to borrow from roommates and play a lot of poker to avoid having my phone disconnected.


The friend who wanted to relive the 1993 events Saturday is also a journalist. He was there when people started getting killed. "This was where I made my famous run for the White House," he told my wife and me as we took our walk. "I offered a soldier in the cordon 5,000 rubles to look the other way." Civil war, Moscow style.


Now, on the fourth anniversary of the events, we were walking past little groups of people burning bonfires and weeping over photographs of the victims. "Take, for instance, the world 'internationalism,'" I heard a man tell a group. "You know 'inter' means 'destroy' in Latin?"


"Oh, these wackos," my wife said. "Let's go home." She had been practicing her violin while the White House was being shelled.


Moscow newspapers had that same attitude on the anniversary of the events. Izvestia, Nezavisimaya Gazeta and Segodnya had little to say about October 1993. After the war in Chechnya, who cares about Yeltsin running a small civil war in downtown Moscow four years ago?


Only the new daily Russky Telegraf ran a front-page piece dedicated to the anniversary. Columnist Maxim Sokolov argued that during October 1993, Yeltsin merely did what Russian Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky had failed to do in November 1917 -- namely, speak to the Communists in the only language they understand, that of violence. Kerensky wavered, "and the country has been coughing blood for 80 years since. Yeltsin chose a different option," Sokolov wrote.


Reuters titled its anniversary piece "Russian Protesters Mark Failed Anti-Yeltsin Revolt." David Johnson, who runs an authoritative Russia mailing list on the Internet, commented, "What happened in September-October 1993 in Moscow was not a 'revolt' but a defense of the status quo, the existing constitutional order, in the face of an illegal coup. But the spin doctors have succeeded in shaping an inaccurate version of history."


There is a sad element of finality in that comment. When I am old, I will still remember my phone bill. Kirill will recall his "famous run to the White House." My wife will still play her violin. And history books will follow the Reuters headline.