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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gorbachevs Admirably Weathered the Storm

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Ten years have passed since that memorable August day when the events later described as the putsch happened. As ordinary Muscovites, we did not quite understand what had happened and what the future would hold for the country.

It took another day for Radio Liberty and BBC, which were jammed until Mikhail Gorbachev returned to Moscow, to tell us the whole story.

The television footage of the GKChP press conference — the inept trade union boss Gennady Yanayev with the trembling hands of an alcoholic — sowed concerns that the operation to save the Communist Party would not lead to anything good. These people cared not for the lofty ideas they declared but for their own power and well-being.

Almost nobody did any work at our research institute during those days. We were busy discussing the situation. Remarkably, only a few people supported the plotters, mainly the fanatical Communists who did not want to think about any political or economic change.

A series of articles dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the August 1991 coup.
But only days later, when what happened in Foros was widely publicized, everything cleared up and we understood why the arrest of the coup leaders was timely and necessary.

I will always remember the television image of Gorbachev wearing a windbreaker over his shirt, walking down the ladder from the plane Aug. 22. Behind him was a pale, gaunt Raisa Maximovna, leaning heavily on her granddaughter's shoulder — ordinary, earthly people, not an ambitious president and first lady of a huge country. On a personal level, I felt bad for this close, loving couple. And although they were walking down the ladder — both literally and figuratively — they remained at the very top. What courage it took to undermine the Communist Party's 70-year-old grip!

Some five years ago my wife and I attended a charity that Raisa Maximovna hosted at the Moscow House of Journalists. Mikhail Sergeyevich came to pick her up, and we had a rare opportunity to talk informally with the Gorbachevs. My wife told Raisa Maximovna that she looked so well and that her elegant dress looked very good on her. That is exactly how Soviet philistines measured their well-being — the amount of sausage on their daily menu and the opportunity to dress "like everybody else." Raisa Maximovna was genuinely happy and suddenly asked, "Remember how I looked on the way back from Foros?"

"You kept your chin up," my wife replied.

"If you only knew how much effort it took!" Raisa said.

"Nobody noticed," my wife said in an obvious white lie. And Raisa Maximovna smiled thankfully.

Vladislav Schnitzer is a journalist and pensioner living in Moscow.