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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

City Marks Anniversary With Mixed Feelings

MTPassers-by looking at a display commemorating those who died on Oct. 3-4, 1993.
Ten years after tank fire ripped into the parliament building and forced an end to the power struggle between then-President Boris Yeltsin and his opponents in the Supreme Soviet, Russia remains divided on what the events of October 1993 meant and what their violent denouement really accomplished.

Some have glorified it as a triumph of democracy and private property over a backward-looking and anti-Western parliament.

Others, with equal fervor, bemoan it as a Yeltsin-led coup that sealed the Kremlin's hold on power and removed the last obstacles to an unabashed plundering of state assets by government-linked insiders.

But in whatever beneficial or injurious way the October events have shaped Russia, one thing is certain: The gloomiest view that Yeltsin's opponents held of their future has not come true, and most of them have managed to rebound and thrive in post-1993 Russia.

The dramatic culmination had been brewing for two weeks, since Yeltsin, exasperated by a yearlong standoff with parliament over his privatization plans, ordered it dissolved.

The move was a clear violation of the Constitution, which Yeltsin admitted, but he argued that a referendum earlier that year, in which Russians supported his rule, gave him supreme power.

Sergei Filatov, who served as the presidential chief of staff in 1993, defended Yeltsin's actions in a recent interview. "Did he violate the Constitution? Yes, he did. Did he take a risk? Yes, he did. But he was relying on the fact that people had expressed their trust in him."

Parliament refused to disband and responded by naming Vice President Alexander Rutskoi acting president, appointing a parallel cabinet, and ordering the army to obey Rutskoi and parliament Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov.

It was the same parliament that had supported Yeltsin's accession to the presidency and that had helped him defeat the 1991 coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Ten years on, leaders of the dismissed parliament are still bitter about privatization plans nurtured by Yeltsin and Yegor Gaidar, his first prime minister.

"They wanted to distribute all factories, all plants among their acquaintances, it didn't matter how well they would operate," Khasbulatov said recently. "Now, 10 years later, questions are being raised in society about the legality or illegality of that privatization."

At the time, most Western governments backed the rapid privatization and quickly justified Yeltsin's dissolution of parliament. But his critics argue that the 1990s transition impoverished millions of ordinary Russians, while enriching a few insiders.

Yet, whether Yeltsin's opponents had any viable alternative to his policy remains in doubt.

Rutskoi's proposals for reviving agriculture included building small nuclear power plants in villages, as Mikhail Delyagin, a Yeltsin adviser in 1993 and now an expert at the Institute of Anti-Globalization Problems, pointed out in an article this week.

The Constitutional Court voted 9 to 4 on Sept. 21, 1993, to declare Yeltsin's decree illegal, with court chairman Valery Zorkin describing Yeltsin's decision as instituting "direct presidential rule, in legal language, or putting it simply, a coup d'etat," according to a transcript of proceedings published by Moskovskiye Novosti this week.

Constitutional Court Judge Gadis Gadzhiyev, who voted in favor of the ruling, said that the court -- required to abide by the letter of the law -- had no choice but to declare Yeltsin's decree unconstitutional, but that the president was driven by necessity that justified his actions.

"We became hostages, we had to make a decision: yes or no," Gadzhiyev said.

Parliament had drafted a bill that would have stripped Yeltsin of most of his powers, and was expected to consider impeaching Yeltsin in November.

In a pre-emptive strike, riot police loyal to Yeltsin blockaded the White House parliament building, and electricity supplies were cut off. On Oct. 3, militant supporters of parliament broke through police lines, and firefights erupted near the Ostankino television tower between government troops and rioters trying to storm the building.

The next day, Yeltsin sent tanks to attack the parliament building, and by late afternoon the deputies were forced to surrender.

"From today's viewpoint, we understand that there were no enemies there. Everybody was concerned about the motherland, but the concept of motherland was blurry, everybody understood it in their own way," Gennady Zakharov, then-deputy chief of the presidential guard, said in comments aired on state-owned Rossia television this week.

Khasbulatov wandered through the darkened corridors of the White House, apparently expecting the worst.

"Yes, we will all die," he said at the time. "But in some other city, our comrades will gather a congress."

The truth turned out to be much more prosaic.

Khasbulatov, Rutskoi and four ministers from parliament's alternative cabinet were arrested and held in Lefortovo, the former KGB jail.

But they were all amnestied by a new parliament, elected in December, and freed in February 1994. Some of the legislators from the rebel parliament even went on to be re-elected to the State Duma.

Rutskoi went on to serve one term as the governor of the Kursk region, his tenure described as disastrous by some. Zorkin, the Constitutional Court chairman, was dismissed by Yeltsin, but re-elected to the post by his colleagues 10 years later.

Khasbulatov made no political comeback, instead becoming head of a department at Moscow's Plekhanov Economic Academy. But as he discourses about the events of 10 years ago, seated in his spacious and expensively decorated central Moscow apartment, he hardly seems a defeated washout.

The leaders of the 1993 rebellion "appear on television, they get published in newspapers. ... They accomplished something thanks to [Yeltsin]," Filatov said.

Filatov also left government service a few years ago and now heads the independent Foundation for Social, Economic and Intellectual Programs. Its main projects include publishing the works of Soviet dissidents and survivors of Nazi and Soviet camps and aiding talented young writers.

Filatov once called for mandatory retirement at 60 for government officials. Now 67, he thinks it wise to follow the rules he tried to impose. Sitting in the Duma would probably bore him, he said.

But memories of the 1993 events and of their horrifying culmination still seem to haunt the main participants. The urban warfare that erupted in Moscow left more than 100 -- some say many hundreds -- dead.

"The most frightening thing was to make a decision to shoot at your own people," Filatov said. "But there was no other way. It [the revolt] had to be extinguished."

Moscow Remembers

Supporters of all political factions will march and meet on Friday and Saturday as Moscow commemorates the 10th anniversary of the storming of the White House.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov has given permission for a number of meetings to go ahead. A number of roads will be partially closed off and public transport limited in the city center to accommodate the various meetings.

On Friday, more than 5,000 people are expected at a demonstration in front of the White House between 7 and 9 p.m.

Five hundred or so supporters of the hard-line Trudovoya Rossiya will march from Krymsky Val to Novy Arbat after a meeting at Kaluzhskaya Ploshchad between 5 and 7 p.m.

On Saturday, the Communists will meet at Kaluzhskaya Ploshchad from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. before marching to Novy Arbat. From 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., a memorial service will be held for those who died 10 years ago in front of the monument to the dead near the White House.

The Liberal Democratic Party and its supporters will march from Pushkin Square to Ploshchad Revolyutsii starting at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

Traffic will be restricted on city center roads from 4:30 p.m. on Friday and from 10:30 a.m. on Saturday.