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Russia Remembers 1991 Coup - 2001-08-19


Russia is marking the 10th anniversary of the coup against Communist leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Four days of concerts and celebrations are planned, with a reunion of some of those who defended the Russian parliament from the tanks in 1991. Only a few dozen people turned out, but they were in a festive mood as they commemorated what many say was Russia's finest hour. In 1991, thousands of Russians filled the square facing the Parliament building, known as the White House, and defied Communist hardliners who tried to remove reforming leader Mikhail Gorbachev and take power.

The coup failed when the army refused to fire on the people gathered in the square, after Russian President Boris Yeltsin climbed onto a tank to persuade the troops to turn back.

Pensioner Galina Nikolaevna was in the square in front of the White House in 1991, and she says that she came back to celebrate, despite the economic chaos of the past 10 years that has impoverished millions of Russians.

"It is better for me and it is better for my children," says Ms. Nikolaevna. " They work where they want, in business, or in a profession not like when I worked for 48 years. It is freedom after all."

There has been no comment from Russian President Vladimir Putin on this anniversary or for what it means for post-Soviet Russia. But critics noted that several of the coup plotters were invited to President Putin's inauguration last year. They have recently endorsed him, claiming that he is continuing the aims of their coup.

Last week, Mikhail Gorbachev said that if it had not been for the attempted coup he could have succeeded in reforming the Soviet Union from within. As it was, he was forced out of the world of politics when the Soviet Union collapsed following the dramatic three days when the Russian army joined the Russian people.

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