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Russians Shrug Off 15-Year Anniversary of Failed Coup

This weekend Russia marks the 15th anniversary of the failed coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev that ushered in the end of the Soviet Union. The latest polls show the Russians are sharply divided on the coup.

About 100 Communist party supporters gathered on Moscow's Red Square to denounce the event that led to the Soviet Union's collapse 15 years ago. Waving red flags, the mostly elderly protesters voiced their regret that the group of Communist hardliners failed in their attempt to oust Mikhail Gorbachev from power in 1991.

Another group of people with mostly opposing views held a rally near the spot where former-President Boris Yeltsin got up on a tank and denounced the coup attempt, raising the morale of tens of thousands of anti-Communist protesters outside the Russian White House.

Hardline Communists who organized the coup ordered tanks into the streets of Moscow and restricted the movement of then President Gorbachev. But the opposition staged massive protests, and, after three days, the coup collapsed. Three people died in the protest.

One woman, who took part in the August 1991 protests, says it was the high point of her life. She says that by coming out into the streets to block the coup attempt, for the first time ordinary people did what they knew had to be done, and not what they were told to do by the Soviet authorities.

Others at the rally praised what they called the anniversary of our democratic revolution and the birth of a new, free Russia."

But most Russians appear indifferent to the pivotal events of that time. In a recent poll by the independent Levada Center, the Communist coup plotters won slightly more support than Boris Yeltsin and his supporters. However, more than half of those questioned said they favored neither side, viewing the coup as a power struggle between ruling elites.

Recent media talk shows have also revealed many Russians do not give the early 1990s much thought, saying they are more caught up in what's happening today.

President Vladimir Putin himself has called the 1991 Soviet collapse the "biggest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century, although he insists that Russia has now emerged from that time as a strong power.