MOSCOW — Nikolai Golovenkov took the tiny hand of his son, Tolik, and walked up to a barricade of stones, concrete slabs and metal playground equipment that stands near the Russian Parliament as a symbol of the victory of the people's resistance over the reactionary coup.
He crouched down to Tolik's eye level and pointed to places where tanks had stood and to one of the doorways of the mammoth, white-stone building where he had been posted to prevent "evil men" from entering.
In language a 4-year-old could understand, Golovenkov explained how these "evil men" had tried to take away their country's freedom, but the people of Russia, including his father, had refused to let them.
Tolik listened carefully and then ran over to his mother, Marina, to repeat the story: "A war happened at this building, and there were tanks here!" a wide-eyed Tolik told her. "But Papa and a lot of other people didn't let the tanks get through. So, the evil men lost."
The failed three-day August putsch that shook the Soviet Union and dealt a death blow to the Communist Party showed the Golovenkovs how much they have changed during the years of perestroika and how dear their freedom has become.
But Nikolai feels bitter and disappointed. Although he and thousands of others risked their lives to resist the coup, he believes that the country's leaders are squandering the opportunity to drive the reforms forward.
"After the coup there was euphoria," recalled the 33-year-old Nikolai. "I thought, 'Now everything will change, and we will finally have the life that we want.' But I don't see any real changes yet. The Communist Party has been thrown out, but everything else is the same.
"It's very difficult for me to say what will be in a few years. . . . Maybe there will be another putsch."
When the democratic reforms began in 1985, Nikolai was a captain in the Soviet army opposing capitalists in Mozambique. Now he works as a translator for capitalists--and loves his job.
His wife, Marina, considered herself among the luckiest children in the world because she was born in the just society created by her beloved V. I. Lenin, but her new hero is Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, who step by step is destroying the system Lenin built.
Marina's mother, Nelly Gridina, had no interest in politics for the first 55 years of her life, but she was swept up by her country's reform movement, and in three years she can't remember missing a pro-democracy political rally.
Nikolai's mother, Ludmila Lapchinskaya, used to push Soviet propaganda on fellow workers in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok. These days she gives lectures based on Dale Carnegie's self-improvement teachings.
On Monday, Aug. 19, Nikolai awoke to the news that a military coup was under way. Reserved and unusually independent for a Russian, he went to work but could not concentrate. "I felt that I was being pulled out into the streets," he said.
Hearing that the Russian Parliament building, popularly known as the White House, was the focal point of the anti-coup protest, Nikolai rushed over and found several hundred people already building barricades of concrete blocks, metal poles and anything else they could find.
"I had a feeling that everything was tumbling down--that the end had come," Nikolai said, recalling why he felt he had to stand up to the Red Army, his former comrades in arms. "I understood that if those people came to power, it would be the end of my life here. I understood it would be dictatorship all over again."
"I did not go to the White House to defend Yeltsin or anyone else. I went there to defend myself, my way of life, our family and our future."
Nikolai's life had turned 180 degrees during the perestroika years. When Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev came to power, Nikolai was working as a translator for Soviet military advisers in Mozambique, where the Marxist regime was battling "imperialists" trying to restore capitalism.
It was during his service in Africa that Nikolai comprehended the "farce" of Soviet ideology. An avid reader since early childhood, he found for the first time books such as George Orwell's "1984," and they revolutionized his thinking.
Although he had been trained at an elite academy for military translators where Marxist-Leninist philosophy was the main fare, he never accepted Communist ideology. After returning from Mozambique he was barred from further foreign posts because he repeatedly refused to join the Communist Party.
"I could not join," Nikolai said. "The Communist Party is responsible for too much bloodshed, and I knew that if I joined, I too would be responsible."
A year and a half ago, when career officers were allowed to resign in an effort to reduce the size of the armed forces, Nikolai quit after 13 years in uniform. Drawn to the money and opportunity offered by the new private sector, he found a high-paying job with a Soviet-American firm that finds and renovates apartments for foreigners in Moscow.