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Next Step : Russia: The Fight for the Kremlin : 'Putsch II' looks like a low-budget parody of the 1991 thriller. Crowds are smaller, the mood despairing.

September 28, 1993|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — The hot water and elevators didn't work, the toilets on some floors stopped, the usually gorged snack bars ran short of everything but bread and bottled water and, though people talked with bravado about resisting until the end, their towering stone fortress soon became a trap.

Under the windows roamed a motley crowd that waxed and waned, never topping 5,000. It was dominated by Russia's new "refuseniks" --people who refuse the great, painful changes that have taken place here, who pine for the Soviet Union, who see the nefarious hand of Israel or the United States in their misery or problems.

Dina Karpenko, 64, whose father was shot as an enemy of the people under dictator Josef Stalin, was among the discontented who longed to turn back the clock. "What do we need the Americanization of Russia for?" the woman, whose bright blue eyes glowed with sincerity, asked in a soft but insistent voice. "My grandson doesn't know any of the old Russian tales. The only thing he wants to do is watch those awful music videos on television."

The Moscow grandmother who is against MTV and for the revival of Marxism was one of the bit players in "Putsch II: Russia in Crisis," last week's parody of the political thriller that mesmerized the world two Augusts ago, when then-Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev was briefly deposed.

The stage where Karpenko and the others gathered was the same: the marble-trimmed colossus by the Moscow River that Russians call simply "Byely Dom"--the White House. And many of 1991's leading actors were back for a repeat performance (although plenty had different roles). But, as they know so well in Hollywood, remakes rarely match the original.

In August, 1991, after the State Emergency Committee tried to grab power in the Soviet Union, thousands and thousands of Muscovites flocked to the seat of Russia's legislature to build bristling barricades of park benches, concrete reinforcement bars, trolley buses, children's playground equipment and whatever else they could lay their hands on.

Despite the sense at times of real danger and impending onslaught by the Soviet army, the prevailing mood was that of a Slavic Woodstock, a sort of love-in for democracy.

Women stuck bright red geraniums in tank barrels and perfect strangers bonded by sharing cups of hot tea in the cold rains that fell throughout the three-day drama.

In the standoff that began last Tuesday, the dominant tone in the crowd was despair, anger and bewilderment, camouflaged behind the shouting of old Soviet-era slogans such as "All power to the soviets!" or brave claims like the "We will win!" tossed out by right-wing lawmaker Sergei N. Baburin.

Woodstock it wasn't; at times, the White House crowd definitely had more in common with the graying group you'd find lounging around the pool at Leisure World. A red banner marked the rallying point of "Veterans of the Great Patriotic War and the Soviet Armed Forces." In the White House lobby, two retired colonels in their 70s squeezed back into their uniforms and strapped on their Sam Browne belts to show support for Soviet-vintage institutions.

Russians at the White House in August, 1991, felt in their bones that the rest of the world was with them; it was a moment when a country that had lived like an armed camp for decades seemed to rejoin the community of nations. People who rallied to the Parliament's aid this time were furious at the widespread support enjoyed by Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin abroad, seeing it as additional proof that the president was in the hire of foreign masters.

"Yankee, go home!" one steel-toothed electronics worker from Izhevsk said angrily to an American reporter who asked for his opinion of events. "How would you feel if Russia approved of Clinton dissolving the Congress?"

An anti-Semitic, xenophobic strain could often be detected. "We will not surrender Russia to Zionism!" a deputy proclaimed to the anti-reform Congress of People's Deputies as it met inside the building. Posters taped to the White House walls depicted Yeltsin as a wallowing pig covered with stars of David and dollar signs, or with a Hitler-like shock of black hair and mustache. Along with red Soviet banners, the yellow-black-and-white flags of Russian ultranationalists flapped in the chilly September wind.

Anti-Yeltsinites' attempts at self-defense--fist-sized rocks laid out in mounds for use against police, hurdles cobbled together of sewer pipe and steel bars--looked like a set for a low-budget war film. "What's important is that the people will stop the tanks. We will," Tariel M. Bairamov, 47, a teacher of physics, vowed.

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