Saturday, 20 August 2011

Memories of the coup

One of the leaders, and the spokesman for, the hardline coup twenty years ago against Gorbachev in the then Soviet Union once had supper in my kitchen in London. Gennadi Yanaev was one of a constant stream of Russians who visited us in the years that I was working on cultural relations for an organisation funded by the Foreign & Commonwealth office. Most of the visitors I helped to host were not politicians, but writers, film -makers, musicians, gardeners, scientists and actors. I cannot now remember how or why it was that Yanaev arrived for shepherd's pie one evening, dressed in a black leather jacket and shades. At the time he was the titular head of a Soviet trade union. Imagine our surprise when he appeared, hands shaking uncontrollably, on TV with his fellow conspirators to announce the re-establishment of control by the 'old guard' against the modernisers. For what it's worth, I suspected at the time, and still think, that the situation was more complex than appeared on the surface, that Gorbachev might not have been an unwilling 'captive' - but I have no evidence other than some curious body language as he was descending the steps of the plane that brought him back to Moscow when the coup collapsed. Russians are demonstrative, and there was no hugging or kissing with the reception party who met him. Had the whole thing been a charade staged for public consumption, to facilitate a retrenchment from perestroika? The question lingers, and far from being treated as a returning hero, he was a busted flush; Yeltsin took over, things went awry. Now the state security's representative -Putin - is back in firm control, reputedly following a deal done with the 'oligarchs', that they could run the economy so long as the 'okhrana'/KGB manages law and order. I am reading, and very much enjoying, what we were doing and where we were going, a collection of short stories by Damion Searls who I met in Aldeburgh in January.

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