Staunton, Aug. 19 – The August 1991 coup attempt whose failure ushered in the restoration of the independence of the three occupied Baltic countries and the disintegration of the USSR did not involve much of the population. Instead, in Moscow and especially beyond the ring road, the peoples of the soon-to-be former Soviet Union were viewers not participants.
There is a famous picture looking over the crowds who gathered at the Russian White House to support Boris Yeltsin that shows a block or two away people were going about their ordinary lives even as the most fateful issues about the system in which they live were being resolved in the streets
And that was even more true outside the Russian capital, as ever more testimonies make clear (see especially publizist.ru/blogs/107339/43677/-). There people watched on television, listened to radio or waited for newspapers to appear– there was no Internet – as the coup sputtered and ultimately collapsed in only a couple of days.
But perhaps an even larger share of them than in Moscow itself continued to carry on in much the same way they had in the past and what is more important perhaps as they would continue to act even after this tectonic shift ended, something that set the stage for a kind of restoration in all too many ways.
All this serves as confirmation of W.H. Auden’s classic observation in his 1938 poem “Musee de Beaux Arts” “About suffering they were never wrong/The old Masters: how well they understood/Its human position: how it takes place/While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.”