October seems to have a special place in Russian history. I have a theory about it. I think there are only two months you have to be concerned about—August and October. The rest is not a problem. Think about it!
August is when the leaders take vacation, and those who don’t might think it is a good time to move into the empty offices. That is what happened to Gorbachev in August 1991. It is also the time, as on weekends, that demonstrators (by definition those who don’t have dachas) can be gathered in the largest numbers for maximum effect against those who do have dachas. But things may not get delivered on time, like flags and banners, or picks and crowbars, in which case it may be October before everyone gets their act together.
After October, it gets cold, and it’s no fun marching in the cold rain and snow. December is too cold and New Year’s and Christmas are coming, and January is the time to get drunk. In February, the snow is too deep and still too cold for action. March is too muddy. April and May—now who would want to start a revolution in the quiet and beauty of an idyllic Russian spring? Anything requiring thought and action can wait.
June - the most magical time of the year in Russia. Days last forever so there is no night left for conspiring, and who wants to disturb the peace anyway? It is time to lie in the grass with your girlfriend and count the clouds. But then those with evil thoughts feel the frustration, as they know the days soon will shorten, and they feel the itch of dissatisfaction. The depressing heat and dust of July ratchets their nerves. Impatience amplifies their indecision into chaos and they are ready to strike. August is the time.
But August is a hard time to get anything done in Russia. Trips to the Crimea, or to Europe or Turkey today, can interfere with revolutionary schemes. Politicians are not in one place for you to shoot them. So when everyone has drifted back to Moscow, surreptitious meetings can be held in September and grand plans can be concocted. With winter threatening, October is the last possible time. So October it is.
I remember “The Events of October 1993” very well. They are so-called because most Russians were equivocal about what happened on those days and embarrassed about how the situation was resolved. It was all about a power struggle between anti-reform Supreme Soviet (parliament) leader Ruslan Khasbulatov with his nationalist/Communist friends and President Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin sent in the tanks and finally won. It was quite literally a Pyrrhic victory for him, for the Supreme Soviet was dissolved and the White House (parliament building) was shelled by tanks and set on fire, and 150 people uselessly died. Khasbulatov and his cronies were jailed for a while, and Yeltsin changed the rules and held elections for a new parliament, the State Duma.
Our office was next to the White House at that time and we continued working there until our building was attacked by the pro-Khasbulatov rebels. Being naturally curious, I had to watch the attack. I watched from the front steps of the building and, when the bullets started flying, I watched from around the corner. I will never forget the shouting drunk novo-Bolsheviks with pickaxes, sharpened hoes and axes (forever the Russian weapon of choice), marching up the concrete stairs toward the glass doors of our building. The insurgents commandeered the army’s trucks and rammed them through the glass front of the building and in no time were scurrying up the stairs toward the offices, including ours.
That night Moscow was deathly quiet and in total darkness. The rebels were at least half-drunk and were occasionally shooting their pistols at the glass windows or up in the air. A friend and I walked up to these guys at the remnants of the front door, and I innocently asked, “Hey, what’s going on here?”
“We took the building,” one of them stepped up and said. He motioned up the building, which looks like the Las Vegas Hilton, with his Kalashnikov as if I didn’t know what building he was talking about.
“Why did you do that?”
He looked around as to find someone with an answer. “I don’t know. We were just told to do it.”
There were scores of the anarchists that night shooting wildly at people. The day after that, the city was cleaned up, even the downed trolley-bus lines had been repaired, and when Mayor Yury Luzhkov was asked about the “events,” he typically replied, “What events?”
But, I cannot help remembering Pushkin’s words in The Captain’s Daughter, a story of the Pugachev rebellion of 1773.
“God defend you from the sight of a Russian rebellion in all its ruthless stupidity.” So again it is October. And the action this time is the firing of Luzhkov and appointment of a new Moscow mayor, Sergei Sobyanin. Somehow I don’t think this will lead to a revolution. But who is to tell?
The column is about the ideas and stories generated from the 20 years the author spent living and doing business in Russia. Often about conflict and resolution, these tales at times reveal the “third side of the Russian coin.” Based on direct involvement and from observations at a safe distance, the author relates his experiences with respect, satire and humor.
Frederick Andresen is an international businessman and writer with a lifetime of intercultural experience in Asia and for the last twenty years in Russia. He now lives in California and is President of the Los Angeles/St. Petersburg Sister City. While still involved in Russian business, he also devotes time to the arts and his writing, being author of “Walking on Ice, An American Businessman in Russia” and historical novellas.