The Rights of Man

MUCH attention has been given in the past year to the unhappiness of ordinary Soviets with their decapitated economy and with Mikhail Gorbachev's inability to provide goods. Many Soviets were ambivalent about the coup. You can't eat glasnost, the joke goes.Yet issues of butter and sausage were not the primary reason 150,000 Muscovites took to the streets on Tuesday and have gathered at the Russian Parliament building to support Boris Yeltsin. Something more important is at stake - the fledgling rights and self-rule Soviets have begun to enjoy under glasnost. Perhaps only a minority of Russians realize this and care about it, but that minority is growing. Coup leaders said little about rights. They shut off the independent press and television. What next? Taking away the recently granted right of Soviets to worship God and to freely practice religion? Soviet journalists thrown in jail or out of work for printing the truth? Banning again the writings of Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov? Suppressing and again "fixing" the teaching of history under Stalin? However cynically engineered, the openness of the past seven years looks far better contrasted with the wooden, absurd lies told by the hard-line Soviet Gang of Eight. Their game is power. Their appeals, interestingly, have said little about Leninist ideology - the supposed rationale for the state. Instead, coercion of the people falls under the heading of loyalty to "the Motherland." "Everything this committee has issued is written for cattle," Sakharov's widow Yelena Bonner told the crowd in Moscow on Tuesday. "Muscovites must show whether they are worthy of being called residents of their capital or whether they are cattle." The West is rightly worried about the Soviet coup. It carries unforetold dangers. Yet paradox though it may be, the coup may also be the crossroads where Soviet-Russians make the crucial and necessary changes in their outlook that help establish a better system. The coup may help wean Soviets away from the deadening notion of a "Soviet man." Some 150,000 Muscovites marched because they remember history and because they've had a taste of democracy. In a larger sense, the crossroads they are at is called "the rights of man."

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