Several hundred leftist demonstrators marked the eleventh anniversary of the so-called “October Events” of October 3-4, 1993. A group estimated by police at no more than 100, made up of members of Viktor Anpilov’s Working Russia party and the equally radical Union of Officers, gathered in the capital on October 3 under banners reading, among other things, “We will not forget, we will not forgive!” Today [October 4] saw an even smaller group of people gather in Moscow with communist flags and placards proclaiming, “Our Motherland is the Soviet Union!” More demonstrations are expected to take place this evening (Interfax, October 3; Newsru.com, October 4).
The “October Events” were the violent culmination of a crisis that began on September 21, 1993, when then-president Boris Yeltsin dissolved Russia’s parliament, which had increasingly challenged his controversial economic reform program and efforts to consolidate executive power. The parliament declared both Yeltsin’s dissolution order and his presidency unconstitutional, and named his vice-president, Alexander Rutskoi, who opposed his moves, as the country’s true president. The rebellious legislators, led by the parliament’s speaker, Ruslan Khasbulatov, refused to disband or leave the Russian White House — the same building in which Yeltsin and his supporters had faced-down the hard-line coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991 — and were backed by supporters who flocked to the White House grounds and held protests in downtown Moscow.
The demonstrations turned into violent confrontations with police, and on October 3 anti-Yeltsin demonstrators broke through the police cordon around the White House, also seizing the nearby Moscow Mayor’s office. Later that same day, Rutskoi stood on the White House balcony and urged his supporters to seize the Ostankino national television center in northern Moscow. Their subsequent attempt ended in a shoot-out with security forces guarding the facility; 62 people died. On October 4, military units loyal to the Kremlin stormed the White House. The upper floors of the building burst into flames after being hit with tank fire.
The final official toll for the October events was 187 killed and 437 wounded, although anti-Yeltsin groups claimed the real death toll was higher. Rutskoi and Khasbulatov were arrested but pardoned and released from jail a few months later. In December 1993, the country held a referendum that passed a constitution concentrating political power in the presidency. A number of observers believe the referendum, which accompanied the country’s elections for a new parliament, was rigged.
A poll taken by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) immediately after the October events found that 51% of people nationwide supported Yeltsin’s decision to use force and 30% opposed it. Yeltsin’s actions were even more strongly supported in the capital: 78% of Muscovites polled supported his use of force while only 12% opposed it.
A survey taken by Yuri Levada’s Analytical Center among 1,600 Russians over September 24-27 shows the degree to which that view has changed over the last eleven years. Levada’s pollsters found that 58% of Russians now believe Yeltsin’s decision to use military force was unjustified and 21% think it was justified, while another 21% are not sure of their view (19% were unsure in the VTsIOM poll of eleven years ago).
The Levada center also asked its respondents to identify the reasons for the October events. Thirty-three percent pointed to the “overall collapse” of the country that began under Gorbachev, 23% picked the “irresponsible policy of Boris Yeltsin and his entourage” and 9% blamed indecisiveness on the part of Yeltsin and his government in putting down unrest. Only 16% of those polled accused Rutskoi and Khasbulatov of trying to seize power by any means, compared with the 46% who felt this way in the 1993 poll. This time around, 11% said that communist and extremist organizations were responsible for the October events (compared with 19% in 1993), while “hesitancy within the army” and “base instincts of the mob” each were picked by 1 percent of the respondents. Sixteen percent of those polled said they were not sure what led to the October events. The respondents, it should be noted, were allowed to pick more than one reason (Newsru.com, October 3).