1991 was my third year in Moscow. It was a tumultuous time of perestroika and glasnost. As an entrepreneur I was exhilarated at opportunities. The only regret I had in those days was not having enough hours in a day or enough days in a year so we could do all we had a chance to do.
I had started multiple companies and joint ventures. Starting with 200 Dollars in 1989 , by 1991 our bank accounts had millions of transactions through them. Money was generated and lost with equal speed and we were not counting — what mattered was creating, building and just being in the game.
Soviet Union was opening up and there was no returning to iron hand of dictatorship. The issues facing Soviet people were more nuanced, of course. Baltic states were yearning for independence. Russians themselves felt enslaved and yearned for freedom to just be. It had been known for decades that Lenin’s ideas Marx’s ideology had run into muck of mass murder, subjugation and exploitation. At age of 26 in 1991, I hardly knew what future could be but return to past was unfathomable.
So when Gorbachev was quarantined in his Crimean residence and tanks rolled into Moscow there was only one place I would be — right in front of those tanks, in human chains around Russian white house.
I arrived there morning of 20th, the day after Boris Yeltsin had climbed atop a tank. A major attack on white house and those standing in front seemed imminent. No one one budged. I do not think I had a single thought of defeat — death seemed certain. We would have all gone into mouth of metal and be crushed by tanks with laughter. We were doing the right thing and that is all that counted. There was no doubt, no fear.
Those 2 days and 2 nights remain etched in my memory as if it were yesterday. I made friends on fences for life. I yearned for freedom and dignity for them even though it was not my country and was never to be. We did not know what was to happen but the sense of an attack and bloodletting was imminent. It did not happen.
The coup fell apart and will of a few thousand people who had the courage to march and stand in human chains prevailed. I was one of them.
I have never had a moment of doubt nor a moment of fear ever since in my life.In the 25 years since I have come to understand Russia and acuired a deep respect for the courage and humanity of Russian people.
I have no doubt that if there was another moment in which we could stand against those who brought wholesale destruction of Russia in the years following 1991, I would have gladly stood in that revolution too.
Those days of 1991 shaped my destiny and though my world view evolved and developed as I saw how, in the name of “free market” and “ democracy” Russia was robbed and pillaged by western powers and their agents. But the failure of democracy in 90s and the robbing of Russia does not diminish the raw courage and naivete which brought us to make a stand. I got to know Russians in those days — and I got to know myself.