Thirteen years after the fall

  • 2004-08-19
In August 1991 Sergei Gorokhov was a member of the Narva City Council. Together with a group of local activists, he helped write an open letter to fellow citizens condemning the Aug. 19 coup d'etat and called on compatriots to ignore the orders of the GKCP (the State Emergency Committee) and do everything to avoid bloodshed. He later supported Estonia's independence movement and worked as a researcher with the Viru Information Center, a state-run sociology research institution. Gorokhov, a sociologist and political scientist who works with the SPI-Uuringud pollster, met with Sergei Stepanov to talk about the events that occurred 13 years ago this month.

How did Aug. 19, 1991, start for you?
I came to work to the Viru Information Center in the morning. At about 10 a.m. a journalist from the Vedomosti newspaper came and told me about what was going on in Moscow. Some hours later that day I met Vladimir Khomyakov, a member of the City Council, and he said that everything was going okay. Later that day one person, whose name I do not want to reveal, stopped me on the street and told me with poorly concealed joy that all the democrats will "be put to the wall" and that "you all will be on the ground here." That was how my day started.
I also visited the City Council to find out whether an extraordinary session would take place. We expected city officials to gather people together and explain the situation. Yet we were told no session was planned. Neither I nor my colleagues were anxious. In the evening my colleague Eldar Efendiyev told me that there was an opportunity to go to Tallinn together with Vladimir Voronov by car to a meeting of various City Council representatives. He also mentioned that it was not safe for us to stay in Narva.
We spent the night in a hotel in Tallinn and came to Toompea Hill in the morning of Aug. 20.
I must admit there were no restrictions as to who could participate in that meeting. Not only the supporters of the independence gathered there. You see, at that time the peculiarity of the social-political processes in Estonia was that everybody could participate - at least in the beginning. Many people gathered on Toompea, people from city councils, politicians, independence movement activists, representatives of cities and districts, and so on. I did not notice any air of panic, but everybody was anticipating something. That was natural - the Tallinn Bay was blocked by the navy, the road to Toompea was blocked by concrete blocs. In the yard of the Toompea castle I noticed a machine gun emplacement, some sand bags. Some of the people gathered were armed.

You weren't armed, were you?
No, we were not armed. Basically at that gathering people paid more attention to Arnold Ruutel, who then was the chairman of the Supreme Council, than to Edgar Savisaar, who was head of government.
We were told the situation was unclear, and that our help was needed. Yet nobody specified what sort of help we could provide, and we were at our own, just following the situation.

How did you write the address?
I returned to Narva and met people from the City Council and the independence movement in the evening. We wrote an address condemning the Aug. 19 coup d'etat and asking people to obey only legitimate authorities. I must say, not everybody we asked to sign the address did so. I remember that it was impossible to find the top officials from the City Council and the [Communist] party committee.
We sent the address to Sovetskaya Estoniya, a major newspaper, and to the chancellery of the Supreme Council where it was immediately read and discussed. A local Narva newspaper refused to publish the address.
But then, more people signed the address on Aug. 21.

Talking about the confrontation between certain political forces in 1993 that was partly caused by the unstable situation in northeastern Estonia, do you think the law on citizenship could have been less strict if the situation had been calmer then?
I agree - to a certain extent it is so. There were movements that damaged the consolidation in Estonian society - the consolidation that had just began in the late 80s. Back then nobody was concerned whether you were Estonian or Russian. There was a common idea of restoring the independent state, and that idea was very strong.
I must say, however, that Estonians maintained a different position regarding the national issues. It was not only the [pro-Soviet] inter movement that developed the confrontation. Remember, the People's Front [independence movement] repeatedly refused to create their Russian section. Those language and national restrictions, the idea of building a mono-national state, were coming from the leaders of the People's Front and those Social Democrats who now can be described as the moderates.