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Soviets’ Pride is Bruised by Gorbachev Mission

July 16, 1991

MOSCOW (AP) _ Despite Mikhail Gorbachev’s assurances that he will not beg for foreign aid at the London economic summit, many ordinary Soviets find his trip shameful.

″What happened to our honor?″ asked seamstress Valentina Shmelyova, 42, as she bought tomatoes Tuesday at a farmer’s market in Moscow.

″People should try to help themselves before asking for handouts. I’m working, I’m trying. We’re not a country of beggars.″

Historic Russian pride, reinforced by decades of propaganda about socialist achievements in science and industry, has been bruised by Gorbachev’s quest for foreign help in transforming the economy.

As a result, the Soviet president was on the defensive as he prepared for his London meeting Wednesday with leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized countries: the United States, Canada, England, France, Italy, Germany and Japan.

″If any of you think that Gorbachev is going to get down on his knees and beg the G-7 leaders, this is not serious,″ Gorbachev told a Kremlin news conference last Friday.

Although swift movement toward a market economy is popular, public opinion polls show that aid from the West is not.

Nearly half the Soviets queried in one recent poll opposed Western aid, and the opposition reached 75 percent among teachers and professional propagandists whose job is to instill national pride.

The poll found the greatest desire for Western aid among people under the age of 30, who were two-to-one in favor of it, according to the weekly newspaper Arguments and Facts. No details of the polling method or margin of error were given.

Hard-liners in the Supreme Soviet legislature have appealed to the country’s wounded dignity in attacks on Gorbachev.

″Why are we begging? Why are we down on all fours begging with our arms stretched out? That won’t do, comrades 3/8″ Anatoly Kryshkin, a member of the hard-line Soyuz group of legislators, said Monday.

Many ordinary Soviets interviewed Tuesday shared that opinion.

Gorbachev’s invitation to meet with world leaders ″is good. That he’s asking for help is bad,″ said Alexander Semyonov, 73, who wore his World War II medals on a fraying plaid jacket.

″We should harvest ourselves what we plant ourselves,″ said Semyonov, straightening his bent frame. ″That’s the honorable course.″

Saleswoman Tanya Volkova, 40, wiped homemade cottage cheese from her hands and pointed to the piles of fruit and vegetables on sale from private farmers at Moscow’s pricey but bustling Dorogomilovskaya Market.

″To ask for handouts from everyone for our rich country is shameful,″ she said.

As a rule, well-dressed and college-educated Soviets were more disposed toward accepting Western aid.

″It’s to speed up the transition to a civilized market economy - what’s shameful about that?″ asked businessman Andrei Filorski, 44.

The radical youth newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets argued Tuesday that this is no time for the country to stand on honor.

″Under the circumstances, it is necessary for us to get up off the canvas,″ it said. ″As experience has shown, we cannot do it ourselves in a short period of time.″

Before heading to London Tuesday, Gorbachev got the blessing of key republic leaders, including Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Gorbachev said he would urge the West to invest in the Soviet Union and help retool military plants to make consumer goods, but not request any specific amount of money.

He also sent each of the seven leaders a 23-page letter outlining his plans to scrap central planning and adopt a market approach.

Soviets appeared torn Tuesday over what, exactly, Gorbachev should ask from the capitalist world.

″If the West sends us money, it will just soak into the sand,″ said Natasha Nekrasova, 25. ″What we need is specialists who can teach the things you need to know in a modern economy.″

Nadezhda Imanova, 46, argued just the opposite: she said the Soviet Union has the natural resources and technical know-how to solve its longterm economic problems by itself.

″But maybe the West could provide some sort of short-term help to get us through a hard time,″ she suggested.

Soviet Army Lt. Col. Ivan Antonovich said Gorbachev should seek loans and credits to buy foreign equipment for factories that make food and consumer goods. But, Antonovich said, the aid ″must be tightly controlled by the West, so they see it really gets results.″

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