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Americans Watch Soviet’s Revolution with Hope and Skepticism

August 25, 1991

Undated (AP) _ In coffeehouses and churches, on editorial pages and street corners, Americans spoke with excitement, disdain and fear about the Soviet shakeup that one man likened to the battle for American independence.

″It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened over there,″ said Los Angeles stock trader Kevin Lewis, 36, as he watched a Buddhist archery ritual at a local park. ″The coup made the people much stronger than they thought they were.″

″To me, it’s almost like the American Revolution without the fighting,″ said Jerry Wensloff of Roswell, Ga., relaxing Saturday night at Reggie’s British Pub and Restaurant in downtown Atlanta.

″I think it’s going to unite the world because it leaves China, North Korea and Cuba as Communist powers,″ said Wensloff, a computer company owner. ″China can’t stand alone against the whole world.″

On the heels of a failed coup by hard-liners, President Mikhail S. Gorbachev resigned Saturday as Communist Party chief and dismantled the party that held the Soviet Union in its stern grip for 74 years.

The failure of the coup and Gorbachev’s freedom from house arrest in the Crimea was a direct result of heroic efforts by Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian republic.

″I was impressed with Yeltsin’s courage,″ said Michael Walsh, a railroad brakeman from Des Moines. ″Boy, when he was on top of the tank, he was golden. What a move. He made his entire career crawling on top of that tank.″

But others worried about what lay ahead. ″I’m really afraid there’s going to be civil war over there,″ said Nancy Leonard, 29, an administrative assistant in Chicago.

Alexandra Astor, 55, of Omaha, Neb., who left Kiev in the Ukrainian republic in 1974, praised Gorbachev.

″I still think Gorbachev is a great man and he deserves our respect and what he did is unbelievable,″ said Mrs. Astor, a researcher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

″What I worry about is Yeltsin,″ said her husband, Peter Astor, 64, an engineer.

″The more he will have power, he will approach dictatorship,″ Astor said. ″Gorbachev has lost a lot of prestige but he is still a good man,″ said Al Barnett, 76, as he sunbathed Sunday on a bench at Boston’s Faneuil Hall marketplace. ″He has done more for Russia in the last few years than anybody else did in all the 76 years I have been alive.″

In Indianapolis, Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, said the West cannot rely on Gorbachev to carry through democratic reforms.

″I think that in the last couple of years he has been indecisive,″ Hamilton told the Indiana Democratic Editorial Association on Saturday. ″He has zigged and he has zagged.″

Bob Hass, of Berkeley, Calif., said giving aid to the Soviets would ″be throwing money into a pit at this point ... like handing it over to the Mafia.″

Doug Kulisich, 43, of Seabrook, N.H., a Vietnam veteran who was washing windows Sunday at Boston’s Exchange Place, said President Bush should concentrate first on the homeless in America.

″Bush should walk around the streets of Boston and see everyone sitting in the street with their tin cans and signs that say ’Please Help,‴ he said.

But college student Beth Berg, 23, of Alameda, Calif., near San Francisco, said the Communist Party’s demise means massive military spending will no longer be needed.

″Everyone should gain,″ he said. ″Money will be freed up so it can be spent on fighting poverty and other problems.″

The Seattle Times said the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia should be prime benefactors. ″Now is the time to help the Baltic states pull free of Soviet domination and let them, as sovereign nations, become part of the emerging nations of Europe,″ it said in an editorial.

Rabbi Alvin M. Sugarman of The Temple in Atlanta, who was worked with immigrant Soviet Jews, said the real victory belongs to the Soviet people.

″I was really pleased to see the will of the people come to the forefront,″ he said.

″I thought of the Germans under Hitler, and how they kept saying we couldn’t do anything, and wondered what might have been. Granted, they are two different societies ... but I couldn’t help but think of that parallel.″

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