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Coup Martyrs Honored but Muscovites’ Triumph Fades : Heroes: Three are revered for stand against coup. Many in crowd wonder why life hasn’t improved.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than a thousand Muscovites, bundled against the melancholy chill of Russian autumn, paid homage Sunday to the memories of three young men they now revere as martyrs of summer’s glorious battle against hard-line Communist rule.

And they reflected on how quickly their own sense of triumph had seeped away.

From top officials to simple workers, Muscovites at the memorial gathering expressed frustration that their victory over the reactionary coup had not translated easily into better lives for the people.

“Some think democracy has really already won, but that’s far from the truth,” Russian Vice President Alexander V. Rutskoi told the crowd from the balcony of the Russian Federation’s towering marble government building, known as the White House. “Democracy will win only when the shelves of the stores are full and people don’t have to wait in line.”

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Chemist Alexei Rubtsov listened from the pavement where, during the coup, people had massed together, shielding the White House with their bodies from expected attack. He said he worried that the ground gained in those do-or-die nights is being lost.

“We’re liberated inside; we’ve thrown something off,” Rubtsov said. “But the country can’t make use of this, because 70 years is so hard to shake off. We still do everything using the old methods.

“The feeling of freedom is draining away,” he added, “because the system is in us and"--he gestured at the White House--"in the people who sit here. The struggle for power, and for valuable goods, has begun again.

“I came here with some confused feelings,” he said. “I don’t now what to expect, but I just don’t want to lose what we’ve found.”

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In accordance with Russian Orthodox tradition, which says the souls of the deceased go before God for judgment 40 days after death, hundreds of people who had defended the White House assembled there again to honor the three men who were killed.

Vladimir Usov, Dmitri Komar and Ilya Krichevsky, who died in the early hours of Aug. 21 in a clash with an armored personnel carrier, have already entered Russian history as heroes.

But the turnout at the White House on Sunday morning was surprisingly small compared with the celebratory gatherings immediately after the coup. The mood reflected the confusion that has followed the early elation.

“We’ve let our victory slip away,” said Vladimir Soroko, a 56-year-old engineer who, together with his son, had helped guard the White House. “We should have moved more radically right away to change things. But we let things go, because there was such euphoria.

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“The main task of a revolution is to change things at their roots,” he said. “Tough decisions need to be taken . . . and they’re being dragged out. Petty arguments are coming up that divert both effort and time.”

“We feel there’s great potential,” said Igor Maximov, a former navy captain. “But we’re still thinking things over. We don’t know what needs to be done next. Even now, there’s no real political or economic program.”

“Especially now,” put in a fellow officer standing nearby.

Lev Ponomarev, a leader of the umbrella movement Democratic Russia, warned the crowd: “Democracy is again in danger, and the danger is that in fact we have no levers, no power, no capability to rebuild this life that was ruined by 70 years of totalitarianism.”

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The current political crisis, he said, “is no less acute than what was happening then at the White House.”

Nostalgic for those nights, the building’s former defenders filled a 20-foot-long poster on the White House wall with scrawlings about the joy they felt when they all stood together against a common enemy.

“That was the happiest night of my life,” scribbled someone who signed the name E. Shechtman.

“The main thing is that we’re together,” was Vasily Kuznetsov’s message.

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