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Like Nation, Russian Newlyweds Uneasy : Matrimony: Sasha and Galiya Turkin were married at the time of the failed coup. ‘Power changes hands, but nothing changes,’ the bride laments.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sasha and Galiya Turkin were not among the thousands of young people who formed the backbone of popular resistance to the abortive hard-line coup d’etat here last August--they were too busy making wedding plans.

Months earlier, the big day had been set for Aug. 24, and the earthshaking events of the preceding week did not merit a postponement.

“The guests had already been invited,” explained Galiya, 21. “And if we had postponed it, there probably would have been another putsch,” she added, only half-jokingly.

The Turkins’ wedding was not the only ceremony in Moscow that Saturday. On the same day, the three victims of coup violence were buried as national heroes.

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The young couple had a moment of trepidation on the eve of their nuptials, when they heard that the state restaurant they had reserved for the reception would be closed on that day of mourning. But the bridegroom’s mother, who works at the restaurant, pulled a few strings, and the couple avoided the prospect of having 100 guests crammed into the bride’s sister’s three-room apartment.

Since the wedding, the Turkins have been living with Galiya’s sister and her young son in one of the many huge, nearly identical housing blocks on the windy, monotonous outskirts of Moscow.

The first few months of Sasha and Galiya’s marriage have been perhaps the stormiest months in the history of the Soviet Union since its birth 73 years ago, and like most of the now-disintegrated nation’s 286 million citizens, they are uncertain of what the future will bring.

Galiya holds little hope that the events that have riveted the world’s attention will have any palpable meaning for the people here. “Power changes hands, but nothing changes,” she said. “Until there are changes in the structure, in laws, nothing will improve.”

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On the evening of Aug. 21, when it was becoming apparent that the conservative putsch had been defeated, a friend called Sasha to see if he was OK and mentioned his relief that “this whole thing is over.”

“Nothing’s over,” Sasha told him. “In this country, you never know what’s going to happen next.”

Such observations of the political instability here have been borne out in the four action-packed months since Sasha and Galiya’s wedding.

The end of the old Soviet Union and the fall of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev do not upset the Turkins, who have watched since their teens as their country’s economic situation has steadily worsened.

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Sasha, 23, who remembers $7 jars of caviar standing untouched on store shelves during his childhood, has ceased trying to find food in the state stores because “there’s nothing there.” He does most of the shopping for the household, which is due to increase by one next spring.

The Soviet Union’s dissolution does not rank high among the Turkins’ concerns, but with a baby on the way, they are anxious about the future of the country. “What they call the country doesn’t matter,” said Galiya, “as long as people live better.”

But the Turkins, like many people here, doubt that life will be any better for the citizens of the independent republics now banded together in a loose commonwealth than it was in the old Soviet Union.

In a poll conducted last month by the Moscow-based National Public Opinion Studies Center, 44% of Russians surveyed felt that Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin’s government cannot improve living standards for them. Only 15% expressed confidence in Russia’s leadership.

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Sasha shares this distrust of today’s politicians and lawmakers.

“They are all the same as before; they are all from the period of stagnation,” he said, referring to a generation of administrators whose political views he feels were set in stone during the era of Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev. “All our lives, every morning they promise that things will be better. It’s very hard to believe.”

While permutations in the Kremlin may be of little direct consequence to the Turkins, one change that effects the everyday lives of these newlyweds is soaring inflation.

The ruble now trades at less than a penny on the black market--down from about five cents last spring--and the monthly rate of inflation is well into double figures. The cost of living, already rising steadily, is expected to jump even higher when Russia unfreezes artificial, state-set prices on virtually all foods and consumer goods, a step now scheduled for Thursday.

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“I think we can live through it,” Sasha said, smiling. “But baby things are so expensive.”

With that in mind, he spends a good part of the day in search of tiny snowsuits, overalls and boots, hoping to lay in a decent supply before prices skyrocket. Recently, he found a good deal on imported baby food: Eight cases of it now stand in a tall stack in the apartment’s hallway.

Unlike many older folks, who wonder how they will be able to feed themselves and their families in 1992, he feels it is high time that the impending economic reforms are carried out, “as long as there is some result, some stabilization.”

Sasha recalls that as a child, when criticism of the country by its own citizens was tantamount to crime, he felt “lucky to have been born in the Soviet Union” and not in what propaganda described as the decadent and hate-mongering capitalist West.

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The first months of their marriage have shown Sasha and Galiya that stability is as scarce a commodity here as butter. Unconvinced that the situation will improve in the new year in the place they no longer call the Soviet Union, the Turkins are busily preparing for family life in Moscow, Russia.

Gutterman is a researcher in The Times’ Moscow Bureau.


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