So they got tickets on the overnight train (free because they were people’s deputies) and went. There was plenty of anxiety in their compartment, but it seemed as though all the other passengers were just going about their usual lives. The next morning, at Moscow’s Leningradsky Station, they went to the delegates’ hall and called the White House, where Yeltsin was leading resistance to the coup, for a car. The reply was, “We’d like to send one, but we’re under blockade at the moment.” So they took the subway, and again, it was like a normal day.
Finally they got to the White House. By then the coup was already crumbling. “We had a sleepless night, but we felt we were winners. The people had protected democracy.”
The next day, as Gorbachev was coming back from the Crimea, where he had been held during the coup, Basilashvili and three colleagues got in a car to drive to the Kremlin. The driver stuck a blue light on the roof and roared down a broad street called Novi Arbat. Basilashvili asked why he was driving like that. “Because now I can,” came the reply. That, Basilashvili says, is when he realized that democracy was going to be more complicated than he had thought.
Today, in any case, there’s not much left of Russian democracy, though arrogant officials in cars with blue lights still race from here to there, infuriating other drivers.
The intelligentsia had so much to gain from a reformed Russia and have instead seen their influence and respect dwindle away. Basilashvili left politics and revivified his career on stage and screen. Maybe the problem is that the Soviet collapse was too easy in the end. Yeltsin and his allies thought they could wrench Russia into a new and happier state of being.
“People have to fight for what they need, and not wait for it all to come from above,” Basilashvili says. “But that’s Russia’s history — even during the Yeltsin revolution — and I use that word, revolution — it came from the top. And then we had that power. And it’s both happiness and tragedy.”