Soviet Coup 1991: On-Line From the Front-Line

by Mikael Bk / from Interdoc Europe Newsletter [No. 5 / 1991 (electronic version in GreenNet)]

geonet	geo2.interdoc	 1:14 pm  Oct 12, 1991

Date: 15-10-91, 17:07:17


Earlier this year, the international network for computer
conferencing and e-mail brought a positive surprise to its
members, the users. Thanks to the combined efforts of salaried
staff (of the computer networks themselves, and of some of the
participating organizations) and of voluntary groups and active
private citizens (of various countries) the Middle East
conferences of the PeaceNet succeeded in providing a veritable
day-to-day 'coverage' of the events of the Gulf War, and of the
movement against the war that developed in the USA and in Europe.
In the crucial months before, during and after the war the
computer system became a true alternative (i.e. uncensored and
critical) information service.
Hence it was that, during the hectic days of Yanaev's junta last
August, many APC or PopTel users eagerly searched the networked
conferences and bulletin boards for relevant information about
the fate of the Soviet Union. This time the results were
frustrating. Undoubtedly, the information provided by the Western
mass media during the Soviet coup was often 'better' (i.e.
uncensored and critical) than in the days of the Gulf War.
Gorbachev himself noted afterwards that, while imprisoned in his
dacha at the Crimea, he kept himself informed about the events
in Russia by listening to the BBC. So perhaps the need for
alternative information was not as great in the case of the
Soviet Coup as it was during the Gulf War.
Nevertheless, we did login to the networks, once again, hoping
that we would find pieces of additional information, especially
about developments at the grass roots, because we do think that
the above mentioned computer networks are means for direct
international communication between people and groups rather than
mass media.
As already mentioned, this time we were a little disappointed.
So much of the USSR/Russia-related material of the computer
conferences/bulletin boards was simply worthless. It is certainly
better to have no unread topics at all than to scan indexes with
outdated TASS telegrams, for instance.
Fortunately, we do have at least some positive things to tell
about the performance of GreenNet, PeaceNet, PopTel etc. during
the Soviet August Revolution.
Firstly, we continued to receive e-mail from members of the
Golubka peace team, who use the new GlasNet node in Moscow. Thus,
we were able to follow the day-to-day actions and feelings of the
'golubkis' even in this situation of emergency.
Secondly, PeaceNet-Sweden (the Stockholm node within the APC
system) brought the news stories from 'Severo- Zapad'
(NorthWest) , an independent news agency on environmental,
economical and political developments in the Northern and Western
regions of Russia (and the Baltic Republics) working in Saint
Petersburg/Leningrad in close co-operation with green and
environmental movements. The conference on
PeaceNet-Sweden is now updated daily via the DIX-computer in
Tallinn (see Interdoc Newsletter 3, April 1991 for background
A leading 'serious' British newspaper (The Independent) actually
ran a large article a few days after the end of the coup saying
what an important role the private computer networks had played
in spreading news of the coup. The article implied that the
journalists at the Independent had made good use of material
available on bulletin boards in the USSR at the time of the coup.
The article implies that the author had also read the items
written by North West News. So maybe some of the mass media was
actually using the same sources that we were looking at.  Below,
we print an account about the functioning of NorthWest during the
first days of the coup, written by its own editors. We have
replaced the original English translation (provided by Northwest)
with the re-typed version made by William Bowles, who re-
released this piece in a selection named 'The Best of
PeaceNet' on the BBS "New York On-Line".

Mika Book
News from Severo Zapad 19-21.8.1991

Update, March 1995: The Severo-Zapad News agency is reached by email at

geonet	geo2.interdoc	 1:14 pm  Oct 12, 1991

Date: 15-10-91, 17:10:42

This Day (August 19) we just went to our job. Editors, who were
on duty not yet believing it had happened, began to call our
outside correspondents and connect with the mass media. Those
of us who had been at home began to appear in publishing houses
and to get together. Our mood was of alarm. One of our colleagues
came warmly dressed as if it was October outside. It turned out
that he had thought he would have to spend the night in jail.
By 1.00 p.m. that day it was clear that the Russian government
and municipal authorities of Saint Petersburg intended to resist
the junta. We didn't know at that time that we were the only
information agency still operating in the city with international
and trunk communications. In the early morning local putschers
destroyed the telephone network, faxes and computers in the city
by broadcasting a strong electromagnetic impulse. Our equipment
remained working only because we have had a lot of experience of
working in the independent press. We had already switched off and
removed all working equipment.
We picked up and distributed all the city newspapers without
permission. All the editors refused to publish their papers under
the conditions imposed on them. 'Vecherny Leningrad' (Evening
Leningrad) was issued with blank spots on the front page. On TV
net stooges of junta were reading for the hundredth time the
junta's 'decree'. Leningrad radio was silent.
On August 20 two independent radio stations 'Radio Baltica' and
'Otkrytyi gorod' (Open city) started to broadcast on the medium
wave from one transmitter located outside the city. For two days
and nights the radio journalists didn't leave, having become the
resistance's voice.
Our agency was in fact the only source of information for them.
'North-West' agency journalists were literally shouting across
defective lines hot information from the Leningrad and Moscow
city councils, the 'White House' (the building of Russian Supreme
Council), and from the square in front of the Mariinsky Palace
(the city council building) which was surrounded by 3-4 rows of
a living barricade.
At 0.05 a.m. The Russian Information Agency announced the
storming of the 'White House'. The city didn't know yet. While
we had been phoning the radio station, fax-machines were
releasing a hastily written sheet of paper:
"According to Supreme Soviet of the Russian Republic the erection
of barricades has begun near 'White house'. The first line of
barricades has been overcome there, and we can hear the first
shots and bursts of machine-gun fire. The storming of the White
House's begins."
We could imagine what was happening at that moment to many
Leningrader's families and we were extremely upset both for them
and for ourselves. It was at that time that the thunderstorm of
tank fire started on Nevsky prospect. At 2.00 a.m. city vice-
mayor Vyacheslav Shcherbakov and fleet commander counter admiral
Chernavin declared on the radio that Baltic fleet sailors and
military servicemen of Leningrad and its district supported the
legal government.
Our old fax-apparatus was hot, our fax-paper supply was running
out. We feared most of all that our only computer would break
down because of the tension!
There was another threat: in Tallinn, Estonia strategically
important objects were being stormed. At any moment troops loyal
to the junta could seize the telephone station with which we were
communicating to the world with the aid of our computer. Our
correspondents having been near the Mariinsky palace and at the
city council informed us that the barricades around the palace
were growing and a great deal of people were moving toward Isaac
square. All approaches to the palace were guarded by Afghan
veterans and OMON (Interior troops) employees. At the entrance
to our building were six Afghan veterans on duty from a local
'Decembrist' club.
All the workers gathered at the agency, journalists, programmers
and messengers, gathering and sharing news. Inhabitants of nearby
houses visited us and brought food and coffee. At 2.00 a.m. we
got and transmitted to the whole city, council chairman Alexander
Belyaev's hand written appeal. At that time tanks were about 70
kilometres from the city, and in Moscow it appeared that people
had been killed and wounded. This was a terrible fact for
everybody to hear. But we overcame and for the first time in 74
years it was clear we had won.
By the morning of August 21 we were collecting all the sheets
of paper, documents, and summaries that would go into historical
archives and museums.
Contact details about NorthWest:
'Severo-Zapad' (North-West) Information Agency,
Editor-in-Chief, Elena Zelinskaya,
Computers & Communications' Dept. Director,Roman Ignatiev, Tel.
(+7-812) 310-0596,
Fax: (+7-812) 310-7329,
APC: dix:northwest