Moscow White House – If Only Walls Could Talk
Flicking through my Moscow guidebook last month, I was pleased to be reminded that Moscow has its very own White House. Moscow’s Белый Дом is a governmental building and is the official workplace of the Russian Prime Minister. Like Washington’s White House, the Moscow version gained its name from its pasty exterior, and apparently any reference to the US building of the same name is purely coincidental, or so my Russian friends have told me. I personally was disappointed to find out that the building’s design wasn’t entirely inspired by Russia’s taste for one-upmanship, but there we are: you’ll have to come up with your own jokes about that gift of providence.
This building, however, has its own story to tell. I had come across the Moscow White House in history classes at school and anyone with a vague interest in recent political history will also be familiar with its role in the dramatic events of autumn 1993. In fact it is 23 years ago this week that images of the White House were shown in the media across the world as Russia faced its Autumn Constitutional Crisis.
Events came to a head on 21st September 1993, when then-President Boris Yeltsin decided to dissolve the Parliament, which was housed at the time in the White House. The Parliament found Yeltsin’s actions to be unconstitutional and declared the President impeached. After days of protesting in the streets from Russians opposing the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet, many protesters barricaded themselves inside the White House along with members of the Parliament. Little did they know how bloody their political protest was about to become.
Thirteen years ago today, October 4th, the army, under Yeltsin’s influence and instruction, stormed the building, having first fired shells from tanks at the top floors to create disorder and confusion. The marble-clad building, once the colour of milk, was now blackened and burnt, branded by this day. Looking at the building now, rebuilt and gleaming like snow, it seems as if this day is ancient history; a moment at the very beginning of the Russian Federation’s rebirth. But along the grassy banks leading to it from Krasnopresnenskaya Station are memorials, red ribbons tied to trees and crosses stuck in the mud: reminders that this, the deadliest street fighting in Russia since the 1917 Revolution, is recent history with many living witnesses.
Remembering What Has Passed
The 90s were a volatile and unstable time in Russia, and the Russia we know today is a result of the country’s having survived through to the Millennium. Strolling through Moscow, one is confronted at every step by a piece of history, be it by a famous building, the home of an historical figure or a place used for a scene in a book. But walking around the periphery of the White House, along the Krasnopresnenskaya embankment and through the park behind it, I was humbled to see the backdrop of something I had studied all those miles away in England, somewhere whose history is ignored by many visitors in favour of more touristic landmarks. I do often wonder: if Moscow walls could talk, what would they say?
Ellie, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Moscow