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Essay

My first coup d'etat

By Kip A. Cates

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My first coup d'etat was in the summer of 1991. I had just attended a conference in Europe. On the way back to Japan, I stopped in Moscow to meet some Russian colleagues. It was great to spend a few days with them, learn about their work … and drink lots of vodka!

On the morning of my departure, they came to see me off. They seemed worried. "I just heard a rumor," one said, "that President Gorbachev has been kidnapped." We quickly turned on the TV. Every channel was broadcasting the same thing — a test pattern with classical music. Not a good sign!

My colleagues started to call their friends. "There are soldiers in Red Square," reported one.

I looked at my watch and realized I had to leave. "I hate to interrupt," I said. "But I have to catch my flight to Japan!"

If this was really a coup, we knew the airport would be closed. If so, I'd be trapped in Moscow unable to get back to my family.

We sped off in my friend's car. On the highway, we passed a column of tanks. Amazingly, the airport was open and operating normally. The departure lobby was chaotic but my flight was on time.

At the check-in counter, I bumped into another Russian colleague. By chance, she was on the same flight. "I'm taking fish to Yokohama," she said. Beside her were five water tanks containing Russian sturgeon. "An aquarium there is holding an exhibit," she explained. "I was asked to accompany the fish and be an interpreter."

We managed to get seats together and spent the next nine hours talking. When we exited the plane in Tokyo, we saw a crowd of journalists and TV reporters. We were the first flight out of Moscow and they were desperate for news. "What happened? What did you see?" they shouted at us.

Unfortunately, the Japanese passengers on our flight had flown from London and only changed planes in Moscow. They knew nothing about the coup. I felt sorry for the reporters. This was important news. People needed to know. Despite my bad Japanese, I decided to speak up.

"Excuse me," I said. "I just spent five days in Moscow. I witnessed the coup firsthand." All the cameras turned to me as I explained what I'd seen. It was strange being the center of attention. But, as an eyewitness, I had a duty to report what had happened.

Once the reporters had rushed off, I helped my Russian colleague get her fish through customs. Later, I learned that my interview had been shown on national TV. I was famous!

Luckily, the coup attempt in Moscow was foiled, the plotters were arrested and Mikhail Gorbachev was released. Although I've experienced others since, I'll never forget my first coup d'etat with its strange combination of tanks, Russian fish and classical music!

最初のクーデター

1991年の夏、モスクワから日本へ戻ろうとしていた筆者は人生で初めてクーデターを目撃することに。何とか無事に日本に到着し、事なきを得たが、初めて体験したクーデターは忘れられないという。

The Japan Times ST: December 2, 2016

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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