August 19, 1991
On August 19, 1991, Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian republic, learned that communist hard-liners had seized control of the Soviet government from President Mikhail Gorbachev. Yeltsin immediately left his dacha and headed for Moscow. He arrived at the parliament building at around 10 a.m. and began formulating a response to the coup attempt. Shortly after noon, after Soviet military forces directed by the coup leaders had taken up key positions in the capital, Yeltsin walked out of the parliament building, climbed up on a tank, and delivered the following remarks, denouncing the coup and calling for a general strike. The text has been translated from Russian by the U.S. State Department.
Yeltsin's address to the Russian people
August 19, 1991
Citizens of Russia: On the night of 18-19 August 1991, the legally elected president of the country was removed from power.
Regardless of the reasons given for his removal, we are dealing with a rightist, reactionary, anti-constitutional coup. Despite all the difficulties and severe trials being experienced by the people, the democratic process in the country is acquiring an increasingly broad sweep and an irreversible character.
The peoples of Russia are becoming masters of their destiny. The uncontrolled powers of unconstitutional organs have been considerably limited, and this includes party organs.
The leadership of Russia has adopted a resolute position toward the Union Treaty striving for the unity of the Soviet Union and unity of Russia. Our position on this issue permitted a considerable acceleration of the preparation of this treaty, to coordinate it with all the republics and to determine the date of signing as August 20. Tomorrow's signing has been canceled.
These developments gave rise to angry reactionary forces, pushed them to irresponsible and adventurist attempts to solve the most complicated political and economic problems by methods of force. Attempts to realize a coup have been tried earlier.
We considered and consider that such methods of force are unacceptable. They discredit the union in the eyes of the whole world, undermine our prestige in the world community, and return us to the Cold War era along with the Soviet Union's isolation in the world community. All of this forces us to proclaim that the so-called committee's ascendancy to power is unlawful.
Accordingly we proclaim all decisions and instructions of this committee to be unlawful.
We are confident that the organs of local power will unswervingly adhere to constitutional laws and decrees of the president of Russia.
We appeal to citizens of Russia to give a fitting rebuff to the putschists and demand a return of the country to normal constitutional development.
Undoubtedly it is essential to give the country's president, Gorbachev, an opportunity to address the people. Today he has been blockaded. I have been denied communications with him. We demand an immediate convocation of an extraordinary Congress of People's Deputies of the Union. We are absolutely confident that our countrymen will not permit the sanctioning of the tyranny and lawlessness of the putschists, who have lost all shame and conscience. We address an appeal to servicemen to manifest lofty civic duty and not take part in the reactionary coup.
Until these demands are met, we appeal for a universal unlimited strike.