Gorbachev and Yelstin, Part II
The more I read on the 1991 coup attempt against Gorbachev,
the more I want to share with you. As you read this, I think you
will recognize the parallels to today. So, if you don''t mind, I''m
going to "milk" this story for a few more weeks.
[If you ever want to read a terrific book on this era, pick up the
Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lenin''s Tomb," by David Remnick (now editor-
in-chief of the New Yorker, if I''m not mistaken). I have also relied
on "Russia: A History" by Gregory Freeze, "A History of Modern
Europe" by John Merriman and "The Oxford History of the Twentieth
Century" edited by Michael Howard and Wm. Roger Louis].
So when we last left Gorby it was August of 1991 and he was
headed on vacation.
"Sometimes you gotta get rid of the bad blood"
Before we discuss the comic-opera that was the August 1991
coup, let''s go back a bit to reinforce how out of touch Gorbachev
became. You have to picture that when he took power in 1985
and unleashed glasnost there was an opening of the archives and
an avalanche of truth about slaughters, forced collectivizations,
and sundry other dastardly deeds.
As reported in David Remnick''s book, here are some of the
quotes of that day from Soviet politicians and journalists.
"Imagine being an adult and nearly all the truth you know about
the world around you and outside your own country has to be
absorbed in a matter of a year or two."
"The entire country is still in a state of mass denial."
For the elite in the Communist Party, "The truth challenged their
existence, their comfort and privileges. Their right to a decent
office, a cut of meat, the month of vacation in the Crimea - it all
depended on a colossal social deception."
From morning to night, everything negative from the past was
being dumped on them. You can begin to see why the coup
attempt was inevitable. Since history was no longer an
instrument of the Party, the Party was doomed to failure. The
coup leaders wanted to turn back the clock and make fear, once
again, the essence of the state.
Even before foreign minister Edouard Shevardnadze warned of a
return to dictatorship as he resigned in December 1990, there
were clear signs for Gorbachev.
A Politboro document in March 1990 said, "Distrust in official
structures and administrative structures grows. Use all means of
propoganda to stop the discrediting of the army, the KGB, and
the police. Disarm the [opposition] ideologically and undermine
them in the eyes of society."
The coup was being announced in advance. A Major General
Filatov said, "It''s a pity we have no Beria [Lavrenti - Stalin''s
henchman] now; if he had read today''s (liberal newspaper), he
would have shot half the staff and sent the remaining rubbish to
rot in a camp."
On June 20th 1991, foreign minister Bessmertnykh
(Shevardnadze''s successor) received an urgent call from U.S.
Sec. of State James Baker while the two were holding a series of
meetings in Berlin. Baker needed to see Bessmertnykh (B)
ASAP, without staff and in a secure place. Baker then told B "It
seems there may be an attempt to depose Gorby." B, upon his
return to Moscow informed Gorby who said he would have a
tough talk with those suspected of moving against him. He did
and told B not to worry.
Just one week before President Bush landed in Moscow for a
summit with Gorby, a leading paper of the reactionaries
published an appeal called "A Word to the People." "Our
Motherland is dying, breaking apart and plunging into darkness
and nothingness. Our home is already burning to the
ground...the bones of the people are being ground up and the
backbone of Russia is snapped in two. How is it that we have let
people come to power who do not love their country, who
kowtow to foreign patrons and seek advice and blessings
[Does this sound familiar? A little like the reactionaries of today
and their talk on Kosovo.]
Meanwhile, Boris Yeltsin had been working on his new Treaty of
the Union for the republics (referred to in the 6/3 installment).
Yeltsin wanted the power of the purse and he made it his goal to
convince Gorbachev that the republics, not Moscow, should have
the ability to levy taxes and distribute the funds as they saw fit.
Yeltsin took the opportunity to once again warn Gorby about the
people he was surrounding himself with. Mikhail said, "These
guys (the eventual coup leaders) are not as bad as you think."
So who were these "not so bad" guys. The main coup leaders
would turn out to be Vice President Yanayev, Defense Minister
Yazov, Prime Minister Pavlov, Interior Minister Pugo, Supreme
Soviet Chairman (and long-time Gorby loyalist) Lukyanov,
presidential chief of staff Boldin and KGB Chief Kryuchkov.
While Bush was in Moscow that July, Interior Minister Pugo''s
men slaughtered 8 Lithuanian border police, humiliating
Gorbachev. Yanayev had called Fidel Castro (you''ll recall
relations were strained between Moscow and Havana) and told
him, "Soon there will be a change for the better." Yegor
Yakovlev, a good man and Gorby loyalist resigned in July and
told him "The people around you are rotten. Please, finally,
understand this." "You exaggerate," said Gorby.
So on August 6th, Gorby flew to the Crimea. Kryuchkov called
his aides to work on the first declaration of the State Committee
for the State of Emergency. Gorby was to return to Moscow on
August 20th to sign the new Union Treaty with Yeltsin and the
other republican leaders.
Lenin wrote in 1917, "To approach a rebellion in a Marxist way,
it is necessary not to lose a minute moving loyal battalions to the
most important objects, to arrest the government...to seize the
telegraph and telephone. One cannot at this critical moment
remain true to Marxism and not treat rebellion as an art."
On August 18th Gorbachev''s phone lines at his dacha went dead.
Conclusion, next week.