News / Europe

Russia Reflects on 20th Anniversary of Collapse of Communism

Gennady Burbulis, right, stands next to  Russian Republic President Boris Yeltsin, second right, making a V-sign to thousands of Muscovites at a rally in front of the Russian federation building to celebrate the failed military coup in Moscow, August 22,
Gennady Burbulis, right, stands next to Russian Republic President Boris Yeltsin, second right, making a V-sign to thousands of Muscovites at a rally in front of the Russian federation building to celebrate the failed military coup in Moscow, August 22,
James Brooke

They have been called three days that changed world history. Twenty years ago, communist hardliners tried to mount a military coup to preserve the Soviet Union.

It has only been 20 years since Soviet citizens awoke to find the ballet Swan Lake playing endlessly on their television sets.

Soon the word spread: Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was under house arrest in a Black Sea resort.  Hardline communist leaders had ordered tanks and armored personnel carriers to surround Moscow's White House, the seat of power of Russia's new President Boris Yeltsin.

Cautiously at first, then by the thousands, Muscovites poured out of their apartments to stop the tanks.

Within three days, the coup collapsed. In front of KGB headquarters, protesters pulled down the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the hated Soviet secret police.

Konstantin Eggert, a Russian journalist who covered the popular uprising, recalls the jubilation when people realized Soviet soldiers were moving their tanks in reverse.

"It was a jubilant mood," said Eggert.  "These three days were unique in my life in the sense that probably for the first and last time I saw what a people, with a capital P is. And I am very proud of all those Russians who were on the streets of Moscow these days because that was the time when we felt that the country is ours and we really are citizens."

The coup's failure sparked the formal collapse of the Soviet Union four months later.

For Mikhail Shneider, custodian of a memorial to the three Moscow men killed in the coup, the day should be celebrated in Russia with the reverence associated with May 9, the day that Nazi Germany surrendered.

Shneider says that both systems - Communism and Fascism - killed millions, not only in Russia but in neighboring countries.  He says this weekend is the anniversary of "the happiest days of my life."

But many Russians do not that share that joy.

This month a nationwide Levada poll found that almost half of respondents said that Russia had gone in the wrong direction since the fateful days of August 1991.

Only 27 percent said they felt it had gone in the right direction.

With the passage of years, memories of the Soviet Union have softened.

Russians now take for granted their freedom to travel overseas, freedom to speak out on the Internet, freedom to consume, and  freedom to practice religion of their choosing.

Instead they chafe at what they see around them in modern Russia, high levels of corruption and huge wealth gaps.

Many agree with Prime Minister Putin who has lamented that the collapse of the USSR is the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century.

But many analysts say that Russia, with its aging and shrinking population, will eventually adjust to its post-Imperial status - the way the French and British did in the 1960s.

"This renewed quality of Russia is still underappreciated by the majority of the population, which still harks back to the late days of the Soviet Union, which is dead anyway," Eggert noted.  "And I think at some point in time the Russians will understand you cannot resurrect it. You cannot create a Soviet Union Lite, even if you wanted to. And you have to really move forward."

At the Carnegie Moscow Center, researchers see no turning back for Russia. The boom in international travel and the largely unfettered Internet, are changing Russians.

Natalia Bubnova, the center's deputy director, said that one day the nation will appreciate the heroism of the thousands of Muscovites who left their apartments to face the guns and tanks - unarmed.

"There was a lot of courage, self-sacrifice, determination, and independent action, independent thinking in those days," said Bubnova.  "These were the best features demonstrated by people who on their own will risked their lives for the better of the country. This gives hope for the country for the future."

Late Saturday, veterans of that era are to gather at a memorial at a busy Moscow intersection.

They will mark the days when it seemed that tanks would turn back time.

You May Like

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid