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

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More