August tends to be a fateful month for Russia. It’s been that way since 1914 – as Vladimir Ryzhkov, Duma deputy and historian, noted in one of his interviews.
Last August, the Pushkin Square bomb blast came as a real shock to Muscovites; the sinking of the Kursk submarine sent shockwaves out beyone Russia. The August 1998 default was a breaking point for the Russian economy, with a devastating impact on Russia’s new middle class.
In August 1996 the Chechen guerrillas seized Grozny, and the Khasavyurt accords were signed (the Vek weekly said that “victory in Chechnya was stolen from the military in the interests of an election campaign”).
Finally, this year marks the tenth anniversary of the August 1991 events. The media has given them their due, even though memories of the conflict on Moscow streets have dimmed considerably over the intervening years. As Novoe Vremya magazine noted, “the youth of today barely remembers what the acronym GKChP stands for”. Polls indicate that many of those who took part in the August 1991 events now view them differently – although a decade ago polls in Moscow showed that over 70% of respondents considered the actions of the coup plotters to be unconstitutional.
According to a poll by the National Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) published in Obshchaya Gazeta, only 10% of respondents think what took place in August 1991 was “a democratic revolution that put an end to Communist rule”. Meanwhile, 45% describe those events as “just another episode in the power-struggle at the top”; 20% are uncertain, and 25% say it was “a tragic event with destructive consequences for the nation and the people”. It’s also revealing that when asked who was in the right in August 1991, 63% of respondents say they haven’t yet made up their minds, or don’t know (78% of young respondents gave these replies).
“It is no wonder that so many people had not had time to clear things up those turbulent August days,” commented VTsIOM director Yury Levada, “However, as we see, today the majority of the population do not think those events were of great importance.”
The answers to the question about what would happen if putsch plotter had won are even more expressive: 18% of respondents believe that their lives would have changed for better, almost the same, 17% of people think their lives would have changed for worse. Here it was mainly the age that determined the answer – those who are over 40 years old think they would have lived better, while people under forty think on the contrary. However, the majority of respondents, 65%, are convinced that nothing would have changed in their lives.
Meanwhile, Yury Levada reminds that after August 1991 the popularity rating of Boris Yeltsin was the 70%. According to the results of the polls held by VTsIOM, as usually the hopes for the power were not justified.
Famous first wave democrat, a USSR people’s deputy, and presently rector of the Russian State Humanitarian University Yury Afanasyev noted concerning the current mind frames in his interview with the Novoe Vremya magazine: “Overall, the youth has become more apolitical, this is a fact. They think more about earthly, material things and more often tie their own prospects to the reality. However, I would not predict a total passivity if something happens…”
However, describing the changes that have taken place since the 1991 August events, Afanasyev admits that the first Russian president wanted “more democracy”, and “no communism as a prospect for Russia”, and of course establishment of the market economy in the country was one of his major goals. “At the same time, speaking about what have been realized in Russia, it is first of all gangster capitalism and shameless, merciless plunder that, in my mind, no other country in the world has ever seen.” According to Yury Afanasyev, this is what has happened in Russia since then.
The Novaya Gazeta paper published an article by to Grigory Yavlinsky, the Yabloko movement leader, which was devoted to the consequences of the August events. As Yavlinsky notes, “much has changed since then, but we have failed to lay a strong foundation for Russian democracy”.
According to Yavlinsky, “the feeling of freedom and right, the feeling of self-dignity and equal opportunities”, as well as the feeling of responsibility for one’s own future and the future of the country, which were so acute for the defenders of the While House in August 1991 today are a long-forgotten luxury for the majority of Russians. “The stylistics and often the contents of the state politics resembles a lot the ideas and slogans of the GKChP (State Emergency Committee – trans.),” says the Yabloko leader, “and the failed putsch plotters are telling about this with great pleasure at their press-conferences”.
Despite the fact that statements on sticking to democratic ideas are presently a sort of an entrance fees for those who want to be accepted in a decent society and especially in the West, in the opinion of Grigory Yavlinsky, it is too early to believe that democracy has been established in Russia. The Yabloko leader considers it important to stress that democracy is “not a system or a doctrine… nor a victory won, nor a result you achieve once and forever, but a task which is to be fulfilled again and again.”
Yavllinsky stresses that despite all love of outer democratic signs, “the actions of the strong, who pose themselves as liberals” have finally ended up as a bloody North Caucasus war and regular harsh economic crises, which lead to total impoverishment of the population and destruction of the appearing Russian enterprising”. So, so far Russia has nothing to be proud of. Yavlinsky concludes, “The strongest is still the most right one; the fattest is still the most intelligent. This is not a democracy. We have hardly moved any forward since August 1991.”
According to well-known writer Vladimir Voinovich, if consider the actins of putsch activists as an attempt to restore the socialism in Russia, it should be admitted that it has turned to be less a success than it seemed ten years ago.
Voinovish writes in the Izvestia paper in his article “Continuation of the Putsch”, “Some putsch participants had to pass through some troubles, such as short imprisonment and returned to us as heroes.” At present the initiators of the 1991 August upheavals, as well as their supporters in the State Duma and other state structures are successively and successfully achieving the goals they put ten years ago. So, Volinovich states, “Overall, the putsch is still on, but without tansk, on the sly.”
Famous democrat Duma deputy Sergei Yushenkov also shares this opinion. As he wrote in the same Izvestia issue, “Today all the achievements of the 1991 August have been receded to the background. For instance, it concerns civil freedoms – they are easily traded off for the sake of the state interests. So, here is a question: what did we and Yeltsin fight for in 1991? Did we wanted the winners and the losers to exchanges roles, like it happens now?” According to Yushenkov, Boris Yeltsin failed to fulfill his historical mission, “What is happening now is a strike on our initiatives.”
In the opinion of the deputy, there is only one way to change the situation for better: it is necessary to retrieve Boris Yeltsin into big politics.
The Komsomilskaya Prvada paper also quoted Yushenkov’s statements, calling him a “radical democrat, who claims for the role of a right wing party leader and lately has been a puppet to Boris Berezovsky.” As Yushenkov states, “I do not doubt that before Yeltsin retired, he agreed with the incumbent president on steady continuation of his predecessor’s democratic course. However, according to many latest evidence, these agreements have already been violated by the second Russian president.” Yushenko believes that Yeltsin should say, “Vladimir Putin, you are leading the country in a wring direction, and this makes me to step toward returning to the power.”
Meanwhile, leader of the Union of Right Forces Boris Nemtsov said in his interview with the Rossiyskaya Gazeta paper, he is ready to admit that “the road to freedom and prosperity is much more difficult than we though when we were defending the White House.” However, Nemtsov does not doubt that the 1991 August events were a beginning of a democratic revolution in the country. Although, on the other hand, it should be admitted that people’s expectations are too high. Nemtsov says, “It seemed to people that if they are rid of the communism they would live in a market economy paradise in half a year. And Yeltsin said then that it was hard at the time, but in six months everything would be fine.” Besides, in the opinion of Nemtsov, Yeltsin said all that absolutely sincere.
Nonetheless, at present, having become a professional politician, Boris Nemtsov estimates the situation much more realistic, “I understand that a politician needs to say that everything will be great in just two years in order to be reelected. However, real life is different.”
As the Union of Right Forces leader thinks now, “only the generation that was born under Gorbachev and Yeltsin will be able to realize the romantic dreams that motivated us then.” It should be noted that promises of a better life for the next generation (as well as calling to work for that) are more in conformity with the traditions of our country than resolving all the issues in just six months.
In the meantime, the Obshchaya Gazeta paper reminds that the Russian August revolution was only one of many that took turns in Central and Eastern Europe. As is known, all those turbulent events were carried out with similar anti-communist, democratic, right-protections, and market economy slogans. Ironically, the results turned to be different in different countries.
It turned out that “our system principally differs from the systems formed in European post-communist countries, for we more and more reproduce the traits of the prior Soviet epoch.” The paper poses a question: why does Russia again have a special way? What was so peculiar about the Russian anti-communist revolution?
From the standpoint of Obshchaya Gazeta, one of the reasons is that anti-communist movements turned into “national-liberating” movements in the majority of the former socialist countries. And liberation from the communism was considered to be a refusal of the way that had been imposed by the Soviet “older brother”, to be a return of the country’s own traditions, to the “national norm”. That was the major idea that united the majorities in all post-communist countries. It is clear that a completely different scenario realized in Russia (in the words of the paper, the communism in Russia was “born” and not “borrowed”), that is why the revolutionary ideology of August 1991 was the ideology of the minority. Its supporters were politically active, but they all were in large cities and were able to carry the majority with their ideas for only a short time – that was when Boris Yeltsin was elected president.
Meanwhile, Obshchaya Gazeta notes, by definition the minority cannot come to power by means of a democratic way. “Our democrats received the real power not at the elections, but as a result of the August revolution.” And this is what determined the further fate of the Russian democracy: “The minority at power has no other way but to fix at power and to turn it into ‘non-alternative’ and the democracy into ‘ruled’.”
However, as is known, any revolution is followed by a post-reaction because of tiredness and disappointment of the society, and Russia is not an exception. So, as a result of an absence of a normal, active opposition, the reaction meant an inevitable restoration of the Russian authoritarian traditions.
That is why at present both the top and the lower layers of the Russian society – both those who acquired and lost something – are rejecting the ideas of the 1991. “Those who suffered losses reject them because the revolution had brought them nothing but suffers and poverty. Those who acquired something are rejecting it because the revolution had already given them all it could and now it is necessary to ‘fix’ their acquirements.” Undoubtedly, Obshchaya Gazeta anticipates, in the near future the Russian society will more and more “sink into marasmus and lethargy”.
However, the paper still hopes that the “next 1991 will come much sooner than in 63 years” because of the natural acceleration of historical processes.
According to the Novaya Gazeta, in ten yeas after a revolution a KGB state is established in Russia.
It is a KGB state, and not a police state what many domestic democrats were so much afraid of: the police has to at least pretend that they work openly and in accordance with the law, unlike the special services for which the law is just an annoying obstacle, let alone any openness of their operations.
As a result, Novaya Gazeta notes, today the people have to solve the actions of the authorities as a detective story. “The government announced about its plans. However, this might be misinformation for the enemy. There is rumor about some personnel changes and spare teams. However, perhaps, this rumor is spread by special departments in order to distract someone’s attention from the real plans of the authorities… While the real plans are the plans which are announced as official ones, though they are presented as not-real, in order to deceive the enemies. Or on the contrary? Or are you too perplexed by now?” According to Novaya Gazeta in order not to lose the sense of reality, the special structures have to be controlled from the outside, from the political leadership, like it used to be in the Soviet Union. However, currently there is no one to control them – they are the power now. The paper believes that the Unity is nothing but a mold of a party of power.
So, the only conclusion is: “Politics has died. It will revive only in case someone tried to seriously break the present system. Or if the systems falls apart as a result of intricate and finally failed special operations of the authorities.”
Is a new putsch possible today? The Nezavisimaya Gazeta paper asks this questions and offers its readers some experience of “political modeling”. First of all, the paper notes that the essence of any new political excesses is a fight between two teams, “old Yeltsin’s team and the new St. Petersburg one”.
Asking the question who could lead a new putsch, Nezavisimaya Gazeta has no doubts: of course it is incumbent Defense Minister and former colleague of Vladimir Putin Sergei Ivanov. Besides, according to the paper, he would have to simultaneously act as Gennady Yanaev (a nominal head of the 1991 putsch), and USSR Marshal Dmitry Yazov (in order to provide for the army support), and head of the security structures Vladimir Kryuchkov. According to the paper Anatoly Chubais could successfully perform as 1991 Russian prime minister Valentine Pavlov. First because the former is able to influence any situation: “cut the electricity off in any region and resolve any issue”, and secondly, because “where is emergency, there is Chubais” (or “where is Chubais there is emergency” – the analysts are unable to resolve this cause-effect relation). Besides, the paper notes, despite the more than favorable position in Yeltsin’s time, Chubais is very close with the St. Petersburg team. Two other possible participants of a plot are Central Bank head Viktor Gerashchenko, who still remembers old offenses and Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov, for any modern putsch is impossible without him.
However, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes, a new putsch would be rather boring: ten years ago there was an economist for every six security officials among the top twenty most influential people in the country. Today, the situation is absolutely opposite. So, no tanks are to be expected in Moscow streets, and for today’s plotters that revolution would end up not in a prison but in some Russian embassy in Columbia. So, a full-value repetition of the ten0year-old events is impossible: “People are different, power structure is also different.”
Still, is today’s Russian army able to carry out a coup d’etat? The Vek weekly, that posed this question, cannot give a single answer to it. On the one hand, it is traditional of the Russian army to implicitly obey. That is why Vek is convinced that “the army will fulfil the order today as it made in Chechnya – if necessary they will fire the White House from the tanks again.” At the same time, the Russian army is genetically unable to act independently: “That is why communists should not hope and tycoons should not be afraid.”
On the other hand, an undoubted support of the incumbent Russian president (young, energetic, plus an officer) is being replaced in the army by a “perplexity that is likely to turn into discontent.” Increase of officers’ salaries was postponed. Moreover, the money allowances are not paid in time and the amount of the military who are standing in the apartment-line is not reducing. Let alone the fate of the officers in former Soviet republics: many of them had to demobilize and to return to Russia where no one waited for them and they have automatically become second-rate people. In short, the military have more than enough reasons to be dissatisfied with the authorities. There are several dozens of different organizations in Russia, which, according to different appraisals, unite from 2 to 3 million people (they are various foundations, unions, and even political parties) – all of them have contacts with the army military.
However, the weekly notes, forming of the majority of these organizations was initiated by either the state of the structures which are interested in preserving the present state of affairs and intend to control all the military organizations.
As Vek writes, “This means there still is some danger of forming a Junta in Russia”. And this danger is growing along with the growth of discontent. By the way, it is not necessarily that the army will raise as an independent force: “Some new Fuhrer can always make use of it. According to previous historical experience, such people always appear from the shade all of a sudden…”
The Inostranets paper reports that some anonymous analytical note is “circulating in the Kremlin and close to the Kremlin circles” which states that President Putin is not justifying the hopes which were put on him in the beginning of his presidency.
“The disastrous course started by Gaidar and Chubais” has not been stopped, none of the most odious tycoons has suffered any major losses. The Duma passed such laws which Yeltsin could not even dream to “squeeze” through. Thus, he untied the hands of the new radical reformers. The authors of the note (they say they belong to the St. Petersburg presidential team) put an objective “to open Putin’s eyes” and to simultaneously warn him that “they have no more time to create illusions and to believe in mirages”.
In short, Inostranets explains, Putin is being advised to change his political course and to finally transfer the country to the “sovereignty” rails.
However, the paper believes that the anonymous analysts are unfair to the president: “The president has done a lot in order to transfer the country to the “sovereignty” , or authoritarian-imperial rails.. And, it seems to be unnecessary to open his eyes here…” Nonetheless, the existence of such a note can say a lot.
Meanwhile, supporters of the liberal reforms are also rather active, including such a “veteran of the Russian political arena” as Anatoly Chubais. According to the Versia weekly, Anatoly Chubais is preparing to replace Vladimir Putin at the presidential position. At least, Versia informs that Chubais has already provided for himself an admittance to the necessary influence levers: he has built good relations with the regions, tycoons, and has already taken care of the administrative resources and the possibility to influence the media.
Versia thinks that it is the easiest for Chubais to gain support in the regions for he controls the electricity switch lever. As for the media, there are no problems here either: he has a TV channel of his own, RenTV, but the most important thing is that his “old privatization associate Alfred Kokh” is currently one of NTV network leaders. Besides, Yevgeny Kiselev, who likes Chubais works on TV-6.
As for the present owner of the TV-6 channel Boris Berezovsky, he is no rival for Chubais in the fight for presidency. Moreover, Berezovsky promised that Putin will be the president no longer than until the end of fall, so it turns out that both Berezovsky and Chubais have the same objective – to dismiss President Putin. And Versia does not doubt that at the right time “this interest will bring them together”.
Chubais has no problems with the administrative resource: he has legislative supporters in the form of the Union of Right Forces. Such representatives of the executive branch of power as German Gref, Viktor Khristenko, as well as Sergei Kirienko are always ready to support Anatoly Chubais. Chubais’s international reputation is also rather decent. According to Versia, “It is all too obvious that Chubais communicated with the Internatinal Monetary Fund, the Paris Club of creditor nations, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank. Who did Putin communicate with? Kim Jong Il, Saddam Hussein, Jiang Zemin, and Iran’s leaders.” Well, no comments.
Thus, according to the weekly, in fact, President Putin will hardly be able to oppose anything to Chubais’s attack. The president still has not a team of his own, and “Support of certain structures is an unreliable and rather amorphous resource”. Unity cannot compare with authoritative and dynamic Union of Right Forces.
As the weekly states, in such a situation no PR experts will be able to aid Putin. Moreover, Chubais is an incarnation of the Russian liberal democratic values: “If he is elected president, the state power succession line will not be broken in the public consciousness.”
So, Verisa concludes, although, there are two more years before the official presidential election in Russia, the election race has already started, and Chubais is its obvious favorite. According to the weekly, from now on the slogan “Chubais is our president” becomes very vivid.
Of course, all the aforementioned statements are highly doubtful, which is overall characteristic of the weekly.
However, it is hard not to agree with the main idea of the article: the tension of the ominous Russian August is to be replaced with an even more ominous phantasmagoria of the Russian autumn.