Democracy of Despots

Democracy of Despots

Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Democracy of Despots
    Book Description:

    A Democracy of Despots is a history of Soviet and Russian experiments with democratic institutions from 1988 to 1995. Based on eye-witness accounts and in-depth interviews with most of the political leaders in this drama, it tells the story of the men and women who began an experiment in euphoria only to find themselves at war with one another five years later.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6568-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Chronology
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-5)

    Soon after reaching the pinnacle of the Soviet political system, Mikhail Gorbachev made a discovery: absolute power applied over decades breeds a state approaching absolute inertia.

    On II March 1985 Gorbachev had become the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and chairman of its Politburo. This was a small committee of aging men (at fifty-four Gorbachev was by several years the youngest among them) with vast power - ten full members with the right to vote and four alternate, non-voting members who participated in the committee’s discussions. The Politburo had the authority to do everything from...

  6. CHAPTER ONE An Oasis of Liberty
    (pp. 6-11)

    It was 25 December 1991. It was cold; a state had just died. At 7:32 p.m., almost surreptitiously, two men took down the Soviet flag, the flag of the October revolution which had flown over the Kremlin for seventy-four years. They hoisted in its place the flag of the February revolution, the tricolor which had once symbolized the overthrow of the czar and now proclaimed the new state of Russia.

    On Red Square almost no one noticed. A few people trudged home through the wind and snow. A handful of communists waved red flags in front of Lenin’s tomb. A...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Searching for the New World
    (pp. 12-33)

    Later, after the Communist system and the Soviet empire had collapsed, Alexander Yakovlev, one of Mikhail Gorbachev’s closest lieutenants, would use a startling metaphor of faith and betrayal to describe what had happened: “We tried to destroy the Church in the name of religious truth and the truth of Jesus, only to discover that our religion was one of lies and our Jesus was counterfeit.”¹

    But in December 1985, just eight months after Mikhail Gorbachev became the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Yakovlev was still a believer in socialism. He was also a secretary of...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The First Campaign
    (pp. 34-47)

    In January 1989 the Central Committee of the Communist Party published a directive, which it proudly described as its election platform. It urged Soviet citizens to choose “active supporters of change, and those who think and act for the good of the state with bravery, responsibility and boldness.”

    But fear, not bravery or boldness, was the dominant emotion among Communist Party leaders at the beginning of this campaign. “What the members of the Politburo, every one of us, feared was democracy itself,” wrote Nikolai Ryzhkov.¹ They expected that, given a choice, the voters would reject them.

    And so, in the...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Day of Discussion
    (pp. 48-61)

    The regime was dying but unaware of approaching death. At a deeper, subconscious level there seemed to be a recognition of danger and a will to affirm life. It took the form of a confused and symbolic equation. As the Soviet colossus shrank steadily into decrepitude, the statues of the founder grew proportionately more commanding.

    The marble Lenin which greeted the new deputies in the vast hall of the Kremlin Palace of Congresses on 25 May 1989 was immense. Twelve metres high, he grimly faced the future. On the podium below, the heads of the Congress leaders barely rose above...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Swamp
    (pp. 62-75)

    The Moskva Hotel sits like a massive granite prison on Manege Square just outside the Kremlin walls. The eye cannot scan it; its shape seems somehow assymetrical. Like much of modern Moscow, its construction was decreed and approved by Josef Stalin. But when the dictator was shown the final two competing designs, he merely grunted in vague approval and left the room. In the terrible twilight of his reign, aides dared ask no questions. In desperation they ordered that the two designs be fused together.

    From the spring of 1989 this misshapen monument to fear was home to hundreds of...

  11. CHAPTER SIX An Unofficial Funeral
    (pp. 76-94)

    In life, Andrei Sakharov had stood alone, a man seldom followed and frequently reviled in his own country; in death, he would rally an army of mourners. His funeral, in December 1989, would become a major political event. His burial would help bury the hegemony of the Communist Party.

    That weekend, in the bitter cold of winter, Moscow seemed to slow to a halt. Tens of thousands of people stood in the snow outside the Palace of Youth on Komsomsolsky Prospekt, waiting to pass by the open coffin. They had come, they told reporters, from Moscow, from Siberia, the Baltics,...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Miniature, Everyday Coups
    (pp. 95-113)

    For twenty months and ten days Mikhail Gorbachev was the first and only president of the Soviet Union. His period in office appears, at first glance, as a mad roller-coaster ride of policy, a wild lurching from reform to repression and back. Yet what is incomprehensible in terms of policy takes on a certain coherence if seen in the light of power and unity. These were the two concepts Gorbachev understood and clung to, and in his mind they were linked - power for himself to be used to preserve the unity of his country.

    The method he would resort...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Another Country ... Another Man
    (pp. 114-128)

    A surgical coup d’état gave birth in blood to the Soviet Union in 1917; seventy-four years later a comic-opera putsch which failed laughably announced its end.

    The putsch of August 1991 can be seen as a parable of the Gorbachev regime. It was highly theatrical, indeed it contained all the elements of a morality play where good swiftly triumphs over evil. Gorbachev, now in the role of imprisoned hero, was saved by his rival Yeltsin, cast as the avenging democrat facing down a cast of bumbling Communist villains, while the crowd in the streets - as in Pushkin’s play Boris...

  14. CHAPTER NINE The Final Coup
    (pp. 129-138)

    Boris Yeltsin had taken the measure of his man. Politically, Mikhail Gorbachev was diminished, but not yet dead. He could still be of use. Gorbachev so worshipped power and the trappings of power that he would, in the end, willingly serve as the grave-digger of one of the few remaining institutions which stood between the Soviet Union and extinction.

    On Sunday, i September, exactly two weeks after the August plotters had gathered in the Kremlin to decide how to proceed after Gorbachev’s refusal to bend to their ultimatum, another group of men met in the Kremlin. These ten men, all...

  15. CHAPTER TEN The Rebel
    (pp. 139-156)

    I could not believe my eyes. It can’t be true, I thought: this type of person doesn’t exist any longer. For looking straight into the camera was a typical Bolshevik, a Bolshevik straight out of central casting. Stubborn, overbearing, self-assured, honest, irresistible, a human engine without brakes - he must have jumped from an armored car just a few minutes ago. We have all seen such faces in the old photographs, except that they were usually dressed in leather jackets, they usually dangled a huge Mauser from their belts, and they were usually executed by Stalin. Where did they find...

    (pp. 157-176)

    In the wreckage of the Soviet Union the line-ups grew longer. For many, money had almost ceased to have meaning, since there was nothing to buy. In the wet wind and snow of late December 1991, Russians waited to enter stores where shelves were completely barren. They hoped that, sometime during the day, a truck from a food depot would deliver something they could take home.

    On 25 December the Soviet Union officially died; in less than a week, on 2 January 1992, the Soviet economic system which had bequeathed the bitter legacy of line-ups and empty stores would be...

  17. CHAPTER TWELVE A Higher Value
    (pp. 177-196)

    The end began as a surreal repetition of a previous putsch.

    Inside the parliament building, Ruslan Khasbulatov, wearing a black suit, a black shirt and a polka-dot tie, looked like a bit player in a bad gangster movie. He was smiling. “I’ve organized one defence of the White House,” he said to reporters, standing at a podium with a crest still proclaiming ‘Workers of the world, Unite!’ I’ll just do what I did the last time.”¹

    Less than two hours earlier on the evening of 21 September 1993, Boris Yeltsin addressed the country on television to announce that he had...

  18. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Russia Returns to Its Roots
    (pp. 197-214)

    Vladimir Zhirinovsky entered protesting. His theme was humiliation. The scene was Moscow’s Metropol hotel, just outside the Kremlin walls. In 1918, when Lenin moved the revolutionary government from Petrograd to Moscow, it became home to Bolshevik Politburo members. Now, renovated by the Finns, it was the most luxurious business palace in the Russian capital.

    “English, only English!” Zhirinovsky was shouting in the lobby as he took off his coat, surrounded by five aides and bodyguards. “All the signs here are in English! This is outrageous. This is Russia. There must be Russian! Change it!” All this at the top of...

  19. CHAPTER FOURTEEN Confrontation Still Lives in Our Souls
    (pp. 215-224)

    On II December 1994 Boris Yeltsin issued an order to the Russian armed forces to enter the breakaway republic of Chechnya and pacify it. He then disappeared into hospital for ten days for what aides described as a nose operation. Seven months earlier he had said, “Confrontation still lives in our souls.” He had meant it as a warning. His actions now transformed those words into a prophecy fulfilled.

    Since its unilateral declaration of independence in 1991 the Chechen regime, under former Soviet airforce general Djhokar Dudayev, had refused all negotiations with Moscow. The Russian government accused Chechnya of being...

  20. Notes
    (pp. 225-242)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 243-244)
  22. Index
    (pp. 245-250)