tv [untitled] August 19, 2011 9:01pm-9:31pm EDT
from holiday companies fearing that they may become the next to make them. in one thousand nine hundred one a group of eight top of soviet officials attempted a coup in the u.s.s.r. they did not succeed and were later imprisoned by the then soviet president mikhail gorbachev up next in our cross talk to debate peter lavelle discusses with his guests whether the soviet union could have survived if the outcome had been different. story. hello and welcome to cross talk i'm peter lavelle the coup that failed but changed everything twenty years ago communist party hardliners attempted to derail me help out of a child's efforts to reform the soviet union in the coos aftermath the communist party was banned to be followed by the end of the u.s.s.r. could history is played out differently.
to cross-talk the events of august one thousand nine hundred one i'm joined by geoffrey hosking in london he is america's professor of russian history at the university college london in oxford we have archie brown he's america's professor of politics at the university of oxford and in between overgrown we go to nikolai petro he's professor of politics at the university of rhode island all right gentlemen this is crosstalk that means you can jump in anytime you want but first let's have a look at the failed coup of one thousand nine hundred one. on august nineteenth one thousand nine hundred one instead of tuning into the soviet national anthem citizens across the u.s.s.r. woke up to a radio announcement that would start a sequence of events leading to the eventual collapse of the soviet union issued by
the self-proclaimed hard line state of emergency committee the announcement stated that mikhail gorbachev's efforts to reform the soviet union have gone into a blind alley and also declared a six month state of emergency in various regions of the country by that time gorbachev had already been removed and detained in his villa in the crimea with motivated the plotters to overthrow the existing order was the new union treaty designed to decentralize political power within the u.s.s.r. and indirectly weaken the position of that all powerful communist party little did they know however the coup attempt would encounter strong resistance from many in the military as well as the general public who by that time had begun to save or change as often happens in russia's history when the when these reforms start accumulating from the top. there's a sense of disenchantment society there's obviously the sense there's no way things
are going to go back to the way they used to be it was in order to some control of the russian parliament building the committee ordered tanks to roll into moscow boris yeltsin then considered a political maverick and reformist led russian parliamentarians in opposition to the coup that's what it clearly the all the decisions in decreased by the state of emergency committee. shortly most of the troops either decided to return to their barracks or join the resistance and just like that the committee's actions found parliament surrounded by armed and unarmed civilians the plotters of the coup found little support either within the political elite or the constituent republics that made up the soviet union as a result the kuka lapsed with minor loss of life on august twenty first. he was freed and returned to moscow but the soviet union would never be to see all of the . state committee for the state of emergency people all they knew they wanted to do was stop whatever was happening in its tracks but they didn't have an alternative
vision they didn't have really anything else to propose in its place other than status quo ante let's go back to we had before nonstarter didn't go anywhere got no traction in society at all and the second thing was simple planning bad planning ironically instead of curbing more of a child's performance project and reinvigorating the power of the communist party the coup plotters he sent their own political demise real political power shifted to yeltsin who quickly moved to ban the party and a few months later the soviet union ceased to exist. for cross-tab party. fine go to you first century local mall go international later twenty years ago there was this coup what does it mean now twenty years after the fact which is a brand new russia recognizable from what happened twenty years ago when you teach your students when you talk to people about it what does it mean to you today sadly
too little i think it's a more significant historical event than is often recognized in contemporary russia and especially as well as in the courses that we teach it was a singular moment because it revealed in. precise moment and in a beautifully tied up way. how in impotent the communist party had the calm and of course just the significantly it launched the political fortunes of boris yeltsin. ok jeffrey i mean would you agree with that i mean one of the interesting things is that you know i think all of us when we study in the soviet union is that the communist party being all powerful very very powerful security forces a very powerful army the plotters had all the tools they needed to pull it off but
it was an utter utter failure how do you account for that i mean it wasn't because they lacked resources. no it wasn't i would say the absolutely decisive fact was that the generals were reluctant to fire on peaceful civilians they'd been through that experience in georgia a couple of years previously and got into serious trouble they wanted to be absolutely certain that if they did fire on civilians the order to do so was legal definitely legal whereas now we had two powers confronting each other the soviet union in the person of the emergency committee and russia and the person of yeltsin with gorbachev somewhere in between so the generals didn't know how to react archie what do you think about that i mean. you know when you look at got about charts for me at the moment you know he was he was put into the crimea he was there for a few days he looks like he had been he was he was basically put out of business and then he comes back the coup fails but he ends up being the ultimate victim of
the coup they tried to overthrow him. well that's true but i think a very important factor the beginning was a garbage charge for a few is to be intimidated by the people who visited him they wanted him to give. of legitimacy to what they were doing but in fact you know as general but only cough complained literally god which of us on parliamentary expressions took them so and he told them where to go and that was important what was also crucially important was that yeltsin had the legitimacy of having been elected president of russia just a couple of months earlier if they wanted to call a year earlier. had more chance of success what do you think about that nickel i mean the timing of it all here because the reform efforts weren't really yielding i mean maybe there was hope but the facts on the ground the economy wasn't going there was going down there was shortage is there was a there was debate but was it healthy debate was it really changing anything what
about the timing if it had been a year before or a six months later do you think it would've made any difference. on the one hand i don't think it would have made any crucial difference to the prospects of the communist party to reassert itself i think its days were already over and simply. demonstrated that it had no future in society but one of the myths that has lingered with us is this idea that if only a more reformist course had been chosen and adopted that the u.s.s.r. could have been preserved in some way. perhaps under the leadership of the communist party i think. it's unlikely that that would have succeeded and
even before the coup itself all these events the disintegration of the union accelerated nevertheless there was already a considerable hesitation of several states several republics to join the reform the union treaty so i think it would have been a slow but gradual dissolution and perhaps there wouldn't even have been as much impetus in favor of reforms as there was in the immediate aftermath of the coup which heals and tried to seize but didn't actually parlay into political and economic success it may call you brianna to go to jeff around this because i think you bring up a point that i i think is still very much argued in i wish we had stephen cohen on the program because he is a very strong position on this jeff it was the soviet union reformable first which take the communist party let's talk about the territorial integrity later could it
was appalled communist party reform rable to be able to lead. popular be legitimate in the eyes of the population a lecture it you know you do i don't know and actually create create a future a better future because they were at a dead end go ahead. no i don't think it was reformable and that's seems to be proved by the fact that god would chop wood was a very constructive and intelligent reformer did his utmost to reform it and failed the club that union collapsed as a result i mean there were there were at least two major problems one of course was the economy gorbachev's reforms gave more scope to private enterprise but that merely sucked goods out of the state enterprises and so cost shortages even worse shortages everywhere and the other of course was the nationality problem. intended to give the national republic somewhat greater freedom and they took much more than he wanted. but there's one aspect of this which i think hasn't been mentioned is very important and that is the unexpected strength of the russian republic
gorbachev's nationality reforms inside the communist party gave new strength to russia and the the cuckoo and the conflict which followed from it was a confrontation between russia and the soviet union yeltsin when he got on that tank warned people that if their bade the emergency committee they would be dealt with under the laws of russia. well you think about that archie the whole reform ability of the communist party slash the soviet union we'll talk about later in the program if the country could have stayed together but what about the communist party where they spent force. i don't think it could have been reformed but i think it could have been transformed into a multi-party system but actually the communist party had already lost its monopoly of power the politburo by nine hundred ninety ninety one it was meeting only once a month not once a week unpowered had moved elsewhere i mean they had been rated garbage off when he went there because you know he was exercising power through the presidency and through his own long term and were less ignoring the politburo what gorbachev
wanted to do was to split the communist party and lead its social democratic component he intended to do that in the vendor ninety ninety one it actually party congress but the split never took place because there was no longer a party to split. but that i think was a possible reform the other thing i think could have happened was the creation of a different kind of union certainly without the baltic republics are going to jump in right here to go to a break and after that short break we'll continue our discussion on the one nine hundred ninety one coup attempt stay with r.t. . if you. want to win the t.v. news and follow my life. for
a. while the streets of the. country running poland in russia. was the justified move forward. since the battle for democracy. on our team. takes fifteen to twenty million years for the. to recover from a major extinction event the planet has time we don't. it's been going on for about twenty twenty five years and since the eco terrorists before there was even islamic fundamentalist terrorist in this country one nine eleven the bush administration could not find any terrorists because the feds couldn't find any real terrorists they decided to take these young people who were accused of property sabotage and label them as terrorists someone he'll destroy his property. with absolutely zero intention of harming a single human being. in my mind is not. real people who work in this country
a very interesting point before we went to the break about what got a bunch of plans to split up the communist party into competing factions me but isn't that still kind of a an old style mentality reform from the top down i mean because we saw during the coup a lot of spontaneous spontaneity where people are saying no we're not going to go back to the old days and actually you know civil society became very very fertile with ideas ok i mean got a bunch of by then was already out of step with the changes in society. i tend to tend to agree with that point of view that you just articulated. i think. if good bye to of had somehow managed to push through his version of reforms the net result would not have been progressive change over time it would have been a dead weight on society for even longer sadly what happened in the aftermath of
the coup was that the impetus for reform that yeltsin attempted to seize was not thoroughly promulgated as strongly as it could have been although there were some very notable steps taken such as the abolition of the communist party of the soviet union and on the day mediately after the coup the raising of the try of the tri color flag as russia's national flag these were all symbolic events and there was a great deal of fervor in the air at the time as as will all recall can recall but sadly that got dissipated and i don't think you know even the communist party in its in its much weak in the form has managed or managed i should say at that time to throttle significant changes especially regionally so i think if if there had been an attempt to. to undergo a gradual transition the results would have been even less impressive you know the
desperate we had jeffrey it's interesting we have been talking about to russia the new russia emerging versus the soviet union still existed but it was really about got a bitch off in yeltsin after the coup in a lot of people will blame both political figures for making it very personal it was very about ambition is well and that i lost the ideas kind of got lost to the side because it was just a power struggle between two men. well that is partly true but there was a great deal going on as well one has to remember that the communist party of the soviet union was not just it wasn't an ordinary political party it was the administrative executive backbone of the soviet union and therefore splitting the party up was never likely to work it seems to me it could not have been transformed into a normal political party so change had to be very radical guilt sin used the new power of russia the russian federation or as it was called in the russian soviet republic as
a weapon against gorbachev the irony was that gorbachev conservative opponents did the same they set up the russian communist party in one thousand nine hundred that and being a russian communist party before and one should remember that the present communist party in russia is the inheritor of the russian communist party not the communist party of the soviet union it's much more like a normal political party and it's been a kind of permanent opposition ever since the collapse of the soviet union archie what do you think about when we look at the power struggle between as the soviet union was. quickly going into dissolution it was about the ambitions of two men i better go back to my original question i mean because we we see that they were very close at one point and then they had a huge following out and it was it's very interesting when people ask me about that period and you know and both of them for a lot of people in russia today twenty years out the fact are extremely unpopular political figures. yes it was partly that but never less coverage of laterally was
prepared to give up office in order to preserve some kind of union i mean i think he had certain convictions and to go back to what we're talking about a moment ago it wasn't a question of having factions within the party it was actually splitting the party into several different parties the communist party of the soviet union had nationalist stalinist liberals social democrats conservatives it could have turned into i'm a number of different parties and so that would have been a fundamental change transformational change but of course the coup did hasten the transfer of power from gorbachev to yeltsin which was not what they who thought or said it tended of course it greatly hastened the dissolution of the soviet union which was also the opposite of what they intended in a nickel i was not i go ahead they were but it's really interesting you say you know what jeff had to say is that you know we have this communist party was the administrative apparatus of the state is well how can you separate the two go ahead . well. my sense of the communist party at the
time was although technically yes what we have today is the russian communist party is the inheritor of a of another organization but for all practical purposes the leadership at the time desired in defacto to reconstitute the communist party of the soviet union and i think that inheritance weighed heavily continues to sadly to way. to have only on the political leadership of the communist party which prevents them from becoming for making that final transition to social democracy which every leftist meaningful leftist political party in europe that emerged from marxism has undergone it's very interesting jeffrey what do you think about that because it. reflected upon that when you have become his party of russia he still here bring out lenin and they talk about marx and all that and it is it you know twenty years out of the fact you do its appeal to the most russians young russians are. may i
say yes but i don't think this exactly as analogy will if you're gonna yeah you are in charge exactly and terry jeffrey go ahead. well i don't think this is really about communism a tool communism wasn't involved in the coup remember the coup plotters in the declaration never mention marx or lenin or communism they talk about the integrity of the soviet union and one has to remember that whilst many other non russian nations welcomed liberation from the soviet union the russians saw it as a deprivation and the russian communist party really represents two strands in russians thinking about their own country it represents of course soviet imperialism but it also represents the russian orthodox church the promise love me understanding of russia's history and it's an uneasy combination of the two and that's one reason why it hasn't really been all that effective it's trying to bring together two incompatible narratives about russia and persuade ordinary people that they should vote for that party ok if i go to you twenty years
on who was the winner and who was who did anyone win from the coup twenty years ago . will yeltsin won but he was to be in better fishery though i agree with what was said earlier by dical r. that he didn't make the most of his opportunities in the nineteen nineties the transfer of property at knock down prices to pre-selected buyers that helped to discredit the very idea of democracy what do you think that nikolai what do you think about that i mean other than yeltsin was anyone else a beneficiary from the failed coup. i believe that in the longer term perspective of history this was a good thing in the same sense that going through a feverish night and breaking through the fever allows one even though you know one is one is weakened by the illness one gradually becomes better i believe that it would it was indeed better to have gone through this feverish episode than to drag
out the illness and i'm not sure what the ultimate result would have been what we have now is preferable to that continued uncertainty. but another benefit the non-inertial republican i wanted to ask away and form their own nation state jeffrey what do you think about that maybe minus the baltic republics is what was there any possibility that the union could have stayed together under any circumstances. well i think what drove the union apart was the very determination and radical nature of gorbachev's reforms if he had not undertaken those reforms of soviet union would've it seems to me survive possibly for a long time even including the baltic republics after gorbachev started one can imagine a union treaty which would have created a more decentralized union probably as you say without the baltic republics. but without the back burn which it had in the communist party of the soviet union it would have been a very unstable place so i think probably not in the long run archie what do you
think about that a noncommunist soviet union could it that had come into existence again could it be viable. i think it could have been viable without a number of republics certainly without the baltic states but something closer to the european union today than to the old soviet union recover show went through several stages first of all turning a shoot a federation into a genuine federation but latterly he was prepared for a much looser kind of union something much more like the e.u. and that i think would have been possible and possibly preferable for russians to what has happened because there was clearly an yeltsin's interest to get himself into the kremlin gorbachev vote to deprive russia of its centuries old links with the other countries russians stranded in other countries where they were no longer . equal citizens in many cases was hardly in the interests of russia nicholai what
do you think about that i mean and that's this is something they do russians are meant to live and russians have lamented this for twenty years as they did so many russians were found and found themselves on an on the wrong side of a border and not only russians these sentiments are sufficiently widespread in ukraine in kazakhstan loaded with. probably given the emotions running at the time running high the time it's difficult to imagine another outcome particularly because local elites were very busy taking advantage of the situation at the same time there is a considerable frustration with the way things turned out because there's a sense that what they wanted was the separation that came about was produced under false pretenses in other words people wanted some sort of freedom and autonomy they didn't want it to be difficult to visit their uncles and relatives across the
border they don't understand why one has to go along with the other so i think that sort of ambivalence continues. although now things have become so entrenched that it's hard to think of a clearer way to reintegrate again but i do think archie's point about the model of a closer association along the lines of the e.u. . a viable one and seems to be the model that the new customs union between russia kazakhstan be a little less perhaps some day ukraine is moving along those lines it's interesting twenty years later we might get to that many thanks to my guest today in oxford london in thanks to our viewers for watching us here as you see you next time and remember cross talk to.
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