In one week, the summer of 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, became history. The forces of reform unleashed by President Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid 1980 s generated a democratic movement. Mr. Gorbachev may be revered for the democratic forces he unleashed- his policies of perestroika, or reconstructing, and glasnost, or openness. However, his failure to put food on Soviet tables and his reluctance to move boldly on economic reforms doomed him to be a failure (Sieff). His economic policies threw his country into even more turmoil and chaos, as the different nationalities used their new freedoms to move away from the union. Gorbachev sincerely wanted to reform the communist system, but he did not want to eliminate it. He recognized there was a lot of wrong with his country, but right to the end, he never grasped the extent of the problem (Russia). As a result, the breakup of the Soviet Union was not a singular event that occurred overnight, rather was caused by decades of neglect and abuse to the former nations by the central communist government. A government that would never end, but find ways to cover-up its identity.
From the start of the Twenty- Seventh Party Congress in 1986, perestroika, Mikhail Gorbachev s program of economic, political, and social reconstructing, became the unintended catalyst for dismantling what had taken nearly three- quarters of a century to erect (Perestroika). Conservatives have called it as a public effort to subtly seduce the Western world to lower its guard (Corpus), believing it was a disguise just to distract foreign nations. Liberals believe it that it is a mandate for disarmament and cooperation between two extremely different value systems while under the death threat of nuclear war (Corpus). However, Gorbachev declares that it is a union of principals and socialism and not a response to a poor domestic economy or wholesale abandonment of basic communist tenets (Corpus). Furthermore, he asserts that perestroika is a blueprint for the Soviet Union to emerge from the economic backwardness into global industrial competitiveness (The Meaning Perestroika). He believed that was the only way that the Soviet Union would be able to survive now. Yet, the question of what is perestroika? still exists. Some believe that it is a conspiracy organized by the CIA, and by the West in general, a conspiracy which aimed at military/political subversion of the USSR and of communism in general (Yakovlev). Some say perestroika was a betrayal either intended as such from the very beginning and quiet conscious, or a betrayal that just happened to occur (Yakovlev). While others still declare that perestroika was stupidity, probably caused by good intentions, which resulted in an absolute lack of responsibility (Yakovlev). In truth, perestroika was a historical significance, which was noble in its goals but had major repercussions to the nation, as well as to its people. Gorbachev s perestroika confirms a desire to discard the Stalinist days of forced collectivization and terror. Furthermore, it is not only a declaration of Leninist s ideas that will insert a new dose of motivation into the national awareness, but a hopeful effort to restore trust between the people and their government. Perestroika is an effort to inspire Russia towards values and high standards (Rodrigue). However, Gorbachev s solutions are flawed because of the lack of an ethical framework to guide his programs (The Collapse of Stalinism). He did not have a clear plan of what kind of political and social system must be created, says Fydor Bulatsky, a speechwriter for Krushchev, close aide of Andropov, and former advisor to Gorbachev (Sneider). Perestroika has focused on three planes, three trends, three directions of problem. First is the struggle for priority either ideology or of common sense, second is a struggle for supremacy either of the party or of the state, and third is the struggle for redistribution of power and property. In part, it was due to the objective tasks of perestroika itself that we had so many lanes, so many trends of confrontation within perestroika process (Yakovlev). At this point, the party was too busy restoring its image and trying to prove to its people that life could be good; as a result, these three struggles show how perestroika was developed and implemented. Gorbachev had a choice, he could turn perestroika into a truly, people s democratic revolution, going to the utmost, really bringing the society total freedom, or to remain a Communist reformer, operating in the familiar and controlled milieu of the party bureaucracy (Sneider). He attempted to make a society that was totally free, but this obviously did not happen. In 1990, Gorbachev again had an opportunity to allow perestroika to be seen as a glorious theory that will save the nation when Article Six of the Constitution giving the Communist Party a monopoly had been abolished and a presidential system was to be established (Nadler). Nevertheless, he chose to be elected by the Congress instead of by the people; this was his greatest mistake. Again, a cover- up was made. While he did allow elections to take place, Congress chose him in reality. The only person on the ballot ticket was Mikhail Gorbachev of the former communist party. No one was allowed to run because the government did not choose him or her. Perestroika didn t manage to overcome itself. Public, social, and political forces awakened by it remained unclaimed, while the old structure continued to exist and act against reform (Sneider). It brought another result that was unforeseen; the emergence of powerful nationalist movements in the fifteen republics of the Soviet empire. From the Baltic republics to the heartland Russia, democratic reformers won power by detaching themselves from the Communist Party (Sneider).
As with perestroika, the early stages of glasnost were meant to be limited in extent. Soviet society would be open to criticism by its intellectuals artists, scientists, writers, and others (Glasnost and Perestroika). However, it did not, initially, include every day citizens of the working class. Gorbachev believed that if he allowed people to speak their minds and informing them of the status of the nation and its failures, he would win their support for perestroika. In 1989, the crimes and hardships of the Stalin decade were talked about openly, and every angle was criticized along with the party itself. Every failure and every success of the system was now being exposed and exploited. Every step the government took was being questioned publicly. The Communist Party, the government, and Gorbachev were now facing sever criticism, after implementing a program that was supposed to aid them. However, the relations with the United States improved. Gorbachev began having summits with President Ronald Reagan and continued them with President George Bush (Glasnost and Perestroika). Agreements on arm reductions were signed, and discussions on reducing nuclear weapons were taking place. Around the world Gorbachev was hailed as a dynamic leader, whose bold initiates were quickly diminishing the threat of nuclear war , but at home he was seen as a leader who went against his words and was leading the USSR into more chaos (Glasnost and Perestroika). The feeling of glasnost also spread throughout Europe. In Poland, Wojciech Jaruzelski, head of the Polish Communist Party, called for fundamental changes to rescue the economy. In June, elections took place where the union won seats and n July, Jaruzelski moved into the new seat of president (Glasnost and Perestroika). Furthermore, Hungry, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia all followed Poland and changed their government, establishing new order. Although it was good that relations were getting stronger continually, this did not ease the lives of citizens. Thus, Russia itself befell to its policies and repercussions occurred.
During the second half of 1991, the Soviet Unions, the world s largest nation and a highly militarized nuclear superpower, broke apart into its constituent republics (Commonwealth). The Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, captured by Stalin in the Second World War, demanded independence and started a movement of secession. The effect was a domino one where other Russian nations began to have the same sentiments and started revolts against the centralized government. On December 08, 1992, leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus met to sign and agreement which declared that on December 25, 1991, the Soviet Union was succeeded by the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose confederation of twelve of the former republics (Commonwealth). Gorbachev obviously opposed such actions taken by these countries but was in fact powerless against them. The day that CIS was established was also the day the Gorbachev resigned and was the last day that the red flag was hung in the nation. The new Commonwealth was almost as large as the former Soviet Union having land area of 8.53 million squared miles. In addition, it was a mosaic of many nationalities and ethnic groups. As a result, problem were evident, such as were between nationalities in the original Soviet Union. Each republic had its own very difficult economic and social problems to solve, and within each republic were many old Communists who wanted to see reform fail. As this proved a difficult task, less attention was paid to the fate of the CIS (Commonwealth).
One of the biggest reasons why the Soviet Union had a breakup was because of the problem of ethnicity. USSR contained more than one hundred ethnic group where fifty- two percent ranged in the hundreds as population, and twenty- three percent ranged beyond one million (Russia). People were classified according to physical traits, material culture, spiritual culture and way of life. Two hundred different languages were spoken, and although Russian was the official language, this wide range presented problems. The government became less and less ethnically representative as a result of slow demographic growth of the ethnic Russians and the rapid growth of other ethnic groups (Russia). This of course angered many citizens since their voices were not heard and changes could not be made to satisfy them. In Lithuania, the third biggest ethnic group were Poles who made up seven percent of the population (The Baltic). Poles were not even Russians, but a different culture from another European nations. Obviously, brawls and fighting will occur among groups that can not communicate together.
Religion has been a large issue in Russia since the age of Stalin. Due to the changes caused by Peter the Great, the priests had less influence and by the nineteenth century, Russia was a multi-religious society. However, the 1917 revolution led to the official policy of eradication of religion in the country. Churches had no legal status and their property was confiscated. Private religious education of any kind was strictly forbidden (Russia). The Soviet Union was officially and atheistic country. Gorbachev in the 1980 s, along with the government, promised to increase religious freedom for all believers, but this was in the far future. After denying the rights for such a long time, Russians did not trust or believe that such a thing would happen. Alexander Solzhenitsyn stated that if Gorbachev was serious about encouraging freedom and openness in the Soviet Union, then he had best start with the most fundamental issue: religious liberty (Corpus). Russian republics realized that they will never have the right to full religious liberty and the only chance they did have was to escape from the oppressive rule of Mother Russia and create new constitutions that were actually democratic.
Food is the most essential consumer good. Except for agriculture, Soviet planners traditionally neglected the consumer sector, emphasizing on heavy industry instead. The result was an economy dominated by a massive and successful military-heavy industrial base coupled with an agricultural base that at best muddled through. Little else was left for other consumer goods, and many goods that were produced were of such poor quality that few people wanted to buy them (Russia). The economy therefore consisted of a heavy industrial and armed forces sector equivalent with that of a developed country, alongside a consumer sector comparable to that of a Third World country, an economic paradox (Russia). While the military and technology was important to the people, most screamed for liberty, freedom, and bread . Hunger was spreading through Russia and the only way to cease it was to concentrate on cultivation; something a Communist government was not ready to do, or did not want to do. In the period between 1922 and 1939, drastic efforts were made by the USSR to suppress Ukrainian nationalism. Ukraine suffered terribly from the forced collectivization of agriculture and the expropriation of foodstuffs from the countryside; the result was the famine of 1932-33, when more than seven million people died (Ukraine). This is one of the reasons why Ukraine decided to leave the union. This is also the reason why other nations decided to follow in the country s footsteps. Seeing how Ukraine was being treated was more than enough to convince these nations that their turns were coming up. While all Russian nations were being treated harshly and unfairly, Ukraine was the nation that faced increasing problem form the centralized government. One reason why the USSR became upset with the idea that Ukraine was leaving the union was because industry contributes more than 40 percent of total net material product (NMP) and accounts for more than one-fourth of total employment (Ukraine). This country was known for its agriculture and all that it contributed to union. Agriculture accounts for about 30 percent of total NMP and one-fourth of total employment (Ukraine). Ukraine is a major producer and exporter of a variety of agricultural products, including wheat and sugar beets. Other crops include potatoes, vegetables, fruit, sunflowers, and flax. Livestock raising is also important. As a result of its succession, Russia suffered greatly and domestic food consumption has decreased. NMP declined by about 30 percent in 1992, one of the sharpest drops among the former Soviet republics.
Mr. Gorbachev, like previous Russian autocrats who unleashed reform and permitted freedom but though they could still control it from above , was taken aback, and was not amused, when his people used their new freedom to criticize him (Russia). He created a parliament system of his own personal design, which in theory was supposed to be democratic and listen to the people, but instead it had its own rules of constitutional practice and parliamentary behavior that were used whenever it suited him. Gorbachev s personal charm impressed the mighty of the world, but he was unable to fulfill his vision and policies (Yakolev). According to Mr. Kniazhkov, a former Tass correspondent, Gorbachev tried to carry out an ambitious program, but he did not have the intellectual and metal capacity to do it. He took on too much, leaving behind a destroyed economic system and nothing to replace it. He was guilty of criminal irresponsibility . Gorbachev was always a prophet more acclaimed abroad than at home. For ending the Cold War, he received the Nobel Peace Prize. His policies united Germany, let communism die in Eastern Europe and stopped arms support for wars in Angola, Cambodia, and Nicaragua (Bedard). Even Time magazine named him Man of the Decade . However, at home, the republics that made up the internal Soviet Empire rejected his visions of a new union based on consent rather than restraint. Angry and disillusioned by the experience of the previous seventy years, one republic after another promoted to receive full independence and rejected all of his arguments to the contrary. He showed no recognition that the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had been cruelly seized and murderously purged by Josef Stalin in 1940 in a secret deal with Adolph Hitler (Russia). Yet, the people of these nations remembered and were angry. Whether it was ignorance or neglect, Gorbachev indeed believed the communist history books he had read at school, which brushed over and explained some of the greatest crimes of the century. So, he never thought of the Ukraine as having been forcibly conquered by the Red Army in 1919-1920, or as the victim of deliberate genocidal famine policies in the 1930 s (Yakolev). Nevertheless, the Ukrainians remember all the crimes against them, and when they express their desire for full independence, it came as a shock. It is ignorance and stupidity of Gorbachev that he did not realize that these consequences would occur if he permitted people to speak in openness . His policies of perestroika and glasnost gave these oppressed nations the weapons and tools to fight and break away from a totalitarian government. Former President Mikhail Gorbachev was always more loved and admired in the White House and in the State Department, than among his own people.