The apparent collapse of the hard-line coup in the Soviet Union may have broken Communist Party resistance to change in the country, something President Mikhail Gorbachev was never able to do, says a Soviet expert at Towson State University.
Party members who have clung to their power to control the vast government bureaucracies "are now going to be essentially disenfranchised," said Eric Belgrad, chairman of TSU's political science department.
They will be replaced by people who are more "pliant" and "much more likely to accept democracy and a market economy," said Belgrad, who stressed that his thoughts were "pure speculation."
In accomplishing all this, he said, "the coup leaders have done what Gorbachev was unable to do. He wasn't able to bypass the party apparatus, and the economic decline in the country was . . . remarkable."
"Quite frankly, I didn't see how he was going to get around that hurdle," he said. "I didn't expect them to commit 'suicide.' "
A dissident Soviet writer, meanwhile, said the Soviet citizens who died under the tanks last night deserve to be honored in the same way as American soldiers who have died for democracy and freedom.
They "gave their lives under the tanks, died for same goals, for all of us, Americans and Russians," said Vladimir Voinovich, a novelist exiled in 1980. He is teaching a Russian literature course this summer at Goucher College.
Voinovich blames Gorbachev in part for his own ouster. "It was his fault he surrounded himself with these terrible people who led the coup," he said. Nevertheless, "I have been praying for him."
Len Latkovski, a Latvian-born Soviet expert at Hood College in Frederick, said Gorbachev will be back with his stature increased both internationally and inside his country. But his future depends on what he does next. "He is still the guy who can't put bread on the table," Latkovski said.
The real winner may be Boris Yeltsin, Latkovski said. Where Gorbachev appears weak and indecisive, Yeltsin takes risks. He broke with the Communist Party hard-liners years ago.
"When he does something like climbing on the tank the other day," Latkovski said, "he comes out smelling like roses."
Belgrad agreed the coup probably would bring Gorbachev back into power. But he returns as a weakened figurehead. "His power base has been damaged," Belgrad said.
The Soviet people are facing a difficult winter, and Gorbachev was already "an immensely unpopular figure," he said.
"The real focus of power will now be transferred to the republics and particularly to the Russian Republic and Yeltsin," he said.
Voinovich agreed. "Yeltsin will take real power, his authority became more real."
The failed coup may have had another effect opposite of what the plotters intended.
Latkovski said it will accelerate the movement for separation of the Baltic states from Moscow and the spread of democracy in the Soviet Union. "The Baltics are the symbol of Democracy in the Soviet Union," he said. "They have led the way in perestroika and democratization."
Coup leaders erred by attempting their takeover too late, he said. By the time they made their moves, the Communist Party had been weakened, there were splits in the KGB and the Army, and the coup leaders lacked reliable allies in the security forces.
As for the old-liners, Belgrad said, "I think this was their last
hurrah. . . . I don't see how that old guard could in any way mount another attempt" to seize power.