Now begins perestroi ka's second stage

Vitaly Korotich

August 27, 1991|By Vitaly Korotich

ONE OF the earliest Communist Party slogans of my country was: "We will drive mankind forcibly to happiness!" Mankind, in the party's eyes, was a species so undeveloped that on no account could it take a step on its own toward communist happiness. And so it drove us and brought us to the present


My country, from the moment of its birth, was founded on fear, enthusiasm, hatred -- on anything and everything but law.

The main result, and one of the most wonderful, of the first years of perestroika was that fear left us and took up residence, instead, in the leaders of the country and the Communist Party. Over the last few years they were in the almost constant grip of fear, trying to return it to us. When I saw the faces of the leaders of the coup on television that first day, their fear was so palpable that even across the ocean you could feel their legs shaking.

I also understood why the rumor of Mikhail Gorbachev's own participation in the coup was so widespread -- that he thought up the whole thing as a way to renew his popularity. I don't believe it for a moment and yet the rumor is natural. Those who announced the coup were all Gorbachev associates. He had selected them for executive and parliamentary posts.

Once again we are reminded that a government established in an undemocratic manner can never rule democratically. If the army and the KGB are accountable to no one, hiding everything (from budgets to operations), then one can expect those operations to include the staging of coups.

I will never forget how Gorbachev, privately in his office, scolded me for criticizing the thoroughly corrupt Dmitri Yazov. He demanded that I cease attacking a man, his defense minister, who he believed was necessary to him and to the country. Soon afterward there would be blood on Yazov's hands as well as on the hands of the other leaders of the coup. Even when Yazov's officers in their election platforms and speeches demanded Gorbachev's resignation, the Soviet president spared them. They did not spare him.

I was summoned three times to the office of Vladimir Kryuchkov, the head of the KGB. He said I should listen to him, who spoke in the name of the president. He demanded that I meet with people in certain embassies, including the American embassy, because these were "nests of spies." Kryuchkov warned me in the name of Gorbachev. He was "the president's man."

And Boris Pugo? The minister of the interior, foisted on us despite the will of the majority, replacing Vadim Bakatin, who had been moving toward genuine reforms. (Now Bakatin is back, as the new chief of the KGB. That's a good thing but it is his fourth top-level job in five years. We need new blood -- not in the streets, but in our political system.)

Why did Gorbachev not reflect more seriously on whom he put in power and whom he took from power? A coup was discussed openly, but Gorbachev was convinced it was impossible.

A little more than a year ago, his chief military adviser, Sergei Akhromeyev, sent me an "open letter" in which he said: "Talk of the possibility of a military coup in the Soviet Union is a malicious, outright lie . . . A coup in the Soviet Union is impossible. In the U.S.S.R. there are no military leaders who would attempt such a thing, and no military forces that could be employed to that end." Last Saturday, he killed himself.

Gradually, a system of smoke screens and disinformation was created to conceal the putschists.

At the beginning of May, the leaders of the military-industrial complex placed in Dyen, the newspaper of the Union of Soviet Writers, a public call for an overthrow. Gorbachev continued to believe that these people were loyal to him.

He continued to attack the liberals with an energy worthy of a better cause. It was only in the last few months that he grew more civilized toward those whom he had sarcastically called "so-called democrats." Come what may, his inability to evaluate people should be explored.

Gorbachev would do well to consider why it was Boris Yeltsin and not the communists who resisted the coup. Though Gorbachev has resigned as party general secretary, he has no business even belonging to an organization whose anti-constitutional actions put it outside the law.

From the beginning of his leadership, Gorbachev has always complained that he had to pay the bills of his predecessors -- Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev. Now he has to pay his own bill.

Today we face tremendous problems. The first stage of perestroika is over. We have no right to be drunk with our victory over the bumbling putschists. It was we, the liberals, who in the first place showed that we were unable to lead the country on the path of genuine transformation. The putschists showed that they could not turn the country back.

This is an extremely dangerous situation. A third force, which may be represented by certain young people of the fascist persuasion, is born in precisely such situations.

We must bring forward a new generation of democrats, matured in the atmosphere of liberty we are fighting for. Our generation, my generation, must go. The country desperately needs new faces, new brains -- people like Grigory Yavlinsky, the free-market economist. As Aleksandr Yakovlev has noted, though many people are now excitedly talking about how they were standing on the barricades with bullets flying overhead, now we must have someone sitting down and actually working.

Yes, we were victorious. Yes, the world did support us. But it was a skirmish, not a major battle. Only a little light flickers at the end of the tunnel, and I do not know what obstacles lie between us and that light.

Vitaly Korotich, editor of Ogonyok, is a member of the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies.

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