Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Don't know how lucky you are, boys

Breakup, chaos, poverty, violence and extreme corruption: it happened to the USSR and was hailed as a triumph of democracy.

"A large majority of Russians...regret the end of the Soviet Union, not because they pine for 'communism' but because they lost a secure way of life. They do not share the nearly unanimous western view that the Soviet Union's 'collapse' was 'inevitable' because of inherent fatal defects. They believe instead, and for good reason, that three 'subjective' factors broke it up: the way Gorbachev carried out his political and economic reforms; a power struggle in which Yeltsin overthrew the Soviet state in order to get rid of its president, Gorbachev; and property-seizing Soviet bureaucratic elites, the nomenklatura, who were more interested in 'privatising' the state's enormous wealth in 1991 than in defending it. Most Russians, including even the imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, therefore still see December 1991 as a 'tragedy'.

In addition, a growing number of Russian intellectuals have come to believe that something essential was lost - a historic opportunity to democratise and modernise Russia by methods more gradualist, consensual and less traumatic, and thus more fruitful and less costly, than those adopted after 1991".

-- Stephen Cohen, who puts a lot of the blame on Yeltsin, in The Guardian and The Nation.

I'm not sure the majority of Russians are right to believe the USSR didn't have fatal defects. Clearly, however, a less destructive transition path was possible.

1 comment:

Caspar Henderson said...

Perhaps the Western illusion regarding the end of the USSR pre-figured the one shared by the neo-cons regarding Iraq. Last night, Mario Loyola of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told the BBC that Iraq had gone according to plan, but perhaps the Iraqis were not ready for democracy. I wrote to him as follows:

"Dear Mario Loyola,

It was interesting to hear your comments this evening on The World Tonight, BBC Radio 4 (United Kingdom).

Your point -- that the Algerian army, with something like a million men under arms, had some trouble putting down an insurgency in the 1990s -- was well taken.

If I understood you correctly, you said that Iraq -- like Lebanon and the Palestinian territories -- was troubled by people who did not respect the rule of law, and that while this remained the case the prospects for democracy in those countries was not good.

Do you think, therefore, that the US administration has a good prospect of executing its declared project -- said to be central to US ambitions -- to democratise the country?

And looking ahead, do you think an Iraqi army has a reasonable prospect of containing the situation in Iraq?

yours sincerely

Caspar Henderson"