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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

We Must Not Forget Spirit of '91

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It is amazing how sometimes situations that seemed so clear-cut as they unfolded later become clouded in doubt and uncertainty. In recent years there has been no more vivid example of this phenomenon than the August 1991 coup attempt in Moscow.

Remember how the hard-line oppressors of freedom stood on one side of the barricades, spouting rhetoric that was already outdated and clearly embodying a past to which no one wanted to return? And, on the other side, stood only defenders of liberty and democracy, spontaneously speaking in Jeffersonian tones, singing songs and representing a future of hope and energy? Remember the incredible, unrepeatable feeling that came with the realization that this time it was the hands of the tyrants that were trembling? It was their voices that cracked with the strain. For once, it seemed, democracy and freedom would triumph in this world.

Now, 10 years on, it takes an effort of mind and will to recall those feelings. Within a few months of August, the good guys in white hats were squabbling among themselves. First Boris Yeltsin fell out with Mikhail Gorbachev. Then came shock therapy in the first days of 1992 and the whole sequence of events that led up to the October 1993 shelling of parliament. No image of the breakdown of August 1991 could be more telling than that of Alexander Rutskoi and Ruslan Khasbulatov, Yeltsin's one-time friends who stood beside him during the coup, being led away in handcuffs. And that was followed quickly by voucher privatization, loans-for-shares, the oligarchs, the corruption scandals, the murders of journalists, the 1996 election farce, and so on.

A series of articles dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the August 1991 coup.
And that is just in Russia. August 1991 was an ambiguous milestone for most of the other countries of the former Soviet Union as well. Many of them — Georgia, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, etc. — were thrown into bloody and vicious conflicts. Many others — Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, etc. — have been occupied by oppressive and undemocratic dictatorships that have little to distinguish them from the Soviet regime.

A decade after the events of August 1991 there is indeed much to think about. Those people who still feel somehow that those were the finest days of their lives must confront the disappointments that ensued. And they must counter the inevitable claims of those who supported the coup that the wrong side prevailed.

Most of all, perhaps, they must make the effort to recapture the hope and determination of those times. We cannot allow the spirit of 1991 to be overwhelmed by what followed.