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Was public transportation free in the Soviet Union?

Was public transportation free in the Soviet Union?

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Was public transportation free in the Soviet Union? I'm interested in the metros and buses. If not, what did they cost?

I'm most interested in the period around the late 1950's, early 1960's, but it would be interesting to know if the situation changed at any time during the USSR's lifespan.

They were not free. In 1961 there was a currency reform, so the answer is about post-1961 period.

A price of ride depended on the mode of transportation. For city public transport the price varied from 3 kopecks (tram) to 4 kopecks (trolleybus) to 5 kopecks (bus and metro). This was the country wide standard but in certain places the charge could vary. Intercity buses would cost 2.5 to 3 rubles per 100 km.

One could buy a ticket for a month for various combinations of the modes of transportation inside a city, the ticket that included all modes would cost 6 rubles. For particular modes of transportation it would cost 2-2.5 rubles. Students could buy monthly tickets with discounts.

Official exchange rate was about 60 kopecks for 1 dollar. Unofficial one could be several rubles for a dollar. An average salary was 120 to 220 rubles per month, an average pension was 60 rubles per month.

These prices were kept till late 1980s.

During the Civil War, the national financial system was in chaos, and there was a drive towards 'revolutionary' and 'communist' practices in everyday life. The ideal economy was commonly understood as an economy running without money, on direct distribution and rationing of goods and services. In Russian historiography, this era in social and economic system of Russia is usually called the 'War Communism'.

Public transportation was the sphere where these new trends were most naturally applied by local governments. Many of them tried to run trams free of charge for riders belonging to the 'working classes' (i. e., workers and public servants). Factories were supposed to provide financial and material donations to tram depots to help them with delivering their workers to work. There is no surprise that this system failed. Everywhere tram circulation was reduced drastically; some cities had lost all tram traffic. Moscow only had passenger traffic in summers for a few years (there was cargo traffic that ran year round).

In February 1921, the Tram Conference was called in Moscow, where tram managers discussed the situation and proposed that trams should be financed through passenger revenues; and that tram workers should be paid by their output. This coincided with the nation-wide proclamation of the 'New Economic Policy'.

Ever since, the idea was such that tram (and later also bus, trolley-bus and metro) companies had to rely on their own revenues to finance operations. Government planning bodies planned the networks, assigned prices and allotted investments. Companies were created to run the services and generally they were expected to cover their expenses with revenues, though occasionally governments might intervene and provide financial help if there was a gap.

It has to be noted that in Soviet economy, a sufficiently large company (such as a bus company of a large city) had to maintain the so-called 'social sphere', i. e. clinics, kindergartens and country-side resorts; this was included in their expenses. A profitable company might invest into expanding these facilities in order to lure workforce.

Until 1950s, fares on trams and trolley-buses usually depended on distance traveled; buses and metros had flat fare. Since 1950s, flat fares became universal on all urban services. Fares were assigned for each city or locality individually per mode of transportation (bus/tram/trolley-bus/metro/minibus). Except between metro lines, you had to pay anew after every transfer.

There were also monthly passes for one or a combination of modes of transport. Although a combined pass, say, for tram and bus, would cost less than two separate passes, they were still considered pricey and were not bought unless necessary. Moreover, even one-mode passes were worth it only if you had to commute with transfers.

In late Soviet Union, bus and trolley-bus fares varied from 3 to 6 kopecks, tram fares from 3 to 5 kopecks. Metro fare was 5 kopecks in all cities (with automatic gates operating on 5-kopeck coins). By the end of 1980s, most companies brought losses, typically measured by fractions of kopecks per ticket.

Suburban services were paid per kilometer; sometimes, you might use an urban stretch of a suburban service and be lucky to pay less than normal urban fare.

From my (limited) experience in Moscow in 1978, the 3,4,5 kopecks values are correct. The fare would allow travel from any source to any destination. The Metro had no timetable, just a digital clock at the departure end of the platform. It displayed the time since the last train had departed. The driver's job was to keep it to as close to 3 minutes as possible. During peak-period, the metro would move 4 million passengers, so I guess it worked.

In period from 1950-60, and later, public transportation was never free. But the price was low and did not change for many years. During this period metro and bus were 5 kopeks, trolley bus 4, and tram 3. However, you have to take into account that the average salary in the late 50s and in the 60s was less than 100 roubles per month. (This does not count peasants).

1 rouble is 100 kopeks. Kilogram of bread was between 15 and 22 kopeks, for comparison. And bread was perhaps the cheapest and most widely available food. The prices on the basic things, like bread and transportation, did not change for many decades: officially there was no inflation.

It was everywhere the same cost. It was dealing for every product, not only transport, food, clothes, furniture - everywhere was the same cost.

The Soviet Union’s Final Hours

By December 25, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev was a president without a country. Three of the Soviet Union’s 15 republics had already declared independence, and days earlier the leaders of 11 others agreed to leave the USSR to form the Commonwealth of Independent States. Once the republic leaders signed the Soviet Union’s virtual death warrant, all that was left was for Gorbachev to pull the plug.

So in a 10-minute televised speech on the night of December 25, a weary Gorbachev addressed a nation that no longer existed. He announced the dissolution of the Soviet Union and his resignation as its eighth and final leader.

The Soviet Union was dead at 69.

Five years after revolutionary Bolsheviks overthrew the Russian czar and established a socialist state, Russia joined with its neighbors on December 30, 1922, to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics under its first leader, Vladimir Lenin. The communist power had been on its sickbed for several years when the 54-year-old Gorbachev came to power in 1985. Hidden behind the Iron Curtain was a decaying empire with a stagnant economy that had fallen behind the West.

Mikhail gorbachev airs about his resignation, december 27, 1991. (Credit: Sovfoto/UIG/Getty Images)

Gorbachev believed reform was necessary for survival, and he brought desperate actions to the desperate times. He ushered in political openness (“glasnost”), which brought new freedoms and democratic elections, and perestroika (�onomic restructuring”), which loosened government control on the Soviet economy and permitted limited private enterprise. The changes made Gorbachev popular abroad, but opinions of him fell at home as the USSR struggled through the transformation.

The reforms enacted by Gorbachev set the stage for a series of mostly bloodless revolutions that swept through the Soviet satellite countries of Eastern Europe in 1989. As the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet leader chose not to order a military response. The historic changes earned Gorbachev the Nobel Peace Prize and Time magazine’s “Man of the Decade” honor, but the USSR had lost its communist Eastern Bloc.

Increasingly, Gorbachev was being puled in two different directions by democrats who wanted even greater freedoms and autonomy for the republics and conservatives who wanted to end the reforms that they believed were breaking the union apart. The maverick leader of the Russian republic, Boris Yeltsin, was a particularly radical thorn in Gorbachev’s side. Yeltsin, who had dramatically quit the Communist Party in 1990, called for Gorbachev’s resignation after the Soviet army cracked down in Lithuania and other republics that sought independence and greater sovereignty.

Bust of Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin at an exhibition. (Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

In March 1991, the USSR held a public referendum to determine whether the union should be preserved or dissolved. More than three-quarters of voters wanted the USSR to endure, but six republics abstained from voting altogether. In spite of the results, the referendum did little to stop the fracturing of the country. Yeltsin and other democrats continued to push Gorbachev to introduce more radical reforms, and the Soviet president negotiated a treaty that decentralized power from the central government to the republics.

Communist hard-liners in the government and the military had seen enough. On August 18, 1991, they placed Gorbachev under house arrest at his vacation villa in Crimea. Announcing Gorbachev’s “inability for health reasons” to carry out his presidential duties, the coup leaders declared a state of emergency. While tanks rumbled through Moscow, thousands poured into the city streets to link hands in human chains and build barricades to protect the Russian Parliament, known as the White House. Outside the parliament, Yeltsin rallied the crowds from atop a tank, and the popular uprising doomed the coup to failure after three days.

Gorbachev flew back to Moscow on August 22, but it wasn’t he who became the populist hero as a result of the coup, but Yeltsin. The last gasp of the old order had been smothered with the failed coup, and an emboldened Yeltsin quickly eclipsed Gorbachev.

On December 8, the Russian president met with the leaders of Belarus and Ukraine at a villa outside of Minsk and signed an agreement to form the Commonwealth of Independent States. “The Soviet Union as a subject of international and geopolitical reality no longer exists,” read the text of the agreement. Less than two weeks later at a meeting in the Kazakh city of Alma-Ata, another eight Soviet republics agreed to join the new entity. With the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia having declared independence months earlier, the USSR was down to one republic—Kazakhstan. The Commonwealth of Independent States also accepted Gorbachev’s resignation𠅊lthough it had yet to be tendered. “We respect Gorbachev and want him to go gently intro retirement,” said Yeltsin, who had already taken control of the KGB, parliament and even Gorbachev’s presidential office.

Left with no choice, the Soviet president tendered his resignation on December 25. 𠇍ue to the situation which has evolved as a result of the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, I hereby discontinue my activities at the post of President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” Gorbachev said in his address. “The policy prevailed of dismembering this country and disuniting the state, which is something I cannot subscribe to.”

“We’re now living in a new world. An end has been put to the Cold War and to the arms race, as well as to the mad militarization of the country, which has crippled our economy, public attitudes and morals,” he said before lamenting that “the old system collapsed before the new one had time to begin working.”

Moments after the end of the speech, Gorbachev signed the nuclear codes over to Yeltsin. Then with little pomp and even less circumstance, the red flag of the Soviet Union was lowered like that of a surrendered army from its floodlit perch atop the Kremlin in front of a smattering of onlookers. The tricolor of the Russian Federation was then hoisted up the flagpole. The end for a country that had seen such violence over its history came without a soundtrack of gunshots but just the flapping of a banner in the breeze and the wail of a drunken man stumbling around Red Square who cried out “Why are you laughing at Lenin?”


Novosibirsk, founded in 1893 [4] at the future site of a Trans-Siberian Railway bridge crossing the great Siberian river of Ob, was at first named Novonikolayevsk ( Новониколаевск ), [5] in honor both of Saint Nicholas and of the reigning Tsar Nicholas II. It superseded nearby Krivoshchekovskaya village, which was founded in 1696. The bridge was completed in the spring of 1897, making the new settlement the regional transport hub. The importance of the city further increased with the completion of the Turkestan–Siberia Railway in the early 20th century. The new railway connected Novonikolayevsk to Central Asia and the Caspian Sea. [24]

At the time of the bridge's opening, Novonikolayevsk had a population of 7,800 people. The frontier settlement developed rapidly. Its first bank opened in 1906, and a total of five banks were operating by 1915. In 1907, Novonikolayevsk, now with a population exceeding 47,000, was granted town status with full rights for self-government. During the pre-revolutionary period, the population of Novonikolayevsk reached 80,000. The city had steady and rapid economic growth, becoming one of the largest commercial and industrial centers of Siberia. It developed a significant agricultural processing industry, [25] as well as a power station, iron foundry, commodity market, several banks, and commercial and shipping companies. By 1917, seven Orthodox churches and one Roman Catholic Church had been built there, along with several cinemas, forty primary schools, a high school, a teaching seminary, and the Romanov House non-classical secondary school. In 1913, Novonikolayevsk became one of the first places in Russia to institute compulsory primary education. [24]

The Russian Civil War took a toll on the city. Wartime epidemics, especially that of typhus and cholera, claimed thousands of lives. In the course of the war, the Ob River Bridge was destroyed. For the first time in the city's history, the population of Novonikolayevsk began to decline. The Soviet Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies of Novonikolayevsk took control of the city in December 1917. In May 1918, the Czechoslovak Legion rose in opposition to the revolutionary government and, together with the White Guards, captured Novonikolayevsk. The Red Army took the city in 1919, retaining it throughout the rest of the Civil War. [24]

Novonikolayevsk began reconstruction in 1921 at the start of Lenin's New Economic Policy period. It was a part of Tomsk Governorate and served as its administrative center from December 23, 1919 to March 14, 1920. [ citation needed ] Between June 13, 1921 and May 25, 1925, it served as the administrative center of Novonikolayevsk Governorate [ru] , which was separated from Tomsk Governorate. [ citation needed ] The city was given its present name on September 12, 1926. [5]

When governorates were abolished, the city served as the administrative center of Siberian Krai until July 23, 1930, and of West Siberian Krai until September 28, 1937, when that krai was split into Novosibirsk Oblast and Altai Krai. [26] Since then, it has served as the administrative center of Novosibirsk Oblast. [26]

The Monument to the Heroes of the Revolution was erected in the center of the city and has been one of the chief historic sites (essentially every child had to visit the monument on school field trips during the Soviet years). Neglect in the 1990s while other areas were redeveloped helped preserve it in the post-Soviet era. [ citation needed ]

During Joseph Stalin's industrialization effort, Novosibirsk secured its place as one of the largest industrial centers of Siberia. Several massive industrial facilities were created, including the 'Sibkombain' plant, specializing in the production of heavy mining equipment. Additionally, a metal processing plant, a food processing plant, and other industrial enterprises and factories were built, as well as a new power station. The great Soviet famine of 1932–33 resulted in more than 170,000 rural refugees seeking food and safety in Novosibirsk. They were settled in barracks at the outskirts of the city, giving rise to slums. [24]

Its rapid growth and industrialization led to Novosibirsk being nicknamed the "Chicago of Siberia". [27]

Tram rails were laid down in 1934, by which time the population had reached 287,000, making Novosibirsk the largest city in Siberia. The following year the original bridge over the Ob River was replaced by the new Kommunalny bridge. [24]

Between 1941 and 1942 more than 50 substantial factories were crated up and relocated from western Russia to Novosibirsk in order to reduce the risk of their destruction through war, and at this time the city became a major supply base for the Red Army. During this period the city also received more than 140,000 refugees.

The rapid growth of the city prompted the construction during the 1950s of a hydroelectric power station with a capacity of 400 megawatts, [28] necessitating the creation of a giant water reservoir, now known as the Ob Sea. As a direct result of the station's construction, vast areas of fertile land were flooded as were relic pine woods in the area additionally, the new open space created by the reservoir's surface caused average wind speeds to double, increasing the rate of soil erosion. [24]

In the 1950s, the Soviet Government directed that a center for scientific research to be built in Novosibirsk, and in 1957 the multi-facility scientific research complex of Akademgorodok was constructed about 30 km (19 mi) south of the city center. The Siberian Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences (formerly the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union) has its headquarters in Akademgorodok, and the town hosts more than 35 research institutes and universities, among them Novosibirsk State University, one of the top Russian schools in Natural Sciences and Mathematics. Although it possesses a fully autonomous infrastructure, Akademgorodok is administered by Novosibirsk.

On September 2, 1962, the population of Novosibirsk reached one million. At that time, it was the youngest city in the world with over a million people. Novosibirsk took fewer than seventy years to achieve this milestone. [29]

In 1979, work began on the Novosibirsk Metro Transit System, culminating in the opening of the first line in 1985. [24]

On August 1, 2008, Novosibirsk was in the center of the path of a solar eclipse, with a duration of 2 minutes and 20 seconds.


1985: Gorbachev elected Edit

Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary by the Politburo on March 11, 1985, just over four hours after predecessor Konstantin Chernenko's death at age 73. [4] Gorbachev, aged 54, was the youngest member of the Politburo. His initial goal as general secretary was to revive the stagnating Soviet economy, and he realized that doing so would require reforming underlying political and social structures. [5] The reforms began with personnel changes of senior Brezhnev-era officials who would impede political and economic change. [6] On April 23, 1985, Gorbachev brought two protégés, Yegor Ligachev and Nikolai Ryzhkov, into the Politburo as full members. He kept the "power" ministries happy by promoting KGB Head Viktor Chebrikov from candidate to full member and appointing Minister of Defence Marshal Sergei Sokolov as a Politburo candidate.

This liberalization, however, fostered nationalist movements and ethnic disputes within the Soviet Union. [7] It also led indirectly to the revolutions of 1989, in which Soviet-imposed socialist regimes of the Warsaw Pact were toppled peacefully (with the notable exception of Romania), [8] which in turn increased pressure on Gorbachev to introduce greater democracy and autonomy for the Soviet Union's constituent republics. Under Gorbachev's leadership, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1989 introduced limited competitive elections to a new central legislature, the Congress of People's Deputies [9] (although the ban on other political parties was not lifted until 1990). [10]

On July 1, 1985, Gorbachev sidelined his main rival by removing Grigory Romanov from the Politburo and brought Boris Yeltsin into the CPSU Central Committee Secretariat. On December 23, 1985, Gorbachev appointed Yeltsin First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party replacing Viktor Grishin.

1986: Sakharov returns Edit

Gorbachev continued to press for greater liberalisation. On December 23, 1986, the most prominent Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov, returned to Moscow shortly after receiving a personal telephone call from Gorbachev telling him that after almost seven years his internal exile for defying the authorities was over. [11]

1987: one-party democracy Edit

At the January 28–30, 1987, Central Committee plenum, Gorbachev suggested a new policy of demokratizatsiya throughout Soviet society. He proposed that future Communist Party elections should offer a choice between multiple candidates, elected by secret ballot. However, the CPSU delegates at the Plenum watered down Gorbachev's proposal, and democratic choice within the Communist Party was never significantly implemented.

Gorbachev also radically expanded the scope of Glasnost, stating that no subject was off-limits for open discussion in the media.

On February 7, 1987, dozens of political prisoners were freed in the first group release since the Khrushchev Thaw in the mid-1950s. [12]

On September 10, 1987, Boris Yeltsin wrote a letter of resignation to Gorbachev. [13] At the October 27, 1987, plenary meeting of the Central Committee, Yeltsin, frustrated that Gorbachev had not addressed any of the issues outlined in his resignation letter, criticized the slow pace of reform and servility to the general secretary. [14] In his reply, Gorbachev accused Yeltsin of "political immaturity" and "absolute irresponsibility." Nevertheless, news of Yeltsin's insubordination and "secret speech" spread, and soon samizdat versions began to circulate. This marked the beginning of Yeltsin's rebranding as a rebel and rise in popularity as an anti-establishment figure. The following four years of political struggle between Yeltsin and Gorbachev played a large role in the dissolution of the USSR. [15] On November 11, 1987, Yeltsin was fired from the post of First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party.

Protest activity Edit

In the years leading up to the dissolution, various protests and resistance movements occurred or took hold throughout the USSR which variously were put down or tolerated.

The CTAG (Latvian: Cilvēktiesību aizstāvības grupa, lit. 'Human Rights Defense Group') Helsinki-86 was founded in July 1986 in the Latvian port town of Liepāja. Helsinki-86 was the first openly anti-Communist organization in the U.S.S.R., and the first openly organized opposition to the Soviet regime, setting an example for other ethnic minorities' pro-independence movements. [16]

On December 26, 1986, 300 Latvian youths gathered in Riga's Cathedral Square and marched down Lenin Avenue toward the Freedom Monument, shouting, "Soviet Russia out! Free Latvia!" Security forces confronted the marchers, and several police vehicles were overturned. [17]

The Jeltoqsan ('December') of 1986 were riots in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, sparked by Gorbachev's dismissal of Dinmukhamed Kunaev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and an ethnic Kazakh, who was replaced with Gennady Kolbin, an outsider from the Russian SFSR. [18] Demonstrations started in the morning of December 17, 1986, with 200 to 300 students in front of the Central Committee building on Brezhnev Square. On the next day, December 18, protests turned into civil unrest as clashes between troops, volunteers, militia units, and Kazakh students turned into a wide-scale confrontation. The clashes could only be controlled on the third day.

On May 6, 1987, Pamyat, a Russian nationalist group, held an unsanctioned demonstration in Moscow. The authorities did not break up the demonstration and even kept traffic out of the demonstrators' way while they marched to an impromptu meeting with Boris Yeltsin. [19]

On July 25, 1987, 300 Crimean Tatars staged a noisy demonstration near the Kremlin Wall for several hours, calling for the right to return to their homeland, from which they were deported in 1944 police and soldiers merely looked on. [20]

On August 23, 1987, the 48th anniversary of the secret protocols of the 1939 Molotov Pact, thousands of demonstrators marked the occasion in the three Baltic capitals to sing independence songs and attend speeches commemorating Stalin's victims. The gatherings were sharply denounced in the official press and closely watched by the police but were not interrupted. [21]

On June 14, 1987, about 5,000 people gathered again at Freedom Monument in Riga, and laid flowers to commemorate the anniversary of Stalin's mass deportation of Latvians in 1941. The authorities did not crack down on demonstrators, which encouraged more and larger demonstrations throughout the Baltic States. On November 18, 1987, hundreds of police and civilian militiamen cordoned off the central square to prevent any demonstration at Freedom Monument, but thousands lined the streets of Riga in silent protest regardless. [22]

On October 17, 1987, about 3,000 Armenians demonstrated in Yerevan complaining about the condition of Lake Sevan, the Nairit chemicals plant, and the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant, and air pollution in Yerevan. Police tried to prevent the protest but took no action to stop it once the march was underway. [23] The following day 1,000 Armenians participated in another demonstration calling for Armenian national rights in Karabagh and the annexation of Nakhchivan and Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. The police tried to physically prevent the march and after a few incidents, dispersed the demonstrators. [23]

1988 Edit

Moscow loses control Edit

In 1988, Gorbachev started to lose control of two regions of the Soviet Union, as the Baltic republics were now leaning towards independence, and the Caucasus descended into violence and civil war.

On July 1, 1988, the fourth and last day of a bruising 19th Party Conference, Gorbachev won the backing of the tired delegates for his last-minute proposal to create a new supreme legislative body called the Congress of People's Deputies. Frustrated by the old guard's resistance, Gorbachev embarked on a set of constitutional changes to attempt separation of party and state, thereby isolating his conservative Party opponents. Detailed proposals for the new Congress of People's Deputies were published on October 2, 1988, [24] and to enable the creation of the new legislature. The Supreme Soviet, during its November 29 – December 1, 1988, session, implemented amendments to the 1977 Soviet Constitution, enacted a law on electoral reform, and set the date of the election for March 26, 1989. [25]

On November 29, 1988, the Soviet Union ceased to jam all foreign radio stations, allowing Soviet citizens – for the first time since a brief period in the 1960s – to have unrestricted access to news sources beyond Communist Party control. [26]

Baltic republics Edit

In 1986 and 1987, Latvia had been in the vanguard of the Baltic states in pressing for reform. In 1988 Estonia took over the lead role with the foundation of the Soviet Union's first popular front and starting to influence state policy.

The Estonian Popular Front was founded in April 1988. On June 16, 1988, Gorbachev replaced Karl Vaino, the "old guard" leader of the Communist Party of Estonia, with the comparatively liberal Vaino Väljas. [27] In late June 1988, Väljas bowed to pressure from the Estonian Popular Front and legalized the flying of the old blue-black-white flag of Estonia, and agreed to a new state language law that made Estonian the official language of the Republic. [17]

On October 2, the Popular Front formally launched its political platform at a two-day congress. Väljas attended, gambling that the front could help Estonia become a model of economic and political revival, while moderating separatist and other radical tendencies. [28] On November 16, 1988, the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR adopted a declaration of national sovereignty under which Estonian laws would take precedence over those of the Soviet Union. [29] Estonia's parliament also laid claim to the republic's natural resources including land, inland waters, forests, mineral deposits, and to the means of industrial production, agriculture, construction, state banks, transportation, and municipal services within the territory of Estonia's borders. [30] At the same time the Estonian Citizens' Committees started registration of citizens of the Republic of Estonia to carry out the elections of the Congress of Estonia.

The Latvian Popular Front was founded in June 1988. On October 4, Gorbachev replaced Boris Pugo, the "old guard" leader of the Communist Party of Latvia, with the more liberal Jānis Vagris. In October 1988 Vagris bowed to pressure from the Latvian Popular Front and legalized flying the former carmine red-and-white flag of independent Latvia, and on October 6 he passed a law making Latvian the country's official language. [17]

The Popular Front of Lithuania, called Sąjūdis ("Movement"), was founded in May 1988. On October 19, 1988, Gorbachev replaced Ringaudas Songaila, the "old guard" leader of the Communist Party of Lithuania, with the relatively liberal Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas. In October 1988 Brazauskas bowed to pressure from Sąjūdis and legalized the flying of the historic yellow-green-red flag of independent Lithuania, and in November 1988 passed a law making Lithuanian the country's official language and the former national anthem Tautiška giesmė was later reinstated. [17]

Rebellion in the Caucasus Edit

On February 20, 1988, after a week of growing demonstrations in Stepanakert, capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (the Armenian majority area within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic), the Regional Soviet voted to secede and join with the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia. [31] This local vote in a small, remote part of the Soviet Union made headlines around the world it was an unprecedented defiance of republican and national authorities. On February 22, 1988, in what became known as the "Askeran clash", thousands of Azerbaijanis marched towards Nagorno-Karabakh, demanding information about rumors of an Azerbaijani having been killed in Stepanakert. They were informed that no such incident had occurred, but refused to believe it. Dissatisfied with what they were told, thousands began marching toward Nagorno-Karabakh, massacring 50. [32] [33] Karabakh authorities mobilised over a thousand police to stop the march, with the resulting clashes leaving two Azerbaijanis dead. These deaths, announced on state radio, led to the Sumgait Pogrom. Between February 26 and March 1, the city of Sumgait (Azerbaijan) saw violent anti-Armenian rioting during which at least 32 people were killed. [34] The authorities totally lost control and occupied the city with paratroopers and tanks nearly all of the 14,000 Armenian residents of Sumgait fled. [35]

Gorbachev refused to make any changes to the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, which remained part of Azerbaijan. He instead sacked the Communist Party Leaders in both Republics – on May 21, 1988, Kamran Baghirov was replaced by Abdulrahman Vezirov as First Secretary of the Azerbaijan Communist Party. From July 23 to September 1988, a group of Azerbaijani intellectuals began working for a new organization called the Popular Front of Azerbaijan, loosely based on the Estonian Popular Front. [36] On September 17, when gun battles broke out between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis near Stepanakert, two soldiers were killed and more than two dozen injured. [37] This led to almost tit-for-tat ethnic polarization in Nagorno-Karabakh's two main towns: the Azerbaijani minority was expelled from Stepanakert, and the Armenian minority was expelled from Shusha. [38] On November 17, 1988, in response to the exodus of tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis from Armenia, a series of mass demonstrations began in Baku's Lenin Square, lasting 18 days and attracting half a million demonstrators. On December 5, 1988, the Soviet militia moved in, cleared the square by force, and imposed a curfew that lasted ten months. [39]

The rebellion of fellow Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh had an immediate effect in Armenia itself. Daily demonstrations, which began in the Armenian capital Yerevan on February 18, initially attracted few people, but each day the Nagorno-Karabakh issue became increasingly prominent and numbers swelled. On February 20, a 30,000-strong crowd demonstrated in the Theater Square, by February 22, there were 100,000, the next day 300,000, and a transport strike was declared, by February 25, there were close to 1 million demonstrators—more than a quarter of Armenia's population. [40] This was the first of the large, peaceful public demonstrations that would become a feature of communism's overthrow in Prague, Berlin, and, ultimately, Moscow. Leading Armenian intellectuals and nationalists, including future first president of independent Armenia Levon Ter-Petrossian, formed the eleven-member Karabakh Committee to lead and organize the new movement.

On the same day, when Gorbachev replaced Baghirov by Vezirov as First Secretary of Azerbaijan Communist party, he also replaced Karen Demirchian by Suren Harutyunyan as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Armenia. However, Harutyunyan quickly decided to run before the nationalist wind and on May 28, allowed Armenians to unfurl the red-blue-orange First Armenian Republic flag for the first time in almost 70 years. [41] On June 15, 1988, the Armenian Supreme Soviet adopted a resolution formally approving the idea of Nagorno-Karabakh joining Armenia. [42] Armenia, formerly one of the most loyal Republics, had suddenly turned into the leading rebel republic. On July 5, 1988, when a contingent of troops was sent in to remove demonstrators by force from Yerevan's Zvartnots International Airport, shots were fired and one student protester was killed. [43] In September, further large demonstrations in Yerevan led to the deployment of armored vehicles. [44] In the autumn of 1988 almost all of the 200,000 Azerbaijani minority in Armenia was expelled by Armenian nationalists, with over 100 killed in the process [45] – this, after the Sumgait pogrom earlier that year carried out by Azerbaijanis against ethnic Armenians and subsequent expulsion of all Armenians from Azerbaijan. On November 25, 1988, a military commandant took control of Yerevan as the Soviet government moved to prevent further ethnic violence. [46]

On December 7, 1988, the Spitak earthquake struck, killing an estimated 25,000 to 50,000 people. When Gorbachev rushed back from a visit to the United States, he was so angered with being confronted by protesters calling for Nagorno-Karabakh to be made part of the Armenian Republic during a natural disaster that on December 11, 1988 he ordered the entire Karabakh Committee to be arrested. [47]

In Tbilisi, the capital of Soviet Georgia, many demonstrators camped out in front of the republic's legislature in November 1988 calling for Georgia's independence and in support of Estonia's declaration of sovereignty. [48]

Western republics Edit

Beginning in February 1988, the Democratic Movement of Moldova (formerly Moldavia) organized public meetings, demonstrations, and song festivals, which gradually grew in size and intensity. In the streets, the center of public manifestations was the Stephen the Great Monument in Chişinău, and the adjacent park harboring Aleea Clasicilor (The "Alley of Classics [of Literature]"). On January 15, 1988, in a tribute to Mihai Eminescu at his bust on the Aleea Clasicilor, Anatol Şalaru submitted a proposal to continue the meetings. In the public discourse, the movement called for national awakening, freedom of speech, revival of Moldovan traditions, and for attainment of official status for the Romanian language and return to the Latin alphabet. The transition from "movement" (an informal association) to "front" (a formal association) was seen as a natural "upgrade" once a movement gained momentum with the public, and the Soviet authorities no longer dared to crack down on it.

On April 26, 1988, about 500 people participated in a march organized by the Ukrainian Cultural Club on Kyiv's Khreschatyk Street to mark the second anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, carrying placards with slogans like "Openness and Democracy to the End." Between May and June 1988, Ukrainian Catholics in western Ukraine celebrated the Millennium of Christianity in Kyivan Rus in secret by holding services in the forests of Buniv, Kalush, Hoshiv, and Zarvanytsia. On June 5, 1988, as the official celebrations of the Millennium were held in Moscow, the Ukrainian Cultural Club hosted its own observances in Kyiv at the monument to St. Volodymyr the Great, the grand prince of Kyivan Rus.

On June 16, 1988, 6,000 to 8,000 people gathered in Lviv to hear speakers declare no confidence in the local list of delegates to the 19th Communist Party conference, to begin on June 29. On June 21, a rally in Lviv attracted 50,000 people who had heard about a revised delegate list. Authorities attempted to disperse the rally in front of Druzhba Stadium. On July 7, 10,000 to 20,000 people witnessed the launch of the Democratic Front to Promote Perestroika. On July 17, a group of 10,000 gathered in the village Zarvanytsia for Millennium services celebrated by Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Bishop Pavlo Vasylyk. The militia tried to disperse attendees, but it turned out to be the largest gathering of Ukrainian Catholics since Stalin outlawed the Church in 1946. On August 4, which came to be known as "Bloody Thursday", local authorities violently suppressed a demonstration organized by the Democratic Front to Promote Perestroika. Forty-one people were detained, fined, or sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest. On September 1, local authorities violently displaced 5,000 students at a public meeting lacking official permission at Ivan Franko State University.

On November 13, 1988, approximately 10,000 people attended an officially sanctioned meeting organized by the cultural heritage organization Spadschyna, the Kyiv University student club Hromada, and the environmental groups Zelenyi Svit ("Green World") and Noosfera, to focus on ecological issues. From November 14–18, 15 Ukrainian activists were among the 100 human-, national- and religious-rights advocates invited to discuss human rights with Soviet officials and a visiting delegation of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (also known as the Helsinki Commission). On December 10, hundreds gathered in Kyiv to observe International Human Rights Day at a rally organized by the Democratic Union. The unauthorized gathering resulted in the detention of local activists. [49]

The Belarusian Popular Front was established in 1988 as a political party and cultural movement for democracy and independence, similar to the Baltic republics’ popular fronts. The discovery of mass graves in Kurapaty outside Minsk by historian Zianon Pazniak, the Belarusian Popular Front's first leader, gave additional momentum to the pro-democracy and pro-independence movement in Belarus. [50] It claimed that the NKVD performed secret killings in Kurapaty. [51] Initially the Front had significant visibility because its numerous public actions almost always ended in clashes with the police and the KGB.

1989 Edit

Moscow: limited democratization Edit

Spring 1989 saw the people of the Soviet Union exercising a democratic choice, albeit limited, for the first time since 1917, when they elected the new Congress of People's Deputies. Just as important was the uncensored live TV coverage of the legislature's deliberations, where people witnessed the previously feared Communist leadership being questioned and held accountable. This example fueled a limited experiment with democracy in Poland, which quickly led to the toppling of the Communist government in Warsaw that summer – which in turn sparked uprisings that overthrew communism in the other five Warsaw Pact countries before the end of 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell.

This was also the year that CNN became the first non-Soviet broadcaster allowed to beam its TV news programs to Moscow. Officially, CNN was available only to foreign guests in the Savoy Hotel, but Muscovites quickly learned how to pick up signals on their home televisions. That had a major impact on how Soviets saw events in their country, and made censorship almost impossible. [52]

The month-long nomination period for candidates for the Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR lasted until January 24, 1989. For the next month, selection among the 7,531 district nominees took place at meetings organized by constituency-level electoral commissions. On March 7, a final list of 5,074 candidates was published about 85% were Party members.

In the two weeks prior to the 1,500 district polls, elections to fill 750 reserved seats of public organizations, contested by 880 candidates, were held. Of these seats, 100 were allocated to the CPSU, 100 to the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, 75 to the Communist Youth Union (Komsomol), 75 to the Committee of Soviet Women, 75 to the War and Labour Veterans' Organization, and 325 to other organizations such as the Academy of Sciences. The selection process was done in April.

In the March 26 general elections, voter participation was an impressive 89.8%, and 1,958 (including 1,225 district seats) of the 2,250 CPD seats were filled. In district races, run-off elections were held in 76 constituencies on April 2 and 9 and fresh elections were organized on April 20 and 14 to May 23, [53] in the 199 remaining constituencies where the required absolute majority was not attained. [25] While most CPSU-endorsed candidates were elected, more than 300 lost to independent candidates such as Yeltsin, physicist Andrei Sakharov and lawyer Anatoly Sobchak.

In the first session of the new Congress of People's Deputies, from May 25 to June 9, hardliners retained control but reformers used the legislature as a platform for debate and criticism – which was broadcast live and uncensored. This transfixed the population nothing like this freewheeling debate had ever been witnessed in the U.S.S.R. On May 29, Yeltsin managed to secure a seat on the Supreme Soviet, [54] and in the summer he formed the first opposition, the Inter-Regional Deputies Group, composed of Russian nationalists and liberals. Composing the final legislative group in the Soviet Union, those elected in 1989 played a vital part in reforms and the eventual breakup of the Soviet Union during the next two years.

On May 30, 1989, Gorbachev proposed that local elections across the Union, scheduled for November 1989, be postponed until early 1990 because there were still no laws governing the conduct of such elections. This was seen by some as a concession to local Party officials, who feared they would be swept from power in a wave of anti-establishment sentiment. [55]

On October 25, 1989, the Supreme Soviet voted to eliminate special seats for the Communist Party and other official organizations in union-level and republic-level elections, responding to sharp popular criticism that such reserved slots were undemocratic. After vigorous debate, the 542-member Supreme Soviet passed the measure 254-85 (with 36 abstentions). The decision required a constitutional amendment, ratified by the full congress, which met December 12–25. It also passed measures that would allow direct elections for presidents of each of the 15 constituent republics. Gorbachev strongly opposed such a move during debate but was defeated.

The vote expanded the power of republics in local elections, enabling them to decide for themselves how to organize voting. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia had already proposed laws for direct presidential elections. Local elections in all the republics had already been scheduled to take place between December and March 1990. [56]

The six Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe, while nominally independent, were widely recognized as the Soviet satellite states. All had been occupied by the Soviet Red Army in 1945, had Soviet-style socialist states imposed upon them, and had very restricted freedom of action in either domestic or international affairs. Any moves towards real independence were suppressed by military force – in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the Prague Spring in 1968. Gorbachev abandoned the oppressive and expensive Brezhnev Doctrine, which mandated intervention in the Warsaw Pact states, in favor of non-intervention in the internal affairs of allies – jokingly termed the Sinatra Doctrine in a reference to the Frank Sinatra song "My Way". Poland was the first republic to democratize following the enactment of the April Novelization, as agreed upon following the Polish Round Table Agreement talks from February to April between the government and the Solidarity trade union, and soon the Pact began to dissolve itself. The last of the countries to end communism, Romania, only did so following the violent Romanian Revolution.

Baltic Chain of Freedom Edit

The Baltic Way or Baltic Chain (also Chain of Freedom Estonian: Balti kett, Latvian: Baltijas ceļš, Lithuanian: Baltijos kelias, Russian: Балтийский путь ) was a peaceful political demonstration on August 23, 1989. [57] An estimated 2 million people joined hands to form a human chain extending 600 kilometres (370 mi) across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which had been forcibly reincorporated into the Soviet Union in 1944. The colossal demonstration marked the 50th anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact that divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence and led to the occupation of the Baltic states in 1940.

Just months after the Baltic Way protests, in December 1989, the Congress of People's Deputies accepted—and Gorbachev signed—the report by the Yakovlev Commission condemning the secret protocols of the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact which led to the annexations of the three Baltic republics. [58]

In the March 1989 elections to the Congress of Peoples Deputies, 36 of the 42 deputies from Lithuania were candidates from the independent national movement Sąjūdis. This was the greatest victory for any national organization within the USSR and was a devastating revelation to the Lithuanian Communist Party of its growing unpopularity. [59]

On December 7, 1989, the Communist Party of Lithuania under the leadership of Algirdas Brazauskas, split from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and abandoned its claim to have a constitutional "leading role" in politics. A smaller loyalist faction of the Communist Party, headed by hardliner Mykolas Burokevičius, was established and remained affiliated with the CPSU. However, Lithuania's governing Communist Party was formally independent from Moscow's control – a first for Soviet Republics and a political earthquake that prompted Gorbachev to arrange a visit to Lithuania the following month in a futile attempt to bring the local party back under control. [60] The following year, the Communist Party lost power altogether in multiparty parliamentary elections which had caused Vytautas Landsbergis to become the first non-Communist leader (Chairman of the Supreme Council of Lithuania) of Lithuania since its forced incorporation into the USSR.

Caucasus Edit

On July 16, 1989, the Popular Front of Azerbaijan held its first congress and elected Abulfaz Elchibey, who would become president, as its chairman. [61] On August 19, 600,000 protesters jammed Baku's Lenin Square (now Azadliq Square) to demand the release of political prisoners. [62] In the second half of 1989, weapons were handed out in Nagorno-Karabakh. When Karabakhis got hold of small arms to replace hunting rifles and crossbows, casualties began to mount bridges were blown up, roads were blockaded, and hostages were taken. [63]

In a new and effective tactic, the Popular Front launched a rail blockade of Armenia, [64] which caused petrol and food shortages because 85 percent of Armenia's freight came from Azerbaijan. [65] Under pressure from the Popular Front the Communist authorities in Azerbaijan started making concessions. On September 25, they passed a sovereignty law that gave precedence to Azerbaijani law, and on October 4, the Popular Front was permitted to register as a legal organization as long as it lifted the blockade. Transport communications between Azerbaijan and Armenia never fully recovered. [65] Tensions continued to escalate and on December 29, Popular Front activists seized local party offices in Jalilabad, wounding dozens.

On May 31, 1989, the 11 members of the Karabakh Committee, who had been imprisoned without trial in Moscow's Matrosskaya Tishina prison, were released, and returned home to a hero's welcome. [66] Soon after his release, Levon Ter-Petrossian, an academic, was elected chairman of the anti-communist opposition Pan-Armenian National Movement, and later stated that it was in 1989 that he first began considering full independence as his goal. [67]

On April 7, 1989, Soviet troops and armored personnel carriers were sent to Tbilisi after more than 100,000 people protested in front of Communist Party headquarters with banners calling for Georgia to secede from the Soviet Union and for Abkhazia to be fully integrated into Georgia. [68] On April 9, 1989, troops attacked the demonstrators some 20 people were killed and more than 200 wounded. [69] [70] This event radicalized Georgian politics, prompting many to conclude that independence was preferable to continued Soviet rule. On April 14, Gorbachev removed Jumber Patiashvili as First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party and replaced him with former Georgian KGB chief Givi Gumbaridze.

On July 16, 1989, in Abkhazia's capital Sukhumi, a protest against the opening of a Georgian university branch in the town led to violence that quickly degenerated into a large-scale inter-ethnic confrontation in which 18 died and hundreds were injured before Soviet troops restored order. [71] This riot marked the start of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.

Western republics Edit

In the March 26, 1989, elections to the Congress of People's Deputies, 15 of the 46 Moldovan deputies elected for congressional seats in Moscow were supporters of the Nationalist/Democratic movement. [72] The Popular Front of Moldova founding congress took place two months later, on May 20, 1989. During its second congress (June 30 – July 1, 1989), Ion Hadârcă was elected its president.

A series of demonstrations that became known as the Grand National Assembly (Romanian: Marea Adunare Naţională) was the Front's first major achievement. Such mass demonstrations, including one attended by 300,000 people on August 27, [73] convinced the Moldovan Supreme Soviet on August 31 to adopt the language law making Romanian the official language, and replacing the Cyrillic alphabet with Latin characters. [74]

In Ukraine, Lviv and Kyiv celebrated Ukrainian Independence Day on January 22, 1989. Thousands gathered in Lviv for an unauthorized moleben (religious service) in front of St. George's Cathedral. In Kyiv, 60 activists met in a Kyiv apartment to commemorate the proclamation of the Ukrainian People's Republic in 1918. On February 11–12, 1989, the Ukrainian Language Society held its founding congress. On February 15, 1989, the formation of the Initiative Committee for the Renewal of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was announced. The program and statutes of the movement were proposed by the Writers' Union of Ukraine and were published in the journal Literaturna Ukraina on February 16, 1989. The organization heralded Ukrainian dissidents such as Vyacheslav Chornovil.

In late February, large public rallies took place in Kyiv to protest the election laws, on the eve of the March 26 elections to the USSR Congress of People's Deputies, and to call for the resignation of the first secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Volodymyr Shcherbytsky, lampooned as "the mastodon of stagnation". The demonstrations coincided with a visit to Ukraine by Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. On February 26, 1989, between 20,000 and 30,000 people participated in an unsanctioned ecumenical memorial service in Lviv, marking the anniversary of the death of 19th-century Ukrainian artist and nationalist Taras Shevchenko.

On March 4, 1989, the Memorial Society, committed to honoring the victims of Stalinism and cleansing society of Soviet practices, was founded in Kyiv. A public rally was held the next day. On March 12, A pre-election meeting organized in Lviv by the Ukrainian Helsinki Union and the Marian Society Myloserdia (Compassion) was violently dispersed, and nearly 300 people were detained. On March 26, elections were held to the union Congress of People's Deputies by-elections were held on April 9, May 14, and May 21. Among the 225 Ukrainian representatives to the Congress, most were conservatives, though a handful of progressives were also elected.

From April 20–23, 1989, pre-election meetings were held in Lviv for four consecutive days, drawing crowds of up to 25,000. The action included a one-hour warning strike at eight local factories and institutions. It was the first labor strike in Lviv since 1944. On May 3, a pre-election rally attracted 30,000 in Lviv. On May 7, The Memorial Society organized a mass meeting at Bykivnia, site of a mass grave of Ukrainian and Polish victims of Stalinist terror. After a march from Kyiv to the site, a memorial service was staged.

From mid-May to September 1989, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic hunger strikers staged protests on Moscow's Arbat to call attention to the plight of their Church. They were especially active during the July session of the World Council of Churches held in Moscow. The protest ended with the arrests of the group on September 18. On May 27, 1989, the founding conference of the Lviv regional Memorial Society was held. On June 18, 1989, an estimated 100,000 faithful participated in public religious services in Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine, responding to Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky's call for an international day of prayer.

On August 19, 1989, the Russian Orthodox Parish of Saints Peter and Paul announced it would be switching to the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. On September 2, 1989, tens of thousands across Ukraine protested a draft election law that reserved special seats for the Communist Party and for other official organizations: 50,000 in Lviv, 40,000 in Kyiv, 10,000 in Zhytomyr, 5,000 each in Dniprodzerzhynsk and Chervonohrad, and 2,000 in Kharkiv. From September 8–10, 1989, writer Ivan Drach was elected to head Rukh, the People's Movement of Ukraine, at its founding congress in Kyiv. On September 17, between 150,000 and 200,000 people marched in Lviv, demanding the legalization of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. On September 21, 1989, exhumation of a mass grave began in Demianiv Laz, a nature preserve south of Ivano-Frankivsk. On September 28, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Ukraine Volodymyr Shcherbytsky, a holdover from the Brezhnev era, was replaced in this office by Vladimir Ivashko.

On October 1, 1989, a peaceful demonstration of 10,000 to 15,000 people was violently dispersed by the militia in front of Lviv's Druzhba Stadium, where a concert celebrating the Soviet "reunification" of Ukrainian lands was being held. On October 10, Ivano-Frankivsk was the site of a pre-election protest attended by 30,000 people. On October 15, several thousand people gathered in Chervonohrad, Chernivtsi, Rivne, and Zhytomyr 500 in Dnipropetrovsk and 30,000 in Lviv to protest the election law. On October 20, faithful and clergy of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church participated in a synod in Lviv, the first since its forced liquidation in the 1930s.

On October 24, the union Supreme Soviet passed a law eliminating special seats for Communist Party and other official organizations' representatives. On October 26, twenty factories in Lviv held strikes and meetings to protest the police brutality of October 1 and the authorities' unwillingness to prosecute those responsible. From October 26–28, the Zelenyi Svit (Friends of the Earth – Ukraine) environmental association held its founding congress, and on October 27 the Ukrainian Parliament passed a law eliminating the special status of party and other official organizations as deputies of parliament.

On October 28, 1989, the Ukrainian Parliament decreed that effective January 1, 1990, Ukrainian would be the official language of Ukraine, while Russian would be used for communication between ethnic groups. On the same day The Congregation of the Church of the Transfiguration in Lviv left the Russian Orthodox Church and proclaimed itself the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The following day, thousands attended a memorial service at Demianiv Laz, and a temporary marker was placed to indicate that a monument to the "victims of the repressions of 1939–1941" soon would be erected.

In mid-November The Shevchenko Ukrainian Language Society was officially registered. On November 19, 1989, a public gathering in Kyiv attracted thousands of mourners, friends and family to the reburial in Ukraine of three inmates of the infamous Gulag Camp No. 36 in Perm in the Ural Mountains: human-rights activists Vasyl Stus, Oleksiy Tykhy, and Yuriy Lytvyn. Their remains were reinterred in Baikove Cemetery. On November 26, 1989, a day of prayer and fasting was proclaimed by Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky, thousands of faithful in western Ukraine participated in religious services on the eve of a meeting between Pope John Paul II and General Secretary the Central Committee of the CPSU Gorbachev. On November 28, 1989, the Ukrainian SSR's Council for Religious Affairs issued a decree allowing Ukrainian Catholic congregations to register as legal organizations. The decree was proclaimed on December 1, coinciding with a meeting at the Vatican between the pope and the Soviet General Secretary.

On December 10, 1989, the first officially sanctioned observance of International Human Rights Day was held in Lviv. On December 17, an estimated 30,000 attended a public meeting organized in Kyiv by Rukh in memory of Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov, who died on December 14. On December 26, the Supreme Soviet of Ukrainian SSR adopted a law designating Christmas, Easter, and the Feast of the Holy Trinity official holidays. [49]

In May 1989, a Soviet dissident, Mustafa Dzhemilev, was elected to lead the newly founded Crimean Tatar National Movement. He also led the campaign for return of Crimean Tatars to their homeland in Crimea after 45 years of exile.

On January 24, 1989, the Soviet authorities in Byelorussia agreed to the demand of the democratic opposition (the Belarusian Popular Front) to build a monument to thousands of people shot by Stalin-era police in the Kuropaty Forest near Minsk in the 1930s. [75]

On September 30, 1989, thousands of Belarusians, denouncing local leaders, marched through Minsk to demand additional cleanup of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster site in Ukraine. Up to 15,000 protesters wearing armbands bearing radioactivity symbols and carrying the banned red-and-white national flag used by the government-in-exile filed through torrential rain in defiance of a ban by local authorities. Later, they gathered in the city center near the government's headquarters, where speakers demanded resignation of Yefrem Sokolov, the republic's Communist Party leader, and called for the evacuation of half a million people from the contaminated zones. [76]

Central Asian republics Edit

Thousands of Soviet troops were sent to the Fergana Valley, southeast of the Uzbek capital Tashkent, to re-establish order after clashes in which local Uzbeks hunted down members of the Meskhetian minority in several days of rioting between June 4–11, 1989 about 100 people were killed. [77] On June 23, 1989, Gorbachev removed Rafiq Nishonov as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Uzbek SSR and replaced him with Karimov, who went on to lead Uzbekistan as a Soviet Republic and subsequently as an independent state until his death in 2017.

In Kazakhstan on June 19, 1989, young men carrying guns, firebombs, iron bars and stones rioted in Zhanaozen, causing a number of deaths. The youths tried to seize a police station and a water-supply station. They brought public transportation to a halt and shut down various shops and industries. [78] By June 25, the rioting had spread to five other towns near the Caspian Sea. A mob of about 150 people armed with sticks, stones and metal rods attacked the police station in Mangishlak, about 140 kilometres (90 miles) from Zhanaozen, before they were dispersed by government troops flown in by helicopters. Mobs of young people also rampaged through Yeraliev, Shepke, Fort-Shevchenko and Kulsary, where they poured flammable liquid on trains housing temporary workers and set them on fire. [79]

With the government and CPSU shocked by the riots, on June 22, 1989, as a result of the riots Gorbachev removed Gennady Kolbin (the ethnic Russian whose appointment caused riots in December 1986) as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan for his poor handling of the June events, and replaced him with Nursultan Nazarbayev, an ethnic Kazakh who went on to lead Kazakhstan as a Soviet Republic and subsequently to independence. Nazarbayev would lead Kazakhstan for 27 years until he stepped down as president on March 19, 2019.

1990 Edit

Moscow loses six republics Edit

On February 7, 1990, the Central Committee of the CPSU accepted Gorbachev's recommendation that the party give up its monopoly on political power. [80] In 1990, all fifteen constituent republics of the USSR held their first competitive elections, with reformers and ethnic nationalists winning many seats. The CPSU lost the elections in six republics:

  • In Lithuania, to Sąjūdis, on February 24 (run-off elections on March 4, 7, 8, and 10)
  • In Moldova, to the Popular Front of Moldova, on February 25
  • In Estonia, to the Estonian Popular Front, on March 18
  • In Latvia, to the Latvian Popular Front, on March 18 (run-off elections on March 25, April 1, and April 29)
  • In Armenia, to the Pan-Armenian National Movement, on May 20 (run-off elections on June 3 and July 15)
  • In Georgia, to Round Table-Free Georgia, on October 28 (run-off election on November 11)

The constituent republics began to declare their fledgling states' sovereignty and began a "war of laws" with the Moscow central government they rejected union-wide legislation that conflicted with local laws, asserted control over their local economy, and refused to pay taxes to the Soviet government. Landsbergis, Chairman of the Supreme Council of Lithuania, also exempted Lithuanian men from mandatory service in the Soviet Armed Forces. This conflict caused economic dislocation as supply lines were disrupted, and caused the Soviet economy to decline further. [81]

Rivalry between USSR and RSFSR Edit

On March 4, 1990, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic held relatively free elections for the Congress of People's Deputies of Russia. Boris Yeltsin was elected, representing Sverdlovsk, garnering 72 percent of the vote. [82] On May 29, 1990, Yeltsin was elected chair of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, despite the fact that Gorbachev asked Russian deputies not to vote for him.

Yeltsin was supported by democratic and conservative members of the Supreme Soviet, who sought power in the developing political situation. A new power struggle emerged between the RSFSR and the Soviet Union. On June 12, 1990, the Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR adopted a declaration of sovereignty. On July 12, 1990, Yeltsin resigned from the Communist Party in a dramatic speech at the 28th Congress. [83]

Baltic republics Edit

Gorbachev's visit to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on January 11–13, 1990, provoked a pro-independence rally attended by an estimated 250,000 people.

On March 11, the newly elected parliament of the Lithuanian SSR elected Vytautas Landsbergis, the leader of Sąjūdis, as its chairman and proclaimed the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania, making Lithuania the first Soviet Republic to declare independence from the Soviet Union. Moscow reacted with an economic blockade keeping the troops in Lithuania ostensibly "to secure the rights of ethnic Russians". [84]

On March 25, 1990, the Estonian Communist Party voted to split from the CPSU after a six-month transition. [85]

On March 30, 1990, the Estonian Supreme Council declared the Soviet occupation of Estonia since the Second World War to be illegal and began a period of national transition towards the formal reestablishment of national independence within the republic.

On April 3, 1990, Edgar Savisaar of the Popular Front of Estonia was elected chairman of the Council of Ministers (the equivalent of being Prime Minister), and soon a majority-pro independence cabinet was formed.

Latvia declared the restoration of independence on May 4, 1990, with the declaration stipulating a transitional period to complete independence. The Declaration stated that although Latvia had de facto lost its independence in World War II, the country had de jure remained a sovereign country because the annexation had been unconstitutional and against the will of the Latvian people. The declaration also stated that Latvia would base its relationship with the Soviet Union on the basis of the Latvian–Soviet Peace Treaty of 1920, in which the Soviet Union recognized Latvia's independence as inviolable "for all future time". May 4 is now a national holiday in Latvia.

On May 7, 1990, Ivars Godmanis of the Latvian Popular Front was elected chairman of the Council of Ministers (the equivalent of being Latvia's Prime Minister), becoming the first premier of the restored Latvian republic.

Оn May 8, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR adopted a law officially declaring the reinstatement of the 1938 Constitution of the independent Republic of Estonia. [86]

Caucasus Edit

During the first week of January 1990, in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan, the Popular Front led crowds in the storming and destruction of the frontier fences and watchtowers along the border with Iran, and thousands of Soviet Azerbaijanis crossed the border to meet their ethnic cousins in Iranian Azerbaijan. [87] It was the first time the Soviet Union had lost control of an external border.

Ethnic tensions had escalated between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis in spring and summer 1988. [88] On January 9, 1990, after the Armenian parliament voted to include Nagorno-Karabakh within its budget, renewed fighting broke out, hostages were taken, and four Soviet soldiers were killed. [89] On January 11, Popular Front radicals stormed party buildings and effectively overthrew the communist powers in the southern town of Lenkoran. [89] Gorbachev resolved to regain control of Azerbaijan the events that ensued are known as "Black January". Late on January 19, 1990, after blowing up the central television station and cutting the phone and radio lines, 26,000 Soviet troops entered the Azerbaijani capital Baku, smashing barricades, attacking protesters, and firing into crowds. On that night and during subsequent confrontations (which lasted until February), more than 130 people died. Most of these were civilians. More than 700 civilians were wounded, hundreds were detained, but only a few were actually tried for alleged criminal offenses.

Civil liberties suffered. Soviet Defence Minister Dmitry Yazov stated that the use of force in Baku was intended to prevent the de facto takeover of the Azerbaijani government by the non-communist opposition, to prevent their victory in upcoming free elections (scheduled for March 1990), to destroy them as a political force, and to ensure that the Communist government remained in power.

The army had gained control of Baku, but by January 20 it had essentially lost Azerbaijan. Nearly the entire population of Baku turned out for the mass funerals of "martyrs" buried in the Alley of Martyrs. [90] Thousands of Communist Party members publicly burned their party cards. First Secretary Vezirov decamped to Moscow and Ayaz Mutalibov was appointed his successor in a free vote of party officials. The ethnic Russian Viktor Polyanichko remained second secretary. [91] In reaction to the Soviet actions in Baku, Sakina Aliyeva, Chair of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic called a special session where it was debated whether or not Nakhchivan could secede from the USSR under Article 81 of the Soviet Constitution. Deciding that it was legal, deputies prepared a declaration of independence, which Aliyeva signed and presented on January 20 on national television. It was the first declaration of secession by a recognized region in the USSR. Aliyeva and the Nakhchivan Soviet's actions were denounced by government officials who forced her to resign and the attempt at independence was aborted. [92] [93] [94]

Following the hardliners' takeover, the September 30, 1990 elections (runoffs on October 14) were characterized by intimidation several Popular Front candidates were jailed, two were murdered, and unabashed ballot stuffing took place, even in the presence of Western observers. [95] The election results reflected the threatening environment out of the 350 members, 280 were Communists, with only 45 opposition candidates from the Popular Front and other non-communist groups, who together formed a Democratic Bloc ("Dembloc"). [96] In May 1990 Mutalibov was elected chairman of the Supreme Soviet unopposed. [97]

Western republics Edit

On January 21, 1990, Rukh organized a 300-mile (480 km) human chain between Kyiv, Lviv, and Ivano-Frankivsk. Hundreds of thousands joined hands to commemorate the proclamation of Ukrainian independence in 1918 and the reunification of Ukrainian lands one year later (1919 Unification Act). On January 23, 1990, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church held its first synod since its liquidation by the Soviets in 1946 (an act which the gathering declared invalid). On February 9, 1990, the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice officially registered Rukh. However, the registration came too late for Rukh to stand its own candidates for the parliamentary and local elections on March 4. At the 1990 elections of people's deputies to the Supreme Council (Verkhovna Rada), candidates from the Democratic Bloc won landslide victories in western Ukrainian oblasts. A majority of the seats had to hold run-off elections. On March 18, Democratic candidates scored further victories in the run-offs. The Democratic Bloc gained about 90 out of 450 seats in the new parliament.

On April 6, 1990, the Lviv City Council voted to return St. George Cathedral to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The Russian Orthodox Church refused to yield. On April 29–30, 1990, the Ukrainian Helsinki Union disbanded to form the Ukrainian Republican Party. On May 15 the new parliament convened. The bloc of conservative communists held 239 seats the Democratic Bloc, which had evolved into the National Council, had 125 deputies. On June 4, 1990, two candidates remained in the protracted race for parliament chair. The leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU), Volodymyr Ivashko, was elected with 60 percent of the vote as more than 100 opposition deputies boycotted the election. On June 5–6, 1990, Metropolitan Mstyslav of the U.S.-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church was elected patriarch of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) during that Church's first synod. The UAOC declared its full independence from the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, which in March had granted autonomy to the Ukrainian Orthodox church headed by the Metropolitan Filaret.

On June 22, 1990, Volodymyr Ivashko withdrew his candidacy for leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine in view of his new position in parliament. Stanislav Hurenko was elected first secretary of the CPU. On July 11, Ivashko resigned from his post as chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament after he was elected deputy general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Parliament accepted the resignation a week later, on July 18. On July 16 Parliament overwhelmingly approved the Declaration on State Sovereignty of Ukraine – with a vote of 355 in favour and four against. The people's deputies voted 339 to 5 to proclaim July 16 a Ukrainian national holiday.

On July 23, 1990, Leonid Kravchuk was elected to replace Ivashko as parliament chairman. On July 30, Parliament adopted a resolution on military service ordering Ukrainian soldiers "in regions of national conflict such as Armenia and Azerbaijan" to return to Ukrainian territory. On August 1, Parliament voted overwhelmingly to shut down the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. On August 3, it adopted a law on the economic sovereignty of the Ukrainian republic. On August 19, the first Ukrainian Catholic liturgy in 44 years was celebrated at St. George Cathedral. On September 5–7, the International Symposium on the Great Famine of 1932–1933 was held in Kyiv. On September 8, The first "Youth for Christ" rally since 1933 took place held in Lviv, with 40,000 participants. In September 28–30, the Green Party of Ukraine held its founding congress. On September 30, nearly 100,000 people marched in Kyiv to protest against the new union treaty proposed by Gorbachev.

On October 1, 1990, parliament reconvened amid mass protests calling for the resignations of Kravchuk and of Prime Minister Vitaliy Masol, a leftover from the previous régime. Students erected a tent city on October Revolution Square, where they continued the protest.

On October 17 Masol resigned, and on October 20, Patriarch Mstyslav I of Kyiv and all Ukraine arrived at Saint Sophia's Cathedral, ending a 46-year banishment from his homeland. On October 23, 1990, Parliament voted to delete Article 6 of the Ukrainian Constitution, which referred to the "leading role" of the Communist Party.

On October 25–28, 1990, Rukh held its second congress and declared that its principal goal was the "renewal of independent statehood for Ukraine". On October 28 UAOC faithful, supported by Ukrainian Catholics, demonstrated near St. Sophia's Cathedral as newly elected Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksei and Metropolitan Filaret celebrated liturgy at the shrine. On November 1, the leaders of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, respectively, Metropolitan Volodymyr Sterniuk and Patriarch Mstyslav, met in Lviv during anniversary commemorations of the 1918 proclamation of the Western Ukrainian National Republic.

On November 18, 1990, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church enthroned Mstyslav as Patriarch of Kyiv and all Ukraine during ceremonies at Saint Sophia's Cathedral. Also on November 18, Canada announced that its consul-general to Kyiv would be Ukrainian-Canadian Nestor Gayowsky. On November 19, the United States announced that its consul to Kyiv would be Ukrainian-American John Stepanchuk. On November 19, the chairmen of the Ukrainian and Russian parliaments, respectively, Kravchuk and Yeltsin, signed a 10-year bilateral pact. In early December 1990 the Party of Democratic Rebirth of Ukraine was founded on December 15, the Democratic Party of Ukraine was founded. [98]

Central Asian republics Edit

On February 12–14, 1990, anti-government riots took place in Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, as tensions rose between nationalist Tajiks and ethnic Armenian refugees, after the Sumgait pogrom and anti-Armenian riots in Azerbaijan in 1988. Demonstrations sponsored by the nationalist Rastokhez movement turned violent. Radical economic and political reforms were demanded by the protesters, who torched government buildings shops and other businesses were attacked and looted. During these riots 26 people were killed and 565 injured.

In June 1990, the city of Osh and its environs experienced bloody ethnic clashes between ethnic Kirghiz nationalist group Osh Aymaghi and Uzbek nationalist group Adolat over the land of a former collective farm. There were about 1,200 casualties, including over 300 dead and 462 seriously injured. The riots broke out over the division of land resources in and around the city. [99]

In Turkmen SSR, the national conservative People's Democratic Movement "Agzybirlik" ("Unification") became a supporter of independence, uniting the Turkmen intelligentsia and moderate and radical Turkmen nationalists. They did not have a pronounced and eminent leader. Since 1989, small rallies have been held in Ashghabad and Krasnovodsk for the independence of Turkmenistan, as well as for the assignment of the status of the "state language" to the Turkmen language in the republic. The rallies also demanded that the republican leadership leave most of the oil revenues in the republic itself, and "not feed Moscow". Turkmen oppositionists and dissidents actively cooperated with opposition from Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The leadership of Soviet Turkmenistan, led by Saparmurat Niyazov, opposed independence, suppressing Turkmen dissidents and oppositionists, but following the elections to the Supreme Soviet of the Turkmen SSR in January 1990, several dissidents were able to be elected to the republican parliament as independent candidates, who, together with their supporters, managed to actively participate in political life and express their opinions. The role of the Communist Party of Turkmenistan was very strong in this republic, especially in the west and south, where the Russian-speaking population lived. Over 90% of the seats in the republican parliament were held by communists. Despite all of the above, during the dissolution of the USSR, there were practically no high-profile events in Turkmenistan, and the Turkmen SSR was considered by the CPSU to be one of the "most exemplary and loyal republics" of the Soviet Union to Moscow. [100] [101] [102] [103]

1991 Edit

Moscow's crisis Edit

On January 14, 1991, Nikolai Ryzhkov resigned from his post as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or premier of the Soviet Union, and was succeeded by Valentin Pavlov in the newly established post of Prime Minister of the Soviet Union.

On March 17, 1991, in a Union-wide referendum 76.4 percent of voters endorsed retention of a reformed Soviet Union. [105] The Baltic republics, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova boycotted the referendum as well as Checheno-Ingushetia (an autonomous republic within Russia that had a strong desire for independence, and by now referred to itself as Ichkeria). [106] In each of the other nine republics, a majority of the voters supported the retention of a reformed Soviet Union.

Russia's President Boris Yeltsin Edit

On June 12, 1991, Boris Yeltsin won 57 percent of the popular vote in the democratic elections, defeating Gorbachev's preferred candidate, Nikolai Ryzhkov, who won 16 percent of the vote. Following Yeltsin's election as president, Russia declared itself independent. [107] In his election campaign, Yeltsin criticized the "dictatorship of the center", but did not yet suggest that he would introduce a market economy.

Baltic republics Edit

On January 13, 1991, Soviet troops, along with the KGB Spetsnaz Alpha Group, stormed the Vilnius TV Tower in Lithuania to suppress the independence movement. Fourteen unarmed civilians were killed and hundreds more injured. On the night of July 31, 1991, Russian OMON from Riga, the Soviet military headquarters in the Baltics, assaulted the Lithuanian border post in Medininkai and killed seven Lithuanian servicemen. This event further weakened the Soviet Union's position internationally and domestically, and stiffened Lithuanian resistance.

The bloody attacks in Lithuania prompted Latvians to organize defensive barricades (the events are still today known as "The Barricades") blocking access to strategically important buildings and bridges in Riga. Soviet attacks in the ensuing days resulted in six deaths and several injuries one person died later of their wounds.

Оn February 9, Lithuania held an independence referendum with 93.2% voting in favor of independence.

On February 12, the independence of Lithuania was recognized by Iceland. [108]

On March 3, 1991, a referendum was held on the independence of the Republic of Estonia, which was attended by those who lived in Estonia before the Soviet annexation and their descendants, as well as persons who have received the so-called "green cards" of the Congress of Estonia. [109] 77.8% of those who voted supported the idea of restoring independence. [110]

On March 11, Denmark recognized Estonia's independence. [111]

When Estonia reaffirmed its independence during the coup (see below) in the dark hours of August 20, 1991, at 11:03 pm Tallinn time, many Estonian volunteers surrounded the Tallinn TV Tower in an attempt to prepare to cut off the communication channels after the Soviet troops seized it and refused to be intimidated by the Soviet troops. When Edgar Savisaar confronted the Soviet troops for ten minutes, they finally retreated from the TV tower after a failed resistance against the Estonians.

August Coup Edit

Faced with growing separatism, Gorbachev sought to restructure the Soviet Union into a less centralized state. On August 20, 1991, the Russian SFSR was scheduled to sign a New Union Treaty that would have converted the Soviet Union into a federation of independent republics with a common president, foreign policy and military. It was strongly supported by the Central Asian republics, which needed the economic advantages of a common market to prosper. However, it would have meant some degree of continued Communist Party control over economic and social life.

More radical reformists were increasingly convinced that a rapid transition to a market economy was required, even if the eventual outcome meant the disintegration of the Soviet Union into several independent states. Independence also accorded with Yeltsin's desires as president of the Russian Federation, as well as those of regional and local authorities to get rid of Moscow's pervasive control. In contrast to the reformers' lukewarm response to the treaty, the conservatives, "patriots", and Russian nationalists of the USSR – still strong within the CPSU and the military – were opposed to weakening the Soviet state and its centralized power structure.

On August 19, 1991, Gorbachev's vice president, Gennady Yanayev, Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov, Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov, KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov and other senior officials acted to prevent the union treaty from being signed by forming the "General Committee on the State Emergency", which put Gorbachev – on holiday in Foros, Crimea – under house arrest and cut off his communications. The coup leaders issued an emergency decree suspending political activity and banning most newspapers.

Thousands of Muscovites came out to defend the White House (the Russian Federation's parliament and Yeltsin's office), the symbolic seat of Russian sovereignty at the time. The organizers tried but ultimately failed to arrest Yeltsin, who rallied opposition to the coup by making speeches from atop a tank. The special forces dispatched by the coup leaders took up positions near the White House, but members refused to storm the barricaded building. The coup leaders also neglected to jam foreign news broadcasts, so many Muscovites watched it unfold live on CNN. Even the isolated Gorbachev was able to stay abreast of developments by tuning into the BBC World Service on a small transistor radio. [112]

After three days, on August 21, 1991, the coup collapsed. The organizers were detained and Gorbachev was reinstated as president, albeit with his power much depleted.

Fall: August to December Edit

On August 24, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as the general secretary the Central Committee of the CPSU [113] and dissolved all party units in the government. On the same day, the Supreme Council of Ukraine passed a Declaration of Independence of Ukraine. Five days later, the Supreme Soviet indefinitely suspended all CPSU activity on Soviet territory, effectively ending Communist rule in the Soviet Union and dissolving the only remaining unifying force in the country (On 6 November, Yeltsin issued a decree banning all Communist Party activities in Russia [114] ). Gorbachev established a State Council of the Soviet Union on 5 September, designed to bring him and the highest officials of the remaining republics into a collective leadership, able to appoint a premier of the Soviet Union it never functioned properly, though Ivan Silayev de facto took the post through the Committee on the Operational Management of the Soviet Economy and the Inter-Republican Economic Committee and tried to form a government, though with rapidly shrinking powers.

The Soviet Union collapsed with dramatic speed in the last quarter of 1991. Ukraine was the first of 10 republics to secede from the Union between August and December, largely out of fear of another coup. By the end of September, Gorbachev no longer had the ability to influence events outside of Moscow. He was challenged even there by Yeltsin, who had begun taking over what remained of the Soviet government, including the Kremlin.

On September 17, 1991, General Assembly resolution numbers 46/4, 46/5, and 46/6 admitted Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to the United Nations, conforming to Security Council resolution numbers 709, 710, and 711 passed on September 12 without a vote. [115] [116]

By November 7, 1991, most newspapers referred to the country as the 'former Soviet Union'. [117]

The final round of the Soviet Union's collapse began on December 1, 1991. That day, a Ukrainian popular referendum resulted in 91 percent of Ukraine's voters voting to affirm the independence declaration passed in August and formally secede from the Union. The secession of Ukraine, long second only to Russia in economic and political power, ended any realistic chance of Gorbachev keeping the Soviet Union together even on a limited scale. The leaders of the three Slavic republics, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (formerly Byelorussia), agreed to discuss possible alternatives to the union.

On December 8, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus secretly met in Belavezhskaya Pushcha, in western Belarus, and signed the Belavezha Accords, which proclaimed the Soviet Union had ceased to exist and announced formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as a looser association to take its place. They also invited other republics to join the CIS. Gorbachev called it an unconstitutional coup. However, by this time there was no longer any reasonable doubt that, as the preamble of the Accords put it, "the USSR, as a subject of international law and a geopolitical reality, is ceasing its existence."

On December 12, the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR formally ratified the Belavezha Accords, [118] denounced the 1922 Union Treaty, [119] and recalled the Russian deputies from the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. The legality of this ratification raised doubts among some members of the Russian parliament, since according to the Constitution of the RSFSR of 1978 consideration of this document was in the exclusive jurisdiction of the Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR. [120] [121] [122] [123] However, no one in either Russia or the Kremlin objected. Any objections from the latter would have likely had no effect, since the Soviet government had effectively been rendered impotent long before December. A number of lawyers believe that the denunciation of the union treaty was meaningless since it became invalid in 1924 with the adoption of the first constitution of the USSR. [124] [125] [126] (in 1996 the State Duma voiced the same position [127] ) Later that day, Gorbachev hinted for the first time that he was considering stepping down. [128] On the surface, it appeared that the largest republic had formally seceded. However, this is not the case. Russia apparently took the line that it was not possible to secede from a country that no longer existed.

On December 17, 1991, along with 28 European countries, the European Economic Community, and four non-European countries, the three Baltic Republics and nine of the twelve remaining Soviet republics signed the European Energy Charter in the Hague as sovereign states. [129] [130]

Doubts remained over whether the Belavezha Accords had legally dissolved the Soviet Union, since they were signed by only three republics. However, on December 21, 1991, representatives of 11 of the 12 remaining republics – all except Georgia – signed the Alma-Ata Protocol, which confirmed the dissolution of the Union and formally established the CIS. They also "accepted" Gorbachev's resignation. Even at this moment, Gorbachev hadn't made any formal plans to leave the scene yet. However, with a majority of republics now agreeing that the Soviet Union no longer existed, Gorbachev bowed to the inevitable, telling CBS News that he would resign as soon as he saw that the CIS was indeed a reality. [131]

In a nationally televised speech in the evening of December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as president of the USSR – or, as he put it, "I hereby discontinue my activities at the post of President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics." [132] He declared the office extinct, and all of its powers (such as control of the nuclear arsenal [133] ) were ceded to Yeltsin. A week earlier, Gorbachev had met with Yeltsin and accepted the fait accompli of the Soviet Union's dissolution. On the same day, the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR adopted a statute to change Russia's legal name from "Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic" to "Russian Federation", showing that it was now a fully sovereign state.

On the night of December 25, at 7:32 p.m. Moscow time, after Gorbachev left the Kremlin, the Soviet flag was lowered and the State Anthem of the Soviet Union was played for the last time, and the Russian tricolor was raised in its place at 7:45 pm, [134] symbolically marking the end of the Soviet Union. In his parting words, Gorbachev defended his record on domestic reform and détente, but conceded, "The old system collapsed before a new one had time to start working." [135] On that same day, the President of the United States George H.W. Bush held a brief televised speech officially recognizing the independence of the 11 remaining republics.

On December 26, the Soviet of the Republics, the upper chamber of the Union's Supreme Soviet, voted the Soviet Union out of existence [136] [137] (the lower chamber, the Council of the Union, had been unable to work since December 12, when the recall of the Russian deputies left it without a quorum). The following day Yeltsin moved into Gorbachev's former office, though the Russian authorities had taken over the suite two days earlier. The Soviet Armed Forces were placed under the command of the Commonwealth of Independent States, but were eventually subsumed by the newly independent republics, with the bulk becoming the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. By the end of 1991, the few remaining Soviet institutions that had not been taken over by Russia ceased operation, and individual republics assumed the central government's role.

The Alma-Ata Protocol also addressed other issues, including UN membership. Notably, Russia was authorized to assume the Soviet Union's UN membership, including its permanent seat on the Security Council. The Soviet Ambassador to the UN delivered a letter signed by Russian President Yeltsin to the UN Secretary-General dated December 24, 1991, informing him that by virtue of the Alma-Ata Protocol, Russia was the successor state to the USSR. After being circulated among the other UN member states, with no objection raised, the statement was declared accepted on the last day of the year, December 31, 1991.

Reaction to Alexander Solzhenitsyn

By the time of his release from prison in 1956, Solzhenitsyn lived in a world free of Josef Stalin. Right away, Solzhenitsyn began to write, and the Soviet reception of A Day In The Life was so dramatic and far-reaching that most living in the USSR thought that government censorship was over. The book became an instant bestseller in the Soviet Union and on the international stage.

Someone had at long last exposed the butchery of the Russian socialist system and motivated other Soviet dissidents, such as the noted Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov, to join the Russian dissident movement in the 1960s. Solzhenitsyn had become such a galvanizing figure that he was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974 after he wrote and sent manuscripts of The Gulag Archipelago abroad for international publication. His books started a slow burn in Russia that would eventually send the Soviet Union into the ash heap of history.

Those who have read Solzhenitsyn’s work are both warned by history and gifted a blueprint for thoughtful resistance to tyranny.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote constantly during his exile in Vermont, and he dreamed of one day being allowed back into his home country. The impossible was realized when Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia soon after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. The impact of his writing in his absence had quietly stirred public opinion toward the truth of the rotten socialist system but had done little to stabilize the political structure of Russia.

The domino-like fall of all Eastern Bloc nations in the Soviet sphere was swift and final, with communist dictators like Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu removed by his own people. The Gulag Archipelago is now required high school reading in Russia and is known throughout the world. Those who have read Solzhenitsyn’s work are both warned by history and gifted a blueprint for thoughtful resistance to tyranny. May it never again have to be used as such.

Year of the Stakhanovite

On August 31, 1935, Aleksei Stakhanov, a thirty-year-old miner working at the Central Irmino Mine in the Donets Basin, hewed 102 tons of coal during his six-hour shift. This amount represented fourteen times his quota, and within a few days of the feat was hailed by Pravda as a world record. Anxious to celebrate and reward individuals’ achievements in production that could serve as stimuli to other workers, the party launched the Stakhanovite movement. The title of Stakhanovite, conferred on workers and peasants who set production records or otherwise demonstrated mastery of their assigned tasks, quickly superseded that of shock worker. Day by day throughout the autumn of 1935, the campaign intensified, culminating in an All-Union Conference of Stakhanovites in industry and transportation which met in the Kremlin in late November. At the conference, outstanding Stakhanovites mounted the podium to recount how, defying their quotas and often the skepticism of their workmates and bosses, they applied new techniques of production to achieve stupendous results. They called for the general adoption of these techniques via socialist competition and, to bursts of applause, thanked Comrade Stalin for, as Stakhanov put it, “the happy life of our country, the happiness and glory of our magnificent fatherland.” Many referred to their increased earnings, which, thanks to the progressive piece-rate system according to which output above the norm was remunerated at higher rates of pay, reached dizzying heights. Some indicated what sort of consumer goods they would buy with their earnings. Stalin captured the upbeat mood of the conference when, by way of explaining how such records were only possible in the “land of socialism,” he uttered the phrase, “Life has become better, and happier too.” Widely disseminated, and even set to song, Stalin’s words served as the motto of the movement.

The Stakhanovite movement thus encompassed lessons not only about how to work but how to live. In addition to providing a model for success on the shop floor, it conjured up images of the good life. Many of the same qualities Stakhanovites were supposed to exhibit in the one sphere — cleanliness, neatness, preparedness, and a keenness for learning — were applicable to the other. These qualities were associated with kultur’nost’ (“culturedness”), the acquisition of which marked the individual as a New Soviet Man or Woman. Advertisements for perfume in the journal Stakhanovets, articles about Stakhanovites on shopping sprees, photographs of Stakhanovites sharing their happiness with their families, newsreels showing them driving new automobiles — presented to them as gifts — and moving into comfortable apartments all symbolized kultur’nost’. Wives of male Stakhanovites had an important part to play in the movement as helpmates preparing nutritious meals, keeping their apartments clean and comfortable, and otherwise creating a cultured environment in the home so that their husbands were well rested and eager to work with great energy. It was also important to demonstrate that Stakhanovites were admired by their comrades and considered worthy of holding public office. In a broader sense, Stakhanovites represented fitting subjects for stories that contrasted the harsh, oppressive past (either pre-revolutionary or, in the case of peasants’ stories, pre-collectivization) with the prosperous present and the even-more-prosperous and happy future. Stakhanovites (or ghost-writers) often constructed such narratives as testimonials to Stalin’s wise (“genial”) leadership and the achievements of Soviet socialism.

Notwithstanding the enormous publicity surrounding Stakhanovites and their achievements, they were not necessarily popular. Even before the raising of output norms in early 1936, workers who had not been favored with the best conditions and consequently struggled to fulfill their norms expressed resentment of Stakhanovites by verbally and even physically abusing them. Foremen and engineers, only too well aware that “recordmania” and the provision of special conditions for Stakhanovites created disruptions in production and bottlenecks in supplies, also on occasion “sabotaged” the movement. At least that was the accusation made against many who often served as scapegoats for the failure of the Stakhanovite movement to fulfill its promise of unleashing the productive forces of the country. Nevertheless, the Stakhanovite movement continued into the war and even enjoyed something of a revival in the years after the war when it was exported to eastern Europe.

Cold War

Collaboration among the major Allies had won the war and was supposed to serve as the basis for postwar reconstruction and security. However, the conflict between Soviet and U.S. national interests, known as the Cold War, came to dominate the international stage in the postwar period, assuming the public guise as a clash of ideologies.

The Cold War emerged out of a conflict between Stalin and U.S. President Harry Truman over the future of Eastern Europe during the Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945. Russia had suffered three devastating Western onslaughts in the previous 150 years during the Napoleonic Wars, the First World War, and the Second World War, and Stalin's goal was to establish a buffer zone of states between Germany and the Soviet Union. Truman claimed that Stalin had betrayed the Yalta agreement. With Eastern Europe under Red Army occupation, Stalin was also biding his time, as his own atomic bomb project was steadily and secretly progressing.

In April 1949 the United States sponsored the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a mutual defense pact in which most Western nations pledged to treat an armed attack against one nation as an assault on all. The Soviet Union established an Eastern counterpart to NATO in 1955, dubbed the Warsaw Pact. The division of Europe into Western and Soviet blocs later took on a more global character, especially after 1949, when the U.S. nuclear monopoly ended with the testing of a Soviet bomb and the Communist takeover in China. The foremost objectives of Soviet foreign policy were the maintenance and enhancement of national security and the maintenance of hegemony over Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union maintained its dominance over the Warsaw Pact through crushing the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, suppressing the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and supporting the suppression of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the early 1980s.

As the Soviet Union continued to maintain tight control over its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, the Cold War gave way to Detente and a more complicated pattern of international relations in which the world was no longer clearly split into two clearly opposed blocs in the 1970s. Less powerful countries had more room to assert their independence, and the two superpowers were partially able to recognize their common interest in trying to check the further spread and proliferation of nuclear weapons in treaties such as SALT I, SALT II and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

U.S. - Soviet relations deteriorated following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, a staunch anticommunist, but improved as the Soviet bloc started to unravel in the late 1980s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia lost the superpower status that it had won in the Second World War.

Commonplace Fun Facts

A fun fact on another site recently proclaimed that 80% of the males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 did not survive World War II. This seemed like a good fact to share for Commonplace Fun Facts, but before we could do that, this information needed to be independently verified. As it turns out, the snippet of information did not stand up to scrutiny, but it wasn’t that far off.

Census data shows the following with regard to baby boys born in 1923:

  • Males born in the Soviet Union in 1923: 3,400,000
  • Infant (0-1) mortality: 800,000
  • Childhood (1-18) mortality, famine, and terror: 800,000
  • Surviving to 1941: 1,800,000
  • Wartime mortality: 700,000
  • Surviving to 1946: 1,100,000

As you can see, only 32% of the boys born in 1923 were still alive at the beginning of 1946. A 68% mortality rate is still ghastly, even if it falls short of the 80% figure that is circulating through the internet. Interestingly, though, the primary cause of death for that generation was not World War II. One out of five died due to the violence of the Second World War. Twenty-three percent died in infancy, and an equal number died from the horrific conditions of life in the Soviet Union between 1923 and 1941.

That generation had it particularly bad. Not only did they face a major famine in 1932, but they also lived through Stalin’s Great Terror in 1937. They became adults in the year their country went to war with Germany.

World War II packed a wallop to the Soviet population. In the first six months of the war, three million Soviet troops were killed or taken prisoner. Most prisoners did not survive. In all, the Soviet Union suffered around 25 million war deaths, plus or minus a million. This, out of a total population in 1939 of just under 171 million.

To get a better idea of what these numbers actually mean, look at this powerful video that helps visualize the sheer number of deaths in World War II :

Russia and the Soviet Union: Solzhenitsyn Knew the Difference

Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on the set of the TV show "Bouillon de Culture" in Paris, Sept. 17, 1993.

‘The insane difficulty of the situation is that I can’t ally myself with the Communists, our country’s butchers—but I can’t ally myself with our country’s enemies either,” my father, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, wrote in 1982. “And all this time I have no home ground to support me. The world is big, but there’s nowhere to go.”

The great author, through his book “The Gulag Archipelago” (1973) and fiery speeches in the West, earned his reputation as communism’s most implacable foe. Yet, as evident in the quote above from his memoirs (now appearing for the first time in English), during the Cold War he was already discerning a new and unforeseen peril: that Russian-Western mistrust might endure long past the fall of communism.

Fast-forward to 2020. Grievances between Russia and the West have been amply cataloged: arms programs, NATO expansion, Yukos, Kosovo, color revolutions, Ukraine, Crimea, poisonings, elections.

So could a relationship really be reforged if these proximate offenses were mitigated? The two major U.S. political parties could never unite around a principled anticommunism during the Cold War but now sing from the same hymnal about the menace of an ever-rising Russian nationalism. This peculiar circumstance, in the context of a “Cold Peace” that has stubbornly prevailed for a quarter-century, exposes a deeper cleft and demands an examination of historical roots.

In the late 1990s, when I first read these memoirs of my father’s years in the West, I flitted through passages ruminating on East-West conflict, assuming that those questions were moot, consigned to the ash heap of history by the dramatic opening of the Iron Curtain and fall of the Berlin Wall and the signing of the Start I arms-control treaty.

But over the past three years preparing the first English edition of these volumes, I have come to see how prescient Solzhenitsyn was in apprehending a “pivot of accusations towards Russia” herself. Resentful 1970s émigrés were prodding the West to espy its true enemy not in communism, but in an irredeemable Russia. Prerevolutionary Russia had been excoriated by 1920s Western progressives for opposing Bolshevism, but now that opinion had turned, she was damned for being enslaved by it. “How could it have happened?” Solzhenitsyn asks.

He argues in a chapter titled “Russian Pain” that Russia’s “excessive, senseless military actions in Europe” in the 18th and 19th centuries had put the West on guard, while her ossified governing apparatus failed to absorb Western civic “lessons of openness,” or at least to justify its own actions. Meanwhile, fanatical exiled revolutionaries in Europe were drawing a grossly distorted picture of Russia as a retrograde authoritarian prison of nations—and even their most brazen exaggerations took hold in the absence of an articulate counternarrative. On the cusp of the 20th century, aggressive Russian revolutionary terrorism, abetted by a fawning intelligentsia, was met by a nationalist right wing, which resorted to abuse instead of making the case for the moderate path of social evolution attempted by the reformist Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin from 1906 until his assassination in 1911.

Later—decades after Lenin’s “Bolshevik steamroller” had crushed all, especially the Russian patriots who had sought to defend traditional values within a pluralistic society—the parody of Russian patriotism that sprung up in the 1960s and ’70s was a pagan Bolshevik nationalism that “wrote ‘god’ without an initial capital and ‘Government’ with,” as Solzhenitsyn puts it. My father’s “healing, salutary, moderate patriotism”—one freed from imperial ambitions and grounded in a “preservation of the people”—never had the chance to take root in Russia. His vision was odiously conflated with that “Bolshevik nationalism,” another smear of Russia by vengeful émigrés accepted all too readily in the West.

After the fall of communism, Solzhenitsyn’s call for repentance, for a historical reckoning on the model of Germany’s post-Nazi Vergangenheitsbewältigung, went unheeded. And so official government support for memorials of communist repression and the incorporation of “The Gulag Archipelago” into high-school curricula paradoxically coexists in some quarters today with a noxious strain of thought that Joseph Stalin —the chief butcher of Russians—was a Russian patriot, while Solzhenitsyn—the chief enemy of Russia’s oppressors—was a traitor.

No wonder, then, that the West has blurred any meaningful distinction between the totalitarian jackboot of the U.S.S.R. and the soft authoritarianism of a comparatively free Russia, and confused “Russian” and “Soviet,” misunderstanding three centuries of Russian history and the antinational essence of communism. “ ‘Russian’ is to ‘Soviet’ as ‘man’ is to ‘disease,’ ” wrote Solzhenitsyn. An unintended consequence: the unprecedented Russian consensus of liberal society and illiberal government, who agree on little, except that the West won’t like Russia no matter what she does.

If Western policy makers’ objective remains to bring Russia into the community of free nations, they might heed Solzhenitsyn’s plea and engage with Russia equitably, according to the virtues or failings of current policy, rather than judge her reflexively by a fictitious, maleficent historical narrative that bars any path forward.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn is a conductor, pianist and editor of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s memoirs, including “Between Two Millstones, Book 2: Exile in America, 1978-1994,” forthcoming in November.