Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
this essay last edited Thursday, November 15, 2007
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Despite all the weight of Soviet law, despite generations of fear induced by Gulags and torture, some among the Russian and Soviet people retained the capacity to act in the moment of decisive crisis, August 1991. They rose up and said no to further dictatorship. How are we to understand this? From what well did this water to extinguish the fire of communism come?
This essay argues that the leadership of unique individuals, joined eventually into a movement that embodied hopes of large numbers of common people, was the key catalyst that enabled the Soviet and Russian peoples to grow to be able to create the Russian Revolution of 1991. Some of these key individuals such as Andrei Sakharov had stepped forward as early as the 1970s to challenge communism per se. Others, like Boris Yeltsin, worked from within the CPSU to oppose the anti-democratic features of Soviet communism until the early 1990s. During the reform-inclined administration of the final Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, dozens of other leaders would emerge from within many additional social bases (e.g., veterans; minority nationalities, etc.), and the forms of opposition each took would contribute to the broadening challenge to communist rule in the late 1980s. However, two key individuals who made greatest contributions to the anti-communist revolution, Andrei Sakharov and Boris Yeltsin, can be singled out for special attention. Each is profiled at the conclusion of this essay.
The epitaph of communism was written by those the system treated most poorly. Communism was intolerant of human individuality and administered especially harsh treatment to those unique social gems of every age, the gadflies, the critics, those who hear "a different drum." They were sent away, censored, silenced, forced not to dance, not to sing, not to play their music, not to recite their poems. Official art, official thought would be enough for a socialist people. But it was not. Why? Let us first survey the range of types of individuals we in the West collectively refer to as the dissident movement in the USSR, for it is they --not Mikhail Gorbachev, nor "reform" elements of his Communist Party-- who ultimately led Russia and the Soviets to a new freedom.
Generalized dissatisfaction with Soviet life first became visible during the Khrushchev administration as a byproduct of what came to be known as "the Thaw," or a melting away of rigid artistic censorship. Initially, it was within a minority of the intelligencia that a critical perspective on "socialist development" emerged. This phase of dissent lacked any central organization, was focused as much on the stifling of aesthetics as the stifling of politics and was many faceted. But the restoration of neo-Stalinist controls under Brezhnev (1964) prompted some to begin a quest to coordinate information about the repression, and publicize it internally and abroad. It was from this nucleus that the Soviet human rights movement emerged, but it is fair to say that until the later 1980s other critics also played important roles in undermining the system by disseminating less sweeping criticisms than those of the human rights movement.
Many critical voices arose. As late as the mid 1970s and early 1980s, not all internal critics of the Soviet system would be considered advocates of Western-style concepts of law, democracy, or human rights. Nationalists among the Great Russians advocated a return to an authoritarian, Russian state. In the late 1970s, ethnic nationalists elsewhere in the Soviet Union advanced other visions of autonomy consistent with their cultural traditions (see Yanov). Literary critics (e.g., Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn) of the modern USSR denounced industrial society, Marxism and other aspects of modernity as pernicious imports from the West. Solzhenitsyn, for example, lived an uncomfortable exile in Vermont, USA after he was expelled from the USSR in 1974. He denounced the licentiousness and decadence of the West nearly as strongly as he railed against the Soviet dictatorship. The so-called Socialist Opposition, of which the brothers Medvedev were representative, sought by and large to articulate a reform agenda designed to improve, not replace, the Communist system. During most of his career, Russian President (1990-1999) and 1991 Revolutionary hero Boris Yeltsin championed this line of thought: for example, he carefully avoided calling for an end to one party government while touring the U.S. in September 1989. (For an interesting glimpse of Yeltsin's self image, see his 1990 autobiography, cited below). A fourth group of dissidents, the Human Rights Movement, proved to be the critical factor in the movement for democracy and will now receive more detailed analysis.
Human Rights Dissenters: Dissenters who advocated a more open Soviet society, and reforms in the direction of a Western model of government and politics, became most visible in the West through the person of Nobel laureate and honored physicist Andrei Sakharov. Sakharov's impeccably patriotic credentials permitted him an audience within the USSR-- and ultimately beyond it-- that far exceeded that of all other advocates of democracy. But, though Sakharov was the best known of the human rights advocates, he in fact represented a relatively widespread anti-dictatorial tendency evolving in the Soviet academic and intellectual communities for many years: "those who think differently". Especially in the performing and creative arts communities, but also in every profession, educated independent thinkers read avidly the experiences of one another, and the ideals of democracy known elsewhere in the world. In small groups half a world away from America, our Jefferson, Lincoln and other American thinkers were studied and their ideas proved to be guiding. Many other Soviet dissenters expressed similar criticisms from such diverse bases in Soviet society as the Armed forces (e.g., General P. Grigorenko), the creative and expressive arts, and the nationalist movement in Ukraine (e.g., Marchenko).
The contemporary democratic political forces in post revolutionary Russia began as a loose movement for greater recognition of human rights by the totalitarian Communist system. In our times, the human rights movement traces its roots to the 1967 trial of poet Vladimir Bukovsky. Bukovsky had organized a demonstration on behalf of others who were arrested for protesting the 1966 jailing of Alexander Ginzburg, Yuli Daniel and others. Bukovsky was arrested, jailed and ultimately sent into exile. In publicizing Bukovsky's actions, the grandson of a Soviet foreign minister, Pavel Litvinov, set down the reasons for this protest down on paper. By passing around copies of his objections through circles of fellow thinkers, a human rights underground of writings, called samizdat, was begun. Samizdat writings were typewritten and were duplicated using carbon paper. This low level technology was primitive, but it usefully provided a means to reproduce a handful of copies of written materials. Access to more sophisticated forms of duplication (dittograph, mimeograph, printing presses, and later photocopying machines) all were tightly restricted by censors who followed strict Party guidelines on what was, and what was not, permitted to be published (Lifshitz-Losev).
Much that circulated through samizdat consisted of poems, short stories and other literature deemed not suitable for publication, either by censors or by authors' voluntary self-censorship. But in the later 1960s and 1970s, samizdat networks also began to perform a news-gathering function. Through such clandestine means, groups of Soviet citizens, especially intellectuals, came to be steadily informed of political trials in a more timely way than was previously available. Thus, in 1968, when Ginzburg was given a long jail term, hundreds of Soviet offices and newspapers were flooded by letters of protest from these well informed citizens, who were perhaps emboldened by a then contemporary public relations campaign that played up the supposed existence of "socialist legality;" a claim that was clearly being violated by the use of secret agents to convict Ginzburg. By mid 1968, an informal journal, Chronicle of Current Affairs, kept upward to 2000 readers up-to-date on related developments. Literary samizdat appeared and matured. All of these developments betrayed a reality quite different from that perceived by then KGB chief Yuri Andropov, "the number of dissidents is steadily decreasing" (Guardian 1977: 13).
A citizens' human rights committee was formed: in 1970, Sakharov and Valery Chalidze organized the "Committee for Human Rights." It sought to monitor authorities' compliance with Soviet law. While authorities initially were reluctant to arrest the highly decorated leader (i.e., Sakharov, father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb project), the June 1972 arrest of Piotr Yakir signaled an end to official toleration of the dissidents. Yakir was the son of a prominent Communist who had been victimized by Stalin in the 1930s and had himself served 15 years in labor camps before being allowed to lecture on his experiences as a free man during the Khrushchev "thaw." Under pressure, Yakir appears to have betrayed many in the underground and a swift roundup of dissidents in 1972-3 occurred. In light of these official actions, Sakharov became increasingly more public in his criticisms of the system, telling Swedish television in July 1973 that the USSR was "the most pretentious society" and had become beset by officials' "criminality, ...alienation; our society is ...extremely un-free." In the fall of that year, he wrote an open letter to the US Congress urging them to pass trade sanctions against the USSR in order to bring pressure for change. These US laws, called the "Jackson-Vanik Amendments," were in fact enacted, helping to sour the policy of diminished Soviet-US tensions known as "detente."
After Helsinki (1975). The 1975 ratification of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), commonly known as the Helsinki Treaty, precipitated a new stage in the development of the Soviet human rights movement. (For text, see Stokes: 160-162). Its key section, known as "Basket Three," formally was entitled "Respect for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Including the Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion or Belief." The document demanded signatory states recognize human rights accorded all humans in other fundamental documents of international organizations, including Charter of the United Nations (1945), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and related Covenants. A follow-up agreement on implementation of the Helsinki Treaty, the 1980 Madrid Concluding Document, reiterated specific human rights which the Soviet Union claimed to honor but in practice did not (e.g., rights to speech and association). By requiring the USSR to respect the Universal Declaration, Helsinki demanded it respect other rights that were not even legally acknowledged by the USSR, e.g. the right to emigrate.
Yet, the USSR government had signed the document, perhaps anticipating little in the way of domestic repercussions. However, modern technologies, principally the international radio transmissions of the BBC, Radio Liberty, and the Voice of America, made this fact and the content of the treaty well known to listeners within the USSR. Within the USSR, dissidents seized this legal pretext to organize anew, and within weeks of the 1975 agreement, a Helsinki Watch Committee had been formed in Moscow to monitor Soviet compliance. Other Helsinki Watch Committees were formed in the Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Lithuania. The leader of the Moscow group, Yuri Orlov (a physicist), was jailed within a year for anti-Soviet agitation. Kept in deplorable conditions on a near-starvation diet, Orlov remained incarcerated until his December 1986 expulsion to the USA. Another of the group's leaders, Dr. Sakharov, in January 1980 was confined to the sealed city of Gorky, where he remained under continuous surveillance in a form of house arrest until January 1987.
Relations between the West and the USSR had soured over the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Repression of the dissidents in the Soviet Human Rights movement increased substantially after East-West ties became strained in the wake of the Soviet invasion. By Fall 1982, the Watch Committees were suffering such severe repression that, at the behest of the authorities, the Moscow Chapter was forced to announce its own disbanding. By late 1985, an American human rights group monitoring these and related events reported that 51 of the original Moscow Helsinki activists were in jail or exile. (Details on individual cases are enumerated in Amnesty International, "Where Are They Now?...", below).
Thus, the release of Orlov, Sakharov, Anatoliy (Natan) Scharansky and other prominent dissidents by the Gorbachev government in 1986-87 represented a clear reversal of Soviet policies of repression toward human rights activists. By 1989, Gorbachev appears to have sought the assistance of the social forces behind the Human Rights Movement in his struggle to open-up and democratize Soviet government and society, at least to a limited extent. Sakharov was permitted to visit the US, a gesture which continued the trend toward glasnost (i.e., openness) on the question of human rights. His election to the Chamber of Deputies (1988) represented a high point in Soviet recognition of a legitimate opposition in Soviet history. From his position of great public stature and moral credibility, Sakharov defied Gorbachev's apparent expectations and began in speeches to the Chamber of Deputies to demand full democratization and the end of Communist Party monopoly rule in the USSR. The death in December 1989 of this author of a new (proposed) democratic constitution of free republics to replace the USSR was a deep blow to these aspirations.
During his reform phase, First Secretary Gorbachev made many changes needed for a free people to emerge and govern themselves. Theatrical troupes were permitted greater range of choice in topical matters to portray; artistic exhibitions began to be free of censorship; multi-candidate elections were permitted with the Communist Party; opponents of communism were able openly to campaign for seats in the Chamber of Peoples Deputies. These and other steps pointed toward granting a place in national debate for the type of choices that the human rights movement advocated. But if change flowed from the struggle to restructure Soviet society made by Party first secretary and President Mikhail Gorbachev (1985-91), some things had not changed. If we return to the issues of most immediate importance to the human rights crusaders --decent treatment of political, and all, detainees-- the ambiguous legacy of Gorbachev is made more clear.
In the fall of 1988, West German Chancellor Kohl indicated that Soviet officials had promised him that "all" political prisoners would be released by the end of 1988. US news reports quantified the meaning of this utterance by pointing to a figure of some 200 believed political prisoners there. They, and we, should have known better. U.S. official Kenneth Adelman (former Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency) when referring to the then recent releases, in a January 22, 1987 speech before the Chicago Bar Association, stated: "this is just the tip of the iceberg. Literally thousands of political prisoners remain. Right now, according to our best estimates, there are between 4,000 and 10,000 prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union... About one third of the 4,000 to 10,000 are being persecuted for their religious practices or convictions" (WP 1987: 26). No complete accounting ever was given of the disposition of these cases.
Throughout the later 1980s, repeated assurances from the Gorbachev Government spoke of an impending, final release of all political prisoners. Given the substantial changes in the public practice of politics on his watch, these Gorbachev assurances went virtually unquestioned in the West: he was assumed to be sincere. In Fall 1990, US scholar Joshua Muravchik (16) visited a Soviet women's prison where, at first blush, everything appeared fine. But as he departed, one final and remote building was visited. There he found a room cooled to no more than 40 degrees, entirely empty save two buckets (one for water, one for wastes), and two poor women whose fate was to be confined there for punishment. The bitter cold already was upon these two: their sole garments were thin, sleeveless smocks. Without a chair, a bed, or any other rudimentary necessities (i.e., no toilet) these two would spend 15 days for their crime. What crime, you ask? They had exchanged food or cigarettes with other prisoners. Reader: the functional equivalent of these women could right now be sitting in that same ghastly place.
Brutality hidden remained brutality officially practiced. The confinement of many Soviet citizens on account of their beliefs, their continued officially-sanctioned malnourishment, exposure to cold, to beatings and to severe labor, these practices had become ingrained in the penal bureaucracies. Longstanding practices of harassing families of detainees also continued well into the Gorbachev era. Brutality appeared to be an essential element of the Soviet system of criminal justice; its personnel largely have remained on the job in the years since communism ended in Russia and the other former Soviet republics. Sweet promises heard today in a newly democratic Russia cannot overcome our informed memory. Continuing skepticism is the best informed perspective.
Shortly before Muravchik's 1990 visit, President Gorbachev seems to have slackened in his will to carry democratization to its logical conclusion: the full end of the Communist dictatorship. Reform forces responded. By December of that year dissident forces within the Party that had embraced Sakharov's, and the human rights movement's, agenda had broken entirely free from the CPSU. Russian leader Boris Yeltsin dramatically turned in his membership card. Former Georgian Communist Party First Secretary and Gorbachev-era Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze also resigned (December 1990), publicly warning of an imminent military coup to reestablish orthodox communism. Outside the Party, Nationalist movements in the republics challenged central communist authorities in virtually every European and Caucasian SSR republic. Anti-communist political organizations had organized throughout Russia. Labor unrest also had become widespread.
The Failed Coup of 1991
In this context, the unity of the Party no longer was assured; without it repression became a more precarious option. Gorbachev's control over the Party was challenged at a Party meeting in June 1991 and, while the leader held on, the Party's deeper commitment to a principled relaxation of repression and further democratization was in grave doubt. Both courses of reform challenged the foundations of Marxism-Leninism; the key organs of that ideology (the Army, the KGB, and the hard-line elements of the Party) retained the capacity to act. Ultimately, the defeat of their attempted seizure of power by military coup (August 19-22, 1991) hinged on the wider embrace throughout Soviet society of the values of democracy advocated by the human rights movement.
The conflict that led to the coup of 1991 had long been brewing. For several years, much evidence pointed toward division within the Politburo and the Central Committee over Gorbachev's policy of public glasnost , over the meaning of democratization, and over related penal reform policies. The traditional communists had not been in steady decline, but had flexed muscles even during the hey-day of Gorbachev's reforms. For example, in November 1987, Boris Yeltsin, Moscow Party chief and (then) a Gorbachev supporter, was forced from his important position after making a speech to the Central Committee highly critical of conservatives' resistance to fundamental economic restructuring (or perestroika) that the conservatives viewed as hastening the decline of the Party-run, state-dominated planned economy. Soon thereafter, Yeltsin also was removed from the Politburo (February 1988), illustrating the continued ill-ease with which the Gorbachev reform program was viewed in higher Party circles.
The flamboyant Yeltsin, however, refused to pass into political oblivion and his second life as a politician illustrates the strengthening of new, democratically-rooted sources of authority in the late Soviet era. In 1989, Yeltsin won a seat in the Chamber of Peoples' Deputies, polling over five million votes (85 percent of the votes cast) in the Moscow constituency in which he contested the official Party nominee. In 1990, Yeltsin became Chairman of the Russian Federation's Parliament; in effect, the executive of the largest of the Soviet component republics. Advocating rapid and immediate transformation of the Soviet economy to a market system within 500 days, the establishment of an independent judiciary, and the complete end of the Communist monopoly of power, he then resigned from the Communist Party. During 1990-91, democratic forces in the new national legislature, the Chamber of Peoples' Deputies, increasingly echoed these objectives and in-roads were made between them and the emerging anti-communist leadership of the Russian Federation, led by Yeltsin.
But these reform forces also were besieged. The man responsible for Yeltsin's 1987 setback, conservative traditional communist Yegor Ligachev, during 1987-90 continued to lead the formidable anti-reform forces. By early 1988, Ligachev frequently was publishing sharp criticisms of Gorbachev's general policies of glasnost in the arts, focusing some of his harshest criticisms on Soviet rock music and other manifestations of "bourgeois morals" (WP 1988: 15). Though Ligachev was given a less prominent Party post (dealing with Agriculture), he was retained as a member of the Gorbachev's key Party grouping, the Politburo, as were his allies. During late 1990 and the winter of 1991, this anti-reform faction --increasingly an anti-Gorbachev group in the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU-- appeared ascendant, dispatching Black Beret KGB anti-terrorist forces to attempt to subdue an assertive Lithuanian SSR government (January 1991), undermining Gorbachev's control over the Party meeting of Summer 1991, and forcing the president to appoint many orthodox Communists to positions of leadership in Party, government, military and secret police. Ironically, Ligachev and his allies were known as Soviet "conservatives;" that is: they claimed to represent the traditional Communist approach to social and economic problems.
Communist conservatives not only tried to obstruct the Gorbachev program at the national level. They also sought to derail the emergence of Yeltsin as a non-communist alternative again in 1991. In March of that critical year, conservatives mounted an effort to impeach him as Chairman of the Russian Parliament, but the attempt failed. This set the stage for the first truly democratic election of the Gorbachev era, the June 1991 balloting for the Russian Presidency. Yeltsin's victory in that election was remarkable for the snubbing of Party conservatives that voters embraced: i.e., his platform was explicitly anti-Communist.
It is now clear that the legitimate basis for public resistance to the August 1991 Communist Coup attempt was established through that June 1991 election and by other democratic ties to the people established earlier. But the idea that it is necessary to have a popular democratic mandate in order to lead, that idea grew out of the human rights movement's persistent demands that Soviet Russia reform itself, obey its own laws and treaties it had signed. These very Jeffersonian premises, that government rests on the consent of the governed, ultimately had power far beyond that apparent in the long-jailed critics' mere words. Indeed, much of the authority which the Yeltsin Government wielded, 1991-99, to effect the dismantling of the Communist system derived from these two new foundations of Russian democracy: the elected (Yeltsin) presidency and the popular revolution of August 1991, when large numbers of Russians resisted the coup. Both of these bases of legitimacy of the new Russian democratic system derived directly from the premises of the Soviet human rights movement, and Sakharov's thought which was at its heart. To the extent that the Putin Presidency (2000-2008) was based on a democratic mandate as well, it inherited some of this same legitimacy.
Thus, the Conservatives and traditional Communists both legally and illegally, tried but failed to reassert control in 1991. But the extent to which their grip on penal institutions fully has been surrendered remains in some dispute, for hard evidence on progress there remained elusive throughout the Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin years. The rule of law is a central element of limited governments, i.e. those accountable to their people. This telling measure of true democratization remains still to be fully taken, for officials' assurances simply cannot suffice.
The organizational residue of the human rights movement in the USSR, 1966-91, also endures as Russia struggles to manage both its political legacy and the aspiration for democracy. As always was the case with such a disparate, scattered cause, the organizational remnants have continued to have many foci. "Memorial" is an organization dedicated to investigation of the crimes buried in the Soviet state's past and punishment of the guilty. Forensic pathologists associated with the group have excavated dozens of mass graves throughout the former USSR, most notably those in the Kuropaty Forest near Mensk (Belarus), where the NKVD machine gunned to death at least 120,000 political prisoners (and perhaps as many as a quarter million) during the 1930s and 1940s. Others debate the timeliness of such initiatives (see Gellner). Nationalist political movements, an outgrowth in part of SSR-based human rights "Watch" committees of the 1970s, long demanded autonomy from the USSR and quickly assumed positions of leadership in the independent national republics of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. There and in Russia, human rights activists spearheaded legislative efforts to enact legal reforms to end the residue of the Gulag. Other human rights movements continue to advocate religious and ethnic rights within nascent ruling and opposition political parties now evolving within the republics. In short, the once repressed and prisoner-rights focused human rights movement has become more heterogeneous as totalitarian controls ebbed under Gorbachev, and were overthrown in August 1991.
Even after years of post-Communist rule in Russia, given the sordid national record of legal and penal institutions, contemporary reports of human rights problems cannot quickly be dismissed. In January 1994, Memorial and the U.S.-based Helsinki Watch organization reported that human rights conditions again were deteriorating (Hiatt 1994: 20). According to these reputable groups, one million Russian prisoners in 1994 continued to be subjected to torture, malnourishment, and other rights violations. Abuse of the rights of Russian ethnic refugees fleeing from political chaos in the "near abroad" of the now-independent republics of the former USSR also appears to be continuing in democratic Russia. "State secrets," a blanket codeword that covered up under a veil of secrecy many human rights violations during the Soviet era, remain another troubling area of modern state violation of human rights. Especially noteworthy in this regard was the case of scientist Vil Mirzayanov, who in 1994 was charged with giving away "state secrets" for confirming that Russian programs to develop chemical weapons continued into the new millennium, an allegation contrary to the pose of the Yeltsin and Putin Administrations. Mirzayanov's 1994 trial was held in secret, for violation of laws that themselves remain secret; both of these aspects of the case were in clear violation of international norms to which the leaders of the new system had committed Russia to adhere.
A decade later, not a great deal had improved, and by some important measures freedom in Russia has been in decline. In 2003, Freedom House found that respect for human rights in Russia had declined for the fourth straight year, ranking the nation "partially free" and pegging it near the bottom in both political rights and civil liberties with a rating of 5 on Freedom House's seven point scale (on which seven is the worst rating). In terms of press freedom, reviewing events of 2002, Freedom House in 2003 changed its overall rating about the Russian press from "partially free" to "not free." That same year, Amnesty International reported the widespread impunity enjoyed by forces acting against opponents of the regime, expressing alarm over state violence directed at Chechens and highlighting a series of targeted prosecutions against financiers of political parties opposed to the Putin Administration, notably the case of Mikhail Khodorkovskii. Amnesty also identified a pattern of discrimination against Muslims, focusing on the Meskhetians, a Turkic people long resident in the Russian Federation but who have been denied Russian citizenship since its independence from the USSR. Regarding penal conditions, Amnesty stated that "in 2003, prisons continued to be overcrowded, creating conditions which facilitated the spread of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. Conditions in many pre-trial detention facilities were so poor that they amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Conditions for prisoners serving life sentences remained so harsh that they amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and in some cases possibly torture."
Finally, Human Rights Watch in the late 1990s and early 2000s issued a series of reports sharply critical of the performance of the Yeltsin and Putin Administrations Largely supporting the shorter Amnesty and Freedom House assessments, Human Rights Watch comprehensively detailed the use of torture by Russian police (November 1999), abuse of armed forces conscripts (November 2002), arbitrary arrest, looting and abuse of prisoners in Ingushetia (September 2003), inadequate diet and health care for armed services members (November 2003), continued use of torture (April 2004), and degrading treatment of conscripts into the armed forces (October 2004). Especially jarring were a series of Human Rights Watch reports on abuses of human rights by Russian authorities in Chechnya: in Grozny in February 2000; official use of political killings and rape (April 2000), massacres in February 2000 in Novye Aldi (report in June 2000), arbitrary detention and torture (October 2000), 'disappearances' and torture (March 2001), mass killings and mass graves (May 2001), torture and mass killings (February 2002), disappearances (April 2002), and abuse of displaced persons (January 2003). Most reporters covering the conflict in Chechnya were forced to leave the region, suppressing independent sources of information about that continuing conflict.
There is no doubt that strong pressures on the post-Soviet Russian system have been exerted by the internal rebellion in the Caucasian republic of Chechnya. Terrorism arising from Chechen groups has contributed to public support for harsh policies that are central to the deterioration in the protection of human rights. Beset by egregious acts of terrorism within Russia committed by Chechen fighters, the Yeltsin administration at times behaved brutally toward civilian non-combatants in contested areas and during hostage situations. Similarly, its successor, the Putin Administration, crushed Chechen terrorists who had seized hundreds of hostages in a Moscow theater during Fall 2002; nearly two hundred perished when officials used powerful gasses to subdue terrorists and hostages alike. Less than one fourth of the victims turned out to be terrorists; the rest were innocent hostages who died in the counter-terrorism "rescue." After several new terrorist attacks inside Moscow and against civilian aircraft culminated in the Belsan massacre of hundreds of school children in Fall 2004, public support for strong repressive measures reached new heights. In this climate, little support for restraining the Putin Administration was heard.
Conclusion. The very assumptions behind the brutal Soviet system of penology-- the creation of a "New" type of Soviet person-- grew directly from the Communist theory of history. This theory built endless prisons which may now finally be being de-populated of their innocents. Communist theory legitimized one party rule and a host of other durable structures including highly politicized courts and penal institutions. These associated structures have been challenged incompletely even in Russia; in some of the emerging independent republics of the former USSR (e.g., Belarus) one party rule remains de facto if not de jure. Until those who followed Marxist-Leninist guidance are retired throughout the Russian judicial system, until that Party fully has been eradicated from Russian state bureaucracies, official observance of the human rights of Russian and other post-Soviet citizens (in and out of prison) will continue to be endangered. The rights of citizens no longer rest solely on the whim of apparently enlightened individual leaders (e.g., Gorbachev). But, an institutionalized system committed to the dignity of the individual before the state also has not fully emerged.
The tanks of August 1991, and the anti-democratic Moscow mobs of September-October 1993, each might have succeeded in restoring communism overnight. Each failed. But the slow erosion of the promise of a democratic life may more successfully undermine freedom in post-Soviet Russia. The optimistic student of Russian and Soviet history should be chastened by the historic record now before us. Respites of apparent enlightenment and progress punctuated the experience of these peoples for brief periods in the past (e.g., the N.E.P., or the Khrushchev "thaw," or the Gorbachev reforms). None of these "reform" episodes proved to set a durable foundation for genuine respect of Russians' human rights. Chastened by historical memory, we must conclude that contemporary improvement in the protection of the human rights of Russians and other former Soviet peoples in the longer run is likely to remain contingent on larger forces that run deeper through society and state.
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Michael Scammell, "The Prophet and the Wilderness: how the idea of human rights crippled communism," The New Republic 204, 8 (February 25, 1991): 29-36.
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Hedrick Smith, The Russians (New York: Ballantine, 1976).
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (NY: Harper and Row, 1973).
Soviet World Outlook 3, 11 (November 1978): 2-3.
Claire Sterling, "Redfellas," The New Republic 210, 15 (April 11, 1994): 19-22.
The Week in Germany 1994: "Institutes: Russian Economy Continues to Decline," The Week in Germany (New York, German Information Center: May 13, 1994): 5.
Alexander Yanov, The Russian New Right: Right Wing Ideologies in the Contemporary USSR (Berkeley, CA: Institute of International Studies of the University of California, 1978).
Boris Yeltsin, Against the Grain: An Autobiography (N.Y.: Summit Books, 1990).
WP 1986: Washington Post (December 12, 1986): 45.
WP 1987: Washington Post (February 12, 1987): 26
WP 1988: Washington Post (February 19, 1988): 15.
WP 1993: Washington Post (September 6, 1993): 26.
WP 1994: Washington Post (February 20, 1994): 42.
2. Surprising as it may seem, the writings of Yuli Daniel which led to his trial, these protests and, ultimately, to the growth of the Soviet human rights movement, do not appear to have been well known to the KGB. U.S. Prof. Albert Todd (Queens College) and Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko have confirmed that it was U.S. intelligence that betrayed Daniel to the Soviet authorities. Apparently, the objective was to create an incident in which there would be a Soviet citizen suffering at the hands of his own government. This could then be used by U.S. intelligence and diplomats worldwide to respond to the then (1966-7) growing criticism of the U.S. policy in Vietnam. The trial of Daniel indeed did provide the U.S. with such an incident. Long buried in the most secret of places, this story traces its more bizarre turns to no less an authority that U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy, who told Yevtushenko the amazing details in a Manhattan apartment, in the bathroom with the shower running (so that, if the room were bugged, the message might be garbled). Thus, there is a grain of truth to the Soviet allegation that U.S. intelligence long tried to manipulate the Soviet human rights situation to serve the interests, not only of the Soviet detainees, but of U.S. foreign policy. See: Dusko Doder, "U.S. Betrayed Two Soviets, Interpreter Confirms," Washington Post (February 21, 1987): p.10; a Time magazine story about Yevtushenko, also in February 1987, also reported these same startling facts.