Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Russian indifference to 1991 Putsch

The above article was written by Paul Goble and posted on 8-19-09 to his website “Window on Eurasia.” He entitled it, “Russians increasingly Ignorant of and indifferent to August 1991 Putsch.” I’ll quote a bit from it and comment below:

“. . . ever more Russians are ignorant of and indifferent to an event that precipitated the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

"In a commentary in today’s “Gazeta,” Sergey Shelin points out that by the tenth anniversary of the failed coup attempt, some 61 percent of Russians were unable to name any of the members of the group that led the coup, and only 16 percent were able to correctly name even a single GKChP member (

“The level of ignorance about this event, the Moscow commentator suggests, is almost certainly greater now. But an even more potentially disturbing trend is that fewer and fewer Russians express sympathy for one or the other sides. In 1995, four years after the event, a bare majority – 51 percent – said that they supported one or the other.”

“. . . Aleksandra Samarina, in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” sought to explain why the number of Russians who believe that the failure of the coup was a tragedy is becoming larger and the triumph of Boris Yeltsin a good thing is becoming smaller with each passing year (

“. . . one of the reasons that Russians increasingly feel that way is that their expectations in 1991 that there could be “a rapid victory over evil” have been disappointed . . .”

“Malashenko says that this tendency has been compounded both by the increasing number of people who were either born after 1991 or were too young to remember the August coup, let alone the Soviet system earlier, and by official propaganda critical of Yeltsin and increasingly positive about the USSR.”

“. . . Shelin sums up this issue with the following observations: The ‘na├»ve cynicism’ which many Russians display about 1991 . . . represents ‘the rejection of all experience and a willingness to humbly subordinate oneself to any improvisations of the bosses.’

“As a result, he says, Russians have not learned any lessons from August 1991 and thus have become increasingly indifferent about it, a pattern that both reflects and reinforces an unfortunate historical tradition among them’”

“’Francis Fukuyama predicted “the end of history” and then became a figure of fun in America when it turned out that history did not end,’ Shelin says. But his words still resonate in Russia because having so quickly forgotten the past, Russians can see that despite their expectations in August 1991, history for them “did not even begin.’”


I don’t believe Shelin’s understanding of Russian indifference is any greater than his understanding of Fukuyama. He clearly doesn’t understand that Fukuyama’s prediction had to do with Liberal-Democracies defeat of its competitors, Communism and Fascism. There was nothing on the horizon, as Fukuyama wrote in 1992 that could contest the Liberal-Democratic victory. Liberal-Democracy is the evolved form of Capitalism, and Fukuyama argued that Hegel was right when he predicted that Capitalism (now Liberal Democracy) would be the end of history. And of course that would make Marx wrong for his “correction” of Hegel and his claim that Communism would be the end of history.

I don’t know what Shelin has in mind when he writes “that history did not end.” Perhaps he is referring to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But if so, Fukuyama discussed such wars as likely to continue for awhile but these would not be able to challenge Liberal Democracy.

I am interested in those who challenge Fukuyama from the standpoint of having read his works. To read a statement like Shelin’s about Fukuyama, on the other hand, makes one pause. If he can be so wrong about Fukuyama, perhaps he is wrong about other things that he has written, and so it seems in this article.

Shelin is implying that Russia’s indifference in regard to the pivotal matters that occurred in 1991 reflect an historical tradition in Russia: “ . . . the rejection of all experience and a willingness to humbly subordinate oneself to any improvisations of the bosses.”

Maybe, but we here in the US are equally indifferent to political events. Our turnout at election time is poor, and when anyone goes about asking the American “man on the street” whether he can name people in the current Presidential cabinet or the various generals who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, the responses are presented on late night shows as humor.

We read that Shelin is pessimistic about the nature of Russians, their willingness to be led about like sheep by Russian bosses, but what does an equal indifference say about Americans. We have no bosses, but we do have an active “Left Wing Media.” There is evidence that this “Media” was effective in helping to get Obama elected in our last election. Still, there were other reasons for favoring Obama over McCain.

I voted for McCain, but I could see how a majority in America might want Obama’s emphasis. And as I have indicated elsewhere I was interested to see how his more-diplomatic approach to foreign affairs would play out in regard to Iran, Pakistan, and various other nations which seemed to find G. W. Bush abrasive.

Still, Americans do not go to the polls with great understanding. Neither do they pour over learned journals on domestic and foreign affairs. But is it not possible to take this indifference as a sign that “things” are more or less acceptable to the American “man in the street”? Several journalists commented on the high turnout in Iraq’s first election after Saddam’s fall and suggested we American’s ought to feel ashamed for not turning out for our elections in equivalent percentages. But shouldn’t we rather see that Iraq had much more at stake in their election than we have in ours? Perhaps a better conclusion in regard to the concern expressed by Shelin is that the Russian “man in the street” didn’t feel that 1991 was as critical as Shelin thought it was.

Perhaps Russian and American indifference says more about the nature of mankind in general than about any particular people in particular. We all have to prioritize our time, and most of us do so on the basis of need and interest. If we need to concentrate upon earning a living; then that must be given a high priority. If all we hear about our nation’s political situation is that we can expect “more of the same” whichever way we vote, then perhaps we won’t take the trouble to vote – or even pay attention to who is running for office.

And in the area of “interest,” probably only a sliver of mankind is studious enough to seriously study domestic or foreign affairs. We may perhaps be forgiven for suspecting that even most of those managing our nations’ domestic and foreign affairs haven’t studied them but have learned, whatever they have learned, on the job.

Some of us who have studied some of these matters may deplore the fact that others have not, but surely that is a futile exercise. I myself deplore the fact that so many feel free to comment on Fukuyama without having read him. But such is the nature of man, that unless there is some mutant evolution in our species’ intelligence, we are not likely to see a change in this either.

1 comment:

Michael Kuznetsov said...


I suppose you might be rather surprised to learn that I personally was a "fan" of Sen. John McCain, as well as many of those Russians whom I have known, and who paid attention to the last US presidential elections, a great many of them were "fans" of McCain, too.

As to the events of 19th - 24th August 1991, not only happened I to be in Moscow at the time, but I was right into the thick of things.

I do vividly recall the effervescent events that occured then in the center of Moscow, as well as those thousands of people who participated therein, and I am convinced that to call them "indifferent" would be quite strange at least.

Meanwhile, I have a little question.
I remember reading somewhere that Marshal Stalin seemed to be somewhat concerned with the news of the attempt upon Hitler's life on the 20th of July 1944. And that Stalin became relaxed only after the word had come that the German leader remained alive and active.

What do you think about this story?