Boris Yeltsin: Lessons for America
Lesson 1 - The August Putsch
On August 19 1991 I was on my way back home in the Ukraine from a visit to the United States. The imperial U.S.S.R. was in place, and although draconian restrictions on visiting capitalist countries had been removed, the average monthly income of about $20 US deterred foreign travel as effectively as the barbed wire before that. In the provincial Ukrainian town where I lived, visiting America was a big deal. Most neighbors in my apartment complex knew where I had been. I knew they were expecting me to tell the story.
But as I dragged my bags to the entrance that day, my neighbors gave me sullen stares. "Go back where you came from," one of them said. "Do it before they close the airports." I asked what was going on. "You'll know when you turn on the TV," he said. He was right. The rest of the evening I spent sitting on my unpacked suitcase as I gaped at the TV screen.
Both government-run channels showed nine Communist Party apparatchiks at a long conference table, talking to the camera, telling me that the democracy in the U.S.S.R. had failed, that capitalism was a menace, that freedom had brought nothing but disaster. Tanks were being moved to Moscow to ensure a peaceful "progress" back to Stalinism. The hard-liners had counted on the tormented people's conditional reflex to obey their overlords. They called themselves GKChP - the "Government State of Emergency Committee," but people immediately dubbed them a junta and called their coup a "putsch" - as in Hitler's failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. Instead of meekly surrendering, the people resisted.
Nothing in the Party stooges' prior experience prepared them for the sudden resistance of the people who had tasted freedom. And at the forefront of that resistance towered Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first freely elected president.
"The best Gorbachev could do was shoot a home video."
Technically Russia was still one of the 15 Soviet republics reporting to Michael Gorbachev, but Gorby had been trapped in his dacha down at the Black Sea. At that point the best Gorbachev could do was shoot a home video. He fired a message to the world using a camcorder and an old tape with a copy of the 9 1/2 Weeks movie, recording his mournful face over the naked shots of Kim Basinger.
Yeltsin and his supporters resisted the putsch directly. They barricaded themselves inside the Parliament Building. A human wall made of thousands of Muscovites encircled the white multistoried structure to which they jokingly referred as the White House. I regretted I wasn't in Moscow but it was not possible to get there. The coup leaders had had enough forethought to suspend passenger transportation in and out of the capital. If they hadn't the human shields would count in hundreds of thousands, standing in the way of the army to protect their new freedoms. But the army was made of people too; some tank units disobeyed orders and joined the protesters.
Three young men still were crushed by the tanks - a Russian, a Ukrainian, and a Jew. After three days of standoffs, rioting, mutinies, and courageous anti-coup coverage by pro-democracy journalists, the coup was over. Gorbachev was restored in Kremlin.
But it wasn't Gorbachev who was the man of the hour. That honor was reserved for Boris Yeltsin. He became an instant people's hero, immortalized in a snapshot on top of a tank with a new tricolor flag of Russia. Euphoric crowds flooded the streets; many were weeping. The specter of communism had been defeated.
"Freedom can't be increased by abusing and disparaging it."
Today's anti-Bush rallies in the U.S. demand the very opposite of what the pro-freedom Soviets rallied for. By advocating for the government control of economy, the ideological monopoly of the Left, and massive redistribution of wealth, American leftists espouse the same ideas as the backward Soviet hardliners - same song, different verse.
These self-absorbed "progressives" don't want to hear about the strife of the Soviet people who had learned the hard way that these ideas only result in massive poverty and loss of freedoms for everyone involved. In effect, the leftist rallies spit in the face of every victim of communist oppression, living or dead. That count is in the hundreds of millions.
There's nothing heroic in disparaging democratic institutions, dishonoring the American flag, and carrying placards with anti-capitalist, anti-American slogans pre-printed for them by communist front groups with the money donated by corrupt foreign dictators. The protesters absurdly accuse this free country of being a fascist dictatorship, fully aware that an hour later they'll be drinking expensive coffee at Starbucks - and not dragged to a political prison and getting their teeth knocked in - a likely prospect for dissidents in the countries whose leaders they idolize.
They may believe their protest leads to more freedom - but freedom can't be increased by abusing and disparaging it. Objectively, they diminish freedom by providing hope and moral support to dictators, helping tyrants to brainwash their populations, and knocking the ground from under the feet of real fighters for freedom. That makes them a tool in the hands of a reactionary totalitarian ideology. As if supporting communist dictatorships were not enough, "progressive" rallies now also feature slogans backing the Iranian regime that imprisons and tortures its own dissidents.
"Journalistic courage is in risking imprisonment
or even death for speaking against a real tyrant -
not in peddling fabricated documents
from a comfortable TV studio in Manhattan"
Every immigrant in this country who had experienced political tyranny understands that true heroism is in standing for freedom and human rights against a real blood-stained dictatorship - not against an America that gives the hope of freedom to all those suffering from tyranny worldwide. Likewise, true journalistic courage is in risking imprisonment or even death for speaking against a real tyrant - not in peddling fabricated documents from a comfortable TV studio in Manhattan with the hope of swinging elections towards a "progressive" candidate.
Just like the corrupt Stalinist apparatchiks, the American leftists will justify anything by invoking the notion of "progress," which in their Orwellian minds is the opposite of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Their utopian ideal of a benevolent government caring for the unwashed masses is nothing but a modernized version of a feudal lord caring for unwashed peasants. That's hardly a progress by any standard.
The true meaning of progress had been long ago encoded into the U.S. Constitution, when the Founding Fathers had broken away from the earlier feudal model where the government cared for its subjects in exchange for their freedoms. Instead, they established a new model where the government's role was to make sure the citizens had enough freedoms to take care of themselves.
This truly revolutionary model is the reason why the United States is so successful; why more than 200 years later it is still leading humanity to a better and happier future. To reverse and dismantle this model will be the opposite of progress - yet it's exactly what the "progressives" seem to crave. Just like the Soviet Politburo stooges, they derive their definition of progress not from the American Revolution, but form Karl Marx's archaic and disgraced Communist Manifesto.
End of Part One. Tomorrow: Russia Too Had Yeltsin Derangement Syndrome
Oleg Atbashian - writer and graphic artist from Ukraine, currently lives in New York. Creator of ThePeoplesCube.com, a satirical website where he writes under the name of Red Square. He has previously written for Pajamas Media, The Gospel of John & Yoko: The Origins of Mad Morality, and Bowling for Virginia Tech.