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The Last Empire: The Final Days Of The Soviet U...



The recent turmoil in Ukraine has led many Western analysts to accuse President Vladimir Putin of seeking to resurrect the "Soviet Empire." Indeed, Russia's justification for the annexation of Crimea largely stems from insistence that the Soviet transfer of Crimea to Ukraine was illegitimate, yet few understand the complex mechanics that determined the current borders of the post-Soviet states, and even fewer remember how the West tried to preserve the integrity of Soviet Union during its last days, fearing the onset of a Yugoslavia-type civil war.




The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet U...



As the bastion of communism fell in a symbolic boon for capitalism and democracy, some people celebrated in the streets, embracing the promise of their newfound freedom. Others mourned the loss of their global might and feared an uncertain future. The young countries of the former Soviet Union then began the daunting task of adopting new governments, new economies, and new ways of life. While hailed in the West as a sign of the inevitable march of progress, the transition to capitalism would be profoundly disorienting for many in the former USSR.Leading up to its collapse, the Soviet Union was buried deep in economic stagnation. Food shortages and grinding poverty were widespread. Yet many Soviet citizens took pride in their industry, technological advancements, and status as a superpower. The fall of the empire meant not only a change in the world order, but also a change in the way of life and self-perception for many of its inhabitants. Here is a look at the last days of the Soviet Union.


I am honored to be in the company of heroes who serve and sacrifice under the most trying conditions for the cause of a free, democratic, and sovereign Belarus. I am also pleased to be joined by leaders of the democratic opposition in Ukraine, who bravely struggle for your people's basic right to freely choose their leaders, and for a country where rights are protected by law. The distinguished company with us here today - European foreign ministers, parliamentarians, and senior officials, American and European civil leaders, United States Senators and Representatives, and leading members of the press - is a reminder of how many allies you have in the West, and how interested our nations are in helping you meet your people's aspirations for freedom. I'd like to thank our host, the government of Latvia, for bringing us together to talk about the challenges to democracy in wider Europe. In Belarus, the progress of the Five-Plus coalition in unifying the democratic opposition and developing a common platform for democratic change has given new momentum to the struggle for freedom. In the 2001 elections, a single candidate backed by the democratic opposition emerged only fifteen days before voting day. Today, the opposition produced a single list of candidates nearly nine months before the upcoming 2004 election. In preparation for these elections, you, members of the Five-Plus coalition, have brought together independent trade unions, over two hundred NGO's, and a number of prominent leaders to wage a unified campaign for parliament. You have brought together the five largest pro-reform parties, as well as the pro-reform faction of the Belarusian parliament, and agreed to a common platform, a common list of candidates to promote in each electoral district throughout Belarus, and a common campaign strategy. I commend you for the outstanding progress you have made in bringing together Belarus' leading democratic forces to give voice to the Belorussian people, and I encourage you to continue your effors to broaden your coalition for change. History has shown that defeating authoritarian rule requires a broad-based opposition that is organized to challenge unjust state power, and I wish you well in continuing the important progress you have made in demonstrating to the Belorussian people that they have a voice in you. Polling by the International Rebublican Institute proves conclusively that Belorussians are ready for change, with over 70 percent of the people opposed to Alexander Lukashenko's regime. At the same time, polling shows that popular support for the Five-Pluss coalition is broad and deepening. We in the West have a moral obligation to support your campaign to end Lukashenko's dictatorship. Governments and civic organizations in Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, the Czech Republic, the United States, and elsewhere are playing a critical role. I believe the Atlantic democrasies must provide sustained support and encouragement to the Belorussian opposition to prepare you for the task of governing after Lukashenko. With our European allies, including many who remember what life was like behind the Iron Curtain, we should pursue concerted efforts to help build the institutions of a free Belarus - civic organizations, independent media, strong political parties, and other pillars of a democratic society - to create political space not under the regime's control. We should not seek and accommodation with the tyrant. The maturity of civil society, the democratic legitimacy enjoyed by opposition parties, and the success of the Five-Plus coalition make Belarus ripe for change. The American government, our European allies, and civic activists from free Europe can help level the political playing field - providing resources for you to function and organize, supporting free media that would otherwise not exist, and adding moral force to your campaign for democratic change, for an end to repression and fear, and for national independence and pride as part of a free and secure Europe. The international coummunity should further isolate Belarus and encourage a new approach to Minsk in Moscow, where President Putin's creeping coup against democratic opposition and media freedom is all the more reason for the West to encourage democratic change in Belarus, so that Lukashenko's autocratic rule does not tempt Russia along the same dangerous path. I'd like to say to our Ukrainian friends that your people's freedom is as important to the West as that of your Belorussian neighbors. In Ukraine, the United States and Europe should work assertively for free and fair elections this fall. We should pledge at NATO's Istanbul summit that Ukraine will be welcomed into Euro-Atlantic institutions as soon as it meets basic standarts of democracy. Unkraine may be one election away from a new democratic, pro-western orientation that would be as consequential for your people as it would be for the wider trans-Atlantic community. But neither the Ukrainian people nor its Atlantic allies can accept the manipulation of the Ukrainian constitution to extend one man's term in office, or to change the terms by which elections are held on the eve of the presidential campaign. As the Council of Europe has stated, such behavior is inconsistent with the democratic values of the West and will exclude Ukraine from the company of Western democracies. It is because we in the United State and Europe want Ukraine to succeed, and want to deepen our partnership, that we must be rigorous in demanding that free and fair elections are held this October, without judicial, constitutional, or political manipulation, and that their results are honored. We look forward to welcoming a democratic Ukraine into the Euro-Atlantic community and to deepening our friendship with the people of your great nation. Given the scale of Alexander Lukashenko's tyranny, our Belorussian friends face a greater challenge. The leaders of the Belorussian opposition who are participating in this conference stand as proof that their people value liberty no less than others. Your campaign to end the tyranny of fear that rules your nation inspires all of us whose values are not tested every day, as yours are, and who pay no great price for our beliefs, as you do. You are patriots whose love of your country will change history. We stand with you. Lukashenko's petty tyranny, his frail mastery in a dictatorship of fear, is no match for our commitment to freedom, to your nation's right to choose its destiny freely through its people's will. Alexander Lukashenko is the last man standing on the deck of a ship of Soviet ideas that has been sinking in the ocean of history since brave men and women empowered by external pressure brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lukashenko's rule is an offence to the values whose victory was secured almost everywhere else in Europe with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.


From the days after World War II, when fragile European democracies were threatened by Stalin's expansionism, to the last days of the cold war, as our foes became fragile democracies themselves, American leadership has been indispensable. No one person deserves credit for this. America does. It has been achieved because of what we as a people stand for and what we are made of.


David Remnick covered what he calls "the last days of one of the cruelest regimes in human history" for the Washington Post. Now at The New Yorker, he discussed his new book, "Lenin's Tomb," while in Boston recently. 041b061a72


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