06MOSCOW9412, 15TH ANNIVERSARY OF 1991 “COUP”: APATHY, PROMISE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW9412 2006-08-28 14:14 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO2932
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #9412/01 2401414
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 281414Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1240
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 009412 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM PHUM RS
SUBJECT: 15TH ANNIVERSARY OF 1991 "COUP": APATHY, PROMISE 
OF NEW GENERATION? 
 
 
1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The fifteenth anniversary of the August 
1991 "coup" passed with little fanfare.  There were no 
official events, and the Russian population greeted the 
anniversary with apathy or political antipathy.  Despite 
concern in some circles over increasing restrictions on 
personal freedoms, the majority of Russians appear more 
preoccupied with the issues that have an impact on their 
daily lives. Many liberals view this retrenchment as a 
natural if unwelcome political backlash against the 1990's, 
predict a long political evolution back to the ideals 
imperfectly realized in the wake of the Soviet Union's 
collapse, and look to a new generation of activists to 
repackage democratic values discredited during the Yeltsin 
era. END SUMMARY. 
 
------------------- 
APATHY TO ANTIPATHY 
------------------- 
 
2. (U) In the lead-up to the anniversary, Izvestia published 
an interview with two of the participants of the August 1991 
coup, who recounted the emotional excitement and public 
involvement critical to thwarting the rollback of political 
reforms initiated by Gorbachev.  This sentiment was echoed by 
Igor Bunin of the Center for Political Technologists who 
commented in Rossiskaya Gazeta that the events of August 1991 
represented a moment of "communitas" -- an emotional 
political moment which only comes once in a generation. 
 
3. (U) Opinion polls conducted prior to the anniversary on 
attitudes toward the coup captured the apathy now prevalent 
among the populace.  According to a Levada Center poll, 
conducted July 14-17 across 46 regions of Russia, 13 percent 
of Russians surveyed believe that the coup plotters were 
right, 12 percent endorsed Yeltsin, and 52 percent concluded 
both sides were wrong.  A further 23 percent had no opinion. 
Another poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation found 
that 67 percent of Russians surveyed between 18 and 35 could 
not say whether things would have been better if the coup had 
succeeded.  While most people remember what they were doing 
when they heard the news, few remember the specifics of the 
events themselves, apart from the loss of life. They are also 
hazy on the reasons: some recollect that it was an internal 
power struggle, many no longer recall what Gorbachev sought 
and nor what the "putchists" advocated.  A notable 15 percent 
in the Levada poll had confused the events of August 1991 
with those of October 1993. 
 
4. (U) Public indifference to the 15-year anniversary and 
resentment of the social dislocations of the 1990's also was 
reflected in the number of Russians willing to mark the 
occasion.  Events on August 19 started with a rally of 
Communist Party supporters in front of the Lenin Museum, 
whose participants -- including the errant tourist or two -- 
numbered less than a 100.  On August 20, 200 people 
representing both "Democrats" and Communists" commemorated 
the killing of the three men crushed by Soviet tanks on 
August 21, 1991, and a march to the White House on August 22, 
National Flag Day, organized by the Union of Right Forces 
(SPS) in support of Yeltsin's victory over the hard liners, 
garnered about 1000 supporters. 
 
5. (SBU) Antipathy to the series of events that precipitated 
the collapse of the Soviet Union remains politically 
acceptable, even fashionable.  In a press release, Duma 
Speaker Boris Gryzlov emphasized the United Russia position 
that the coup was a "tragic page" in Russia's history, which 
should be commemorated in order to remind Russians of the 
dangers of a weak government.  Chief editor of the radical 
nationalist paper Zavtra Alexander Prokhanov, who supported 
the State Emergency Committee's (GKChP) actions in 1991, told 
us that the failed coup was a tragic day that people now 
associate with the fall of the Soviet Union and, therefore, 
nothing to celebrate.  He noted many Russians had believed 
that it would usher in a "democratic heaven".  Instead, 
rehashing the universal refrain here, Prokhanov described the 
aftermath as a period of rampant crime, instability, and the 
rise of the oligarchs.  The average Russian, he concluded, 
longs for a return of Soviet orderliness. 
 
----------------- 
Liberals Resigned 
----------------- 
 
6. (SBU) Every revolution, Echo Moskvy editor Aleksey 
Venediktov noted to us, has its Thermidor.  The retreat from 
those democratic ideals, expressed but imperfectly realized 
in the 1990's, was a natural phenomenon, he maintained, even 
if the erosion of those values over the last 15 years was 
greater then he would have predicted.  Carnegie Center's 
 
MOSCOW 00009412  002 OF 002 
 
 
Lilia Shevtsova reinforced to us that the mixed emotions 
surrounding the anniversary of the coup reflected the fact 
that all Russians were stripped of something dear in the 
1990's -- not just grandiose notions of empire, but immediate 
family connections, with relatives scattered across newly 
recognized international borders.
  Venediktov did not rule 
out a more generous post-mortem on the coup that led to the 
collapse of the Soviet Union, but argued that this historical 
revisionism would come only after the emergence in Russia of 
a more assured and economically secure middle class -- the 
culmination of a long and measured political evolution. 
 
7.  (SBU) The silver lining to the backlash against the 
1990's, Demos Center Tatyana Lokshina insisted, was that 
human rights activists were being forced to reevaluate their 
message to the Russian public.  Many activists, she told us, 
simply cannot adapt to the new language of Putin's Russia and 
to the fact that there is little admiration among the Russian 
public for the names and tactics of Soviet-era dissidents. 
Trying to promote civil liberties, given the apathy of the 
public and the complacency generated by growing economic 
prosperity, requires smart image-making and activists who 
have a better understanding of Russian concerns.  The 
message, she maintained, should focus more on freedom and 
less on democracy, which she said -- echoing Prokhanov -- 
evokes images of Yeltsin, the rise of oligarchs, the 
non-payment of wages, the unavailability of social services, 
and the deterioration of order.  Both Shevtsova and Lokshina 
pointed to the rise of grassroots organizations -- automobile 
societies protesting corruption, environmentalists focused on 
Lake Baikal, and citizen's groups outraged over housing scams 
-- as evidence of a new generation of civil society leaders. 
(In an aside, Shevtsova noted the disdain sometimes evident 
among the older, more established, and foreign-funded NGO's 
toward these less organized and less overtly human 
rights-oriented social movements.) 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
8. (SBU)  The August 1991 coup and the collapse of the Soviet 
Union that it precipitated is an event which Putin described 
as the "biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the Twentieth 
Century" -- a statement that resonates with the Russian 
public.  The majority of Russians -- as the polling indicates 
-- are caught between a nostalgia for the lost superpower 
status of the USSR and a grudging recognition that the 
changes which followed after August 1991 offer the prospect 
for a better life.  Hence the ambivalence with which Russians 
greeted the anniversary and the enormity of civil society's 
task in revitalizing Russian support for democratic values. 
BURNS

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