The Collapse of the Soviet Empire: A View from Riga

The Collapse of the Soviet Empire: A View from Riga

The Collapse of the Soviet Empire: A View from Riga

The Collapse of the Soviet Empire: A View from Riga


An American academic describes the breakup of the Soviet Union and the formation of an independent Latvia from the vantage point of Riga, where he was acting as an advisor to the Latvian Parliament and was a visiting faculty member at the time of the events. This description is unusual for several reasons - the author was based in Riga rather than Moscow or Leningrad, where most reporters lived, the work was written by someone who had access to the government, and the author was able to understand the local press and people. Background material on the Baltic countries and their relationship to the USSR is discussed. The work will interest those who want to learn what really happened during the breakdown of the USSR and those who need to deal with the changes that continue to occur in the successor states.


One of the tragedies of the Cold War--a principal reason it lasted so long--was that the Americans leading the fight vastly overrated the enemy because they had never seen his homeland.

--Richard Reeves, Eastern Europe a Circle of Hell, The Buffalo News, August 9, 1993

June 1991. the few passengers for the Soviet Aeroflot flight from Helsinki to Riga had to board a bus to reach the Ilyushin airliner parked some distance away from the terminal building. in comparison to the glistening giants bearing Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, and Finnair logos, the much smaller Soviet plane appeared humble inside and out. the floor coverings, seats, and luggage racks had a well-worn look that one associates with genteel poverty, where items are repaired but seldom replaced. After many years of use, floors, walls, and furniture--what the ads for household cleaners call "environmental surfaces"--no longer appear clean no matter how often they are scrubbed.

As the plane taxied to the runway and then stopped before taking off, the backrests of the unoccupied seats collapsed forward, making a considerable noise that startled the passengers. As the plane gathered speed to get off the ground, the backrests snapped back to . . .

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