Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The End of the Soviet Union: Stanislau Shushkevich's Eyewitness Account

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The End of the Soviet Union: Stanislau Shushkevich's Eyewitness Account

Article excerpt

For the first time in English, this issue of Demokratizatsiya publishes an excerpt from former Belarus leader Stanislau Shushkevich's autobi- ography, My Life: The Collapse and Resurrection of the USSR. This book has never been published in Belarus or in an English translation, though Moscow's ROSSPEN published the entire monograph on November 5, 2012, in Russian as Mo? ?????, κp??e??e ? ?ocκpe?e??e CCC?.

The excerpt translated and reproduced here describes the dramatic events surrounding the signing of the Belavezha Accords that formally ended the Soviet Union and established the Commonwealth of Independent States. These events are central to the massive regime transformations in Eurasia that started under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and that are the chief subject matter of our journal. The Belavezha Accords simultane- ously represent an outcome of the USSR's democratization and a cause of what came next, including continued political opening in some post-Soviet countries and dramatic new rounds of political closure in others.

The following text, like the rest of Shushkevich's book, is part personal memoir and part analysis of the events he participated in. It switches among informal observations, historical description, and commentary from the author's perspective.

The events mainly take place at Viskuli, an elite Soviet-era rest facil- ity for high-level officials, which is located in Belarus's Belavezha forest. Shushkevich relates what happens at the end of 1991 in the context of Belarusan national politics and the broader context of politics in the post- Soviet space, especially Russia. Shushkevich was the leader of Belarus in 1991, but lost power in 1994 and has been an observer of political devel- opments since then.

Many conservatives in Belarus and the USSR as a whole were unhappy to see the Soviet Union collapse and claimed that Russia's Boris Yeltsin, Ukraine's Leonid Kravchuk, and Belarus's Shushkevich did not have the authority to disband the Soviet Union. But Shushkevich here argues that the actions that he and his counterparts took were legitimate. Shushkevich takes pride in the short and concise text of the agreement he and his colleagues authored during the two-day meeting and reproduces it here in full. He remains extremely proud of this accomplishment and has made it clear that he would do it over again.

Since this text has intrinsic value as the viewpoint from one of the participants in a historic event, it was not subject to the journal's usual double-blind peer review process.

One of the facets of singer-song writer Vladimir Vysotsky's genius was his ability to say a lot concisely and clearly, thereby making his thoughts absolutely vivid. When I recall the Belarusans who were with me in the Belavezha Forest, I cannot help the urge to exclaim once again, like Vysotsky: "if only I had known those I traveled with, those I drank vodka with..." Yet, I did not drink any vodka in Viskuli. This is a fact, even though it violated the protocol of informal meetings. My main associate, who agreed with me the most in the Viskuli affair, or at least so it seemed at the time, turned out to have so many faces that even today if they were to prosecute me for anti-state activities, I would be glad that there are no grounds to add to it Vysotsky's line: "it's alright, you are so young!"

It is immoral to reproach those who favored, and still favor a differ- ent approach, than the one established in Viskuli. Every man has a right to an opinion. Every man has a right to defend his or her opinion and to change it, explaining why that change occurred. But sacrilege is the only word that comes to my mind when I want to describe the actions of some high-ranking politicians who made possible the Viskuli decision, warmly welcomed it, but later, afraid of losing their relatively small benefits, changed their opinions to the contrary, in order to fawn in front of a power- ful ruler.

The Invitation

At that time I considered Prime Minster Vyacheslav Frantsevich Kebich to be the most devoted and practical man in our government. …

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