Democratization and Ethnic Conflict
in Post-Soviet Society
The political situation in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union has changed so dramatically over the past five years that we can truly say that we now live in a different world. These changes have been so sudden and far reaching that people often lose sight of the path traveled and the distance covered.
We can date the beginnings of these changes to the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe and the efforts of the first and last president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1988 Gorbachev proposed the amendments to the Soviet constitution that produced the first relatively free, democratic parliamentary elections since the earliest years of Soviet power. This step was of tremendous importance and can be termed the beginning of real perestroika. There were no free elections in the USSR for seventy-two years or in any of the East European countries of the bloc since before World War II. Under the totalitarian system, there was no political opposition, no critical free press, and no independent judiciary.
In 1989 the first relatively free elections in Soviet history produced a parliament that was profoundly different from its decorative predecessors. The Inter‐ Regional Group (IRG) became the first parliamentary opposition in Soviet history since the Bolsheviks expelled the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries from the soviets in 1918. The majority of this early opposition later perished in the Gulags. The new opposition was inspired and led by Academician Andrei Sakharov, the renowned proponent of human rights and democracy. Although the new opposition was numerically small in the parliament (approximately 15 percent of the total), sociological survey research revealed that it was supported by fully 60 to 70 percent of the population in different regions of the country.
The IRG was led by five co-chairmen: Academician Sakharov, future president Boris Yeltsin, the renowned historian Yuri Ivanosiev, the mayor of Moscow, Gavril Popov, and a prominent Estonian scientist, Victor Palm. Its program advanced the following tenets: the acceleration of perestroika, for the pace was