The Last Years of the Soviet Empire: Snapshots from 1985-1991

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Neil F. O'Donnell | Go to book overview

WILL THE ETHNIC BOMB DESTROY
GORBACHEV?
AUGUST 1987

Yet another prophetic snapshot. Like the one that began this chapter, this
snapshot focuses on the Soviet Union's pervasive ethnic tensions, and fore-
shadows the ways in which these tensions will come to dominate Soviet
political life.

With the publication of his article in the May issue of Kommunist, the most popular magazine in the Soviet Union, a Central Committee secretary named Alexander Yakovlev has emerged as the leading theorist of Gorbachev's perestroika, or restructuring. For a member of the Soviet political elite, Yakovlev took criticism of the current Soviet model to an extraordinary level, and his article was a serious sign that the Soviet reformers are determined to move ahead.

In his article, Yakovlev openly and unreservedly demanded not only the decentralization but also the privatization of the Soviet economy. The only restriction he called for was a constraint on "exploitation."

Yakovlev also demanded the legal defense of the rights of Soviet citizens and warned against viewing these rights as having been "bestowed benignly upon them from above." Moreover, he encouraged Soviet citizens to show initiative in all spheres, suggesting that "whatever is not explicitly prohibited by law is permissible "--an astonishing statement from the general secretary's closest aide. Yakovlev's criticism will certainly further outrage the numerous enemies of Gorbachev's course.

One element in Yakovlev's article, however, suggests that the adversaries of reform have recently strengthened their position and that the country is heading for a showdown in the near future. Despite denouncing "the enclaves closed to criticism," Yakovlev himself stopped short of discussing the nationalism issue, one of the most critical issues in the Soviet Union today. This issue is important not only because many ethnic groups are hostile to the Russians and sometimes toward each other, but because Gorbachev's enemies would like to exploit these hostilities.

Following the December 1986 meeting of the Central Committee, at which Gorbachev proclaimed his program of democratization, his adversaries apparently decided to use Russian chauvinism to destabilize Gorbachev's reformist platform. First, under the guise of glasnost, Gorbachev's enemies wrote a series of articles in Pravda that amounted to a campaign

____________________
This article originally appeared in "The Detroit News" on August 27, 1987.

-55-

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