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

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

THE ELECTION--A WARNING SIGNAL
TO THE PARTY APRIL 1989

This snapshot echoes several themes captured earlier and foreshadows im-
portant events to come. The most prominent among these is the idea that
Gorbachev's initiatives--in this case, democratization--often end up weak-
ening, rather than strengthening, the empire. Through glasnost, and now
through real elections, the masses have been given a voice, and they are
determined to use it.

A tornado swept across the USSR recently, to the horror of the party apparatus and the delight of the populace. The tempest struck Leningrad, Kiev, and other republican and regional centers where thirty-seven key party bosses were defeated in the recent election.

In most cases, insult was added to injury since those defeated were running unopposed--a remnant of the Stalin era thought to insure an almost unanimous vote. Instead, in Perm, the first party secretary received only 4 percent of the vote. In fact, in 275 districts (almost one fifth of all districts), voters rejected all of the candidates, most of whom had been nominated by the party apparatus.

The storm did not strike entirely without warning. The outcome of the election only confirmed the results of a survey conducted on the eve of the election by Yuri Levada and his colleagues at the Center for Public Opinion in Moscow. Their survey revealed that if there is a consensus on anything in Soviet society, it is the people's hatred of the bureaucracy. When asked to identify the origins of the current crisis in the country, 63 percent of the respondents named the party and state apparatus, 60 percent blamed corruption, 44 percent pointed to the mistakes of the previous leadership, and 39 percent blamed the incompetence of superiors.

Similarly, Leningrad sociologists had warned local party bosses about their poor prospects in the upcoming election. These prognoses, however, were dismissed with arrogance and self-confidence by Soloviev, the Leningrad party secretary and non-voting member of the Politburo who was the most prominent failure of the election, as well as by the four other city and regional leaders who shared his fate.

Apparatchiks across the country dismissed the warnings of the sociologists, being convinced that, through various rude and cynical tricks, they could either prevent their opponents from being included on the ballot or could at least discredit them in some nasty fashion.

Regardless of the political significance of the party's trouncing across the country, the developments in the capital are of special consequence.

-101-

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