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

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

THE MOSCOW MASS MEDIA CALLS DOWN CURSES SEPTEMBER 1989

This snapshot illustrates one of the difficulties in interpreting current events
in the Soviet Union. In this snapshot, the mass media is seen actively
fomenting the Soviet people's gloomy mood. The question is, who is in
charge of this propaganda? In the past, the answer would have been clear:
the leaders in the Kremlin. Now, however, the answer is not at all clear.
As with other events, it is tempting to rely on past answers and formulations.
These answers, however, rarely do justice to the complexity of events now
unfolding in the Soviet Union.

If Muscovites agree on anything these days, it is that, despite the relative freedom of glasnost, the political elite continue to exert a great deal of control over the mass media. Given the government's continued influence over the mass media, however, it is hard to understand the torrent of gloomy predictions now pouring from Soviet newspapers, magazines, and television.

The first trickle of doomsaying appeared in the spring, with the election campaign for the new Soviet parliament. This trickle increased to a steady stream during the first session of the Congress of People's Deputies, when both liberal and conservative speakers raised the possibility of a coup in the Kremlin.

When Iuri Andreiev, a writer known for his scathing anti-bureaucratic articles, discussed the possibility of a coup in an article in Argumenty i Fakty, a weekly read by over 21 million Soviet citizens, the stream increased to a river. Instead of being discussed in relatively isolated reports and speeches, the possibility of a coup was suddenly being openly debated in the national mass media.

In his article, Andreiev suggested that some unknown group was skillfully (and successfully) setting the stage for a coup by orchestrating various events designed to rouse the rabble. Andreiev argued that, in one way or another, this mysterious group was behind almost all of the country's recent major disturbances, including the riots in Fergana, the miner's strike, the increased crime rate, and the shortages of nearly every consumer good on the market. According to Andreiev, the method behind this madness was to create such chaos in the country that the population would welcome any leader able to restore order.

Obviously, articles such as Andreiev's were unlikely to improve the mood

____________________
This article originally appeared as "Who's Behind the Coup Talk in Moscow?", in the New York Times on September 23, 1989.

-116-

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