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

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

Gorbachev'S PRESIDENCY: AN ATTEMPT TO MAINTAIN ORDER? MARCH 1990

Once again we see Gorbachev stumble in an attempt to mix democratic
and totalitarian politics: By creating and then filling the position of president,
Gorbachev hoped to distance himself from the party, and from what the
Soviet people saw as an overly powerful central government. Instead, this
move only increased the Soviet people's anger and made Gorbachev appear
more power-hungry than ever.

The two most important political events in the Soviet Union in recent months--Gorbachev's acquisition of the new presidency, and the election of new local governments, many of which are now run by deputies with strong democratic orientations--appear to bode well for Gorbachev and his reforms. These events, however, can be correctly evaluated only in light of the catastrophic decline of public order now sweeping the country.

Although Soviet politicians and intellectuals from both the left and the right have used terms such as "the disintegration of the state" and "the paralysis of power" for some time, the most serious blow to the social order occurred last year, when the Soviet state and its infrastructure--the party apparatus--lost any remaining measure of prestige in society. Surveys conducted in the last year reveal that the vast majority of the Soviet people hold all political institutions--including the central and local governments, the party, the army, the police, the courts, and the trade unions--in contempt and mistrust. This contempt has been magnified by the final collapse of the official ideology and the near-total disappearance of fear, which encouraged the Soviet people to express their feelings toward the authorities with an aggressiveness not seen since the civil war.

Confronted with the hostility and contempt of the people, and stripped of their ability to resort to repressive measures, members of the party and state apparatuses have allowed the business of running the country to grind to a halt. Frustration with and resentment of Gorbachev's policies has led officials to abandon the affairs of their regions and cities, and to surrender the struggle to salvage their prestige. Demoralization has spread through the central ministries, the police, and the KGB, and has affected managers in industry and agriculture.

The weakening of the Soviet political infrastructure has contributed to

____________________
This article originally appeared as "The Decline in Soviet Order" in The Christian Science Monitor on May 7, 1990.

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