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

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

SOVIETS INDIFFERENT TO FOREIGN AFFAIRS MAY 1990

Like several previous snapshots, this one depicts one of the most important,
yet most neglected, stumbling blocks to Gorbachev's reforms: the weariness
and indifference of a people struggling to survive. As we have seen, the
Soviet people would have neither the energy nor the inclination to support
Gorbachev and his reforms until he produced significant improvements in
their material lives.

In the weeks leading up to the superpower summit in Washington, news of the summit has dominated the spotlight in the United States. Not a day has passed without mass media coverage of preparations, prospects, and so on. Once the summit is over, it will likely remain a mass media staple for several weeks, with the Bush administration getting as much political mileage out of it as possible. It is questionable, however, whether this historic event will receive similar attention in the Soviet Union, or whether Gorbachev can capitalize on his success. There is, in fact, substantial evidence to suggest that the Soviet people will remain quite indifferent to both the proceedings and the results of the summit.

Part of this evidence lies in the reaction of the Soviet people to other world events, such as the prospect of German reunification. In a survey conducted by the All-Union Center of Public Opinion Studies in Moscow, an unbelievably low 25 percent of the respondents objected to German reunification, while 60 percent voiced support. These data stand in stark contrast to the widely accepted dogma regarding Russia's obsession with national security.

The surprisingly positive attitudes of the Soviet people toward German reunification are paralleled by their attitudes toward developments in Eastern Europe, the countries of which no longer function as the Soviet Union's first line of defense against intruders. Once again, only a quarter of the respondents expressed concern over the transformation of the one-time satellites into independent states.

These data reflect attitudes toward foreign relations that differ radically from attitudes of just a few years earlier. In the early 1970s, when I first read Hedrick Smith's book The Russians," I was impressed by the brilliance of entitling one of the chapters "The War Ended Only Yesterday." That title perfectly captured the Soviet people's twenty-year-old preoccupation with World War II, as well as their unremitting fear of new hostilities.

____________________
This article originally appeared as "Gorbachev's Lonely Summit" in The Atlanta Journal on May 29, 1990.

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