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

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

GORBACHEV AS YELTSIN'S BEST FRIEND APRIL 1991

Conspiracy theorists, like photographers, rely on the fact that events often
look very different depending on one's perspective. As this snapshot reveals,
a good conspiracy theory, like a good photograph, blends reality and illusion
so completely that they become almost indistinguishable.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, the famous Roman orator, once described how Cassius, a Roman judge, solved a complicated criminal case by asking simply, "Cui bono?" or, "Who benefitted?" A similar approach, often taken to absurd lengths, is used by those with a conspiratorial mindset when trying to understand economic and political events.

Conspiracy theories are most popular in societies experiencing rapid change or difficult times. This is especially true if the society has been totalitarian, political processes have been hidden from the public, and the secret police have been free to organize plots against the government's enemies. All of these conditions, of course, apply to the situation in the Soviet Union. As a result, the number of conspiracy theories being seriously discussed in the Soviet Union is probably greater than anywhere else in the world. Every event of political import, whether large or small, whether in the capital or in the provinces, is subject to a conspiratorial analysis.

The collapse of the Soviet economy has been a favorite topic of conspiracy theorists from all points along the political spectrum. Liberals have blamed the rapidly deteriorating consumer market on a plot by party apparatchiks and the mafia, who want to turn the population against perestroika. The conservatives, in turn, have suggested that the collapse of the Soviet economy is being engineered by the democrats, who want to create chaos in order to destroy the Communist party, remove the legal government, and seize power for themselves.

Although the conspiracy theories regarding the Soviet Union's economic troubles are interesting, those regarding the country's political struggles are particularly intriguing and creative, as each camp tries to outdo the other in imagination and inventiveness.

Late in 1990, as Gorbachev began an obvious shift to the right, many democrats postulated the existence of a reactionary conservative group that, through some type of ultimatum, had broken Gorbachev's will and forced him to carry out their plan to return Russia to totalitarian rule. To these

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This article originally appeared as "A Glut of Conspiracy Theories" in The Los Angeles Times on April 16, 1991.

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