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

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

FOCUS ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE SOVIET NATIONAL REPUBLICS JULY 1991

This snapshot finds the leaders of the breakaway republics digging deep into
the totalitarian bag of tricks they once railed against. Perhaps this snapshot
should be entitled "The more things change. . . ." Or perhaps "Power cor-
rupts. . . ." or perhaps "The sins of the fathers. . . ."

The new wave of nationalism sweeping the world has left several changes in its wake--new political alliances, new borders, and, in many cases, new conflicts between nationalist and democratic values.

Thus far, nationalism and democracy are coexisting fairly well in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, where people enjoy both freedom and national sovereignty. This is not the case, however, in the Soviet Union.

No one benefitted more from the autonomy granted the national republics than did the leaders of those republics. The leaders of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaidzhan greatly increased their personal power, and enthusiastically embraced both their new positions as heads of state and the recognition accorded them by foreign dignitaries and by their old sovereign, the president of the Soviet Union.

These leaders were less enthusiastic, however, about embracing their countries' budding democratic institutions. Such institutions, insisted the leaders, endangered the republics' sovereignty, incited ethnic conflicts, and could potentially leave existing totalitarian regimes intact. Thus, these leaders have used their new-found power to crush nascent democratic movements.

Despite their demands for democratization in the Soviet Union and their promises to protect human rights in their republics, the new republican leaders have sharply curtailed the level of political freedom allowed in their regions. Such blatant and cynical duplicity has revealed these leaders to be chips off the old Soviet despotic bloc.

President Karimov of Uzbekistan, for example, has actively persecuted the oppositional organization "Birlik," as well as several Uzbek deputies in the Soviet parliament who disagree with him. In addition, a correspondent from Komsomol'skaia Pravda, Moscow's most popular newspaper, was unceremoniously ousted from Uzbekistan recently simply for contacting persons Mr. Karimov considered "suspicious."

____________________
This article originally appeared as "Republics Still Lack Democracy" in The Christian Science Monitor on August 15, 1991.

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