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

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

EMPEROR FRANCIS-JOSEPH: TEN HEADS OF STATE ARE NOT VIABLE SEPTEMBER 1991

This final snapshot, which details the efforts of the republican leaders to
forge a new state, captures the essence of the political struggle under Gor-
bachev: the seemingly futile attempt to move forward while still clinging to
the past; the desire for change clashing with the desire for continuity.

A few weeks ago, a new state emerged in Moscow: the Union of Independent Republics. According to the Union treaty, the new state will have a united army and will coordinate its economic and foreign affairs.

This venture is reminiscent of the agreement between the Austrian empire and Hungary in 1867. In an attempt to help save the Austrian empire from disintegrating, the Hapsburgs--the Austrian monarchy--decided to yield to the Hungarians, the empire's main ethnic minority, and go from being Hungary's fiercest enemy to being its ally. The single Austrian empire was divided in two, thus creating what is often referred to as the Dual monarchy. Following this division, Austria and Hungary each had their own government, parliament, court system, foreign policy, and, ultimately, army.

Although this brave and unorthodox decision extended the life of the empire, it generated intense conflicts between Vienna and Budapest that then dominated both the internal and foreign policies of the Dual monarchy until its demise at the end of World War I. The conflicts involved almost every vital political and economic issue--the army, taxes, banks, currency, customs, a budget, and so forth. In most cases, Austria's and Hungary's economic and political interests were diametrically opposed, and the empire often verged on chaos.

The recent developments in Moscow created a new political entity that makes the Dual monarchy seem simple in comparison. According to the plan adopted by the last session of the moribund Congress of People's Deputies, the new entity's major executive body--the State Council--will consist of the president of the Union and the ten republican presidents. This council, as well as two other ruling bodies--the Parliament and the Inter- Republican Economic Committee--will work by consensus, meaning that any member can veto any decision.

In light of the Dual monarchy's experience--that it is extraordinarily difficult to operate with even two governments and two parliaments--it is clear that the new entity that has sprung from the former Soviet Union will not work for long. It is preposterous to believe (as many in Moscow do) that the State Council will become a dictatorial body secretly defining the

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