Republics Still Lack Democracy

By Vladimir Shlapentokh. Vladimir Shlapentokh is a professor State University, East Lansing, Mich. | The Christian Science Monitor, August 15, 1991 | Go to article overview

Republics Still Lack Democracy


Vladimir Shlapentokh. Vladimir Shlapentokh is a professor State University, East Lansing, Mich., The Christian Science Monitor


THE new wave of nationalism sweeping the world has left several changes in its wake - new political alliances, new borders, democratic values.

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

No one benefited more from the autonomy granted the Soviet republics than did their leaders. Nursultan Nazarbaiev of Kasakhstan, Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, and Ayaz Mutalibov of Azerbaijan, for example, 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 about embracing their countries' budding democratic institutions, insisting that such institutions endangered the republics' sovereignty and incited ethnic conflicts. To buttress their anti-democratic positions, these leaders not only retained their positions as first secretaries of the regional communist parties, but used the existing party and state apparatuses as bases for personal power and as tools for crushing nascent democratic movements.

By demanding democratization in the Soviet Union and by signing declarations promising the observance of human rights in their republics, these leaders have shown themselves to be chips off the old Soviet despotic bloc. Despite their democratic posturing, it is clear that the level of freedom in their regions is far lower than that in Moscow.

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

In Georgia and Armenia, the new nationalist leaders have created their own political structures which are deeply hostile to Moscow and the Communist Party. Despite the oppositional nature of these structures, however, the degree of freedom in these republics is far less than that seen during the transitional period of 1987 to 1990, when both the center and the nationalist movements were weak and political freedoms were at their highest level. …

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