Staunton, August 24 – Unlike some Western leaders who suggested that the leaders of the August 1991 coup in Moscow included reformists on the model of Mikhail Gorbachev, Stanislav Shushkevich, then deputy chairman of the Belarusian Supreme Soviet and later president of Belarus, understood instantly that they were committed to “the revival of the old Soviet order.”
In an interview with Sergey Pavlovsky of “Tovarishch.online,” Shushkevich says that “when [he] heard about the composition of the State Committee for the Extraordinary Situation on Radio Liberty, he “understood that nothing good could be expected” from any of them and their actions.
(The Belarusian leader notes in passing that when Mikhail Gorbachev wanted to nominate him vice president, Yanayev – later vice president of the USSR and leader of the committee – couldn’t even tell Shushkevich the title of his candidate dissertation when the Belarusian asked him about it at the time.)
Shushkevich says that he wanted to convene the republic supreme soviet but that its chairman and his immediate boss, Nikolay Dementey, said there was no need for that given that he had spoken with Anatoly Lukyanov, the head of the USSR Supreme Soviet. Shushkevich said that shortly thereafter he assembled it but only on August 26 when the coup had failed.
The Belarusian leader says that he was surprised by the coup because he didn’t think that there were sufficiently numerous officials who could pull it off – with the exception of General Albert Makashov who was then the commander of the Volga-Urals Military District and a few others. “But they always were in a minority.”
He adds that the communists in Belarus supported the coup but that no one else did, although most people kept quiet because it was still during Soviet times. He notes that “after Chernobyl,” he had “a negative attitude toward Gorbachev, but could not openly express that under any circumstances.”
Had the coup succeeded, “the old nomenklatura would have accepted it,” Shushkevich says. Indeed, “it has returned to the Soviet system in the form of Aleksander Lukashenko” who understood “that it is necessary to play with them old-style Soviet games.” But the coup didn’t, and its collapse made the preservation of the USSR “impossible.”
The coup plotters “buried it,” he continues, arguing that “the defeat of the putsch became the date of the disintegration of the USSR. What happened in fact was a victory of a bourgeois-democratic revolution on the territory of the Soviet Union.” People began to respect “those values which the leadership of Belarus today doesn’t very much respect.”
Asked why some in the post-Soviet space want to see the USSR revived, Shushkevich said that is how “propaganda works: in the USSR everything was good, it is necessary to forget about everything bad.” But Moscow is trying to return to the Soviet order by making an attempt to restore the empire.
Such an empire “cannot exist without Ukraine,” and that is why Russia is using military force in an effort to “hold on” to it, the Belarusian leader adds. The restoration of an empire would be a tragedy because it would mean that the well-being of the population would be forgotten.
The regime of such a state would tell them that they should be proud to have a country and ignore everything else, Shuskevich concludes, much in the same way that Moscow is now invoking “Crimea is Ours” as a justification for any suffering and a reason for ignoring all problems.