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  • Documents on Democracy

Soviet Union

The failed coup attempt of 19-21 August in the Soviet Union led to a remarkable series of political changes in the days that followed-the shutting down of the Communist Party, the dismantling of the old Soviet Union in favor of a transition to a new Union of Sovereign States, the independence of the Baltic states, and the establishment of a new governmental structure for the transition period. Excerpts from some of the many historic speeches and declarations issued in the course of these events appear below:

Excerpts from the statement by the coup plotters (the "State Committee for the State of Emergency in the USSR") to the Soviet people, 19 August 1991:

Compatriots, citizens of the Soviet Union, we are addressing you at this grave, critical hour for the destinies of our Motherland and our peoples. A mortal danger has come to loom large over our great Motherland. The policy of reforms, launched at Mikhail S. Gorbachev's initiative and designed as a means to ensure the country's dynamic development and the democratization of social life, has entered for several reasons a blind alley . . . .

Having taken advantage of the granted liberties and encroaching upon the first sprouts of democracy, there have emerged extremist forces that have embarked on a course toward liquidating the Soviet Union, ruining the state, and seizing power at any cost . . . .

All democratic institutions created by the popular will are losing weight and effectiveness right in front of our eyes. This is a result of purposeful actions by those who, grossly violating the fundamental law of the USSR, are effectively in the process of staging an anticonstitutional coup and striving for unbridled personal dictatorial powers . . . .

We intend to restore law and order straight away, end bloodshed, declare war without mercy on the criminal world, and eradicate shameful phenomena discrediting our society and degrading Soviet citizens . . . . [End Page 135]

Excerpts from Boris Yeltsin's statement to the citizens of Russia, 19 August 1991:

On the night of 18-19 August 1991, the legally elected president of the country was removed from power.

Regardless of the reasons given for his removal, we are dealing with a rightist, reactionary, anticonstitutional coup. Despite all the difficulties and severe trials being experienced by the people, the democratic process in the country is acquiring an increasingly broad sweep and an irreversible character. The peoples of Russia are becoming the masters of their destiny. The uncontrolled powers of the unconstitutional organs, including parties, have been considerably limited . . . .

We are certain that the organs of local power will strictly follow the constitutional laws and decrees of the president of the RSFSR.

We call on the citizens of Russia to give a fitting rebuff to the putschists and to demand a return of the country to normal constitutional development . . . .

Excerpts from Yeltsin's statement to the soldiers and officers of the Armed Forces, KGB, and MVD of the USSR, 19 August 1991:

Soldiers and officers of Russia! I address you in this tragic moment for Russia, for the whole world. Do not let yourselves be caught in a net of false promises and demagogical arguments about a soldier's duty! Do not become blind weapons of the criminal will of a group of adventurists who have trampled upon the constitution and laws of the USSR . . . .

You can build a throne of bayonets, but you cannot sit on it for long. There cannot and will not be a return to the past. The conspirators' days are numbered . . . .

Clouds of terror and dictatorship are gathering over Russia, over the whole country. But they cannot turn into eternal night. Law will triumph in our land and our long-suffering people will again find freedom. And this time-once and for all!

Soldiers! I believe that in this tragic hour you will be able to make the right choice. The honor and glory of Russian arms will not be stained by the blood of the people.

Excerpts from Yeltsin's speech at the funeral of the three young men who died defending the Russian Parliament, 24 August 1991:

My dear friends and relatives of Dmitri Komar', Vladimir Usov, and Ilya Krichevsky! We...


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pp. 135-141
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