Staunton, August 22 – For many former Soviet republics, the defeat of the August 1991 coup marked a significant step toward independence; and it was in its wake that the three Baltic countries recovered de facto what they had never lost de jure, their status as independent countries, and they remember that day as a victory.
But there is one former Soviet republic, the Russian Federation, whose leaders not only do not celebrate the defeat of the coup in Moscow but instead have taken steps to overshadow that anniversary by organizing alternative holiday – the Day of the Russian Flag – and this year by banning the kind of demonstrations that led to the defeat of the coup.
In an article for Tallinn’s Postimees newspaper, Russian regionalist Vadim Shtepa argues that the current Kremlin leaders have what are for them compelling reasons to take that step: “The August revolution of 1991 in Moscow was in essence the first Maidan;” and Vladimir Putin doesn’t want any repeat (rus.postimees.ee/6758288/zapreshchennyy-avgust-ili-pochemu-v-rossii-ne-prazdnuyut-pobedu-nad-putchem reposted at region.expert/august/).
Any discussion of the coup and its defeat for Putin and his regime has “unwelcome associations because it shows that the powers that be now in place which disperse peaceful civic protests are the heirs of the putschists who brought forces into Moscow” and not of the Russian people who resisted and ultimately defeated them.
Even more unfortunate, Shtepa suggests, is that “for the current Moscow opposition as well, celebrating the latest anniversary of August 1991 is also ridiculous because it raises an uncomfortable question: do you really consider yourselves to be the victors” in that long-ago event?
“Unpredictable Russian history made a strange pirouette,” Shtepa continues. In the wake of the coup, almost anyone who said that after a quarter of a century, “’free Russia’ would be an imperial dictatorship,” he would have been the subject of laughter, even though at the time there were some who speculated that exactly that would happen.
According to a verse circulating in Moscow at the end of 1991, he says, “Comrades, believe, democracy and glasnost will pass, and then the state security organs will remember our names.”
The recent protests in Moscow were a weak echo of the protests that blocked the coup and gave Russia a chance to change, but the current movement is so much smaller and so much more divided that it does not appear likely to have the impact of the crowds who came into streets in August 1991.
“The popular chant, ‘Russia will be free!’ in those times sounded different than it does today. Then, it set the new democratic Russia against the former Soviet empire. But today, Putin’s Russia itself has become an empire and therefore this chant ‘doesn’t work’” anymore. And one can feel its lack of content on the streets of the capital.
“The rebirth of the Russian tricolor in 1991 signified the end of Soviet history,” the regionalist writer says. “but today it is already not a democratic but an imperial flag just as it was before the 1917 revolution.” If the protest movement is to be successful, he argues, what is needed is the appearance of flags of the Moscow Republic.
Such a flag would be entirely appropriate not only because “potentially (as Moscow and the oblast) this would be quite a major republic, whose population would be larger than some European countries” but also because “in present-day Russia, the regionalization of protests is taking place.”
In Moscow as in the other regions of the Russian Federation, “the very same symbolic dividing up is taking place as did in 1991 when Russian politicians battled with Soviet ones. Only now, this division is within the Muscovites, between the city politicians and those who see themselves as part of ‘the federal’ system.”
Shtepa continues: “the Russian tricolor in various regions is associated now with centralist ‘federals.’ But someone with the flag of a Moscow Republic would become closer and more easily understandable to the citizens of Komi and Ingushetia, Ingria and Karelia, the Urals and Siberia where protests ever more often are taking place under their own regional flags.”
“Free republics in the future could agree among themselves about a new and real federation or confederation,” the regionalist author says. “But the empire will hold on to its capital to the last. And defeating it will hardly be as easy as defeating the August 1991 coup organizers was.”
The heirs of those people, who are now in power in the Kremlin, “have drawn the historical lessons” from those events, “in contrast to the current opposition.”