Monday, May 17, 2021

August 1991 Coup Plotters Get Their Own ‘Lives of Remarkable People’ Book

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – Almost every country has a book series that helps shape how its people see its past, its heroes and its enemies. In the case of Russia, there is “the Lives of Remarkable People” one which arose in Soviet times and features compact volumes on a wide variety of figures literary, political and otherwise.

            Now, Moscow literary critic Igor Gulin notes the appearance of a volume in that series about the coup plotters of August 1991. Written by historian Maksim Artemyev and entitled The GKChPists (in Russian, Moscow: Molodaya Gvardiya), the book is not revisionist but rather a sober assessment of what those opponents of change were about (

            Those who were involved in the events of 30 years ago are not romanticized but rather presented as “confused people who decided to take a bold and ridiculous step” to try to prevent their country from passing out of existence and their people from being swept up into revolutionary change.

            Artemyev himself at one time worked as secretary of Vasily Satordubtsev, the former head of the Peasant Union and later the governor of Tula Oblast, “the only member of the committee who remained in big politics,” the literary critic notes. But the book centers on KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov who organized the plot.

            The author of the new book insists on the following: the August events were not “a state coup, as many thought in the 1990s. On the contrary, they were an attempt to prevent a coup and to save a country which was disappearing from the map. The despair of its heroes thus evokes from the author a deeply felt but slightly ironic sympathy.”

            Gulin reviews alongside this volume five other new books about the final years of the Soviet system:

·         Igor Orlov and Aleksey Popov’s Olympic Commotion: Forgotten Soviet Modernization (in Russian, Moscow: Higher School of Economics) in which the authors seek to show that the 1980 Olympivs was not so much a sporting event as an attempt at modernization of the economy;

·         Sergey Plokhiy’s Chernobyl, The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe (translated from the English and published in Moscow by NLO);

·         Dmitry Okrest and Yegor Sennikov’s They Fell Away: How and Why Socialism Ended in Eastern Europe (in Russian, Moscow: Bombora) which examines how a wide variety of developments in the former bloc came to affect the last years of Soviet power;

·         And Vladimir Videmann’s Forbidden Union-2 (in Russian, Moscow: RIPOL), the memoirs of a Soviet hippy which provides an unusual view of the developments of the last 30 years of the USSR.

Gulin provides an important service by reviewing these books, as far too often both Russians and others have ignored all that now can be learned from publications appearing about the last years of the Soviet Union preferring instead to assume that their notions formed earlier don’t need any correction.

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