Monday, January 31, 2022

Beloveshchaya was Not the Turning Away from Empire Many Think, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble     

            Staunton, Dec. 11 – The Beloveshchaya accords of December 1991 did not mark “the disintegration of the last empire” as many now think, Vadim Shtepa says. “On the contrary, its rapid restoration has occurred in the years since, most prominently in the very country which was the initiator” of the tripartite talks 30 years ago.

            The Soviet Union ceased to exist in August of that year, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal says. What remained after that was only a confederative project which was all too soon discarded. As a result, “not one of the signatory countries maintained the freedoms they had achieved” under perestroika ( reposted at

            “Already in 1990, the one-party system was done away with, real, free and competitive elections took place at all levels, and an unbelievably liberal Law on the Press was adopted which banned all censorship,” Shtepa continues. There was a sense that history was moving forward, but that did not last long after Beloveshchaya.

            In Russia, the symbols of empire and the reality of authoritarianism have returned with full force and Moscow is now seeking to extend them to Belarus and Ukraine. But it is not just in Russia where this has happened, he argues. It has occurred in almost all the former union republics.

            There has been a widespread retreat from the levels of freedom available in perestroika times, and “instead of an unrealized confederation which made the principles of democracy its basis there has emerged a strange ‘Beloveshchaya empire’ as a community of authoritarian regimes.”

            It is often said that democracy “triumphed only in the Baltic countries, but this is a certain exaggeration,” Shtepa says. The imposition of the status of non-citizens on those moved in by the Soviets, however justified for historical reasons, broke the alliance between Balts and Russians and drove many of the latter into the arms of “Russian neo-imperial propaganda.”

            And even within the Russian opposition, pre-perestroika attitudes have returned. At the recent Free Russia Forum in Vilnius, most delegates viewed developments outside of Russia as secondary and wanted to focus exclusively on changing the entire country according to some single matrix.

            This is reminiscent, the Russian regionalist says, of many of the same people in perestroika times who treated the various republics as “somehow provincial,” an approach which “in the end left them with nothing” and only added to the forces returning Russia and many of the others to “pre-perestroika times.”


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