Staunton, Nov. 22 – At the end of Soviet times, democratic movements in most of the national republics were small, Arif Yunus says; but they cooperated closely and were inspired by each other and the support they received from the West. After 1991, most of them were cut off from each other and received less support, and authoritarians took advantage of this.
In an extensive interview with the Lenta news agency, Yunus, who now resides in the Netherlands and continues his work as a campaigner for human rights in the post-Soviet states, says that “it was simpler and easier for those struggling for democracy in Soviet times than it is now” (lenta.ru/articles/2021/11/22/yunusov/).
“We felt ourselves part of a certain brotherhood,” he continues. “First of all, everyone in the world knew what the Soviet Union was.” Few today know much about the post-Soviet states. Second, there was support from the international community. And third, we actively communicated with each other, from Tallinn to Baku, and many travelled throughout the USSR.”
That meant that pro-democracy groups everywhere were inspired and encouraged by what was happening in the Baltic countries, Yunus says. But “now, we live and struggle within our own national republics and aren’t needed by anyone else.” Moreover, like himself and his wife Leyla, “many have been forced to emigrate.”
For all of us, “the Baltic programs and charters of the peoples fronts of that time were examples. And we were in solidarity with them,” he continues.
That did not mean that the restoration of authoritarian rule in many places was inevitable, but it has meant that those who want to go back to Soviet patterns of rule or to develop dictatorships of one kind or another do not face the kind of united front of opposition that such people did at the end of Soviet times.
Another reason for the declining influence of democratic movements and activists, Yunus says, is the position the dissidents took at the end of Soviet times. Most of them believed that “even if the USSR disintegrated and independent republics were created, it would be necessary to try to unite them in a formation analogous to the European Union.”
Except perhaps in Moscow, that is a far less attractive proposition for many in the former Soviet republics than more complete independence from the former center.