How ineffective was the Soviet economy

Russia and Germany

Felix Riefer

To person

is a political scientist and is doing his doctorate at the Chair of International Politics and Foreign Policy at the University of Cologne on the subject of "Russia's Foreign Policy under Putin". [email protected]

On March 18, 2017, pro-Russian groups in Sevastopol celebrated the third anniversary of the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which under international law still belongs to Ukraine. On a stage children sang the Russian rock song "The Flag of My State" by Denis Majdanow. The choreography envisaged a patriotic liberation scenario: First, girls in blue dresses dance around cheerfully. But apparently the idyll is threatened by an imagined external enemy, because the dance is interrupted by a group of boys and girls dressed in military uniforms and armed with rifles representing a fight including exchanges of fire and grenade throwing. After the successful liberation campaign, everyone can continue dancing together and hoist the Russian tricolor. The children's choir sings the catchy chorus:
    I take another step forward
    and I hoist my flag
    through bad winds of unrest in the realm of disbelief.
    In this fight I am in the ranks
    and believe in my truth.
    And I hoist the flag of my state
    I hoist the flag of my state. [1]
The performance itself may have been an insignificant marginal phenomenon; symbolically, however, it possibly stands for more. Because Majdanov's songs are - at least among Russian state authorities - apparently the greatest esteem: since February 2017 he has been "Honored Artist of the Russian Federation" and in 2015 he was already the winner of the "FSB First Prize" (the successor to the KGB) in the category "Musical art". So how do the Russian functional elites, many of whom see themselves as defenders of their state against the "evil winds of unrest", view the world? What does “their truth” look like that is sung about by Majdanov? And more importantly: Do your historical narratives actually appeal to a majority in Russia - and to what extent do correspondingly colored interpretations of history have a political effect?

Since the annexation of Crimea in March 2014 at the latest, the interpretation of historical events has played a major role in the assessment and legitimation of foreign and domestic policy decisions of the Kremlin. In addition to the widely acclaimed speeches by President Vladimir Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also regularly provides information on the perceptions within the ruling elite, for example in a 2016 article for the Moscow magazine "Russia in Global Affairs". In this he sets out a historical framework for interpretation of today's Russian foreign policy: Russia is a European country, but does not share the views of history widespread in Western Europe - for example about the end of the Soviet Union. The positive role of his country in world history justifies its current position "as one of the leading centers of the modern world, and as a source of values ​​for development, security and stability". [2] The extent of the politicization of history and the emphatically alternative interpretation of history to justify current politics is quite worrying - some observers are already speaking of a "securitization" of history in Russia. [3]

In order to understand the worldview promoted by the Kremlin and the related narratives, one cannot avoid recapitulating the post-Soviet development of Russia and its relations with the West. One question in particular comes to mind: How did Mikhail Gorbachev's policy, which was shaped by? Glasnost (Transparency, openness) and Perestroika (Reconstruction), today's interpretation of the end of the Soviet Union - according to which this was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century" - arise? As early as 2005, 14 years after the implosion of the socialist empire, Putin clearly expressed this interpretation in a speech on the state of the nation. [4]

1989 miracle year and civilized divorce

30 years after Nikita Khrushchev gave his secret speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and heralded de-Stalinization, Gorbachev launched his perestroika policy at the 27th Congress in February 1986. In the one-party state, all areas of life were regulated by the CPSU at that time, including the "Means of Mass Information" (SMI), as the media were called in the Soviet Union and are still called in Russia today. "Consciousness determines being" - following this reinterpretation of the motto of Marxist materialism ("Being determines consciousness"), Gorbachev tried to enforce his policy of openness and restructuring - largely supported by companions such as journalist Yegor Jakowlew and newspapers such as " Moskowskije Novosti "and" Ogonyok ". He was convinced that a society needed an unhindered exchange of information and that this goal could only be achieved in a democracy. [5]

The new openness did not accelerate the transformation of socialism, but it opened a valve that soon could not be closed. For the first time, state errors and crimes from the time of Stalinism, which until then had been officially concealed or even covered up, were publicly admitted. Even uncomfortable opinions that were previously subordinate to the official Soviet narrative were now given a public. In particular, the perestroika discourses focused on coming to terms with the past.

Both Gorbachev and Yakovlev belonged to the generation of Schestidesjatniki ("Sixties") who, as young politicians in the 1960s, helped shape the "thaw period". In a way, both wanted to build on this phase of social opening before the crackdown on the Prague Spring in 1968. Indeed, Alexander Dubček's "socialism with a human face" can certainly be thought of as a model for perestroika. But as early as 1968 it had become clear that the Soviet system could only be held together by force: the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine had given the "brother states" only limited sovereignty and the leadership in Moscow the right, if necessary like in Prague, if socialism was threatened to intervene by force. Overall, Gorbachev's opening up was initially hesitant, but developed its own momentum towards the end of the decade.

The year 1989 was soon seen internationally as the annus mirabilis, The Soviet Union, under Gorbachev, said goodbye to the Brezhnev Doctrine, thereby releasing its satellite states into freedom. Even between the great powers, the signs during this time were towards relaxation and rapprochement. The fall of the Berlin Wall became the symbol of these days of reconciliation between East and West. [6] But for the Soviet Union this situation developed into an existential crisis: Not only did the ties between Moscow and its satellites break, the Union's own territories also increasingly ignored instructions from the Kremlin.

The impending state collapse was finally steered into orderly channels. On December 8, 1991, Boris Yeltsin, Leonid Kravchuk and Stanislau Schuschkewitsch, the heads of state and government of the three Slavic Soviet republics of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, met in Wiskuli, Belarus. Gorbachev as President of the Soviet Union was not involved. They negotiated a compromise at a hunting lodge in the Belowescha jungle in the Belarusian-Polish border area. With the resulting document, which was to go down in the history books as the Belowescha Agreement, they founded the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The preamble stated: "The USSR, as the subject of international law and as a geopolitical reality, has ceased to exist." [7] The states of the Soviet Union, but also other states that shared the goals and principles of the agreement, became optional to join the new community.

Just a few days later, the other Soviet republics - with the exception of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Georgia - joined them at the meeting of their presidents in Kazakhstan. Georgia was supposed to join a few years later, but the three Baltic states, which had already declared their independence in 1990, did not see themselves as successor states to the Soviet Union. They consider their forced integration into the Soviet Union in 1944 to be illegal and ineffective under international law. The representatives of the other republics confirmed the result from Wiskuli and signed the so-called Alma Ata Declaration on December 21, 1991, in which the dissolution of the Soviet Union was laid down: "In recognition and respect for the territorial integrity of everyone and the inviolability of existing borders ( ...) the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ceases to exist with the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States. "[8]

From the outset, however, this consensus was shaped by two opposing objectives: while some of the signatory states, namely Russia, sought a kind of transitional structure to a later confederation or even federation of the former Soviet territory, others saw the declaration primarily as an opportunity for a "civilized divorce". This applies, for example, to the Ukraine, for which the CIS was nothing more than a transitional structure on the way to national independence. [9] The tension between these opposing views is reflected in today's conflicts.

In his "Address to the Soviet Citizens", which was broadcast on television on December 25, 1991, and at the same time his declaration of resignation, Gorbachev summed up the zeitgeist: "We opened up to the world and renounced the interference in foreign affairs and the deployment of troops outside our own And we were answered with trust, solidarity and respect (...) We became one of the most important pillars in the transformation of modern civilization on a peaceful and democratic basis.The peoples and nations have received real freedom to follow the path of their own development determine (...). "[10]