All posts by jrc554

About jrc554

Virginia Tech '15 Political Science Major and Economics Minor From Massapequa, NY

The August Coup, 1991


Boris Yeltsin urging resistance against the August Coup

With the election of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, the Soviet Union looked like it was on a path of reform on all levels, from economic to political to social.  Obviously, hard lined Soviets would be opposed to such reforms and changes in the Soviet Union that they have already obtained power in and have become accustomed to.  At this time, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, and Estonia had already declared independence from the Soviet Union, and the SU itself was experiencing food shortages and a shrinking economy.  One of the most influential tipping points that caused this coup was the idea of the new Union Treaty, which would create a federation of independent soviet states, that only had a common foreign policy, military, and president.  After finding that eight of the nine republics, not including the Ukraine, had all agreed to sign the treaty, hard liners high up in the Soviet government felt that they had to do something to prevent this from happening.

These hard liners, who consisted of the minister of defense, the minister of the interior, and the head of the KGB, just to name a few, drew up a referendum that placed Gennady Yanayev, the vice president, as acting president of the SU since Gorbachev was “unable to perform his duties”.  At the time, Gorbachev was sick and trying to recover at his holiday home, when this group of eight showed up to his residence and asked him to sign off on a state of emergency to maintain stability in Moscow and the rest of the SU.  Gorbachev refused and the group of rebels returned to Moscow, taking over the radio and newspapers, and preparing for an attack on the White House, which was used by the Supreme Soviet of Russia.  The attack was fended off with barricades and a lack of support for the coup.  Ultimately, those responsible for the coup were arrested within the next 48 hours, and Gorbachev remained in power.

This failed coup, a shrinking economy, push for reform, and an ever growing number of Soviet states declaring independence with no attempt to retake them eventually lead to the end of the Soviet Union four months later on December 24th, when it was announced that Mikhail Gorbachev would step down as acting president and the Russian Federation would replace the Soviet Union in the UN and take over the Soviet Union as the acting government body.

I really find this post as a beautiful culmination of events that continuously built upon each other  towards the dissolution of the original Soviet ideal and its purpose.  It seems that, at least in my opinion, that once the SU reached the Khrushchev Era, the policies to come seemed to be overly reform like, causing Soviet States to try and separate or support these changes, or way to authoritative, like the Brezhnev years, where rights and liberties were restricted and violence, both domestically and abroad, was more rampant.  It seems that the Soviet Union was a successful government for the generation that called for it and established it, and a poor one for those who inherited it and tried to reform it to an ever changing global and domestic society.

The Rise and Fall of The Aral Sea, 1985


From as early as 1939, canals began to be constructed redirecting rivers that feed the Aral Sea to the cotton field plains of Uzbekistan, which at the time was under Soviet Rule.  The construction of the original Great Fergana Canal was a part of Stalin’s Second Five Year Plan, which would increase the grain export industry in the region exponentially.  Eventually a second canal was constructed in the early 1960’s, known as the Karakum Canal, which relocated water from the Syr Darya and Amu Darya, which were two of the biggest feeder rivers to the Aral Sea, to the cotton fields of Uzbekistan.  Although the construction proved successful at first with huge profits from the now exponentially growing grain industry, several unintended consequences began to result in the region.

Once the 1950’s came about, scientists were able to notice the beginning stages of desertification in the Aral Sea region, by shortening coast lines.  These shortening coast lines began to destroy the once thriving industry, which at one point, contributed a sixth of the Soviet fish stock piles and was the source of somewhere between 30,000-40,000 jobs in the area.  Once the 1980’s arrived, the industry was completely diminished, with dead shipping villages and towns, and scattered shipping vessels sitting on dried up land.

Although, in the initial canal construction, Soviet scientists stated that the Sea was bound to dry up at some point in time regardless due to its geographic location and changing environment, they did not expect the health and economic consequences that would come along with it.  These dried up sea grounds left the now dust like excess runoff of fertilizers, dried up sea salts, and other man made waste laying around in the area.  Dust storms began to sweep these dusts and chemicals off the the dried up sea floor, and blow them into town and villages in the region.  The inhalation of these chemicals began to lead to a huge increase in the number of cancers, kidney diseases, liver diseases, new born deaths, and maternity deaths just to name a handful.  Besides the chemicals, the blowing of salts and their pile up in cotton and other agricultural fields killed off significant numbers of crops, sharply decreasing the Soviet and Uzbekistan economy.

In response, scientists devised a plan to redirect the canals in a way where water still reached the fields, but also began refilling the Aral Sea as well.  Although, the construction of these canals proved to be unpopular to those officials over seeing it in main land Russia, and the inefficiency of these poorly built canals and the need to build new ones proved more expensive then necessary.

In recent years, attempts to redirect groundwater flows into the Aral Sea have been made, and annual progress has been noted, but the figures from the groundwater move are quite small, and at this rate, the process of restoring the Aral Sea to per-canal standards will takes decades, and may never reach its original state.

I find it mind blowing that such drastic measures can be taken without grasping the full extent of the short term and long term effects to come along with it.  The scientists saying that the sea was bound to dry up in time sounds like an excuse to go through with the construction to accomplish that era’s “five” year plan that would later turn into a “two-hundred” year fix.  This, again, just goes to show the Soviet Union’s obsession with quick industrial growth, despite the result of long term economic, environmental, and human destruction on a massive scale.

Solidarity in Poland, 1980


The Solidarity movement in Poland began in 1970 at the shipyards in Gdansk in response to a sharp increase in food prices.  Workers responded by marching on the Polish Communist Party Headquarters and striking outside of it, ultimately setting it on fire.  This event sparked other movements in other port towns and cities, and spread even further throughout Poland as a result of the zero growth the Polish economy was experiencing.

A second attempt to increase food prices in 1976 led to an increase in sit downs and strikes, including the formation of the Workers’ Defense Committee.  Tensions began to reach a boiling point in Poland when a Polish cardinal was elected as a result of Pope John Paul II’s vocal support for the Polish working class.  The combination of international support and western economic aid to a failing Polish economy only required one more significant event.

That significant event that put the already defensive minded Communist party over the edge and lead to the formation of Solidarity in Poland was when the government announced that there would be a mandatory rise in the price of meat.  This declaration sparked increased support by workers for Solidarity, along with several face offs between the Polish Communist Party and Solidarity members. The Politburo urged the Polish Communist Party and other allied trade unions to mend ties with the working class by adjusting their economic policies which caused the Solidarity movement in the first place.

Despite the Soviets denying military intervention, to guarantee the put down of Solidarity in Poland, a solely Polish military operation, with the use of Marshal Law, took place where leaders of Solidarity were arrested, including the party’s leader Lech Walesa, and the organization had to go “underground” until it was able to reorganize membership and power around 1989.

Solidarity reappeared in Poland when the first anti-Communist candidate, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, was elected in 1989.  This was the first anti-Communist leader in the Eastern Bloc since Soviet occupation.  As one would imagine, this event of Solidarity in Poland would be seen as the basis for other anti-Communist revolts in Eastern and Central Asia, and ultimately prove to be one of the events that would ignite the fall of the Eastern Bloc, and eventually, the crumbling of the Soviet Union as a whole.

The Novocherkassk Massacre, 1962


In 1962 workers, from the Novocherkassk Electric Locomotive Works (NEVZ), marched on the Communist Headquarters in Novocherkassk in protest of Khrushchev’s passing of legislation that would double the prices for meat and dairy products.  The march on the headquarters turned into a labor strike consisting of thousands of laborers that were displeased with the new prices for these goods for multiple reasons.  NEVZ workers were the strongest crowd at the strike since they have been overworked recently since their factory began competing in a socialist competition, where they received no extra benefits or compensation for the extra work.  Secondly, it is rumored that their factory manager was over heard saying something along the lines that he could care less about the workers not being able to feed themselves.  When the protesters refused to disperse and heed the Soviet Army’s request one of the generals ordered his troops to fire their guns into the crowd.  The shooting resulted in 24 deaths, dozens injured, and the arrest of over 100 strikers for causing disorder and committing banditry.  Many of those charged with these crimes were exiled to Siberia.

Although one would think news of an atrocity like this would spread rather quickly to other nations and peoples, the Soviets managed to keep the major details and events secret until 1988, when close to two dozen bodies were found and ultimately connected to the massacre of ’62.  Once the discovery occurred, a Soviet newspaper acquired classified documents on the event and published an article revealing the true events that took place.

Part of the reason the Soviets were able to keep this event under wraps for so long was because they quickly and quietly buried the bodies of those killed and immediately shut down a second attempt at protest the next day.  Another important aspect of its secrecy was that Soviet authority grew concerned about the proletariat taking the upper hand, and in response, quickly organized themselves with the help of some Politburo members, executives in the communist party, who flew in the next day to Novocherkassk to assess the situation and stabilize it.

As our progression through 20th Century Russian History continues, it becomes more and more evident that the Soviets were able to hide the majority of human rights violations and oppressive actions quite effectively.  Many of the truths of Soviet massacres and abuses were kept secret up until the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Although other countries had ideas as to what was happening, the Soviets were able to keep many of the major details and evidence hidden from external eyes.  By successfully doing this, the Soviets were able to maintain friendly ties with other communist nations on the eastern bloc that they had annexed or aligned themselves with and, most importantly, maintain favorable relations with citizens throughout the Soviet Union by preventing the spread of this information domestically as well.  I feel that if a decent amount of this information got out, not only would there be a call for a large scale rebel movement, but other communist nations that the Soviets associated with may cut ties with the Kremlin and instead, support the proletarians movement for social, economic, and political reform in the S.U.

The Secret Speech on Stalin’s Cult of Personality, 1956


Following the death of Joesph Stalin in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev succeeded him as head of the Soviet Union.  Three years into his reign as the premier of the Soviet Union, during a meeting of the Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he gave a speech, which for the most part, was very critical and non-supportive of Joseph Stalin’s actions and style of rule.  Due to its in depth statements and sharing of information and opinions, the speech was never published in that specific congress’ preceding.  Although, as politics and foreign relations would have it, the speech was leaked to ministers and ministries within the Soviet government, and eventually, it made its way to the United States via a source in the Eastern Bloc.  The spread of this “Secret Speech” had detrimental consequences.

A few of the criticisms Khrushchev made on Stalin’s regime consisted of the Soviets lack of preparedness in 1941 during the Nazi invasion, massive human loss during war due to poor leadership, and the arrest and execution of Russian nationals who were in fact loyal to the Stalin and his Soviet regime.  Once these statements went international, communist regimes in the east began to experience political turmoil and imminent rebellion against the communist regimes they were living.  Clashes between Stalinists and anti-Stalinists were seen in Georgia, Poland, and Hungary.  This sparked even more intense wage debates between communist and anti-communist supporters in Poland, nearly leading to full on on violent conflicts.  One of the most recognizable repercussions at this time took place in Hungary, where an uprising began in October 1956 that not only proved detrimental to Poland’s political stability, but also threatened Khrushchev’s legitimacy and attempt to reconcile with the hard lines Stalinists.  One significant outcome from this speech was China’s denouncement of the Soviet Union’s post Stalin rule.  They denounced Khrushchev’s “revisionist” political ideals and cut off many political connections with them.

I’m sure that not only did Khrushchev not expect this speech to get out, but I doubt he expected the international and domestic response that came with it.  This one speech could’ve have proved much worse for the Soviet Union then it did, despite eastern Europe coming to the brink of rebellion.

Katyn Forest Massacre, 1943

In 1943, a German radio broadcast announced that a mass grave was discovered in the Katyn Forest area, just outside of Smolensk, Russia.  The victims of the massacre were believed to be those of Polish Officers taken captive in the 1939 Russian Invasion of Poland.  Stalin immediately denied the accusations, claiming that this was just a German tactic to make him and his government look like the bad guys.  When this news reached the Polish Government in Exile, the new government founded after Poland was captured by Germany and the Soviet Union, they called for an investigation by the International Red Cross to determine its legitimacy as a claim.  Once Stalin found out that there was a call for an investigation, he cut off all ties with the Polish Government in Exile and the International Red Cross.  Although the majority of people believed that Stalin ordered the execution of thousand of Poles in 1940, the official truth was not announced until 1990, when Gorbachev made a statement confirming that Stalin ordered the Secret Police (NKVD) to execute all the Poles that they had imprisoned from the 1939 invasion.

Stalin rationalized the initial invasion of Poland by saying that he was liberating Ukraine and Belarus citizens from oppressive Polish landowners, officials, and officers.  The Soviets took thousands of prisoners, but quickly realized that taking care of them would prove to be more expensive then beneficial.  Therefore, Lavrentii Beria, the People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs, was given the go ahead to execute almost all of the Polish prisoners they had simultaneously at all the different location they were keeping them.

To this day, Russia and Poland remain divided on the event as to what it should be classified as and if further reparations are necessary.  Poland sees it as an act of Genocide while Russia sees it as an event that took place during war.  This debate will most likely go on for quite awhile without an official agreement or solution.

The Kornilov Fiasco

The Kornilov Affair of 1917 can be quickly summarized as an event with significant miscommunication riddled with unanswered questions and actions.  Lavr Kornilov was the Commander in Chief of the army for the Russian Provisional Government, which was headed by Alexander Kerensky.  At first, the policies of the provisional government, for the most part, were everything that the citizens had wanted, which most importantly, consisted of more liberal reforms for the citizens.   Although, much sooner then expected, there was a resurgence for increased order and a move towards more right winged policies.  This was due to the continuous participation and poor performance of the Russian army in World War I and the economic toll it was taking on the Russian economy and industry.  Several events took place, which eventually became known as the July Days, where both soldiers and industrial workers protested the actions and policies of the Russian Provisional Government that they thought were failing them.  In these demonstrations, the Bolsheviks tried to take a leading roll in encouraging and directing the protests.  These demonstrations were the sparks that ignited the idea that a movement back towards more right winged and disciplinary policies were in order, and Kornilov, among many other Russian officers, Businessmen, and Politicians felt the same way.

Kornilov was appointed Commander in Chief of the Army by Kerensky, despite his fear of Kornilov becoming too powerful, in order to appease the right winged and conservative activists who’s influence was becoming more and more prominent in Russians politics.  Once Kornilov had this position, he made aggressive requests, such as being relieved of his “government” position so that he can operate independently with no red tape or bureaucratic road blocks, but of course, it was denied.  But this request laid the seeds for the tense relationship to come between Kornilov and the Provisional Government.  As mentioned before, Russia’s continued participation in WWI and the economic and social unrest resulting as a consequence made Kornilov fear that another revolution was in the near future.  Due to this belief, he sent troops close to Petrograd, where many of the demonstrations were taking place, without getting permission, or even asking for it, from the Government and Kerensky.  It took close to a month and increased social unrest for Kerensky to give official approval.

Following the government approval, Vladamir Lvov, and ex procurator, arrived where Kornilov was stationed to see what ground he was making Kerensky’s strategies that were meant to strengthen the government.  The three strategies were a dictatorship under Kerensky, an authoritative government that would put Kornilov in a significant position of power, and a military dictatorship that Kornilov would be the commander of.

The debate still stands as to whether Kerensky actually sent Lvov or if Lvov arrived to Kornilov by means of his own actions.  Either way, Lvov informed kerensky that the only strategy that has made significant progress was the establishment of Kornilov’s military Dictatorship.  Taken back by this startling news, Kerensky started a dialogue with Kornilov via telegraph where he posed as both himself and Lvov to figure out if Kornilov was seeking to over throw him.  Kerensky concluded that Kornilov was indeed trying to take power over the entire Provisional Government and relieved him of his position.  After Kornilov received this news, he believed Kerensky was being pressured by the Bolsheviks to make this declaration, and he responded Kornilov reacted by sending troops into Petrograd to put down the believed Bolshevik Coup.

As a result of this failed coup and overall miscommunication, Kornilov was removed from his position permanently and sentenced to jail, which he served at the Bykhov Fortress, along with other Army Officers that were believed to be cooperating with him.  Truth would have it that Kornilov only sent troops to attack Petrograd because he legitimately thought the Soviets were staging a coup to take over the Provisional Government, but obviously, Kornilov was incorrect in his beliefs.  With all of this being said, it is quite clear that not only was there blatant miscommunication, but more than likely, to some degree, a planned conspiracy to permanently remove Kornilov from power, which after all was said and done, ended up being the case.

Bloody Sunday, 1905

Bloody Sunday occurred on January 22nd, 1905 in St. Petersbrg, Russia.  It happened during a peaceful protest with unarmed citizens, mostly poor laborers, against Tsar Nicholas II over undesirable Tsarist policies.  Multiple groups, lead by Georgy Gapon, a Russian Orthodox Priest, were converging on the Winter Palace when the massacre took place.  The plan was for the Tsar to see the thousands of people protesting his policies so that he would consider changing them, but unbeknownst to them, he was not their.  Upon their approach to the Palace, Imperial Guards shot off warning shots for them to turn around and leave, but they didn’t.  Shortly after that, shots were fired into the crowd towards Gapon, killing about 40 people around him.  There are several different reports that recorded anywhere from 100 to 3,000 deaths.  Following this tragedy, popularity for the Tsar regime dropped sharply.  Many credit it this event as one of the sparks for the Revolution of 1905.

The December before in 1904, there was a similar strike at the Putilov Plant lead by Georgy Gapon, where workers protested for better wages, conditions and working hours.  In this protest there were no deaths or violence, but it was obvious that there was a sense of displeasure with the Tsarist regime.  Further protests and political actions were surely expected in the future.

Kharitonov’s House Yekaterinburg, Russia


The Kharitonov house is located in the Urals of Russia.  The house was built by Lev Rastorguyev in 1794, one of the wealthiest merchants in the region at the time.  Rastorguyev associated with the Old Believers of Russia, which are a group of Russian Orthodox Christians that separated from the main Russian Orthodox Church in 1666 in response to unfavorable reforms in the Church.  Anyway, Rastorguyev’s son in law, Pyotr Kharitonov, inherited the house, which is currently named after him.  In 1824, Kharitonov made additions to the palace which consisted of connecting building with covered passageways. Although, in 1837, Rastorguyev was sentenced to life in prison after being charged for the cruel treatment of his serfs.  Years later after the communist revolution, the house was rented out by the Ural Communist University starting in 1924.  Along with the house acting as these functions, it also served as a high court, prison, and a granary.  Currently, the house is mainly a tourist attraction.

The architectural design of the house is highly regarded as one of the most prominent structures in the entire region.  M.P. Malakhov, one of the most respected architects/designers of the time, is accredited for his use of Corinthian style columns and eye catching garden landscapes.