The following essay was written by a guy who lived in Ukraine when the former Soviet Union dissolved. It's also a spot-on analysis of what's been happening in the US for the past 8 years. And accordingly, it's a warning and a model for what to watch for as the Left counterattacks.
And they damn sure are.
I've edited it extensively but it's well worth clicking this link to read the original. This guy nails it.
A reflection by a witness 25 years later
By Oleg Atbashian 12/30/2016
years ago the European Union didn't exist, and neither did China's
economic powerhouse. The Berlin wall had just come down. Hillary Clinton was a little-known, mouthy First Lady
of Arkansas. The media were gleefully predicting that Donald Trump would
never recover after the bankruptcy of his Atlantic City flagship.
other side of the iron curtain Vladimir
Putin dabbled in minor corruption working for the mayor of Saint
Petersburg, which had just been renamed from Leningrad. The KGB meddled
in other countries' affairs as usual, spreading "fake news" and helping
leftist politicians win elections--without a whisper of objection from the West's
Then suddenly the USSR disappeared.
Political scientists have speculated endlessly on how and why that happened. I want to describe how it looked and felt
from the viewpoint of a
voiceless, powerless Soviet citizen trying to make sense of the
History says the USSR ended on December 26, 1991, but for us
Soviet citizens the dissolution began earlier and happened
By 1991 very
few people feared or believed the Communists any longer, ridiculing
their institutions and their lying media. A typical political joke at
the time was about a man who always complained that Communists had run
out of everything - food, toilet paper, consumer goods, and so on. So
the KGB brought him to their office and tried to explain that the
country was going through historic changes and we all needed to be
patient. "You should be thankful this isn't the old days when you could
be shot," the KGB officer said, pointing a finger to his head. To which
the man responded, "Ah, so you've also run out of bullets."
the Soviet Union was a model of international solidarity and brotherly
love. Unofficially, it was a prison of nations. Any non-Russian
nationalist sentiment was viewed as treason. By contrast, Russian nationalism was encouraged; it was a glue that
held the country together, which effectively turned ethnic Russians into
jailers. What started as a maximum-security prison, however, towards
the end degraded into a low-security facility with crumbling perimeter
fencing and drunken jailers who no longer wanted their jobs.
first inmates to get away were the
three Baltic states, but those had been known malcontents who always
kept to themselves and their escape wasn't critical to the empire's
survival. But when the second-most powerful republic--Ukraine--broke away, the compulsory "brotherly union" could no longer
Secession from the USSR had been a matter of hypothetical
speculation for months in all the Soviet states. However,
after a failed communist coup d'état in Moscow on August 19, that idea
was upgraded from hypothetical to absolutely urgent and necessary.
A few days later, on August 24, Gorbachev dissolved the
Communist Party, eliminating the force that held the USSR
together. On the same day, no longer bound to the Kremlin's masters,
Ukrainian leadership declared independence from the USSR, pending a
popular referendum in December. Other Soviet republics quickly followed
On December 1 90% of Ukrainian
voters (including me) chose independence. Opponents of the referendum
had tried to scare us with the specter of Ukrainian nationalism, which
they said was as bad as Nazism. But a 90% vote for exit in a country
where only 70% were ethnic Ukrainians proved that people feared staying
in the USSR more than they feared the "scary" nationalists. All they
wanted was to live as a normal independent European nation.
U.S. Press Secretary Fitzwater cautiously congratulated us on the
results of the referendum, but reminded us that the official recognition
of an independent Ukraine would take time. Foreign governments
expressed concern about 1.5 million soldiers and 176 nuclear missiles
based in Ukraine, as well as about its industry producing aircraft
carriers, heavy military planes, and missile launching equipment (these
concerns were removed later after the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which
Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons and demilitarized in exchange for
guarantees of its territorial integrity).
But the real point of no
return was crossed a week later, on December 8, when leaders of the
three Slavic republics of the union - Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine -
gathered behind Gorbachev's back at a mansion deep in the Belorussian
woods and signed a declaration proclaiming that "the Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics no longer exists as a subject of international law
and a geopolitical reality."
The declaration, known as the
Belavezha Accords, announced the formation of the Commonwealth of
Independent States, or the C.I.S., and welcomed other formerly Soviet
republics to join. Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk called it a model
for the European Community, based on "horizontal relationships" as
opposed to the "vertical relationship" with the central government in
the form of a pyramid with Gorbachev at the top.
The new country looked exactly
like the old one: the climate, the buildings, the language, the people
and their problems. And yet something was different, something in the
air, something that pioneers must feel in new territories: a chance to
start a new life.
Imagine being born and living an
entire life in a bomb shelter, seeing everything in the artificial
light, breathing filtered air, and learning about the outside world only
from military reports. My generation was luckier than others - we were
still young, in our early thirties, when we stepped out of the bomb
shelter and walked on our shaky legs into the forbidden sunshine. Some
of us couldn't get our eyes off of the sun and went blind, proving that
our elders were right - the sun was dangerous!
But the rest of us didn't care. Unlike the bulbs of measured brightness, the sun was also equally bright and warm for everyone.
I grew up knowing there
were things we shouldn't talk or think about. Life
would have been easier if the list of forbidden things existed, similar to the List of Forbidden Rock Bands
But of course if such a list of forbidden things existed, we would by
definition be forbidden to see it.
All we knew was that things on that
list were always changing and so we had to be careful what we say and to
whom, which taught us never to trust our own judgment. Instead, we were
expected to check the Party newspapers for reliable updates on how to
see the reality correctly on any day of the week. Once I entered the
workforce, newspaper subscriptions became mandatory.
Our teachers--delivering the party line--taught us that individual liberty resulted in crime, violence
and depravity. They told us the Communist Party was the only thing keeping us safe from chaos and certain death. Without guidance, people
couldn't be trusted to make the right choices, which was why we needed a
"Everyone knew" that if the
government stopped regulating society, the world would immediately
end in a terrible bloodbath.
But at the same time our teachers told
us that the Communist ideology was "historically optimistic." I
remember thinking that a capitalist society that trusted
people with their freedoms seemed far more historically optimistic than
the bunch of misanthropic curmudgeons in the Kremlin who taught us to
fear freedom and took everything away from us in exchange for a vague
We were taught to love our country for its beauty, mind, and
soul - and so we did, while secretly hating it for its deformity,
idiocy, and needless cruelty. We
were the last of the Soviet breed.
resigned seventeen days later, by declaring the president's office
extinct. On the following day the Council of Republics voted the Soviet
Union (and itself) out of existence. It was December 26, 1991 - a date
forever stamped on the USSR's official death certificate.
I wish I could say "and everyone lived happily ever after," but that would be a lie.
official breakup had gone so smoothly in part because the former
Communist Party and government bosses were in a hurry to enjoy new
opportunities offered by the independent economies within a quickly
emerging private sector. The highly centralized Soviet system had been
too bulky and riddled with nepotism and corruption, leaving those
outside of Moscow fewer chances of advancement. The breakup gave the
formerly disadvantaged bureaucrats a chance to be the rulers of their
own corrupt domains.
My dreams to see Ukraine develop into a
prosperous European country were dashed when I realized how thoroughly
corrupted the society had become after decades of socialism. The way
most people imagined capitalism was the ugly caricature painted for them
by Communist propaganda. Instead of re-examining that wrong image, it
was simply assumed that ugly was the new beautiful. So we ended up
constructing a caricature of capitalism.
Our former Communist
elites found this approach agreeable. In the absence of qualified
experts, they were now in charge of transitioning to the market economy,
which in their minds was indistinguishable from crony capitalism. Soon
the former USSR had become a commonwealth of kleptocracies where
billionaire thieves ruled over impoverished subjects, beset by high
unemployment and hyperinflation. The only exception were the three
Baltic states that had retained some memory of how life was before their
Putin called the breakup of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical
tragedy of the 20th century." His idea to reassemble the USSR, albeit
in a different format, is critical to the survival of the immense
centralized kleptocracy he has crafted in Russia. His biggest fear is an
emergence of a transparent, functioning government in any of the
ex-Soviet states, which will make his loyal subjects wonder why Russia
can't also be like that.
Putin's notion of "maintaining Russia's sphere
of influence" most fittingly translates as "using bribes and threats to
keep the neighboring corrupt regimes dependent on Russia's corruption,
thus ensuring the continuation of his power."
For that very
reason, when in 2014 Ukrainians revolted against their pro-Russian
corrupt government, Putin punished them by annexing the Crimea and
orchestrating a war in eastern Ukraine. His willingness to violate the
Budapest accord (and thus suffer international sanctions) prove how
critical for his power it is to keep his neighbors corrupt and
While the extent of Russia's meddling in American
politics this year has been greatly exaggerated (for obvious reasons),
such an interference isn't new and has existed since at least the 1930s.
Imagine how much damage Russia's interference, multiplied tenfold, can
do to a weaker neighboring country with a Russian-speaking majority and
frail democratic traditions.
In 1994 I emigrated to America,
hoping to raise a family in a country ruled by reason and common sense.
But lately I've been noticing a shortage of these commodities in the
U.S. as well. While the ratio of reasonable people in this country may
still be greater than elsewhere in the world, the ignorant passion for
Soviet-style politics is very alarming.
American media now publishes articles that read like Pravda's
updates on this week's current truth. American entertainers and
moviemakers are consistently pushing the politically correct party line.
Social media giants are censoring articles if they don't like the political viewpoint.
Indoctrination in American schools and colleges is worse than I
saw in the Soviet Union. And finally, as in the old USSR, more people are
beginning to resent the "progressive" establishment and mock the lying
I believe the increasing popularity of socialist ideas in the U.S. is mainly due to the decades-long Soviet meddling in American affairs,
aimed at demoralizing the public and promoting the "correct" people and
opinions in places where it mattered most. According to KGB defectors
only about 15% of Soviet intelligence activities in the U.S. were actual
espionage; the rest were what they call "influence operations."
The seeds sown have now
blossomed, and today's
left-wing radicals in the Democratic party owe Russia a large debt of
gratitude for the size of their political base.
History is still being written. In this
country, where a citizen's voice still means something, we are a part
of this writing process. Trump's victory and the movement it started
makes me feel "historically optimistic" again. This winter it is
America's turn to be a blank page. It is up to us what will be written