25 years ago, Russia has escalated the constitutional crisis, President Boris Yeltsin used the army against the Parliament. The West supported him – and were wrong? DW talked to the experts.
The current government building on the banks of the Moscow river twice was the site of the dramatic events in Russia’s recent history. In August 1991, the White house became a center of resistance to the coup led by Boris Yeltsin, who climbed on the tank, has proclaimed itself the defender of democracy. In October 1993 there was again a centre of resistance – this time to the President by the Supreme Soviet and Congress of people’s deputies. When a power struggle escalated, Yeltsin used against their opponents Armored personnel carriers and tanks. It was the peak of the constitutional crisis that is being felt in Russia so far.
The bloody end of dual power
After the collapse of the USSR, Yeltsin tried to hold in Russia, rapid economic and political reforms. But the process was slow and was accompanied by a split in the society and the impoverishment of broad layers of the population. Including and against this in the Supreme Soviet and Congress of people’s deputies, which served as the Parliament opposed Yeltsin and blocked his policies. Many of his opponents were Communists and ultranationalists, so then the media often wrote about the “red-brown revenge”.
21 September 1993, Yeltsin issued a decree dismissed the two bodies exceeding their authority. In response, the Supreme Council and the Congress of people’s deputies voted to remove him from power. The actual dual power deteriorated on October 3, when armed opponents of the President stormed the mayor’s office and attempted to seize the Ostankino television center. Yeltsin used the army 4 Oct fired at the White house from tanks, causing it to burn. Footage of charred facade spread all over the world. Then killed more than 100 people. Yeltsin emerged from the conflict winner and issued in December 1993, a referendum on the draft new Constitution, which, among other things, significantly strengthened and expanded its powers. The then system of government uses the current master of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin.
“The hour of birth of democracy“
Even then, the question was whether the use of force by Yeltsin by the time of the death of Russian democracy or a necessary evil. And how to assess a situation experts today, 25 years later? Hans-Henning schröder (Hans-Henning Schröder), a former Russia expert at the Berlin Foundation “Science and politics” (SWP) in an interview with DW said that his assessment of those events has not fundamentally changed. “It was a conflict between two constitutional bodies, both of which were legitimized through elections,” says Schroeder. According to him, this conflict was “almost inevitable.” And after opponents of Yeltsin have moved to armed confrontation, “the use of force by state authorities seems clear.”
12 December 1993, when it approved a new Constitution, Schroeder calls the “hour of birth of democracy”. He notes that Yeltsin wanted to and received a Constitution under which the President would be untouchable. Although “had the chance to adopt a Constitution that would provide for a greater role for Parliament,” the expert believes. This chance was not used.
An uncritical attitude of the West
The West in 1993, supported Yeltsin. “It was an important stage in the ongoing confrontation between the vision of the model of Russia as a very conservative, seeking a kind of continuation of the Soviet Union, with the principle of authority “top-down” and a powerful security apparatus like the KGB or the FSB, says Andrew wood, the former from 1995 to 2000 and British Ambassador in Russia, and now – the expert of analytical centre Chatham House. We in the West feared the rise of the red-brown coalition of conservative forces with an admixture of nationalism.” Against this background, Yeltsin in the eyes of the West was “hoping for the best,” says wood.
Made the West the mistake of taking a very soft stance against Yeltsin after October 1993. “Looking back, I think Yes, but then Yeltsin was not dealing with a full Parliament.”
It seems he sees the situation and Hans-Henning schröder. “Then the West is dominated by a very uncritical attitude towards the whole process. Came W the fact that Yeltsin is democracy and what is good for him, good for democracy.” Although, the expert said, Yeltsin’s actions against the Supreme Council had undermined “the credibility of the Democrats as reformers”.
Greetings from the past
In Russia today a conflict by force between the President and Parliament seems impossible. At least already because all power is in the hands of the President. And yet Andrew wood sees some of the “analogy” between 1993 and 2018. “If you are Russian, you are concerned about the future, you don’t see how the Putin system can stably and continue to grow, you feel trapped,” says a former diplomat. And if you are a representative of the West, it may seem that Putin is a necessary source of stability, response to Russian habits and traditions.”
Russia today admits wood, similar to what was feared in 1993, the conservative and nationalistic system of government. “Novaya Gazeta” pointed out another connection with. At the recent gubernatorial elections in several regions of the Russian Federation defeated candidates of the Communists and LDPR positioning themselves as opposition to the Kremlin. But, as the newspaper writes, in contrast to 1993, in Russia today, nobody is afraid of the “red-brown”, even in liberal circles.
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