Why was the Soviet coup of 1991 unsuccessful?

Putsch against Gorbachev

When Gorbachev came to power in 1985, the Soviet Union was in a difficult economic situation. He quickly realizes that the planned economy has reached its limits and that the country is threatened with uncontrolled collapse without far-reaching reforms. With glasnost (transparency) and perestroika (restructuring) he wants to turn things around, open the economy to private initiatives and involve the population in political decision-making processes. In his view, abolishing the Soviet Union was never an issue, but he did want to turn it into a democratic state.

Symbolic figure of change

His ideas fall on particularly fertile ground in divided Germany. Gorbachev becomes a figure of hope in East and West. For the opposition in the GDR, his reforms became a model for a possible restructuring of the state. The SED, headed by Honecker, does not want to know anything about it. Everything that has to do with perestroika is simply banned. Even wearing Gorbachev posters at official demonstrations can result in criminal prosecution. The party's motto "To learn from the Soviet Union means to learn to win" no longer applies at this time. And yet his ideas have prevailed. It was Gorbachev who made sure that the Soviet tanks were not used against the demonstrators in the fall of 1989. Without him, German reunification and the withdrawal of Soviet troops would not have been possible. His idea of ​​a "Common House Europe" made him a symbol of democratic change in Eastern and Central Europe. In Germany in particular, he is still valued and admired to this day.

Coup and state of emergency

In Russia, on the other hand, the situation was a little different from the start. The economic reforms that Gorbachev had initiated did not bear the desired fruits there. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the supply situation in the Soviet Union is still catastrophic. At the same time, more and more republics are striving for more autonomy and independence. A reason for reactionary circles in the government to attempt a coup in August 1991 to secure the power of the communist party and to stop the huge empire from drifting apart. On August 18, Gorbachev was arrested in the Crimea, where he was currently staying. Troops are gathered in Moscow and a state of emergency is declared. But the coup failed. Masses of people take to the streets in Moscow and Leningrad. You are on the side of democratic reforms. Boris Yeltsin, at that time already President of the Russian Federal Republic, leads the demonstrators and becomes their mouthpiece.

Resignation and dissolution of the USSR

When Gorbachev returned to Moscow on August 22, the coup was averted. But the first and only president of the Soviet Union has already lost his power at this point. During his speech to the Assembly of the Supreme Soviet on August 23, 1991, Yeltsin interrupted Gorbachev in front of the camera and signed a decree banning the Communist Party in Russia. For Gorbachev this means an enormous loss of legitimacy: the party that made him president no longer exists. Five months later, on December 25, 1991, Gorbachev finally abdicated and handed over the suitcase with the nuclear weapons code to his successor Boris Yeltsin. The following day the Soviet Union is dissolved. Gorbachev disappears from the big political stage.

The hard 1990s followed, with organized crime unleashed, opaque privatizations and rampant corruption. In the eyes of most Russians, it is precisely Gorbachev who is at the beginning of this process. This opinion has hardly changed to this day. He is still hostile in the population and referred to as a traitor.

TV | 10/23/2018 | 9:15 pm