Saturday, August 20, 2016

The 1991 Soviet Coup

Sovietback Saturday this week recalls the attempted coup d'etat in the Soviet Union 25 years ago this week.

On August 18, 1991, conservative members of the Soviet politburo attempted to put an end to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika. As far as they were concerned, Gorbachev's reform efforts had led to nothing but the loss of their puppet states in Eastern Europe and mounting disorder at home as citizens of non-Russian soviet republics clamored for independence from Moscow.
There is an unexpected link to current events in the cartoon I drew for the Racine Journal Times immediately after the coup. The Latino-American Chief of Police in Milwaukee was meeting a great deal of resistance from the rank and file to his attempts to modernize and humanize the force after decades of Chief Harold Breier's Old School, racist, authoritarian approach to law enforcement.

Resentment toward Chief Philip Arreola would boil over a month later over after he suspended the two police officers who had foiled the escape of Konerak Sinthasomphone from Jeffrey Dahmer, returning the naked, drugged 14-year-old Laotian boy to his killer.

But that's another story. This is supposed to be about the coup in the Soviet Union.
With Gorbachev held captive in Crimea by coup plotters, it fell to Russian President Boris Yeltsin -- elected in June over Gorbachev's preferred candidate -- to lead the resistance to the coup. Yeltsin's stirring speech from atop a Soviet tank won him worldwide admiration and respect and made him a hero at home. Three days after it was launched, the coup collapsed.

Gorbachev was returned to office, but the center of power was now with Yeltsin. And many of those anti-reform politicians were put out to pasture.

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