FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION AND THE FAILURE OF THE WEST

Wall Street on December 16, 2016, published an article by Garry Kasparov on what happened after the fall of the Soviet Union 25 years ago. At first Gasparov was an optimist hoping for freedom and democracy for all peoples of the Soviet Union. Excerpts below:

Earlier visits to Western Europe confirmed my suspicions that it was in the U.S.S.R. where life was distorted, as in a funhouse mirror.

“Gorbachev’s perestroika is another fake,” Czech-American Director Milos Forman at a meeting warned that the Soviet leader’s loosening of state controls, “and it will end up getting more hopeful people killed.” I insisted that Mr. Gorbachev would not be able to control the forces he was unleashing. Mr. Forman pressed me for specifics: “But how will it end, Garry?”

I replied—specifics not being my strong suit—that “one day, Miloš, you will wake up, open your window, and they’ll be gone.”

The U.S.S.R. ceased to exist in 1991, but there are plenty of repressive, authoritarian regimes thriving in 2016. The difference, and I am sad to say it, is that the citizens of the free world don’t much care about dictatorships anymore, or about the 2.7 billion people who still live in them.

Ronald Reagan’s warning that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction” was never meant to be put to the test, but it is being tested now. If anything, Reagan’s time frame of a generation was far too generous. The dramatic expansion of freedom that occurred 25 years ago may be coming undone in 25 months.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the U.S.S.R. was the end of watch for the anti-Communist coalition formed by Harry Truman after World War II.

The U.S. in 1992 had unrivaled global power and influence, more than at any other time in history. Yet instead of using it to shape a new global framework to protect and project the values of democracy and human rights—as Truman had done immediately to put Stalin in check—the free world acted as though the fight had been won once and for all.

Even worse, we made the same mistake in Russia and in many other newly independent states. We were so eager to embrace the bright future that we failed to address our dark past. There were no truth commissions, no lustration—the shining of light on past crimes and their perpetrators—no accountability for decades of repression.

We in Russia naively equated democracy with wealth, as if the ballot box functioned like an ATM—and we looked on enviously as many of our former Warsaw Pact brethren enjoyed the benefits of massive Western investment. With so few strings attached to the loans and credits Russia received, it was easy for the well-connected to game and profit from the system.

When Vladimir Putin took power in 2000, he found few obstacles capable of resisting his instinct to remake Russia in his own KGB image.

Mr. Putin’s vulgar rhetoric of security and national pride would have worn thin quickly had the price of oil not begun to skyrocket in the new millennium.

A rising cash flow enabled him to negotiate a Faustian bargain with the Russian people: your freedoms in return for stability. Few envisioned how far he would go in collecting on that bargain, but that’s always the trap with empowering authoritarians. Every step Mr. Putin took without consequences encouraged him to take another, and another.

Outside Russia, at every turn, Europe and the U.S. failed to provide the leadership the historic moment required. (Emphasis added by Varldsinbordeskriget)

Even today, members of the Western democratic establishment praise Mr. Putin as a “strong leader”—as he enters his 17th year of total power in an imploding Russia that millions have fled.

To paraphrase Tolstoy, every repressive state is repressive in its own way—but socialism has proved uniquely toxic. The utopian communist idea competed directly with capitalism and lost. Instead of admitting this failure, Soviet leaders squeezed the soul from their citizens by forcing them to perform in the macabre perversion of human nature that is totalitarian socialism.

Instead of believing that happy, successful individuals make for a successful society, socialism insists that a perfectly functioning system will produce happy individuals. When the system comes first, the individual becomes an afterthought. When the system fails, individuals are blamed for not surrendering to it enough.

The architects of the Cold War understood that there could be no lasting peace unless the Soviet Union was contained and opposed at every turn. That lesson has been forgotten, along with so many others.

In the old days, I was also asked regularly why I did not defect instead of spending half my time fighting my nemesis Anatoly Karpov at the chessboard and the other half fighting with the Soviet authorities. My answer was always the same, that I wanted to change my country and improve things for everyone, not just for myself.

Today, I live in exile New York City, driven there not by the Soviets but by a bloodthirsty Putin regime that has no ideology beyond power and money.

…25 years later, the thugs and despots are flourishing once again. They still reject liberal democracy and the free market—not because of a competing ideology like communism, but because they understand that those things are a threat to their power.

[There is] hypocrisy and apathy [among] the most powerful nations in the world. Crimea is annexed, Ukraine is invaded, ISIS is rallying, Aleppo is laid waste, and not a one of us can say that we did not know. We can say only that we did not care.

Globalization has made it easy for the enemies of the free world to spread their influence in ways the Soviet leadership couldn’t have imagined, while the West has lost the will to defend itself and its values.

Mr. Kasparov is the chairman of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation and the author of “Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must be Stopped” (PublicAffairs, 2015).

Comment: Between 2008 and 2014 the West ignored the growing threat from Russia. After the Russian occupation of Crimea and hybrid warfare in eastern Ukraine the response of the West has been timid. The Obama administration has refused to give Ukraine military aid to defend itself. 25 years of neglecting the threat not only of Russia but of two other aggressive totalitarian empires, China and Iran, has left the West vulnerable. No doubt globalization, as Mr. Gasparov points out, has played into the hands of the enemies of the free world. It will now be up to the United States and a coalition of willing European nations to try to correct the mistakes made since 1992.

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