Interethnic Conflicts Pose Greatest Threat to Soviets
Needed: formula for 'smooth and peaceful disintegration' of USSR. INTERVIEW: SOVIET POLITICAL SCIENTIST
ANDRANIK MIGRANIAN, a prominent Soviet political scientist, is considered an original thinker, whose writings have significant impact on current politics. He is a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and works at its Institute of International Economic and Political Research. These are excerpts from a Monitor interview.How would you assess the events of the past few weeks? The failure of the coup dtat and the results of that are unprecedented in the 1,000 years of Russian history. Maybe we could have come to the same results, but without the interference of this coup, it would have taken a decade of crisis development. If we try to find a precedent for what happened here, in three days we passed through what Poland passed through in 10 years of martial law under Gen. [Wojciech] Jaruzelski. But unlike Poland, which had an interim government ... Russia entered immediately into the tenure of a [Lech] Walesa - [Russian President] Boris Yeltsin, if one can compare him with Walesa.... We have not yet had our own [economic] 'shock therapy.' I'm afraid that the difficulty in solving current problems in economic, political, and social spheres, and in interethnic relations ... can diminish Yeltsin's popularity and public support. But of course the results of these recent weeks are fantastic. We got out of communism. We have two major problems ahead of us: The first problem, which practically all the republics face after the collapse of communism, is how to transform a state-owned economy into a market economy [in each republic]. This is something Eastern European countries are trying to do. The second problem is unique to the Soviet Union - this is the problem of finding a formula for the peaceful and smooth disintegration of this country. The collapse of the center is just the beginning of the process of disintegration. There are a lot of conflicts inside the republics - even inside Russia. The role of Russia is very unclear, and it is very unclear who is going to play the role of the former center, as an institution which played the role of protector of national minorities and autonomies. That is why we enter into a serious and dangerous period.... If it is impossible to find a general formula for solving the problems of autonomies or national minorities, these interethnic conflicts could increase political instability, not only in the periphery of the former Soviet Union but in the heartland of Russia. This can open the road for clearly formulated Russian nationalism that can become a significant force, especially if one takes into account that these new democratic rulers of Russia - I have serious doubts that they can solve economic problems in the near future. Are you referring to conflicts such as that between Armenia and Azerbaijan or the Georgia-Ossetia conflict? Not only those kinds of conflicts. I foresee a lot of other conflicts which are now more low-profile, but which can turn into more dangerous conflicts with unforeseeable and unpredictable consequences. For example, it is very hard to predict the behavior of 12 million Russians in Ukraine. In the case of secession of the Ukraine and complete independence, the fate of [the Russian-populated] eastern Ukraine and Crimea is unclear. The same is now true in Moldavia. The Russian population in the Dniester republic [a breakaway Russian region of Moldavia] recently attacked Yeltsin on Soviet TV, saying that he betrayed them and he betrayed 60 million Russians living outside of Russia. Are these the kind of conflicts you believe will encourage the growth of Great Russian nationalism again? Yes, I'm sure ... I can't exclude that they could create a situation when Russia would have to interfere in these processes outside of its borders. Is that why there is a role for Gorbachev and some type of union structures as a mediator between the republics? I can't see any role for the center or any kind of trans-republican structure. They have completely lost their role and even the continuation of their existence is just increasing instability. If there are no central institutions, then who plays the role of guardian of national minorities? That role can now be played by Russia mainly. To play that role efficiently, Russia must start negotiations immediately with all the republics. Russia has already finished the negotiations with the three Baltic republics and recognized their independence. Russia must start negotiations and sign agreements with 11 other republics. If there are significant minorities or autonomies inside the republic, their rights must be guaranteed by Russia and the republic with whom Russia will sign the treaty. Then how do you regard this process coming out of the Congress of People's Deputies, this talk of an economic union, of formation of an interim administration until signing of a new union treaty? I don't think the union treaty has any future, but a joint economic space is a normal idea. None of the republics, including the Baltic republics, is against economic cooperation for the foreseeable future, until they can develop other structures or establish contacts with other countries. What about the status of military forces, strategic nuclear weapons, international treaty obligations? I think that the majority of these responsibilities can be concentrated exclusively in Russia. I think the national debt can be distributed among the republics. Nuclear weapons can be concentrated and put under the command and control of Russia. After that, I think most of the international obligations of Soviet Union can be taken by Russia, and the other republics can negotiate by themselves if they are against this or that obligation. How do you think the world will respond to this process? It seems to me that if this redistribution of power happens smoothly and without bloodshed, the world would accept this. Because it would be easier to deal with a strong Russia? The world supported Gorbachev for two reasons: He kept control over events at the beginning of perestroika [restructuring], and he moved towards democracy. But the world ceased to believe or at least to rely on Gorbachev when they realized he was losing control over events. In the current situation, it would be much better to have a strong, predictable Russia, which can guarantee stability in the space of the former Soviet Union. How would you assess Yeltsin as a politician? It is hard for me to talk about him now, because I was the first to coin the term 'populist.' I even referred to him as a 'neo-Bolshevik' leader in a Novy Mir article. Now I think he is radically committed to the idea of private property and democratization. Will he stay that way? It's hard to say. He is a charismatic political leader. He is very decisive, and he is inclined to solve problems. But he needs some program to realize. Did the West and even yourself underestimate Yeltsin and overestimate Gorbachev? I think I was always very realistic in my assessments concerning Yeltsin and Gorbachev. But if in 1988 or '89, Yeltsin was a kind of one-dimensional politician, during these two, three years he has become a multidimensional politician, understanding the depth and width of political reality, becoming more sophisticated. Whereas Gorbachev ceased to grow and to evolve, and since 1989 especially, he started to lag behind the events, Yeltsin tried to lead the events. Right now we are witnessing the triumph of one of these leaders and almost the complete failure of the other. But I think that even in his failure, Gorbachev can be seen as triumphant in some sense. He destroyed the [Communist] Party; he destroyed the ideology; he destroyed the country; he destroyed the economy; and he destroyed the political system. We have finished the process of destruction. Now we are in ruins and maybe it is the time for another leader to start the process of creation.