[Yeltsin and Parliament: 1993 Crisis] re: Adomanis/1993

File Photo of Parliament Building Billowing Smoke in 1993

From: Stephen F. Cohen <sfc1@nyu.edu>
Subject: re Adomanis/1993
Date: Sat, 22 Jun 2013

In his important revisiting of Yeltsin’s violent destruction of Russia’s elected parliament, and indeed its entire constitutional order, in October 1993, Mark Adomanis (JRL #113, 2013) endorses my longstanding argument that the country’s de-democratization began not with Putin but with that horrific event. I am grateful for Adomanis’s gracious attribution, but I want to comment on his related point that what Yeltsin did has “been thrown down the memory hole,” now being “roundly ignored by the mainstream media.” This too, I think, has its origins in the 1990s.

Along with the Clinton administration, almost every American commentator on Russia with authority, influence, and access to the mainstream media enthusiastically applauded Yeltsin’s actions. It was, and it remains, a shameful moment in the history of the American political-media-intellectual class. (And one that is remembered in Russia itself.) Only a handful of us protested both Yeltsin’s coup d’etat and the approving reaction of the U.S. establishment. I did so, for example, while those events were unfolding, in a long article in the Washington Post of October 10, 1993, which is reprinted and updated in my book Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia (New York: WW Norton, 2000). Even though we were right about the consequences of Yeltsin’s use of tank cannons against a parliament, some of his American apologists retorted that we were enemies of democracy, even pro- Communist.

And so “the memory hole,” or perhaps willful amnesia. Many of Yeltsin’s American cheerleaders of the 1990s remain in influential positions today, from the U.S. government and mainstream media to think tanks and academia. To remember 1993 would shatter the demonizing narrative of Putin they have relentlessly promoted in recent years. Worse still, it might recall an unfortunate episode in their own careers.

Finally, another related but more complex matter. Adomanis says he disagrees with me about there having been (in his words) “the possibility of a ‘third-way’ of economic reform” after the Soviet Union ended. It’s an important subject for reasonable discussion. But it has to begin by also remembering that a very large factor in the  parliament’s opposition to Yeltsin in 1993 was his “shock-therapy” economic policies. To assert there was no “third-way” between those catastrophic measures, which included the “privatization” that gave rise to today’s economic-political system, and Communism seems incompatible with the nuanced, informed analysis that makes Mark Adomanis such a valuable commentator on Russia today.

Stephen F. Cohen
Professor Emeritus
New York University and Princeton University