By Dave Smith, Contributor, US Daily Review.
As anyone else who grew up in the 1980s can attest, there was no greater villain than the Soviet Union. Even sporting events took on a new level of importance when the competition involved anyone associated with the Soviet Bloc and a competitor from Western Europe or the USA. Movies, books, and TV shows dramatized the struggle between the capitalist and communist systems, and church leaders spoke from the pulpit of Soviet persecution of religion and the evil godlessness of the communists.
Then, in August of 1991 – 20 years ago this month — something happened that seemed nearly unthinkable to those brought up during the Cold War: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics began the final stages of its inevitable collapse as a coup d’état launched by old-guard hard-liners failed.
There was perhaps no single icon more representative of Communist totalitarianism than the Berlin Wall. A particularly vivid, striking image of the 1980s was President Ronald Reagan speaking at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, demanding “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” in 1987. Two years later, the Berlin Wall did indeed fall, as revolutions throughout the Eastern Bloc dismantled the Communist dictatorships that had defined post-World War II Europe. Germany reunified soon thereafter.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Premier who had implemented reforms during the 1980s in an attempt to liberalize the Soviet system somewhat and thus hopefully prevent its decay, worked to shore up the union between Russia and the other “Soviet Socialist Republics”. His strategy of “openness” and “restructuring” faced opposition from hard-liners who wished to maintain the status quo, and as the Soviet bloc disintegrated, the struggle between reformers and hard-liners came to a head.
While on vacation at a dacha in Crimea in August 1991, Gorbachev was confronted by a cadre of high-level reactionaries who demanded that he declare a state of emergency and move forcefully to shore up the union between the various “Soviet Socialist Republics” that, along with Russia, comprised the USSR. When Gorbachev refused, the group launched a coup: Gorbachev was detained and his communications cut off, and the government announced that due to a claimed illness of the President, the Vice President had assumed command. The KGB – another iconic emblem of the communist state – shut down newspapers and attempted to stifle dissent.
The coup collapsed after only 2 days under the weight of public demonstrations and the political leadership of the newly-elected president of the Russian republic, Boris Yeltsin (before he became an alcohol-soaked caricature). Gorbachev was restored as head of the USSR, but the regime was now exposed and its days were numbered.
In a 1983 speech, President Ronald Reagan famously called the Soviet Union an “evil empire”. Only 8 years later, there was little left of that empire to fear. The party of Stalin and Lenin was limping towards its demise, the hammer and sickle soon to be replaced by the Russian Tricolor (somewhat ironically red, white, and blue).
Twenty years later, it is difficult to describe how dramatic it was to see Yeltsin atop a tank speaking to the crowd, how amazing it was to think that the Cold War – one of the defining struggles of the 20th Century — was over, and the good guys had won.
Born in the same county as Davy Crockett in East Tennessee, Dave Smith has been living in Texas for over 10 years and involved in politics in for over 15 years. He has been blogging for nearly 10 years, has contributed to Town Hall Magazine and other publications, and has been on ABC and Fox discussing election issues. He is a graduate of Tennessee Tech University with a degree in chemical engineering.