A well-known British historian comments on the collapse of the USSR in an interview for Belsat and talks about european perspectives for the Eastern Europe.
What happened 20 years ago?
– End of the USSR was something unprecedented in the modern history. Empire that owned nuclear weapons just fell apart, with no violence involved. And almost no one had predicted it. The process had two types of consequences – a new type of revolution appeared – a non-violent one. It was in contradiction to the model known from French Revolution, which took place in 1789. Secondly, end of the Soviet Union meant that a new type of empire would surface, represented by the European Union, competing with the left-overs of the Russian empire. Belarusian citizens are stuck in between the two.
Soviet Union seemed to based on a very strong hierarchical dictatorship. How is it possible it fell apart in just few days?
– The USSR was like a wooden house eaten over years by termites. The process of disintegration began at the peripheries of the empire – in the north there was Solidarity movement, and in the south – Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia. The construction started to rot from the top too, together with Michal Gorbachev taking over. The combination of those factors led to this almost miraculous event, which was the complete disappearance of the USSR.
What have been the achievements of the newly independent states over last 20 years? Where there any lost chances?
– In the post-Soviet areas, different stories unfolded. There is Estonia, governed by one of the most modern governments in Europe, although this country had not existed 25 years ago. On the other hand, there is Belarus, the last authoritarian regime in Europe. And unfortunately, this country has not become a part of any of the european processes. Despite the proximity of the EU, the possibility to get to know variety of the success models, of freedom and wealth, Belarus has reminded the same. Belarus is a special case and it deserves more of Europe’s attention.
Yet, Russia still dominates Belarus using their natural resources as a tool.
– We have to recall a recent plan to create the Eurasian Union. Many of us read the article by Vladimir Putin, who claims that creating the Union does not pose a problem for anyone. An american secretary of state in 1960s said “Great Britain has lost the empire, but did not find a new role.” I would say the same thing about Russia. Russia does not know if she wants to be a normal national state or if she wants to use the Eurasian Union to restore a quasi-imperial power.
Self-definition is a long process – Russians have to define on their own what model of the authorities and of a state fits them. We cannot force them or rush them to make this decision. In my opinion, we all – Brits, Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians, have to consider where and with whom we want to be.
How do you evaluate Eastern Partnership and the EU policy towards former soviet republics?
– Poland has a real influence in the Central Europe and wants to push forward Eastern Partnership project. But this initiative has perspective only if it will guarantee in future a prospect of EU membership for the other countries. And if the EU is not able to offer Ukraine and Belarus a place in Europe, than such initiative has secondary meaning. The European Union is now in crisis. Also, the arab spring caused that the entire attention of Europe was directed south, and not east.
Timothy Garton Ash – British historian – director of the Center of European Studies at Oxford University. Author of many books on Polish and Eastern European history.
Aleś Silich spoke with Timothy Garton Ash.