Lessons from the 1991 Soviet Coup



Publication Details

Varney, W. A. & Martin, B. (2000). Lessons from the 1991 Soviet Coup. Peace Research: The Canadian Journal of Peace Studies, 32 (1, February), 52-68.

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Given the large number of coups and attempted coups in numerous countries over the years, it is intriguing that there appears to have been so little study of what is most effective in supporting or opposing them.[1] In this paper we examine the resistance to the 1991 Soviet coup, looking for general insights into how to make opposition effective. We suggest that each coup brings its own set of circumstances which protestors must be prepared to understand and use to their advantage. Nonetheless, there are several factors which are common and generally useful to bear in mind. These include the crucial part played by the military, the likely volatility of loyalties in the military and the delicate balance of many coups, especially with regard to their ability to attain legitimacy.

Governments obviously have little interest in disseminating information on how to help coups succeed. Their prime concern is maintaining their own power, and even to stir up thinking about the hypothetical possibility of a coup could be destabilising. Governments seek to prevent plotting and launching of coups, typically by ensuring loyalty and squashing challengers. For elected governments, the usual approach is to ensure that military forces are loyal to the civilian government itself, often by fostering an ideology of the military being "above politics." In dictatorships, military loyalty may be maintained by ruthless repression of actual and potential challengers.

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