30% of Russians see failed 1991 coup as national tragedy

August 19, 1991. A state of emergency is declared in Moscow, troops and equipment move into the city. Demonstration in front of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR entitled "Rally to protect the White House". © Alexander Polyakov
Almost a third of all respondents in a recent poll said that the events of the failed coup in 1991 that led to rise of Boris Yeltsin and the collapse of the Soviet Union were a tragedy that hurt both the nation and its people.

According to the latest poll conducted by the independent public opinion research center Levada, 30 percent of all Russians over 18 years of age believe that the outcome of the August 1991 coup was a tragic event with perilous results for the country and the people.

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Thirty-five percent answered that they saw the 1991 events as a common episode of power struggle among the people who ruled the country. Twenty-seven percent said they had no particular opinion about the events, and only 8 percent of respondents said that what took place in August 1991 was a democratic revolution that put an end to the totalitarian rule of the Communist Party.

When researchers asked Russians what they would do if somehow they witnessed the 1991 coup but possessed the knowledge about recent Russian history and the current situation, 16 percent said they would side with Yeltsin’s supporters and defend democracy, 44 percent ruled out personal participation in anti-coup movement and 41 percent said they did not know the answer to the question.

The share of those who said that they saw the attempt of conservative Communists to seize power as a good thing, partially or completely, was about 16 percent, with 34 percent answering that the coup was a bad thing. Fifty percent of Russians said it was too difficult for them to give an unambiguous answer to this question.

Furthermore, 16 percent of respondents think that if the coup supporters had won in 1991, the Russian people would now be living a better standard of life, with 19 percent of the belief that such a turn of events would have led to worse living conditions.

Around a quarter – 23 percent – said that in their opinion whoever won back then life today would be the same. Forty-three percent could not answer the question.

It should be noted, however, that when Levada pollsters asked those surveyed if they remembered what happened in August 1991, only 50 percent said they recall that it was a failed coup. Two percent said they remembered something else and 48 percent of Russians said that they did not remember anything particular happening at that time.

READ MORE: Russians see 1991 coup as national tragedy, but like subsequent developments

The events that took place in late August 1991 are usually referred to in Russian mass media as the ‘failed Soviet coup’ or ‘Putsch’. Back then several members of the Soviet leadership, including the defense minister and the head of the KGB, tried to disrupt the signing of a new union treaty between the country’s constituent republics. They isolated then-President Mikhail Gorbachev in his residence in Crimea and created the State Emergency Committee (GKChP). The coup failed after three days of resistance organized by the leadership of the main republic, Russia, headed by then-President of the Russian Federative Republic Boris Yeltsin.

On August 23, the Communist Party was banned from operating on Russian territory. The Russian Federation took over the institutions of the union state, as the USSR broke into independent republics under a treaty signed by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, and another 12 constituent republics soon also chose to become independent.

In 2005, Vladimir Putin called the collapse of the USSR the greatest geopolitical disaster of the century. The Russian leader has repeated this thesis several times since, and in 2015 explained that he was speaking of the humanitarian consequences to the common people.Putin noted in a public speech that after the crash of the Soviet system 25 million ethnic Russians found themselves living in foreign countries which made the Russian people became the largest divided people in the world.

However, Putin acknowledged that the primary reason behind the collapse of the USSR was the great amount of internal contradictions and general failure of its economic and political systems.