Books by Jonathan Steele

Released: Sept. 1, 1994

An informed and gloomy appraisal of the prospects for democracy in Russia from the longtime Moscow corespondent of the (Manchester) Guardian, who concludes that the present political system may be one of the many revolutions from above in Russian history that end in failure. Steele (Andropov in Power, 1983, etc.) derives his conclusion both from Russian history and from his own experiences as a correspondent. He makes the telling observation that, when Yeltsin stood on a tank to proclaim his resistance to the attempted coup in 1991, the crowd that applauded him was fewer than 200 in number; only when the coup was safely over did huge crowds emerge. The coup failed, Steele says, not because of mass resistance but because the plotters lost their nerve and the Army commanders split. Nor is he impressed by the ability of Russians to run a democratic system. Yeltsin's contempt for the Supreme Soviet—the majority of which originally supported him—was such that he refused for almost a year to appear before it or to meet with its leaders. He believes that Yeltsin deliberately provoked the hard-line faction in the Parliament into an injudicious response, which gave him an excuse to use the Army. Yeltsin also manipulated the constitutional referendum held at the same time as the election in 1993 to prevent opposition to its approval and to increase his own power. Steele's conclusions are not entirely pessimistic: He believes that considerable freedom has already been established and that the gains that have been made cannot be entirely reversed. Overall, however, he sees Russia as a ``society without law'' and he questions whether the country will not take ``a long time to evolve towards genuine democracy, if ever.'' Steele is better on contemporary events than on history, and better on politics than on society at large, but his deep knowledge of Russia over the last three decades gives his conclusions great and worrisome authority. Read full book review >