For a Kinder, Gentler Society
The End of Revolution
A Changing World in the Age of Live Television
  • Frida Ghitis
Reviews Table of Contents Introduction «Back
The End of Revolution . A Changing World in the  Age of Live Television
Sound Bite

Did the new millennium bring the "end of history"? No, but it does seem to have brought in the end of the Workers’ Revolution. “Students from Third World countries seemed to be walking around in a daze. Many of them had come to Moscow to learn about Communism, to learn how to replicate the Soviet model in their countries. Now the plan for their lives had suddenly evaporated. . . ”

As the author relates, the plight of leftist students was almost trivial compared to that of armed revolutionaries whose side had surrendered in mid-battle. Ghitis takes us to the jungle and shows how the New World Order smells when revolutionaries end up with egg on their faces – literally and figuratively.


About the Author

Frida Ghitis as worked for almost two decades at CNN, covering issues throughout the world, from Moscow to the jungles of the Amazon. During her time at CNN, Ms. Ghitis was unit manager, producer and correspondent, traveling to major news events all over the globe. She has worked in more than 50 countries in virtually every region of the world. she was part of the teams that covered the collapse of the Soviet Union from Russia, the 1991 Gulf War from Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the U.S. intervention in Haiti, the hostage crisis in Peru, multiple developments in Cuba, political conventions in the United States and a dozen presidential trips, from Ronald Reagan in Mexico and Madrid, to George HW Bush in Singapore and Somalia.

She authored "The End of Revolution: a Changing World in the Age of Live Television" after leaving CNN in 2000. She now writes about world affairs for  The Miami Herald, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The International Herald Tribune, The Jerusalem Report and dozens of other publications in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, as well as online at World Politcs Review.

Frida Ghitis grew up in Colombia and later moved to the United States. She holds a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in political science.  

About the Book
If you grew up in the United States, you may have missed out on one of the great debates of the twentieth century. It was about revolution. The debate was not just an intellectual, philosophical exercise. It spilled far beyond, into every day...
If you grew up in the United States, you may have missed out on one of the great debates of the twentieth century. It was about revolution. The debate was not just an intellectual, philosophical exercise. It spilled far beyond, into every day life, and into history. It sparked wars and built alliances; it guided governments and fueled uprisings. It focused on one of the most important questions a society must answer: Which road leads to a better future? What is the way to the greater good?

In the United States, the Great Debate that had framed political discussions in much of the world never got very far. The question had been answered almost before it was asked. But for the 20 year-veteran CNN correspondent, Frida Ghitis, the debate is not over yet. "In Moscow," she writes, "working for CNN's coverage of those remarkable days, I visited the Patrice Lumumba University just at the time the Soviet Union collapsed. Students from Third World countries seemed to be walking around in a daze. Many of them had come to Moscow to learn about Communism, to learn how to replicate the Soviet model in their countries. Now the plan for their lives had suddenly evaporated."

But the plight of leftist students was almost trivial compared to that of armed revolutionaries whose side had surrendered in mid-battle. In the Amazon jungle, for instance, Marxist guerrillas didn't follow the news moment by moment. But the news arrived like a crushing enemy ambush -- a defeat of the worst kind. And the extent of the carnage was almost incomprehensible. The source of their inspiration, Moscow, was conceding ideological defeat. What next?

End of Revolution takes us further into the world drama, where CNN images were cut off from the viewers. From Latin America's troubled social volcanoes (the author herself was born and grew up in Colombia) the strife in South America and East Asian, from Eastern European experimentation with shock-therapy and ethnic definitions to the Marxist guerrillas and Leftist intellectuals, this was a rude awakening. In her Swindler's List, Frida Ghitis records her firsthand observations from ground zero. She's been there, she's seen it. She tells us how the new world order smells close up and depicts the faces of globalization -- without makeup . She has an eye for the cynical MREs -- Morally Repugnant Elites as they are called in Haiti -- as well for the ordinary documentary material which is called "people."

The End of History? No, the End of the Workers' Revolution.


Introduction

Live, The End of An Era

What better time for live television news — the world was changing in unexpected and dramatic ways...

Live, The End of An Era

What better time for live television news — the world was changing in unexpected and dramatic ways and at dazzling speed. In the past two years history had taken a sharp turn, demolishing the constructs of historians and politicians. Now, the Soviet Union was about to be signed out of existence.

The repercussions of the transformation unfolding on Moscow’s side of the Iron Curtain would be monumental. Lives would be changed, from Gorky Street to the Amazon jungle, and the entire planet would have to redefine itself. The nations of the world would have to decide who they were and what they stood for. A new era was unfolding, one with a world in search of a new identity.

The end of the USSR came not by atomic explosion or bloody battles, but by a series of legislative changes, leading up to the moment when the leaders of the Union’s republics would get together in Alma Ata (the capital of Kazakhstan, in Soviet Central Asia) and sign an agreement dissolving the USSR outright. This act was to give birth to the new CIS, the Commonwealth of Independent States. All the while, professional sages were making terrifying prognostications about the future of the former communist world. Secretary of State James Baker III prepared the ground for tough times to come, telling an audience at Princeton University, “The dangers of protracted anarchy and chaos are obvious. Great empires rarely go quietly into extinction.”

Rampant poverty, nationalist passions, nuclear weapons and short tempers — warned the pundits — were combining into a potentially catastrophic cocktail. At the same time, there was a sense of exhilaration. The Cold War was now officially coming to an end. If properly handled, the future held extraordinary promise. It was a time of high adrenaline.

Like most news organizations, we at CNN had our plane tickets in hand for the milestone meeting in Alma Ata (later to be known as Almaty). Like everyone else’s, our bookings were on Aeroflot, until recently the biggest airline in the world and the only one serving the Soviet Union.

Then an airline employee, chatting with a friend who worked at the CNN bureau in Moscow, revealed a little secret: keeping pace with the rest of the USSR, Aeroflot was running out of just about everything. In a few days — before the Kazakhstan meeting — Aeroflot would be completely grounded for lack of fuel.

Out came the trusted Rolodex of the news bureau’s office manager. We set out to call every private pilot in the region, and everyone with access to a decent airplane.

As it was, Aeroflot’s monopoly was quickly becoming a thing of the past. The Soviet Republics and the autonomous regions, rushing headlong into independence, had simply taken possession of any Aeroflot planes on the ground in their territory. More than 30 slices of Aeroflot had been carved out. Still, nobody would guarantee us a trip to Alma Ata for one of the most significant historical events since the advent of television. Even those who claimed to have enough fuel for a flight to Kazakhstan could not be sure about the return trip. The Soviet Union and Russia, incidentally, have some of the largest oil reserves in the world. But that seemed as useful for our purposes as a wealth of diamonds buried deep under the taiga.

We widened our search to the outside world, where capitalism would surely produce results in exchange for cash. A company in Finland proved willing to charter a plane, for a hefty sum wired in advance to a Frankfurt bank account. We had our aircraft.

And so, on Saturday, December 21, 1991, we saw the end of seven decades of a communist experiment that had given direction to much of what transpired in the 20th century. With the USSR out of the picture, the threat (and the promise, to some) of world revolution also died. Academics, revolutionaries, politicians and common people would debate what the Marxist movement had wrought, for years to come. It clearly had failed to deliver on its promise of a worker’s paradise, even while it had brought some measure of equality. The Stalinist approach to revolution had left an indelible mark in the souls of a people who had learned not to trust anyone. The new Republics would be characterized by cynicism — a self-defeating quality for the nascent democracies of the old Soviet Union, in sharp contrast to the idealism of other new democracies coming to life throughout the old Eastern Bloc.

Millions had perished in the name of revolution in political purges and in man-made famines. Millions had also received a superior education and had seen — until the system began to collapse — many of their basic needs adequately met.

Now, with the winners setting out, as they generally do, to write the official version of history, any achievements would quickly fade from memory, making room under the bright spotlights of recent history for the endless catalog of failings of the communist experiment. Alas, after enduring seventy years of privations for the sake of a better future, the Russian people’s suffering — and that of their neighbors — was far from over.

What would replace the old order became the subject of even more protracted debate. We were ushering in a new era. The old familiar Cold War was over, replaced by a work in progress: an era to be named at a later date.

In Alma Ata, eleven of the original fifteen Soviet republics signed the agreement. The turbulent republic of Georgia, with its fierce nationalism already bubbling over, did not sign. The three Baltic States, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, had already left the Union and had no interest in stronger links to Moscow.

For Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader who had pulled the thread that unraveled the empire (thus becoming a celebrated icon in the West), it was the end of the road. Like a factory worker unceremoniously laid off in the capitalist world, he was informed that his job had been eliminated. The leaders of the eleven new nations sent him a message explaining that like the Soviet Union, his position had ceased to exist, and they thanked him for his contribution.

The Kazakhstan meeting produced a loose confederation of nations trying to forge ahead in their new identities. Their agreement recognized each republic’s existing borders and its independence, and called for economic cooperation and a unified nuclear command. The hero of the new democratic Russia, Boris Yeltsin, had flown to Kazakhstan directly from Rome, where he had been talking with business leaders and meeting with Pope John Paul II (a man many credited with sparking the anti-communist chain of events that was now culminating). For Russian journalists covering the trip to Rome, the experience was a painful eye-opener. Moscow-based Western journalists, also covering the trip, had to lend money to their Russian counterparts — their salaries, paid in what now were practically worthless rubles, came to about

20 a month, barely covering one meal in the outside world. Joining the world economy was going to prove painful, indeed.

Not long after the Alma Ata meeting ended, I received a frantic call from Helsinki. It was the airplane’s owner, demanding to know why our agreed itinerary, from Moscow to Alma Ata and back, had changed. Why, he shouted, were his plane and his crew in the middle of a war zone?

The same team that had covered the Kazakhstan meeting, with Christiane Amanpour reporting and Siobhan Darrow as producer, had persuaded the pilot to fly into Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia. Fighting had broken out there in what some believed was a sign of things to come in the former Soviet Union. The opposition in Georgia had attacked the parliament building, where President Zviad Gamsakhurdia vowed never to surrender.

These were boom times for analysts and pundits, whose sound bites filled the airwaves with warnings of doom and worse. A Rand Corporation analyst, Arnold Horelick, invoked the bloodshed in a disintegrating Yugoslavia to prophesy his vision for the region, “Multiply what you've seen in Croatia ten times.” Croatia was in the midst of what would become just one of a series of devastating Balkan wars — celebrating the end of communism by destroying Yugoslavia. Friction between Ukraine and Russia, Horelick explained, could spark a conflict with both sides armed with nuclear weapons. There was danger between Russia and Kazakhstan, a Muslim-majority country with a huge Russian minority, also armed with nuclear weapons. The 12 new independent Republics were ripe with potential for violent outbreaks to settles disputes over borders, natural resources, and ethnic nationalism.

The foreboding that permeated the pundits’ words was in sharp contrast with the triumphant optimism that had reigned earlier the same year, when an aborted coup by old-guard Soviets tried to end Gorbachev’s six-year tenure at the helm of a steadily weakening Soviet Union.

Instead of a return towards Soviet socialism, the coup plotters — one of whom committed suicide at the end of the ordeal — managed to propel an energetic and charismatic reformer, Boris Yeltsin, to the front lines of history, while setting off the Soviet Union’s relentless march to disintegration.

Boris Yeltsin’s dramatic speech from the top of a tank in August 1991 has been burnished in history’s memory. He urged his countrymen to resist a return to communism, declaring himself the “Guardian of Democracy.”

Before long, even children were climbing on top of tanks. The military retreated and the coup plotters were forced to accept defeat. Yeltsin had made it clear that he would defend the move towards democracy, barricading himself in the parliament building. Only a few years later, as Russia’s ruling president, it would be Yeltsin who would call out the tanks and attack that same building.

Following the failed coup of 1991, the mood was utter euphoria. Jubilant crowds raised the white, blue and red Russian flag. The statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the KGB, was thrown off its pedestal. All over the crumbling empire, likenesses of Lenin were taken down and smashed to pieces.

Even Yeltsin warned his people to resist the tempting excesses of overflowing joy. But the West was exultant, too, in the early days leading to the final collapse of the “Evil Empire,” as Ronald Reagan had branded the USSR. Corporate moguls promised to invest untold billions. U.S. Ambassador Robert Strauss, named by President Bush in the middle of the coup, offered grandfatherly advice to adventurous investors, telling one interviewer that if he were young and had

10,000 to lose, he’d try his hand in Russia. The promise of prosperity was palpable, but the bakeries were running out of bread.

During the glory days of serious live television — the glory days of CNN — I had the immeasurable privilege of traveling the world with some of the CNN teams that brought the spellbinding news to all corners of the globe. The massive political earthquakes that took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s set in motion a number of forces that have continued to reshape the world ever since. More than a decade later, the world has moved forward enough to allow some perspective on what these changes have wrought.

With the Cold War over, the stakes, at first glance, seem much less consequential. The old mantras of idealistic revolutionaries, dreaming of transforming the world to fit their utopian plans have been replaced by a drive to extract economic gain by nations and individuals. And yet, the new era is still a work in progress. The most powerful nations are trying to find their place in the world. Young people, with a revolutionary flame still flickering inside, are trying to take on the seemingly unstoppable wave of globalization, trying not so much to turn it back, but rather to keep it from sweeping the weakest away.

As I, too, move on from almost two decades at CNN, I offer my own account of some of the moments that propelled the world in a new direction, and of some of the major forces unleashed along the way. I hope to bring back my recollection — along with a few articles I wrote at the time — of how those forces came to dominate this new era, and of some of the events that stand like markers, showing how we arrived here, and where this road might lead.


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Pages 256
Year: 2001
LC Classification: PN4874.G359 A3
Dewey code: 070'.92
BISAC: SOC052510
BISAC: HIS037070
BISAC: BIO000000
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ISBN: 978-1-892941-66-4
Price: USD 22.95
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ISBN: 978-1-892941-67-1
Price: USD 28.95
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