August 22, 1991
After three days under house arrest, Mikhail Gorbachev reappeared in public and reclaimed his role as leader of the Soviet Union. In this press conference, he discusses the coup and prospects for his government.
|JUDY WOODRUFF: The international press conference has been a favorite forum for Mikhail Gorbachev and never has he put it to more dramatic use than today. For more than an hour, the Soviet President described to an audience of reporters and to television viewers around the world how he learned that a coup was being mounted against him. Here is an extended excerpt.|
|The Coup: Gorbachev's perspective|
PRES. GORBACHEV: [Speaking through Interpreter] On the 18th of August about [4:50] PM I was told by the head of my guard that a group of people had arrived asking to see me. We were not expecting anybody, hadn't invited anybody, and hadn't been told of this.
I decided to find who had sent them. Since I had all kinds of telecommunications -- on one of the phones in my office where I was working I picked it up, it was -- it had been cut off. My third and fourth, I picked them up, I picked up the internal phone, all dead. I was cut off, incommunicado. Then I understood. This was not the kind of mission that we normally have to deal with.
I went out to another part of the house and summoned my wife and daughter and I told them what had happened. I didn't need to be told anymore. I realized that something very serious was happening, that there would be an attempt to arrest me or something very bad was about to happen. Anything could have happened I realized. I said to Raisa and Divina that if policy and the essential issues were good ones, then I would stick to my position right to the end, no blackmail, no threats, no pressure would have an effect on me. And I wouldn't take any other decisions. I thought it was essential to say this. The family members said that that should be my decision and they would share whatever -- endorse whatever I said -- they would go along with it.
An ultimatum was issued to me, that I should transfer my powers to the Vice President. I said before I answered any questions I wanted to know who had sent them. He said the committee. I said, what committee? He said the committee on the state of emergency of the country. I said I never set that up, the Supreme Soviet didn't either. Who created this committee?
People had already got together and a decree from the President was needed and you can issue the decree and stay here or transfer your powers to the Vice President. And he said the situation in the country is such that the party is moving towards the sliding doors of catastrophe. Measures have to be taken and the state of emergency is necessary, nothing else will save us, we can't have any more illusions, I was told.
My answer was that I know the situation in the country better than anyone -- political, economic, social situation, the right of people, the position, and the hardships they are now enduring. I knew all that better than anyone, I said. I said that you and everyone who sent you are adventurists. We're essentially going to ruin you, he said, to hell with you. That's your problem.
Not only that, however, you will also ruin the country and everything that we've been doing. Now we've gotten to the day before the signing of the union treaty and we've been working for months and prepared major decisions on the food stuffs problem, on the energy, solution of financial problems, so to stabilize the political situation, the economic situation, and move fast to the economy, market economy.
At that time we were giving people to develop themselves more fully in all spheres of activity. After agreement has been achieved, it wasn't complete. There were certain suspicions on various sides in relations between the republics and the center and between political and social movements. That's true. But it's the only way I've had to make progress. Only suicidal people could propose the introduction of a totalitarian regime in the country. I was told that I ought to resign. I said, well, you are never going to get either of those things after me and pass the message on to those who sent you here, I said. I've got nothing to talk to you about this.
I asked them, what happens if you introduce a state of emergency tomorrow, what then? Just look ahead into the future, a few steps beyond that. What then? The country will reject you. It will not support on these measures. You want to exploit the difficulties of the people, the fact that people are tired, that they prefer to support any dictator. This scenario, in my opinion, is disaster. It will be a dead end -- would destroy everything that we have been -- that we have now achieved.
I'm prepared to have a session of the congress of people's deputies and Supreme Soviet. If there are doubts among the leadership, let's get together to discuss the matter. If the deputies are all there, let's work together and adopt, if necessary, emergency decisions, if necessary other measures, but I will support the idea of further reforms in cooperation with the West. These main thrusts in these areas have to be synchronized, especially as the peoples have shown that they really want to cooperate with us at this decisive phase. But this was like talking to a deaf mute. They were already prepared, the machine had been set in motion quite clearly, so there was no point in any further conversation.
I said, you can report back that you will be defeated if you go ahead with this. I fear for the fate of the people and all that we've done over these years for the people. That was the end of that. When they got my ultimatum in response to their ultimatum, and I told them to pass on my conclusions, and then everything proceeded according to the logic of concentration, full isolation from sea and land. I had 32 guards left with me who decided to stay to the end.
|Gorbachev in isolation|
Seventy-two hours of full isolation ensued. This idea, obviously, was to break the President psychologically. It was very rough. But that's how it went on. Each day, morning, afternoon, I made demands that communications be restored to the President, that a plane should be brought immediately so that I could fly back to Moscow to work. After the first conference, I added I demanded my rejection of this nonsense about my health should be published by those healthy people whose hands were shaking obviously.
Everything was shut off, but there were some old radio sets and the people from the guard managed to hook up an antenna and find out what's going on. We got the BBC first of all. That was the one that sounded most clear -- then Freedom and Voice of America. I must tell you that my six years with such hard work and difficult quest, arduous quest for a way ahead does not seem in vain. Society rejected the coup plotters. They proved to be isolated. They couldn't get the army to support them. The army was in contact with the people and they couldn't fit anywhere.
it failed and they knew it. The republics took a negative stance and first of
all I wish to emphasize above all the position and principle of the Russian parliament,
the Russian deputies, the Russian government, and the outstanding role of the
President of Russia, Mr. Yeltsin.
|The party and the rise of Boris Nikolaivich|
REPORTER: [Speaking through Interpreter] Don't you
think that the time is going to come to focus serious attention on the Communist
Party and Soviet Union as a political body which is just out of keeping with the
There is every opportunity to unite all best of the thinking forces, when you speak about the party as a whole and the force of the party as a political force, I don't agree with it, because I know thousands of people, hundreds of people, and they're sitting here, in fact, people who are real democrats and who are devoted to perestroika, they're devoted to the struggle, and do not bend or flinch, and this has to fashion a new program of the Communist Party, for example.
I shall never agree that the program which was elaborated should be transformed
into something which will suit those who have enough nostalgia for the gold old
days. We have to do everything in order to reform the party and make it into a
living force for perestroika.
Many people would like to try again
to by any means try and sow the seeds of discord. So many lies have been spread
regarding these people. That is very difficult, but the situation has grown rather
tense. We know what's happened. As someone said, we know who is who.
|Maintaining those things won democratically|
ROBERT MacNEIL: For those stations not taking a Pledge
Break, the NewsHour continues now with more excerpts from President Gorbachev's
dramatic news conference and he used one question to talk about the nature of
political discussion and the role of the press.
I think this is part of the whole process, including the democratic press, our press, but I'd like to say that you should think about, seriously, about the lessons we have to learn. You can't -- you have to have political maturity when it's possible to have political dialogue as part of this process, when we have to know -- when we have to know how much acid -- how much oxygen is available to our press -- sometimes we feel that it's, umm, it's, uh, hyperventilating sometimes, something which I can't accept. I can't accept, for example, lack of tact and rudeness. I'm always open to chew the fat with the people.
This has been true of me since I was a young person, and I said this when we had the congress, but I don't like the press to be cynical about individuals, particularly when they hold a different opinion, culture and responsibility. There's no harm in either of these things, neither political -- or a political struggle in relations - - or relations with the press -- think about this and take whatever decision you see fit. I'm convinced that some well founded statements have some effect. For example, I've seen Mr. Hellman here. He's one of the first who reacted with his short essays and Mr. Torganazyeta, but generally speaking, he's been one of the participants in preparing for perestroika. So this is the logic - - a combination of political thinking and literary gifts. I understand and I appreciate his thoughts even when I don't share them, but this is the way it should be after all. And these conspirators who came, I told them, I said, fine, you have a position, you regard the situation this way. Can you believe that I have to take this decision -- I have decided a state of emergency -- I have a different opinion from you. So let's go to the congress and let's decide what the actual state of affairs is so that's what we have to do.
see I know -- I know how some people make fun of others in the press analyzing
my position and so on and so forth, this is not analysis; this is just physical
nitpicking and I've stopped reading a number of newspapers for that reason. There's
-- the most difficult sentence that when the good arguments are presented -- even
sometimes when the arguments are good and I don't share them, are not in accordance
with my ideas, but when you can see that the person which is to understand and
presents his understanding and does this, this is something I respect.