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Soviet Integration : New Union Treaty

If, when he came to power, Gorbachev began with fairly benign reforms and only a few changes in the leading cadres, the more the crisis deepened the more he was obliged to take radical reforms. Everyone is of course familiar with the famous policies of Glasnost, which refer to the idea of ​​transparency and freedom of expression, and of Perestroika, which refers to a reorganization of the Soviet economy. But few people are interested in the institutional reforms initiated by Gorbachev. And yet these still have a great impact on the evolution of Soviet and especially post-Soviet history.

As mentioned above, Gorbachev ended the CPSU's monopoly on political power in 1989, leading to the first truly free election of the Congress of People's Deputies in 1990. This was a historic step because for the first time Political debate was no longer limited to the Politburo of the CPSU, which was behind the walls of the Kremlin, but was alive and well within the Congress, housed in the “White House” in Moscow. The debates in 1990 were stormy and incredibly violent, many of the frustrations accumulated during the reign of the communist dictatorship were expressed at that time. Many condemnations of historical figures took place, such as those targeting Stalin or Dzerjinsky (the founder of the Tcheka), or even denunciations of the policy of the CPSU such as the deportations or the organization of the Gulag. No one was spared, including the KGB.

Gorbachev considered this process as a key for the restoration of a democratic functioning of the USSR such as it should have been following its foundation in 1922. To give himself more legitimacy in his action (because after all he was until then the Secretary General of the CPSU appointed by the Politburo and not a leader chosen by the people), he also amended the Constitution to establish the post of President of the USSR. Thus he was the first (and only) elected President of the USSR, which gave him a higher status than the parties, including therefore the CPSU. Moreover, some members of the CPSU had reacted by accusing Gorbachev of wanting to establish a dictatorship because he no longer sought to hold his power from the communist oligarchy but from populism in order to short-circuit the party. But it was necessary to overcome partisan blockages to break the impasse.

Strengthened by his election, Gorbachev undertook an even more radical project: that of the complete reform of the institutions of the Union. Indeed, in 1991, he presented to Congress the new draft of the Union Treaty that was supposed to replace the 1922 Treaty and the 1977 Constitution as a whole. This time, the project was intended to be a transformation of the USSR into a Union similar to that advocated by the European Economic Community, that is to say based on common values, respect for the sovereignty of the Member States and limiting the Union's action to those areas necessary for maintaining economic and military ties. However, Gorbachev wanted the USSR to remain a sovereign state on the international scene and for the whole to remain highly integrated.

Thus we see that the project had to remain functionalist and confederalism was not yet relevant. As we will see, this is however what happened in the months that followed.

If we study this project more closely, we first notice a rather surprising change: the USSR is no longer the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” but the Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics”. The word “socialists”, perceived as the symbol of communist ideological tyranny, was therefore replaced by the word “sovereign”, with a view to affirming the principle of the autonomy of republics.

The Preamble to the treaty also begins with the affirmation of the Sovereignties of the Republics constituting the USSR as well as the safeguarding of their autonomy and their cultural rights. This seems to be a clear response to national claims while seeking to preserve the Union and it is remarkable that this assertion precedes any other in the Treaty. Indeed, individual rights are only enshrined afterwards. Moreover, when cited, human rights are accompanied by a specific mention of the protection of national languages. Suffice to say that Gorbachev had understood the resentment of nationalities in the face of the monolith of Soviet power.

For the rest, the methods of integration remain the same, the Treaty once again refers to the notions of subsidiarity and the attribution of competences, to the institution of a common citizenship and to the primacy of Union law. We can therefore emphasize here that Gorbachev had considered these elements to be the central elements of Soviet integration, which had to be safeguarded and maintained at all costs.

However, the treaty insists on the principles of democracy and in particular of liberal democracy. We can see in this a concern of Gorbachev vis-à-vis the “non-Slavic” republics whose tendency has always been towards the institution of tyrannical powers based on clans. Thus, if the USSR was until 1991 synonymous with the dictatorship of the CPSU, in 1991 the Union was supposed to become the guarantor of liberal democracy in the Union, riddance of its communist past and the central role of the party.

Finally, the other remarkable addition is the creation of a framework for relations between the Republics. Indeed, the Republics, by signing this treaty had to adhere to a series of principles governing relations between them, which proves their autonomy both internally and externally. These principles include the peaceful settlement of disputes, (fair) cooperation, mutual assistance and compliance with obligations under Union law. The article also insists on the fact that Member States must not sign international agreements which could be contrary to the interests of the Union.

One can only wonder what future the Soviet Union would have been if this project had been adopted and implemented. Moreover, it almost was because this project was about to be adopted (it was to be signed by the Member States after August 20, 1991) and was to be implemented at the end of the year. But the events of the summer of 1991 changed the course of events. This is why we are now going to study the collapse of the USSR on the political and constitutional level.


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