On various occasions, I have vividly speculated on what caused the Soviet Union to collapse as an airy souffle. Along with all others, I was greatly surprised by what happened in 1989 – 1991. The security services in the various countries in Eastern Europe had strong control over the population. There had elapsed considerable time since the uprisings in Berlin in 1953, Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968. It was all calm in the Soviet Union and virtually all of Eastern Europe.
I myself traveled in Romania in the summer of 1984 and could not see any sign that the communist regime had no control. The dissidents in the Soviet Union were few and notable only in the free world. The KGB controlled all dissidents and the party controlled all information (except Radio Free Europe and Vocie of America). The Soviet Union could easily have strengthened its grip on the population and exerted political pressure on the proxy governments of Eastern Europe. Internet was not yet available. The contact with the rest of the world was indeed very limited.
The opposite powers were the trade union movement Solidarnosc (Solidarity) in Poland, the Polish cardinal appointed Pope and Mr. Gorbachev himself. In addition, the US under President Reagan had strenghed the US defense and the Russian leaders felt that the country had to face this with its own refurbishment, even though the economy was weak. Which of these conditions led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union?
The assessment can be different. However, I would like to say that it was a collaboration of the factors mentioned. I attach the greatest importance to Solidarnosc and the Polish Pope. But some importance must also be attached to Gorbachev’s role. Had he been an old Stalinist, the Soviet would probably have taken military actions against Solidarnosc. So it was not just one factor, but several.
Another factor, however, of lower dignity and earlier in time, was the author Solzhenitsyn. It was he who, with his books on Gulag, got the world to understand the extent of the oppressive regime’s coercion against its own population. The book The Gulag Archipelago was written during 148 incredibly busy days on a small farm outside the town of Tartu. That book helped break up the Soviet Union’s foundation of lies. The background to Solzhenitsyn’s stay on the farm was the fact that he in 1944 had shared a prison cell with the Estonian lawyer Arnold Susi. The lawyer had been a minister in the Estonian government that came in power between the German retreat and the renewed Soviet occupation. For a few short days, the free Estonia flag was shown on the Heman Tower in Talinn.
When the Russians took over in the country, everyone in the government was arrested. The country’s Defense Minister wa shot and all others were sent to Russian concentration camps. About half of those who was taken to the camps died there. The lawyer Arnold Susi was in the prison cell together with Solzhenitsyn when he was about to be transported to a camp. During short shared walks in the rest area in the prison, Arnold Susi told Solzhenitsyn about Western democracies and life in the countries outside the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn did not know anything about the world outside the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn was at that time a convinced communist, but also a antistalist. What he was told by Arnold Susi, however, forever changed his thoughts on the Communist dictatorship.What he was told by Arnold Susi, however, forever changed his thoughts on the Communist dictatorship. Solzhenitsyn was at that time convinced communist, but antistalist.
Arnold Susi was released first in 1956 and was then able to return to his family, which was also banished to Siberia. After a while, however, the family could return to Estonia and stay with Marta Port, who was the owner of a farm in Haava, near Tartu. On her own initiative, she had taken on the task of providing shelter for families who came out from Siberia.
Arnold Susi’s daughter Heli Susi has later mentioned that her father told her about the meeting with Solzhenitsyn. He told her: ”I met a young Russian artillery officer in Lubjanka, high intellectual person and openminded, but totally ruined by his ideology. If he can live, he will make himself heard in the world. ”
The contact with Arnold Susi gave Solzjenitsyn the opportunity to spend a few summers and a winter staying at Marta Port’s farm in Haava in order to have the opportunity to write the great book ”The Gulag Archipelago”. The farmers house was remote from the city. Neighbors were told that Solzhenitsyn was a Russian professor that stayed there to complete a scientific work. During the hectic time of writing, Heli Susi took care of copies of Solzjenitsyn´s manuscript sheet and hid them in various places on the farm. She made sure that her son Juhan could photograph the sheets. The original of the manuscript was stored in a special metal box, which, incidentally, had been manufactured by Lembitu Aasalu who had previously been in a camp together with Solzhenitsyn. Anyone who that made it possible for Solzhenitsyn to write his work was really surprised that the KGB did not search the farm. They had expected that to happen, but hoped that the metal box with the manuscript and the copies would not be found. Strangely enough, the yard was not searched.
At first, Marta Port had been hesitant to receive Solzhenitsyn, as he was a Russian communist. But Arnold Susi was able to calm her by explaining that Solzhenitsyn changed completely through the camp. The meetings he had with other people in the camps, those who had a completely different background than his, meant that he ”became a completely different person”. It was in that way Solzhenitsyn himself described the change he had undergone.
Solzhenitsyn enjoyed a good life in Estonia, where the book ”The Gulag Archipelago” was written. Despite more than 20 years of occupation, there were still remnants in Estonia of the former democratic society in the 20ths and 30ths. A curiosity was that Solzhenitsyn was surprised that Estonian peasants put out milk pots on the way to take-out. He was surprised that the pots were not stolen.
Perhaps Arnold Susi and Marat Port also contributed to the breakdown of the Soviet Union by giving Solzhenitsyn the opportunity to write the important book on the special farm. This was a long time before Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.