COLUMN RIGHT : Recognize the Free Republics : Events in Soviet Union put worldwide freedom nearer goal.

Ronald Reagan was President of the United States from 1981 to 1989

The coup in the Soviet Union has come to naught. The plotters failed to reckon with the power of the people, who with one voice insisted that this attempt to turn back the clock would not stand. I have personally congratulated Boris Yeltsin for the courage and resolve he demonstrated during those trying days.

Throughout my presidency, we worked to nourish and defend freedom and democracy everywhere we could. This led us into a long relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev, as he became more open to freedom of the press, of assembly and of worship.

More recently, I have become an admirer of President Yeltsin, the first democratically elected leader in all of Russia’s long history. Yeltsin advocates for Russia a speedy transition to a free-market economy, the greatest engine of progress and prosperity ever invented by man. Still more important, he recognizes the natural right of the disparate peoples of the Soviet Union to govern themselves. Acting on this belief, he has extended diplomatic recognition to the democratically elected governments of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, a step we would do well to emulate.


It is for the peoples of the Soviet Union, not the central authorities in Moscow, to determine where the boundaries of civil society shall fall. If the people of the Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia, in free plebiscites, should vote to leave the Soviet Union, then they should be allowed to do so. Nothing is more important for world peace than that the Baltic states and the other non-Russian republics be allowed to choose freely the kind of relationship they wish to have with Russia.

Once the Soviet Union has dissolved into a loose confederation of independent nations, what then of Russia proper? Freed from the twin burdens of empire and communism, the Russian people will reassert their natural greatness. Their land will stretch 7,000 miles from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok. They will be a nation of 160 million people, bent upon repairing the economic and social ravages of totalitarianism. If they are able to nurture the seeds of democracy and the free market that they have planted--and we should be encouraging them to do so--this can be accomplished quickly. In five years their family farms will feed not only themselves, but many of the nations around them. In 15 years their enterprises, taking advantage of Russia’s vast natural resources and the foreign investment that will pour in, will number among the best in the world.

By that time, the remaining Soviet colonies will be long dead. They are already dying. The aging communist dictators of Cuba, Angola, Afghanistan, Vietnam and North Korea will have passed from the scene, replaced by elected leaders who govern with the consent of the people. China will also have joined the democratic camp. The message of the failed coup in Moscow is already reverberating in Beijing. You cannot burst hope with the treads of tanks; you cannot drown democratic aspirations in a hail of bullets.

I pray that the democratic transition now under way in the Soviet Union will be characterized by forgiveness and healing, not retribution and violence. Given the enormous human cost of communism, the temptation to wreak vengeance on its one-time adherents is great. There are, to be sure, a few Marxist-Leninists whose crimes are so recent and heinous that they must be called to account. But let the net of punishment be cast with caution. The Russian people were victims, more than victimizers. Let the vicious circle of violence and hatred spawned by communism end with its demise.

We stand at the threshold of a new world, one defined not by order but by freedom. The grand work of human freedom that began in the United States 200 years ago is entering its final stages. This work, in its grandness and nobility, is not unlike the building of a magnificent cathedral. In the beginning, progress is slow and painstaking. The laying of the foundations and the raising of the walls is measured in decades rather than years. But as the arches and spires begin to emerge, others join in, adding their faith and dedication to speed the work to its completion. The world is that cathedral. And our children, if not ourselves, will see the completed work--the worldwide triumph of human freedom under God.