Was the Soviet Union Dissolved against “the Will of People”?

10 September, 2020

Valeri Kvaratskhelia, host of Obieqtivi TV program “Gamis Studia” (Night Studio), said on September 1 that the Soviet Union was dissolved against the will of Soviet people. He cited the March 14, 1991 referendum to prove his words.




Valeri Kvaratskhelia: “Just recollect the year 1991. A referendum is being held in the Soviet Union on whether we, Soviet citizens, want to preserve the USSR. The population of the Soviet Union was almost 300 million then. About 150 million people participated in the referendum and about 76% voted in favor of preserving the Soviet Union. Despite it, the Soviet Union collapsed by the end of 1991. So, the Soviet Union was dissolved against the will of Soviet people. And what has been happening in our country since then - I mean that big country and particularly the republics constituting the USSR - all is happening against our will, almost everything is happening against our will.” 

The host of Obieqtivi TV is manipulating with figures, on the one hand, because by saying that most of the Soviet people were in favor of preserving the USSR, he goes against his own conclusion. On the other hand, he is manipulating with history, because he ignores several important facts, such as boycott announced by six republics against this referendum and the results of independence referendums held in individual republics.

The statistical data provided by Valeri Kvaratskhelia contradict his own conclusion as if “the Soviet Union collapsed against the will of Soviet people.”

Valeri Kvaratskhelia claims that the population of the Soviet Union was almost 300 million and 150 million participated in the referendum. He also added that 76% of 150 million people supported the preservation of the Soviet Union. Nominally, 114 million people are supposed to support the preservation of the Soviet Union (to say nothing about other questions and circumstances of the referendum). The rest of the population (that accounts for 60% of the total population) either voted against the preservation of the USSR, or (at least six republics) boycotted the referendum, thus rejecting the Soviet Union through most radical steps. 

What facts were ignored by Valeri Kvaratskhelia?

Ignored fact No.1 – Georgia, Armenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Moldova boycotted the Soviet referendum

As of 1989, there were 15 republics in the Soviet Union and six of them (Georgia, Armenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Moldova) refused to participate in the referendum. Further, the stance of these republics and the independence referendums held by them later point at an opposite reality that absolutely differs from “the Soviet people’s will” as claimed by Valeri Kvaratskhelia. These people no longer wanted to live in the Soviet Union (where they were forcibly integrated) and their boycott against the Soviet referendum just demonstrated this protest.

The Baltic States and Georgia held their own independence referendums

Shortly after boycotting the Soviet referendum, four out of six countries (Georgia, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) held independence referendums in their respective countries. 

Georgia held the independence referendum on March 31, 1991 and 99.08% of Georgian citizens (90.57% voter turnout) voted in favor of restoration of the independence of Georgia in accordance with the Act of Declaration of Independence of Georgia of May 26, 1918. 

As for the Baltic States, the independence referendums were held earlier. 91% of the population voted in favor of independence during the referendum held in Lithuania on February 9, 1991. 73.7% of Latvian population also supported the independence during the referendum on March 3, 1991. As for Estonia, 77.83% of population voted in favor of independence on the same day, March 3 (percentage of voters supporting independence is not as much unprecedented in the Baltic States as it was in Georgia that was largely driven by the presence of ethnically Russian component in these countries. The picture has not changed much since then, especially in Latvia and Estonia; however, the scales were much larger in 1989-1991). 

Armenia held the independence referendum following the failed coup in August

Armenia held the independence referendum on September 21, 1991, following the failed coup in August. 99% of participants voted in favor of independence.

Situation in Moldova

As for Moldova, the pro-Soviet forces unsuccessfully tried to hold a referendum. Number of participants of “the All-Union” referendum held on March 17, 1991 did not exceed 28% of the registered voters (even if the figure was accurate). Thus, it can be said that Moldova also boycotted the referendum.

Ignored fact No.2 – Most Soviet republics participating in the referendum added questions or changed Mikhail Gorbachev’s wording to reflect their striving for sovereignty

According to the report of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, only Belarus, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan held the referendum as Gorbachev wanted it. Other countries had a problem with the wording. For example, Ukraine, which mainly supported communist Leonid Kravchuk, backed more sovereignty and supported a new treaty envisioning a future confederation.

Where did the referendum have more legitimacy? 

The referendum was not held in six (Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) out of 15 Soviet countries, because absolute majority of these republics and their populations boycotted it. Thus, we can conclude that saying on behalf of the population of these countries that “the Soviet Union was dissolved against their will” is far from reality and in fact, the situation was quite the opposite.

Neither can it be claimed that the pathos of the referendum and the idea of preserving the Soviet Union was fully shared by all those republics that did not boycott the referendum. 

Based on the statistical data and factual circumstances, the main idea of the referendum (preservation of the Soviet Union) was supported by the Central Asian countries, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Russia that is not enough to generalize their attitude to all other republics, including to the populations of those six countries that directly boycotted the referendum. 

Prepared by Guram Jajanidze
Myth Detector Lab