Posted 8 декабря 2021, 14:14

Published 8 декабря 2021, 14:14

Modified 25 декабря 2022, 20:57

Updated 25 декабря 2022, 20:57

The collapse of the USSR on television: behind the scenes of the events of December 8, 1991

8 декабря 2021, 14:14
Ирина Мишина
On December 8, 1991, I hosted the news on Channel One in Ostankino. It was on this day that the fatal events took place that changed the history of our country.

Irina Mishina, journalist

Even now, many years later, I cannot get rid of the thought that everything that happened was some kind of spontaneous action, in which there was little logic. To begin with, the 1922 Treaty on the formation of the USSR could not at all be denounced by three representatives of the republics that were part of the Soviet Union. Amendments to the Union Treaty were subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Congress of Soviets of the USSR. But that day, no one went into the legal intricacies.

This fatal duty of mine fell on the weekend. This meant that the editorial board would probably not be in place. Nor will there be a traditional meeting where you can discuss the layout of the program and materials with colleagues and with the bosses. And so it happened.

In the early 90s, the word "presenter" still justified its name, and the person in the frame often outlined the main materials of the release himself and wrote the texts for the program he hosted. In general, there was nothing to prepare for the broadcast on December 8: the correspondents were silent, and the bosses, too. On this day, Deputy Editor-in-Chief Oleg Borisovskiy and Chief Editor of the main news release Olga Ivanova supervised the release of the program.

Everyone knew that Boris Yeltsin was not in Moscow, that his meeting with the leaders of Belarus and Ukraine, Shushkevich and Kravchuk, was taking place in Viskuli, and that documents were being prepared there on a new arrangement of one-sixth of the land. There was no information about the essence of the documents to be signed in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. I suspect that the signatories themselves, headed by Boris Yeltsin, also did not know exactly what they would sign at the beginning of the day: there was absolutely no news from Viskuli.

Deputy Oleg Borisovskiy, editor-in-chief, made every possible attempt to reach the country's leadership. But the phones of Gorbachev's and Yeltsin's aides were silent. By the middle of the day, information came that the Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev had stopped in Moscow on his way to Belovezhskaya Pushcha. An interview with him gave a chance to understand what would happen to the country.

Before the 15-hour news release, Oleg Borisovsky, Olga Ivanova and I got together for the layout and easily discussed what kind of state system awaits our country. There was a hypothesis about the Union of Slavic States. But due to the fact that the Kazakh leader was also planning to go to Belovezhskaya Pushcha, the idea of a "Eurasian axis" arose. The correspondent left for an interview with Nazarbayev, but returned with nothing: Nazarbayev did not fly further than Moscow - as it turned out, he was not expected in Viskuli. Nazarbayev was in favor of preserving the Union, and the fact that Belovezhskaya Pushcha decided to do without him prompted gloomy thoughts. I remember the reporter asked Nazarbayev, who was "stuck" in Moscow, then: "Shame, Nursultan Abishevich?" Nazarbayev, looking very upset, said nothing. Perhaps he knew about the essence of the Belovezhskaya agreements that were being prepared, and simply decided not to participate in this.

Meanwhile, the release at 15 o'clock was approaching, and it was necessary to say something. Almost the entire 15-minute news program, I remember, was built on hypotheses, because the TASS apparatuses were treacherously silent. There was no news. I conducted the broadcast and immediately went into the control room, where there were tapes of news agencies. Miraculously, they suddenly started working: the news came out with a link not just to our TV news program - to me personally. To be honest, it became scary.

As you know, on March 7, 1991, a referendum on the preservation of the USSR was held in the country. Of the 148 million who voted, 113 million voted for the preservation of the Soviet Union "as a renewed Federation of equal sovereign republics." However, it was clear that Boris Yeltsin was leading to the isolation of Russia: people close to him constantly talked about this - Gennady Burbulis, Sergei Shakhrai, Yegor Gaidar, who became regular guests of the broadcast and heroes of television interviews. By that time, Mikhail Gorbachev had either withdrawn himself or surrendered, and talks about his possible resignation were already circulating among people close to the Kremlin.

There was no news from Belovezhskaya Pushcha until 21:00. And this suggested that Yeltsin, Kravchuk and Shushkevich, who had gathered there, could not agree on something. All agencies apparently understood this, and therefore froze in anticipation. Approximately 40 minutes before the start of the release, the management of the State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company called, and we were informed that documents on denunciation of the agreement on the formation of the USSR had been signed. But without a TASS report, we had no right to publish this news. I remember they left me alone for a while so that I could think about how to say all this on the air. It was clear that just reading out the TASS message in this case was not good, some words were needed that would prepare people for this tragic news for many. I also understood something else: the fact that I was chosen as the "herald" of this terrible news, one way or another, will affect my fate. Therefore, it was necessary to choose the right words. I remember that no one imposed anything on me, did not advise or recommend anything. I decided to preface the news about the collapse of the USSR with the words: "Now I have to inform you that the country in which we were all born and lived no longer exists ...". It was a preparation in case a TASS message came. But he was not there. Neither before the broadcast, nor at its beginning. To be honest, I already thought that everything would be okay, but a few seconds before the end of the release, editor-in-chief Olga Ivanova entered the broadcast studio with a huge TASS sheet. I immediately realized that this was the same fatal message about the denunciation of the treaty on the creation of the USSR. I was to read it. Reading this TASS text with all the repetitions, typos that had to be noticed and taken into account along the way, I thought of only one thing: do people on the other side of the screen see how I am turning gray in front of their eyes?

After reading the long "sheet" of TASS, I was about to finish the program, but at the end something happened that is still a mystery to me. A TASS report was brought to the studio with an appeal by Yeltsin, Kravchuk and Shushkevich to US President George W. Bush. To be honest, its tone surprised me: it reminded me of a kind of report on the work done.

Everything that happened that day smelled of the destruction of reality. But sometimes it seems to me that the events of December 8, 1991, were largely spontaneous. Later, the leader of Belarus Shushkevich admits that then, in December 1991, everything was decided "on the basis of a good evening bath." The collapse of the USSR was long and well "celebrated" in Viskuli ...

Our family felt the tragedy of what happened just a few months later. My own uncle, who worked as a deputy minister of trade in Tajikistan, and his wife Irina, a former attending physician of the Tajik general secretary, were expelled from the republic after Tajik nationalists, intoxicated by the air of freedom and independence from Big Brother, burned down their apartment in Dushanbe. The relatives moved to Balashikha, near Moscow. Of course, they were in demand as specialists, but the heavy burden of unjust resentment weighed on until the end of their lives. They became one of the many millions of people who lost everything due to the stroke of the pen of the shaky hand of politicians, intoxicated by the maniacal idea of their own greatness.