It was possible to hold a referendum in the USSR to find out the opinion of the majority in the course of a poll on any significant issue. At the same time, it could be held both at the initiative of the Presidium of the Supreme Council, and at the request of any of the Union republics. For the first time in the Soviet constitution, such a norm appeared in 1936, but during the entire existence of the USSR, it was addressed only once. It was 1991, when it was necessary to figure out the future of the Soviet Union itself.
What led to the referendum?
The all-Union referendum in the USSR was announced on March 17, 1991. Its main goal was to discuss whether the USSR should be preserved as a renewed federation, which would include equal and sovereign republics.
The need to hold a referendum in the USSR appeared at the height of perestroika, when the country found itself in a difficult economicsituation, there was also a serious political crisis. The Communist Party, which has been in power for 70 years, has demonstrated that it has become obsolete, and did not allow new political forces.
As a result, in December 1990, the fourth Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR held a roll call to consolidate the position on the need to preserve the Soviet Union. Separately, it was noted that it should fully ensure the rights and freedoms of a person of any nationality.
In order to finally consolidate this decision, it was decided to hold a referendum. It was subject to 5 questions of the 1991 referendum.
Do you consider it necessary to preserve the USSR as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, in which the rights and freedoms of a person of any nationality will be fully ensured?
Do you consider it necessary to preserve the USSR as a single state?
Do you consider it necessary to preserve the socialist system in the USSR?
Do you consider it necessary to preserve Soviet power in the renewed Union?
Do you consider it necessary to guarantee the rights and freedoms of a person of any nationality in the renewed Union?
Each of them could be answered in one word: yes or no. At the same time, as many researchers note, no legal consequences were stipulated in advance in the event of a decision being made. Therefore, initially many had serious doubts about how legitimate this would be.referendum on the preservation of the USSR.
Almost on the same day, the president took up the organization of the first and last referendum in the USSR. At that time it was Mikhail Gorbachev. At his request, the Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR adopted two resolutions. One was about the referendum on private ownership of land, and the other was about the preservation of the Soviet Union.
Most of the deputies were in favor of both resolutions. For example, the first was supported by 1553 people, and the second by 1677 deputies. At the same time, the number of those who voted against or abstained did not exceed one hundred people.
However, as a result, only one referendum was held. Yuri Kalmykov, Chairman of the Legislation Committee in the Supreme Soviet, announced that the President considered it premature to hold a referendum on private property, so it was decided to abandon it. But the second resolution was immediately implemented.
Decision of the Congress
The result was the decision of the Congress to hold an all-Union referendum. The Supreme Council was instructed to determine the date and do everything for its organization. The resolution was adopted on 24 December. This became the key law of the USSR on the referendum.
Three days later, the law on popular vote was adopted. According to one of his articles, only the deputies themselves could appoint him.
Reaction of the Union Republics
USSR President Gorbachev supported the referendum,speaking, so that it passes in the mode of openness and publicity. But in the Union republics, this proposal was reacted differently.
Supported the referendum in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Special republican commissions were immediately created there, which began to form polling stations and districts, and also began to take all necessary measures to prepare and organize a full-fledged vote.
In the RSFSR, it was decided to hold a referendum on March 17th. It was Sunday, so the participation of the maximum possible number of citizens was expected. Also on this day, only in the RSFSR, it was decided to hold another referendum on the introduction of the post of president in the republic, already at that time it was obvious that Boris Yeltsin, who at that time headed the presidium of the Supreme Council of the republic, was applying for this position.
On the territory of the RSFSR, more than 75% of the inhabitants took part in the nationwide survey, more than 71% of them spoke in favor of introducing the post of president in the republic. Less than three months later, Boris Yeltsin became the first and only president of the RSFSR.
Many Soviet republics opposed the referendum on the preservation of the USSR. The central authorities accused them of violating the constitution, as well as the fundamental laws of the Soviet Union. It turned out that the local authorities were actually blocking the decision of people's deputies.
Thus, in one way or another, they prevented the holding of a referendum in Lithuania, Latvia,Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, Estonia. No central commissions were set up there, but voting took place in most of these territories.
At the same time, in Armenia, for example, the authorities declared their independence, so they considered that it was not necessary to hold a referendum. In Georgia, they boycotted him, appointing their own republican referendum, at which it was planned to decide the issue of restoring independence on the basis of an act adopted back in May 1918. Almost 91% of voters voted in this referendum, more than 99% of them voted for the restoration of sovereignty.
Such decisions often led to the escalation of conflicts. For example, the leaders of the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia personally addressed the President of the USSR Gorbachev with a request to withdraw the Georgian military from the territory of South Ossetia, introduce a state of emergency on the territory, and ensure law and order by the Soviet police.
It turned out that the referendum, which was banned in Georgia, was held in South Ossetia, which was actually part of this republic. Georgian troops responded to this with force. Armed formations stormed Tskhinvali.
Voting was also boycotted in Latvia. Many called it a referendum on the collapse of the USSR. In Lithuania, as in Georgia, a survey was conducted about the independence of the republic. At the same time, local authorities blocked those wishing to participate in the all-Union referendum, voting was organized only in a few polling stations, which were heavily controlled by the security forces.
In Moldova, a boycott of the referendum was also announced,supported only in Transnistria and Gagauzia. In both of these republics, the vast majority of citizens supported the preservation of the Soviet Union. In Chisinau itself, the opportunity to vote was only in the territories of military units that were directly subordinate to the Ministry of Defense.
In Estonia, the boycott of the referendum was abandoned in Tallinn and the north-eastern regions of the republic, where many Russians historically lived. The authorities did not interfere with them and organized a full-fledged vote.
At the same time, in the Republic of Estonia itself, a referendum on independence was held, in which only the so-called successor citizens had the right to take part, mostly they were Estonians by nationality. Nearly 78% of them supported independence from the Soviet Union.
Still, in most of the USSR on March 17, 1991, a referendum took place. In terms of turnout, out of 185.5 million people who lived in territories where the referendum was supported by local authorities, 148.5 million took advantage of the right to vote. In total, 20% of the inhabitants of the USSR were cut off from participation in the nationwide poll, as they ended up on the territory of the republics that spoke out against this vote.
Of those who came to the polls and filled out a ballot for voting in a referendum in the USSR, 76.4% of citizens voted for the preservation of the Soviet Union in an updated form, in absolute numbers - this is 113.5 million people.
Absolutely, of all the regions of the RSFSR, only one spoke out againstpreservation of the USSR. It was the Sverdlovsk Region, where only 49.33% answered "yes" to the questions of the referendum, without gaining the required half of the votes. The lowest result in the Soviet Union was demonstrated in Sverdlovsk itself, where only 34.1% of the townspeople who came to the polling stations supported the renewed Soviet state. Also, rather low numbers were observed in Moscow and Leningrad, in the two capitals only about half of the population supported the Soviet state.
If we sum up the results of the referendum on the USSR in the republics, then more than 90% of the population supported the USSR in North Ossetia, Tuva, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and the Karakalpak USSR.
More than 80% of the votes "for" were given in Buryatia, Dagestan, Bashkiria, Kalmykia, Mordovia, Tatarstan, Chuvashia, Belarus and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. More than 70% of residents supported the proposals for a referendum on the USSR in the RSFSR (71.3%), Kabardino-Balkaria, Karelia, Komi, Mari ASSR, Udmurtia, Chechen-Ingush ASSR, Yakutia.
The Ukrainian SSR showed the lowest result among those who voted, 70.2% of citizens supported.
Preliminary results were announced on March 21st. Even then, it was obvious that two-thirds of those who voted were in favor of preserving the Soviet Union, and then the figures were only specified.
It is worth noting separately that in some republics that did not support the referendum, those who wished were given the opportunity to vote,predominantly it was the Russian-speaking population. Thus, about two million people managed, despite various difficulties, to cast their votes in Lithuania, Georgia, Moldova, Estonia, Armenia and Latvia.
According to the results of the vote, the Supreme Council decided from now on to be guided in its work exclusively by this decision of the people, based on the fact that it is final and is valid throughout the entire territory of the USSR without exception. All interested parties and authorities were recommended to more vigorously complete the work on the Union Treaty, the signing of which was to be organized as soon as possible. At the same time, the need to speed up the development of a new draft of the Soviet constitution was noted.
It was separately specified that it was necessary to conduct a full-scale work for the committee responsible for constitutional supervision in order to assess how the highest state acts in force in the country correspond to the observance of all citizens of the USSR without exception.
Soon, representatives of this committee issued an official statement in which they noted that any acts of the highest bodies of state power, which directly or indirectly prevented the holding of this referendum, are contrary to the constitution, are illegal, undermine the foundations of the state system.
An extraordinary Congress of the People's Council of Deputies was urgently convened, one of the main decisions of which was the adoption of a resolution on the procedure for signing the Union Treaty. It was assumed that it would be concluded between all the union republics. In officialstatements emphasized that the results of the last referendum expressed the will and desire of the Soviet people to preserve the state, so the RSFSR expressed its determination to sign the Union Treaty in the near future.
Due to the fact that the voting was not properly organized in all the republics, the question repeatedly arose whether there was a referendum in the USSR. Despite everything, focusing on the number of its participants, it is necessary to recognize the referendum as valid, even taking into account the problems with its holding that have arisen in several republics at once.
Based on its results, the central authorities began to prepare a project to conclude an agreement on the union of sovereign republics. His signing was officially scheduled for August 20.
But, as you know, it was not destined to take place. A few days before this date, the State Committee for the State of Emergency, which went down in history as the State Emergency Committee, made a failed attempt to seize power and forcibly remove Mikhail Gorbachev from control. A state of emergency in the country was declared on August 18, the political crisis in the country continued until the 21st, until the resistance of the members of the State Emergency Committee was broken, its most active participants were arrested. Thus, the signing of the Union Treaty was disrupted.
By the fall of that 1991, a new draft of the Union Treaty was prepared, on which the same working group worked. It was assumed that the participants will enter it as independentstates united in a federation. The preliminary signing of this agreement was officially announced on December 9.
But he was not destined to take place. The day before, on December 8, the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus announced that the negotiations had reached an impasse, and the process of secession of the republics from the USSR must be recognized as an accomplished fact, therefore it is urgent to form the Commonwe alth of Independent States. This is how the union, better known as the CIS, appeared. This intergovernmental organization, which at the same time did not officially have the status of a state, was born following the signing of the Belovezhskaya Agreement. It got its name because of the place where it was concluded - Belovezhskaya Pushcha on the territory of Belarus.
Ukraine, Belarus and Russia were the first countries to join the CIS. Then other union republics joined them. Before the onset of the new 1992, the session of the Council of the Republics adopted a declaration that officially approved the demise of the USSR as a state.
Interestingly, on March 17, 1992, ex-people's deputies initiated the holding of the anniversary of the referendum, for this there was even a proposal to gather in Moscow for another congress of people's deputies. But due to the fact that the activities of the deputies were terminated by the decision of the Supreme Council, they were forbidden to develop or adopt any legislative acts. Their attempts to resume work were recognized as the resuscitation of the activities of the bodies of the former USSR, and therefore a direct encroachment on the sovereignty of the new state - Russia, which had already declared itselfindependent federation. The USSR officially ceased to exist, all attempts to return to its public and state institutions failed.
How the referendum was assessed
The past referendum was given a lot of political assessments. Some of them became possible to formulate only after a certain time. For example, in 1996, deputies of the federal parliament began to rely on the provision that the decision adopted in 1991 at a referendum is binding and final on the entire territory of the USSR. It seems possible to cancel it, according to existing laws, only after a new referendum is held. Therefore, it was decided that the referendum held had legal force for Russia, which should now try to maintain the safety of the Soviet Union. Separately, it was noted that no other question regarding the existence of the USSR was held, which means that these results are legitimate and have legal force.
In particular, the resolution adopted by the deputies noted that officials in the RSFSR who prepared, signed and, in the end, ratified the decision to end the existence of the USSR, grossly violated the will of the majority of the country's inhabitants, which formally really was so.
In this regard, the State Duma, relying on the decision of the majority of citizens, announced that the decision of the Supreme Council on the denunciation of the treaty on the formation of the USSR loses all legal force.
True, their initiative was notsupported by members of the highest chamber of the Russian parliament - the Federation Council. The senators called on their colleagues to return to the consideration of the above acts in order to once again carefully and balancedly analyze the possibility of their adoption.
As a result, the deputies of the State Duma recognized by a majority of votes. that these resolutions are predominantly political in nature, meet the desires of the fraternal peoples, once united by the Soviet Union, to live in a legal and democratic state.
At the same time, the federal parliamentarians noted that the enumerated resolutions fully reflect the political and civil position of the deputies themselves, do not affect the stability of law in Russia, as well as international obligations assumed before other states.
It was also separately noted that the resolutions adopted by the State Duma contribute to the overall integration in the economic, humanitarian and other fields. The four-party agreement between the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan was cited as an example. The next important step, as federal parliamentarians noted, was the official formation of the Union State between Russia and Belarus.
In conclusion, it should be noted that many former republics of the USSR reacted very negatively to these decrees. In particular, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan and Armenia.