1991: The Year Millions Threw off the Chains of Communism

Communists tell us that the workers have nothing to lose but their chains. In 1991, almost 300 million men and women threw off their chains to join the free world. These men and women were not fleeing capitalist exploitation into the arms of worker democracy but from the poverty, tyranny, and death of communism into the prosperity and freedom offered by capitalism. While every country revolted against the tyranny of Lenin’s legacy, sadly, not every country continued their revolution into a market revolution. While this would have had better timing last year (2016 was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union) this is the story of a free people exerting their right to self-government and prosperity.


Estonia managed to escape the clutches of the USSR without violence, sadly the same could not be said for their Baltic neighbors. On March 3, over eighty percent of Estonia turned out to vote and an overwhelming majority of almost eighty percent voted to leave and so they did. On August 20, 1991, Estonia reestablished its independence and constitution. To secure its freedom Estonia went on to join the European Union and NATO. In 1995, Estonia scored a 65 on Heritages economic freedom index. Today, they score a 79. A rise from twenty-sixth to sixth. Since independence, average monthly gross wages have grown from near zero Euros to nearly 1,200. In a similar period, GDP grew almost six times and GDP per capita adjusted for purchasing power grew over two and a half times.


On the same day as Estonia, ninety percent of Latvians came to the polls and three-fourths of them voted for independence. Again, an overwhelming majority desired freedom over continued slavery to the Soviet Union. Sadly, unlike Estonia, the Soviet Union did not respect or care what the people wanted. Communists, for a group who claims to care about democracy, are more than happy to use tanks to crush the popular will. From January 13th to January 27th, 1991 over 15,000 Lithuanians stood up to Soviet special forces and held important locations like the building for the Ministry of the Interior. Thankfully, only six died and fourteen were wounded.

While I do not think Latvian success was as great as Estonia success neither you or I can deny the success they have had. In 1996, they had an economic freedom score of fifty-five while having one of seventy-five today. Average monthly net wages went from just over one hundred Euros a month to over seven hundred a month. Their GDP grew six times while GDP per capita adjusted for purchasing power has grown by 10,000 since the fall of the USSR.


On February 9, 1991, the overwhelming success of secessionist movements from the USSR achieved its first victory at the ballot box. With eighty-five percent voter turnout over ninety percent of Lithuanians voted to give Moscow the finger. Sadly this did not come without bloodshed or violence. From January 11th to January 13th, 1991 the USSR attempted to subjugate with Airborne units and KGB special forces. Fourteen civilians died and over seven hundred were injured as they battled against tanks and guns with sticks. Thankfully a people with a desire to be free were able to defeat Soviet thugs and just under a month later they voted for Independence.

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Following their victory for freedom, Lithuania moved to capitalize. They went from an economic freedom score in 1996 of less than fifty to seventy-six today. Lithuania’s GDP grew fivefold and GDP per capita adjusted for purchasing power has almost doubled. I did not include average monthly wages because that only started in 2000 in my dataset but in that time frame, it has doubled.


Talk about an overwhelming vote. With over ninety-six percent turnout there were only NINE votes cast against Independence. Even if every invalid vote was counted against independence the against total would not even reach one hundred. Go Georgia!

Georgia built glass police stations to symbolized their move from corruption to transparency and the numbers show. In 1996, they had an economic freedom score of forty-four. Today it is seventy-six percent. Their GDP has over doubled. Sadly a big slow down to their economy has been two wars with Russia and a constant occupation of Georgian territory.


In 1991, Ukraine also declared independence. With almost eighty-five percent turnout, over ninety percent of Ukrainian voted for freedom (a vote which would have been much higher ) by reaffirming the declaration of independence by the Ukrainian legislature. Sadly, Ukraine is a prime example of the failures of post-Soviet reforms. In 1995 they were a forty on the index of economic freedom. Today they are only a forty-eight. In 2005, they almost made it to a fifty-six but they quickly regressed. Their GDP only grew about two and a half times. It should be no surprise that their growth rates were best right before 2005.

Ukraine is a state which has attempted a clean start three times. In 1991 with Independence, 2004 with the Orange Revolution and again in 2013 with the Maidan Revolution. Each time they failed to have permanent follow through with reforms. It has been four years since the most recent revolution in Ukraine which tried to bring freedom, transparency and market reforms. With the little change, I can only say that the over hundred people who died, sadly, died for a failed cause.


The failure of Russia to reform may even be sadder than Ukraine’s attempts. It was the Russians who stared down hard line communists with tanks in the August coup attempt. Sadly, within the decade a new dictator came to power in Russia on the back of likely false flags. In the twenty-six years of Independence, Russia has not only used military force to stop other countries from reforming but itself has failed miserably. They actually had a lower score in 2016 than they had in 1995. Russia managed to gain seven points between 2016 and 2017 but it is far too soon to see where this will lead.


While I can not get into these events specifically I suggest reading into the Baltic Chain and the Singing Revolution as well as the different color revolution. These events are truly inspiring. When tens or hundreds of thousands of people stand up for freedom after decades of oppression it raises the question, what is stopping us? Unlike them, we have a free press and speech. We can vote, run candidates and organize with the internet. Take inspiration from the past but act for the future.


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