That might sound like an audacious proposal, but it’s been advanced by none other than the man who oversaw the dismantling of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev. He states flatly that the Chernobyl explosion was “perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union.” According to Gorbachev, the Chernobyl explosion was a “turning point” that “opened the possibility of much greater freedom of expression, to the point that the system as we knew it could no longer continue.” Gorbachev introduced his policy of glasnost, or “openness” of ideas and expression, not long before the Chernobyl explosion. It was his remedy for widespread censorship and government secrecy. To Gorbachev, Chernobyl proved the wisdom and necessity of glasnost. The explosion and attendant tumult, he claims, “made absolutely clear how important it was to continue the policy of glasnost.”Nevertheless, there was a lot more going on than Chernobyl (the U.S. arms buildup was just a blip, but it diverted some resources). Nevertheless, a collapse of the system was probably inevitable. The True Prophet, of course, was Andrei Amalrik, who wrote "Will The Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?" in 1969!:
I have undertaken this study for three compelling reasons.Amalrik was wrong about some details - how could one be entirely right about something so complicated? - but he saw it all coming, and should be honored for his insights:
The first is simply my interest in Russian history. Almost ten years ago, I wrote a work on Kievan Rus. Due to circumstances beyond my control, however, I was forced to interrupt my researches on the origin of the Imperial Russian State; now, as a historian, I hope to be compensated for that loss by being a witness to the end of that state.
Second, I have been able to observe closely the efforts to create an independent social movement in the Soviet Union a development that in itself is very interesting and deserves at least a preliminary assessment.
And third, I have been hearing and reading a great deal about the so-called "liberalization" of Soviet society. This idea may be formulated as follows: The situation is better now than it was ten years ago; therefore ten years from now it will be better still. I will attempt to show here why I disagree with this notion. I must emphasize that my essay is based not on scholarly research but only on observation. From an academic point of view, it may appear to be only empty chatter. But for Western students of the Soviet Union, at any rate, this discussion should have the same interest that a fish would have for an ichthyologist if it suddenly began to talk.
Amalrik was incorrect in some of his predictions, such as a coming military collision with China, and the collapse of the Soviet Union occurred in 1991, not 1984. He also failed to predict that he himself would not survive 1980. Correct was his argument that:I, for one, don't believe in brilliant luck. Amalrik saw, and understood, when almost no one else did. A true giant!
If...one views the present "liberalization" as the growing decrepitude of the regime rather than its regeneration, then the logical result will be its death, which will be followed by anarchy."Amalrik predicted that when the breakup of the Soviet empire came, it would take one of two forms. Either power would pass to extremist elements and the country would "disintegrate into anarchy, violence, and intense national hatred," or the end would come peacefully and lead to a federation like the British Commonwealth or the European Common Market. As 1984 drew nearer, Amalrik revised the timetable but still predicted that the Soviet Union would eventually collapse.
Predictions of the Soviet Union's impending demise were discounted by many, if not most, Western academic specialists, and had little impact on mainstream Sovietology. Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky described that "in 1984 KGB officials, on coming to me in prison " when Amalrik's essay was mentioned, "laughed at this prediction. 'Amalrik is long dead', they said, 'but we are still very much present.' "Of those few who foresaw the fall of the Soviet Union, including Andrei Amalrik, author Walter Laqueur argued in 1995 that they were largely accidental prophets, possessors of both brilliant insight into the regime's weaknesses and even more brilliant luck.