August 2022

The Fall of the ‘Red Empire’ — The Collapse of the Soviet Union / Russian Communism

August 6 - September 2, 2022

The Soviet Union, which had long competed with the U.S. for global hegemony, collapsed in December 1991. Four months earlier, on August 19, hardline conservatives in the Soviet Communist Party launched a coup d’état in Moscow. It was this coup that led to the end of the Soviet Union after decades of confrontation with the West. Shisei Kuwabara was visiting Moscow at the time to cover a different story and so had the rare opportunity to witness these historical events firsthand.

Left: August 19, 1991: Hardliners belonging to the Soviet Union’s Communist Party launch a coup d’état. Five days later, the red flag that had flown over Moscow’s Communist headquarters is lowered for the first time in 74 years. 1991
Right: Following the fall of the former Soviet Union, the Communist Party also collapsed with party members’ cards being sold to foreign tourists at giveaway prices (around $1). 1992

Noon, August 19: Several dozen tanks advance into the Kremlin’s Red Square. 1991

Tverskaya Street, leading to the Kremlin, is blocked by armored vehicles. Two young people by the wall of the entrance to the Metro. 1991

President Yeltsin and his advisers expresses their delight in a speech given from the second-floor terrace of the Russian Federation Parliament Building, four days after the attempted coup. August 22, 1991

Statues of heroes of the Soviet era are removed and abandoned in Pushkin Park. 1992

The security police, who formerly worked for the KGB, respond to a demonstration in Moscow.  1992

Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, these Ukrainian farmers owned their field that was separate from the Kolkhoz (collective farms). 1991

I started photographing this unexpected coup d’état, horrified to see a tank unit, consisting of several dozen of tanks, rumbling towards the Kremlin. In addition to the huge nation of Russia, the Soviet Union also included fourteen other countries and I was to go on to photograph in several of these, including Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Nagorno-Karabakh, where conflict continues to this day.

On August 24, five days after the coup, the president of the Soviet Union and leader of the reformist movement, Mikhail Gorbachev, announced his resignation. This was followed by the breakaway and independence of the three Baltic States. In December, the Soviet Union, which had existed for 74 years since the Russian Revolution of 1917, came to an end, marking the fall of this socialist superpower.

Shisei Kuwabara

Born in 1936, Kuwabara and is known for his documentary on the effects of mercury poisoning on the people of Minamata. Other major themes of his work include"turbulent South Korea, North Korea, the Vietnam War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kuwabara has published several photo books of his work and in 2014 received the Domon Ken Award. The Kuwabara Shisei Photo Museum opened in his hometown of Tsuwano in 1997.

Bruce Osborn / FCCJ Exhibition Chair