Thursday, December 07, 2006

Back in the USSR

According to a research organization Eurasia Monitor, the largest group of citizens of the nations of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus are regretful for the downfall of the Soviet Union.

I know this sentiment is especially strong in the older generation, which often feels betrayed and left behind by the democratic reforms in the post-Gorbechov era. The Yeltsin years were particularly terrible for people, and saw the savings of Russians flushed down the toilet as the government printed out so much money that the value of the ruble has still not recovered.

The suffering that the Soviet Union caused was incalculable. The post-Soviet-era pains stem directly from the economic stranglehold the communists held over the Russians for nearly 75 years; like any other correction, it was a painful one. As I mentioned, the pain was exacerbated by the political climate, with the bank of Russia printing money for, I suspect, the dual purpose of eroding national debt and harming the then-president Yeltsin.

With this era officially over, I'd think people would celebrate - even modern history books detail events like the Katyn massacre, Stalin's purges, Lenin's mass starvations, etc. But people, when living dangerously (as in dangerously close to starvation, as many people here were during the worst years after the USSR's fall), think with their pocketbooks and stomachs.

The government botched the transition to a market economy, and understandably people are pretty pissed. But going back isn't the answer.

Let me suggest that part of the answer is for cities like Irkutsk to not spend a million-plus rubles buying expensive artificial Christmas-trees from Ireland. Nor is it to establish a nation-wide vodka monopoly, as Putin has waxed poetic about. And it certainly isn't to allow Georgian immigrants to be beaten and deported because they bring cheap labor and products that the Russian people crave (like watermelons).

My solutions ideally center on hands-off approaches to the economy, while massively decentralizing the government to allow for regional autonomy.

But those are democratic solutions, and the bigger question that must be asked is not whether democratic reforms are needed, but whether the Russian people are willing and able to implement and use them. There seems to me to be such a strong ideology of central authority; in many ways, Putin IS the tsar, and as such, can do well as he likes.

Can ideology truly derail freedom in the world so well? I hope not for much longer.

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