Author`s name zamiralov tech

The Tale of Two Vladimirs

From Lenin to Putin, from Empire to Federation

Foreigners often ask whether Russians live better now than in Soviet times. To answer this question, we must look at the situation in a holistic context and not fall to the temptation to isolate incidents from their historical context.

To answer the question, we could compare Russia 1903 with Russia 2003 and measure the distance between the two. The first was a study in the workings of a backward, medieval society, in which participation by the common citizen was zero; the second, a case study of a modern, democratic society, governed by the rule of law and where the participation by the individual is total. In the middle, the Soviet Union, the bridge over the gap.

Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) gave the Russian people, for the first time, the right to an education, a house, a job, health care, food and peace. "Bread and Peace" was the Bolsheviks' motto during the First World War and after the Revolution in 1917, Lenin's government make an honest attempt to put the principles of Socialism into practice.

Within the first 25 years, Soviet Russia faced a brutal civil war (instigated from abroad) and the Great Patriotic War in which 27 million lives were lost. Despite these great convulsions in the country's history in such a short space of time, the figures speak for themselves: the illiteracy rate fell constantly, the public health and education systems were examples of excellence, a backward, rural society was transformed into an industrialized giant, the people were and are well placed to compete for any job in any area in any part of the world with any other candidate on an equal footing. These were the achievements of the Soviet Union.

While it is tempting to hold Stalin's purges as a black mark over the whole of the Soviet experience, it should be pointed out that during the founding years of their democracies, many countries went through a similar period of social disturbance, many of these taking their more aggressive policies abroad instead of acting within their borders and in most cases, the transition from medieval oligarchy to modern democratic state took up to 1000 years, whereas in Russia it was achieved in one generation.

At the end of the 1980s, GDP was double the figure of the 2000, poverty was eradicated and the vast majority of the Russian citizens, and those of the USSR, led stable and reasonably comfortable lives. The USSR guaranteed distribution of products, controlled supplies, was efficient in tax collection and paid wages on time.

However, the model could not compete with ever-increasing military spending to achieve parity with the USA and as cutting corners led to a drop in quality control, goods became less competitive in the international market, making the producers prisoners inside their own system, unable to break out.

Mikhail Gorbachev's attempt to change the system slowly from within was hijacked by political players like Boris Yelstin and Eduard Shevardnadze, the first being an example of incompetence on a massive scale and the second, an example of the type of opportunism which swept through the member states of the Union.

After Yelstin became President of the Russian Federation, the decline became more and more marked, while Russians living in the former Soviet States, now members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, became the targets for attacks and many were forced to move into Russia itself. For these people, life in the Soviet system was undoubtedly better.

Yelstin’s presidency was a negative experience as he attempted to turn a controlled economy into an open one in one fell swoop, without apparently understanding what he was doing. He borrowed too much money from abroad, at ridiculously high interest rates and his policy of selling off state enterprises was badly managed. His financial policy led to a meltdown in the Stock Market, whose turnover plummeted 80 billion USD in two months, while the Central Bank at one time was burning 100 million USD per day trying to bolster the rouble, which he eventually devalued, calling a 90-day moratorium on debt repayments, creating further negative sentiment in the markets.

Yelstin’s presidency saw poverty come back onto the streets of Russia after years of social and economic stability under the Soviet Union. In 1996, 32 million people were living below the poverty line according to a World Bank report, the public deficit grew to 7.5% of GDP, foreign speculators (mainly from Germany and the USA) pillaged the Russian market and public spending was cut brutally.

The once-excellent health system and medical assistance disappeared in many areas overnight, infant mortality increased by 45% between 1989 and 1994, life expectancy for men dropped from 65 to 58 years of age.

In 1996, in his message to the Federal Assembly Yelstin proclaimed as two of his great successes the fact that the country had managed to avoid a civil war and that the country had held together. The truth is that never in its history was Russia closer to falling apart.

The movement to the market economy was too fast and badly planned. There was a lack of commercial promotion, a lack of cohesion between the industrial and commercial sectors and a dramatic fall in the standard of living for most Russian people, creating huge social differences of a dimension similar to that of Tsarist times. Increasing ethnic tensions, rising nationalism and a growing crime rate were all symptoms of the illness called Yeltsinism.

The answer to the question is therefore no, Russian people are not living better now than under the Soviet Union. However, this does not mean that Russian people would want a return of the former regime. Its primary objectives reached, the Soviet model had run its course and it was time for a change.

In Yeltsin, the change was an unfortunate experience but a necessary first step, an example of what could go wrong and how not to manage the country's affairs. While Russia's GDP and standard of living are still behind those of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin offers a prospect for steady economic growth and a constant increase in living standards, in a free, democratic, participative society. After all, democracy is democracy and people aspire to a system in which the notion exists that their voice counts.

With Vladimir Putin, Russians can look forward to the future with confidence and optimism. The economy is healthy and stable, it looks set to grow at a healthy rate for at least a decade and Russia's standing in the international community, due to its skilful management of crises, is held in the highest esteem.

Like a tree that is cut back, the Russian Federation has a sturdy stock from which new and strong buds will emerge in future, to reach and surpass the figures achieved in Soviet times.