Chris Doss responds to Nestor G. about Russia

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Wed Sep 24 08:20:14 MDT 2003

For what it's worth, in response to Nestor's response to your forwarding of
my letter, I think comparing the Russia of 2003 and the USSR of, say, 1975
is like comparing apples and oranges. They are complately different modes of
life (and both are much better than the Russia of 1995). What do you value
more, lots of consumer goods or total cradle-to-grave job security? That's a
matter of personal taste.

I would say that life is better today for that percentage of the population
that is lucky enough to be in the "middle class." It's almost impossible to
qualify just how many people are in the middle class, because they almost
all work in the shadow economy (PS this is why, if you were to read official
statistics, you would think Russia contained only a sliver of super-rich
people and the rest in grinding poverty, which is quite false -- the middle
class normally works off the books, and so do not appear in official stats).
Probably about 30-40% of the population of super-rich Moscow, which has 70%
(!) of the money in Russia and 94% (!!) of the foreign businesses, then
maybe 20% in Peter and 10% in the other large cities. The rest of people
have considerably less buying power than they did in the Soviet era, but
then again there is more of a variety of goods and the goods are of higher
quality. Living standards in the rural areas are very very very low.

All this has to be qualified because, after all, most Russians own their own
apartments and pay virtually nothing for utilities, and own their own garden
plots, so you can get by with much less than you could in the West. Hell,
must urbanites own their own summer home. Many pensioners will rent out
their apartment in the city, live at the dacha in the country and use the
rent money to buy whatever they don't grow themselves.

The attitude toward the USSR seems to be a largely generational thing.
People over 60 think it was great, people who are middle-aged are ambivalent
(I don't know anyone over 35 who doesn't feel nostalgic) and people in their
20s tell me I have an idealized attitude toward the Soviet Union (even
through they're too young to actually remember it in detail). Of course
things are more nuanced than this; Soviet imagery is very fashionable in
Russian youth pop culture, after all, where it is associated with vague
feelings of patriotism and nostalgia for a vanished ideal. I have met
20-somethings who have utter contempt for Gorbachev, Putin and Yeltsin
(well, absolutely everyone has utter contempt for Yeltsin) and adore Stalin.

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