Page 10 Chapter 9:
Perestroika: The Reconstruction
Just when it seemed that the fundamental stagnation of socialism was unshakable, strange events began occurring in the country. One day, all of the programs on radio and television were canceled, and somber, classical “mourning” music was played uninterrupted for three long days.
People began worrying and wondering what was going on. Only three days later the news was shared with the population of the USSR; the “patriarch” Brezhnev had died. In the meantime, tank divisions were brought into the capital. The Soviet government wanted to be prepared for any “unforeseen events.” But, the Soviet people accepted the news without any emotional reactions.
Yuri Andropov, former head of the KGB, replaced Brezhnev as General Secretary of the Communist Party. He tried to restore a measure of Stalinism to the flavor of the country. But his rule was short. A year later the mourning music appeared again.
After Andropov’s funeral, Konstantin Chernenko then headed the country. He was a pawn deprived of any individuality or his own thoughts. When he died exactly a year later, the Russian people coined the anecdote: “At the background of the mourning music the giggling news reporter appeared. He said: ‘Please don’t laugh, but, this one has died as well.'”
Mikhail Gorbachev, unusually young and energetic for a Soviet ruler, came to power, replacing Chernenko. Gorbachev was remarkably popular in the West. He should be given the credit for starting a process that wound up destroying the empire of the beast. Whether it was his initiative or unintended fate, his name will always be associated with the collapse of socialism in Russia.
Today, many Russians don’t like Gorbachev. Those who are glad for the collapse of socialism think that Gorbachev was trying to move from one system to another too slowly. The country was moving from socialism to capitalism, but at a painful crawl. As a result, the whole economy of the country practically collapsed. Those who remember the stagnant days of socialism as the “good old days” also blame Gorbachev for all of their grief.
The end of the 1980s was marked with global changes, both in economics and in the mentality of the Soviet people. When freedom of speech — “Glasnost” — was declared, Russians finally gained access to information at a level that they couldn’t before have fathomed. Hidden historical and political facts, archives, prohibited books, the Bible, and philosophical works streamed into the Russian marketplace like an endless flood.
Even their love for reading, Russians couldn’t absorb the powerful stream of information that had fallen on them. The newspapers suddenly started speaking in “human” language, as opposed to the somber, official droning of the Soviet socialists. Masterpieces of journalism appeared. They made people think, suffer, sympathize, and become indignant.
In retrospect, the new influx of information may well have been one contributing reason why the Soviet economy began breaking down. People had no time for work. Everyone was busy reading newspapers and openly discussing the reading material in the workplace. And it was juicy material. After 80 years of “positive” socialist propaganda, journalism during this period of Glasnost became almost exclusively negative and harshly critical.
Those who had been blinded regained their eyesight and saw the beast as it was. Finally, people knew the real truth about Lenin, Stalin, and the other socialist leaders. They gained access to troves of new information about their government and about their hidden, double lives. Numerous crimes of the government against their own people and the darkest secrets of socialism were uncovered during these days.
Meanwhile, as the people were enraptured reading newspapers and watching television, the dark forces in the country were not sleeping. The redistribution of property began at about this time. The most valuable properties of socialist state began being privatized. The former and present members of the government, communists and criminals, had become their owners. In fact, to be honest, it has always been difficult to distinguish the criminals from government VIPs in Russia.
Eventually, the massive influx of negative news sparked a wave of depression throughout the land. The old generation of Russians felt that their lives were somehow crossed out; that everything they had believed in was nothing more than an illusion. There was nothing to be proud of or fondly remember. The country became naked in the public eye and lost its pride. The younger, more active generation started asking a reasonable question: “Well, now that we know everything, what’s next?”
But very few people knew what to do next. While the young economists and the politicians were debating the future of Russia, the country was being robbed blind. Billions were being rapidly stolen. Everything in Russia was on sale to those from abroad. Dirty criminal money was being laundered. A class of semi-criminals and half-bourgeois — the “New Russians” — began appearing in Russia. Most of them made their millions the criminal way. Uneducated, uncultured, rough, and ignorant, they became the objects of hate and disrespect for the majority of the population.
Behind the incredible wealth of the New Russians, the majority of the population of Russia was becoming more impoverished with each passing day. Many social benefits were being destroyed as the basis of a capitalist economy was being instituted. Unprepared for a free market economy, the Russian population was confused, bewildered, and then devastated. Astronomical inflation destroyed all personal savings in the banks. Pensions and other fixed incomes were so small that it was difficult to survive.
The Soviet Union fell like a house of cards in 1991. Independent states had formed, and Boris Yeltsin rose to govern Russia, and Gorbachev remained a president without a country.
By the mid 1990s, the economic situation stabilized for a short period. Hopes for a better life appeared. The larger Russian cities led by Moscow have visibly Westernized since that time. Western style shops, banks, and restaurants have opened. A myriad of new goods and products have appeared. Western and American culture have flooded Russia. Some would consider this progress. Others bemoan the rapid destruction of a traditional way of life.
The youth became the first target and victim of the rapid Westernization. Violence, sexual “freedom,” drugs, and pornography filled the country, or at least its big cities. A young and naive generation swallowed the bait without any background to prepare them for the consequences. The only protection for the youth born in the 1980s in Russia was caring parents and a strong family moral foundation. Unfortunately, not everyone had such protection.
Poverty and lack of any perspective made the Russian generation of 1980s and 1990s cynical and aggressive. The new economic crisis that appeared in Russia at the end of 1990s destroyed the little remaining hope of Russians for a good future. Inflation, unemployment, and poverty are the realities of everyday life in contemporary Russia.
But, you shouldn’t give up on this long-suffering country. No matter how miserable its present situation, a great and bright future is arising in its innermost depths. It’s my personal opinion, but I am sure that Russia has ended its dramatic freefall into chaos. It will take some time for stabilization and then for a revival, but it is beginning to awaken and remember its richest traditions and spiritual values. It is the first sight of a recovery for the nation’s spirit.