Thursday, March 29, 2012

Modern Russia vs. Revolutionary Russia - Re: High School Student's Question

Below is a response I sent to a Staples High School student in Westport,CT. She wanted to know how modern Russia differs from how Russia was around the time of the Russian Revolution for her Global Issues class.

Dear [Student],

          These are very interesting questions. I'm more qualified to discuss Modern Russia compared to how Russia was during the Revolution than either the Chinese or French Revolutions.
          I wrote in an article for Global Voices called "Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Quintessential 'New Russian'" about the great disparity of wealth in Russia between the 'New Russians'/"oligarchs" and regular people.
          There was a similar disparity in wealth that led to the Russian revolution. Lenin came up with a battle cry that really resonated with people, "Land, bread, and peace!". Right before the Russian revolution, Russia was engaged in World War I and massive amounts of people were being killed on the battlefields.
          After the Russian revolution, the wealth was dispersed more evenly, in some ways, amongst the people through Communism. Most people associate Communism and the Soviet Union with darkness - and there is good reason for that generally speaking, but with Communism also came good things such as an improvement in the educational system of Russia. As backward as the economic planning was, the education system was still able to produce engineers who designed Sputnik - the world's first artificial satellite. Also, women were given more opportunities to advance in the work place through communism and discrimination based on race/ethnicity was lowered.
          When the Soviet Union fell in the early 90's, the Yeltsin era followed. Boris Yeltsin was Russia's president from the earl 90's until Dec 31, 1999. I talked about that transition in this article:
          The Yeltsin Era was extremely volatile because leaders didn't do a very good job of figuring out how to disperse the country's wealth amongst the people. Remember, during the Russian revolution they took the money from the Tsar and the nobility and gave it to the Communist party to distribute. After Communism they had to figure out how to get the money to the people from the Communist party. The result was a lot of violence in 1990's.
          Putin's Russia began right after Yeltsin stepped down on the first day of the year 2000. At the beginning, Putin seemed as though he would be able to stabilize Russia and so people were willing to tolerate his policies which many people saw as undemocratic. I wrote an article, "Why are Russians Protesting Now?" which talks about how Russians seem to have less confidence that Putin can indeed maintain stability.
          So, Russia in some ways is very similar to how Russia was before the 1917 revolution - there is a huge disparity of wealth. One thing that is different is who has the wealth. One thing that concerns me right now is that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia's educational system seems to have suffered as well as some of the progress the Communists made in women's and ethnic issues.

Hope so much this helps. Good luck to you on your paper.



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