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Modern Russia

Topics: Soviet Union, Russia, Russian language / Pages: 3 (1079 words) / Published: Dec 12th, 2014
Modern Russia: Overview Russia faced enormous problems in the 1990s. After 70 years of communism, with its planned economy and controlled currency, Russia was ill-equipped for a rapid conversion to capitalism. Factories were in poor repair and inefficient, and their consumer products were shoddy. Managers did not have the know-how to function in a market economy, nor were workers prepared for the uncertainties of the marketplace. The transportation and delivery system for the goods they produced was poor. Crime bosses became rich as protection money was extorted from businesses. Skyrocketing inflation proved devastating, especially for people on pensions. It was not unusual for people to go months with no pay, or to receive pay in the form of consumer products like vodka or even tombstones. Foreign firms opened branches in Russia, but many pulled out again, discouraged by the crime and the lack of government cooperation and protection. Foreign entrepreneurs, initially excited by the opportunities Russia offered, also became discouraged. The international community poured money into Russia, but wanted assurances that the money was not being skimmed off by corrupt officials or diverted by criminals, as was sometimes the case. In 1998, the ruble, already considerably devalued, suddenly plunged to a new low, shaking confidence even further. Women in particular suffered in the new Russia, as age-old prejudice, no longer checked by communist ideology, caused many women to be eased out of good jobs and replaced by men. As the century drew to a close, Russia continued to flounder economically. The military was another area of concern. As soldiers were pulled out of Eastern Europe, Russia needed to house them and pay them, both troublesome propositions. Morale was low and preparedness suffered. Equipment of all sorts was poorly maintained. Internal disturbances, like the push for independence in Chechnya, still called for military intervention. The weakness of Russia's military was quite apparent as the army tried to defeat the Chechen rebels in two separate periods of conflict. Another concern was the aging nuclear strike force. The Y2K computer problem, which Russia was slow in addressing, made the people of the world worry that Russian missiles might accidentally be fired. As it was, several locations were threatened by nuclear contamination from leakages. The West also worried as Russia, strapped for cash, made overtures to sell its weapons and planes to other countries. The space program, once the pride of every Russian, limped into the new century, its glorious but aging space station Mir, already aloft 14 years, and its participation in the international space station problematic because of the poor economy. There were health issues as well. The environment, suffering from years of abuse, continued to be threatened by dirty factory emissions. Forests were heavily logged, with little regard for the future. Heavy alcohol consumption, especially by men, contributed toward a rising mortality rate unprecedented in modern industrial nations. Diseases such as diphtheria reappeared, and the incidence of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases increased. Hospital conditions were deplorable, and a lack of medical supplies was a common condition. Nutrition suffered as the result of crop failures and transportation problems, as well as inflation. Not only was the population as a whole shrinking, but the children of the new generation were growing up shorter and smaller than the previous generation. Various factions struggled for control of the hearts and minds of Russians. The old communists managed to keep a high profile in the government, while groups of various other persuasions, even including monarchists, vied for attention. While attempting to build a future, or at least get through the shaky present, Russians began the long process of coming to terms with their recent past. Muscovites took down the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder and former head of the secret police, and then discussed putting it up again. They debated whether to take Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin out of his glass case in the tomb on Red Square and bury him. They paid honor to the bones of Nicholas II and his family, interring the bodies (two were still missing) in St. Petersburg, which they were no longer calling Leningrad. At the beginning of the decade, many cities and streets and institutions, renamed after communist leaders, reverted to their prerevolutionary names. Later this tendency leveled off, with the result that today there is a mix of prerevolutionary and communist labels. Religion was another area of concern. The communist regime had promoted atheism. After the fall of communism, many people wanted to return to the days when Russian Orthodoxy was the prevailing religion. However, in addition to many domestic religious groups of various stripes, there were groups from outside Russia that sought new converts, and many Russians were interested in the occult, astrology, and the paranormal. The question of what was "Russian" was debated. Some parts of the former Soviet Union, the Russian empire, emphatically wanted nothing to do with Russia, while others wanted to maintain some sort of close economic or military relationship. Even within Russia, the largest of the 15 republics in the old Soviet Union, some areas wanted autonomy and were willing to fight to get it. Additionally, in the parts of the Russian republic that did not want independence, there were different nationalities and religions that were neither ethnically Russian nor Russian Orthodox. The terms russky and rossiisky were used to define Russians: russky meant ethnically Russian, and rossiisky simply meant part of the old Russian republic and was more inclusive. In the early heady days of freedom, many wanted to open the door more widely to the West, to Europe and more particularly to America: American clothes, food, music, American everything was popular. Like English, the Russian language has always been hospitable to new vocabulary and American English words flooded into Russia by the hundreds. "Kompyuter," "printer," "faks" (fax), "kseroks" (xerox), "menedzher" (manager), and "Pitstsa Hat" (Pizza Hut) became familiar to Russians, who already knew "Koka-kola" and "Pepsi." Inevitably, there was a backlash, as those who wanted to return to their own Russian roots, rather than borrow from the West, began to question using America as a role model. Suspicion of American motives and questioning of American values entered the dialogue. Anti-American feeling grew particularly intense after the NATO bombing of Russia's longtime ally Yugoslavia. Once again, as so often in the past, Russians weighed what was good to preserve from their own heritage with what might profitably be borrowed from the West. As they entered the new century, nothing was certain.

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