Ragged Russia

Article excerpt

Four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the nations that used to be the Soviet Union and its satellites have become as unpredictable as any in the world. Who would've suspected that the West would cheer as President Boris Yeltsin crushed his rebellious parliament?

Russia and the nations of Eastern Europe have become places where anything is possible. Consider: The Constitutional Democrats ("Kadets") have been revived as a Russian political party, 75 years after their last appearance as weak-willed social democrats who were crushed by the Bolsheviks in the 1917 Revolution. Writing in the August Chronicles, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service's Wayne Allensworth says the Kadets and their allies in the Christian Democratic Party see themselves as "traditionalists who fear, among other things, the secular Westernizing of Russia by the youthful cosmopolites of Yeltsin's 'team' and the concomitant loss of what remains of Russia's national identity." The Kadets, says Allensworth, see themselves as part of the conservative "white" opposition to Yeltsin, in contrast to the "red" communists or the "brown" fascists.

The once-mighty Russian military, observes the August 28 Economist, is in serious disarray. Ships don't go on training exercises for lack of fuel, and one colonel complains that he can't schedule training exercises because there aren't any light bulbs at his base, except for the one that he takes home each night to make sure that it isn't stolen. The amount Russia spent on defense procurement fell by 32 percent in 1991 and an additional 68 percent in 1992. The Soviet Union bought 3,200 tanks in 1988; Russia acquired 20 tanks in 1992.

Moreover, Soviet youth are rebelling against conscription. In the first part of 1993, 95 percent of the young men who were given draft notices in the Moscow military district dodged the draft. Russian authorities prosecuted 11 percent of these draft dodgers and convicted 0.18 percent of those prosecuted. On May 19, the Russian parliament passed a law that allowed 84 percent of the 1.8 million men previously required to serve to avoid enlistment and an additional 8 percent to serve in the successors to the KGB rather than the armed forces. In 1993 the Russian military will have 185,000 new conscripts--and will discharge 580,000 draftees whose terms have expired.

As a result, observes Charles Dick of Britain's Conflict Studies Centre, except for the strategic rocket forces (which guard Russia's nuclear arsenal) and a few elite regiments, the Russian "armed forces are no threat to any organization more combat-ready" than the Girl Scouts.

Socialist realism has collapsed, says Andrew Solomon in the July 18 New York Times Magazine. Russian youth don't even pretend to adore Lenin and Stalin any more, Solomon says; instead, it's now possible, at least for some, to live lives as wild as those in New York's East Village or the hip parts of San Francisco. Drug use is increasing; while hashish is still expensive, there are plenty of potent psychedelic mushrooms to be found in the forests around St. Petersburg. Not only do the Russians now have "rave" concerts, there are even Russians who make their livings as Marilyn Monroe impersonators.

The ideals of communism, says Solomon, have been replaced by "a system of values whereby everyone has an eye only on his own progress." Russia is, in his opinion, a "country now run on the chance alignments and misalignments of hundreds of thousands of different, singular, individual agendas."

These "individual agendas" are not limited to private life. As Bogdan Szajowski, a political scientist at the University of Exeter in England, observes in the August World Today, communism was an intellectual superglue; it not only bound the individual to the state, it forced ethnic groups to live together that would normally have sought independence. The collapse of communism not only led to the breakup of the Soviet Union but could also lead to the breakup of Russia. …