Soviet Union: Paradox and Change

Soviet Union: Paradox and Change

Soviet Union: Paradox and Change

Soviet Union: Paradox and Change

Excerpt

They are brave men who will attempt a short book on the Soviet Union. A short book, unless it is very specialized, tends to be broad and sweeping. But how can one generalize about the Soviet Union? It is by far the largest country in the world--almost three times the size of the United States. It stretches from Big Diomede, only a few miles from Alaska, into the heart of Europe. It reaches south to the border of Iran and north to the Arctic Sea. Within its borders, one can find virtually every extreme of climate and terrain. The Russian plain stretches from the frozen tundra wasteland in the north through the great coniferous forests of the Taiga. To the south the taiga gradually gives way to the steppe that in turn melts into the deserts of Soviet Central Asia. Great ranges of snow-capped mountains rise to the east of the deserts--the Pamir, the Altai, and finally the Tien Shan, the "celestial mountains" that lie on the border of Sinkiang. Tea and citrus fruits grow in the subtropical valleys of the Caucasus; over 2000 miles to the northeast in Novoya Zenalya, the snow never melts.

The people of the Soviet Union are as diverse as the land itself. There are over 100 different nationalities; 60 different tongues are spoken. With this diversity, can one talk meaningfully about an "average Soviet citizen?" Can one say what he thinks about America, about Communism, about Khrushchev? The average Russian is about five feet four inches tall, weighs 140 pounds, is 55 percent female and always a little pregnant. In other words, Ivan Ivanovitch is every bit as fictitious as John Doe, his American counterpart. Any generalizations about the average citizen of the Soviet Union apply to a statistic, not to any flesh and blood human being. And in the absence of public opinion polls and a free press, generalizations about the average Soviet citizen are more risky than generalizations about the average American.

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