Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Have Russians Moved beyond Apathy and Cynicism?

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Have Russians Moved beyond Apathy and Cynicism?

Article excerpt

The wave of demonstrations against the rule of Vladimir Putin in Russia brings back memories of another winter when Moscow stood poised for change. And it has made me wonder whether at long last, the cynical and apathetic Russians I met back then have been finally replaced by a new generation ready to fight again.

A little over 20 years ago, watching the end of the Soviet Union from my perch in the freezing center of Moscow, I chatted with a Western journalist who had been based in the U.S.S.R. for many years. As we witnessed the seemingly-sudden collapse of a once- mighty superpower, he pondered his own future. He had covered the top foreign policy story of that era: the Cold War contest between the United States and the Soviets. But Russia, he predicted, was about to become just another Third World country, a poor backwater. Covering Moscow now would amount to a demotion.

My jaded colleague exaggerated. Russia will forever remain an important state on the world stage. But the two decades since the end of communism have proven the cynics right in many respects.

Revolution fatigue meant that the end of the U.S.S.R. did not come wrapped in high hopes for a thriving democracy. The crumbling Soviet system was not toppled by people expecting to build a utopia. It fell when Russians, like other Eastern Europeans, recognized that the search for utopia had brought disaster.

Many fought valiantly, even gave their lives to topple the Soviet regime. But this was a revolution of an exhausted people, who had had enough of changing the world.

For years, their modest expectations proved, if anything, too ambitious. The energetic leader of the anti-Soviet revolution, Boris Yeltsin, underwent an embarrassing public decline into alcoholism. The economy lurched into an ill-advised privatization scheme (advised by Western experts, incidentally) spawning a few billionaires and sending the country through a series of crises that wiped out the savings of those hoping to join the middle class. …

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