Politics in the Soviet Union

By Posthumus, Richard | State Legislatures, December 1993 | Go to article overview

Politics in the Soviet Union


Posthumus, Richard, State Legislatures


In September 1992 I had a great opportunity to travel to three countries in the former Soviet Union through the privately funded People-to-People exchange program. The program sent me and 17 other state legislatiors from all over the United States to exchange views with the new political leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. This trip left such a lasting impression on me that I want to share some of my experiences.

As a state lawmaker, I know how easy it is to get caught up in everyday conflicts, often thinking our troubles have no end. But after visiting the former U.S.S.R. and witnessing firsthand the political and personal turmoil raging there, I realized that we are fortunate to have a political system that functions rather efficiently. One clear example is the smooth change of power between one president and the next. Our annual budget shortfalls, fiscal constraints and service demands are surmountable, and more than ever, I am proud and grateful to be an American. While Soviet people do not live in anarchy, many do live in question, wondering every day what their futures will hold.

A Look at Moscow

My adventure started when I left Grand Rapids on Tuesday, Sept. 8. Arriving at the Moscow airport on Wednesday afternoon, my first thoughts were, "Why is this international airport in such an important city so quiet?" There were no other planes landing and almost nobody roaming the airport. What I didn't know then was that this was a clue to much of what we would see and experience over the next two weeks.

We took a swift bus ride to our partially French-owned hotel. After dinner as dusk set in, I took a mile-and-a-half jaunt around the mostly residential neighborhood. I found apartment buildings rather than homes; few Russian people live in single-family dwellings, and this is generally true throughout much of Eastern Europe. I noticed the older Russians were quiet and somber. They wouldn't look at me as I passed to nod "hello," as we often do in the United States. Only the younger people appeared to show any sign of happiness as they gathered in groups near their apartments. I couldn't help but feel both wonder and confusion when I realized I was strolling among a people that for all of my life were considered to be my enemies. Now I walked among them without fear and without their showing curiosity or emotion. I believe they did not view me as either an enemy or a friend, but rather as simply "there."

A Basis for Laws

The next morning we visited the Institute of U.S.-Canadian Studies. Established in 1967, it was designed to serve as a think tank for the Communist Party in the U.S.S.R. It advised party leaders on United States economy and on likely U.S. response to various activities throughout the world. The institute currently serves the same purpose for the various governments of the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.).

Much of the discussion we had there centered on how new Russian laws would be established and on what basis. It still hadn't been decided whether Russia would start with laws created before the Communist Revolution of 1917 or with those passed since then. Under the new republic, about 200 new laws have been passed, but the panel was concerned that these laws weren't based on any moral or philosophical beliefs. They said Russians, because of their communist experiences, don't trust laws. Rather, they are accustomed to trying to evade them. This makes for an even more difficult transition period.

The panel of Soviet leaders leading the discussion concluded that while U.S. and Russian citizens have a lot in common, Americans have had more success in assimilating various races and ethnic groups. And while the United States is a fairly stable "melting pot," the multi-cultured Russia has been divided into racial states. This has created even more cultural and racial dissension than is typical in the United States. …

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