A Letter from Russia
Shishatsky, Grigory, Freeman
Dear Readers of The Freeman,
Hello, I am Grigory (Greg), whom you might remember from a previous issue of The Freeman ("Letters From Russia," October 1997). First, I should say I have read several issues of The Freeman, which I received from my friend Dennis Peterson, and it has been a real eye-opener to me concerning developments in the United States and other countries.
Second, I am neither an expert in economics nor a politician. I'm just an ordinary Russian man; therefore, I can tell you only what I see around me and what I think and how I feel about what I see. Of course, I was not and am not such a giant of dissidence as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Vasily Aksyonov, whose books we now can read without being afraid of persecution. Nevertheless, I still think that some of my views, opinions, and experiences may be quite interesting to the American reader.
More than ten years have already passed since the beginning of perestroika and almost seven years since the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But Russia (to say nothing of all the other republics of the former Soviet empire) is still very far from being a free country. But regardless of what the pro-communist newspapers say, it is my firm conviction that life is improving in Russia, and events are becoming more predictable.
Even with the little freedom we now have in Russia, I think the situation is great because in Soviet times I had less than I have now. As surprising as it may seem, I was not so much disappointed by the continual shortage of various consumer products as by the lack of information about what had been going on in the rest of the world. The Soviet people lived in a kind of information vacuum. All we heard and read was "the tremendous achievements of the Soviet people on the road to communism."
The communist party leaders thought they "knew better" which books the Soviet people should or should not read. Most of the nonfiction books that had been published in the West were out of reach here, although their titles had often been mentioned with much scorn and disapproval in Soviet books, magazines, and newspapers. They were considered "anti-scientific" and "anti-social," contradicting the Soviet science and "the Soviet moral conceptions." For example, PsychoCybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, Guide to Personal Happiness by Albert Ellis and Irving Becker, How to Develop a Winning Personality by Martin Panzer, and many other books on self-improvement, were banned. The Soviet literary critics condemned such books for proclaiming egotism and individualism, whereas the Soviet man's priority, they declared, should be diligent work for the welfare of his homeland and the building of communism.
Nowadays I know for sure that I will not have to run all over the town and through every store in search of a package of washing powder, an electric bulb, or a pair of socks, as I used to do in Soviet times. All of these products are available at the local marketplace at reasonable prices. I will never forget how in 1982 a friend and I used to stand in line for three hours or even longer at the only milk shop in this town just to buy some milk.
Even today the communist newspapers prefer not to mention such facts. They ramble on continuously about how harmful Boris Yeltsin's reforms have been to Russia and declare that the reforms are leading only to the decay and ruin of our country. I cannot agree with such views because what I see indicates quite the opposite. The people's faces have changed. I can see more smiles around me. The young men and women have become less inhibited. The shop assistants have become more polite, attentive, and courteous toward the consumers.
In Soviet times, when someone approached a saleswoman, she would look at him with a what-do-you-want-from-me expression on her face as if he were her personal enemy. It may seem either funny or insignificant, but that's just how it used to be. …