The Russian Prospect:
Hope and Despair
Peter H. Merkl
Russia has made a choice for democracy and markets and defied the most dire predictions about its evolution.
-- Madeleine Albright, The Economist, February. 15, 1997.
[The] infrastructure of a capitalist system . . . requires laws and institutions. [Since these were not introduced after the fall of central planning in Russia], the most rampant robber capitalism currently prevails.
-- George Soros, Lehrer Newshour, February 20, 1997.
In contrast to the Eastern Europe states, which were under communism for "only" four decades and experienced it as largely a foreign imposition, 1 the Soviet Union (particularly Russia) was the birthplace of the Bolshevik Revolution, which maintained its determined grip for over seventy years -- the entire life span of many of today's oldest Russians. For this reason, Russians experienced the decline and fall of communist economics and dictatorship and the rise of democracy and the market-driven economy rather differently from the heady days of communist overthrow in Prague, Warsaw, Leipzig, and Budapest. Beginning in 1986, the Russian population may have at first experienced Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika as a promising era of reforms, but the growing internal conflicts and eventual disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 soon turned everything into an avalanche of major crises that in public opinion polls are still being blamed for the economic problems of today. 2 This sense of the destruction of something truly important in their lives is likely