British journalist Marcel Theroux takes us on a trip to a country he fell in love with as a student during the 1980s. What has become of Russia since then is frightening and should serve as a caution to the cheerleaders of globalized capitalism. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of communism, the country entered not into a new era of prosperity and democracy, but new and more frightening forms of oppression. Mafiosi, unscrupulous oligarchs, “cossack” nationalists who are frankly nothing but repackaged Nazis, and AIDS have all wrought havoc on Russian life.
Now, the “go-go” ’90s are long over. The economy is in turmoil. Millions of jobs were killed by the new capitalism. People are struggling to survive, and many have simply given up. Poverty is at record levels, life expectancy and birthrates have both plummeted, and racism is driving out such ethnic minorities as the Turks of Krasnodar in Southern Russia, who are often the only ones reproducing at more than replacement rates. Meanwhile, ethnic Russians are being decimated by violence and AIDS, which is spreading unchecked due to a lack of government concern and virtually no official action to stop it. Until recently, the Russian government has seen fit to spend more on AIDS in Africa than at home–as if to say that AIDS is Africa’s problem and fault, but no concern of its own! The result: racism and fascism are flourishing in Russia.
The only glimmerings of hope come near the end: Russia can still turn things around by using revenues from its vast mineral and resource wealth to finance healthcare, education and furnish jobs and other basic necessities. Yes, that means nationalized resources and a severe limit to the “free market” that gave rise to the mafias. Is that communism? No. It is a form of actual socialism, and increasingly, it is looking like good old common sense. What is working already for Venezuela could work for Russia. Will Russia take heed?