The USSR’s destructive demise on their own people
This summer, I was fortunate enough to be granted the opportunity to participate in the history seminar “War and Memory in Russia.” This seminar provided 15 students with the opportunity to to go to Russia and experience the nation first hand.
While there, students researched how Russians remember war, but for me, something else became dreadfully apparent: The fall of the Soviet Union has had a devastating impact on the elderly population.
One of the most notable aspects of the Soviet Union was the impressive social security system that existed in the nation. For the millions of citizens and soldiers who took part in the numerous conflicts, this social security net was a guarantee that they would be cared for upon their retirement; for many, this was indeed the case.
In the late-Soviet era, however, this security net began to fail those who had sacrificed a great deal —their families, their homes and in many cases, their sanity.
The fall of the Soviet Union left this group of elderly citizens to fend entirely for themselves. With no pensions, this group was left with two options: go back to work, or fall into poverty. Twenty years later, the aged are still brushed aside.
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this elderly neglect, is that it quickly developed into resentment towards former veterans and civilians.
Scholars have revealed that the public would mock former soldiers; they were ridiculed to such an extent that once-proud veterans would shamefully remove their medals.
This simply seems to be adding insult to injury, taking away the last source of pride for many elderly citizens.
Catherine Merridale, a Russian historian, noted the economic pressures placed upon veterans. She stated that veterans understood the importance of not missing “the crumbs and kopecks that [the] grudging state may offer.”
Leonard Friesen, a professor of Russian history at WLU expressed a similar viewpoint, noting that the elderly population has been mostnegatively affected by the fall of the Soviet Union.
While every nation has a number of elderly who choose to continue working, the amount within Russia is staggeringly high.
As mentioned previously, the collapse of the Soviet Union destroyed the social security structure that veterans and citizens were going to rely on during their retirement. As such, much of the elderly population has been forced to continue working well past the traditional retirement age. The extent of this was not apparent until we landed in Russia, when it became blatantly obvious — older men and women would be working in various shops and street vendors. In addition to this, many elderly citizens are unable to find employment and must attempt to sell trinkets or flowers on the street.
A number of recent polls have suggested that Russians believe the nation was better off as a communist state. These polls once again demonstrate the massive difference in opinion, with the oldest age bracket yearning for communism, and the youngest bracket embracing capitalism.
Unsurprisingly then, the economic gap between generations is continually increasing — as is the case with many nations, economic inequality is growing at an ever increasing rate.
For most westerners, the fall of the Soviet Union meant one thing — we won, the world, and all Russians are now better off thanks to the spread of capitalism. This however, could not be further from the truth. Whether out of ignorance, or by choice, there are many who have suffered a great deal since the fall of the Soviet Union, yet their stories remain untold.
We should not delude ourselves into thinking that the fall of communism was a good thing. The lives of millions have been ruined forever, and the response of capitalism is to not give a damn.