12 October 2009
Supreme Fabulous Amazing Special (& Other Superlatives) Russia
There seems to be both a commitment to and obsession with superlatives in once-Communist countries. While we have a President, Vice President, some Senators and some Representatives, China has the “Supreme Leader” and Russia has the “Extraordinary Council of Superb Revolutionary Representatives.” I mean, how wonderful does that seem? It’s no wonder Russians jumped on board with the whole Bolshevik Revolution. Who WOULDN’T want to be part of a “Special Revolutionary Guard” or serve in the “Secret Special Police” (though I would start wondering how EVERYONE is so darn special all the darn time, don’t cha know).
That being said, Russian’s journey from Tsar to Commi to whatever you might call their current situation is fascinating/ It al sort-of “started” in 1911 when Russia became the last country in Europe to free their serfs. While the USA had abolished slavery some 46 years before, Russia was still operating under a feudal land system that meant people of all races were essentially owned by their aristocratic master. Needless to say, I don’t think people were too happy about that. So along comes Lenin with this vision of an egalitarian society where everyone has what they need - no less, no more. Sounds pretty good to the 70 million people who were essentially slaves, no? Plus, they had the really cool titles mentioned above.
As we know, the revolution swept through Russia and the communists came to power. Lenin goes on his merry way centralizing EVERYTHING, from farms to manufacturing plants to how and when you can use your bathtub. A few years go by and he realizes “hey, this really isn’t working. People are starving, we’re not developing, I think some things need to change.” Lenin heads back to the drawing board and reemerges with a decentralized, partially market economy model (think China today) and everyone gets rally excited. “Hurray, the Super Amazing Awesome Supreme Extraordinary Leader has a better idea!” Literally weeks later he has a stroke, dies and his most committed followers are ousted by Stalin (lets call him Captain Happy) and poof - the new plan goes out the window.
Enter the reign of terror. Not including the 26 million Russian soldiers that died in World War II (The US lost half a million soldiers) Stalin killed or ordered the killing of nearly 20 million more “dissidents” through a nation-wide system of prison camps where people were literally worked to death. This forced labour effectively drove Russia’s industrial revolution in the 50s and 60s. How did he manage to get away with it? Well, there was this code in Soviet Law that said you could be arrested for “secret reasons against the state.” Sounds a little fishy, no? That’s why I was thoroughly concerned when George W. Bush decided to start arresting and detaining people as “enemy combatants” that were unable to challenge the charges in court. I’m just sayin’...
So Stalin dies in 1953 and people are crying in the streets for days because - for nearly 30 years - the guy plastered images of himself EVERYWHERE, building a blind following of people known as a “Personality Cult” that permeated every facet of Soviet society. Sound familiar? That leads to almost 40 years of less-powerful, less “superlative-laden” leaders before Gorbachev says “hang on a minute, I think we need to change some things.” In he comes followed by Yeltsin (you know, the one who was ALWAYS drinking vodka) and that leads to Putin whose hardline has led to the reversal of most “opening” policies (especially around freedom of speech and expression); a powerful leader that mostly goes unquestioned.
Though it seems supremely fitting (to stay superlative about it) that this would happen. After all, people were serfs until 1911 serving a feudal lord then the proletariat of the Soviet Revolution led by scary leaders with lots of prefixes and now vote in a one-party system for the same guy three (and probably four) times. Sounds extraordinarily, amazingly superbly excellently divinely exceptionally wonderfully fantastically troublesome, no? So then, what has really changed?