One of the things I love about living overseas is the ability to meet people from all over the world. I have learned from this that people are the same, in that we all have hopes and dreams. Coming from different backgrounds also gives us different perspectives on the same events. One of the most interesting people I have had the privilege to meet was a Russian co-worker about the same age as me. This always fascinated me because we both grew up during the end of the Cold War and I always wondered what her perspective on it was. Finally, as she was preparing to leave and go home I decided to invite her for lunch and talk to her about living in the Soviet Union, the collapse, and what life is like now in Russia. I will break this question and answer session into three parts, as they are very different and each deserves it’s own article. This is the second part, view the first part here.
Q: What caused the Soviet Union to collapse?
A: There was an over dependence on the government by the people, also the country had reached unsustainable debt levels trying to catch up to America and keep unprofitable state owned enterprises in business.
Q: Were there any warning signs before the collapse?
A: No, most people never paid much attention to what the government was doing and assumed they had our best interests in mind. So the collapse came as a total shock.
Q: Looking back do you think it was preventable?
A: Yes, of course it was. It would have taken some serious cuts in government spending, but if they closed the unprofitable businesses and let smaller private businesses take over, it would have definitely prevented the collapse.
Q: What was life like during the collapse?
A: It was awful. We had no food, my father lost his job and we did not have any idea of what was happening or what would happen.
Q: What did you think was happening?
A: I thought the world was ending. Everything that I had known growing up suddenly changed and was over. We had no idea about the future, what we would do, what would happen to the country. All of a sudden parts of our country were leaving and forming their own countries. It really was the end of our world.
Q: In America we viewed this as cause for celebration and had many reports of Perestroika and that you were celebrating the collapse along with us, is that true?
A: You were celebrating? We were definitely not celebrating because we were starving. Things did not really start to improve for most people the first couple years. Why were you celebrating us starving?
Q: We were celebrating because we had finally won the Cold War, if America had collapsed would you have been celebrating winning the Cold War?
A: Yes, I suppose we would have. But to think that people could celebrate another people starving and losing everything they ever had is amazing. But, I am pretty sure we would have celebrated America collapsing much in the same way. Did you know we were starving?
Q: No we had no idea that people in the former Soviet Union were starving. We had reports of people celebrating and enjoying their new found freedom. That was not the case?
A: No, there were definitely no celebrations, and we did not necessarily gain any extra freedom either.
Q: I see, do you follow the news and what is happening in America much?
A: A little.
Q: Do you see any parallels with the former Soviet Union and America?
A: Yes, the debt levels in America seem unsustainable, and giving money to the banks and auto companies is a lot like what we were doing to support our state owned enterprises before the collapse.
Again, I was surprised to learn from a first hand account that not everything reported in America about this event in history was true. The most shocking part of this was her talking about the parallels between the Soviet Union right before the collapse and America now.
Look for Part 3 where we discuss life in Russia now next week.
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Life in the Soviet Union From a Russian Perspective
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