Russia: Hope Amid Disorder

August 21, 1993

It's quite amazing that just two years have elapsed since the bungled coup attempt in Moscow that failed to depose Mikhail S. Gorbachev but destroyed him and the Soviet Union. Four months after the failed coup, both were gone. Since then, the structures and symbols of seven decades of communist failure in that vast country have been rapidly crumbling.

These days, the impression is easily gained that Russia is a lawless jungle resembling Chicago in the 1930s. An indigenous Mafia, it is alleged, controls everything. Crime is going through the roof; there are reports of shootouts in broad daylight.

What is happening in Russia today is no different from the unsettled days in the 1920s when Communists had taken over, destroyed the machinery of the old system but had not yet consolidated power. Today's property crimes or murder rate in Moscow are not even worth mentioning by comparison.

Once Russia develops the necessary laws and governmental machinery to operate in an orderly capitalistic society, conditions likely will become more settled. The worst excesses of corruption, violence and opportunism are symptoms of extremely rapid transition. A lower level of lawlessness might persist for some time. But it will not be criminality and terror sponsored and sanctioned by the state, which was the hallmark of the communist system.

Communists committed grievous crimes against humanity. Millions of their victims died and were buried long ago, but the living have to deal with the mindless destruction of land and poisoning of water resources that were part of communist social engineering. The cleanup will be costly and difficult. Yet nature has an extraordinary capacity to heal itself.

The current economic and social instability offer a splendid opportunity for Russia to reverse several decades of depopulation and resettle the countryside.

Russian heartlands are full of ancient villages which could be reclaimed and revitalized now that private farming and landownership are returning. This could be the new Russian frontier, particularly for young people, where dreams of independence and self-sufficiency could be quickly realized.

In their aid programs, Western industrial nations ought to make special efforts to provide funds and building material for this rural rejuvenation. It would be a cheap and effective way to increase Russia's stability. It would also have an interesting political payoff because Russian nationalists, so critical of the "alien" influences of the West, see those villages as representing the country's strength and eternal values.

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