Wednesday, October 24, 2012


My professor, the director of the Academy as well as economic advisor to the Russian government, was out on a government business trip, so we had a substitute lecturer in my economics class this morning.  Professor Carol Leonard lectured about the regions of Russia, their economic development, and the agricultural sector.  Towards the end of the lecture, she brought up the 1990s.

I truly had no idea how devastating that decade was for the Russian people.  She described the misery, the starvation, the collapsing economy, and the nightmarish toll these misfortunes took on Russian society.

In the 1990s, Russian firms went bankrupt, Russian industries were producing things nobody wanted to buy, Russians could have land, but they could not take out loans against that land, people lost jobs, people smoked and drank anything, heart disease sickened the population, male life expectancy fell to somewhere in the mid-fifties, the medical system collapsed, Russia imported grain, and those who could, left.  While I was a little girl, watching Sesame Street and whining about eating my vegetables, an entire country was suffering.  It was difficult to imagine.

I see traces of the 1990s in Moscow.  Some, but not much.  The Russian people, as I'm learning, possess amazing resilience.  In twelve years, the male life expectancy rose to mid-seventies, people can take loans against the land, nearly everyone has an iPad or e-Reader, and grocery stores overflow with  продукты.  I know life is different in some of the less-developed regions of Russia, but in Moscow at least, life is better than it was.

Now, I understand why my host mom feeds me so much and has three televisions in her apartment.  It's because she can.  I don't know how the 1990s affected my host family.  I don't particularly want to bring up the subject.  But, from what I've learned about that first decade after the collapse of the Soviet system, nobody was well off.   I guess I need to keep clearing my plate at breakfast and dinner; I hope they know how grateful I am for all that they can provide for me.  I really don't need three котлеты at dinner, though.    


  1. My family and I "escaped" Russia in 1993 - smack dab in the middle of the difficult decade you described. It was definitely a hard time and we were incredibly lucky to be granted entrance into the U.S as refugees, but our departure left a huge rift with our relatives that remains to this day. Old feelings die hard and it's difficult to forgive and forget when life is so tough (they were angry with us for leaving)


    1. I can't imagine how difficult that must be for your family! I hope that your visit to Russia this summer helped ease the tension.