Shattered after generations of U.S. aggression, the breakup of the Soviet Union proved to be disastrous for millions. Old safety and social protections vanished, and people were pushed to the margins. Now a Gallup poll shows what 11 states that comprised the old Soviet Union long knew: that the people were better off before the republic’s end.
Russia Today reported Dec. 21 the results of a new survey of residents of the countries that formerly were part of the Soviet Union, including Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and Azerbijan. Respondents were simply asked whether the breakup of the Soviet Union benefited or harmed their respective countries.
The results were resounding.
Those in Kyrgyzstan, for example, found the Soviet Union’s end was harmful rather than beneficial by a 61-16 percent margin. In Ukraine, the figures leaned strongly on the harm caused, by a 56-23 percent margin. Overall, results showed 51 percent feeling the Soviet Union’s demise harmed people, while 24 percent believed the people benefited.
Not surprisingly, those who had experienced life in the USSR were almost three times more likely to say the breakup harmed people. Those in countries with simmering violence and ethnic tensions were also more likely to see harm in the end of the Soviet Union.
Although many U.S. pundits may find such statistics surprising, one would need to look no further than the vast social and economic human rights the USSR provided for its citizens to understand the rationale. The right to a job, free education, free medical care and housing were all among an array of rights the Soviet system provided. Rather than basic social security for the elderly as is known in the West, the Soviet Union guaranteed disability allowances, retirement pensions, care for the elderly and disabled and more.
Under socialism, citizens of the USSR were promised in the Constitution freedom of speech, press and assembly; women’s equality; and rights to privacy. Today, many of the same countries, having shifted to capitalist models, favor business at the expense of their people. In Armenia, for example, the post-USSR economy has shifted back to agricultural, while the International Monetary Fund and other lenders have extended loans. Today, the country is dependent on support from Armenians abroad.
In spite of what capitalists claim, socialism protected the rights of many, which is a likely reason why so many in countries that once enjoyed its fruits see clearly how much worse off they are without the USSR.
Liberation asked writer I.V. Sta, who was born in the USSR, to share her reflections on the poll results. Here is what she told us:
Everyone in my family grew up with an expectation of everyone’s basic needs being met. Everyone went to college because it was free. Everyone had jobs that they loved because jobs were a constitutional right. When I was born, my mother had a guaranteed year of maternity leave and a nurse visiting our apartment to check on me. When I was just a month old, that nurse was able to spot a health condition that would have otherwise gone unnoticed and killed me. These state-guaranteed rights changed matters entirely for all the people in the USSR. Because all resources and productive forces were directed at meeting the needs of working people, real opportunities for youth, workers and intellectuals to pursue their dreams were opened up.
Because my grandfather was in the military, my mother traveled a great deal as she was growing up. She went to over ten different schools as a child, many of them outside of Russia. Everywhere she lived, she lived with people of a variety of nationalities, and encountered no racism or white supremacy. There was proactive education on all the different cultures present in the Soviet Union. My own family is part Romani, and the USSR is the only place in the world where Romani people were ever actively integrated, given equal rights and saw their culture honored. Many nations lived together as brothers and sisters.
Now, after the fall of the Soviet Union, racism is rampant across Russia. Neo-Nazi groups are extremely popular. People who cannot pass for white and LGBTQ people are in great danger when they travel after dark, even on public transportation. Because the nationalized resources were stolen after counterrevolution prevailed and economic rights have been abolished, people have to resort to extreme means to survive. For example, schoolteachers’ salaries are so low that a common means of earning extra money is by blackmailing parents with threats of not passing students. Elderly people are denied their pensions regularly and can do nothing about it. The only way to find a job is by having connections. The quality of education has gone extremely far down, while the price of university education is not affordable for an average working person. In fact, many schools charge tuition as early as in the first grade. The cost of everything has risen, while workers’ pay has gone down in comparison. In stark contrast, the billionaire oligarchs who stole the nationalized resources live comfortably in Europe.
It is only natural that the people of the former USSR feel pain. Our collective opinions are logical. Entire nations of people who have tasted unity, liberation and a new age of rights – an era of working-class solidarity – were deprived very suddenly of their livelihoods. My parents’ generation raised me believing that going to college was a normal thing to do, not an investment or a major economic decision. I was raised believing that it’s natural to have a job doing what you love. Living in the US forced me to see the harsh reality of capitalism. And today, millions of young people across the former USSR are facing that same cruel system. Their confusion and their propensity to violence and bigotry are the products of a reactionary usurper structure, which the generations before them never needed the tools to navigate.