In 2021, Russia has little to do with the Soviet Union of 1991. Today, capitalism and Vladimir Putin have transformed society. Discontent intensifies in the face of inequalities and rigidities of power.

In two hours, this December 25, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev, President of the Soviet Union, will announce his resignation and the end of an organization created in December 1922. He nervously rereads his speech with Andrei Gratchev, his spokesperson, who tells us about the scene in his Kremlin office. His decision has been made for several days. “I am worried about the loss for our compatriots of the citizenship of a great country, a fact whose consequences can be very serious for all”, he will say around 7 pm.

“Disbelief, worries and hopes were intertwined,” recalls Anna, who was still a student at the time. I wondered above all about the new Russia that was about to emerge. “ For its part, the former director of Moscow Naum Kleiman museum remembers that ” the collapse of the USSR was unexpected, although a natural phenomenon. ” “Therefore, for citizens in general and for artists, it was a terrible shock, because no one was prepared for such a dramatic socio-political and cultural change,” he continues.. The euphoria caused by the lifting of censorship, or the showing of films previously banned from distribution, were quickly replaced by new conditions for commercial production, with a market diktat that proved to be as harsh as ideological diktat. “

Thirty years later, what is it? Russian society has hardly benefited from the market economy. The inequalities which also existed in the time of the USSR with the nomenklatura and its privileges have greatly increased.

It must be said that, in the early years, the country underwent liberal “shock therapy” marked by the closure of many public companies (defense industries, chemicals, services, etc.). After three decades, the share of the richest Russians represents nearly 5% of the population working in the upper administration, the private sector (banks, shops, energy) and at the highest level of the siloviki (the security forces and the army ).“They live in residential complexes or sheltered establishments and are inaccessible to researchers. This layer is the most prosperous of society, by its real income, but also by its indisputable privileges which persist in the state sphere as in the private sector: special procedures for obtaining housing (as a rule, of high quality, located in the comfortable quarters) privileges in access to employment of family members and distribution of federal procurement or city for enterprises it owns, “ notes sociologist Mikhail Tchernych (1).

Poverty on the rise since 2012

At the start of the year, according to the Russian statistics agency Rosstat, the poverty rate, set at 11,700 rubles (140 euros), stood at 13.1% of the population, an almost constant increase since 2012. From even 62% of Russians have an income that is sufficient only to pay for food and clothing. The median salary which stagnates around 350 euros, rather low pensions despite the recent revaluation participate in social discontent. This context provokes a real nostalgia in Russia. Several polls reveal that a majority of citizens regret the breakup of the USSR. And that two-thirds (66%) of them would like Russia to be above all “a country with a high standard of living, but not one of the most powerful countries in the world”,according to a survey by the Levada Center. This polling institute also measures a profound change: 49% of Russians would prefer the Soviet political system, a record since the beginning of the 2000s. Another record: 62% of those questioned consider that their “preferred economic system is planning and distribution states ” .

“The difficulties encountered by a certain number of Russians may explain these polls, which collide with 1991. But in the end, if the capitalist dream and the European dream sold for so many years are not there, return to a Soviet times, with the deprivation of travel and many other things, is clearly not imaginable, ” explains Loudmila, a sixty-year-old resident of St. Petersburg. As for the comparison drawn up by numerous media between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the USSR, it no longer really applies.“There is no more censorship, a lot of things can come out, be published. There are whole swathes of Russian and world literature that are accessible. You can see anything in the cinema or in the theater. But at the same time new taboos are appearing with very strong pressure on the media with regard to the political regime and religions ” , confirms the geographer specializing in Russia, Jean Radvanyi.

“No effective socio-economic development model”

Over the last decade, the confrontation between Russia and Western countries has continued to increase on strategic diplomatic issues: enlargement of the Atlantic Alliance, Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh, Iran, Mali, the Middle East … point that in L’Humanité Sunday of December 23, Andreï Gratchev believes that “the world is leaping backwards” and that “the disappearance of the USSR did not lead to a more stable and less dangerous world” . Why ? The Russian attitude towards its neighbors can explain it, when the disagreements were settled by Moscow with warnings and economic restrictions vis-à-vis Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova or Armenia for example. But, for the Russian author,“The great part of the responsibility lies with the West, which has not admitted Russia to the common European home. The latter was in a way ejected from it because it was considered a potential threat ” .

The events in Ukraine and around the Donbass confirm tensions unprecedented since the end of the Cold War between the United States and Russia. “We are not immune to an incident,” predict some diplomats. On the occasion of his traditional end-of-year press conference, Vladimir Poutin, this Thursday, was less vehement than in the past. On the Ukrainian issue, the Russian executive, which presented two draft peace treaties to review the European security architecture, judged the first American reactions to be “positive” . “Our American partners are ready to start this discussion, these negotiations, from the beginning of the year in Geneva”, declared Vladimir Poutine, recalling that“There must be no NATO advancing eastward. The ball is in their court, they must answer us. Will these red lines be enough? “The fundamental problem of post-Soviet ‘Eurasian integration’ lies in the inability of Russia, in its thirty years of existence as an independent state, to find an effective socio-economic development model which inspires its neighbors », Considers Andrei Kortunov, director general of the Russian Council for International Affairs.

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