>Who Caused the Collapse of the Soviet Union? Part I

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Nothing annoys me more than hearing people discuss completely in earnest whether the collapse of the Soviet Union was brought about by Ronald Reagan or by somebody else. Such discussions make just as much sense as trying to figure out whether world peace was achieved by this or some other politician. “Well, there is no world peace,” you’d say. Right you are. And there was no collapse of the Soviet Union. Not in any meaningful sense, that is. As to the end of the Cold War, if you seriously think it’s over, you need to stop spending so much time listening to the American media and turn to some external sources of information every once in a while. The winner of the Cold War is yet to be decided but I somehow doubt that you can win any war by pretending it isn’t taking place.
In case you want to know what really happened with the Soviet Union, North American media sources will not tell you anything intelligent. Every time I read an article or watch a news segment on the former USSR countries in the US or Canada, I am terrified at the amount of sheer factual errors and ridiculous mistakes that I encounter. I read an article in Montreal’s Gazette a few years ago that stated in no uncertain terms that radio was very popular in Russia nowadays because people had no money to buy TV-sets. This made me realize that woeful ignorance and ideological dishonesty of print media journalists makes writing about the former USSR the perfect ground for them to demonstrate their complete lack of investigative integrity. They just write whatever old bunch of lies will make the readers feel more relaxed and happy at any given moment.

In order to answer the question as to what happened to the Soviet Union, I want to give you small snippets from the biographies of the richest and most powerful people in Russia today. Tell me if you find anything these people have in common. I marked the relevant parts with bold type in case you don’t feel like reading a lot today.
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Vladimir Putin, the President and now the Prime-Minister (and the real ruler) of Russia:
Putin joined the KGB in 1975 upon graduation from university, and underwent a year’s training at the 401st KGB school in Okhta, Leningrad. He then went on to work briefly in the Second Department (counter-intelligence) before he was transferred to the First Department, where among his duties was the monitoring of foreigners and consular officials in Leningrad, while using the cover of being a police officer with the CID. He served at the Fifth Directorate of the KGB, which combated political dissent in the Soviet Union. He then received an offer to transfer to foreign intelligence First Chief Directorate of the KGB and was sent for additional year long training to the Dzerzhinsky KGB Higher School in Moscow and then in the early eighties—the Red Banner Yuri Andropov KGB Institute in Moscow (now the Academy of Foreign Intelligence).
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Mikhail Potanin,  one of Russia’s billionaires, former First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.

Potanin was born into a high-ranking communist family. In 1978, Potanin attended the faculty of the International economic relations at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), an elite school that groomed students for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. . . In 1993, Potanin became President of United Export Import Bank. From August 14, 1996 until March 17, 1997 he worked as . Since August 1998, Potanin hold the positions of President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Interros Company. Potanin’s Interros owns 25% and controls Russian Nickel giant Norilsk Nickel
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Mikhail Khodorkovsky,  is a Russian oligarch and businessman. In 2004, Khodorkovsky was the wealthiest man in Russia, and was 16th on Forbes list of billionaires. Now, this vile criminal is finally in jail.
He succeeded in building a career as a communist functionary. He became deputy head of Komsomol (the Communist Youth League) at his university. The Komsomol career was one of the ways to get into the ranks of communist apparatchiks and to achieve the highest possible living standards. After perestroika started, Khodorkovsky used his connections within the communist structures to gain a foothold in the developing free market. He used the help of some powerful people to start his business activities under the cover of Komsomol. Friendship with another Komsomol leader, Alexey Golubovich, helped him greatly in his further success, since Golubovich’s parents held top positions in the State Bank of the USSR.
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Alexander Lebedev:  In May 2008, he was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the richest Russians and as the 358th richest person in the world with an estimated fortune of $3.1 billion. He owns a third of airline Aeroflot, and is part owner of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and owner of four UK newspapers with son Evgeny Lebedev: the London Evening StandardThe Independent, the Independent on Sunday and the new i newspaper. 

In 1977, Alexander Lebedev entered the Department of Economics at Moscow State Institute of International Relations. After he graduated in 1982, Lebedev started work at the Institute of Economics of the World Socialist System doing research for his Kandidat (equal to Ph.D.) dissertation The problems of debt and the challenges of globalization. However he soon transferred to the First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence) of KGB. He worked there and at its successor Foreign Intelligence Service until 1992. In London he had the diplomatic cover of an economics attaché
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Chernomyrdinwas the founder and the first chairman of the Gazprom energy company, the longest serving Prime Minister of Russia (1992–1998) and Acting President of Russia for a day in 1996. He was a key figure in Russian politics in the 1990s, and a great contributor to the Russian transition from a planned to a market economy
Chernomyrdin began developing his career as a politician when he worked for the Communist Party in Orsk between 1967 and 1973. In 1973, he was appointed the director of the natural gas refining plant in Orenburg, a position which he held until 1978. Between 1978 and 1982, Chernomyrdin worked in the heavy industry arm of the Central Committee of the Communist party.
In 1982, he was appointed deputy Minister of the natural gas industries of the Soviet Union. Concurrently, beginning from 1983, he directed Glavtyumengazprom, an industry association for natural gas resource development in Tyumen Oblast. During 1985-1989 he was the Minister of gas industries.

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I could continue this list practically ad infinitum but I’m sure that everybody knows what I’m trying to say here.  All of the major politicians and the billionaires in Russia and other former Soviet republics are former high-ranking members of the Communist Party, apparatchiks, and KGB employees. There was never any transfer of power, either politically or  economically. Absolutely the same people (or, rather, families) who ruled us before 1985 are still in power today. And if you want to know how and why that happened, wait for the second part of this post. 

>On Love and Peaches

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Everybody knows that people who are in love are intolerable. They persecute everybody with cutesy stories about the relationship that they believe to be the greatest romance of all times and that people around them consider to be a mundane and boring story. “So why do you like him?” my sister asked me once. She truly repented of asking the question when forty minutes later I was still answering it in painstaking detail. 
My readers have to recognize, though, that in the 23 months I’ve been blogging I have never indulged my desire to tell them about the most beautiful romance ever, which is, of course, the one I’m living right now. Today, however, I want to loosen my restraint a little and regale you with the most recent touching story of this great romance in celebration of the International Women’s Day. Feel free to skip.
Yesterday, the male protagonist of the great romance was passing his SAS certification exam while the female protagonist was working on her next article. After passing the test with flying colors, what do you think the male protagonist did to celebrate? Went out drinking with his buddies? Bought himself a gift? Plopped himself on the couch in front of the television? (All these, of course, would be great ways to celebrate that I would support wholeheartedly.) No, he remembered that the day before the female protagonist, who is also a passionate lover of peaches, couldn’t find any at the local supermarket. So he went on a hunt for peaches, found them, and brought them home to the peach-loving female protagonist.
Peaches are not only my favorite food ever. They also carry a host of literary allusions. (You want to live with a literary critic, get used to the fact that everything carries a literary allusion). Giving peaches to a person symbolizes sacrifice in the name of love, the kind of sacrifice that doesn’t perceive itself as such and that exists for its own sake. Here is a link to a short story on love and peaches from O Henry, one of our favorite authors ever, that inspired this symbolism of peaches for us.
And now I solemnly promise not to share any more romantic stories for a while.

>Happy Women’s Day 2011!

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Today is the 100th anniversary of the International Women’s Day. If you don’t know what this holiday represents, here is some basic information:
When:  Tuesday 8 March 2011

Where: Everywhere
What:   International Women’s Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women’s Day is a national holiday.
Why:   Suffragettes campaigned for women’s right to vote. The word ‘Suffragette’ is derived from the word “suffrage” meaning the right to vote. International Women’s Day honours the work of the Suffragettes, celebrates women’s success, and reminds of inequities still to be redressed. The first International Women’s Day event was run in 1911. 2011 is the Global Centenary Year.

Make sure you congratulate the women in your life (I’m congratulating my mother, my sister and my niece today. I’d congratulate female coworkers were we not on spring break.) 



Happy Women’s Day, everybody!

>Frustrated with Blogger

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Blogger is living a life of its own today. Half of my gadgets don’t work, including the great “Random Posts” gadget that is very helpful in introducing people to my old posts. The “Followers” gadget has also been dead. I futzed with the template for an hour, trying to get the gadgets to work. Then I noticed that other blogs that use the Blogger platform have the same problem today. 
This is really annoying. I have observed that there are several moments during a year when you can increase your blog readership dramatically. January, March and August are the months when readers seem to roam the Internet in droves looking for new blogs to follow. 
See, for example, this graph of my blog stats from January 2010 until today: 
See what happened last March? The readership grew from 3,973 to 7,398. After a long and painful struggle with my rusty memory of what I learned about percentages in fifth grade, I think this means that the readership grew by 86.2% in that one month. (I’m mathematically challenged, so please correct me if I’m wrong here.) 
Of course, now that the gadgets are not functioning properly, I’m not sure there will be a rise in readership this March. And that annoys me.