Collapse Of Soviet Union
September 27, 2011 11:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for reporting/stories dealing with Russia right when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Specifically about how people dealt with this radical shift in ideology, how it was the "wild east" where almost overnight Russia went from communism to rogue capitalism. How people actually went about becoming millionaires and billionaires, how they experiences a sexual revolution, how the russia mafia grew. Basically how this society reshaped itself without any rules or parameters telling it how to.

I'm more interested in the "everyman" perspective, and not just the political struggles.

I know it's a huge subject so anything pertaining to this will be helpful for me, someone who really knows nothing about it.
posted by JonesVery to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I recently watched the movie Generation P and it looks right up the alley you're searching. It's based off of a novel of the same name, so look into that.
posted by Senza Volto at 12:10 PM on September 27, 2011

It's pretty scabrous, but Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi's book based on their years at The eXile might be a good intro, at least to the late 90s, and the cultural impact of the new oligarchy, as it surrounds their reporting from the time with commentary on how the foreign bureaux of the western press managed to miss what was going on. (Vanity Fair profile.)
posted by holgate at 12:16 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Resurrection: "Remnick offers clear-eyed commentary on how the old order of gangsters has given way to a new order. Russia's power elite, he tells us, has embraced the tools and techniques of markets and electioneering to maintain power, while organized crime is fast becoming a major force in the economy. Remnick also describes how the changes in Russia have effected the people themselves."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:18 PM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Neither of these books is Great Literature, but they're both riveting and have a LOT of information along the lines you're looking for:

McMafia, by Misha Glenny

Metro Stop Dostoevsky, by Ingrid Bengis
posted by Corvid at 12:40 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Being at work, I can't think of exact sources for you. I just wanted to warn you about the danger of looking at the post-Soviet transition through the lens you described. If you're looking for starry-eyed, early 90s narratives written by US windbags and ideologues, I'm sure you can find plenty. But there is also a human history of the post-Soviet 90s that puts much less emphasis on some of the things you appear to expect to find in your reading. One observer can look at the first McDonald's in Moscow and see a shining beacon of progress. Another observer will see the same McDonald's and note that only 5% of the locals can eat there, or that it only accepts hard currency.
posted by Nomyte at 12:47 PM on September 27, 2011

Following up on Mr. Know-it-some's suggestion, I'd actually treat David Remick's Lenin's Tomb (about the fall of the USSR) and Resurrection as a pair. They are highly readable.

Of the two, I'm partial to Lenin's Tomb--it is really an excellent book and he traveled all over the country as the collapse was happening, talking to people from all walks of life: Party members, dissidents, striking miners, those trying to govern in the wake of the loss of party control, emerging capitalists and gangsters. He delves into how the systems of patronage in place by the party created a wild approach to capitalism, and how the gangs functioned as quasi-governments in the absence of any real political control. This is not the only thing he discusses in the book, but it does make up part of it; it also contextualizes the New Russia within the regime shift which I think is important in getting an understanding of how much of a change this era was for Soviet citizens from all walks of life. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of political stuff in the book, as well, but it is such a huge and multi-layered story that I think in some ways it is difficult to divorce the understanding of the one aspect from the others.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 1:49 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

From my polyglot Russian friend:

A chapter in Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine." It's biased but there's a lot of truth in it.

In reality, the book this person wants hasn't been written yet (how the russian mafia grew? it's an active criminal organization at its peak, anyone who's ever written anything about it is dead *anna politkovskaya, sergey magnitsky, etc etc* ).

If they want CURRENT perspective, is a radio/tv/internet opposition station, one of the few that haven't been coopted by the current regime. It's in Russian, but then anyone with actual interest in current Russian issues should be able to read Russian.


posted by bilabial at 4:10 PM on September 27, 2011

It might be more political than you want, but I recently read Armageddon Averted: The Collapse of The Soviet Union 1970-2000 which I thought was pretty darned good. Kotkin obviously has a macro view, and he's a political scientisty historian, but he dives down into what the populace was thinking and feeling at the same time.

I think he has some valuable insights in highlighting how it wasn't quite so black and white as you outline in your question. Certainly, on paper, the Union collapsed in an extraordinarily fast time, but his book really unpacks how it was something that - socially, economically and politically - had been slowly happening for quite a while, and - crucially - is in fact still happening to day.

I reviewed it on Librarything here if you're interested.

In terms of fiction, you might enjoy Martin Cruz Smith's Red Square, part of his excellent Arkady Renko crime novels. Whilst not as strong as the two immediately preceding it, the collapse is a prominent plot point and it contains a lot of stuff about the mafia and black market you might be interested in.
posted by smoke at 4:37 PM on September 27, 2011

Seconding Remnick and Kotkin, and here are some superb books that involve encounters with "everyday people": Andrew Meier's Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia After the Fall, Susan Richards' Epics of Everyday Life: Encounters in a Changing Russia (I haven't seen her more recent Lost and Found in Russia: Lives in the Post-Soviet Landscape, but I'll bet it's good), and Marat Akchurin's Red Odyssey: A Journey Through the Soviet Republics. More specialized but well written and very much worth reading is Masha Gessen's Dead Again: The Russian Intelligentsia After Communism.

> It's in Russian, but then anyone with actual interest in current Russian issues should be able to read Russian.

That's a stupid thing to say, but I guess if you're a polyglot it makes you feel deliciously smug to say it.

posted by languagehat at 11:36 AM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

« Older Road to Yosemite   |   Is the path to my heart paved with jokes? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.