Twenty Years After the Fall, Part 2

Moscow, so the film title went, does not believe in tears, and stories of massacres by criminal gangs who control major enterprises, contract killings over business and political disputes, and savagely beat or kill journalists who don’t recognize the limits of Russian press freedom still pop up in today’s “middle class” Russia, where this sort of thing is no longer supposed to happen.  Vlast (the authorities) often pretends that is the case.

But what of “stability” and Putin’s March presidential election win?  (Admittedly, the result is disputed, though even many critics think Putin likely broke the 50-percent barrier, even without outright fraud; nevertheless, we can’t be certain about that.)  As noted in Part 1, existing political alternatives leave something to be desired, and certain levels of predictability, along with improved living standards overall, have made life more tolerable relative to the recent past.

In 2012, your plane will be fueled and will take off, dear reader, though the schedule may be chaotic (and the plane may crash, but we will get to that); you will probably be paid (though wage arrears remain a problem); and your factory operates on a full schedule (though working conditions are harsh and dangerous).  The Russian attitude is “It could be worse!”  Yes, it could; we have...

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