(picture is taken in the Russian Caucus Mountains, wearing authentic Cossack uniform. While Michelle is taking a donkey ride)
So you think you're a history buff, eh? What do these two words mean: "perestroika" and “glasnost"?
If you said "restructuring" and "openness", you may have a chance at being the next Jeopardy champ. Well, in 1985 when Mikhail S. Gorbachev took over the helm of the Soviet Union, he instituted these two policies which quickly led to the collapse of many Soviet regimes throughout Eastern Europe.
European history has always fascinated me, and I was fortunate enough in the next few years after "glasnost" to be able to travel around Eastern Europe. I experienced firsthand, the oppressive remnants of the Soviet political grip. Some of the countries I visited and lived in are as follows:
- 1992: Dresden, East Germany; Prague, Czechoslovakia; Brno, Czechoslovakia; Warsaw, Poland;
- 1995-96: Stavropol, Russia (1 whole year)
- 2012: Nessebar, Bulgaria
In each of these cities, including Bulgaria almost 20 years after the policies of openness, Soviet influence and ideology was still stamped on everything from family life to the local marketplace. As an apple pie eatin' American; I was fascinated by the extreme differences in Soviet culture as compared to the suburban utopia (tongue in cheek) that I was raised in.
Two things really stood out to me as profound differences from what I was used to...
(1) The role of "Father" and "Dad" in the Soviet system was strategically hijacked by the Government. Nuclear families, where a mom and dad raised their kids and were highly involved in their instruction, were few and far between. There seemed to be either single-moms living in one room apartments, or larger flats housing two or three generations of parents and grand-parents usually run by a controlling grandma. Not only was there a shortage on housing, but people needed to pool all income in order to survive. One man I knew had to work three jobs just to make ends meet; wages were set purposely low, which required women to work as well.
So what were they to do with the kids?
Government day care, of course. That is where they learned "collectivism" first-hand. All toys are owned by everyone, all kids need to learn how to blend into society, no one is truly special. What you have is really mine...equal, equal, equal. (Translation: Equally bad, and no one cares)
(2) The misunderstanding of "profit" and "incentive as motivation." I can clearly remember when we would go to the store to buy bread or meat and the ladies behind the counter would not help you unless you directly addressed them, "Woman, help me here." If you didn't call out, you would get no service.
Why is this you ask?
Because they got paid the same whether they worked hard or not. In fact, I had a discussion with a Russian who was upset at the Georgian merchants who came to sell their wares. (Note: this is the Country of Georgia, south of Russia). They were upset that the Georgians would try to make a profit; in fact the Russians called them thieves. I once asked, "Why are they thieves?" Answer: "Because they told us they bought the shirt for $5 in Georgia, and they are charging us $8 to $10. That isn't fair, we should only pay what they paid. Equal, equal, equal." I asked them if they understood the terms "profit margin" and "overhead" and "travel expenses" and they looked at me with a blank stare.
I wonder if Americans understand that these same two bi-products of the decrepit Soviet system seem to be creeping in here: loss of dad's influence, and loss of incentive to work? I wonder if anyone cares that America is daily becoming more and more centrally controlled just like the vast Communist bureaucracies? I wonder if our politician's naive "idealism" is really driving us down to the dreadful reality of "false equality" and "lack of incentive?" I wonder if anyone cares?
Sure we should want to help people, but really, is Soviet collectivism the right answer?
Or maybe the old adage no longer applies: "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime."
One thing to consider, if we wait for the Government to feed us fish, I heard they only know how to catch bottom feeders...so you better like eating catfish! No lobster or perch for you!