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Emergence of "Two Russias"


It was naive, in retrospect, to believe that capitalism in Russia could be built in a decade. The world constructed by the Communist regime was as unique a system as has ever existed. It had its own ideology, institutions, and culture, formed over more than seven decades. In its way it was as internally consistent and highly evolved as its market-based Western counterpart. For those who were adults when Gorbachev’s reforms began, an inner core of Soviet habits, beliefs, values, and expectations still remains. 

Lamborghinis racing in the streets of Moscow. Photo:

The reforms of the 1990s led to the emergence of two Russias. One-tenth of Russians – approximately fifteen million people – inhabit the thriving “Russia Minor” (or what one writer describes as “Russian Luxembourg”). They can afford foreign vacations, credit cards, mobile phones, and imported cars. They do not have to economize on food or their children’s education. As a rule, they are young and live in big cities. They work hard, applying their knowledge and skills under the conditions of a capitalist economy, and they have individual income comparable to that of the middle classes in Western societies.

However, nine-tenths of the Russian population – the remaining 135 million people – live in “Russia Major,” which is a very different country indeed. They need to stock food supplies for winter by cultivating their tiny out-of-town allotments. They are often without a permanent job and regular income. Millions of them survive thanks to their traditional links to the countryside.

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