After The Fall
by Antony C. Black
Despite the hyperbolic celebrations surrounding the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (last November), despite the blaring of trumpets, the general fanfare and the triumphalist rejoicing, there yet remains the rather niggling matter of a rational evaluation of the consequences of this historic event. For at the risk of throwing cold water on the party, it is difficult to ignore the fact that on the face of it, capitalist restoration in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries has, with only few exceptions, resulted in the utter economic and social devastation of vast sectors of the populations involved.
That this can be so easily dismissed in the West as the inevitably ameliorating results of a 'transitional phase' from socialism to capitalism is, ten years after the fact, as empirically insupportable as it was always, in any case, theoretically facile. Indeed, upon examination of the changes that have taken place, one is led inexorably to the realization that, far from having conceived a new Golden Age, the Fall has given birth to a tragedy of untold proportions. Bearing witness to this viewpoint are the following snapshots taken from the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union:
In Russia itself, the indices for every social ill imaginable have shot through the ceiling. The infant mortality rate has soared, while life expectancy has dropped six years since 1989. One third of all Russian men never live to sixty years of age. There has been a dramatic increase in malnutrition and, in conjunction with the privatization of the health care system, and the decay of immunization programs and of health standards in general, there has been a shocking resurgence of diseases like polio, diphtheria, cholera, dysentery, tuberculosis and AIDS.
Living conditions, especially for children and the elderly have deteriorated catastrophically. Between 75% and 85% of all Russians exist below or just above the poverty line. One third subsist in absolute economic desperation.
Gender inequality has increased sharply. Women's rights and access to paid maternity leave, child care, birth control, divorce and abortion have all been severely eroded. Moreover, women are being driven from the professions and recruited to the booming sex industry in unprecedented numbers.
Murder and suicide have skyrocketed. Contract killings number in the thousands per year. Over 100 organized crime syndicates extort money from 80% of all businesses.
In academia, the courts, the professions and, especially, the broadcast media, leftists and anyone not espousing rigidly pro-capitalist beliefs have been purged. Dissidents have variously been muzzled, jailed without trial and, in several instances, assassinated.
In the political arena, it is clear that in Yeltsin's Russia, 'democracy' was little more than the stuff of fairytales, no more than a cheap slogan to gull a credulous Western audience.
In October of 1993, for instance, Yeltsin, facing concerted popular opposition to his 'free-market reforms', forcibly abolished just about every democratic representative body in the country and staged an armed attack on the parliamentary building killing, in Tianamen Square style fashion, at least two thousand demonstrators and elected officials. To secure power he then outlawed more than a dozen publications and rewrote the constitution effectively knee-capping the elected parliament while granting himself virtual dictatorial powers. To seek reprieve from growing domestic ills brought on by the 'free-market' medicine, Yeltsin cynically engineered the butchering of Chechnya, a strategy that he, and now his anointed successor Vladamir Putin, (faced with the threat of large Communist Party gains in the upcoming spring election - and American strategic machinations in the area) have resorted to once again.
In the economic sphere Russian productivity has been cut in half. Moreover, it is now clear that the pillaging of public property has been the essence of Russian 'capitalism'. By cannibalizing state resources and selling them off at rock-bottom prices to Mafia-types and Western bidders looking, literally, for a steal, Yeltsin and Co. have been able to fuel what is praised in the West as the beginnings of a 'free-market economy'. The fuel, once the birthright and heritage of an entire people is now gone. The last of the furniture has been thrown into the fire. There remain only the vast Siberian forests waiting to be clear-cut, the deep reservoirs of gas and oil waiting to be vacuumed out by foreign interests.
With regard to the latter - oil - the strategic maneuverings of the United States, has brought it, via increased covert operations and overt military ties with numerous former Soviet territories (i.e. Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Uzbekistan, the Ukraine), into dangerously destabilizing contact with Russian territorial interests. The Cold War is afoot, once more.
In this context, nuclear non-proliferation treaties are being scrapped, Star Wars 'defense' programs are coming out of moth-balls, and the planning of new 21st Century space-based weapons systems are being given the go ahead.
As the old Soviet territories have come under the pall of endemic warfare, political chaos and economic disintegration, so too, have most of the former Eastern Bloc countries witnessed their march into the 'free world', their exodus from Egypt into the land of milk and honey, stumble over the small matter of Western economic neo-colonialism.
In East Germany, for instance, West German capitalists grabbed $2 trillion of former GDR state assets in what has amounted to the single largest expropriation of public wealth by private capital in European history. As a result, rents that were once 5% now represent nearly two-thirds of one's income. Higher education, child-care and health care are now beyond the means of many. In Lithuania, in 1992, government decrees that returned land to former owners and aristocrats, displaced 70% of the rural population (who had lived there for fifty years), collapsing the agricultural economy at the same time. In the Czech Republic, 80 per cent of all enterprises were privatized. As a result, industrial production shrank by two thirds, while the destruction of youth facilities - recreation, cultural and scientific sites - left the children to roam the steets. In Poland privatization left an estimated 70 per cent living below or near the poverty line. In Mongolia, once a recipient of generous Soviet assistance, hundreds of homeless children now live in the sewers of Ulaanbaatar. In Bulgaria, once considered the bread-basket of Eastern Europe, bread shortages have become endemic, as have IMF 'structural adjustment' policies. Albania, having been first looted by a 'free market' financial swindle, then politically undermined and intrigued against by Uncle Sam, was given a final shove into bankruptcy by the ever ubiquitous IMF 'reforms'.
Those few countries that have resisted Western economic colonization, have come in for specially tailored treatment. Thus, the United States and Germany, having systematically dismembered Yugoslavia, still found, in Serbia, a socialist redoubt. The resulting NATO military blitzkrieg, under the transparent guise of a bogus 'humanitarian' intervention in Kosovo, shattered this last obstacle to its strategic designs in the Balkans on route to the oil rich regions of the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea.
In short, as these few, meager, yet representative snapshots attest, the toppling of the Berlin Wall in 1989, far from having brought democracy and freedom to the peoples of Eastern Europe and Russia, has brought, instead, merely raw capitalism; far from peace, justice and prosperity, merely militarism, political hegemony, and economic exploitation.
Perhaps it's time we revelers in the West have the good taste to doff the party hats for just a moment - and sober up.
Antony Black is a (mathematics) teacher and freelance writer hailing from Hamilton, Ontario. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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