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THE DEMISE OF THE SOVIET UNION in 1991 brought a measure of freedom to Russia's people, but at the same time this change removed or severely weakened certain elements of the social safety net, which for many years had included a guarantee of employment, basic medical care, and government subsidies for food, clothing, shelter, and transportation. For the average citizen, social and economic conditions worsened considerably in the early postcommunist era. Although some components of state support remained close to their Soviet-era levels, the government lacked the resources to compensate Russia's citizens for the stresses of the transition period.
The end of the Soviet Union meant the disappearance of a reliable, if mediocre, set of social expectations for every Russian. Lacking such guidance, various elements of Russian society moved in very different directions. A small segment took immediate action--both legal and illegal--to make the most of its newfound range of opportunities for self-expression and economic advancement. Although few such adventurers found success, those who did coalesced into a new class of wealthy Russians independent of the government. The vast majority, however, met the prospect of reduced predictability in their lives with suspicion, confusion, or resentment. Remembering the security of Soviet life, many clung to symbolic or real remnants of that life, particularly in the workplace.
As the economic controls of centralized government were eased, prices for basic necessities rose--sometimes precipitously--and society was buffeted by marked increases in crime, infectious diseases, drug addiction, homelessness, and suicide. Growing pollution and other environmental hazards added to the malaise.
In the mid-1990s, Russian society was in the midst of a wrenching transition from a totalitarian structure to a protodemocracy of unknown character. During most of the Soviet era, society was atomized, so that the communist regime and its "transmission belts" (officially sanctioned organizations and institutions of every kind, from trade unions to youth groups) could fully monitor and control each individual. Civil society was nonexistent. The lines of control ran from the top down, through a rigid hierarchy constructed and staffed by the ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU--see Glossary).
Post-Soviet Russia is slowly striving to create a civil society and restore the family and other basic institutions as functional units within the society. In the mid-1990s, habits of trust, personal responsibility, community service, and citizen cooperation remained unformed in much of Russia's society, as the social attitudes of previous decades remained intact. Those holding such attitudes envisioned little between the extremes of totalitarianism and social anarchy; having moved away from the simplistic guidance of the former, much of society was strongly tempted to embrace the latter.
Data as of July 1996