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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 8/21/15

Review: Dying Unneeded: The Cultural Context of the Russian Mortality Crisis

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"Instead of a space where people's interactions were framed by the political economy of socialism, the space's interactions were framed by the political economy of capitalism. In this way social inequality was written into a space in a way that clearly read social exclusion to older Muscovites, many of whom had never seen such lavish cafes with their trendy clientele and expensive coffee during most of their lifetimes. These spaces were 'no longer for everyone but for a certain type of people.'" (Parsons, p. 30)

One interviewee from Moscow, a music teacher, lamented the difference between Soviet times and the current times: "We had no illusions. But the human aspect of that time".Everything is sold now. Before we would have been ashamed." (Parsons, p. 39)

Indeed, Moscow is wealthier, more bustling and diverse and also suffers from more inequality than any other part of Russia. As epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett show in their pioneering work on inequality, The Spirit Level, the more social inequality (as reflected in income) there is within a society, the more social problems will flourish, including increased crime, health problems, mental illness, substance abuse and distrust. Post-Soviet Russia has been no exception.

It is interesting to note throughout the book that none of the interviewees mention political democracy as a factor either way in discussing the good or bad of Soviet life versus post-Soviet life. It is social security in the form of access to essential goods and the quality of social relationships (or lack thereof) that are most often mentioned.

Similarly, these are the factors that have a strong significant impact on mortality as Wilkinson and Pickett show with their metadata in The Spirit Level. According to a November 2014 poll conducted by the Levada Center, 61% of Russians favored living in a society that strove for social equality rather than a society that strove for higher individual success. (3)

This is not to say that political democracy has no appeal at all or that democracies can't incorporate various mechanisms to decrease the inequalities inherent in capitalist market systems, such as the Scandinavian social democracies, but perhaps our assumptions about the prioritization of political democracy over social equality are confused. Given the fact that humans are the most social creatures on the planet, it is logical that they are extremely sensitive to perceived social inequities.

  1. Massie, Suzanne. Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia. Hearttree Press.
  2. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/happy_life_different_from_meaningful_life
  3. http://www.levada.ru/eng/68-russian-citizens-consider-russia-superpowe r

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Natylie Baldwin is co-author of Ukraine: Zbig's Grand Chessboard & How the West Was Checkmated, available from Tayen Lane Publishing. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various publications including Sun Monthly, Dissident Voice, (more...)
 

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