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I saw on your web site that you went to Russia when they were Communists over there. Was it a good place, and were the people ok? Were they nice?
Your friend, David
Dear David and GoAskGrandpa participants,
- - Across an Ocean - -
Could we have been friends ? Can we be friends now ?
It was a good place, and the people were very nice.
While the Soviet Union was still under Communist control, with Mikhail Gorbachev as its leader, many significant changes were taking place. Freedom of speech was becoming obviously more available. People, if not completely comfortable with it, were becoming aware that they could say much that they could not have said only a few years earlier. People were making jokes about it. We worked with some who were openly anti-Communist and still holding responsible positions and serving their country. We saw anti-Communist posters on the walls right in their offices for anyone to see.
Freedom of religion was also becoming more a reality and less a dream. To be sure, there are many whose position is to be atheist (the scientific variety). Grandpa talked with one of these at great length during a 200 mile ride. His name was Nikolai, and he was a caring and very dedicated person, a loving father who talked on and on about his little boy, and a self-described scientific atheist. The beliefs of a person that help define who the person is are more complex than just whether or not they have a religion.
It is interesting to note that most of those who considered themselves to be atheists still believed that it is good to have choice in these matters. Mikhail Gorbachev was among these.
Still, there is an obvious attachment to Christianity everywhere. The history is replete with that religion. It's a hundred times more obvious than it is in our own country. Nearly all the souvenirs available are Christian symbols,
and this has been true all during the Communist era. One cannot walk for five minutes without seeing hundreds of religion-based collectibles. The beautiful buildings and religious icons were not destroyed by the Communists, but kept - even within the Kremlin, where there are several cathedrals with great beauty. You may know about the famous Faberge Easter Eggs. They're kept in a museum right there within the Kremlin walls.
A government can decide to support a right to free speech. A government can also decide to allow people to worship as they please. But a government cannot simply offer and then have free markets.
Free markets were coming about far too slowly to suit most of the people. This is not so much because free markets were opposed by leaders, though some of them did oppose, but because that change can't come by decision alone; it takes lots of work and education. Almost every citizen was an employee of the government. To develop a free market without any experience among the people, is a hard thing to achieve, and takes time. There is much danger. The dangers are not only from direct economics.
Black market folks were the only ones practiced in the ways of capitalism, and surely they would have an advantage as the changes took place. Those most disposed to breaking the law were likely to become the leaders in a free system, if the changes came too fast for the people to learn the dynamics. These black market people, at least some of them, were not breaking the law like common criminals, for they believed the laws against capitalism were wrong. They were not only breaking the law, but they were doing it with enthusiasm. We call this "civil disobedience," and believe it has brought about many good changes in our own country. Good changes or not, however, it's a scary proposition to turn control over to a small minority of people who have this experience.
These were serious concerns, but the people were ever more aware of what capitalism had done in other countries, and they were quite unwilling to go slowly.
It was as if the winds of freedom were blowing a hundred miles an hour, and they wanted their sails full up. This is a formula for a dangerous ride, or even a collapsed ship.
One visibly successful experiment was being conducted. It was McDonald's.
It was like a university for capitalist methodology. It was, and still is, the biggest McDonald's in the world. All the raw materials, potatoes, meat, etc., came from Russia. Part of the experiment was a matter of independence. The Big Mac there, however, was just the same as the others I've had at home.
Waiting three and a half hours in line at this McDonald's was an unforgettable experience for Grandpa.
The following pictures show the line. By the way, everyone in this line appeared to be enjoying it immensely. It was like being at Disneyland. In some ways, they were dreaming of being like America - or at least of being friends with America.
This first picture is the beginning of the line. This is a long block along the side of a park.
This next picture is this same part of the line - from the side. Please notice the greenish building down at the end of the corner and across the street.
Now this next picture is rounding the corner.
Now we go down this long block - the green building now on the left.
At the end of this block, we round another corner - and must cross the street to get into the last part of the line. Then the entrance is way down at the end of that line on the left. People were walking along the street in the open area between the two sections of line. Grandpa did not see a single person cut in line. Three and a half hours - and no cut-ins.
After the people get inside, the line disappears, and it's just one big room full of people. There is then some pushing and shoving for position. Grandpa thought it looked like everyone was anxious to be sure they got their hamburger, but one of the important successes of this experiment is that there was always a hamburger. After three and a half hours, we were a little eager ourselves.
Once served and seated, (Grandpa with the big mouth) - we find seating for more than 700 people on three levels.
And the final picture - showing the McDonald's sign - and the Communist symbol of factory work and agriculture, the hammer and sickle, which we much maligned in our country.
We all think it's fortunate that the cold war is over. Grandpa wishes we would spend, with enthusiasm, the same amount as that war cost each year - all to help make capitalism along with free markets a comfortable reality there. That's a war that could be won.
The symbol up there on the McDonald's sign is now missing. The people have destroyed the Communist system, though the party members may still run in elections. Eventually, we all think this new capitalism will be a good thing, but for now, it is a very rough ride indeed. Competition is very dynamic. People get hurt by this dynamism, even in our country, where we've had lots of practice.
Please wish them well. Grandpa likes these people.
Here is the new Russian Federation Flag.
We think we like the colors the Russians chose.
PS: Our own flag is still the same.
We have a lot. We have a lot to share.
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