Growing up in a Bengali neighbourhood in Delhi's CR Park, meant even at an early age of 10, there were friends who knew the basic difference between capitalism and communism, and had clear-cut preferences! Needless to say, my first story books were on Lenin's life and I had been totally charmed by him into believing in the positive aspects of communism, and till date remain so.
And on the giant world map the country that I heard and studied most about till I passed out of my school in 1989 was a country many of my readers today aren't even aware of! A country called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics! They had given us steel plants, military aircraft and were our biggest friends. And for those of us who used to hate the Americans for their military aid to Pakistan, celebrating every success of USSR was a must!
Those who have visited the East European regions in those days, would swear that the benevolence of USSR was such that they gave those countries invariably a better standard of living than that enjoyed by the Soviet people. This difference between the far, far more peaceful time post the second world war and now, is a direct result of what happened exactly 20 years back!
History was literally rewritten on December 25, 1991 when Mikhail Gorbachev aired his speech announcing his resignation as President of the Soviet Union. And thus, the whole world map was reconstructed with a demise of not only a union, but the demise of a political ideology in itself.
During Gorbachev's rule, the iron curtain and strict state control of political, economic and administrative machinery that was beyond all pedestal of criticism was liberalised under the set of reforms Gorbachev. Concurrently, the oil prices dropped, thus lowering the country's revenue and foreign exchange reserves that led to the import crisis of grains, attracting widespread public ire. In a nutshell, the bumbling rush to enjoy the glitters of prosperity that the US-led West enjoyed, along with the influence of Yeltsin who was a diehard crusader of democracy, brought the Soviet era to an unfortunate end.
In spite of 20 years having passed since the Soviet collapse, Russia is still not a complete democracy. With the emergence of Vladimir Putin -- clearly a dictator similar to those that ruled in the erstwhile USSR, but unlike them, without any political ideology, commitment or understanding, and therefore perhaps the worst leader that the region has had in the last 100 years.
Putin who likes to flaunt his bare body more than his intellect, which arguably he has very less of, is an ex-KGB man, and a comparatively frivolous leader whose bigger claim to fame are his exploits with women and judo skills.
The Russian election is more of a gimmick; and similarly, most of the former Soviet countries are ruled by oligarchic elites created by Putin and his men stonewalling others from making a presence among the electorates! Recently Putin stated that "the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century." But then, under the umbrella of this geopolitical tragedy, Putin has used his power to the extent he can. Putin still has plans to re-integrate post-soviet nations and bring the entire landmass under a single flag. This perhaps is the only good thing about Putin.
It is an insult that a country, which used to stand up to the might of the US is now reduced to the status of a developing nation, and is being put in the same bracket with China, India and Brazil! Yes, USSR had a huge flaw. It was a dictatorship and dictatorships are bound to have human resistance eventually. Yes, USSR was throughout led by dictators, from Lenin to Stalin, but all those leaders had a world vision. They followed the Marxian model of social development and equitable distribution religiously. They created a world order, a bipolar one that had a peaceful agenda.
If today's Beijing is a gigantic marvel, then the Moscow of 50 years back was a bigger marvel. How I wish that they finally could have shown that such a society could eventually become democratic too. How I wish that USSR were present today in some form. How I wish that Gorbachev should have been successful in his wish to bring democracy, but not at the cost of destroying the nation.
How I wish Russia still gets a great leader who can give the world the much needed other pole, that can stand up against greedy profit-motivated American aggression against other nations. How I wish Russia was a nation that could dictate to America. But if wishes were horses, beggars would ride them, and the reality is that I can only look back with pain at the events that took place in USSR 20 years back.