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.
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