I spent 2 ½ years practicing law in Moscow in the mid-1990s. It was a different Russia – one full of hope for a burgeoning democracy under Yeltsin. I wouldn’t even set foot there today.
I enjoyed my time in Russia. I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had (both Russians and Americans who, like me, were there to be part of a new era and something fascinating). It was long before Putin came to power.
Today I realize that what I was witnessing then was a society not about to change and blossom, but one in the process of completely disintegrating. Social norms – the mere manner in which people treated each other – were non-existent. Individuals treated each other in a manner in which the human life of a stranger simply had no value. As a Westerner there, I could not help but be taken aback by the fact that people would not provide assistance to a stranger, and that those of any means would and could act with impunity. The rule of law was missing, and society and the norms on which it is based were fast disintegrating.
During this same time, oligarchs were taking control of the means of production and consolidating their power. And, Putin was taking notes on how this disintegration and confusion could be used to his benefit.
Me? Well, I left Russia in 1996. I subsequently lived in New York, London and Madrid. Whatever challenges living in each of these places posed, my time in Russia gave me a strong appreciation for the inherent value of living in a structured and advanced society, and in societies where there is at least always the illusion of a rule of law.
How sad it is to me now that Putin has brought the chaos and disintegration that I saw in Russia in the 1990s here to the US.