It has been interesing to discuss the differences and similarities in opinions of politics with Russians here. One part of our class specifically deals with "country studies" and the professor has been talking to us about the situation here before, during and after the Soviet Union. She considers Putin to be a hero, and Gorbachev and Yeltsin to be little more than stupid criminals.
Her negative opinion of Gorbachev was mostly due to the fact that he was still a loyal communist, doing the party's wishes, and that his misguided attempts at perestroika and glasnost' are what caused the breakup of the Soviet Union and the subsequent chaos. Although I obviously can only rely on what little I do know of these times, from what I gathered he was trying to walk a fine line between the hard-line communists, and the reality of the Soviet Union's intractibility. Although in the West he is well regarded, why should the general public care about idealistic things like "winning/losing the cold war" given the extremely tumultous period that followed? I asked her whether she was saying she preferred the Soviet era, but she responded that those and these times are both equally bad.
The effects of privatization during Yeltsin's time, and the extremely poor economy therein, are fairly obvious strikes against Yeltsin. For me, reading of his experiences visiting the West, and his subsequent horror at realizing how bad conditions were for the people in the Soviet Union / Russia, and his thoughts about being President (to paraphrase: "I feel exhausted, as though I've run a race of 10,000 miles, and although I may have made mistakes, it is very easy to criticize and offer advice when you are not the one who has to bear the responsibility."), I feel as though he was doing his best in wildly uncharted territory, and that of course at this point hindsight is 20/20, but then I have the luxury of not having to actually live through it. The professor felt he was an incompetent drunken criminal for the fiasco of privatization that took place.
It is easy to see from her point of view and sympathise with these positions somewhat, when one considers simply the economic situations of the times, and the consequences of Gorbachev's and Yeltsin's actions. She has spoken of her circumstances, of her inability to retire, as her pension would cover maybe half her rent, and certainly although Putin is not loved in the West, why should anyone in Russia care about that? Things are undeniably getting better for Russia under his presidency, so why should anyone care about his opinion outside when they have their own country and circumstances to worry about for now. Moreover, she said that it's very easy for other countries to give advice, but Russia is a unique country with its enormous size and very unbalanced population density, and that it is through Russia's own past experiences that it has learned (the hard way) how to effectively run the country, and that other countries' experiences and advice are appreciated, but not always applicable.
It is interesting to note that it is due in part to the chilly relationship between the US and Russia that we are even here on this program. It's also been interesting to note a lot of similarities between the countries' respective situations, especially with immigration, where there is a similar debate about illegal immigrants who take low-paying jobs and allegedly don't pay their due.
The opinions on Bush have been interesting as well. At a bar one time there were these two wackos who, to summarize, were saying "F Bush, Russia will be ruling the world" and other such silliness. But another time, when I was crossing the street (jaywalking), a police officer was chastising me and asked where I was from, and when I said I was from the US, he said "Ah, George Bush" and basically just told me to get going.
But whatever the political situation, what relevance does it have for us, as the general public? This was a nice discussion I had with two other people at the bar another day. We were commenting on the chilly relations between the US and Russia, but said that it makes no difference to us. We all just want to live in peace, do our work, live our lives, and that regular people just want to be friends with each other regardless of whatever nonsense is going on between governments, which has no bearing on us. What relevance does this scuffle over the missile defense program have to a few regular people chatting in a bar?