20 years on, most Russians still depressed

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Most Russians are still depressed 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, believing that two decades of reforms have mostly benefited the rich, a joint Russian-German study said on Wednesday.

Research by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Russian Academy of Sciences shows Russians only marginally more optimistic today than they were in the dying days of communism, when unemployment and food shortages were widespread.

Of 1,750 polled in the survey, eight percent said their living standards improved in the 1990s and 34 percent saw positive changes a decade later.

But 47 percent said that reforms only benefited the elite in the past decade, similar to the 50 percent who felt the same thing about the 1990s.

Another 59 percent described their current lives as either "worrying" or filled with crisis, with one in 10 describing things as outright "catastrophic".

But when asked about their financial security, only 24 percent answered "bad" -- an improvement on the 44 percent recorded 10 years earlier and 56 percent registered in 1998.

The reforms undertaken by former president Boris Yeltsin and his team of liberal advisers also failed to win high marks.

Only 30 percent of those polled said the painful reforms were launched to "save the country". Almost everyone else said they benefited those who were already in power.

Regional independence drives and waves of social unrest caused by empty stores and political repression ultimately buried the Soviet Union at the end of 1991.

The 20-year anniversary of independence has been celebrated in the Baltic countries and is also expected to be commemorated in Ukraine, whose west is strongly nationalist.

The date has thus far drawn less attention in Russia itself, whose former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin once called the Soviet Union's demise one of the world's great historic tragedies.

The Communist Party remains a marginal force in Russia, although it does make up the largest opposition group in parliament.

© 2011 AFP

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