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In Soviet Russia, nobody can hear you break the law

Bill Coffin | April 17, 2017

In 1987, when I was a junior in high school, I visited the Soviet Union on a school trip. It was a life-altering experience, one I have written about before, and one I will write about again. Nothing prepared me for exposure to such an alien system of values and of government, but perhaps the greater surprise was just how crumbly the supposed monolith of Soviet rule really was. This was in the final days of the Soviet system, and you could see the signs of it everywhere. The petty corruption among street-level cops and officials, the eye-rolling from everyday Russians themselves over the government, and the willingness of people to engage in black-market trading with foreign visitors all added up to a system that was collapsing under the weight of itself.

One moment that really sticks out to me was early in the trip, when we were in Leningrad (what the Soviets had re-named St. Petersberg). Many of my fellow students were keen to trade on the black market for Russian military... To get the full story, subscribe now.