Saturday, November 24, 2007

THE AMERICAN DREAM IN NIZHNY NOVGOROD

In a Russian City, Clues to Putin's Abiding Appeal

By Peter Finn Washington Post Foreign Service Saturday, November 24, 2007; A01

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia -- The 1990s are fresh in Vadim Ignatiyev's memory -- pathetic wages delayed for weeks, kopeks scraped together to buy food, and a fear of the future blended of helplessness and rage.

The lean, balding 35-year-old, who has spent his adult life working on the line at a glass factory in the suburbs of this city, now sits at a laden table with his wife and 13-year-old son. Behind him is a brand-new television beside a matching CD player, also new. His Lada car, bought recently with a bank loan, is parked outside the family's second-story walk-up apartment.

"I feel much safer now," said Ignatiyev, whose family recently took its first vacation abroad, a package tour to a Turkish resort. "I have a good job, not a prestigious job, but a good living." In just the past two years, his salary has more than doubled, to $700 a month, reflecting his factory's growing sales.

For the first time in post-Soviet history, a majority of Russians feel optimistic about their own and their country's future, according to the Levada Center, an independent polling agency. The sense of personal and national resurgence, clearly visible in long-depressed Nizhny Novgorod, with its now-plentiful factory jobs, foreign stores and construction cranes, is a key factor in the consistently high approval ratings enjoyed by President Vladimir Putin.

--read entire article--

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Political support is the same everywhere, it begins and ends at the dinner-table.

We lament the minimal individual freedoms in Russia and scorn the oligarchs who dominate the economy, failing to square those shortcomings with our own kings of Wall Street. Putin is certainly no Brazilian Pinochet, disappearing wide swaths of his dissident population and yet, riding the wave of oil at near $100 a barrel and the nearly unlimited natural gas Russia supplies to Europe, he's been given an amazing opportunity to shape a Russian middle-class.

We may raise an eyebrow from time to time, but Russia is turning guns into plowshares at exactly the moment in history when we are doing the opposite.


* For more in-depth articles by Jim on Outside America, check out Opinion-Columns.com