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Moscow Diary: Russian Disasters: Natural & Unnatural

By Mike Davidow, People's Weekly World, 10 June 1995

The earthquake that devastated the small town of Sakhalin Island, Neftegorsk, is the symbol of the far greater disaster - the capitalist counter revolution that has leveled Russia and the former Soviet republics. Natural disaster knows no social system borders. But the contrast between how the Soviet Union met the earthquake that ravaged Tashkent, April 26, 1966 and how capitalist Russia meets the earthquake in Neftegorsk and the seemingly endless "accidents" that afflict it, is so stark that it speaks for itself.

I was in Tashkent in 1969 and not only heard from survivors the account of the horror that struck the capitol of Uzbekistan (one million population). I saw reconstructed Tashkent built anew and more beautiful just three years later by all 15 Soviet republics. Thirty-five percent of the city had been destroyed: 95,000 made homeless, 41 percent of enterprises severely damaged, 180 schools, 600 food shops demolished. A few hours after the earthquake, both Leonid Brezhnev, general secretary of the CPSU and Premier Alexei Kosygin arrived in Tashkent. Immediately there was the kind of mobiIization of the forces of the USSR that recalled the all-peoples' mobilization during the Great Patriotic War. From every republic they poured into Tashkent. Construction workers from Moscow, Leningrad, all parts of the Russian Republic, from Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Belorussia and Baltic Republics. They unloaded their own equipment and material. They were joined by tens of thousands of soldiers and students who gave up their vacations. The people of Tashkent greeted them like liberators. The builders lived in makeshift barracks - many for two to three years.

By September, schools were reopened and 20,000 apartments had been built - twice the previous number of units constructed in one year. But what I found symbolic was the all-Soviet character of rebuilt Tashkent; the particular style and architecture of each republic had become part of the city.

And Neftegorsk? Gone was the great family of peoples that had responded to the tragic plight of one of their own. Gone was the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood that had bound each to the other. Condolences and token aid were sent by the now "independent" states. But it came from strangers. Ruled by the cruel laws of the capitalist market, capitalist Russia had "economized" on the seismograph stations in Neftegorsk: They had been closed down. Experts said that had they been in existence they could have supplied timily warning of disaster.

President Yeltsin still has not visited the city. Premier Chernomyrdin finally interrupted his vacation a few days after the quake but only to come to Moscow. It is not only that the entire approach to natural disaster is in such stark contrast. Disaster has become a way of life for capitalist Russia and "independent" states. Fratricidal conflicts, civil war in Chechnya, two million Russian refugees who have fled war and discrimination in "independent" states in Central Asia and the Baltics, one million Azerhaijanian refugees from the 6-year bIoody conflict with Armenia in Nagomo Karabakh; Moldova-Prednestrova; Osetia; Ingush Republic, Abkasia; Georgia - there is hardly a part of the former USSR that has not been touched by social catastrophe and to this must be added the Moscow Massacre. The still unconstructed towns demolished in Armenia in the earthquake of 1988 bear grim witness to the price exacted for the descent from socialism to compradore criminal capitalism. The Armenian Yeltsins spend billions in endless fratricidal conflict while more than 200,000 still live in miserable makeshift hovels more than six years after the earthquake. Grosny and Neftegorsk contrast with Stalingrad and Tashkent.

Contrast haunts the peoples of Russia and the former USSR. Once a time for vacations in camps on the Black Sea, the former playground of the Tsarist aristocracy and rich, summer now is a time of tears for parents and dangers for their children.

Pioneer camps have been closed down or commercialized, a 21 day vacation in Anapa (on Black Sea) runs from 4,500,000 to 5,000,000 rubles for one parent and child. In Soviet times the cost was up to 200 rubles and 70% was paid by the trade unions.

Neftegorsk only adds to the bitter, overflowing cup of catastrophe from which the mass the peoples of Russia and former republics drink!

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