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BBC Series Provides Video Evidence of Russia's Hard Transition from USSR

Updated: Jan 19, 2023

BBC journalist, Adam Curtis, has recently released a new documentary series entitled, Traumazone: What It Felt Like to Live Through the Collapse of Communism and Democracy, based on hundreds of hours of video footage long forgotten in the BBC archives. Spanning the period from 1985 to 1999, the series follows the thoughts and actions of ordinary Soviet and Russian citizens struggling to cope with the enormous transformation occurring in their country. One shares while watching the videos the anger, shock, hope, bewilderment, laughter, exhaustion, and betrayal experienced by the population.

The series presents a stark reminder of this unique period when Cold War animosities waned, and people in the East and West hoped for a better future. There is no narrator or narration, leaving the viewer to make his/her own interpretations of what is happening. The videos are relevant today and provide a detailed glimpse into how and why the Russia that emerged from the USSR failed to create a robust and stable democracy. The series offers video evidence of how disillusionment with market shock therapy led to the rise of Vladimir Putin and the return of authoritarianism.

There are many memorable scenes. Russian children singing songs about Pepsi-Cola, an endless line in front of Mcdonald's in Moscow, an old woman on trial in a local people's court for stealing toiletries, brazen criminality by "mafioso", panic-stricken Russians seeing their savings wiped out by runaway inflation, food riots in Moscow put down by police, a growing desire for an end to the chaos with nostalgia for the Stalinist days.

This wonderful series is available on the BBC site only in the UK, but one can find the episodes on Youtube. I highly recommend it to anyone wishing to revisit this period with its foreboding of current events.

Kenneth Maher earned an M.A. in Russian Area Studies and served as a U.S. Army military intelligence officer. He is also the author of "Wind of Change: An American Journey in Post-Soviet Russia".

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