There were decades of government intimidation of Soviet citizens under Josef Stalin and years of economic stagnation under Leonid Brezhnev. And now, with the demise of the U.S.S.R., people in the former Soviet republics face uncertainty.
That was part of the history lesson that Natasha Pasherstnic, a Russian graduate student at Kansas University, gave Wednesday to a seventh-grade social studies class at Central Junior High School.
Pasherstnic, who is studying economics, said that during Stalin's rule, from 1924-53, he "wanted to get rid of all his (political) competition." Unfortunately, she said, many of the people who Stalin viewed as potential opponents were some of the Soviet Union's most intelligent and creative people.
Pasherstnic said her parents related that under Stalin, "People lived in permanent horror. They didn't know what was going to happen next. People could be arrested and sent to Siberian camps.
"ONLY AFTER his death was it possible to speak openly about what happened during that period."
Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, spoke openly about how Stalin had killed innocent people, Pasherstnic said.
She said the years under Leonid Brezhnev, who became leader of the Soviet Union in 1964, were called "the years of stagnation." Still, Pasherstnic recalled that she was stunned when Brezhnev died in 1982.
"All my life since I was born, Brezhnev was secretary-general. I was shocked. What will happen?" Pasherstnic recalled thinking.
She said many people are thinking the same thing now that the Soviet Union has disintegrated.
Kathy vonEnde, teacher of the class, asked Pasherstnic how she felt when Communist hardliners attempted a coup in August. Pasherstnic was in the United States at the time.
"I lost my head. I was trying to call the U.S.S.R. It was really difficult," she said.
ONE STUDENT wanted to know what are some big differences between the United States and Russia.
Pasherstnic noted that one cultural difference is that in Russia, it is not considered rude to ask somebody, even a mere acquaintance, how much money he or she makes. On the other hand, people in Russia never would ask a woman's age.
Pasherstnic, who is from Moscow and who studied economics at Moscow State University, also said that a major form of transportation in Russia's capital is the subway. And from her description, Moscow's "underground" is not at all like New York City's dilapidated subway.
"Every station is like a piece of art. The first time, it might seem like you entered a museum," Pasherstnic said.