I have to juggle two different aspects of my life. First is the world of the Legislature and bizarre goings-on as I represent Wasilla. Than there's my beautiful and talented violinist wife from Russia. The two are worlds apart as I recall my visit this month to the former Soviet state.
I flew more than 10 hours in a modern Boeing 777 from Seattle to join my family who preceded me to Moscow. As I approached Europe over the North Atlantic, I reflected on the salient features of this giant land. It's twice the width of America, spanning 12 time zones. It has immense resources, vast hectares of farmland, more than 170 million people, and for the first time in its long, tortured history, a chance to become a modern, western state in terms of individual rights and property ownership.
My wife and I traveled in three major areas: Moscow, St. Petersburg (Tchaikovsky's home) and Sezhren, a city of 150,000. I observed well-dressed people with nice cars and others who looked like peasants straight from the 19th century. I saw prosperity in big cities and poverty in rural areas. This is a nation undergoing the twisted, writhing pain of major political and economic change.
From 3,000 years of totalitarian rule from the Visigoths, Huns, Mongols, Czars and Communists, to a determined effort at achieving freedom, Russians for the first time in their history have a chance at real, western affluence. I observed much evidence of this drive toward freedom. The Russian government has backed off its total control of the economy and initiated private property ownership, opening a floodgate of new talent.
I saw it all over; kiosks everywhere, run by eager, hardworking people, for the first time allowed to operate by right rather than by permission. The Seattle Times reported on Aug. 19 that last year; the Russian Black Sea area exported more wheat than the United States for the first time in a century. Russians work hard and are successful because they're engaged at what they choose, not what government commands.
While this entrepreneurship is heartening, the Russian government, like Alaska's, still retains too much control. Communications, especially TV, once freed, have returned to state control, and public facilities including museums and tourist venues remain operating in the red by a clumsy bureaucracy. I was reminded of our own State Parks Division and how they shut down Mat-Su parks because of the former administration's bureaucratic bungling.
While many Russian officials covet their monopoly positions (again, like their Alaska counterparts), the people who have been freed to work for themselves have tasted the heady wine of individual liberty that the Soviets silenced in European states it acquired after World War II.
Working for themselves is a major revolutionary change. There's an unseen battle between those elements who want the old controls back and those who enjoy freedom and wish to expand it to other areas of the economy. My Russian isn't good enough to understand the subtleties of this conflict but a similar struggle is occurring in Alaska between those who want monopolistic government and those who cherish freedom.
While watching the hubbub of Russian cities, I was impressed by the diligence of these recently unshackled, hearty people. They are literally pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Many old Soviet methods are gone and entrepreneurs now flourish, providing goods and services to the public while recalling socialism's failures.
Upon my return to the "land of the free and home of the brave," I saw U.S. officials with guns inspecting seniors at the Seattle and Anchorage airports. I thought of average Americans now paying in taxes almost what they formerly received in wages. My homeland, in many ways, has become almost as controlled and bureaucratic as the former USSR.
If I can see us slowly turning into state thralls, why can't the liberal media? Why do we still have the same old fervent big-government crusaders voting to increase the state at many levels in the halls of the Legislature.
What will it take to stop this tyranny?
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Vic Kohring is a fifth term Republican, representing Wasilla in the Alaska State Legislature and is Chairman of the Special Committee on Oil & Gas and serves on the Transportation, Budget & Audit and Ways & Means Committees.