The Russian economy is in tatters, and were it not for a massive ($37 billion) International Monetary Fund led rescue package in July, things would now be a lot worse in the country. Just prior to the IMF package the rouble was said to be on the edge of a precipice. Short-term interest rates were up to 80% and the Stock Market had slumped by more than 60% since the beginning of the year. Millions of workers, including teachers, coal miners, and soldiers have not been paid sometimes for more than a year, and as a consequence beggary, crime, alcoholism, and stress have reached frightening proportions. Whole provincial towns have been deprived of electricity or gas as a result of unpaid bills. Where will the crisis lead to and will the IMF rescue package save the country from disaster?

It is important to understand that the IMF does not lend money with no hope of return and so the IMF loan is subject to very stringent corrective economic reforms being undertaken by President Yeltsin and his government. Commentators question whether President Yeltsin has the political strength to push the economic reforms through, and even if he is able, will he then be able to control the discontent from the seething masses frustrated with the appalling living standards in the country, and who will be the hardest hurt by the reforms? All this in the land of Rosh, the place of Gog, the leader of the great confederacy to invade Israel at the time of the end!!

Some remarkable changes have to occur in Russia to enable her to enact the role outlined in Bible prophecy. The simmering discontent that is now rife in Russia could be the catalyst for the beginning of change. Commentators say that even with the IMF ‘bail-out’ it is unclear if Russia’s current government and President Yeltsin will survive. If the government falls, so too could the rouble with the resultant economic chaos.

The Economist magazine in the 11 July 1998 issue had this to say:

“Russia is politically at its most fragile since October 1993, when the country divided between those alongside Mr Yeltsin, who believed that a parliament of part-Soviet lineage should not be allowed to paralyse an elected, reform-minded presidency (and that bloody force was justified in subduing it) and those who thereafter believed Mr Yeltsin and the reformers to be devils. An unholy alliance of ‘reds and browns’—Communists and extreme nationalists— in today’s Duma and among growing groups of strikers and diverse malcontents across Russia is now flexing its muscles. The inflation-driven mayhem following a rouble collapse could shift power into the hands of a new, more xenophobic anti-reform parliament. Mr Yeltsin could fall. An anti-democratic strongman could emerge, whether or not by election. In short, Russia’s future as a market-based, albeit still rough-hewn, democracy hangs in the balance.”

Present and past soldiers, not least Alexander Lebed, an ex-general who came third in the last presidential election in 1996, are speaking out more and more. As The Economist goes on to say:

“‘Can the crisis end in a coup?’ That was the main headline, on July 7th, in Nezavisimaya Gazyeta (The Independent), an influential newspaper that often echoes the thoughts of Russia’s most prominent oligarch, Boris Berezovsky, who controls it. It reported that a putsch, along the lines of the one that ousted Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991, is already being prepared by senior members of the security forces. The ‘slookhi’a much used Russian word meaning rumours—are flying. It would certainly be unwise to assume, as many specialists on Russia have, that Russian soldiers are unkeen to get involved in politics. Many usually sober commentators in Moscow now argue that a change of regime, not just of government, is in the offing. People at the extremes of politics—Communists on the left, nationalists on the right—are starting to smell blood.”

The current Russian political scene with all its instability is ripe for a take-over attempt by a strong man such as Lebed. Even if there were not a take-over, the next presidential elections are only two years away (assuming President Yeltsin lasts that long), and the current front runners, Mr Lebed and Yuri Luzhkov, the Mayor of Moscow, are both considered as caring little for the finer points of democracy, and both are very nationalistic.

The Economist concludes its article on Russia with these very telling words:

“It has become something of a commonplace to say that Russia will never go back to what it was— to orthodox Soviet- style communism… Far more likely, however, if things continue to go sour, is that Russia will swing the other way—not all the way to fascism but towards something nearly as bad, a kind of extreme nationalism: intensely prickly and pan-Slavic, anti-semitic, hostile to foreigners beyond and within its boundaries, eager to re-absorb the Slav heartlands of Ukraine and Belarus within the Russian fold, eager to make the Baltic trio of countries as weak and jumpy as possible… The armed forces and the successors to the KGB would be raised again to a position of special eminence within the state. The press and television would be controlled. Russia would become an angry place— neither democratic, nor prosperous, nor kind to its neighbours. It is a nightmare scenario.”

Is the rise of Gog just around the corner?

Social Distress

 “A National poll last year asked Australians whether they thought overall quality of life—taking into account social, economic and environmental conditions and trends—was getting better, worse or staying about the same. Fifty-two per cent believed life was getting worse (with 26 per cent saying it was getting ‘a lot worse’), and only 13 per cent that it was getting better (with only 3 per cent saying ‘a lot better’). The rest—33 per cent—said quality of life was staying about the same.

“A 1997 report by the Clemenger/BBDO Group, ‘The silent majority—the everyday problems of the average Australian’—the third in a series which began in 1977, documents ‘the distress of a nation divided, deeply anxious about its children and its future’” (The Australian Financial Review, 3/7/98).

The Lord Jesus Christ prophesied that life in the last days would be noted for “distress of nations with perplexity“ and the distress surely is not limited to matters of warfare.

Previous articles in The Lampstand have highlighted how political analysts have commented on the disillusionment affecting many people in society, giving rise to protest votes against the mainstream political parties for their inability to solve people’s problems. There is a genuine concern and anxiety among many people about the future.

The sad thing about society is that whilst the Bible has the answer to both personal and social problems, very few people are prepared to seek God’s way. Unfortunately most people’s hearts are blinded by other gods, principally the god of this world—materialism. Every day society is bombarded with advertising for all sorts of ‘get rich quick’ gambling competitions—as if wealth will suddenly cure all ills. The article in The Australian Financial Review went on to say the following:

“… wealth is a poor predictor of happiness. People who win the lottery are no happier a year after the event than they were before. Even the very rich are only slightly happier than the average citizen, and those whose incomes have increased over a 10-year period are no happier than those whose incomes have not. People have not become happier as their societies have become richer.”

A phrase well known to many of us is ‘read yourself rich’, referring of course to the reading of God’s Word. Perhaps the reason why the “Learn to Read the Bible Effectively” courses have been so well attended world-wide is because people are looking for answers and solutions to life’s perplexing problems. Unfortunately, not everyone will follow up the matters further, but we should be thankful that in these last days there is still some interest in the Water of Life.

A Social Revolution

 All of us are aware of the spiralling incidences of marriage break-down in our society. In South Australia, for example, in 1996 for every 8011 marriages there were 4300 divorces. A recent federal parliamentary report entitled, rather ironically, “To Have and to Hold” has predicted that eventually 43% of all marriages will dissolve over the course of 30 years. Since ‘no fault’ divorce became law in 1976, divorce rates have soared. These statistics were reported in an article in The Advertiser 11/7/98, entitled “Mother of all Changes”.

In view of society’s current attitude to marriage it is now no longer just a problem of marriage break-down, it is now also a case of no marriage at all for many people. Consider the following sad reflection on the state of our society from The Advertiser article:

“Young women have grown up in an increasingly insecure society—in times of unemployment, where men often are no longer dependable breadwinners, lifetime marriages can no longer be guaranteed and divorce is rife—all factors which shape their decision-making. The percentages of never married women has more than tripled in twenty years, from 6.9 per cent in 1976 to 22.8 per cent in 1996…

“Now 14.5 per cent of all families are singleparent families, a leap from 5.9 per cent in 1966. Not only is marriage losing popularity, so is having children. By the year 2000, almost one in four women are expected to remain childless.

“In the first half of the 20th century, less than 10 per cent of women never married, despite the loss of men in two world wars. By the end of the century, 22 per cent of women will not be married by the age of thirty five—the highest level in Australian history.

“If the figures are to be believed, it seems we are witnessing a steady disintegration of the ‘traditional’ family unit—married mother and father, both raising the child.”

If this is the state of society now—what will it be like in a few years’ time should our Lord not return? The social effects will be enormous. With marriage on the way out, de facto relationships are increasing. The numbers of couples in de facto relationships before marriage has quadrupled in two decades from 16% in 1975 to a staggering 56% in 1992—and probably even higher today. 26.6% of children are now born to unwed mothers. This is the ‘real world’ that our young people are growing up in and it surely highlights the need for us all to be very vigilant in giving them helpful advice and a willing ‘ear’ to discuss the issues of life.

The powers that be are concerned about the trends in society. The article on “Mother of all Changes” ends with these words:

“The parliamentary report focuses on supporting relationships through education and recommends free vouchers for pre-marriage education courses to a minimum of six hours. It also advocates increasing government funding for marriage and relationship education by $1.6 million for the 1999–2000 financial year and extending the notice of marriage time to a maximum 18 months.

“‘I don’t think making divorce harder is the answer’, Professor Peter McDonald (head of Australian National University’s demography program in the School of Social Sciences) says. ‘I think attempting to make marriages better is the way to go.’”

In the Brotherhood we have always placed proper emphasis on the Divine institution and the sanctity of marriage. Our marrying brethren wisely spend time with the engaged couple, giving good counsel based upon Godly principles. With the trend in society to treat marriage no longer as a time either ‘to have’ or ‘to hold’, the need to emphasise these matters is greater than ever before.