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total length: 18:40

Clip 1 (length 6:48)
Meeting some of Russia's new, wealthy entrepreneurs

Clip 2 (length 5:23)
Hard economic times for many in Russia

Clip 3 (length 6:29)
One oligarch speaks out, another is arrested


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Image from the storyRussia's Conversion From Communism to Capitalism

Target Grade Levels:
Grades 7-12

Cold War, Communism, Capitalism, Command Economy, Market Economy, Economic Incentives

• The Activity
• Relevant National Standards
• Cross-Curricular Activities
• Ties to Literature

The Activity

Using Russia as a case study, help students examine the real-world struggles of converting from a command economy to a market economy. Begin by defining the terms "command economy" and "market economy." Invite students to name countries that have or have had each type of economy. Build on student responses to develop a list of characteristics that describe each economic system.

Next, show students where Russia is on a map and explain (or review) that before 1991, Russia was a part of the Soviet Union. The communist government owned the country's diverse economic assets, controlled the labor force and allocated all resources. It was a command economic system. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia experienced a wild privatization period where a small number of men gained control of Russia's greatest economic assets and made billions in the new market economy. The newfound economic strength of these billionaires, who are often called oligarchs, has triggered a power struggle between them and government leaders. Russia's new economy has also created a wide gap between rich and poor.

To illustrate recent economic conditions in Russia, show students the FRONTLINE/World video "Rich in Russia" (about 18 minutes). (Note: This story can be viewed online in its entirety. A free transcript is also available to assist with planning. Please see the Related Story box at left for details.) Focus student viewing by asking them to take note of specific details on what life in Russia is like for the rich and for the poor.

After viewing, ask students to share their observations.

  • What advantages and disadvantages did Russians experience with a command economy? With a market economy?
  • What characteristics of a market economy have contributed to the divide between rich and poor?
  • Will conditions for the poor likely improve or get worse as market economic factors become more firmly established in Russia? Why?

Next, extend this discussion to include the power of "incentives" on markets and behavior. Divide students into eight groups and have each group read about one of the Russian oligarchs profiled in the FRONTLINE/World feature "How to Make a Billion Dollars."
As students read, they should identify the oligarch's background, his estimated worth, the Russian economic resource(s) that made him rich, political connections and any business practices that have been criticized. Provide these categories as column headers across the top of a class matrix, with the names of the oligarchs listed down the side. Groups can then write details about their profiled oligarchs in this class matrix and take turns introducing the men to the class. Discuss the following questions:

  • What similarities and differences do the students see among the oligarchs?
  • What economic incentives influenced the behavior of these men after the fall of communism?
  • How might corruption and questionable business practices affect Russia's transition to a modern market economy?
  • What role does the government play in the new Russian economy?

Conclude the lesson by having students apply their knowledge of economic systems and incentives to the creation of a political cartoon that makes a statement about a Russian economic issue. Consider displaying the cartoons and having them evaluated by other students in the class.

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Relevant National Standards

These standards are drawn from "Content Knowledge," a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) at

Standard 2: Understands characteristics of different economic systems, economic institutions and economic incentives

Level III, Benchmark 2
Knows that in a command economic system a central authority, usually the government, makes the major decisions about production and distribution
Level III, Benchmark 3
Knows that in a market economic system individual households and business firms make the major decisions about production and distribution in a decentralized manner following their own self-interests
Level III, Benchmark 6
Understands that economic incentives such as wanting to acquire money or goods and services and wanting to avoid loss are powerful forces affecting the way people behave

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Cross-Curricular Activities
Consider building on the themes of the above activity by working with colleagues in other disciplines to conduct the following activities.

Write About the Communist and Postcommunist Experience (English)

The Activity

Show students the story "Romania: My Old Haunts."
Before viewing the short (18 minutes long) film, explain that Romania was ruled by communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu from 1965 until his execution in 1989. In the video, students will see and hear reporter Andrei Codrescu as he takes a personal journey back to his homeland to see how Romania is faring more than a decade after the fall of communism. Have students divide a sheet of paper in half and label one side "During Communist Rule" and the other side "After Communist Rule." Ask students to take notes while they watch, listening closely and making careful observations about life in Romania, both during communist rule and afterward. After viewing the piece, have the class discuss what they observed, then have students use their notes as a content source for writing a poem, drawing a political cartoon, creating a travel brochure or writing a comparison/contrast essay.


Visit the Romania: My Old Haunts." Web resources to see the story in streaming video, read a synopsis of the story or interview with the reporter, or gather related links and facts:
A transcript of the story is also available:

Relevant National Standards

Language Arts, Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

Write Letters Describing Your New Capitalistic Lifestyle (English)

The Activity

After being ruled by strict dictators for a period of time, both Romania and Cambodia now participate in capitalistic behaviors that earlier would not have been allowed. Some Romanian girls, for instance, train to go be exotic dancers in Japan and Italy because they will be able to earn $1,000 a week, about 40 times more than they could make if they stayed in Romania. To get these girls' story, have students watch this video clip.
Story: "Romania: My Old Haunts"
At about 5:20 into the story
In: "My capitalist pal ..."
Out: "They are patriots."
Length of clip: 2 minutes
Also show this clip on capitalist activities conducted by the remnants of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
Story: "Cambodia: Pol Pot's Shadow"
At about 14:10 into the story
In: "The remnants of the Khmer Rouge ..."
Out: "... mentally disabled man boxing a child."
Length of clip: 2:15
After viewing the clip, have the class discuss these questions.

  • What types of capitalistic activities have attracted some of the Romanian and Khmer Rouge people? Why those activities?
  • Does vice always have to play a role in a capitalistic society? Why or why not?
And finally, have students take the role of either a Romanian girl working as an exotic dancer in Japan or a member of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. In their assumed roles, students should write a G-rated letter to a relative or friend describing what they did last weekend and the economic benefits of their activities. Students should also describe how life is different now that their dictator no longer controls their activities.


The full stories are available on the Web on the streaming video page.
Transcripts of each story are also available:
"Romania: My Old Haunts"
"Cambodia: Pol Pot's Shadow"

Visit the Web resources for each story for related links, facts, and features:
"Romania: My Old Haunts"
"Cambodia: Pol Pot's Shadow"

Relevant National Standards

Language Arts, Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

World History, Standard 44: Understands the search for community, stability and peace in an interdependent world

Level III, Benchmark 6
Understands the emergence of a global culture (e.g., connections between electronic communications, international marketing and the rise of a popular "global culture" in the late 20th century; how modern arts have expressed and reflected social transformations and political changes and how they have been internationalized)

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