In the mid-1990s, Russian society was in the midst of a wrenching transition from a totalitarian structure to a protodemocracy of unknown character. During most of the Soviet era, society was atomized, so that the communist regime and its "transmission belts" (officially sanctioned organizations and institutions of every kind, from trade unions to youth groups) could fully monitor and control each individual. Civil society was nonexistent. The lines of control ran from the top down, through a rigid hierarchy constructed and staffed by the ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU--see Glossary).
Post-Soviet Russia is slowly striving to create a civil society and restore the family and other basic institutions as functional units within the society. In the mid-1990s, habits of trust, personal responsibility, community service, and citizen cooperation remained unformed in much of Russia's society, as the social attitudes of previous decades remained intact. Those holding such attitudes envisioned little between the extremes of totalitarianism and social anarchy; having moved away from the simplistic guidance of the former, much of society was strongly tempted to embrace the latter.