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Russian kids had to wait until their grandkids were no longer kids before either of them could enjoy a Happy Meal – or any other kind of meal that wasn’t approved by the Soviet authorities – during the 69 years it took for the old Soviet Union established by Lenin and his Communists in 1922 to fall apart, in 1991.

How long will they have to wait again – now that another authoritarian leader has decided Russians will only eat what he says they’re allowed to eat?

Vladimir Putin has decided – or rather, his actions have caused – McDonald’s to at least temporarily stop serving Russians the burgers, fries and Cokes they waited decades for. CEO Chris Kempczinski made the announcement last week, as Putin’s troops were on the march in the former Soviet province of Ukraine, which has been an independent country since the early ‘90s, when the Soviet Union closed shop – one thought for good.

It may be coming back, depending on how far Putin goes.

What’s gone already – in addition to the 62,000 jobs that McDonald’s brought to Russia – is the taste of freedom that came with the opening of the very first McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow’s Pushkin Square on January 31, 1990.

That was 32 years ago  – a very long time ago for people who aren’t old enough today to remember what life was like behind the Iron Curtain, back then. It was a time – and a place – when being able to just walk into a McDonald’s and walk out with a burger, fries and a Coke was something only people on the other side of the Iron Curtain could take for granted.

For Russians who had endured almost 70 years of the Soviet Union, it was a revelation.

When that first McDonald’s opened up, 30,000 Russians – many of whom had waited in line for hours  – got to experience something their parents and grandparents had been told was “decadent” and “bourgeoise” by party apparatchiks who’d never missed a meal themselves, who lived comfortable lives inside state-granted apartments and who shopped at special supermarkets that were off limits to ordinary Russians.

First of all, the food.

It was actually there – as opposed to the empty shelves the average Soviet citizen had been used to waiting hours in line to see for all those years. “Finding a decent place to eat is one of our biggest problems,” one Russian woman told The Washington Post at the time.

Another Russian was amazed by the sight. “This place looks different just from the outside . . . everything is so clean and bright.”

Unlike almost everything else in the old Soviet Union.

And instead of a surly government worker, there was service. For the first time since the Communists took over, the average Russian was no longer a proletarian but a customer. “I spilled my milkshake,” one of those first Russians to be waited on told a Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) reporter. “I thought they’d bawl me out . . . instead they gave me another one.”

If it sounds like no big deal, unworthy of attention, it’s probably because you were never a proletarian.

And from that moment forward, neither were the people of Russia. It had taken generations of waiting – and 14 years of wrangling with the then-Soviet authorities by McDonald’s management, beginning in 1976, to get the necessary permissions. But it finally happened – at almost exactly the same moment that something else happened: The end of the Soviet Union and the enslavement of several hundred million people, almost all of whom had never once enjoyed a burger, fries and a Coke.

The golden arches of capitalism arrived just in time to be a Soviet death knell.

And now, any Russian could – at any time – have a chicken mcnugget.

Hundreds of McDonald’s eventually opened for business all over what had been the Soviet Union – and Russians learned what it was like to eat when they were hungry and (for many) what it was like to work and not only get paid but advance. McDonald’s being one of the great pioneers of promoting its own people rather than hiring outside people who’ve never manned a cash register or served customers.

But all of that is coming to an end for Russians – for now, at least – on account of the actions of one Russian who seems more than a little Soviet. People are now hoarding Big Macs.

Vladimir Putin – who was a KGB officer when there was a Soviet Union – is perhaps trying to make sure Ronald McDonald heads to the gulag. And by doing so, he is costing Russians things perhaps many of them have come to take for granted as well.

Like just walking into a brightly lit McDonald’s whenever they’re hungry, for a burger, fries and a Coke.

A.J. Rice is author of the book, The Woking Dead: How Society’s Vogue Virus Destroys Our Culture. He serves as CEO of Publius PR, a premier communications firm in Washington D.C.

(This article originally appeared at RealClearMarkets.com)

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A.J. Rice

A.J. Rice is CEO of Publius PR, a premier communications firm in Washington D.C. Rice is a brand manager, star-whisperer and auteur media influencer, who has produced or promoted Laura Ingraham, Donald Trump Jr., Judge Jeanine Pirro, Monica Crowley, Charles Krauthammer, Alan Dershowitz, Roger L. Simon, Steve Hilton, Victor Davis Hanson, and many others. Find out more at publiuspr.com.

 

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