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LC-A Big Book Chapter 57: Perestroika, Glasnost, and the Split of the Soviet Union

After the Soviet Union officially split up in 1991, the borders were opened to the West and many former Soviet companies found themselves confronted with totally new and unfamiliar circumstances. Until the 1990s, Soviet enterprises received detailed directives from Moscow; when and how to do something, to whom finished products should be delivered to and what tasks had to be fulfilled on what day.

1a. The LOMO PLC works often invited actors from the Bolshoi Drama Theatre to perform in the LOMO club. This tradition started in the 1930s and continued until the late 1980s. The Bolshoi Drama Theatre is still known as one of the best theatres in the country. In this picture we can see Mr G.A. Tovstonogov, Chief Producer at the BDT, in the office of LOMO PLC Director General, M.P. Panfilov, in 1982.

Be that as it may, the 1980s signified huge changes in the Soviet society, which the Russians and their neighbouring countries still deal with today. It was the very beginning of the change from a communist to capitalist economy and society. Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev came into power in 1985 and introduced the programs of Glasnost (Openness) and Perestroika (Restructuring) to the citizens of the Soviet Union. The following years (accompanied by the alcohol reform that significantly raised the prices of vodka, wine and beer to fight wide-spread alcoholism) changed the lives of many. It is then no surprise that our friendly LOMO PLC company, being one of the biggest industrial plants in the Union, also underwent the biggest changes of its turbulent history. After the Soviet Union officially split up in 1991, the borders were opened to the West and many former Soviet companies found themselves confronted with totally new and unfamiliar circumstances. Until the 1990s, Soviet enterprises received detailed directives from Moscow; when and how to do something, to whom finished products should be delivered to and what tasks had to be fulfilled on what day. By the time communism fell, a Soviet company did everything but decide which projects they wanted to pursue. If there was a need for traffic lights, then a company received the task to produce them. If children needed toy cars, then they were produced in the millions. LOMO PLC always got clear directives from the Moscow Administration and never had to ask whether there was a market demand for their products or not.

1b. Actors of the Gorky Bolshoi Drama Theatre posing together with LOMO PLC staff in 1980. On the far left we can see S.B. Livsgits, Chairman of the LOMO Theatregoers club.

Thrown into the worldwide pool of direct competition LOMO PLC was confronted with the immense task of adapting to the new conditions. Gigantic rivals such as Karl Zeiss (LOMO PLC’s competitor through all the years) Olympus and Nikon were waiting around the corner. As Aleksandr M. Aronov, present Director General of the works puts it himself: “We were told, first of all, that nobody will set you any objectives, and you can do whatever you like. Secondly, nobody is responsible for you. And generally speaking, nobody needs you. If you yourself are in demand due to your products, then be in demand. If not, then you do not exist. Never, in my life, have I seen such drastic changes in conditions”. LOMO PLC was clearly facing the biggest challenge of its history: to keep the huge company alive under the new conditions of the free market.

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written by ungrumpy

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: Deutsch & Spanish.