Film-maker Adam Curtis has created a new series of seven films – entitled Russia 1985-1999 TraumaZone: What It Felt Like to Live Through the Collapse of Communism and Democracy – that will premiere on BBC iPlayer on 13th October..

Since the late 1980s BBC crews have filmed all across USSR/Russia, but only a tiny fraction of their material was ever used for news reports. The rest lay unseen in cupboards in Moscow. The seven hour-long films are based on tens of thousands of hours of raw footage recorded in Russia during that time that has never been seen before. This extraordinary footage records the lives and experiences of Russians at every level of society to create a vivid record of everyday life in a collapsing empire.

Adam Curtis says: “This project is an immersive history that takes you through Russian society as it lived through a cataclysm that wrecked the lives of millions of people and tore apart the foundations of the whole society. Because what the Russians lived through in the 1990s was not just the end of communism, but the failure of democracy too. They experienced the collapse of the two great ideologies of our time in a period of less than ten years.

“By 1999 the word democracy was used as a curse. A curse against your enemies.

“To understand Russia now – and what might happen in the future – you have to understand what happened back then. For it is out of that rage, the violence, the desperation and the overwhelming corruption that Vladimir Putin emerged.”

The films take you from inside the Kremlin to the frozen mining cities in the Arctic circle, the tiny villages of the vast steppes of Russia and the strange wars fought in the mountains and forests of the Caucasus.

Russia 1985-1999 TraumaZone: What It Felt Like to Live Through the Collapse of Communism and Democracy is a BBC Film production for BBC iPlayer.


At the start of the 1990s the Soviet Union – one the largest empires in the world – imploded.

It was not a slow collapse like the British Empire, but one that collapsed suddenly – in just a few months.

In the west we didn’t really see or understand what then happened because we were blinded by victory in the cold war. In reality what the Russian people experienced was a profound disaster which left behind it deep scars and a furious anger – that led to what is happening in Russia now and in Ukraine.

This series of films is a record of what it felt like to live through that catastrophe.

It is also the story how a society of millions of people stopped believing in all politics. Not just communism, but democracy too. Something that no-one else has experienced in the modern world. Yet.

Pippa Considine

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