Nostalgia for the Soviet past evokes different feelings for different people, who have actually experienced life in the USSR. It’s quite common to hear the reminiscences of the rarity of consumer goods, of the absences of services such as car repairs, of the long waiting list for a home phone, of coping without hot water, of the unavailability of many things that westerners took for granted.
This forced people to become innovative and resourceful, and such self-sufficiency has been (at least psychologically) beneficial during hard economic times. Such reminiscences sooner or later conclude that today’s youth, who haven’t “enjoyed” the invigorating experience everyday hardships of the past and haven’t been toughened by Soviet reality, have been coddled by immediate gratification, an aspect of today’s lifestyle that won’t stand the individual, nor the nation in good stead when belts have to be tightened and expectations abandoned. That’s the logic often heard.
Such reminiscences rarely broach the other aspects of Soviet existence, the part of life that wasn’t just irritable and annoying. The deeply rooted social class structure based on position within the Communist party; the privileges, such as access to consumer goods unavailable to others, that accompanied high party position; the availability of better living accommodation to the nomenkultura individuals; for most people, the inability to travel to the West; the forced Soviet ultra-patriotism; the deadening hours studying the history of the party and Marxism-Leninism; the abuse of power even within the lowest position of government services; the expectation of corruption in solving official obstinacies and obstacles; for countries such as Estonia, the heavy burden of the intolerable foreign, totalitarian system that placed severe limitations on national aspirations and rigidly controlled relations with Estonians in exile.
Do past grievances fade? To remember with certain fondness even personal hardships in the past is still a far cry from yearning for the era’s return. Observers have duly noted that some sectors of Russian society are not just smitten with the Soviet past, but advocate that which was rejected must be protected, that society must be taught respect for order, authority, power.
Why the seeming about-face? Some Russia observers point to nostalgia arising out of the exacerbation and dissatisfaction with life in Russia today. In the early 1990-s, state property was grabbed by the elite, who claimed that it cost nothing. The pie has been cut up and those that didn’t get their wedge or those who are unrepentant and thriving through theft of government assests, insist that all that was conservative and authoritarian in Soviet culture must be brought back into vogue. Critics say that the appeal is to return to the worst qualities of the Soviet experience, to what actually led to the USSR’s demise.
Paul Goble has noted that there is “unrestrained discussion of restoration themes on both domestic and foreign themes, with some urging neo-Stalinist” solutions which would include the restoration of the Soviet Union. Russian foreign policy analyst Fedor Lukyanov states that “the constant appeal to the Soviet [past] cultivates a feeling of incompleteness”. Rampant Russian ethnic nationalism, as seen in the open attacks against non-Russian Moscovites, is self destruction.
Estonian philosopher Margit Sutrop sees danger in a possible nostalgia epidemic: Youth lack the experience of being forced to lie, to live without basic freedoms. The Soviet system destroyed personal dignity, made people lose any feelings of honour and shame. It’s the imperceptible qualities that can wound most deeply by an embrace of Soviet attributes.
Nostalgia, Soviet style