Fond reminiscences of the soviet period has been viewed mainly with lofty detachment by the media, more often treated as a cultural curiosity, as an innocent phenomenon. After all, nostalgia for things past helps to recall aspects of one’s youth, and people tend to suppress the bad and the ugly.
Two prominent Estonians have recently attacked the nostalgia industry head on. Jüri Arrak, internationally recognized artist, member of the European Academy of Science and Arts, bluntly states that nostalgia for the Soviet period is nothing less than regurgitating lies. One must be emotionally ill to yearn for an era of lies.
The most loathsome aspect of Soviet existence was the absence of freedom, Arrak says. While the constitution of the USSR guaranteed freedom, reality was diametrically the opposite. People miss freedom when it is denied them. For some reason freedom is taken for granted, as elementary, ordinary, occurring naturally. But the maintaining of freedom must be learned, otherwise it simply fades away.
Arrak maintains that the lack of freedom lasted too long for Estonians – two generations were forced to live in a world of lies, to live a double life. Consequently people tend to “deform”, adapt to the system, accommodate the inconveniences and lose a sense of correct values. Arrak was already 52 when he had a chance (allowed) to visit the West.
Professor Anto Raukas, foremost geologist, former communist party member, a veteran member of the Estonian Academy of Science, honorary member of various European academies claims that not knowing produces ignorant happiness. He gives as an example the nuclear catastrophe of 1957 in Cheljabinsk, that was many times more powerful than Chernobyl but held as a state secret. The military plutonium refinement plant had, since 1949, been leaking radioactive waste into the Tetcha river poisoning the 25,000 inhabitants on its shore. Raukas points to the 1948 Asgabati earthquake with 110,000 victims, where outsiders were forbidden and the mass graves where some survivors were also buried; and the 1952 Kamchatka earthquake and tsunami in which 27,000 evacuees had to sign a written promise not to reveal the tragedy.
Raukas also targets the ecological disasters left behind by the 1,500 Soviet military bases and establishments in Estonia. One of the most dramatic examples is the pollution of drilled wells in the district of the air force base at Tapa in which the wells contained a layer of seven meters of jet fuel. He reminds people of empty store counters, the 90,000 who vanquished by Soviet repression between 1949-1991 and the 30,900 that were left homeless by the deportations of 1949. The above are only a few examples of ecological/military/industrial catastrophes, that were covered by a thick blanket of secrecy. Anyone caught leaking news of the events would be subject to severe sanctions. Some scientists accused of revealing a nuclear mishap were actually charged with treason.
Once again how can there be even a trace of fondness for a period in which officialdom deliberately propagated falsehoods and urged its citizens to do likewise? One understands the grin-and-bear-it attitude of Estonian men who recall their years serving mandatory conscription time in the Soviet forces who overlook the brutality and animosity aimed at recruits from the Baltic but remember the inconveniences and hardships with humour. In fact the senselessness of it all is used to mock the Soviet system.
But fond memories of a society propped up by untruths is an emotionally morbid pastime and helps to advance the current Russian goal of rebuilding a Soviet country.
Soviet nostalgia: false memories (4)