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20 years after breakup of USSR Russians tend to idealize Soviet era

December 07, 2011, 17:56 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union Russia’s people seem to be missing the Soviet empire more than ten or fifteen years ago. Polls show strong persistent nostalgia for the Soviet era. Each year the image of the Soviet Union in the eyes of many citizens is becoming more rose-colored. Experts attribute this to the results of modern propaganda and imperial mentality, as well as discontent with today’s life, which is becoming increasingly difficult, and the loss of moral standards and benchmarks, which have failed to be replaced with new ones.

The Belavezha Accord, signed on December 8, 1991 by the then leaders of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, ended the 70-year existence of the Soviet Union and started the creation of the CIS. Twenty years later, Russia's leaders call the collapse of the Soviet Union as a geopolitical catastrophe. Regret over the collapse of the Soviet Union was expressed by Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev and the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill. Many perceived Vladimir Putin’s idea of the establishment of a post-Soviet Eurasian Union as evidence of the desire to partially restore the USSR.

As polls show, many in Russia these days regret the collapse of the Soviet empire. For example, the liberal daily Noviye Izvestia has conducted a poll of its readership to discover that 74% negatively evaluated the demise of the Soviet Union, "because with it gone was a great power that was both feared and respected." Only 12% rated this fact positively, "because many people received national independence." Nine percent regarded the collapse of the empire as a personal tragedy, "because friends and relatives have remained abroad," and 3% said they did not care about the fate of the Soviet Union.

"We had certainly expected to hear some nostalgic notes in comments on what happened, but the powerful chorus of like-minded respondents left us puzzled somewhat,” the newspaper said. “In our case we may have encountered a large group of people who have not rid themselves of imperial thinking. It is unlikely that all those respondents nostalgic for the USSR today would agree to return to the country of the Communist ideology and commodity shortages. In addition, well-fenced off from the rest of the world with the 'iron curtain'.

A survey, held at the Department of Sociology of St. Petersburg’s State University, showed a very low estimate of modern society in comparison with the Soviet one. Asked in what way today's Russia was different from the Soviet Union, the respondents gave the following answers: "The collapse of the economy and rampant crime and corruption" - 26%, "Life is difficult" - 22%, "Once a great power we have turned into a second-rate state" - 16%, and "Brutality of society and the degradation of morality" - 11%. But there are optimists: "Unlimited opportunities for active people" - 12%, "We have again become part of a larger world," 10%, and "Less hypocrisy, more opportunities for self-expression" - 2%.

The main distinction between modern Russians and Soviet citizens is seen in the following way – the former "have no ideals, they think only about money" - 23%, "have to rely only on themselves" - 19%, and "do not see a future for their country" - 11%. There are also those who believe that modern citizens "are more broad-minded" - 9%, "live a fuller life" - 8%, and "the same people, just in different circumstances" - 8%.

People are primarily dissatisfied with the loss of moral bearings and benchmarks, without which there inevitably follows the degradation of any society, said the agency Rosbalt, which initiated the survey. "The country has lost eternal values, trying to replace them with utilitarian needs and material interest. But it has turned out that to go on living on such a foundation is impossible." The agency says the largest gain of the post-Soviet period is the expansion of opportunities and the development of a sense of responsibility.

The head of the department of social and political studies at the Levada Center, Boris Dubin, is quoted by Ogonyok magazine as saying that the idealization of the Soviet era is largely due to the mechanism of contrast, established by modern propaganda. "The picture of the turbulent 1990s is largely a cliche that continues to be replicated by the mass media close to the authorities. Accordingly, the era of stagnation is seen as a safe haven."

If one recalls the surveys of the 1988-1990s, says the sociologist, it will become clear how the state of the public mind has transformed in recent years. Then the people sincerely believed that the Soviet way of life and the system itself brought the country to the margins of world civilization, that the Russian economy was monstrous, that everything must be changed. Yeltsin was not going to change these perceptions. On the contrary, he and his team sought to distance themselves from everything Soviet. But then there followed the next decade, and all of a sudden the propaganda started working for reconciliation with the Soviet past. Soviet things became, first of all, friendly, and secondly, good-looking.

In addition, Dubin believes that it was largely a reaction to the growing complexity of life. "The Soviet individual was formed under certain conditions that taught him or her to be simple, to be accustomed to anthill existence, where all are equal, nobody is personally responsible for anything, and everyone tries to bring home what comes one’s way. And then, in the 1990s life was filled with drama. There occurred stratification, the need to work more and the desire to get more, and conflicts within families. Children in the new conditions sometimes proved more successful than their parents. This embittered people."

Then there occurred the economic reforms and the economic crisis, some lost jobs and others, all savings. Only after all these metamorphoses the negative reaction to the disintegration of the Soviet Union manifested itself. "People now want to escape from the reality into the calm and safe past."

“The nostalgia for the Soviet Union reflects primarily the absence of any conceptual substitute for the image of that socio-political formation,” says the editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, Fyodor Lukyanov. “The ideological anti-Communist revolution of the early 1990s, designed to once and for all discredit the Soviet model in the eyes of society, quickly bogged down. “Real democracy" in some respects proved so ugly and repulsive, that many have begun to draw "real socialism" in complementary colors."

The restoration of the USSR is now impossible in any format, either ideologically or politically, says political analyst Alexei Vlasov, who is quoted by the news portal Zakon.kz. Russia does not aim to restore the empire. Its goal is to create a space where there will dominate the integration potential, working for Russia's interests and the interests of other countries who would join this space.

"The initiative of creating a Eurasian Union, launched recently by Vladimir Putin, is mainly interpreted by commentators as a further effort to revive the Soviet Union,” he said. “But a hypothetical Eurasian Union is not tantamount to restoration of the USSR. Perhaps, it is the first attempt to put the integration processes on an economically rational footing and attract specific partners with benefits."

MOSCOW, December 7