Sunday, April 27, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Romanticism, Nostalgia Behind Russian Interest in Soviet Symbols

Paul Goble

Baku, April 26 – The current fashion in Russia for displaying Soviet symbols reflects romanticism of young people who do not see any remarkable leaders today and nostalgia among older age groups whose members have been disappointed by what has happened in their country since the end of communism, according to a leading Russian social psychologist.
The widespread and growing interest in “the outstanding personalities of the 20th century” however odious some of them may have been, Mikhail Rozhansky of the Center for Independent Social Research and Education told Argumenty i faky v Vostochnoy Sibiri this week, is easily explained (
Whether one is in Irkutsk, Moscow or some Western city, he said, “at the present moment in international politics there are practically no bright leaders” who appear capable of taking humanity in a new direction. And young people, romantic by nature, are thus attracted to large-scale personalities from the past.
Meanwhile, he continued, older people feel a certain nostalgia for the past, especially given what many of them see as the failures of post-Soviet Russia, shortcomings that have made them play down many of the dark sides of the Soviet past and recall only the achievements that earlier regime regularly claimed.
Consequently, although many of them were horrified by the exposures of Soviet crimes that appeared in the Russian media at the end of the Soviet period and the beginning of the post-Soviet one, they no longer consider those reports in isolation from their other memories or their more recent experiences.
Yet another reason that both groups are forming a more positive image of Soviet leaders, despite their activities, Rozhansky says, is the growing interest in “biographic literature and [consequently in] the internal dramas of people living in the times of historical convulsions” and their personal reasons for doing what they did.
“On the one hand,” he suggests, “such interest [in biographies of prominent personalities] undoubtedly contributes something positive: people begin to consider well-known leaders of the past not simply as partially mythologized historical actors but ask questions about their motives for one decision or another.”
But on the other, Rozhansky continues, “there is a risk” involved in such reading: Often when people focus on the psychology of a leader like Lenin or Stalin, they understand why those people acted in the way that they did, but they, like the authors of many books about such leaders, forget about the victims of these actions.
Unfortunately, some political leaders are quite prepared to exploit this romanticism and nostalgia, but Rozhansky’s remarks are a reminder that those who sport Soviet symbols or say they have a positive view of Lenin or Stalin are not necessarily in favor of going back to the reality of the past, only in participating vicariously in that past from a safe distance.

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