Sunday, November 15, 2009

Window on Eurasia: How the Death of Communism Opened the Way for ‘Sovok’ Values

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 15 – The concept of the “anti-Soviet” arose in the 1920s in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution, but that of “the sovok” -- an individual who “passionately” asserts that “survival at other’s expense” is “the only correct strategy” – appeared in the Russian language only in the 1970s following the demise among Russians of any faith in communism.
“The Stalinists still believed in communism and Marxism,” Father Yakov Krotov writes in an essay posted on the portal, “and these Western theories included in themselves certain kinds of ideals, such as self-sacrifice.” But with the death of this faith, “the sovok, unreflective and pitiless, triumphed in its place” (
And today in the Russian Federation, there is an ongoing struggle between “the anti-Soviet” and “the sovok,” a battle that the latter has done so much to distort that Krotov uses this article to try to set the record straight, albeit with little obvious hope that his words will be acceptable to “the sovki” around him.
There are “anti-Soviets,” Krotov says, “who are only anti-Soviets and nothing more,” just as there are “sovki who howl about Soviet power.” But in fact, “to be an anti-Soviet means not to howl but to be. To be a human being who lives not according to the norms of the sovok but according to the norms of the normal world.”
It means, among other things, not to break into line, not to push others aside, “not to declare evil the norm of life and all people to be apes” and not to “assert one’s own freedom by violating prohibitions [imposed by the rules of others] but instead to live according to unwritten but clear rules of the free world.”
Ever since the sovok emerged, Krotov continues, he “has attempted to politicize the image of the anti-Soviet,” by insisting that the latter is “an unhappy man who has forgotten about his family and home and gotten involved in the struggle for some kind of abstract values.” But in fact, the Orthodox priest says, “everything is exactly the opposite!”
“It is the sovok” and not the anti-Soviet who “is politicized down to his toes and sees everything through the prism of politics.” Indeed, “part of the military game of the sovok is just this false image of the anti-Soviet” because “in fact, ‘an anti-Soviet’ is any normal person who has had the misfortune to encounter a sovok.”
“Anti-Soviets” of course can become “sovki.” In fact, that is the only way such people can emerge because “sovki don’t fall from Mars.” Those who are and remain “anti-Soviets” insist that “however sinful” human beings may be, “they are not born to be a traitor and egotist. That is a matter of choice.”
The “sovki” on the other hand deny that there is any choice to be made. Instead, they insist that “everyone is a sovok – Alexander the Great, Moses, Cain, Abel, Winnie the Pooh and everyone else.” Thus, the “sovki” justify themselves: there is no alternative to what they are because there is no choice.
Those who are the “anti-Soviets,” Krotov continues, “proclaim the good news: life is not so constituted that one cannot be a normal person. Not a saint but normal. Life instead is so ordered that in its course, each person decides for himself” the most important questions. He is not simply the product of some iron law of necessity.
“Sovki,” the priest says, “typically consider anti-Sovietism a hate crime. If an anti-Soviet calls someone “a sovok,” then that means, in the opinion of the “sovok” that he “hates” him, even though or perhaps especially because “all people are sovki.” But such feelings reflect his failure to make a distinction like the one that exists between a surgeon and a hangman.
Not surprisingly, “sovki” don’t like being called that, and “anti-Soviets practically never identify sovki by name; [instead,] they describe the symptoms” of this approach. And that has the result that every “anti-Soviet,” just like the reader of a medical encyclopedia, will find some symptoms of the problem in himself.
“Any normal person will find abnormalities” in such a case, Krotov writes. “But this means something diametrically opposed to what the sovok asserts. It does not mean that all normal people must be sovki; instead, it means all sovki could be normal” if they began by recognizing their situation -- just as “the anti-Soviet willingly recognizes the sovok in himself.”

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