Monday, January 11, 2010

Window on Eurasia: ‘Epidemic’ of Nostalgia among Russians for Soviet Times Dangerous, Psychotherapist Warns

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 11 – Nostalgia for the Soviet past, which is spreading like “an epidemic” through Russian society, reflects the dissatisfaction of most Russians with the current situation and could lead to a civil war if the Moscow powers that be do not show visible progress soon in areas of greatest concern to the population, according to a Russian psychologist.
In comments to the “Novy region” news agency today, Marina Patova, a psychotherapist in Chelyabinsk, says that it is entirely “normal” when members of the older generation experience nostalgia for the past. And it is also understandable when younger groups do so out of an interest in “a retro style” (
But it is “much more a matter of concern when an entire society falls into a state of nostalgia” because “this means that people are uncomfortable and unhappy with the times in which they are now living,” a psychological state than when widespread often leads to convulsions if the problems that have given birth to the nostalgia are not rectified.
According to Patova, there are several possible causes for “the epidemic” of nostalgia among Russians for the Soviet Union now: “The idea which unified the residents of the Soviet Union has died. Today, nothing unites the citizens of Russia. The general idea of profit now on offer cannot unite people in principle. It can only divide. [Indeed] it isn’t even an idea.”
The developed countries, she continues, “long ago passed through this stage, moving into a post-industrial period where humanitarian values are the main ones. Russia seriously lags behind these states, approximately by a century. Now, we are at the stage of the construction of capitalism, that is, approximately in the 19th century.”
“We did not pass this stage at that time,” she says. “Now, we are catching up, and this process is extremely painful. Society feels itself uncomfortable and is searching for a way to define itself. In the past, it chose that which seemed useful. But all this was an illusion and a lie.” Consequently, “nostalgia,” Patova argues, “is a symptom, and not a cause.”
She said that such a symptom can take “extremely severe forms, up to and including civil war. Not only does that outcome depend on whether the population is armed but it also depends on the policy of the government. “The powers that be must offer clear and precise economic and social programs of development” for the here and now, not “after 10 years.”
“People must see and feel that the situation is changing for the better,” Patova concludes, with “houses and roads being build and education and health care developing. Someone said that you can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
This “epidemic” already has had the serious consequence of opening the way for almost unrestrained discussion of “restorationist” themes on both domestic and foreign themes, with some urging “neo-Stalinist approaches” and others the re-establishment of the Soviet Union (
But one author, Moscow foreign policy analyst Fedor Lukyanov, argues that this wave of nostalgia, one that first grew from below and then was promoted from above, is “practically exhausted” at least as guidance about what the powers that be should do to address popular concerns (
On the one hand, he writes in an essay posted online today, “the constant appeal to the Soviet [past] cultivates a feeling of incompleteness,” something that points to “a revanchist course for ,” Lukyanov argues, “there is [in the Russia of today] no will, no resources, and no possibilities.”
And on the other, such a focus on the past highlights its biggest problems – such as Stalinism – and shows that “the [Soviet] model even if desirable cannot be restored.” Indeed, “the discussion about the Soviet vs. Anti-Soviet course has replaced a search for constructive paths of development not only for the Russian government but also for its opponents.
Having lost faith in the revolutionary impulses of the 1990s, Russians may be considering some kind of a restoration, Lukyanov continues. But how that could be achieved is far from clear. Other post-communist countries have turned to nationalism, although that has been restrained by their aspirations to be part of Europe.
“In the Russian case,” the Moscow analyst concludes, “there is no external limiting factor, but there is an internal one. Ethnic nationalism [in the Russian Federation] is self-destruction, as the Soviet experience already showed, and for Great Power nationalism there is no real possibility.”
That makes the question of “a productive national idea” once again “important,” Lukyanov writes, but whether it will be an old bottle filled with new wine or a new bottle filled with old remains an open question, one that will only be complicated if the “epidemic” of nostalgia Patova points to spreads.

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