Friday, April 1, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Young Russians Often ‘Nostalgic’ for a Country They Never Knew

Paul Goble

Fairfax, April 1 – While most of the 59 percent of the Russian population which says that it regrets the disintegration of the Soviet Union is made up of people old enough to have lived in that country, many Russians too young to do so are nonetheless showing a nostalgia for a country they are too young to have known.

The reasons for this, Moscow commentator Yuliya Yakusheva argues, are not far to seek because they reflect both the problems that many young people now face in the Russian Federation and the images both justified and otherwise that the young generation has of the Soviet past (

Few of the polls concerning Russian attitudes about the Soviet past present age-specific data, Yakusheva says, it is “obvious that the majority of those calling for a return to the Soviet past are representatives of that generation who experienced both the flowering and the collapse of the last empire of the 20th century.”

For many of these older generations, there are both political and psychological explanations for this phenomenon, the Moscow commentator says. On the one hand, many of them see some of the values of Soviet times as better than those now on offer. And on the other, such people cannot recall their youth without a certain nostalgia.

But “ever more often,” she points out, “the Soviet system is becoming popular among young people of the post-Soviet countries,” a trend that needs to be examined to determine whether it is simply a matter of “passing fashion” or whether such attitudes reflect some deeper reworking and revival of Soviet ideology.

Given the importance of Internet-based social networks among this cohort, Yakusheva says, they represent a useful way in to this issue. She points out that “if one searches for ‘USSR’ on ‘In Contact,’ one of the more popular of these networks in the post-Soviet states, then one is given as a result of 19,000 groups around this theme.”

These consist of several types but “the most popular” based on the number of participants are those one can call “nostalgia groups on the USSR” which unite people who are interested in Soviet values, worldview, and way of life “ranging from Pioneer scarves to Vostok refrigerators.”

One group describes itself as a place which “gives the opportunity” to everyone who “wants to see how those born in the USSR lifed, what surrounded them in their childhood and youth.” Yakusheva notes that “it is interesting” but not surprising that among the subjects attracting attention are the numerous music groups of the last years of Soviet power.

Closely related to these nostalgia groups are what can be called “patriotic” ones, “which are devoted to the most prominent achievements of the USSR, events and phenomenon with which are associated the success of the Soviet Union in the world,” including the 1980 Olympics, the space program, and the like.

Yakusheva says that “judging from them commentaries of the creators and participants of such groups, their main goal is not the blind celebration of the Soviet past but in a greater degree a search for guideposts and stimuli of development for contemporary Russia.”

And finally, she says, there are the groups which are openly political and reflect leftist youth movements and organizations, groups whose values range from “the rebirth of greatpower status” to “social justice,” but who are seldom directed toward “the destruction of the existing system” in the name of the past.

The “most active” of these “In Contact” groups is one organized by the Union of Communist Youth of the Russian Federation.” But according to Yakusheva, the posts on it are not very sophisticated and seldom go beyond the principle that “if you were nota communist, then you weren’t ever young.”

That group and others like it include the most varied membership: “from radically inclined young people for whom the struggle with the existing regime is a goal in itself to young men and girls who do not have any particular principles and goals,” groups that should not be lumped together analytically.

In short, this interest in the Soviet past is less about a desire to return to it in toto and more part of a discussion of which parts of that inheritance should be supported and which parts should be jettisoned, Yakusheva concludes, in order to make Russia once again “an attractive model and a cultural and educational center.”

According to Yakusheva, this involves taking steps to stop the decline in the space occupied by Russian speakers in the post-Soviet space” and to present “the invisible borders” between Russia and the former Soviet republics from “deepening and broadening,” thereby leaving Russia alone.


No comments: