Russia longs for the Soviet “Paradise”

Former Kremlin insider Vladimir Milov, writing in the Moscow Times:

On Saturday, Russia will celebrate Russia Day. The roots of this holiday go back to June 12, 1990, the day the Congress of People’s Deputies of the Russian Republic adopted the Declaration on State Sovereignty for Russia. It proclaimed the “sovereignty” of the Russian Republic within a liberalized Soviet Union during Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika program. Among other things, the declaration, which was signed by the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Republic, Boris Yeltsin, stated that the laws of the Russian Republic took precedence over the legislation of the Soviet Union.

Back in June 1990, I never would have thought that on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Declaration of State Sovereignty I would witness crowds of people — including young people — eulogizing the Soviet Union and shedding tears over the “fall of a great power.”

The idea of experiencing remorse over the collapse of the Soviet Union might seem crazy to those who still hold vivid memories of empty store shelves, food rationing coupons, medical clinics reserved for the elite, foreign currency stores called beryozki, rampant cronyism and special privileges for the bureaucratic elite to receive exclusive housing, jobs and education for their children.

During Soviet times, it was impossible for Russians to take a single step without permission from their superiors, and the few people who were allowed to travel abroad did so under the close and constant scrutiny of the KGB. It was impossible to land a job without a propiska, or internal registration papers, and it was impossible to get registered without a job. Permission from the KGB was required to even make a single Xerox copy. Engaging in private enterprise and “speculation” was severely punishable by more than one law of the Criminal Code. The much-vaunted factories built during the Soviet era are now so outdated and in need of modernization that they are more of a burden than an asset to Russia’s economy.

The legacy from the “Soviet workers’ paradise” has been passed on to today’s Russians, like shabby Soviet apartment buildings that were slapped together during the 1950s and 1960s during Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s rush to solve the acute shortage of housing — buildings that have long exceeded their official lifespan of 40 years, yet millions of families still live in these cramped, “expired” buildings. In addition, look at the terrible transportation system, the squalid communal infrastructure and the rusting army. All of these attributes of the Soviet Union are still with us today.

Now Russians can move from one place to another freely, travel abroad, buy any kind of consumer goods they want and use the Internet and mobile phones. Nonetheless, we still occasionally hear how wonderful it supposedly was to live in the Soviet paradise.

Over the 20 years since Russia first became “sovereign,” Russians somehow did not notice the creeping renaissance of the Soviet Union. Russians were busy with other things — reforms, business and their personal lives.

Tellingly, a month ago I asked an employee of a major Russian company what sparked his interest in the democratic opposition. He answered, “I heard [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin’s infamous speech at Moscow’s Luzhniki arena in 2007 in which he compared nongovernmental organizations and opposition leaders to ‘jackals,’ and I understood that the Soviet Union had returned.”

Soviet revanchism is alive and well. Supporters of authoritarianism propagandize the Soviet myth as a weapon against modern, liberal ideas — their main rivals. And for now, they have enjoyed great success in winning over the hearts and minds of the people.

What can be done to stop Russia’s Sovietization? One small but important step should be taken to reveal the truth about the Soviet Union. The Internet is currently rife with cheap propaganda and myths about “the high quality of life in the Soviet era” backed up by manipulated Soviet statistics that give no idea about the sad realities of the communist empire. As a counterweight to this enormous amount of misinformation, there are only a few books by Yegor Gaidar, head of Russia’s radical economic reform programs in 1991-92.

Now 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union the last vestiges of the Soviet system have yet to be eradicated. It’s high time that we finish the job.

10 responses to “Russia longs for the Soviet “Paradise”

  1. U.S. President Obama extends congratulations on Russia Day

    “Today, our two nations continue in our strong partnership, mutual respect and friendship, and I am proud of the new START Treaty and our joint efforts to reduce our nuclear arsenals. Beyond that, our two nations continue to expand our commercial and economic ties,” he said.

  2. Pingback: Russia longs for the Soviet “Paradise” « La Russophobe | Breaking News 24/7

  3. A huge state has been characteristic of the Russian state since long before the Soviet Union, the Soviets simply put a different facade on the Russian absolute monarchy, so as far as the perception of all non-governmental and private organisation as jackals is concerned, the issue has a far longer history in Russia than the not so distant Soviet state.
    As far as the living standards go, truth be told prior to the USSR going bankrupt in the late 1980’s due to insanely low oil prices (less than 20 bucks per barrel far as I recall), for a large portion of the population who are now leading a hand-to-mouth existence and barely managing to stay alive (I’m talking primarily about the Russian pensioners here), they were much higher than they are now; utilities were dirt cheap, they could easily afford to travel wherever they wanted in the USSR (and that was 1/6th of the Earth’s dry land), they could buy all the essentials etc. So it’s no wonder these people are now looking back with nostalgia.
    Now Yegor Gaidar, RIP, with all due respect, but the guy is almost universally hated in Russia for being the economic mastermind behind the shock therapy of the early 1990’s which devalued people’s savings to zilch, making perhaps 90% of the population destitute overnight. Whatever he might have written in his book and even if what’s written in there were the gospel truth, coming from this man, this will never be regarded with anything but disdain by the majority of ordinary Russians. And especially in the light of public statements made but such people as Moscow’s former mayor Gavriil Popov, stating that the shock therapy wasn’t the only way to reform Russia’s ailing economy, Gaidar is consider the epitome of evil in this country, right up there competing for the title of the devil incarnate with Anatoly Chubais.

    And in any case the awfulness of the Soviet/ Russian absolute monarchy system isn’t so much that it’s been holding the country back economically for centuries, it’s just a completely perverted social system in all its aspects, crappy economics is but one symptom and the sad truth is that it hasn’t really ever left us. It’s just that there was a brief period in the 1990’s when the crooks at the top got busy redistributing the wealth left over from the USSR, leaving the ordinary people to their own devices, and now they’ve consolidated all the most important assets in their hands, they’re back at it, building power verticals and telling everyone what they should and shouldn’t do

    • Igor,

      How is the first generation of the Nashis (proto-Nashis, Walking Together or what not) doing? I guess they’re not really kids anymore, so did they became “the new elite” as they were promised?

      • Sorry to disappoint you but I really don’t know anything about them.
        Chances are that because of the crisis the money flow dried up and they effectively ceased to exist. There weren’t really that many of them to start with. Our current elites are not really that generous.
        From the little I’ve seen of them, all their marches were primarily composed of some students that got ‘hired’ on a temporary basis either for ‘beer money’ or even simply for promises of credits. It was never a ‘real youth organisation/movement’ just another Potemkin village.

      • voce della ragione


        Nashi “effectively ceased to exist”? How surprising… Not.

        I recall how a few years ago a certain hysterical person named Ed Lucas made huge money predicting that Nashi were the “new Hitler Youths” ready to conquer Europe and put everybody into death camps:

        Sex for the motherland: Russian youths encouraged to procreate at camp

        Nashi’s annual camp, 200 miles outside Moscow, is attended by 10,000 uniformed youngsters and involves two weeks of lectures and physical fitness.

        Sinister: Millions of young Russians at a youth camp discerningly similar to the Hitler Youth

        If tens of thousands of uniformed German youngsters were marching across Germany in support of an authoritarian Fuhrer, baiting foreigners and praising Hitler, alarm bells would be jangling all across Europe. So why aren’t they ringing about Nashi?

        Edward Lucas is author of the forthcoming “The New Cold War And How To Win It”.

        Nashi sex camp shock horror–latest lurid plug for book


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