Going to the Soviet Union (Советский Союз)

Check out this video for a taste of life in the USSR during the cold war. FYI the chorus to the song you will hear is “I really want to go to the Soviet Union, again and again”.

This video produced by the Communist Party in Russia is a great example of how people in Russia recall the Soviet Union.  Especially the younger generation who didn’t experience life under the Soviet regime. “Today, many Russians show symptoms of collective amnesia about the past, and a majority of young Russians believe Joseph Stalin (1929–1953) did more good than bad.” (Quoted from “The Washington Quarterly” • 29:1 pp. 83–96. Authors Mendelson and Gerber) Recently there has been a movement to restore the memory of Stalin. Last year in a vote conducted by a major news agency in Russia, Stalin was voted the third most popular personality in Russia.

“British historian Orlando Figes claimed this week (week of March 6th, 2009) his Russian publishers have scrapped his book “The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia” due to “political pressure” amid Kremlin-led efforts to promote Stalin.” (www.AmericanFreePress.net) “I suspect (as do my friends in Russia) that the real reason is political. The history in my book is inconvenient to the current regime in Russia,” he said in a statement on his website. “The Kremlin has been actively campaigning for the rehabilitation of Stalin. It wants Russians to take pride in Soviet history and not to be burdened with a paralysing sense of guilt about the repressions of the Stalin period.” (www.OrlandoFiges.com)

Having said that, I now quote President Dmitry Medvedev himself from a speech he gave on October 30th, 2009, which is “Remembrance Day of Victims of Political Repression”.

“It is impossible to imagine now the scale of terror which affected all the peoples of our country and peaked in the years 1937-1938. The Volga river of people’s grief, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn called it, the endless stream of repressed at that period.

For twenty years before the World War II entire strata and classes of our society were eliminated. The Cossacks were virtually liquidated. The peasantry was expropriated (or ‘dekulakised’) and weakened. Intellectuals, workers and the military were subject to political persecution. Representatives of absolutely all religious faiths were subject to harassment.

October 30 is a Remembrance Day for millions of crippled destinies. For people who were shot without trial and without investigation, people who were sent to labour camps and exile, deprived of civil rights for having the ‘wrong’ occupation or ‘improper social origin’. The label of ‘enemies of the people’ and ‘accomplices’ was then pasted on whole families.

Let’s just think about it: millions of people died as a result of terror and false accusations – millions. They were deprived of all rights, even the right to a decent human burial; for years their names were simply erased from history.

But even today you can still hear voices claiming that those innumerable victims were justified for some higher national purpose.

I believe that no national progress, successes or ambitions can develop at the price of human misery and loss.

Nothing can take precedence over the value of human life.

And there is no excuse for repression.

We pay a great deal of attention to the fight against the revisionist falsification of our history. Yet somehow I often feel that we are merely talking about the falsification of the events of the Great Patriotic War. (Great Patriotic War is what Russians call WWII)

But it is equally important not to sanction, under the guise of restoring historical justice, any justification of those who destroyed our people. (I.e. Stalin, Alex’s insertion)

It is true that Stalin’s crimes cannot diminish the heroic deeds of the people who triumphed in the Great Patriotic War, who made our country a mighty industrial power, and who raised our industry, science and culture to top global standards.

The ability to accept one’s past for what it is, is the mark of mature civic culture.”

It is equally important to study the past and to speak out against indifference and the desire to forget its tragic aspects. (http://eng.kremlin.ru/speeches/2009/10/30/1218_type207221_222423.shtml) You may find President Medvedev’s full speech in English at this website.

6 thoughts on “Going to the Soviet Union (Советский Союз)

  1. This is something that has been much on my mind lately – I just read a book that just came out, A Mountain of Crumbs, where the author, Elena Gorokhova, pointed out the lies that ran through much of lives back in USSR. I can see how someone would want to go back. Living within those walls of convenient lies gives a certain sense of security and an excuse for passivity – which in turn can be again convenient for those UP there. It was sickening to think and remember some of the stuff we took for granted -like this is THE WAY -in our daycares, schools. Someone here in our little deep southern village is cruising around on a car with a hammer and a sickle sticker and a friend asked me – are there really people there who want to go back?? My answer was that I knew people had a longing for the past, more in a romantic sense- but it never occurred to me that something like this video would come from people in power. It’s true, Yana, it is more complicated than that, but, personally, I find myself so very much – a child of that time. Sure there was a lot of GOOD, and we were good people, who never got in trouble and were good obeying citizens, but the price of that righteousness is guilt and fear and guilt again. My memory of school days are full of happy images like in this video, but there also images of posters in my town’s best school – Не знаешь, начучим, не хочешь – заставим. The bad in that regime was not just the heinous crimes against people – it;s also the lies that twisted their minds and hearts.

    • Hey Maya, I appreciate your comments. I was listening to Ekho Moskvi just this morning. The Radio host was discussing with a guest how 65% of people in Russia believe Russia must be ruled by a “strong man” or “iron fist” like Stalin! It is really hard to believe that so many people think that way! The guest on the show reminded people that eight million people disappeared during Stalin’s repression in the thirties. Eight million people! The guest suggested that people today don’t think they would be the ones who might disappear during a repression. Nor did the members of the original Politburo think they would disappear, but Stalin was the only one alive after 1940.

      Thanks for checking out what we are doing. Blessings to your whole family! Alex

      • HI Alex,

        Aga is a common name that a lot of people refer to it by – and I suspect it’s a buryat name for it. Now what it was before 1937 – I want to say it was part of Mongolia, and when the Soviets came Aga voluntarily joined the Soviet Union – now I might be wrong.

    • Dear Maya, Hey this is Alex in Irkutsk. I was recently in Ulan-Ude, and I interviewed a 95 year old woman who fled from a village near Aginsk to China in the 1930’s. In 1993 she moved back to Russia, and her family settled in Ulan-Ude. What I am curious about, and wonder if you know is, what was the Aginsky Okrug referred to before it became the “Aginsky Okrug” in roughly 1937? Was Aginsk called Aga before? Was there a name for the area? What was the area called prior to the Soviets renaming it? Hope you know! Alex

  2. Wow, I didn’t know about this song/video. It’s really amazing – it touches on every single ‘Soviet archetype’ – every single image in the video has a significance. And I am sure even more so for those who were born in the 1970’s…

    I think though that the Western media presents a simplified picture of how Russians view Stalin and the Soviet Union at large. I myself struggle with this. On the one hand, people have to know and remember the truth about the numerous crimes against humanity committed during the Soviet times. This applies even to the most inconvenient truths – like the one about the crimes committed by the Red Army in Germany at the end of the war- there has to be “Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung,” as Germans put it ever so nicely. On the other hand, I think most people understand (or at least instinctively feel) that you cannot reduce the Soviet Union to just that – to just Stalin, persecution of dissidents, lack of freedom of speech. You cannot define generations, millions of people simply by the political regime they lived under (even if they actively supported that regime). And that’s where I think the Western media misses the point.

    Also, I definitely think Russia should stop dismissing the dark sides of its history. But if you think about it, none of the Central and Eastern European states (which are commended for their progress on democracy and human rights) have truly come to terms with their own history either. Like, the scale of collaborationism with the Nazis in Lithuania, when the locals were killing Jews in great numbers – I don’t think there’s much public debate about it. Or what was done to Sudeten Germans, millions of people, who were re-settled after the war. Or, in the case of the UK, the bombings of Dresden and other German cities by British air force. There are so many examples. I think the Germans are actually quite unique in the way they deal with their past and the lack of nationalism most of them exhibit. But it came at a high price.

    Sorry for the long post, I just find this topic really fascinating. I was talking to Edward Lucas recently, the guy from the Economist who has written extensively on Russia and post-Soviet states, and we really got into an animated discussion on this very issue – dealing with the past. I told him that it was too convenient to be critical without facing Britain’s own very very dodgy colonial past… and the repercussions of that in the developing countries.

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