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Soviet Disunion
SYMBOLS » The Red Goes Tricolor
PEOPLE » Russia for the Soviets
MONEY » Flirting with the Market
RELIGION » Rediscovering God

CHIEF EDITOR Andrei Zolotov, Jr.



STAFF WRITERS Dan Peleschuk, Tai Adelaja,

Andrew Roth


WEB SITE EDITOR Svetlana Kryukova

DESIGNER Alexander Vasilyev

INTERN Pavel Koshkin

COVER Varvara Polyakova



LEON ARON Senior Fellow,

American Enterprise Institute

YURI FOKINE Adviser to the Rector,

Diplomatic Academy

of the Russian Foreign Ministry


Centre for European Reform


International Affairs Committee,

State Duma of the Russian Federation


ELENA NEMIROVSKAYA Founder and Director,

Moscow School of Political Studies


Russian Television Academy

ALEXANDER RAHR Director of the Berthold Beitz

Center for Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Central

Asia, a Berlin-based think tank

ANGELA STENT Director of the Center for

Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies,

Georgetown University

MIKHAIL ZADORNOV President, Vneshtorgbank 24

NIKOLAI ZLOBIN Director of Russian and Eurasian

Programs, World Security Institute

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Andrei Zolotov, Jr. Chief Editor
Andrei Zolotov, Jr. Chief Editor

Andrei Zolotov, Jr. Chief Editor

Andrei Zolotov, Jr. Chief Editor

Dear Readers, the second half of this year marks 20 years since the fall of the Soviet Union. The 20th anniversary of the August coup has already passed, and has been marked by a variety of recollections in the form of newspaper specials, tele- vision documentaries, academic conferences, exhibitions and street ceremo- nies. In just a couple of months, we will mark the 20th anniversary of the Be- lavezha Accords and Mikhail Gorbachev’s resignation as president of the Soviet Union, when the Soviet red flag was lowered from the presidential res- idence in the Kremlin and replaced by Russia’s newly established white-red- blue tricolor. We at Russia Profile joined in the collective soul searching, which is evidently a fact of today’s Russian society and by far exceeds, both in scale and depth, what was happening ten years ago, when the 10th anniver- sary of this last major historical event in our part of the world was almost en- tirely ignored. Why is such attention being paid to this anniversary? We are at a point when the events of 1991 are no longer the politics of the day, and are becom- ing history that can be analyzed with less passion. At the same time, it gives us a chance to look at the past two decades to try to realize where Russia stands today. In other words, to look and see how Soviet we still are and how non-Soviet we have become. A period of 20 years is usually seen as a generation change. Indeed, my younger colleagues, including most of the Russia Profile team, have no per- sonal recollections of the Soviet Union. For them, it is an abstract reality that comes from books and films or an often romanticized past related by their par- ents or older peers. At the same time, for us, who are in their 40s and older, the events of 1991 represent the decisive turning point in the middle of our lives. It was an emotional highpoint full of bright expectations, many of which did not survive the past two decades. We know we have seen an incredible histori- cal development, and try to record and interpret it at least for ourselves. The desire to simplify reality so characteristic of our profession would lead one to a statement that “modern Russia remains Soviet,” or “modern Russia is clearly non-Soviet.” For each of them, there is arguably enough evidence. But the reality is, of course, more complicated, and we have tried to squeeze this complexity into the articles in this special report. Some elements of the So- viet period are quickly disappearing and deserve a museum; others, includ- ing the ugly ones, like the penitentiary system or the courts, show incredible resilience. Moreover, new Russia has not been able to create a clear set of values and vision for its future; hence the Soviet past remains a defining factor – either with a positive or with a negative sign. It can be very disheartening, but we still live in a post-Soviet period, and a whole set of factors makes the depar- ture from the Soviet past more difficult for Russia than for other post-Sovi- et states. One consolation though comes from the Biblical term of 40 years – it took Moses that long to lead the Jewish people wandering in the desert on their way from Egypt. That means we are half way there.

Yours, Andrei Zolotov, Jr. Chief Editor

RUSSIA PROFILE » Issue 4 » Volume VIII » Fall/11


Issue 4 Volume VIII Fall / 11






By Dan Peleschuk

The “Nationality Question” Still Haunts Modern Russia. Twenty years after the Soviet Union collapsed, experts differ in their opinions on whether it was a nation-building or a nation- destroying entity.



By Andrei Zolotov Jr.

Russia Lacks a Unified Policy With Regard to Its Symbols. As a country in transition, Russia is undergoing a sort of symbolic crisis, struggling to reconcile its imperial, Soviet and modern symbols.



By Dmitry Babich

Russian Historians Have Discovered a New Appreciation for Soviet History. While some say that modern Russia is trying to revive the Stalin cult, others say this interest stems from opportu- nities for new research.



By Dan Peleschuk

Twenty Years after the Soviet Union Fell, the Homo Sovieticus Lives On. Although observers have long pondered the definition of “Soviet” and its current legacy in post-Soviet Russia, the debate continues to rage.



By Alexander Daniel

Soviet Dissidents Were Pioneers of Civil Politics. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, many did not go into politics because that was not their original aim.

20 Photo: Igor Palmin
Photo: Igor Palmin




Photos by Igor Palmin

Over the past 20 years, Moscow has become nearly unrecognizable, both in terms of people and archi- tecture.


By Andrew Roth

Russia Has a New Youth Group to Replace its Soviet Prototype. But while many liken today’s Nashi to the Soviet-era Komsomol, similarities between the two are debatable.



By Tai Adelaja

The Number of Small Businesses in Russia Is Catastrophically Low. Russia had very little time to build a true market economy before it was beset by the “oil curse,” but even President Dmitry Medvedev’s modernizing reforms don’t seem to be making a difference.



By Dmitry Babich

“Anti-Soviet” Café Blasts People Back to the Past. The contro- versy surrounding the name of this café in the center of Moscow is indicative of a deeper rift that runs through the social memory of the Soviet Union.



By Andrew Roth

Soviet Communal Apartments Aren’t Dead Yet. But despite seeming similarities to the Soviet model, the modern version is an entirely different phenomenon.



By Alexey Beglov

For Many Years, the Russian Orthodox Church Has Been Undergoing a Process of Enculturation. The church is now dealing with an entirely new society that it will have to adapt its ways and means to.



By Rosemary Griffin

Soviet Names Still Survive in Modern Russia. And surprising- ly, the tradition of naming your children after outstanding political figures may even be undergoing a revival.

POST-SOVIET 36 SYNDROME By Pavel Koshkin Many Young Russians Are Nostalgic for the Soviet Union.
By Pavel Koshkin
Many Young Russians Are
Nostalgic for the Soviet
Union. But do the people
born after the collapse of the
Soviet Union really want to
go back to a time of hard-
ships they know little about?
Photo: Sergey Guneev



Comment by Fyodor Lukyanov

The Next Presidential Term Will Decide Russia’s Destiny. Ever since Boris Yeltsin took over from Mikhail Gorbachev, the Russian president has come to symbolize the country.

RUSSIA PROFILE » Issue 4 » Volume VIII » Fall/11



Remains of an Epoch

Over the past 20 years, has Russia gotten better, or worse? Was the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th cen- tury,” or was it a true blessing, albeit in disguise? These are the questions everyone’s asking this year, as Russia marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union. And although the questions are rhetorical and both sides can argue their cases equally well, it is still worth trying to analyze the many things that have changed (for better or for worse) in the country over the past 20 years.

And much has changed indeed. In the relatively little time that has passed since the Soviet Union disintegrated, Russia has been experimenting with capitalism, albeit with mixed fortunes. Ethnic tensions seem to be on the rise, while the role that the discontented and the opposition play in contemporary political life is diminishing. Communal apartments, a dread- ful relic of the Soviet epoch, survive to this day, while people who were born after the union collapsed exhibit a quixotic sense of nostalgia for the country their parents inhabited. As a newly emerging state, Russia is still grappling with a variety of issues that may at times seem paradoxical. While trying to reconcile inherited Soviet symbols with its present-day values, Russia is reveling in its newly discovered appreciation for Soviet history (and looking ever more like the Soviet Union, some say). We still reserve our place in lines while we drive our Mercedes, we eat marbled beef while we take offense at restaurant names, we march down the streets in support of the regime but refuse to be identified with the Komsomol. And some of us are even still named Vladlen or Engelisa.

Special Report






The “Nationality Question” Still Haunts Modern Russia

The “Nationality Question” Still Haunts Modern Russia An interesting fact about Mikhail Gorbachev is that the

An interesting fact about Mikhail Gorbachev is that the handful of times the typically cool-headed gener- al secretary raised his voice, it was over the “national- ity question” in the Soviet Union. With his declaration of glasnost in the mid-1980s, Gorbachev had thrown open the floodgates that had long suppressed the ex- pression of national identity, and unwittingly paved the way for the nationalist mobilization that helped topple the regime. After the fall of the Soviet Union, independent states emerged, wars erupted and ended, and the 15 former republics became free to chart their own ethnic course. But 20 years after the Soviet collapse emancipated these nations, the question still remains: was the Sovi- et Union a nation-building or a nation-destroying ex- periment? On the one hand, the regime created large- ly self-governing ethnic units (often in places that had little prior experience in governance), industrialized vast expanses of territory and laid the foundation for independent states for the years to come. But on the other, it also stifled national ambitions and blurred ethnic identities through Stalinism and intermittent periods of “Russification.” Though scholars and observers the world over have debated the positive and negative legacies of Sovi- et nationality policy, a consensus is still a long way off. “There were negative aspects to it—restrictions on political rights, on real sovereignty—but there was also a development of cultures, of national identities,” said historian Ronald Grigor Suny. “It’s really a mixed picture.” Nevertheless, after two decades of reflec- tion, it’s clear just how strong a role the Soviet Union played in shaping the states of modern-day Eurasia.


Probably the most visible legacy of Soviet national- ity policy is the very existence of the 15 independent nation-states that emerged from the collapse. In many ways, the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Belarusians and others have the Soviet Union to thank for the virtual creation of their contemporary states.

The Soviet Union was not only a multinational empire, but one which consciously promoted and encouraged—at the out- set, at least—the concept of national identity. Even during the union’s embryonic stages, both Stalin, whose first scholarly publication was 1913’s “Marxism and the National Question,” and Lenin, had considered the concept of “nationalism” and the role it would play in a newly christened communist state. Nationalism, they believed, was a necessary evil which had to be overcome on the path toward socialism. As such, nation- al identities were to be quickly embraced, so that the working classes of the Soviet Union could recognize their limitations and then forsake them in favor of “internationalism.” The result was a tremendous flourishing of nations through- out the 1920s, of a kind never seen before within such a vast empire. Somewhat curious was the union’s conscious effort to downplay Russian identity—to counter what Stalin believed to be the danger of “Great Power chauvinism”—in favor of small- er and less-represented nations. In short order, native lan- guage schools, institutes and cultural organizations appeared in each of the republics and their smaller autonomous territo- ries, transforming the Soviet Union into a “crucible of nations,” according to Suny. “The Leninist period was a period of nation building, of the rooting of these cultures, and of reaching over backward to promote the non-Russians,” said Suny, the author of “The Re- venge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union.” “The communist government had to find a way of integrating local interests with their overall interests, and they did this by making all kinds of concessions and en- couraging national cultural development within the context of political unification in the Soviet Union.” In addition to developing national identities, the Soviet Union pursued a policy of “korenizatsiya” (“nativization”) by promoting local elites to positions of power within their tit- ular republics. For Moscow, the policy served a twofold pur- pose: to placate the republican populations with homegrown leadership while ensuring that leadership’s loyalty to the cen- ter. Soon, Ukraine was led by Ukrainians, Armenia by Arme- nians, and so forth—all of whom, however, remained answer- able to Moscow. The arrangement, in principal and in practice, worked well; conflict remained low and the Soviet Union was able to rapidly industrialize while consolidating its political power.


Yet the honeymoon of cultural development would not last long. With the ascension to power of Stalin, the onset of wide-

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 6 Experts still argue about



Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 6 Experts still argue about

Experts still argue about whether the Soviet Union helped to build up separate nations, or, on the contrary, destroyed them, with some saying that by allowing

independent ethnic units to govern themselves, it laid the foundation for future independent states, and others countering that it actually stifled national identities.

Photo: Igor Vinogradov

spread terror and the outbreak of World War II, the flourishing of nations quickly turned into the destruction of nations. The great irony was that Stalin, the man who essentially formed the foundation of early nationality policy, would be the one to quickly reverse Soviet policy as he consolidated his grip on power. As the 1930s rolled on, Stalin grew increasingly wor- ried that the nation-building project he had put into motion would soon overtake its creator. The original principle was to develop the literacy and intellectual capacity of various na- tions of the Soviet Union, so that they would become pro- ductive members of the communist state; “nationalism” per se, Stalin believed, was still among the greatest threats to the regime. According to Harvard University historian Terry Martin, Sta- lin began to perceive a rise in “national communism,” in which party leaders in the peripheries in some cases favored their own nationalities too heavily and posed a threat to centralized power. “Stalin believed that national sentiments were a pow- erful mobilizing political force,” said Martin. “There would have been no point in building all these republics if national- ism wasn’t a potentially powerful force.” Moreover, as Stalin glanced at the European map, he saw the rise of extreme na- tionalist governments with potential claims to ethnic diaspo- ras in the Soviet Union, among them Germans and Poles. As his fears grew, he took further measures to prevent a splin-

tering of the Soviet Union along ethnic lines. “Stalin decided that existing policy wasn’t providing enough national unity, so he moved toward this system that he called ‘Friendship of the People,’ whereby the Russians were rehabilitated and were giv- en a primary status,” said Martin, who authored the book “The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the So- viet Union, 1923–1939.” The outbreak of the war only made matters worse. The Nazi onslaught of 1941 only heightened the leader’s paranoia, and as a result, he ordered the wholesale deportations of entire ethnic groups—among them the Chechens, Crimean Tatars, and others—for their alleged collaboration with the Germans. It was the Russians, he believed, who could lay the founda- tion for Soviet unity and carry the state to victory. In a famous speech delivered shortly after the Nazi defeat, Stalin praised the “Russian people” above all and credited them with the his- toric victory. The Russians-first legacy would last long after Stalin’s death. No subsequent leader ever truly attempted to revert to the Le- ninist policy of nation building. In fact, most leaders, accord- ing to Martin, viewed the early Bolshevik nationality policy as “suspicious”—Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev and Yuri Andropov, among them. Years of intermittent waves of “russi- fication” followed, further diluting the very national identities that the Soviet Union helped create, all in the name of central- ization and consolidation of the Soviet state.

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For all its perceived failures and shortcomings, the Soviet Union could perhaps claim at least one key success: the virtual non-existence of ethnic conflict throughout 70 years of rule. Given the country’s multitude of nationalities, as well as the potentially explosive power of nationalism, the regime’s man- agement of potential conflict seems nothing short of impres- sive. The great irony, however, is that the very mechanism that kept ethnic animosities in check was what helped precipitate nationalist mobilization and ethnic war after the collapse:

ethno-federalism. Closely related to “korenizatsiya,” ethno-federal manage- ment allowed Soviet authorities to organize and control their peripheral subjects by creating a hierarchal system of rule according to each territory’s size and ethnic composi- tion. At the top of the federal food chain were the union re- publics, followed by autonomous republics and autonomous regions—each with its own leadership structure. By hierar- chically stacking its subjects, Moscow was able to keep ethnic groups separate from one another and delegate responsibili- ties to local leaders while still keeping an eye on their activi- ties. In order to mitigate conflict, Moscow stepped in as arbiter when tensions appeared. After all, according to Suny, the Sovi- et Union was in reality a “pseudo-federal” state: “Power came from the center, and anyone could be removed by the center,” he said. “If a person was too nationalistic or, in some cases, too corrupt, then they would be removed and Moscow would send someone who would clean up corruption, end the nationalist expression and so forth.” But glasnost changed everything. After Gorbachev’s en- dorsement of greater openness, national movements in many union republics sprang up with one goal on their agenda: in- dependence. Of these, the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were the most vocal. Others, such as Georgia and Armenia, also expressed their desires for real sovereignty, but not without serious difficulties. Within these Caucasian re- publics lay subordinate ethnic enclaves—Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and the predominantly Armenian Nago- rno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan—which Soviet policy created and endowed with the institutional and ethnic means with which to contend for power. As central authority eroded during late perestroika, conflicts erupted over the rights to these territo- ries and their groups’ national self-determination. Within only a couple of years, groups with clearly defined ties to territories found themselves engulfed in ethnic war with states that attempted to keep them subordinated—Chechens against Russia, the Abkhaz and Ossetians against Georgia, Ar- menians against Azerbaijan and Transdnestr against Moldova, among others. Their leaderships, meanwhile, played a key role in stoking violence. “These conflicts were clearly motivated by the commitment of the leaders to specific nationalist agendas— that is, the desire by the secessionists to have states of their own,” said Philip Roeder, a specialist in post-Soviet conflict and pro- fessor at the University of California at San Diego. “There really were conflicting nation-state agendas between these states.”

Today, many of these conflicts remain frozen in an interna- tionally unrecognized limbo, while Moscow has assumed a more dubious role not as an arbiter, but as an enabler. Ten- sions still simmer in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and else- where and the Soviet legacy has only exacerbated these conflicts.


The way in which the Soviet Union’s successor states have behaved as independent states is also a direct result of Soviet legacy. Upon gaining independence, the 15 former republics were forced to construct their own national policies, accommo- dating both the titular nationality and the minority popula- tions that remained in the states. Yet the “sense of proprietor- ship” Soviet policy instilled in the dominant ethnic groups over their republics, according to political scientist Mark Beissinger, has in some cases created significant obstacles toward consoli- dating well-functioning states. “One of the consequences of Soviet nationality policy has been the strong nationalization of the state,” said Beissinger, the author of “Nationalist Mobiliza- tion and the Collapse of the Soviet State.” “There is a very weak sense of minority rights for those groups who are not a part of the titular group.” The key dilemma involves two variations of the modern na- tion-state: “civic” and “ethnic.” The former denotes a state which values citizenship over ethnicity—a state of which one can become a citizen relatively easily and without any strin- gent ethnic requirements. An ethnicity-based state, howev- er, places a premium on a sole—usually dominant—ethnicity and in doing so often carries the potential for disregarding or alienating minorities. The trajectories of the post-Soviet states have most often re- flected their Soviet- and pre-Soviet- era experiences. In places such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which had never expe- rienced their own statehood per se until Soviet policy craft- ed one for them, the regimes are highly ethno-centric and re- gard the titular nationalities as dominant. In the Baltics and Ukraine, meanwhile, where some semblance of statehood and ethnic identity had existed prior to the Soviet annexation, the regimes tend to be more open to minority groups, not least because Russian political movements enjoy some populari- ty there. But for the most part, Beissinger said, many of the post-So- viet states remain “civic in form and ethnic in content, in the sense that they make some pretense to be civic because they have some significant minorities. But in essence, they tend to tilt toward the dominant ethnic group and they don’t pro- vide particular conditions for minority representation or voice.” And if constitutions are the most accurate reflections of states, then many of the successor states’ ambiguous constitutions leave plenty of room for uncertainty. Take, for example, Ka- zakhstan: “Is it a state that belongs to residents of Kazakhstan, or is it a state that belongs to Kazakhs? Legally, it’s the state of Kazakhstanis, but in actual fact, it’s become the state of the

Kazakhs,” Beissinger said.

it’s become the state of the Kazakhs,” Beissinger said. RUSSIA PROFILE » Issue 4 » Volume

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By Andrei Zolotov Jr. RUSSIA PROFILE

Russia Lacks a Unified Policy With Regard to Its Symbols

Russia Lacks a Unified Policy With Regard to Its Symbols were simply not ready to tackle

were simply not ready to tackle this issue and discuss what had become Vladimir Putin’s policy on symbols: mix up the Impe- rial Russian and Soviet symbols and ignore the contradiction between the two, thus instilling the idea of “reconciliation” and continuity of one historical Russia. To be fair, there is no sizable public movement to remove the stars from the Kremlin, or any other Soviet symbols visi- ble elsewhere in Russia, including the ubiquitous Lenin mon- uments and Lenin street names. The Moscow Kremlin with its palaces, cathedrals and star-topped towers is not the least co- herent or historically authentic seat of power in Russia. In Ka- zan, the capital of Tatarstan, for example, one can see not only crosses and a star, but also crescents atop the newly built mosque and an old Russian-built tower, which became the city’s symbol. Talk of removing Lenin’s body from the mau- soleum arises every once in a while after some public figure broaches the issue—and dies out just as quickly. The mix-up of old and new holidays, the combination of a slightly modern- ized version of the Imperial double-headed eagle as the nation- al coat of arms and the Soviet-era national anthem with the new lyrics no one can remember bear witness to the fact that Russia does not have an overarching idea and employs a vari-

It was May 2010, when a group of top officials in charge of the Moscow Kremlin, both museum staff and presidential guards, joined Prime Minister Vlad- imir Putin’s close ally Vladimir Yakunin, head of Rus- sian Railways and the influential St. Andrew’s Foun- dation, at a press conference, convened to announce some sensational news: the historical icons on the Kremlin’s main towers facing the Red Square, long be- lieved to have been destroyed by the Bolsheviks, were

discovered behind a layer of plaster and would be re- stored to their former glory. It was presented as a highly symbolic case of historical justice on a nation- al scale. Toward the end of the press conference, a young journalist asked: wouldn’t there now be a contradic- tion between the icons and the five-pointed red stars atop the towers—the symbols of

the power that had fought God and “old Russia?” The luminar- ies were unprepared for the ques- tion. “When was the last time you saw the towers?” Yakunin retort-

ed, while Yelena Gagarina, the di- rector of the Kremlin Museum, nodded in agreement. “Then you definitely did not see the stars there!” The stars, of course, were there. They were there in the coming months, when President Dmitry Med- vedev and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church christened first the icon of Christ the Savior and then of St. Nicholas on the towers that bear their names. Between them, Vladimir Lenin continued to lie in his mausoleum as the chief communist relic and tourist curiosity. The white, blue and red national flag hoisted over the Kremlin in December of 1991 instead of the Soviet red banner continued flapping over the presidential residence above. It is hard to believe that Yakunin and Gagarina had confused the Kremlin towers with those of the His- torical Museum or Voskresenskie Gates flanking the Red Square, where the double-headed eagles were re- turned atop the towers in the 1990s. Most likely, they

Russia doesn’t have an overarching idea and employs mutually exclusive myths.

ety of often mutually exclusive myths. Reevaluation of the So- viet past has also stalled, and various degrees of nostalgia for the Soviet Union have become characteristic for many parts of society, including the young. But most people seem to be hap- py with this post-modernist multiplicity. “It is not a political is- sue, it’s a cultural issue, and it is good,” said sociologist Alina Bagina, the head of the Sreda Center. “There was a time when only one thing was in fashion, and everything else was not. To- day everything is in fashion that you like.”


It has not always been like that. As soon as public life reawak- ened during the perestroika years, national symbols became an important element of political struggle. But only marginal monarchist and nationalist groups carried around the double- headed eagle, while an attempt to re-introduce the white-blue- red flag by one progressive deputy in the Russian Supreme Soviet in 1990 spurred outrage among his fellow deputies.

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 9 According to sociologist Boris



According to sociologist Boris Dubin, at the time half of Russians spoke in favor of the Soviet red flag and only one fifth wanted to bring back the pre-revolution- ary flag. The tide turned during the attempt- ed coup in August of 1991. The tricolor flag appeared on the barricades around the White House, and on August 22 the Russian authorities opposed to the So- viet-inspired coup plotters adopted it as the republic’s symbol. It was hoist- ed over the building of the Supreme So- viet of the Russian Federation as Musco- vites celebrated the victory over the coup and marched through the streets car- rying a giant flag. It thus came to sym- bolize freedom and became pretty much the only meaningful symbol of the new Russia, not just a recreation of old Rus- sia. “The only new Russian symbol that has vitality is the flag,” said cultural crit- ic and television host Alexander Arkhan- gelsky. “It was adopted at the last bout of

mutual love.” From then on, the situation got more complicated. The Sovi- et Union fell apart, and new Russia had to get a full set of new

national symbols. Endless discussions in the Supreme Sovi- et began, with vigorous opposition to any attempts to intro- duce any version of the double-headed eagle and a seeming lack of any other possible non-Soviet symbol for Russia. First the State Bank, having to begin printing money, adopted the sym- bol it borrowed from the 1917 Transitional Government. Its ea- gle without the crowns was too non-communist for the com- munists and not sufficiently stately, without the crowns, for the proponents of a strong Russian state, yet it was good enough for the bank. But what was to appear on embassies, govern- ment buildings and seals? Having failed to pass the law in the communist-dominated Supreme Soviet, President Boris Yelt- sin adopted the modernized version of the old Imperial Eagle— golden on red instead of black on yellow—and passed it by his decree in 1993, after he shut down the Supreme Soviet and be- fore the first State Duma convened. As for the anthem, Mikhail Glinka’s beautiful but quite complicated entry into the 19th century anthem competition, known as the “Patriotic Song,” was picked, and a competition for lyrics was announced, which never yielded viable results. The Soviet national holiday—Revo- lution Day on November 7—was renamed the Day of Reconcili- ation and Accord, since people had got used to having a day off.

and Accord, since people had got used to having a day off. Symbolic contradictions are an
and Accord, since people had got used to having a day off. Symbolic contradictions are an

Symbolic contradictions are an everyday occurence in modern Russia: Soviet-era red stars that crown the

Kremlin’s towers cohabit with Russia’s tricolor and even with Muslim crescents and Orthodox crosses.

Photo: Yury Somov, Alexey Nasyrov

Arkhangelsky believes that the vitality of the Soviet symbols was—and remains—in the fact that they represent a certain set of values. “Soviet symbols were symbols behind which there had been some ideological reality, at least until the 1960s,” he said. “We lived without the coat of arms, without an anthem. I like Glinka’s music—it is very good! But I understand very well why the old Soviet anthem is much closer to many people. The same is true of the holidays. For me, November 7 is a holiday of the enemy, but it has a certain meaningful core that can be mythologized. With November 4, it has not worked. It is a very good day, except it has no connection to my life or the lives of my children.” The introduction of November 4—the Day of Russian Unity on the Orthodox Christian holiday of Our Lady of Kazan sig- nifying the ousting of the Poles from Moscow and the estab- lishment of the Romanov dynasty—was part of a new bout of symbolic manipulation, which came during Vladimir Putin’s era of stabilization. Early in his presidency, Putin decided to resolve the con- flict as part of his campaign to increase Russian patriotism and “overcome” the instability of the 1990s. He presented the State Duma with a compromise: bring back the Soviet anthem—the music by Alexander Alexandrov written during World War II, but with a new set of lyrics—and legalize the old eagle. This time around, it was the liberals’ time to protest against what many saw as creeping re-Sovietization. But it worked—and sta- bilized the eclectic and contradictory symbolic space. The past decade has seen a return to Russia, with military honors of the bodies of White Army generals and anti-com- munist philosophers, the reburial of the last Emperor’s moth-


As a result, Soviet symbols were gradually and slowly pushed back, by decree and by new symbols that sought to reestab- lish Russia’s connection to its non-communist past, but bore little connection to people’s immediate lives and experiences.

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 10 Having to start printing



Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 10 Having to start printing

Having to start printing money, the Central Bank adopted the emblem of the double-headed eagle from the

1917 Transitional Government, but many saw it as too non-communist or even as not sufficiently stately.

Photo: Alexey Kudenko

er and continued building and reconstruction of new churches. But the campaign to rename streets and towns, which began here and there in the 1990s, has virtually stopped. It appears that the country will be left for a long time with a combination of St. Petersburg as the capital of the Leningrad Region and Yekaterinburg as the capital of the Sverdlovsk Region, as well as with hundreds of “Leninsks” and “Oktyabrskys.”


Even in the commercial sphere, Soviet symbols are still very much alive. When Aeroflot carried out vast rebranding in 2004 it kept its hammer and sickle wing-logo. Thus its flight attendants now wear stylish new uniforms with communist symbols—in a cool orange color—on their sleeves. This poses an issue that is problematic for some—but not many—Russians. Arkhangelsky calls it “political coward- ice.” “We are afraid to admit that what stands behind the Sovi- et symbols means death and violence, inhumanity and hollow etatism,” he said. “So people say they can reconcile the sym- bols. I disagree. I insist that the symbolic reality transforms into actual reality. There is no post-modernism, there is rel- ativism. Putin’s policy to give everybody his or her symbols is a relativist policy. The only thing in which we are united is relativism.” Georgy Vilinbakhov, the deputy director of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the head of the State Heraldry and thus the key author of all new Russian symbols, strongly de- fends another position. “Are we supposed to be like the Bol- sheviks, who destroyed all the symbols of old Russia?” he ex- claimed. He argues that it is absolutely normal for countries to have various periods of their history represented in their sym-

various periods of their history represented in their sym- bolic space. In England, he said, there

bolic space. In England, he said, there are monuments to both Charles I and Oliver Cromwell—who ordered his execution, in French heritage there are elements of the monarchist, republican and Napoleonic periods. “One should take a broad histor- ical approach to symbols and not look at them through a narrow political prism,” he said. According to Vilinbakhov, the combination of stars and icons on the Kremlin towers is nothing but a repre- sentation of the country’s “transitional” character. The approach, he said, should be not to take the stars down, but to wait until they wear out and require replace- ment. At that point, eagles should be in- stalled instead. The general trend, Vilinbakhov said, is to restore the eagles where the Bolshe- viks took them down, in the course of the nearest reconstruction. Such was the case, for example, with the Grand Krem- lin Palace and the Bolshoi Theater in

Moscow, or the Smolny Institute in St. Petersburg—the city’s seat of power since the communist rev- olution. Likewise, Soviet emblems should stay where they are part of the architectural décor—like the State Duma building,

which used to house Gosplan, or the Foreign Ministry build- ing in Moscow. “When I am told that it’s new Bolshevism, I say that the Bolsheviks have removed the good and replaced

it with the bad,” said historian Andrei Zubov, who is widely

known for his strongly anti-Soviet position. “These 20 years, with all the complications that came with them, have brought us liberation from the lies. These 20 years are just the begin- ning of change. The soul of the people was destroyed and it is recovering very slowly.” Arkhangelsky believes that the current symbolical mishmash

is not going to last forever, though, because there are no val-

ues backing up the new Russian symbols, except the flag. “The

double-headed eagle is not going to work as long as there is no empire,” Arkhangelsky said. “Show me the empire, and I will believe in the eagle. The same is true of November 4, which is the mystical beginning of the Romanov dynasty. Show me the Romanovs and I will believe in November 4. The tricolor has

a republican connotation and hence there is a value behind it

that we can share. I am convinced that if everything in Rus- sia will be fine, the eagle will die as a national symbol and will continue to live as a symbol for those remembering the Rus- sian Empire. November 4 will die as a national holiday, but will remain a holy day for the Russian Orthodox Church, as it

has been for centuries—the day of the Our Lady of Kazan. And the Soviet symbols will die. Independence Day—July 12, Lib- erty Day—August 22, and Constitution Day—December 12— these are the values and days around which Russia can build

its future.”

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By Anna Arutiunova RUSSIA PROFILE

On June 18, 2011, the inhabitants of the Bul-

garian capital Sofia woke up to find the monu-

ment to Soviet Army soldiers in the city cen-

ter vandalized. The bronze flag at the center

of the composition was spray-painted the

colors of the American flag, while the figures

of the Russian soldiers were turned into pop

culture heroes, such as Superman, Ronald

McDonald and Santa Claus. The monument

has since been cleaned up and restored, but

Russians are divided in their attitudes toward

what happened. While some say that it insults

the memory of Soviet soldiers who partook in

liberating Europe from fascism, others claim

that it is not an act of vandalism, but rather

an expressive manifestation of contemporary

street art.
street art.

Russia itself can boast a large number of

monuments and statues: Moscow alone has

over 600 of them. While many Soviet-era

monuments were removed or relocated fol-

lowing the collapse of the Soviet Union, others

have simply weathered away with time. The

ones still in place best known to foreigners

are, among others, the “Motherland Calls” in

Volgograd, sculptor Vera Mukhina’s “Worker

and the Kolkhoz Woman” and monuments

to Yuri Dolgoruky and Yuri Gagarin, as well

as one to other space conquerors in Mos-

cow, and the monument to the defenders of

the Subarctic during World War II in Murman-

sk. Vladimir Lenin’s Mausoleum on the Red

Square or the three red anti-tank steel hedge-

hogs that greet all visitors on their way to

Moscow from Sheremetyevo Airport are also

part of Russia’s monumental inheritance from

the Soviet epoch.

In 1918 a decree issued by the Soviet of Peo-

ple’s Commissars “On monuments in the re-

public” launched the implementation of Vlad-

imir Lenin’s “monumental propaganda” plan,

which presupposed using monuments as an

essential means of revolutionary campaign-

ing to promote the communist ideology. A list

of 69 people who deserved a monument was

compiled by the Visual Arts Department of

the People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment,

among them famous revolutionaries and so-

cial activists, as well as great figures in Rus-

sian and foreign culture. Besides monuments

to individuals, the plan presupposed the cre-

ation of monumental allegorical compositions.

From 1918 to 1921 more than 25 new monu-

ments appeared in Moscow and over 15 in St.

Petersburg. Although the “monumental pro-

paganda” project never had an official, defini-

tive end, it greatly influenced the development

of Soviet monumental art and the domestic

school of sculpture.

While many of these monuments have not

survived, Vladimir Lenin himself is still very

much around: Moscow alone has over 80

statues of the proletarian leader, and like the

monument in Sofia, they often fall victim to

“artistic vandals.” The tallest statue of Lenin

(27 meters) can be found in Volgograd, and

the second tallest (25 meters)—in the town

of Dubna in the Moscow Region.

At the moment there is not one unified strat-

egy for dealing with the myriad of monuments

that Russia inherited from the Soviet Union.

Some say that old Soviet monuments and

statues should also be painted over and giv-

en a new life. “In my opinion, a lot of monu-

ments have to be painted in bright colors; it

will be funny. It’s not like it’s wrong, it’s not

disrespect for old people, it’s just renovation

of monuments. I am 31 years old and I don’t

remember the Soviet Union. I really need con-

temporary art on the street, not something

Soviet,” Evgeny Bobrik, a young architect and

an expert on social-realist art, told the Voice

of Russia radio.

Others believe that old Soviet monuments

should be left intact, but endowed with new

meanings that would be relevant to the cur-

rent generation. Artist Natasha Cherkashin,

together with her husband, organized a num-

ber of artistic happenings involving sculptures

at the Ploshchad Revolyutsii metro station in

Moscow: the sculptures were cleaned, priva-

tized, and even married to real people. “Our

idea was that very soon memorials that were

created in the Soviet times will be forgotten.

Our attitude toward them will change, and

even our children will not remember and will

not understand what the Soviet Union was,”

said Cherkashin. “When epochs change, peo-

ple demolish a lot of monuments, because

they hate the past that makes their lives so

difficult. But after a while, for new generations,

they might be really interested to see how it

was, what it was, because it was something

unconscious. When you look at these sculp-

tures of workers and peasants, you feel some-

thing that you cannot explain in words, but it

gives you an understanding of this suppres-

sion, of this hard time, of this impossibility to

feel freedom. So I think it’s important to pre-

serve them, but not everywhere, and not ev-

ery single one, just the ones that really have

artistic value.”
artistic value.”

It costs a lot of money to restore monuments

and statues: disassembling and restoring

the “Worker and the Kolkhoz Woman” stat-

ue near the All Russian Exhibition Center in

Moscow, for example, cost the city budget

2.9 billion rubles ($100 million), and many

Muscovites aren’t happy with such money

being spent on monuments instead of the

city’s other pressing needs. But preserva-

tionists and cultural historians stand their

ground when it comes to deciding the fate of

a monument—monuments should be kept

alive for researchers and anyone with an in-

terest, they argue. “We should preserve stat-

ues of Lenin because they indeed show us

how the cult of Lenin evolved, they do not

harm anybody,” said Dmitry Lisitsyn, a mem-

ber of the coordinating committee of the so-

cial movement Arkhnadzor, an NGO that co-

ordinates various efforts aimed at preserving

Moscow’s historical monuments and cultural

heritage. Lisitsyn also believes that a mon-

ument is a genius of the place, and when

one gets removed, the atmosphere and the

architectural ensemble of a particular space

get ruined.
get ruined.

Alternatively, space for numerous Soviet mon-

uments could also be found at museums, as

is the case with the Felix Dzerzhinsky monu-

ment, which was removed from the front of

the KGB headquarters on Lubyanka Square

during the putsch in Moscow in 1991 and

relocated to the so-called “forgotten monu-

ments” park near the Central House of Artists

near the Moscow River embankment.

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Russian Historians Have Discovered a New Appreciation for Soviet History

Have Discovered a New Appreciation for Soviet History There are whole spheres of Russian cultural life

There are whole spheres of Russian cultural life that undergo a period of decline, but the Soviet period is a pleasant exception. The thousands of books, tens of thousands of newspaper stories and millions of com- ments on the Internet are a reflection of the passions that still rage around the 74 years of Soviet history. Some even see all sorts of conspiracy theories behind this. “Interest in the past is being artificially pumped up by certain groups inside the ruling elite,” blogger Alexander Baurov wrote on the Internet site www.lib- erty.ru, one of controversial spin doctor Gleb Pavlov- sky’s projects. “The share of historical discussions is disproportionally high in our political discourse. Cer- tain groups inside the ruling elite, despite calling for civil reconciliation, support marginal groups of pseu- do-scientists. These pseudo-scientists try to make people believe that their history is a bundle of blood and dirt. The subtext is that people with such a histo- ry are only worthy of being a fertilizer for the 20 years of ‘flourishing liberalism’ that Russia went through between 1991 and 2011.” So much for the “liberal con- spiracy” theory. The conspir- acy theory that sees “creeping Stalinism” behind the unending flow of new books on that ep- och is even more widespread. Its main hotbeds are the Memorial Society and the bureaus of for- eign newspapers in Moscow, as well as several Russian liberal media outlets. The clichés of this theory are well known: Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, is seen as a “new Stalin” and mem- ories of the Soviet past are delib- erately romanticized. Professionals are somehow less inclined to see politics and con- spiracies behind these trends. For Yuri Borisyonok, the edi-

tor in chief of the Rodina historical magazine and a professional archive researcher, the interest in Sovi- et history is a reflection of new opportunities for re- searchers. “The interest in the Soviet period is quite understandable, since now you have a variety of sources available. Besides, there is a niche to be filled, because this period had not been properly studied for decades before the late 1980s,” Borisyonok said. “Before Mikhail Gor- bachev, the 20th century was not a fashionable area of re- search for young Russian historians. The 19th century was seen as a lot more intellectually challenging and glitzy, with its aristocracy, great literature and intellectual debates. The rea- son for this ostracizing of the more recent history was not a lack of drama, but a lack of sources and political pressure. So, the 20th century was left to mediocre students, who limited themselves to ‘safe’ topics and spent their lives writing about, say, the heroic labor of Soviet boot-makers in the days of the Great Patriotic War. So when restrictions on the Soviet peri- od were lifted, there weren’t enough professionals, and lots of amateurs suddenly became historians—with all the ensuing consequences.” Borisyonok rejects the widely-held belief that there is not enough archive material available. “There are a lot of things you can find in the archives. And there is tons of informa- tion already published in books, newspapers or on the Inter- net. However, the way people process this information in some recent publications leaves much to be desired,” he said. “Un- der the Soviet Union, texts went through a lot of filters before going to press. The works of historians then went through numerous academic councils, verification commissions and, finally, the censors themselves. This is not the case now, and this fact has both positive and negative consequences. People write what they think, but numerous mistakes and absur- dities sneak into their texts.”


Of course, freedom gave birth to all sorts of things, including some very bad ones. The biggest scandals have broken out around history textbooks, because they involve both state money and mandatory reading. The two most notorious cases were the school textbook on Russian 20th century history by Igor Dolutsky

school textbook on Russian 20th century history by Igor Dolutsky RUSSIA PROFILE » Issue 4 »

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 13 Some historians see the



Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 13 Some historians see the

Some historians see the revived interest in the Soviet epoch that Russia is currently experiencing as a new opportunity for researchers—as documents get

declassified with the passage of time, more material becomes available for study at the archives.

Photo: Alexander Polyakov

and “History of Russia: 1917–2009,” a textbook for univer- sity students written by Alexander Vdovin and Alexander Barsenkov. Dolutsky, a staunch liberal who said in an interview that there was “nothing to be proud of in Soviet history,” includ- ed in his textbook a quote from liberal politician Grigory Yav- linsky, who described Russia in the years of Putin’s presiden- cy as “an authoritarian police regime.” Barsenkov and Vdovin, who are on the nationalist side of the political spectrum, were accused of anti-Semitism in their text. Without making out- right anti-Semitic statements, the two authors returned to the “Jewish theme” in their 800-page long book several times, pro- viding lengthy and unverifiable statistics on the proportion of Jews in various government institutions in the Soviet Union. At one point, Barsenkov and Vdovin made vague hints that the Jewish victims of Stalin’s repressions were somehow connect- ed to U. S. interests and that the infamous Stalinist campaign against “rootless cosmopolitans” was a reaction to American “hegemony.” In both cases, the textbooks were not banned. They were just no longer recommended to teachers working in both schools and universities. Thousands of books and print editions with much more radical views continue to be sold at bookstores.

“The fact that the authorities only reacted to my textbook, which mentioned the current top officials in the country by name, shows how little attention they paid to history education in this country,” Dolutsky explained. “Boris Yeltsin, who ruled Russia for ten years, just did not pay any attention to history education at school at all. Any man from the street could write

a school textbook then.” In fact, the official who first expressed indignation at Do- lutsky’s book was none other than Mikhail Kasyanov, Russia’s prime minister from 2000 to 2003, now a leader of the unreg- istered Party of People’s Freedom (PARNAS). “We may have to go through this period, when all sorts of amateur publica- tions flood the market,” said Andrei Turkov, a veteran Russian literary critic. “For too many years, we had one officially reg- istered view on every subject—not only in history, but also in, say, literature. [Famous prose writer Nikolai] Gogol was a sat- irist, and nothing else, Alexander Pushkin was an indepen- dent free-thinker, and nothing more. But they were both also

Orthodox Christian believers! So now, after many years of ne- glect, the Christian character of Gogol’s writings is studied by

a whole new school of specialists. This does not mean that we

should forget Gogol the satirist. Life was always complicated—

in the Soviet times and before. Let’s look at all sides of it.”

the Soviet times and before. Let’s look at all sides of it.” RUSSIA PROFILE » Issue

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Twenty Years after the Soviet Union Fell, the Homo Sovieticus Lives On

after the Soviet Union Fell, the Homo Sovieticus Lives On What did it mean to be

What did it mean to be “Soviet?” Did it describe a dis- ciplined work ethic, hope for a bright socialist future and an unshakable faith in the state; or did it repre- sent careless passivity and a certain fealty to the rul- ing regime? Was it idealized, or was it a product of real experience? After 70 years of communist rule and two decades of post-communist transition, the answer remains un- clear. Yet the regime’s effect on the Russian psyche


still tangible today: “It was an entire civilization-


structure, and not just a single attitude about prop-

erty, capital or personal responsibility,” said anthro- pologist Bruce Grant, a Russian specialist at New

York University. “It was a civilizational form that was extraordinarily formative for anyone 40 and above, which is essentially most of the people in power today, and it remains a formative structure for anyone raised by parents of that age—which is nearly everyone in the country.” Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has been a country of contradictions, with symbols of the past hidden among the signs of a marketizing coun- try. Neon lights may glitter on multimillion-dollar apartment complexes, with residents gallivanting be- low from one high-end fashion boutique to anoth- er. Yet just around the corner, there may be a monu- ment commemorating the tireless yet dedicated Soviet worker, or a mural depicting a utopian vision of the bright communist future. Within this deeply iron-

ic mixture lies a statement about the social fabric of

post-Soviet Russia. The impact of the Soviet legacy, however, remains a hotly debated issue.


A staple of the Soviet regime was not only its intention

to reach a socialist utopia, but to produce an entirely

new type of person in the process—a “new Soviet man.” Selfless, disciplined and well-versed in Marxist- Leninist doctrine, this cultural prototype was meant to pave the way for a communist future and help form the basis of the new “Soviet nation.” Hard work, col-

lective effort and distaste for all things capitalist were key features. Most of all, however, he was conceived as a product of Soviet ideological engineering, created by the regime during its early years to rally the masses from revolutionary fervor toward communist state- building. So omnipresent was the “new man” that he appeared across all social channels, including in cultural spheres. Take the Russian novelist Valentin Katayev’s classic 1932 novel “Time, Forward!” It tells the story of a construction team in Magni- togorsk, headed by Margulies, the unit’s fearless and driven leader, racing the clock and overcoming various obstacles to beat a cement-pouring record set by another team in Kharkov. The overarching theme was not only the Soviet labor force’s perceived dedication to meeting—and exceeding—production quotas, but its ability to persevere for the sake of progress. Idealized or not, it was roughly this spirit that was transmit- ted to Soviet citizens throughout the early years of the regime. The tendency to be “future-looking,” according to Grant, was what made the Soviet mentality unique and instilled a great deal of resilience in the Soviet masses. Though certainly propagandized through party channels and works such as Katayev’s, this mindset was most often mold- ed simply by peoples’ everyday experiences. “Even if you were making sacrifices and things weren’t working out well today, you were part of something which was forward-looking, you were part of a plan, even if it didn’t feel like it at the moment,” said Grant. “People were always part of a five-year-plan or a socialist competition, and regardless of how they viewed these competitions, positively or negatively, they were formed by the constant presence of these things.” But as the years went on and the regime passed through phases of leadership—each marked by its own developments, whether Nikita Khruschev’s thaw or Leonid Brezhnev’s stag- nation—the mentality took on a life of its own. The “new Soviet man” turned from hopeful and idealistic to cynical and fatalis- tic. The increasing strains on everyday life by an oppressive re- gime spawned more negative traits: resignation, passivity and a lack of individual responsibility—all the result of simply cop- ing with the realities of a totalitarian system. Boris Dubin, the head of the Levada Center’s department for socio-political research, said the idealized “Soviet man” be- came more evidently part of official ideology, and less of a gen- uine belief shared by Soviet citizens. As harder times grinded on, the Soviet man and his mentality were increasingly about adaptability. “It was a person who was well-suited to adapt to various circumstances, and who lowered his standards accord-

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 15 ing to the current



ing to the current situation and its reali- ties in the hope that things wouldn’t get any worse,” Dubin said. Just as the cultural arena helped pop- ularize the “new Soviet man,” so too did

it help tear through official propagan-

man,” so too did it help tear through official propagan- The Soviet Man (and woman) was

The Soviet Man (and woman) was supposed to be selfless, disciplined, hard-working and constantly looking toward a bright future while being utterly indifferent toward material well-being.

Photo: Dmitriev

against a backdrop of shifting institutional capacity. Today, for instance, while the college attendance rates in Russia may be higher, the experience simply doesn’t provide what it may have 30 years ago. “What is happening now is that while choices have multiplied incredibly, a lot of social institutions have be- come monetized—institutions that didn’t use to be monetized, like education,” said Oushakine. “For a long time in the Sovi- et Union, education was seen as a mechanism for upward mo- bility. A good education was seen as a way to change your life, to enter a different social or economic class. Now, when it is in-

da. Philosopher Alexander Zinoviev’s first two novels, “Yawning Heights” and

“The Radiant Future,” published abroad in 1976 and 1978, respectively, be- came famous for their satirical attack on what Zinoviev believed to be the idio- cy of Soviet communism and its ideolo- gy. Though stripped of his party mem- bership and exiled soon thereafter, he followed with 1982’s “Homo Sovieticus,” which described the contradictions be- tween the intended Soviet ideological product and its practical result. An of- ten cited passage from the novel reveals

a telling reality: “If you want to get the

truth, the first thing to do is get into an argument with yourself.”


In a setting where the state was so heav- ily present in all spheres of society, citi- zens could not help but develop a strong connection to—and, ultimately, a heavy reliance upon—the regime. The command economy and general- ly closed nature of the Soviet society en- sured that people were faced with fewer independent choices than their counter- parts in the West. So while healthcare and employment were guaranteed and education became more accessible, this came with a caveat. For example, once a student entered university to pursue en- gineering, his career path was locked in. Once he finished his studies, he would join a factory or an institute, climb the professional ladder and retire with a pen- sion. It was what Russian cultural an-

thropologist and a professor at Princeton University Serguei Oushakine calls a “cultural pattern” that guided Soviet citizens throughout their lives and, on the one hand, drastically limited space for individual choice, yet on the other, provided a degree of social stability. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, many of these safety nets disappeared. The welfare state had faltered, and the new, post-Soviet Russia was not quite able to offer the same social services or, more importantly, the relative comfort of stability that the Soviet Union did. As a result, the notion of greater choice became available, according to Oushakine, but

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 16 credibly monetized, these social



credibly monetized, these social institutions have become irrel- evant for that purpose.” Oushakine recalls one particular response by a journal- ism student during his field research who, when asked what she wanted to do in five years, responded: “I want to enter a law faculty and start a real life.” “That kind of decision would have been almost impossible in the Soviet period. Your tra- jectory was set up only once, and for a very long period, and the negative consequences for making a wrong decision were much higher,” Oushakine said. “Basically, [younger genera- tions] have to deal with the situation because the environment around them is changing very much, and they cannot make those decisions now once and forever.” And where a wider range of choices is available, as well as an absence of state control over personal and professional trajec- tories, uncertainty becomes a prominent factor. According to Dubin, up to two-thirds of the adult Russian population can, at best, plan only for several months in advance, but more re- alistically—only for a few weeks. The current climate in Rus- sia—greater choice, yet less predictability—has in turn result- ed in a perception not of the “bright future,” Dubin said, but of the “bright past.” As idealized as the hope of a “brighter future” may have been, Soviet society had offered citizens a greater dose of stability. Now, Dubin said, many have reverted to the age-old tradition of the Russian “avos:” acknowledging the un- predictability of life and relying on luck to push through hard- ship or uncertainty.


In one of his late studies, prominent researcher Yuri Levada found in 2005 that 20 years of reform had failed to establish a new social identity and, as a result, about one quarter of Russians still identified themselves as “Soviet.” Though that figure has recently dropped to around 12 percent, according

to the latest installment of the Levada Center’s “Homo Sovi- eticus” project, the residual effects can still be felt in Russian society. While post-communist Russia has indeed muddled through

a long and drawn-out transition process, some experts point to the similarities between the old regime and the current

one. Noted sociologist Vladimir Shlapentokh said today’s mentality is less a transition to the future than a return to fa- miliar psychological territory. “The influence of the Sovi- et regime today is a result of the existing political regime in Russia, simply because [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin’s re- gime is authoritarian, and for this reason it creates a climate of continuity between the Soviet regime and the existing sit- uation,” said Shlapentokh, a professor at Michigan State University. In an age of growing nostalgia for the Soviet past, this should hardly seem surprising. Since taking national office more than

a decade ago, Putin has steered his country ever more toward

the Soviet model: power is heavily centralized, the security ap- paratus has returned to prominence and citizens are increas-

ingly reminded that the state rules above all. From rhetoric, such as Putin’s widely-cited comment that the Soviet collapse was the “greatest catastrophe of the 20th century,” to action,

such as his support for the nationalist youth movement, Nashi,

it is clear how strong a basis the Soviet legacy forms for cur-

rent governance. “My image of Russia,” said Shlapentokh, “fo- cuses on the role of the ruling elite and leadership, who create

the rules, who create the mentality, who create the psychologi- cal climate in the country.” But as apparent as Putin’s Soviet nostalgia may be, craft- ing a new party line in a “managed democracy” is not exact- ly straightforward. Indeed, the chaotic 1990s and the current autocratic entrenchment threw the population for a loop and have left many wondering what lies in store for the future. The seemingly constant shifts in social, polit- ical and economic paths, moreover, have made the creation of any single “mental- ity” today nearly impossible—for society as well as for the state. According to Du- bin, the current authorities lack a uni- fied state ideology, and instead appeal half-heartedly at different times to var- ious factions of the electorate in order to placate the population. And it’s a tac- tic that elicits a familiar reaction from the population. “[The state] counts not on the support of the majority of Russian citizens or on their active mobilization through mass media or propaganda, but on a sense of apathy and passivity within the masses—all just to maintain control,” said Dubin. “And the masses are ready to

control,” said Dubin. “And the masses are ready to As the Soviet Union evolved, being a

As the Soviet Union evolved, being a “Soviet Man” became increasingly about adaptability, while the ability to

adjust to harsh reality became even more important after the union fell and took most social safety nets with it.

Photo: Alexander Makarov

accept this, as long as they are not both- ered and, as in Soviet times, ‘so long as

there’s no war.’”

and, as in Soviet times, ‘so long as there’s no war.’” RUSSIA PROFILE » Issue 4

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By Alexander Daniel Special to RUSSIA PROFILE

Soviet Dissidents Were Pioneers of Civil Politics

PROFILE Soviet Dissidents Were Pioneers of Civil Politics Today, anybody who openly clashed with the Sovi-

Today, anybody who openly clashed with the Sovi- et government is indiscriminately labeled a dissident:

the avant-garde, hipsters, human rights advocates, re- ligious activists of all kinds (if their activity led to a conflict with the authorities), Jews seeking emigration permits, nationalists from the Soviet Union’s repub- lics and so on. So “dissident” can refer to a wide range of people, from those who signed petitions against political harassment from the 1960s to the 1980s, to those who raised funds for political prisoners, non- conformist artists, samizdat distributors and writers who had their books published abroad without official permission. During perestroika (and in some cases even earli- er), these dissidents—a contradictory community that felt united, but at the same time renounced unifica- tion—became fragmented, with each group meeting its own fate. Thus non-conformist artists, who were at one time the trailblazers of dissident activity and lifestyle, man- aged to carve out a niche for themselves in the bed- rock of Soviet power as early as the mid 1970s, fol- lowing the famous Bulldozer Exhibit: an open-air show staged by a group of non-conformist artists on September 15, 1974 in a vacant lot in Belyayevo, and razed to the ground by bulldozers. Surprising- ly, the Soviet government’s response during the en- suing scandal was quite rational. The state legalized the artistic underground, allowed non-conformists to stage a number of shows, and before long, provid- ed them with permanent premises at the Moscow City Committee of Graphic Artists on Malaya Gruzinskaya Ulitsa. Therefore, by the time of perestroika they had been doing what artists are supposed to do—painting— for ten years. They had already forgotten about their dissident past and hated being reminded of it. Because of the special significance of literature in Russian culture and society, writers had little chance of such a happy outcome. In the mid 1960s, the au- thorities tried to stage show trials of dissident writers, accusing them of “anti-Soviet propaganda” (for exam-

ple, the trial of Yury Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky) or brought fake criminal accusations against them (as in the case of Jo- seph Brodsky). The emphatically negative reaction to this lit- igation in the country and beyond, which actually triggered protests that later developed into the human rights movement, compelled the state security services to refrain from crimi- nal prosecution of “objectionable” writers. Instead of being ar- rested, well-known people were subjected to administrative repression. However, the authorities did not dare to legalize indepen- dent literature as they did with non-conformist art. They es- tablished a delicate balance: dissident writers could publish their pieces as samizdat or abroad with the risk of being ousted from the literary establishment. They could be denied the right to official publication (temporarily or permanently), as was the case with Fazil Iskander, Bella Akhmadulina, Semyon Lipkin and Inna Lisnyanskaya; they could be expelled from the Union of Writers, like Lidia Chukovskaya; or forced to emigrate, like Viktor Nekrasov, Vladimir Maximov, Alexander Galich, Vassi- ly Aksyonov, Vladimir Voinovich, Lev Kopelev and Georgy Vladimov, to name but a few. They could even be expelled from the Soviet Union, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn was. But alter- native literature continued to exist right up until perestroika, when the system of government oversight over literary work eventually disappeared. At any rate, the heritage of dissident writers and non-con- formist artists resides in their creativity rather than their civ- il conduct, and belongs to the common treasury of Russian cul- ture. The artistic and literary output of former dissidents is not in high demand in contemporary Russia—but neither is any- thing else, besides popular culture. On the other side of the coin there were civil activities and independent collective and individual initiatives, which out- side observers tend to interpret as political action. In the So- viet years, 90 percent of political action consisted of protests against the political harassment of dissidents, and the moni- toring and dissemination of information about this persecu- tion. These protest monitoring activities, and the agencies that conducted them (independent public and expert groups and agencies that printed information bulletins) are usually de- scribed as “the Soviet human rights movement.” The modern Russian civil community, primarily human rights organizations, are carrying on the cause of their Soviet predecessors. Guided by the same principles, they are employ- ing the same instruments and discussing the same problems. The debates mainly center on figuring out what is still rele- vant from the dissident heritage and what should be revised.

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 18 The dissident experience of



The dissident experience of civil action, with all its virtues and, perhaps, its shortcomings as well, has not been wasted. It has been inherited by Russian civil society, first and foremost by its traditional vanguard: the human rights community.


But let’s not dissemble—those who ask where the dissidents have gone are usually referring to the political aspect of their heritage. This implies that dissidents, regardless of what kind, including artists, were fighting against the Soviet government, and represented a kind of political opposition.

A comparison between the dissident legacy in former Sovi-

et republics and the rest of Eastern Europe is interesting. Af- ter 1991, former dissidents joined the political elite in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ar- menia, Moldova, Ukraine, Estonia and Lithuania. They occu- pied leading government positions in some of these countries. And what happened in Russia? The number of these people who have entered political life in Russia can be counted on one hand. Human rights activist Ser-

gei Kovalyov was Russia’s ombudsman for a short time, hav- ing remained a human rights champion, rather than becom- ing a politician. Die-hard oppositionist Valeria Novodvorskaya, the founder and leader of the Democratic Union, which played

a substantial role in politics during perestroika and in the ear- ly 1990s, eventually became a journalist. Vladimir Bukovsky recently made a symbolic—that is, a strictly dissident—attempt to run for the presidency. Vyacheslav Igrunov, a samizdat pub- lisher from Odessa, was at one time among the leaders of the Yabloko Party. The only dissident who has made it in politics

is Gleb Pavlovsky, a former member of the editorial board of

the samizdat magazine “Poiski” (“Quests”). But even he didn’t

become a politician in the true sense of the word, but rath- er a high-ranking political technologist in government service. And that’s about it. Why do former dissidents refrain from taking part in poli- tics in Russia today? Because they have never taken any part in politics. Even the protesters among them never represented a political opposition movement. The slogan “observe your own laws” cannot be considered a serious political program.

It goes without saying that the dissidents did not like the So-

viet authorities—but then, who did at the time? (It is only in retrospect that so many have suddenly fallen in love belated- ly with the Soviet system). There were some people who con- sidered it to be their mission to struggle against the regime, but even these steady fighters did not expect the abrupt col- lapse and self-destruction of the Soviet system, and viewed their struggle as symbolic rather than aimed at concrete polit- ical results. As for dissident socio-political projects, they were based on the most diverse ideological assumptions, representing the entire spectrum of 20th century political thought, from an- archism to monarchism, different flavors of communism, socialism, European-style liberalism and imperial national pa- triotism. It’s even possible to find rudiments of fascist utopia

It’s even possible to find rudiments of fascist utopia The only Soviet dissident to become a

The only Soviet dissident to become a political figure in modern Russia is Gleb

Pavlovsky, who now serves as the president of the Fund for Effective Politics.

Photo: Sergey Pyatakov

in the ideology of some marginal dissident groups. All of these projects had one thing in common: they all resembled “paper architecture,” in that they arose not out of practical political life (what practice could there be in the Soviet era?), but out of pure ideology that was confined to the mind. Therefore, political thought was never a strong point in the activities of dissidents, and this is why their political projects have not been in demand.


Dissident activities in the Soviet Union (at any rate, in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) emerged and developed as a form of cultural life rather than a political alternative. Russia’s monstrous history in the 20th century dis- couraged the educated community from dealing with politics for a long time. Dissidents came into being not by socio-politi- cal collisions, but by the vicissitudes of the literary process, by the confrontation of free speech with political madness. The landmarks of pre-dissident history encompassed literature and the arts—“the war of magazines,” the Lianozovo community of artists and poets, the reading of verses on Mayakovsky Square

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 19 Oppositionist Valeria Novodvorskaya, the



Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 19 Oppositionist Valeria Novodvorskaya, the
Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 19 Oppositionist Valeria Novodvorskaya, the

Oppositionist Valeria Novodvorskaya, the founder and leader of the Democratic Union, and Soviet dissident writer Vladimir Bukovsky, are among the few

“heavyweights” who have attempted to inspire change in post-Soviet Russia.

Photo: Ruslan Krivobok, Alexey Nikolsky

and printed poetic almanacs. They also reflected the harass- ment of Boris Pasternak and the abstractionists, as well as the Brodsky case and the trial of Sinyavsky and Daniel. The human rights movement began as a public protest in defense of the freedom of creativity. Politics had no place there. The Soviet government regarded the dissidents, probably sin- cerely, as political opposition and dealt with them accordingly, based on its ideas of how to deal with the opposition. To some extent its approach was justified, because all dissidents, from artists to Baptists and from Jewish refuseniks to the publishers of the national patriotic magazine Veche, were encroaching on the foundation of the regime that was established in the Soviet Union in the 1920s—the government’s absolute monopoly over any meaningful public initiative, whether civil, cultural, reli- gious or any other. Andrei Amalrik described the gist of the Soviet dissident movement as “The conduct of free people in a non-free coun- try.” Andrei Sakharov expressed the same idea in a different way: “Implementation of human rights and freedoms without permission.” Personal independence, rather than public free- dom, was the main motto of Soviet dissidents.

In other words, in their public conduct dissidents ostenta- tiously ignored the political reality. This manner of conduct can produce examples of high civil duty, but it is unlikely to develop into a political movement. Dissident movements in Eastern Europe tended more toward political opposition to power. In Ukraine, Moldova, the Bal- tic countries and the South Caucasus, dissidents were primar- ily nationalists fighting for the political independence of their republics. Their participation in political life proves only one thing: nationalism has been and remains a major political fac- tor in their countries. As usual, Russia is following its own path. Russian dissi-

dents have not turned into politicians simply because the ma- jority of them never had any desire to take part in politics. This idea can be expressed in a different way: in this country, dissi- dents have broadened the very understanding of politics. Now that we are no longer afraid of words, we can and must speak about “civil politics” that may or may not include competition for power—but in any case, it does not boil down to the strug- gle for a place at the helm.

The dissidents were the pioneers of this form of civil politics.

The dissidents were the pioneers of this form of civil politics. RUSSIA PROFILE » Issue 4

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Photos by Igor Palmin Special to RUSSIA PROFILE

Photo: Igor Palmin
Photo: Igor Palmin

Over the Past 20 Years, Moscow Has Become Nearly Unrecognizable

the Past 20 Years, Moscow Has Become Nearly Unrecognizable For the last five years, I have

For the last five years, I have been sorting out my photo archive. I live in the virtu- al world of the past, rediscover it. I go out very rarely and when I do, I am aston- ished. It is amazing how much Moscow has changed, how much everything has changed. In my world, it is a completely different city with different people, to say nothing about the absence of advertising. The rhythm of the city has changed. I have a picture, which is on the cover of my latest book, where there are women near a shop; one is looking for something in her bag. Today nothing of the kind is possible. People’s motion is different, the colors are different, clothing is different. One would say that in the old days all people wore the same kind of grey clothes. It’s true. When I was a student in the early 1960s, I had just one set of clothes, and it was a ski suit. But these clothes on people were domesticated, if I can say so, made part of their lives. Now everything is more colorful, but standardized.

lives. Now everything is more colorful, but standardized. 1 2 3 4 RUSSIA PROFILE » Issue


Now everything is more colorful, but standardized. 1 2 3 4 RUSSIA PROFILE » Issue 4



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20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 21 5 6 7 8 9 Advertising


Advertising has simply destroyed the city. Especially the nets that cover en- tire façades. How can you shoot Fyodor Schechtel’s house that’s covered with ad- vertising? It is an absence of culture, an absence of architecture. I see architec- ture as a living space, that can grow old and fade – something that is impossible with modern architecture.

There is a group on Flickr called La Photographie Modeste. I like it – modest photography. My attitude is just looking at the trivial, day-to-day life. The picture of Dmitry Krasnopevtsev and Svyato- slav Richter is very much mine. I don’t like affectation and gestures. I am hap- py with just looking, peering. I observe a building, just like I observe people who sit in front of me. I would wait for a cer- tain light. I once heard about a disserta- tion on slow reading. What I do is slow looking.

Igor Palmin, born 1933, was part of the circle of non- conformist artists, and eventually concentrated on architectural photography. His book and personal ex- hibition “Past Perfect” were released in 2011.

1. Melancholy

2–3. Building on Yauzskiy Boulevard

4. Artist Vasily Sitnikov

5. The Window into The Studio

6. Isakov’s commercial apartment building on Prechistenka. Architect Lev Kekushev. 1904-1906

7. Pianist Svyatoslav Richter (left) and artist Dmitry Krasnopevtsev (right)

8. Ceramic panel on the National Hotel

9. Artist Oskar Rabin (left)

10. “Arbatskaya” Metro station

Artist Oskar Rabin (left) 10. “Arbatskaya” Metro station 10 RUSSIA PROFILE » Issue 4 » Volume


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Russia Has a New Youth Group to Replace its Soviet Prototype

Russia Has a New Youth Group to Replace its Soviet Prototype Since its inception in 2005,

Since its inception in 2005, Nashi, Russia’s anti-fas- cist, pro-Vladimir Putin youth group, has seen a mete- oric rise and a quiet fall. The harshest criticism of the group has likened it to both the Hitler Youth and the Soviet Komsomol. The latter of these accusations is as much an indictment of the Russian government as of the group itself, however, and serves to subtly spread the idea that ultimately not so much has changed in the government since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet considering the history, structure and philosophy of the group, does Nashi really have a link to the Sovi- et past, or are its purported similarities to the Komso- mol just skin-deep?


When Nashi was created in 2005, it was neither modern Russia’s first experiment with youth groups, nor the first pro-Putin group. Yet for many opposition politicians in Russia, Nashi’s formation was a sign that the government was building up muscle for later use. Ilya Yashin, who now heads the youth wing of the opposition Solidarnost party and held a similar posi- tion in the left-wing Yabloko party, told the BBC in 2006 that Nashi was a direct response to the possibil- ity of a Ukrainian-style Orange Revolution in Russia. “When the ‘x’ hour comes, they’ll be brought out to the Kremlin and used as cannon fodder,” he said. “That’s the only aim of Nashi. Then it will be disbanded and there’ll be nothing left for it to do. They have an of- ficial aim—to change those in power in the country. But their real aim is to preserve the status quo when power is changed.” The group’s foundations are closely tied with a pre- decessor that emerged after Boris Yeltsin appoint- ed Putin as the president of Russia. “Idushiye Vmeste,” or “Going Together,” was the first sizeable pro-Putin youth group to draw public attention and bear the de- risive title of the “Putinjugend,” an epithet equating it with the Nazi-era Hitler Youth. Behind the group stood Vasily Yakemenko, who five years later put the

final nail in Going Together’s coffin when he left and founded Nashi in its place. Yakemenko remained largely out of the spotlight, only heightening speculation that he was co-opting and manipu- lating youth into doing the Kremlin’s bidding. Journalist Oleg Kashin, who was beaten to within an inch of his life last year and sued by Yakemenko for defamation of character, described the scene at the Bolshoi Theater in 2006, when Going Togeth- er protested a play by novelist Vladimir Sorokin that it con- sidered “pornographic,” in an article for Kommersant: “In the end, Vasily Yakemenko, the leader of Going Together, himself appeared on Teatralnaya Ploshchad, but didn’t approach the fountain where the main events of the protest were happening. He quietly stood at the side, watching the events unfold.” Yakemenko had made several unsuccessful business ven- tures in the 1990s, but with youth groups he caught a certain whiff of which way the culture was going, noted political ana- lyst Dmitry Babich. “The discourse of the press in Russia was very self-critical, like we live in the worst country in the world,” said Babich. “When Yakemenko came out with the slogan that the ‘generation of the defeatists must go,’ it resonated among young people.” The zenith of Nashi’s activity in Russia was in 2007, when against the backdrop of a sinking relationship between Rus- sia and its western neighbors Nashi organized protests against the Estonian and British ambassadors, while its Seliger sum- mer camp, attended by thousands of young people each year, was seen as a tool for brainwashing students into supporting the government. By then the rhetoric had largely been estab- lished that a new youth group, even a new “Komsomol,” had been formed to execute the Kremlin’s will.


The basic problem with any comparison between Nashi and the Komsomol today is that in its 70 years of existence in the So- viet Union, the very identity of the Komsomol was in flux, re- sponding both to the changing whims of the union’s leadership and the makeup of Soviet society. Very roughly, the history of the Komsomol can be broken up into two, almost diametrically opposed periods: the Komsomol before World War II and after. In the pre-war years, the Komsomol was an organization heavily dominated by political activism, with a young, radical group of communist enthusiasts actively seeking to further the class struggle and overthrow the old power structures in soci- ety. When the country came under greater control during the Stalin period, the leader began to rein in the Komsomol, limit- ing many of its activities.

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 23 The Communist Union of



Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 23 The Communist Union of

The Communist Union of Youth, also known as the Komsomol, the youth division of the Communist Party, was first established in 1918 with the goal of creating a

mass of indoctrinated, obedient young people, free from pre-revolutionary influence, which would guarantee the stability of the Soviet regime.

Photo: Dubinsky

By the post-war period in Russia, the ranks of the Komsomol had swelled to include the majority of the country’s youth, and the Komsomol began to tone down its political rhetoric. Instead of harassing class enemies or holding demonstrations, it be- gan to increasingly focus on cultural activities, including work- shops with topics ranging from folk dancing to sports groups and even to technical training for future service in the military. This period of change, noted Gleb Tsipursky, an assistant professor of history at Ohio State University, was in many ways a response to a change in the Soviet reality around the Komso- mol. “The Komsomol was being transformed from something that promoted a cohesive centralized ideology to something that promoted youth socialization into society,” said Tsipursky. “So it wasn’t that it lacked an idea, but that the idea changed, the point of the Komsomol changed. The Komsomol trans- formed from being an organization that tried to change society, something that we could say Nashi is trying to do right now, into something that stabilized society. It wasn’t mobilizing so much as stabilizing the Soviet way of life.”


Nashi has never made any secret of supporting a political agenda, yet what likens it most to the Komsomol may be the

group’s larger social agenda, which encourages individual con- tributions to combating major societal problems of the time. Facing a society that underwent sweeping changes during the 1920s, the Komsomol supported larger movements to re- instate family values in the Soviet Union. “By 1928 and 1929, under Stalin, the state had begun to go back against the poli- cies that had taken place,” noted Tom Hooker, a Harvard grad- uate student who is writing his thesis on daily life in the Soviet Union. “They reinstituted marriages in the Komsomol to pro- mote stability at that point.” Nashi, in one of their more eclec- tic campaigns, was also rumored to have supported marriag- es and consummations of those marriages at the Nashi summer camp Seliger, as a similar means of approaching Russia’s cur- rent demographic crisis. Yet the far more burning question about Nashi is whether they actually represent any serious political stance in the first place. While Tsipursky noted that the attempts by Nashi to change society held perhaps some relation to the Komsomol’s early, active period, Alexander Shubin, the head of the Center of History of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus at the Russian Acad- emy of Sciences, said that the lack of “enthusiasm” for a politi- cal platform makes Nashi more similar to the later years of the Komsomol, when the communist ideal began to give way to ca-

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 24 Although the Nashi youth



Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 24 Although the Nashi youth

Although the Nashi youth movement, which often holds anti-corrpution demonstrations such as “White

Aprons,” is reminiscent of the Soviet Komsomol, experts argue the similarities are rather superficial.

2008, with fear of a Russian Orange Rev- olution quickly disappearing, interest in the group fell and many of their programs were cut. Seliger is still held yearly, but its influence has also waned. Yet Nashi has continued to be able to cause a small amount of trouble. When it set out to oust the president’s head on human rights, Ella Pamfilova, she said by radio that the group “had sold their souls to the devil.” Despite vast differences in ideology and in structure, however, the late Komso- mol and Nashi do have one important link—participants became increasing- ly interested in using the party struc- tures to make careers for themselves. No one exemplifies this concept better than Yakemenko himself, who built his ca- reer from Going Together to Nashi and was appointed the chairman of the State Committee for Youth in 2007. Nashi’s ideological examinations for their Seli- ger summer camp and special courses for their leaders, in Yakemenko’s own words, were meant to create a set of managers to begin to take on the management of the country and top leadership positions. That runs parallel to the Soviet reality in the later period, where participation in the Komsomol was not exceptional, but non-participation was. “When you get to the later Komsomol, it’s already some- thing that has lost a lot of its enthusiasm,

Photo: Konstantin Chalabov

reerist ethics. “The thing is that the Komsomol, at least ear- ly on, was in particular defined by its enthusiasm,” said Shubin. “This was enthusiasm for the preservation of the current pow- er, the current system, the political projects, and it was main- tained somewhere up until the Great Patriotic War. There’s already a difference here because the Nashi members don’t un- derstand any current power, the existing system or any proj- ects. When you ask them what they stand for, they say, well, we’re fighting against those who threaten Putin. Where Putin’s going, or why he’s doing it, they really can’t say.” Does Nashi have a driving idea, or any kind of philosophy? Babich believes that while the group’s earlier protests against, for instance, the removal of a statue to a Russian soldier in Es- tonia, might have been linked with some concepts of protect- ing Soviet cultural heritage, their modern actions are becom- ing increasingly confused and even self-defeating. In an article for the Russian academy of sciences, Dmitry Gro- mov noted that support for the group rose and fell with the election seasons, calling the group’s participation in the 2007 elections the “culmination” of their existence and noting that in

it is not so much about excitement for any cause, and it becomes far more heav- ily a question of careerism,” said Shubin. “You want to make a career in the government, or in any other way, you have to be in the Komsomol. And even though Nashi is a much smaller organization, it nonetheless has that same element of career- ism—people who want to be in the government join Nashi.”


Ultimately, despite the possibility of drawing some parallels between a modern Nashi and the long history of the Komso- mol, the change from a totalitarian system to a weaker one means that youth groups have naturally evolved over time. Each expert noted that although these youth groups have something in common, they ultimately can’t account for the fact that modern Russia is not the Soviet Union. While Nashi has taken its share of criticism from the Western

press, the use of the Soviet image of the Komsomol is so politi- cized that it is, nonetheless, a hyperbole. “The analogy [between Komsomol and Nashi] definitely has its limits,” said Shubin, “but when the authorities get so close to repeating the Soviet

structure, I think that comparisons are bound to be made.”

structure, I think that comparisons are bound to be made.” RUSSIA PROFILE » Issue 4 »

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The Number of Small Businesses in Russia Is Catastrophically Low

Number of Small Businesses in Russia Is Catastrophically Low It seems plausible to presume, with the

It seems plausible to presume, with the benefit of hindsight, that the economic inertia that accumulat- ed during 70 years of communist rule over the Soviet Union was positive proof of the empire’s inevitable de- mise. Yet the cascading economic events that preced- ed—and in some cases, outlived—the collapse of the Soviet Empire, had been so overwhelming that neither economists nor the main protagonists expected such a disconcerting finale. When Mikhail Gorbachev, the first and last president of the Soviet Union, announced a series of half-heart- ed stop-gap economic measures as part of his pere- stroika, Communist Party apparatchiks were quick to warn that opening capitalist floodgates would unleash economic and political forces way beyond his control. Well aware of the disruptive potential lurking in the country’s command economy, Gorbachev in 1987 pro- posed the formation of privately owned, profit-ori- ented cooperative enterprises to supplement and even compete with state-run projects. The thrust of his proposal, like Lenin’s quasi-capitalist New Econom- ic Policy of 1921, was to revitalize the Soviet Union’s laggard consumer goods and services industries. But the move, as innocuous as it now seems, launched the Soviet Union on the long and tedious journey toward capitalism. The new co-ops, Gor- bachev thought, would pay taxes and might even forestall large-scale social discontent by absorbing some of the 15 million workers who might lose their jobs in a much-needed pruning of the bureaucra- cy. By 1989, the ranks of Soviet co-ops had swelled to 48,000. Though they accounted for just one percent of the country’s economy, the co-ops employed some 770,000 workers who provided an odd assortment of services, ranging from animal grooming, auto repairs, computer maintenance, hairstyling, plumbing, and translating to operating pay toilets. “In essence, Gor- bachev’s co-operative movement was the foundation of Russia’s democratic capitalism and also the bane of command-and-control economy,” said Vladimir Prib- ylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank.

Despite Gorbachev’s strong support for the co-ops, howev- er, a number of events that unfolded in the early days of the movement provided a lot of ammunition to skeptical party ap- paratchiks, who had adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Most So- viet citizens were quickly dismayed by high prices in the pri- vate shops, which typically were at least twice the going rate at state stores. Many had grumbled about their economic sys- tem, but they were nonetheless wary of any experiments that could allow some individuals to reap huge profits at the ex- pense of others. In December 1988, at least two Moscow ca- fes were vandalized, and in January 1989, thugs attacked an- other private restaurant, knifing customers and setting it on fire. Faced with violence and extortion threats from organized criminal groups, some co-op owners started paying bribes to the racketeers or offered them phony jobs in return for protec- tion, or “krisha” (a roof)—a practice which set a perfect stage for what would later be known as Russia’s “Wild East” of the early 1990s.


The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union ushered in an era of economic desperation with a dangerous mix of organized crime, political cronyism and fantastic business deals forged overnight. The main challenge facing Boris Yeltsin, who be- came the first president of the Russian Soviet Socialist Federal Republic in 1991, was converting the world’s largest command economy into a free-market one through a program of radical economic reform and privatization. To achieve this, he turned, in late 1991, to the advice of Western economists, including Western institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the U. S. Treasury Department. A stand- ard policy recipe that came to be known as “shock therapy” was put together, intended, as it were, to liberalize prices and stabilize the state budget. Yeltsin doggedly pushed his package of shock economic re- forms even as his critics alleged that, with the help of his top allies—Yegor Gaidar, a 35-year-old economist, and Anato- ly Chubais, a leading privatization advocate—state enterpris- es and natural resources were being sold for bargain prices, while the rest of the Russian population combated starvation, homelessness and destitution. Yeltsin launched a program of free vouchers in late 1992 as a way to give mass privatization a jump-start and create political support for his economic re- forms. Under the program, all Russian citizens were issued vouchers, each with a nominal value of around 10,000 ru- bles, for purchase of shares in former state enterprises. How- ever, the vouchers were quickly snapped up by wheeling-deal-

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 26 ing intermediaries, leaving both



ing intermediaries, leaving both the program and the economy in tatters. Chaos ensued. Russia’s GDP fell by 50 percent, vast sectors of the economy were wiped out, inequality and unem- ployment grew dramatically and incomes plummeted. In 1995, Yeltsin prepared for a new wave of privatization, of- fering stock shares in some of Russia’s most valuable state en- terprises in exchange for bank loans in a desperate effort to fi- nance Russia’s growing foreign debt and gain support from the Russian business elite for his 1996 reelection bid. Though the program was promoted as a way of simultaneously speeding up privatization and ensuring the government a much-need- ed infusion of cash for its operating needs, many Russians saw the deals as giveaways of valuable state assets to a small cir- cle of tycoons who came to be known as “oligarchs” in the mid- 1990s. Seventy-five year-old Tatiana Pivovarova, a retiree who lost her investment in privatization vouchers, called the pro- gram a conspiracy against Russia. “Call it what you will, it was a scheme, a pyramid,” Pivovarova said. “A tricky possession of our vouchers simply gave way to an even trickier possession of our properties.”

Meanwhile, some businessmen, including Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Vladimir Potanin, Vladimir Bogdanov, Rem Viakhirev, Vagit Alekperov, Alexander Smolensky, Vic- tor Vekselberg, Mikhail Fridman and later Roman Abramov- ich, who controlled major stakes in former state enterprises, were believed to be Yeltsin’s strong supporters, but not with- out help from the media. But support from the oligarchs did not help Yeltsin avert political and economic crisis in 1998, as his government defaulted on its debts, causing financial mar- kets to panic and the ruble to collapse. In the eyes of his most vicious critics, the 1998 financial crisis was retribution for all that was wrong with Yeltsin’s reforms, in particular, his flirta- tion with capitalism. The seismic changes in Russia rippled across the wide expanse of former Soviet republics, where most newly emerging states were struggling to swap central planning for market economies. For many, it was to be a mission impossible. Having long been part of the tsarist Russian empire, most of the independent na- tion states lacked elements of private business and ownership, let alone traces of independent civil society. As in Yeltsin’s Rus- sia, private businesspeople and rent-seeking officials found ways to exploit the situation—and imperfectly designed priva- tization programs—to amass huge wealth, wrote John Thorn- hill in the Financial Times. “As a result, an emergent oligarchy of business-political clans was able to capture the state in Rus- sia and other post-Soviet nations,” Thornhill said.

In the absence of a role model, goal and incentive for eco- nomic reforms, authoritarian regimes emerged in some of the ex-Soviet Republics. “Most of the post-Soviet states are corrupt states that have as their purpose allowing the elites to enrich themselves through corruption,” said Anders Aslund, a Swed- ish economist who advised the Russian and Ukrainian govern- ments in the early 1990s. “Authoritarianism is the means of making sure that they can maintain this.”


Rebuilding broken economic ties between former Soviet states has been the preoccupation of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin since he assumed the Russian presidency in 2000. “He who

does not regret the break-up of the Soviet Union has no heart; he who wants to revive it in its previous form has no head,” Putin once said. In 2000, Putin signed an agreement with half a dozen countries to create the Eurasian Economic Com- munity, or EurAsEc, “which has largely remained a talking shop,” Thornhill said. But since 2009, Putin changed strategy, pursuing a deeper integration with a few former Soviet states by luring them into a Customs Union mod- eled somewhat after the European Union’s common market. Kazakhstan has joined

by conviction, Belarus, through persua- sion, while Ukraine continues to rebuff the invitation to join.

Russia wants a single common econom- ic space that will not only bring the for- mer Soviet states closer together, but could also serve as a buffer against global economic crises and a safe haven for potential investors. Therefore the leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus took further practical steps toward integration at the beginning of July this year by abolishing customs controls on the union’s internal borders and moving customs control of goods and vehicles crossing their territories to what have now become the union’s external borders. By Jan- uary 2012, the member-states are expected to transform the union into a “common economic space” that would ensure free movement of goods, services and capital across a single mar- ket of 165 million people representing 60 percent of the former Soviet population. Removing the customs checkpoints “is not just a technical formality,” Putin said in July. “This is truly an event of great interstate and geopolitical significance. For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a step has been taken to re- store economic ties within the post-Soviet space,” he said. Writing for the Financial Times, Neil Buckley said the deep- ening Customs Union has the typical advantages of stimulat- ing business development by removing trade barriers. “It could also help restore horizontal links between industries and en- terprises severed when the Soviet Union collapsed. Moreover, by tying Kazakhstan—former Soviet Central Asia’s most suc- cessful economy—to Russia, it counters growing Chinese in- fluence in the region. Neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have also expressed interest in joining,” Buckley said.

Many Russians saw privatization as a

giveaway of valuable state assets to a

group of tycoons.

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Leading experts contend that a sudden surge in global ener- gy prices in the early 2000s has allowed Putin to achieve more in foreign and domestic policies than either Gorbachev or Yelt- sin. But windfall oil revenues could also be a double-edged sword for countries wanting to build fully-fledged capital- ism. “Economic reforms were well underway in the first three years of Putin’s presidency,” said Nikolai Petrov, a political an- alyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “But as the state became awash with revenues from oil and gas, the leadership decid- ed there was no longer a need to undertake new reforms.” The classic discord between sudden affluence and economic re- forms, known as the “oil curse,” has also been plaguing other resource-rich ex-Soviet states. With the possible exception of Kazakhstan, which carried out some market-friendly reforms, non-energy sectors in other countries such as Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have languished as their leaders resisted full- scale economic reforms. New realities of global capitalism, however, may have per- suaded countries like Russia to have second thoughts about economic reforms, despite windfall oil revenues. Russia’s cur- rent leader, President Dmitry Medvedev, has vowed to reform,

modernize and diversify the country’s resource-based economy to avert the kind of economic stagnation that knocked down the Soviet system. This alone would not mean that capitalism has reached a point of no return. “There are certainly no com- parisons between then and now,” said Peter Necarsulmer, the chairman and CEO of the PBN Company and one of the first Americans to discover capitalist proclivities in Russia in the early 1990s. “However, the Russian leadership still needs to pay more than lip-service to the development of the country’s lim- ited capital markets.” What still sets Russia apart from many other developed and developing capitalist systems, Necarsul- mer said, is the small, almost insignificant number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). “It is not only because they generate the most sustained economic activity, but so many of the innovations and modernizations and diversification aspects of the economy that the Kremlin commits to come out of small- sized businesses,” he said. However, Medvedev’s main chal- lenge may yet be how to infuse new economic thinking into a people brought up to expect much from the state. “That’s the toughest part,” Necarsulmer said. “And it is amazing how much

of the old thinking stuff continues to this day.”

much of the old thinking stuff continues to this day.” (ANTI) SOVIET GOURMET By Dmitry Babich



“Anti-Soviet” Café Blasts People Back to the Past

“Anti-Soviet” Café Blasts People Back to the Past Alexander Podrabinek and Mikhail Konovalenko are both worthy

Alexander Podrabinek and Mikhail Konovalenko are both worthy of respect—in their own ways. But they are tied in a bitter conflict, which reflects almost all of the controversies of the Soviet Union’s 73-year-long history. The conflict started in September of 2009. At the time, an old café on Leningradsky Prospekt, con- veniently located (right in the center, on the way to Sheremetyevo airport), opted for a provocative mar- keting trick. In the Soviet era, this cafe was one of the few places in Moscow where one could get a “shashlyk” (kebab). Since it was located right across the street from the Sovietskaya (Soviet) hotel, the café was un- officially referred to as Antisovietskaya (anti-Soviet). So, the owners decided to capitalize on the old joke, making this the eatery’s new name and putting a sign with big letters over the café’s entrance. It was part of a larger plan of turning a regular diner into a place with character, where one could see pictures of anti- Soviet dissidents and listen to not very Soviet songs by

singing poets from the 1970s, such as Vladimir Vysotsky and Alexander Galich. All of these ideas worked, but the name Antisovietskaya in- sulted people from the Moscow Committee of the Veterans of War, Labor and Law-Enforcement Bodies, headed by former Politburo member Vladimir Dolgikh. There is nothing surpris- ing in this: in the Soviet era, the word “anti-Soviet” was a dan- gerous insult that could land you in prison. Article 58 of the So- viet Criminal Code punished “anti-Soviet propaganda” with jail time. And the “veterans of law-enforcement bodies” were then in charge of implementing this article of the Criminal Code. Dolgikh wrote a letter to the city authorities, saying that the name insulted the veterans who “respect the Soviet peri- od of our history.” The big letters with the new name were tak- en down by the city’s workmen. The café, whose owner refused to comply with the mayor’s order to remove the name at his own expense, gained much-needed PR and more visitors. But there was another person who refused to accept the fait accom- pli—57-year-old (anti-) Soviet dissident Alexander Podrabinek, who also happens to live nearby and who took the removal of the sign close to heart. Again, he had lots of reasons to react. In 1978, 25-year-old Podrabinek was sentenced to a long prison term for “seditious libel against the Soviet social order.” Almost ten years of liv- ing outside his native Moscow followed, as Siberian exile was

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replaced by a much less severe exile to a village in the Vladi- mir Region. All his life Podrabinek honestly earned his dai- ly bread by working in an ambulance; in 1977 he turned down the KGB’s offer to emigrate, saying that Russia is his country. “I know Russia is unhappy and doomed to suffering,” he wrote then in an open letter. “And this is the reason why I stay.” Podrabinek wrote an impassioned letter to the “pro-Soviet” veterans in an online publication Weekly Magazine. “You were insulted by this ‘anti-Soviet’ name simply because it was you, most likely you, who worked as guards in prison camps and jails, you lead the special troops firing on retreating soldiers, you were members of firing squads,” he wrote. Mikhail Konovalenko, Dolgikh’s deputy in organization- al matters, did not put anyone in jail, however, and during the war honestly served in the tank forces, becoming a colonel by the end of the war and working as a civil engineer in post-war peacetime. His anger at Podrabinek’s letter was immense, but he decided to fight back by means of civil society. “We have 60,000 veterans of the Great Patriotic War in Moscow alone,” Konovalenko told journalists. “If you add people who got var- ious awards working behind the front lines or participated in later wars, you will get two million. We can just flood the au- thorities with complaints,” Konovalenko said. The loyalist youth group Nashi went much further than the veterans, setting up pickets before Podrabinek’s apartment building. Seeing a group of young people in red jackets closing in on his apartment, Podrabinek preferred to go into hiding, leaving his wife to explain herself to the picketers. “It was this escape and not the article itself that made me think less of Podrabinek,” said Yuri Vasiliev, an online journalist who monitored bloggers’ reac- tion to the highly-publicized story. “Hav- ing written this highly controversial arti- cle, he hid behind his wife’s back, leaving her and his home to the mercy of Nashi members and other riff-raff.” Many other bloggers, however, did not agree with Vasiliev, saying that Podrab- inek was right not to risk physical con- frontation with Nashi, who might not limit themselves to posters if they had a chance to meet Podrabinek in person. “Nashi’s conduct demonstrates that they could not counter his word with a word,” wrote a blogger under the nickname BB. “So, his word is stronger, and he won.” Podrabinek’s words were indeed strong, but they were not entirely just—at least they indeed insulted a lot of people who— rightly or wrongly—devoted their lives’ work to the country they lived in. “It only

seems to you that you enjoy universal re- spect,” Podrabinek wrote in his letter to veterans. “You were told this for many

years, but your time is finished. Your motherland is not Russia. Your motherland is the Soviet Union, which is no more. You are Soviet veterans, and your country, thank God, has been dead for 18 years.” Whatever Podrabinek’s intentions were, he made a mistake of bundling up soldiers and Stalin’s secret police officers. Nashi’s actions certainly crossed the line of civilized debate and prob- ably even legality, but from a legal point of view, Podrabinek was not entirely in the right, either. Who gave him the right to label Vladimir Dolgikh as a criminal—a person who was never sentenced by any court? “You, Vladimir Ivanovich, are a mem- ber of a gang of communist criminals, who tried to ruin our country, and later managed to avoid court trial and punish- ment. Now you want to resurface to justify your past,” Podrab- inek wrote in his article. These accusations made Konovalenko especially angry. At 86 years old, he said he was ready to return to his tank to fight people like Podrabinek. “We won the war, why should we be afraid of small fish like this?” he asked, having learned that Nashi’s action stirred bloggers to participate in a symbolic ac- tion called “I am Podrabinek, too,” aimed at letting Nashi un- derstand that their victim had support, too. Isn’t there a way, though, to understand both Podrabinek and Konovalenko? To admire these two colorful people, ready to go to great lengths to defend their views? Foreigners can do this— we know it from the experience of many journalists working in

Moscow. Why can’t we Russians do the same?

working in Moscow. Why can’t we Russians do the same? The owners of the “Antisoviet” kebab
working in Moscow. Why can’t we Russians do the same? The owners of the “Antisoviet” kebab

The owners of the “Antisoviet” kebab house in Moscow took down their sign after the Moscow Committee

of War Veterans found the name offensive and sent a complaint to the city authorities.

Photo: Sergey Savostyanov

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Soviet Communal Apartments Aren’t Dead Yet

RUSSIA PROFILE Soviet Communal Apartments Aren’t Dead Yet Before 1917, when the worker became king and

Before 1917, when the worker became king and the city—his domain, over 80 percent of the Russian pop-

ulation did not live in cities. At the time of the Soviet Union’s fall roughly 70 years later, that ratio had been reversed, with the vast majority having at some point lived in a cramped communal apartment (kommunal- ka.) Following Russia’s capitalist revolution, some re- mained there. With a unique mixture of communist and capitalist elements permeating the modern kom- munalka, does it still produce the same citizen who lived there in the 1950s and 1960s, and how much longer can the kommunalka persevere on a capitalist real estate market? Hidden among the five and six story houses locat- ed near Sukharevskaya metro station in central Mos- cow is one of the city’s remaining communal apart- ments, the interior of which is instantly recognizable by the chipped paint and dim lighting that became the hallmark of shared spaces in the Soviet Union, and, by inheritance, Russia. Yet as Mayram opens the door to one of the three occupied rooms in her five-room kommunalka, the juxtaposition couldn’t be more ev- ident; her apartment is spacious, with clean wooden floors and a well-kept balcony renovated several years ago. Lina’s room, located next door, is far smaller, with just enough space to maneuver between a bed and

a small desk. “It’s just girls here,” said Lina. “That

makes it easier, and of course we split up the chores, but we think that we live together as if we were in a dormitory.” When she asks for interviews, she walks down the hallway amiably knocking on her neighbors’ doors—one pokes her head out, sleepily blinking her eyes, smiles, and then turns back to bed without even

a word of reproach. From the Soviet perspective, the modern kommunal- ka at Sukharevskaya is entirely unrecognizable, yet it represents the last phase of the long transformation in housing in Russia that began with the revolution. The communal apartment emerged in Russia as a product of Lenin’s “uplotnyenie” (packing) proposal to pack

workers into the homes of former aristocrats in the city cen- ters. The Soviet authorities accordingly distributed spaces in large, multi-room apartments, dividing them up among fami- lies who then shared utilities, including bathrooms and kitch- ens, as well as equipment such as the telephone. During the years of purges that followed Stalin’s rise to pow- er, the kommunalka was also one of the staples of the Sovi- et Union’s obsessive fascination with the surveillance state. “It was a very planned thing, and far more than just a way of ful- filling the class goals of the uplotnyenie. This was a system de- signed to force people to spy upon one another,” said Paola Messana, a French journalist and author of “Soviet Commu- nal Living,” a collection of oral histories charting the develop- ment of the communal apartment. “During the difficult years of the 1930s and 1940s, the communal apartment was one of the best tools to allow the political police to find out who was listening to Voice of America and who had ties to the aristo- cratic classes.” In the 1950s and 1960s there was somewhat of a reversal of fortune for communal apartments, as the government attempt- ed to move families into separate apartments, correctly gaug- ing that the population was fed up. Under Nikita Khrushchev’s leadership, the Soviet Union began construction of five-story houses that quickly became known as “khrushchyovki,” after the leader. Messana described one woman who had long been living in a communal apartment’s attitude to this new hous- ing, made from pre-fabricated concrete. “They were trash, they were terrible apartments, but for her it was a dream to get in to the ‘khrushchyovki.’” Kommunalki survived the Soviet period, but by the 1990s, privatization had led to government-supported depopulation— whereby developers bought out residents of kommunalki, ren- ovated them and sold them on for the kind of profits that prop- erty booms in Russia’s major cities were making possible. The fact that at certain points during the Soviet Union, the majority of its citizens lived in a communal apartment, meant they became a shared, cultural phenomenon of the Sovi- et period. Vladimir Vysotsky, arguably Russia’s greatest folk singer, also penned a few lines on his experiences living in shared apartments. Long before his sojourn to Bolshoy Karet- ny, which he famously recalled in his song of the same name, Vysotsky moved into a communal apartment on Meshanskaya Street, roughly in the same neighborhood where Mayram and Lina have their new, spruced-up apartment. “Behind the wall there, behind the wall, behind the divider, neighbors spoiled each other with vodka. Everyone lived equally, humbly: the hallway system, 38 rooms and just one bathroom. Teeth chat-

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 30 Many communal apartments still



Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 30 Many communal apartments still

Many communal apartments still exist in St. Petersburg, and some can still be found in the former dwellings of the aristocracy - the one pictured above is located in the Muruzi House on Liteyniy Prospekt.

nal apartments is increasingly being left to the Soviet era. As Ilya Utekhin, the founder of the virtual museum of Sovi- et Everyday Life, wrote, “for most of the younger generation, a kommunalka is what they see in movies that are set in the Soviet Union.”


St. Petersburg, the birthplace of the revolution, was also the birthplace of the communal apartment in Russia. With thousands of sprawling, pre-revolution- ary apartments, and an influx of workers into the city, the state divided them up with gusto. Today, the city remains the undisputed king of the communal apart- ment in Russia. Though their number has decreased precipitously in all Russian cities since the fall of the Soviet Union, over 650,000 Petersburgers still live in communal apartments, according to data from the St. Petersburg Housing Com- mittee. One of the city’s 100,000 or so remain-

Photo: Alexey Danichev

ing kommunalki is an eight-room apart- ment on Mokhovaya Street, on the top floor of an old, pre-revolutionary building. Entering the dim corridors of the apartment, a long, dusty hallway leads past a former anteroom to the right, which houses a young couple, then two empty rooms. With no direct sunlight, the hallway is dark until rounding the corner into the rear of the apart- ment, where a beam of light comes in from a small window in the bathroom. The back of the apartment holds another four rooms, housing several students and a family of four. Slowly but surely, thanks to the dual processes of capitalism and human mortality, the communal apartment itself is dying out, with vacant rooms like Lyubov Petrovna’s becoming more and more common. Zhenya, who has lived here since she in- herited the room from her late mother, said that until recent- ly she had been content living in the old apartment despite the lack of hot water. But the recent deaths of two pensioners in the room adjoining hers and across the hall have imbued the apartment with a “feeling of death,” and she is now looking to move out. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the onset of privatiza- tion, the modern communal apartment has become a strange hybrid of the communist and capitalist systems—each person owns a room in the apartment, but the apartment itself has no owner, meaning that in an eerie way, the apartment belongs to everyone and no one at the same time. As long as each resident doesn’t sell his right to a room in the communal apartment, no one can sell the space in its entirety. The result is that there are similar problems with the upkeep for collective spaces from the Soviet period, but that the room

tering from the cold, no overcoat would warm you, here I truly found out a kopeck’s real worth,” he sang in his “Ballad about Childhood.” Sitting in Lina and Mayram’s self-styled “dormi- tory,” it’s hard to imagine Vysotsky moodily droning on about “surviving” Meshanskaya.


Ultimately, the older generation of communal apartments and residents are dying out. In Lina and Mayram’s apartments, there are five rooms in all. Mayram lives closest to the front door, Lina is next, and then the young neighbor who sleepily poked her head out of the door, refusing to be interviewed. There are also two empty rooms in the apartment—one belongs to Lina’s ex-husband, which is currently vacant. The door to the other room is padlocked shut and painted white. Lyubov Petrovna, “the spirit of the old kommunalka,” as Mayram called her, lived here until she died several years ago. “We had tried at one point to get a boiler in here, so that we would finally get hot water in the apartment. I remember the arguments that we used to have over that, over anything in the kitchen and anything that required us to get her approval. She opposed any kind of change to the place—she lived in kommu- nalki for her entire life,” Mayram recalled. After her death, Mayram released a short documentary film on Lyubov’s life, where the camera fruitlessly chases after her as she resolutely moves about the kitchen and discusses her life in the apartments. Ultimately, her death was indicative of a cultural shift in which the particular heritage of commu-

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has become a veritable fiefdom of the owner—in other words, his property. Privatized rooms have begun to take some of the communal out of communal living, notes Utekhin. With com- plete ownership over the rooms, new owners don’t need to of- ficially notify or negotiate with their neighbors to rent out rooms, or, in an extreme case he writes about, can partition their rooms into five sleeping areas and then rent them out to a troop of Moldovans. The behavior of the Moldovans led to items disappearing around the house, and eventually a note from another dweller threatening to call the immigration ser- vices if a spray bottle was not returned to the kitchen. Yet far more important is that the end of communism has de- prived the kommunalka of the shared experience that an en- tire generation of Soviet people had. “The kommunalka to- day is the remnants of what the kommunalka was in the Soviet Union. In the Soviet Union it still had an ideology, so you had something that was keeping the whole thing together. Then ev- erything collapsed, the system collapsed, and in came the new values, and they are money. So if you have money, you can live very well, and if you don’t have money, you can live in a com- munal apartment,” said Messana. In the Soviet Union, noted Sofia Dyak, the director of the Center for Urban History of Eastern Europe, despite popu- lar conceptions that the Soviet Union was a property-less state, there were dissenting voices that apartments which gave a semblance of privacy and were transferrable to their kin were the closest that one came to property. “It’s not true that in the

Soviet Union there was no property,” said Dyak. “Some saw their communal apartments as private property, which some experts are now noting. Yet with so little privacy, it became all the more clear in the communal apartment just how little you had.”


What is increasingly developing is a stalemate between the current dwellers, who want to take advantage of rising prices in rooms to sell them off at a healthy profit and enough to get an apartment, and developers who want to renovate many of the apartments, which are often located in prime real estate in city centers. Mayram, who bought her room about six years ago, said the price had doubled and it is now worth $100,000. “Yet why would I want to move out of here, away from the center and into some apartment on the edge of Moscow? I am planning to stay here,” said Mayram. “I am convinced that people will stay in those apartments un- til they die,” said Messana. “Yet when they do, their relatives will not be so quick to fill those spots, and what their deceased grandparents would have sold for a quarter of a million dollars they might be willing to part with for a fifth of that.” This is a process that is not just happening in Russia, but all over the former Soviet Union, as the old apartments slow- ly disappear. Dyak noted that in Odessa, for instance, the mar- ket had slowly begun to wear down some of the last remaining

communal apartments in Ukraine.

some of the last remaining communal apartments in Ukraine. THROUGH THICK AND THIN By Alexey Beglov


By Alexey Beglov Special to RUSSIA PROFILE

For Many Years, the Russian Orthodox Church Has Been Undergoing a Process of Enculturation

Church Has Been Undergoing a Process of Enculturation For the Russian Orthodox Church, the post-Soviet pe-

For the Russian Orthodox Church, the post-Soviet pe- riod began in October of 1990, even before the Sovi- et Union’s official collapse, when the government ad- opted a new Soviet law on the freedom of conscience. This law cancelled the registration of clergymen with the authorities and turned the Council for Religious Affairs (one of the main institutions carrying out So- viet religious policy) into a consultative, rather than monitoring body. This act put an end to the entire sys- tem of controlling the country’s religious associations, which the Soviet government had built up since 1918. This 20-year period almost fully coincides with the first post-Soviet patriarchate. Holy Patriarch Alexy II

(Ridiger, or Ruediger) held his post from 1990 to 2008. His patriarchy was a whole epoch in the life of the church. At that

time, the church was breaking out of the isolation imposed on it by Soviet pow- er and sustained the consequences of the political, economic and social disintegration on a par with the rest of the country. Let’s recall the main events in the life of the church during this period.


First of all, this was a time of quantitative growth for churches, monasteries, dioceses, religious schools and clergymen. The number of parish churches in Russia increased almost ten- fold—from 3,000 in 1990 to almost 30,000 today. The number of monasteries grew from several dozen to more than 800 over the same period. However, there is still one church per thousands of believers, which complicates their meaningful communication with clergymen. There are still not enough

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churches and clergymen to meet the spiritual needs of all those who have turned or are ready to turn to the church. The reconstruction and construction of churches required huge financial expenditures. The search for funds became a heavy burden on the shoulders of priests and abbots. The con- tributions of rank-and-file believers—the foundation of the church economy throughout the Soviet years (and still account- ing for the bulk of the church budget at parish level)—plummet- ed in the atmosphere of an almost permanent economic crisis. So the deans, abbots and even bishops had to find “spon- sors”—newly-rich people who could help restore churches. Some of these people were oligarchs, whereas others repre- sented small and at times semi-criminal business. Their con- tacts with the church were not easy and sometimes cast a shad- ow on the clergymen, but relations between the church and business played a crucial role in the restoration of church infrastructure. The church and society were also broadening their relations. People in Russia were getting used to seeing clergymen on television and radio. Central television networks were master- ing a new genre—broadcasting religious services.


At the same time, in Russia (and other CIS countries) these contacts did not lead to the formation of a strong and inde- pendent Orthodox laity. The movement of Orthodox brother- hoods that evoked great hopes in the late 1980s to early 1990s lost its religious character very quickly. It became politicized, with the majority of brotherhoods turning into extreme mon- archist or nationalist groups. This became a big headache for the hierarchy for a long time, and compelled it to restrain all lay movements in every possible way. As a result, today practi- cally any grassroots religious or public activities are taking place at the periphery of church life, and very often overlap with eschatological movements.

There is still one church per thousands of believers.

The Russian Orthodox Church encountered major difficulties on the world arena as well. The Soviet Union’s collapse led to the invigoration of different groups within the church, which wanted to proclaim their independence from the Moscow Pa- triarchate following the national independence of their repub- lics. These conflicts flared up in Ukraine, Estonia and Moldova. They escalated and drew other Orthodox churches into their orbit—the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Church of Romania. By the end of the first post-Soviet de- cade, the church had managed to restrain the centrifugal forc- es by making considerable concessions—it had to grant de fac- to semi-independent status to its dioceses on the territories of newly independent states.

In parallel there was a new exodus from Russia, Ukraine, Be- larus and Moldova. For the Russian church this meant the ap- pearance of its flock all over the world. Congregations of the Moscow Patriarchate around the world multiplied, which re- quired the formation of new parishes and construction of new churches. But this changed the composition of the Moscow Pa- triarchate’s old foreign parishes. Their former parishioners, who were brought up in religious tradition, turned out to be in obvious minority amidst the mass of religiously incompe- tent émigrés. New conflicts flared up within the church, some of which compelled part of the congregation to withdraw from the Moscow Patriarchate’s jurisdiction.


All these processes took place against the backdrop of eschato- logical attitudes that were stirring up the church in the entire post-Soviet space. They became particularly widespread on the eve of the year 2000. For the most part, they were expressed as a morbid reaction to such government undertakings as the introduction of new domestic passports to replace the Soviet documents and the Individual Taxpayer Number (INN), as well as the national census in 2002. These eschatological ex- pectations had become so widespread among Orthodox circles that the church’s hierarchs had to make special statements on this score. Fertile grounds for the spread of the alarmist attitudes were created by the so-called “young elders,” or “mladostartsy,” phenomenon. It was through these charismatic pastors who excessively interfered in the personal lives of their followers and formed groups of fanatics around them that such ideas were propagated. By the middle of the 2000s eschatological at- titudes had become less widespread, but still remained radical. Suffice it to recall the drama that unfolded in the Penza Region in 2007 to 2008, where a group of 35 (including four children) radical believers spent six months in a man-made cave await- ing “the forthcoming end of the world.”


Such attitudes appear to be a form of socio-psychological ad- aptation on behalf of the population to the excessively radical social and cultural transformation that Russian society went through. The church is also affected by it. Today observers usually describe what is happening with the church by us- ing the term “revival,” meaning a return to what was lost or destroyed after the 1917 revolution. Some people think that the last 20 years saw natural and steady growth of the church’s influence on society and the state. Others believe that this was a time of mistakes and lost opportunities for full-scale revival. However, a close look at the events taking place in church life shows that they least of all resemble a recovery of what was lost. In reality, every single sphere of religious life demonstrates new phenomena that did not exist in the early 20th century. Take new religious schools, such as academies, seminaries and other theological institutions—before the revolution, they pri-

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 33 The Cathedral of Christ



Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 33 The Cathedral of Christ

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the tallest Orthodox church in the world, was rebuilt in Moscow in the late 1990s after its predecessor was demolished to

make room for the Palace of the Soviets in 1931, in what many saw as a sure sign of the revival of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Photo: Vladimir Vyatkin

marily educated the offspring of the clerical order that no lon- ger exists today. Religious schools are actively developing and avidly absorbing the achievements of European theology. They are even getting ahead of Russia’s secular schools in the Bolo- gna Process—a gradual unification of academic standards for European bachelors’ and masters’ degrees. A similar situation exists in icon painting. In the early 20th century, Viktor Vasnetsov’s mystical and romantic modern- ism was seen as the inaccessible acme of religious painting. Even well-educated contemporaries did not know or under- stand East Christian icons with their deeply-ingrained symbol- ism. What is happening now is not a revival of the Vasnetsov School, but a return to icon painting per se—in all of its differ- ent periods and styles. Church architecture has also been re- born in the past 20 years using new technology and catering to new tastes. These are just the most striking examples of the trends seen everywhere in church life, showing that what is happening is not the mechanical recovery of something lost, but a pro- cess of enculturation—the creative entry of the church into the modern and post-modern culture of Russia and other CIS countries.

This process began in the 1970s, when educated young peo- ple displayed their interest in the church and its culture for the first time. In the 1980s, during the festivities devoted to the Millennium of Christianity in Russia (1988), this interest be- came legalized, and in the 1990s and 2000s it was further and logically developed. A new church culture is being born in the course of this process, and a new language of communication between the church and society at large is developing. The Russian Orthodox Church is dealing with this kind of so- ciety for the first time in its history. Russian society is now ur- ban (rather than rural), secularized and well educated. It is part of the global information society. These features of our society are objective reality, and the church will have to en- gage all of its creative potential in order to “translate” its eter- nal teaching into modern language. It is abundantly clear that enculturation is a long-term process, and we will see its results only in several generations. However, one of its most active

phases seems to have taken place in the past 20 years.

phases seems to have taken place in the past 20 years. Alexey Beglov is a senior

Alexey Beglov is a senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Insti- tute of World History.

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By Rosemary Griffin RUSSIA PROFILE

Soviet Names Still Survive in Modern Russia

RUSSIA PROFILE Soviet Names Still Survive in Modern Russia First names inspired by the October Revolution

First names inspired by the October Revolution and its leaders appeared as a way of demonstrating com- mitment to the cause in the early years of the Soviet Union. Often acronyms of the initials of Soviet lumi- naries, revolutionary events or achievements, from the late 1910s onward children of the Soviet Union wore their parents’ political beliefs, aspirations or fears on their birth certificates. For the country’s orphans—of- ten the children of disgraced enemies of the people— politicized names were a way to reinvent themselves as model Soviet citizens. Although the popularity of Soviet names peaked in the immediate aftermath of the revolution and living with such a name had its drawbacks, people continued to give their newborn children Soviet names into the 1980s—guaranteeing that this quirk of the Soviet Union will remain a small part of Russian life for many years to come. The practice of naming newborn babies in honor of the revolution and its heroes first appeared in the late 1910s. In some cases, it reflected parents’ enthusiasm for the regime change and in others, their fears about how their past may be interpreted by the new author- ities. It was fuelled by the Soviet authorities’ clamp- down on bourgeois and Orthodox Christian traditions, which cast doubt on many previously popular names and encouraged parents to choose ones that reflected the new values. Some parents simply gave their children the first names of prominent people—Vladimir in honor of Lenin, for example, which was the most popular boy’s name in Moscow between 1924 and 1932. But others were explicit and easily recognizable tributes to So- viet heroes, with Lenin again leading the way. Boys’ names honoring the father of the revolution include:

Vladlen (Vladimir Lenin), Vilor (Vladimir Ilich Len- in—organizer of the revolution), and Leninid (Len- in’s ideas), while girls were called Ninel (Lenin back- wards) and Lenora (Lenin—our weapon). Names formed from the initials of a string of soviet heroes were also popular, such as Mels (Marx, Engels, Len-

in and Stalin) and Melsor (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Octo- ber Revolution). In an interview with Ogonyok in May of 2005, Alexandra Su- peranskaya, co-author of “Russian Names” and Russia’s lead- ing anthroponomy expert, described where some of these names came from. “On the corner of Kuznetsky Most Street and Neglinnaya Street there was a commission, which invent- ed and registered new Soviet names. From 1924 to 1930 they issued calendars with recommendations. There you can find girls’ names, such as Electrification, and boys’ names like Trac- tor, as well as many others.” Engelisa Pogarelova was born on August 5, 1934—the anni- versary of her namesake Friedrich Engels’ death. “I think my parents wanted to give me an original name, something unusu- al,” she said. “Nobody else in my family had a Soviet name. My brother is called Valery and everyone else had normal Russian names.” Although Pogarelova said she has always been happy with her name, it has caused her a few small problems. “Many people make mistakes because I have an unusual name, they pronounce or spell it incorrectly. On all of my documents now it is spelled ‘Engilisa,’ not as it should be spelled, ‘Engyelisa.’” She also felt that at times her name restricted her social life growing up, although she found ways to get around this. “I was sorry not to have a name day, everyone else had one as well as their birthday, but I didn’t have one. And then my birthday falls in the summer, when nobody is around, so I decided to do something about it and have another celebration on November 28—the date of Engels’ birth. I got a bit carried away then and decided to celebrate Marx’s birthday on May 5 as well, but that didn’t really take off.” Pogarelova is the director of The Central House of Arts Workers (Tsedri). Always interested in the arts, she started her career working in cultural clubs attached to factories, de- signed to both entertain and educate the workers. This meant she had to take ideology courses at the university, where her name turned out to be a disadvantage. “At the Institute we had Marxist-Leninist Pedagogy and my teacher was horrible to me. He used to call me Marxisa and say ‘With a name like that, you don’t have the right to get less than five.’ So I had to work extra hard in that class and it was really boring—I was always more interested in creative subjects.” But the confused response to her name has also kept her en- tertained over the years, with even those who worked along- side her sometimes making the odd Freudian slip. “Once when I was working as the director of one of the culture clubs my husband came to pick me up. He asked for the director and the woman on duty called out ‘Evangelisa Georgievna.’ When I

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 35 Vladimir Lenin was a



Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 35 Vladimir Lenin was a

Vladimir Lenin was a key source of inspiration behind Soviet names, with

numerous Vladlens and Ninels registered throughout the Soviet period.

Photo: Nappelbaum

came out he told me things had changed and I was now named after the Gospels!”


By the 1950s some bearers of Soviet names had become promi- nent public figures, such as prima ballerina Ninel Kurgapkina and Vladlen Bakhnov, co-author of the script for the classic Soviet comedy “Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession.” But most Soviet names did not take off and have since died out, if they ever existed, particularly the more creative ones, such as Pyachegod (the five year plan in four years), Pridespar (hello delegates of the party congress) and Smersh (death to spies). Names easily identifiable with political figures who subse- quently fell out of favor also struggled to survive. Those that venerated Stalin are a good example of this. After his death many men called Mels and Melsor dropped the “s” from their names, and girls named Stalina changed their names to alter- natives that were not associated with the dictator. Pogarelo- va experienced this second hand. “There was a singer that I used to work with called Stalina. I’m not sure when exactly she changed her name, but by the 1970s, she was already called Polina. It was not hard to change your first name; you just had to send an application to the registry office. It was much harder to change your surname,” she said.

Pogarelova herself never considered changing her name. “My parents gave me this name and I respect their choice,” she said. “To some extent I wished I could change my surname more. For a long time I was in charge of the fire safety department, which with a surname like Pogarelova (derived from the Russian verb ‘to burn’) led to quite a lot of teasing from my colleagues.” But not all Soviet names have died out, particularly those which are more flexible. Damir existed before the revolution, but was reinvented by the Soviets to mean “Hello world revolu- tion!” This gave the bearer more flexibility—to acknowledge it as a Soviet name, a pre-revolutionary name, or both. Alexei Dmitriev was born in 1986. Two of his classmates at school in St. Petersburg had Soviet names—Damir and Vladlen. But it wasn’t until the class was in eighth grade that they re- alized what the names meant. “We were told by some teach- er that these names are synthetic. We were reading ‘Heart of a Dog’ by Mikhail Bulgakov. We didn’t think that you could just call a child whatever you wanted, when we understood that it was a normal thing in the Soviet Union we went through cul- ture shock.” Damir’s classmates had always just thought that Damir was a Tatar name. “But it’s both. His parents are Tatars, but they also wanted their son to have a Soviet name,” Dmitriev said, add- ing that Vladlen’s parents were teachers, who were perhaps slightly more committed communists than the average citizen. “I think his parents just liked Lenin. It was rather unusual to give the boy such a name when it had already gone out of fash- ion though,” he said, adding that Vladlen’s two brothers did not have Soviet names. Unlike Pogarelova, Damir and Vladlen were not happy with their names growing up. “Vladlen sounds girly and Damir sounds weird, so no, they did not like them,” Dmit- riev said. The novel, which first brought the students’ attention to So- viet names, Mikhail Bulgakov’s “Heart of a Dog,” reflects the reception these names received from some quarters when they were first introduced. In one scene bourgeois surgeon Fil- ip Preobrazhensky is arguing with the dog he has successful- ly turned into a man about the name he has chosen—Poligraph Poligraphovich Sharikov: “‘Your name seemed a bit strange, it would be interesting to know where you found it?’‘The house committee gave me some advice. We looked at the calendar and I chose a name.’‘No name like that can be on any calendar.’ ‘That’s surprising,’ the man smiled, ‘When it’s on the one hang- ing in your consulting room.’ Without getting up, Filip Fili- povich leaned over to the bell on the wall and Zina appeared. ‘Bring me the calendar from the consulting-room.’ After a pause Zina came back with the calendar and Filip Filipovich asked: ‘Where?’ ‘The name-day is March 4.’ ‘Show me… grrr damn. Throw this thing on the fire at once!’”


“Heart of a Dog” marked the beginning of a minor trend in So- viet literature to use Soviet names to convey information about contemporary values, or the battle going on between those values in the Soviet Union. Andrei Platonov began writing

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 36 his unfinished novel “Happy



his unfinished novel “Happy Moscow” in 1933, by which time Soviet names were an established part of life. In the opening pages the main character, Moscow Chestnova (derived from the adjective honest), who has been wandering the streets as an orphan and is unsure of her real name, is given a new one in a children’s home. “They gave her a first name to honor Mos- cow, a patronymic in memory of ‘Ivan’—the ordinary Red Army soldier fallen in battle, and a surname as a sign of the honesty of her heart, which had not yet become dishonest, although it had been unhappy for a long time.” This trend in fiction also survived the collapse of the Sovi- et Union, as Viktor Pelevin gave a Soviet name to the central character of his novel “Generation P.” The book, which was written in 1999, deals with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the formation of a new Russian society, through the world of advertising, psychedelic drugs and the main character’s ide- ological and career progression. Vavilen Tatarsky is named af- ter 1960s counterculture writer Vasily Aksyonov and Vladimir Lenin by his father: “Tatarsky’s father evidently could easily imagine that thanks to what he understood from Aksyonov’s uninhibited page, the eternal Leninist could grasp that Marx- ism had stood for free love from the beginning.” Embarrassed by his name Tatarsky, starts to introduce him-

self as Vova, before pretending his father was in fact fascinat- ed by Eastern mysticism and named him with the ancient city of Babylon in mind. “Despite this brilliant reinvention, at the age of 18 Tatarsky happily lost his first passport and his sec- ond one read Vladimir.” While they may remain a convenient literary device, Sovi-

et names are not popular among parents of Russian newborns

today, who are overwhelmingly opting for traditional Ortho- dox or Slavic names. Evgenia Smirnova, a spokesperson for the Moscow Registry Office, said that three names have dominat- ed in the capital over the last two decades. “Alexander is in a stable position at the top of the most popular list for boys. The rest of the top ten changes quite a lot, but Alexander has been the most popular for the last 20 years. For girls in the same pe- riod, Maria and Anastasia have shared the top spot, and in the last two years Maria has come out top.” But there is evidence, albeit slight, that the idea behind the communist names—honoring a system, idea or hero in the naming of a child—has not completely died out. Among the le- gions of Sashas and Mashas born across Russia in 2011, one little girl born in Omsk, Siberia was given the curious name of Medmia—a combination of the first letters of the current presi-

dent’s surname, first name and patronymic.

current presi- dent’s surname, first name and patronymic. POST-SOVIET SYNDROME By Pavel Koshkin RUSSIA PROFILE Many



Many Young Russians Are Nostalgic for the Soviet Union

Many Young Russians Are Nostalgic for the Soviet Union Contrary to popular belief, the tight grip

Contrary to popular belief, the tight grip that 70 years of Soviet indoctrination exerted on the popu- lar psyche was not limited to the older generations of Soviet citizens. Many of today’s young people—who were not even born when the Soviet Union still exist- ed—are showing symptoms of grief and pining for the “good old days.” While experts continue to unravel the mystery behind ex-Soviet citizens’ love for the good old former union, more and more young people say they too are casting some nostalgic looks at the Sovi- et past. For many young people, the fabled social guaran- tees and safety net that the Soviet regime provid- ed were the keys to their hearts. “It was good that the government provided people with the necessary living conditions and social benefits, there was more con- fidence about tomorrow,” 20-year-old Maria Skorik,

who studies PR at the Journalism and Philology Faculty of the Southern Federal University in Rostov-on-Don, said. For her, social welfare is what was cool about the Soviet Union, even though she said that her idea of those times was based on bed- side stories. Maxim Rudnev, aged 23, who studies at Russia’s Academy of Law and Governance, also said recreational storytelling by his parents formed his opinions about the Soviet past. “My opin- ion is based on stories I was told by my grandparents and good Soviet movies,” said Rudnev, who was born in East Berlin and never lived in the Soviet Union. “For me, the Soviet past is as- sociated with victories in World War II, the achievements of the space programs, science and the labor movements, such as Stakhanovism.” Rudnev is now one of the patriotic young fel- lows in the pro-Kremlin Molodaya Gvardiya political move- ment, which, among other things, groom the young generation to look at the Soviet past with admiration and some veneration.


A recent study by Valeria Kasamara and Anna Sorokina at

the Laboratory for Political Research at the Higher School of Economics found that nostalgia for the Soviet past is still quite common among Russians, including the younger generation.

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 37 The study, which polled



The study, which polled 300 high-school and university students aged between 13 and 32, found that young people with lit- tle or no memory of the Soviet Union also tend to be nostalgic for the past. “Young Russians didn’t live in the Soviet Union and only know about it from stories they have been told by their parents, grand- parents and teachers, or Soviet movies,” Kasamara said. “These tend to concen- trate on positive experiences and don’t reflect the gloomy Soviet reality.” Sorokina added that those who remem- ber the Soviet Union tend to focus on its achievements. “To appeal to teenagers, parents only reminisce about the Soviet achievements and the positive side, and try to com- pare today with the past within an allur- ing context. For instance, the 1980 Olym- pic Games in Moscow is compared with the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and the Nashi political movement is com- pared with the Pioneers and Little Octo- brists,” she said. The degree to which people are willing to idealize the past, experts say, depends to a large extent on their social sta- tus, upbringing, education and movies. Tough social and economic conditions since the collapse of the Soviet Union can also lead people to idealize the past, ac-

Soviet Union can also lead people to idealize the past, ac- Good Soviet movies, such as

Good Soviet movies, such as “The Irony of Fate,” which traditionally airs on Russia’s state television every

New Year’s Eve, often make young people feel a longing for the good Soviet times pictured on the screen.

Photo: V. Alisov

cording to experts. “The difficulties peo- ple faced after the collapse of the Soviet Union, including the 1998 economic crisis, the threat of terrorism, and the collapse of order—which had been so typical of the post-Soviet era, out- weighed the problems of the Soviet period,” Kasamara said. “Although Soviet citizens didn’t like the gloomy Soviet reality, when shock therapy was implemented in response to the col- lapse of the Soviet Union people started to recall ‘the roman- tic and still air of the Soviet Union’ when they had government support and confidence about tomorrow.” Such a line of thinking is also winning over young Russians, many of whom, Kasamara said, suffer from a lack of confi- dence and a sense that they are dependent on circumstances. “If somebody is not confident, has low self-esteem and is reliant on government support alone, they want to shift responsibility onto somebody else,” Kasamara said. For many, the social wel- fare or state guarantees that they will find a job after gradua- tion are essential, because they are unable to act independent- ly, she said. Among the younger generation, students from regional and second-tier universities are more likely to suffer from post-So- viet nostalgia. “Students from top Moscow universities are more confident about their future, more open-minded, self-re-

liant and ready to suggest a compromise because they are in demand among employers,” Kasamara said. But not all students fit in with this broad categorization, par- ticularly when it comes to perceptions of certain aspects of the Soviet Union. Skorik claimed not to suffer from post-Sovi- et nostalgia at all, despite her positive impression of the Sovi- et welfare system. “I was born before the collapse of the Sovi- et Union, but I don’t remember this period,” she said, “I did not belong to Soviet society like I do not belong to American so- ciety, because I live in modern Russia. It’s my aquarium and I don’t want to live outside of it.”


The researchers from the Higher School of Economics believe that to some extent, post-Soviet nostalgia is symptomatic of a yearning for the strong and influential rule that characterized Soviet power. “Reliance on a strong government and leader helps to boost a person’s ego,” Kasamara said. “The grandeur and influence of Soviet power is what they are proud of, not great literature and scientific achievements. While Americans take pride in their freedoms, the average Russian is yearning for a strong and controlling government.”

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Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 38 Come 2014, many will



Special Report 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION 38 Come 2014, many will

Come 2014, many will be comparing the Olympic Games in Sochi with the

positive experience they had at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

Photo: Sergey Guneev

at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. Photo: Sergey Guneev young people who claim not to

young people who claim not to feel nostalgia for the past. Skorik sees a strong government as much more important for Russia than a close relationship with the West. While support- ing friendly ties with other countries, she thinks that nation- al interest and security should remain top priorities. “Conces- sions that may result in negative consequences for the country are not always a good way to deal with geopolitical problems,” she said. Suspicion toward Western countries is also quite common among the post-Soviet generation, which Kasamara believes indicates it is yearning for the Soviet Union’s influence in the international political arena. A poll conducted by the Levada Center in 2011 revealed that 70 percent of respondents believe that Russia has a lot of strategic rivals and enemies abroad. Rudnev also supports a strong government, but does not rule out the possibility of mutual understanding and collaboration. “Russia should work on building friendly partnerships with the West, but, concurrently, we should be prudent and avoid ma- nipulation. In other words, we should be an equal partner for the West, but not a second-rate one.” But young people’s perceptions of the Soviet Union are far from overwhelmingly positive today. Although he feels nostal- gia toward Soviet grandeur, power and the country’s achieve- ments, Rudnev would not like to live in the Soviet Union. He describes himself as a representative of a new generation that is focused on improving today’s Russia, not the past. “Try to

make your own contributions to Russia’s development and wellbeing before asking something from the government, that’s my principle,” Rudnev said. “And this makes me different from Soviet generations.” Rudnev also believes that the lack of competitiveness as well as reliance on the government and so- cial welfare hampered the development of Soviet society on both international and domestic levels. Other young people, such as Skorik take a negative view of the uniformity that pervaded the Soviet Union. Her view is shared by 22-year old Aznavur Dustmamotov, who was born in the Soviet Union and immigrated to the United States in 2007 to study at Harvard. “The thing I most dislike about the Soviet Union is its uniformity. There was one official ideology, one path to success, even one taste in music, clothes, and film,” he said. Despite having a negative opinion of the Soviet Union, Dustmamontov said “it would certainly be curious to live there for a short time to witness such a radically different society.” Dustmamotov, who described the Soviet Union as “a doomed experiment” and “a failed state, based on coercion and false so- cial theory,” also believes there is a fine line between pursuing national interests and reclaiming imperial ambitions. He per- sonally never felt part of Soviet achievements, even though he grew up in the Yaroslavl Region, because he is not an ethnic Russian. “I was always treated as an outsider, and I simply can- not identify with Soviet achievements, such as victory in World War II or the creation of the thermonuclear bomb, in the same way ethnic Russians do. I was always told, ‘This is our success, not yours.’ Whatever the greatness of the Soviet Union may have consisted of, I have no share in it and do not feel senti- mental about it.” Reinhard Krumm, the head of the Moscow bureau of the Friedrich Ebert Fund, an influential German organization pro- moting democratic values in Russia, is skeptical of how wide- spread post-Soviet nostalgia is among young Russians. “I have been teaching Russian students and I haven’t noticed that they want to go back to the Soviet Union. They have a lot of oppor- tunities to study wherever and whatever they want. But wheth- er Russian youth feels nostalgia toward the Soviet Union pri- marily depends on their level of education and social status,” Krumm said, adding that those who are better educated are more confident and more comfortable in modern Russia and feel less nostalgia for the Soviet Union. An expert on Soviet and post-Soviet history, Krumm said that in contrast to their Soviet predecessors, consumerism and at- tachment to Western culture are characteristic of the current generation. “Now young people understand they will not be able to profit in an isolated society. In a globalized world Rus- sians don’t want to stand apart, they want to participate.” Krumm also believes that the post-Soviet generation differs in its perception of ideas of freedom, pluralism and respon- sibility. He said that European countries make certain dis- tinctions between Soviet and post-Soviet generations part- ly because of this. “There is a lot of sympathy toward the new generation. It’s more open-minded and confident. Russian

youth is the same as youth is in the rest of the world.”

youth is the same as youth is in the rest of the world.” RUSSIA PROFILE »

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Special Report C O M M E N T 39 Three Chapters of History Comment by



Three Chapters of History

Comment by Fyodor Lukyanov Special to RIA NOVOSTI

The Next Presidential Term Will Decide Russia’s Destiny

Twenty years ago, on June 12, 1991 Russia elected its first president, Boris Yeltsin, with a convincing majority. This fact predetermined the events of the following months and became the final prerequisite for the Soviet Union’s imminent disintegration. The federal center was weakening and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was rapidly losing support. He nev- er dared hold direct elections. In this context, the popular vote gave Yeltsin a qualitatively different level of legitimacy. Given the split in society and escalating struggle for power, this was to play the decisive role. However, although this change in significance was clear inside the country, in the global arena the Russian president was not per- ceived as the number one figure until the fall

of that year. It was only after the August 1991

coup and the total collapse of the Soviet state

structure in September to November 1991 that Gorbachev’s friends and colleagues among the world’s leaders realized that he was no longer

in the driving seat. Since then the Russian

president has symbolized the country. Not only

did the Constitution give him enormous power but, even more importantly, he personified the centuries-long Russian tradition of one-man rule under which the ruler’s character leaves

an indelible imprint on state policy or, at least, on how it is perceived by foreign players. Russia’s three presidents—Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev—are so different in character and psychology that it

is almost impossible to resist the temptation

to analyze Russia’s foreign policy through the

prism of personality. Yeltsin is viewed as either

a pro-Western liberal or an impulsive whip-

cracker, depending on the ideological position

of those passing judgment. Putin is described

as an aggressive, anti-Western autocrat, and

Medvedev as a reasonable politician lacking

independence or a man who is continuing the policy of “national betrayal.” Such stereotypes determine how Russia’s international conduct is defined not only in the media, but also in many ostensibly scholarly publications. Meanwhile, it would make more sense to take the opposite view and analyze how objective conditions compelled any particular president to behave in a certain manner, rather than highlighting a particular president’s impact on circumstances. In this light, Russian foreign policy appears much more integrated, if not consistent, than it is usually portrayed. Russia developed as an international player during its first three presidents’ terms in office.


The Yeltsin administration was acting in condi- tions of a permanent crisis, whether political or economic. Few people now recall that the new Russian government had to tackle fundamental issues with great urgency, including Russia as

successor to the Soviet Union (i.e. its legal sta- tus in the world), nuclear weapons—in Russia and beyond—and relations with neighbors, almost all of which were more names than ac- tual states, but which all immediately started talking about their “national interests.” The Russian Federation’s foreign policy could not continue along Soviet lines because although the Soviet Union was in the final throws of dis- integration, it remained not only a great power, but also one of the two main pillars of the

existing world order. Russia wanted to inherit this status of a world power, but could not and did not want to perform this particular role of

systemic support. In fact, Yeltsin’s foreign policy was aimed

(leaving secondary albeit gripping details to one side) at preventing the total collapse of Russia’s status and preserving, at least on

paper, Russia’s role as a key global player. The latter was by no means guaranteed—Russia had to fight all the way, even for its permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Those goals set, Russia had to do three things. Firstly it had to stabilize the domestic political scene; hence the acute struggle for power and suppression of political opponents in October of 1993. The Chechen War was also designed to halt the powerful impetus to territorial dis- integration imparted by the Soviet collapse. Secondly, Russia had to facilitate the cessation of hostilities and support fragile statehoods, which, if they collapsed, risked reinvigorating secession’s powerful centrifugal force. Thirdly, Russia had to ape an active role in the world by attempting to join “the civilized commu- nity” (under Andrei Kozyrev) and later (under Yevgeny Primakov) by attending all interna- tional forums, going (regardless of its ability to influence their decisions) and demonstrating its stance on all issues. Russia achieved the goal it set for itself of preserving its formal world status, but by the late 1990s it was clear that it had to back this up economically and politically. Failing to do so would mean its power would again be called into doubt against a background of never- ending domestic conflicts. Considering that by that time the leading world players had tired of Moscow, outside forces were unlikely to stand on ceremony in dealing with the faltering Russian bear.


Putin’s presidency was largely devoted to this task of converting Russia’s nominal status as a great power into something real. Like Yeltsin, he reached for both carrot and stick. First, the aim was to integrate into Western institu- tions, primarily in Europe. In the first half of

RUSSIA PROFILE » Issue 4 » Volume VIII » Fall/11




Business Special Report COMMENT COMMENT 40 4 0 ? Russia’s first President Boris Yeltsin had to





Business Special Report COMMENT COMMENT 40 4 0 ? Russia’s first President Boris Yeltsin had to
Business Special Report COMMENT COMMENT 40 4 0 ? Russia’s first President Boris Yeltsin had to
Business Special Report COMMENT COMMENT 40 4 0 ? Russia’s first President Boris Yeltsin had to


Russia’s first President Boris Yeltsin had to preserve Russia as a key global player; Russia’s second President Vladimir Putin had to consolidate the country’s

position on the global arena; Russia’s third President Dmtiry Medvedev had to come up with a new agenda; Russia’s fourth president will have to decide its destiny.

Photo: Alexander Makarov, Alexey Druzhinin, Vladimir Rodionov

the 2000s Putin persistently offered the West

lucrative strategic and energy deals, hoping to build Russia’s status as an equitable part of the European and Euro-Atlantic communi- ties. Circumstances intervened, preventing him from achieving this goal, and the second phase of Putin’s presidency, embodied in his Munich speech, aimed to show the West Russia’s irri- tation at this inability to come to terms. Putin’s presidential rule coincided with

a stormy period in the world arena.

Developments increasingly started to deviate from the chosen path, the forecasts of the late 20th century failed to come true, and the play-

ers were becoming less and less coordinated

in their actions. Under the circumstances,

Putin’s efforts to consolidate Russia’s domestic

and foreign potentialities amounted to a ratio- nal choice. However, the emotions that Putin had accumulated toward his Western partners started to erupt, with or without cause, which only aggravated the general feeling that some- thing was awry. Tensions exploded two months after his presi- dential term came to an end: the war in the Caucasus broke out as a belated item of his mandate. Domestic support for the military in- vasion of a neighboring country was consider- ably broader than usual. It reflected a feeling of psychological resurgence after almost 20 years of geopolitical retreat. At the same time, the events of August 2008 completed the post- Soviet period—a period defined by overcoming the shock of the Soviet Union’s collapse.


Medvedev’s presidential term fell in this tran- sitional period. The previous agenda had been exhausted and a new one had not yet emerged. Compared to his predecessor, the cheerful, calm third president looks positive. However, his tranquility reflects a wait-and-see attitude rather than any readiness for new joint under- takings. He rules in an era of the accelerat- ing erosion of international institutions and

the rapid shift of global influence from West to East. It is widely believed that Medvedev wholly belongs to the Western camp. In reality, things are much more complicated. He (much like Barack Obama in America) is the first post-

European president. In other words, he is a leader for whom Europe ceased to be the start- ing point. It is no accident that Russia-EU sum- mits always attracted attention under Putin but have since, under Medvedev, become mean- ingless and routine affairs: in part because of the total mess in which the EU currently finds itself and partly because Russia has lost inter- est in this particular partnership. The geog- raphy of Medvedev’s trips is also much more diverse than that of his predecessors. Indicatively, the public images of the three Russian presidents conform to their historic missions. The colorful Yeltsin, who, even with his weaknesses, embodied the Russian no- holds-barred spirit, had to prevent Russia’s main partners from forgetting it existed. Always on guard and ready to retaliate, Putin sought to consolidate Russia’s positions in

order to compensate for previously incurred losses. Well-mannered and polite, Medvedev has led the country through this waiting period, trying to reduce the risks from unpredictable developments abroad. True, in this last case, Medvedev’s image represented only part of Russia’s foreign policy, because of the un- conventional dual power setup—his mentor’s influence has continued to project itself onto his policy. The next presidential term will decide Russia’s destiny, all the more so since it will last six years. It will not see comprehensive self-deter- mination or the choice of the path the country will follow in years to come. On the contrary, the next few years will witness the final col- lapse of inherited structures, and a potential series of chaotic developments and regional crises. The president of 2012 to 2018 will have to act under the Hippocratic do-no-harm principle. His primary purpose will be to mini- mize risks and think thoroughly before taking any bold action. Yeltsin preferred competitive games, and Putin—endurance sports. They say Medvedev likes the concentration of yoga. The next president needs to be a strong chess player. Any coincidence here with public politi- cal figures is purely accidental.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti. This comment was originally published in English at en.rian.ru on June 16, 2006.