Why Russians Long for the Soviet Union
Published: March 31, 2014 (Issue # 1803)
If you read Russian news and follow Internet debates, you'd think that Russia was on the verge of civil war if you didn't know better. Like in other civil wars, the front line runs between colleagues, friends and even family members. The division is over the annexation of Crimea and attitudes toward Ukraine.
"Old friends break off relations, children have stopped talking to their parents, and I've even heard about divorces. It is insane," the prominent psychologist Lyudmila Petranovskaya wrote on her LiveJournal blog.
President Vladimir Putin set the aggressive tone of the debate in his Crimea speech two weeks ago by calling the new Ukrainian authorities "neo-Nazis and Russophobes." Moreover, he called Russians who are opposed to the annexation "national traitors," a term that Hitler notably used against those who disagreed with him. His words were instantly echoed in official mass media and pro-Kremlin blogs.
In the State Duma, a group of legislators accused Ilya Ponomaryov, the only deputy who voted against the annexation of Crimea, of "treason" and demanded that he be stripped of this mandate.
The Crimean front line crossed the usual party divisions. Apparently, Russia only has two parties: the party of war and the party of peace. The popular, once-liberal municipal deputy Yelena Tkach shocked many supporters when she demanded that the Constitution be amended to allow a new law to punish "national traitors" by stripping them of their citizenship. Meanwhile, whistleblower Alexei Navalny, who many сonsider to be a nationalist, came out squarely against the annexation of Crimea and supported Western sanctions against Putin's inner circle.
Left-wing leaders vociferously criticized the "oligarchic regime" one day and supported it wholeheartedly the next. Even Sergei Udaltsov, the Left Front leader on trial for charges that he organized riots in 2012, wrote an appeal to Ukrainians supporting the Kremlin plan for self-determination in eastern Ukraine.
"I was born in the Soviet Union," wrote Udaltsov on his movement's website, "and it will always be my homeland. Those who destroyed it and their supporters today will always be my political opponents. The rebirth of the Soviet Union in new forms is necessary, crucial and urgent."
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