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Soviet Myth Lures Russia Into Danger

Published: July 16, 2014 (Issue # 1820)




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On the day I heard about the passing of former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, I was in Sigtuna, a tiny town where Sweden had its beginnings 1,000 years ago. At an intersection I happened upon an old telephone booth that had been converted into a book exchange kiosk, and right in the middle of the kiosk there lay a Swedish copy of the book Perestroika by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

How deep and how ironic, I thought, that a work by Gorbachev whom the West not unreasonably considers the man who ended the Cold War but who is hated at home for permitting the collapse of the Soviet Union is waiting at a crossroad.

Gorbachev was one of the first to comment on Shevardnadzes passing. That is only natural because, prior to becoming the president of Georgia, Shevardnadze was a loyal member of Gorbachevs team and the last foreign minister of the Soviet Union. In his comments, Gorbachev pointed out that the subject of the Soviet Union has quietly passed from the purview of political scientists into the realm of archeology.

However, many people today still like to pretend that the worlds first workers and peasants state is still with us.

I was 14 when the Soviet Union ceased to exist. As a student at one of Moscows best schools and with personal experience standing in line for milk, sugar and detergent, I understood events as the natural and inevitable end of that system and, to some extent, as our liberation.

Many of those who now dream of restoring Russia to its former Soviet greatness used to look at these things in exactly the same way. Likewise, in Germany in November 1918, few people lamented the fall of the Hohenzollern monarchy. However, it was the predominate view by 1930 that the fall of the monarchy and the countrys World War I defeat were the result of a treacherous stab in the back.

But if perestroika was a stab in the back, what exactly was so great about the Soviet Union? The problem is that even in the mid-1990s, some Russian first-graders already considered the Soviet Union to have been nothing more than an inscription on a cosmonauts helmet. Now, after the passage of 20 years, it has become an almost mythological entity, like some long-lost Atlantis.

It seems that victory over Nazi Germany is the only thing still uniting the descendents of the Soviet Union. And according to propagandists, that victory is the only thing that can justify all the unmitigated atrocities the Soviet state committed for decades against its own people people whose families and homes were destroyed by the revolution, civil war, collectivization, forced deportations and the Great Terror.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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