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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 Shevardnadze’s passing. That is only natural because, prior to becoming the president of Georgia, Shevardnadze was a loyal member of Gorbachev’s 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 world’s 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 Moscow’s 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 country’s 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 cosmonaut’s 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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Friday, Jan. 30 through Wednesday, Feb. 4



A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of ‘Repulsion’ at 7 p.m. and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy ‘The Tenant,’ the cult comedy ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ and ‘Cul-de-sac’ among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at www.vk.com/artpokaz/



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