Thirty years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. During this time, generations have grown up who know about the former USSR only from textbooks and from the stories of relatives. We tried to find out what is the opinion of young people in the CIS countries about the former large country.
Belarus: “Everyone had to be kinder”
Belarus has largely preserved its Soviet legacy. And even the symbols of the country do not differ much from the state symbols of those years. The stories of Belarusians about the Soviet era are not much different from the ideas of most Russians – coupons, queues and food shortages, pioneers and red ties. Young residents of Belarus told MK about what they know about the USSR.
Alena is 28 years old, in the year of her birth, events took place in the country that determine all the further development of the state. There was a heated debate in the country’s leadership over whether to become part of the CIS collective security treaty or to maintain neutrality. Most of the members of parliament, led by Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kebich, were in favor of cooperation with Russia. A year later, the first president appeared in Belarus – Alexander Lukashenko won the elections with a huge gap, having secured the support of 80% of citizens.
The political events of those years are not discussed in Alena’s family, but the attitude towards the entire Soviet era is unequivocally negative. “The most striking thing that I remembered from my conversations with my parents was the shortage, it was impossible to get anything,” the girl says. – The counters in the shops were always empty. And it turns out that there was money, but there was nothing to buy.
Saleswomen were endowed with a certain amount of power, as they distributed who were given quality goods and who were worse. Therefore, they could afford to behave very rudely, if you go for groceries, then they will surely bark you. “
Her childhood was spent in a small village near Minsk. To avoid standing in lines once again, the girl’s parents organized their own household. “Our family kept a cow, a pig, a goat, and there were chickens. We had our own dairy products, we also grew vegetables ourselves.
The furniture was ordered several months in advance. To do this, you had to stand in line and wait for a call or an invitation in writing so that you could finally buy a wardrobe. Maybe it was easier to live in big cities, but it was like that with us, ”said our interlocutor.
She drew attention to the difference between modern people and people of Soviet training, the most important difference is that former citizens of the USSR rely on their own strength in everything. “My parents know how to sew, fix and tinker,” she said. – They still grow potatoes. I don’t understand this: why strain your back when you can go and buy, as if they have some kind of special potatoes in the garden? If something breaks, then we take it to the repair, and they will fix it themselves. They believe that now we live better than in the days of the USSR, because now there are more opportunities. At least you can go wherever you want. “
However, from the recollections of her relatives, she also knows a lot of positive things: that during the times of the USSR, people were kinder and showed mutual assistance. “Children could be allowed to walk in the yard without supervision, everyone knew that this girl from such and such an apartment was looking after each other. The lack of food and difficulties seemed to bring people closer together and everyone had to be kinder to each other. Because, say, you need salt or help, in any case you will go to your neighbor. “
In 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Byelorussian SSR declared the Belarusian language the only state language, after which educational institutions began to massively translate into the Belarusian language of instruction. But already in 1995, a referendum was held, in which 83.3% of the population voted for giving the Russian language the status of a second state language. Since then, the Russian language began to oust Belarusian from all spheres of life. The school curriculum was again started to be taught in Russian, but a separate subject “Belarusian language” was added.
The attitude of students towards him was ambiguous. “I didn’t understand why he was needed and taught him very badly. I thought that there is English and Russian – why another one if I don’t need it in my life. Now, of course, I regret not having learned it, ”Alena added.
A resident of Minsk, Roman, turned 26 in November. In 1995, when he was born, Lukashenko received the right to early dissolution of parliament, and Belarus adopted state symbols, which differed from the Soviet one only in a couple of elements. According to Roman, in the entire post-Soviet space Belarus has preserved the legacy of the USSR the most.
“All people who earn their living by their labor have no attitude towards the Soviet Union other than a negative one,” says Roman. – I consider myself to be such people. My grandfather was a professor at the Belarusian Academy of Sciences, and his salary was only one and a half times higher than the salary of an ordinary worker. “
He noted that low prices for food at that time was a myth, since good quality chicken was not found, and blue carcasses on the counter could cost 4 rubles, and this with an average salary of 150 rubles.
“This system could function solely based on lies, obligations and a policy of double standards. The economy in such conditions will only degrade, which was shown by the experience of the USSR. All the post-World War II gains came from high oil prices and a fully resource-driven economy. Moreover, most of these resources were spent on the formation of military power and the construction of a strong defense capability. Yes, we sent a man into space, there was the largest number of tanks, but at the same time it was difficult to get ordinary potatoes so that they would not rot, and toilet paper was not produced at all until the early 80s. “
Roman’s family has a very good attitude towards Mikhail Gorbachev, since under him “it became possible to breathe and a discussion arose,” in addition, it became obvious that most residents do not support and do not believe in the Soviet Union.
“The reason for the collapse of the USSR was the falling oil price in the 1980s, which only proves the impossibility of the existence of a socialist or communist society as a whole. This system can only be supported by brutal repression. The number of people shot and the number of those who worked in the camps is appalling. All this happened in front of my grandfathers and grandmothers. “
There were also nationalist sentiments in Belarus, but this was not as noticeable as in other republics. The residents were in favor of preserving the identity and the Belarusian language. “The Soviet Union has served to the fact that many national republics, including Belarus, have practically lost their identity,” says Roman. – People tried to fight for the culture and the Belarusian language. There were marches, but they were harshly dispersed by the authorities, who were afraid of any large associations. “
Kazakhstan: “The Soviet Union is associated with Russians”
The Central Asian countries did not advocate secession from the Soviet Union. In Kazakhstan, for example, 94.1% of voters who came to the ballot boxes voted for the preservation of the Soviet Union, and in Kyrgyzstan – 94.6%. However, 30 years later, the children of referendum participants often do not know what the USSR was.
Director of the Central Asian Foundation for the Development of Democracy Tolganay Umbetalieva was born in 1974. According to her, in general, she retained fond memories of the Soviet Union, although there were problems. For example, in the 9th grade she faced a shortage of clothes, in addition, there was a shortage of eggs, and in the 5th grade, for some reason, there was not enough milk. “At the same time, there was a feeling that we live in one of the strongest states in the world.
We all felt proud of our country. For example, I was very happy that I was an Octobrist and a pioneer, but I didn’t have time to become a Komsomol member, ”Umbetalieva recalls.
But after the events of Alma-Ata in 1986, the classes were divided into Russian and Kazakh, and there were constant fights between them. “Moreover, if a Kazakh studied in the Russian class, then he also got it from the Kazakh class. It was very difficult to stop this. Boys always walked around beaten, ”says the director of the Central Asia Foundation for the Development of Democracy.
In 1990, a sister was born to Tolganai. “Once, when she was in fifth grade, we were sitting with her in the kitchen, and suddenly she said that we had nothing on the table, just like in the Soviet Union. I tried to find out from her how she imagines those times, and it turned out that, in her opinion, some wild people lived then, almost cavemen, ”the political scientist recalls.
Umbetalieva said that in 2021, her foundation held focus groups among young people. Then some respondents, mostly boys, said that their parents were afraid of police officers and officials because they grew up in the Soviet Union. “At the same time, one guy claimed that he grew up after the USSR, so he is not afraid of anyone and even makes the authorities accountable to him. Turns on the video camera when talking to the police, – says Umbetalieva, – Some children, on the contrary, have a romantic idea of the USSR. But the majority thinks that there was nothing there, everyone was afraid of everything, there were queues and so on. “
The expert believes that the key role in this case was not played by upbringing within the family. “For example, my dad started talking about the USSR only when he was old. And when my brother sent his son to English courses, he went there once, and then said that he would not go there anymore, because a Russian girl was studying there. We were all shocked. In our family, they always spoke Russian, and no one ever allowed themselves to incite any kind of interethnic enmity.
The brother decided that the child brought this from school, so she was quickly replaced, and the nephew was re-educated. As a result, he has already received a green card and is going to move to the United States, ”Umbetalieva cited an example.
According to her, now the people of Kazakhstan associate the Soviet Union with Russians and Russia, although 30 years ago the USSR was considered a country of all the peoples that were part of it. Moscow was the capital of the motherland, and Alma-Ata did not perform in this status.
However, no matter how the perception of the Soviet Union changed, one thing remained unchanged. The leader of the Kazakh SSR, Dinmukhamed Kunayev, is still considered the strongest Kazakh politician. In particular, young people mention him in this status more often than the first president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kyrgyzstan: “There was horror, war and development”
A resident of Kyrgyzstan, Bayel Isaev, born in 2000, admitted to an MK correspondent that he became interested in the Soviet Union after he became disillusioned with libertarianism. “At some point, this ideology stopped answering my questions. I could not understand why some countries are rich and others are poor. And then I started reading leftist literature. Plus, I was a volunteer in the Red Crescent, ”says Isaev.
He said that he had a positive attitude towards the Soviet past. Moreover, his political views were formed after school. “In short, the school course presents the history of Kyrgyzstan like this: before 1917 there was an absolute horror, then there were positive reforms, in 1937 there was horror again, then war, development and Brezhnev, in which half of the population drank and the other half stole. In the end, a good man, Gorbachev, came to power, under whom the Soviet Union collapsed for some reason, “- says the interlocutor of” MK “.
Isaev believes that his peers, as a rule, are indifferent to the past of their country. “Most people know that once there was a war, grandfathers fought and so on, but nothing else interests them. Many do not know how the USSR is deciphered, which republics were included in it, what communism, socialism, the International, the Comintern, and so on are.
Only a small part of young people have a positive attitude towards the USSR. There are also those who believe that it is necessary to open secret archives, because they allegedly store materials proving the cannibalism of the Soviet regime. Usually nationalists and liberals call for this, but the problem is that they cannot find their own ideological leader in the past. Wherever you look, some communists have to write off their membership in the party as a forced step by a patriot, ”says the left-wing activist.
At the same time, Isaev noted that young people succumb to left-wing agitation: “Recently, my comrades and I participated in a liberal forum, they sold Marxist literature there, handed out brochures, and so on. Many approached and asked with interest about the class struggle, building a just democratic society “
Uzbekistan: the abbreviation of the USSR will not be able to decipher
Visiting Researcher at George Washington University and Lecturer at Webster University in Tashkent, Nozima Davletova was born in 1988. According to her, most young people are not aware of the Soviet past, unless their field of study is directly related to history or political sciences.
“The attitude of young people towards the Soviet Union is rather neutral, but much depends on how the USSR is perceived by their parents and grandparents. Young people born in the years of independence know about the USSR only from textbooks and stories of previous generations, respectively, they perceive it as a part of history, unknown to them personally, ”says Davletova.
In her words, modern youth in Uzbekistan is being formed in the digital age. Its priorities, ideals and role models are very far from those that were in the period of the USSR. In addition, sympathy and interest in the Soviet atheistic past is prevented from developing traditionalism and religiosity.
“I don’t think that the general mass knows about such terms as the Comintern, the International and so on. I think that even specialists in this field will know more about the leftist ideas of Marxism and neo-Marxism that have gained influence in the modern West than in the Soviet past, ”Davletova said.
Scientific consultant of the Carnegie Moscow Center Temur Umarov was born in 1996 in Samarkand. He believes that the attitude of his peers to the Soviet Union largely depends on the level of education and age.
“For example, my brothers and older comrades, who were born in the 1980s, perceive the USSR with a little nostalgia, they believe that then everything was stable and predictable. Younger people either have no idea about that time at all, or are limited by some kind of templates. I think that many will not be able to decipher the abbreviation of the USSR or say which republics were part of it. At least 80% of my classmates would not be able to do this. For example, in the 7th grade, my classmate said that Germany was part of the USSR, ”says Umarov.
In addition, he considers school history books in Uzbekistan to be Russophobic. “Firstly, the term Great Patriotic War is not used, and Victory Day is called the Day of Remembrance and Honor.
Secondly, in the textbooks in the chapters devoted to this period, they talk exclusively about the role of Uzbekistan in the war, everything else is listed in general strokes. Well, in general, the history of the Soviet Union is paid little attention if the role of Uzbekistan in the events is insignificant or none at all. The focus is on the era of Tamerlane, and the history of the USSR is perceived as a temporary stage at which the country lost its independence, and now everything is returning to normal, ”the expert said.
Speaking about why young people are not interested in the Soviet past, Umarov noted that, in principle, they have little interest in politics, and the authorities support such sentiments. “In Uzbekistan, even among professional political scientists, there are few people who can adequately perceive what is happening in the country and the world. There is practically no discussion of political issues in the public space. Students also don’t get together to discuss a book. The state is satisfied that the population has no interest in history, including the Soviet past, and is trying to keep this situation in check, ”Umarov said.
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