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What Do Russians Think About The USSR now?

I often refer to the USSR times in this blog and compare good and bad things from that time with current events in Russia. The question that I often get in emails from my readers: “What do Russians think about USSR now? Are they nostalgic? (emails after positive posts such as space post) or are they happy USSR times are over (after posts about deficit etc.)”. Really interesting topic, worth writing about.

I recently took a fantastic class at Coursera – Understanding Russians: Contexts of Intercultural Communications. You may find it quite funny that I took this course being Russian myself and writing this blog. But that is exactly why I did take this course! I could describe many things being an insider, but I could not explain a lot of them. Now, when I learned from the amazing Professor Mira Bergelson, you will see a lot of references to her course in my blog.

Birch-treesOne of many things that surprised me – there are two distinct groups that feel nostalgic. One group – people who were young in the times of USSR. They feel nostalgic since youth is the time when everything was bright and rosy. The other group – really young folks, who were born after USSR collapsed. They cannot remember this time themselves, but hear a lot of good things from parents and other relatives and re-construct this reality based on movies of that time. My age group (30+) is not so fond of USSR times since we do remember the end of the empire and the difficult Perestroika times of the 90s.

How good or bad was USSR in reality? Difficult to be fair, but I will try to outline main positives and negatives:

Pros of Living In The USSR:

  • USSR prideFree education
  • Free medical services
  • Free use of resorts once a year (Sochi, Crimea etc. – a month of “all-inclusive fun at the sea”)
  • A lot of stability – your job is secure, nobody is going to kick you out of your apartment etc.
  • A lot of pride (and patriotism) for the country – space, ballet, army etc.
  • No “keeping up with the Joneses” (none of your friends buying Lamborghini)
  • Lots of intellectual discussions with your friends and really quality time – since that was the era of 3 TV channels, no gadgets and no cell phones
  • Feeling you have savings and have security for retirement (that feeling backfired after a money reform in the 90s though)
  • Path to success is clear, you can plan for decades
  • No traffic jams since number of cars is limited (Chances are you do not have one too though)

Cons of Living In The USSR:

  • USSR Avos'ka bag

    Shopping options are limited

    Free medical services is a good concept, but to get a good medical services one needs to use networking and sometimes also pay

  • You have plenty of money, but cannot buy whatever you want freely. You either need an approval from the State or need to networking to find product/services you want to buy. And, you spend a lot of time standing in lines.
  • You can travel freely in the country, but going out of the country is problematic – you need to show a lot of compliance to travel even to Eastern European countries and opportunities to work abroad are limited to a very few people
  • Freedom of speech is officially banned. You turn of the landline and talk with friends in whisper in your kitchen. Communist party ideology replaces religion and any other values in the official mainstream
  • You do not own any real estate (your apartment and dacha are in your use, but belong to the state)
  • Since your personal achievements do not bring more money, you tend to slack. Money was not a goal though at that time. More important – your ideas and your work is evaluated not by your peers, but by Communist party members (who may have no idea how to check whatever you are doing). You feel isolate from the world community in your field.

This is not the full list on both fronts. But hopefully it gives you an idea about living in the USSR.

Feel free to ask me more questions on this subject – I will try to explain and expand on the topic. 


Leave a Reply

  • everlastingvistas - 7 years ago

    I’d like to know how many of the Pros and Cons of the USSR times are still applicable to Russia today? Has there really been a startling cultural shift between pre and post USSR?

    • Tanya Golubeva - 7 years ago

      Country has gone through a seismic shift – both political and economical systems have changed completely. It did create a huge cultural shift. Both to the better and to the worse. Opening borders (and in general better economy) made people travel and learn more about other cultures, which is good. In the same time, culture of consumerism has merged and flourished. Opening borders also brought access to all cultural things that were banned previously – from some literature to some music styles. Having said that (and not having any stats), free market economy and consumerism + availability of gadgets lead to less time for reading and quality time with friends. So, there are also pros and cons of modern times. And different age/social status groups have been impacted differently – some benefitted, some did not benefit. It is a long discussion. Thanks for a great question!

      • everlastingvistas - 7 years ago

        Thank you for that explanation. The opening of borders and market economy is something I’m familiar with, being a product of the current times; I guess I’ll have to read through a lot of history excerpts to get a gist of the USSR times!