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Tag: Collapse of the USSR

The disintegration of the Soviet Union is still going on and it is not peaceful

A conversation with Serhii Plokhy, Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University and director of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. Interviewer: Adam Reichardt

ADAM REICHARDT: This year we commemorate the 30-year anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union, an event that brought an end to the Cold War as well as what Francis Fukuyama called “the end of history”. Yet, this event also led to social, economic and political instability; nation and identity building; the creation of new states and divides; and conflicts and wars among neighbours, just to name a few of the key processes. But let’s start maybe with the positives. When you look back over the past 30 years, after the collapse of the USSR, what would you say were the most important achievements or milestones throughout these past decades for the post-Soviet space?

SERHII PLOKHY: I will start with something that on the surface sounds controversial but in reality is not. The collapse of the Soviet Union signalled the “end of history” – but the history that I am talking about is not associated with the victory of liberal democracy. It was the victory of private property and market economics. With democracy we have a mixed record at best, but certainly the late 1980s and early 1990s really signalled the end for economies that were not based to one degree or another on the private property and market. Even China, which survived as a party run state and preserved a form of communist ideology, did so by adopting the principles of the market economy. So that is certainly one very clear turning point of global significance, as throughout most of the 20th century that the economic model was often directly challenged.

December 1, 2021 - Adam Reichardt Serhii Plokhy

Legacies of the real and imagined Soviet Union 1991–2021

Over the past 30 years, Soviet legacies have persisted in many former Soviet republics and it remains unclear under what conditions they will disappear. Furthermore, the various real and artificially created images of the Soviet Union seem to reinforce each other.

Thirty years have passed since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. The majority of those born immediately after the end of the USSR have already completed their education, joined the labour force and started a family. As a result, it appears less and less appropriate to refer to countries like Armenia, Kazakhstan or Ukraine as “post-Soviet” countries. Does this mean, however, that we can forget about the Soviet past while trying to understand the political, economic, cultural and social realities in countries that were once part of the USSR? Overall, the legacy of the Soviet Union appears to be more durable and complex than one would expect.

December 1, 2021 - Alexander Libman Anastassia Obydenkova

Russia’s young generation and the Soviet myth

Young people in Russia today generally possess a complicated relationship with the Soviet past. Having no direct experience of the communist state, this group continues to inhabit an uncertain middle ground with regards to historical understandings. The government makes everything more confusing as it continues to offer no clear alternative with regards to national identity.

September 2021 was marked by the elections to the State Duma in Russia. Of the 14 parties on the ballot, only five actually overcame the minimum five per cent threshold to gain representation in parliament. The country’s traditional “party of power” United Russia (UR) scored a record low of 49.82 per cent. Previously, the party had easily gained more than half of the votes and was for a long time the only party in a position to independently push through new bills in the Duma. Despite this recent shift, it does not seem like the situation has changed a lot in Russian politics. UR still achieved a greater number of votes than any other party and, consequently, the most seats in the Duma.

December 1, 2021 - Victoria Odissonova

History never ends

People never know exactly how to change history. But they should try, and try hard. This is because history is very much unpredictable, it loves to surprise and is often ironic, sometimes in a bitter or even cruel way.

Forty years ago, when I was two, a young artist named Arthur Fredekind did something unusual in my native city of Dnipropetrovsk (modern Dnipro). Together with his colleague, he produced a couple of flyers with only one word and a question mark on them: Solidarni? It was a clear allusion to the Polish social and political movement that started in Gdańsk. Arthur scattered several flyers in the mailboxes of various blocks in the neighbourhood. It happened in a closed Soviet city under special KGB surveillance far away from the Polish border. Despite this, some newspapers from then socialist Poland were available. Even these served in some way as a window to the West… Pretty soon, Arthur was arrested and convicted on defamation charges.

December 1, 2021 - Andriy Portnov

A History of Europe Fraught in Contradictions: 1989–2021

The peaceful revolutions of 1989 created a new Europe. This Europe is threatened to be lost today – 30 years later. Within the European continent national intolerance and the use of violence are part of everyday life. Politics is becoming more and more intransparent. Are there chances for change? Anyone who subscribes to the values of the Enlightenment is always at the beginning.

On New Year’s Eve 1989 I was standing on Wenceslas Square, Prague, in the midst of a crowd of hundreds of thousands. We were celebrating the country’s recently won freedom and chanted “Václav Havel to the Hradčany” – as president. Only four years earlier, I had been arrested and expelled from the country due to my contacts with civil rights activists. Later, I was in Poland and kneeled at the grave of Jerzy Popiełuszko, the priest who had been murdered by members of the secret police in 1984. In 1988 and 1989 I lived for many months in perestroika Moscow and there, at the very centre of the Soviet empire, I witnessed an exhilarating freedom movement across all countries of the “Warsaw Pact”.

December 1, 2021 - Wolfgang Eichwede

After the Soviet Union: a melancholy of unwanted experiences

When perestroika emerged and the Soviet Union gradually collapsed, a lot of people fell prey to great illusions. Many believed that the disintegration of the Soviet Union would bring the “American Dream” to the desert of post-communism. Inspired by Hollywood movies, they saw capitalism as the road to becoming rich, powerful and independent. But what they missed is that not everyone is happy in Hollywood films.

On the eve of the post-Soviet era, there was a strong belief that everyone would be happy in the new capitalist “paradise”. However, it is clear now that this paradise of capitalism does not and cannot exist. I was a child when communism failed in the Soviet Union and I remember the horrors of the new capitalist order that emerged after communist rule. Of course capitalism produces wealth, but it also has dramatic side effects, such as inequality, social injustice and poverty. In short, capitalism is not a paradise for the many but it certainly is for the few.

December 1, 2021 - Bakar Berekashvili

Society vs the elite: Belarusian post-Soviet experiences

After the collapse of the USSR, opposition groups in the republics found themselves unprepared for the new political and economic reality of independence. The anti-Soviet elites were expected to present a concrete socio-economic programme for the country. This is despite the fact that the group was deprived of earlier political or administrative experience. Its political capital was only limited to a vision of nation-building.

More than anything else, revolutions and social resistance movements in post-Soviet states show the large disconnect between authorities and society. They reflect differences in perceptions of reality as they are experienced by globalising societies and post-Soviet leaders. This disconnect can be explained by the fact that political elites, as well as some of the intellectual elite, are simply out of touch with a civil society that is now made up of a young generation of digital natives. Clearly, they do not understand this generation’s cultural needs or the global technological change that has taken place.

December 1, 2021 - Anton Saifullayeu Maxim Rust

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