‘A’ and ‘L’ and Irkutsk Part 3: “The Good Old Days”
In the last blog, I started relating ‘A’s observations on Westerners and the differences between “us and them”. He’s a little older than ‘L’ and so memories of a different time, a Soviet time… are more vividly etched. His recollection of a life lived inside a tangible, support network of friends taking mutual responsibility for each other’s welfare is appealing, even touching. Perhaps a life under the harsh inflexibility of the Soviet system made such an arrangement advantageous, even essential if an individual was to prosper or even to just “get by”. The Russian equivalent to the British “blitz-mentality”, perhaps?
‘L’, being younger, has her social reference positioned later in time, and as such notices less of a dramatic shift. It is, we conclude, the “generation gap”.
Whilst life may have improved for the most part, and it’s arguably become less of a necessity to watch each other’s backs, there’s also a flipside to such “progress” in ‘A’s opinion… Nothing is perfect after all.
‘A’ tells me something about what was lost too, from his perspective, when the old regime gave way to “progress”… “responsibility,” he says. He’s referring to the role and attitude of young males in particular.
He sees that the traditional emphasis on taking serious responsibility for organising life and maintaining obligations has been washed away on this tide of new-found freedoms… Particularly the freedom to act “irresponsibility” when it comes to relationships, the family, and other adult issues. “Going crazy” as he puts it is often preferred…
‘A’ remembers a time, for instance when marriages lasted… for better, for worse… and living together or even breaking-up was uncommon. “The young have more freedom,” he says “but cannot use it wisely”. Ah, “youth is wasted on the young”… this sounds so familiar. It must be a “human” thing after all… irrespective of East or West.
Parallels with our version of “progress” abound. Call me cynical, but here in the West it so often appears that the general movement towards promoting the rights of the individual … “you deserve better”… has created an “entitled”, ever-hungry monster that has left its accompanying responsibilities, even obligations… behind. Someone may attack you in a heated exchange involving personal “rights”, … but of course it’s their rights they are interested in extolling, not yours.
I’ve heard a parallel to all this before from a contact in St. Petersburg, bemoaning the modern lack of modesty and the resultant ubiquitous, frequently vulgar displays of wealth. Again, a viewpoint from a mature male who saw life before the Soviet collapse. Was it more pronounced in Russia because of the sudden nature and extremity of change? The increasing desire for Western-style freedoms… spring-loaded under Soviet inflexibility and waiting to pop.
Then the pressure-cooker simply burst… One day I came home to see that the impossible had finally happened. There were images on TV of excited revellers atop the Berlin wall, attacking it with sledge-hammers …or even woefully under-powered hand-tools… symbolically anything, whilst bemused border-guards looked on. The dam had indeed burst and the resultant flood would sweep-away (most) of the accoutrements of Soviet oppression. OK, it did take four years… and still the Soviet strong-men cling on… but four compared to the previous fifty?
These views are of course so similar to their Western counterparts harking nostalgically back to the “good old days” whilst the subsequent generation recoils at what it perceives to be the unwanted bindings of stifling conformity, … and then goes out to get thoroughly plastered. Well, with Western freedoms come Western problems. Another case of “be careful what you wish for!”
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 71) ‘A’ and ‘L’ and Irkutsk Part 4
[Photo by Kyle Taylor]