It’s strange how the influence of the Soviet era still lingers in Russia and perhaps to a lesser extent: other former members of the Soviet Union too. I only have direct experience of Western Ukrainian society in this regard and fueled by the ongoing Eastern conflict, it can’t get rid of those Russian remnants fast enough. There are many in the East who would see a union with Russia of course, and the conflict, now normalised and forgotten by our media- staggers onward.
It’s trite to say that time heals all wounds but there’s some evidence of its capabilities to transform the seemingly unalterable. In 1996, who among us would have said that Communism would collapse within 5 years, preceded by the fall of the Berlin wall? Be careful of this certainty all around you, it’s merely dust waiting to blow away in the wind.
The edifices of the Soviet era still form the material world of everyday life for many, particularly in the cities and towns that were developed, sometimes out of nothing, during Stalin’s post war ‘boom’ period of industrialisation and modernisation. The concrete presence (literally) of that former time, and of Khrushchev’s extensive housing expansion/revolution surround the occupants of modern Russia, daily.
Then there are the renowned Metro systems made famous by Moscow and St. Petersburg, but also present in a half-dozen more cities shaded by their touristic peers. Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Samara, Kazan, Nizhniy Novgorod and Volgograd, with it’s Metro-Tram, also run daily through Soviet infrastructure (or have roots in the Soviet era), but are less grand than within the two principal showcases.
Other material remnants, that aren’t going anywhere soon, stand silently in the form of bold, heroic statuary; celebratory civic monuments to someone else’s future, now lying in the past. They took a wrong turn somewhere, but their detritus remains extant, waiting for entropy to prevail. They go hand-in-hand with remarkable propaganda posters; once exalting a noble workforce but now relegated to the level of tourist souvenirs, although each was its own ‘event’ when nailed up in distant Soviet locales.
The family fortress
The family unit is still a dominant, binding force within Russian society and not one to be lightly dismissed or disrespected. It may be difficult for us to understand as we hastily leave home and later deposit our seniors in the care of others when they become “too much”, but it’s both their reality and necessity.
Historically, the life of an average Russian was touched by a utilitarian ethos approaching (or even steeped in) poverty. Whilst this was not a Soviet invention, Soviet policy certainly acknowledged this fact and set about working around and within it. The whole ‘project’ centered around managing, controlling and providing for a massive impoverished population whilst attempting to drag it and the country itself into modernity. The hardships of overcrowding, subdivision of resources and the basic nature of provision were repackaged and sold as temporary measures until the ‘great work’ could be achieved and standards of living raised for all. A better tomorrow was promised if only the population could tolerate the hardships of “now”.
So, who better to rely upon in adversity than your family? It’s not as if there was much choice in living separately from them anyway due to State control of housing and the average earners financial limitations. Picture tight family units in small apartments with children living-in until adulthood (and probably marriage), standing together against the hardships of the world. Outside of family, a good external network was also important -when money alone was not enough. Understand Russia writes:-
“We have a saying – “Do not have a 100 Rubles, have a 100 Friends”… During the USSR time money per se was not as important as your network. You could’ve been rich, but you needed connections to buy as simple things like good shoes or a good piece of meat at the grocery store.”
Although there is some developing friction against ‘the old ways’, for better/worse; the family fortress is still the typical model that survives today, Soviets or not.