Russian culture and the USSR: The return of the walking dead

glazunov20b

 

2014/07/31 • History

“Those who are not sorry about the dissolution of the USSR have no heart. And those who want its reestablishment in its former shape has no brain,” Putin V.V.

Let us forget about the second part of the quote and VVP’s recent legislative initiatives for the time-being, which can be easily blamed on the activity of state officials and his pet Parliament members. The initiatives include talk of resurrecting GTO norms (ed: ГТО = Готов к Труду и Обороне, Ready for Labor and Defense of the USSR, an all-Union physical culture training program in the USSR), the “best worker” competition in 2012 – a direct analogy to the infamous Stakhanov Movement, the broad material support of patriotic movies featuring the Great Patriotic War, a new, correct history book and the first tick, the return to the Soviet anthem. Let us not forget about the repression of active opposition activists and recent transfer of the “Bolontnaya Square” case M. Kosenko to a madhouse. This is not the matter. The fact is that the “wise one” laments the fall of the Union, and quite a lot. And his feelings are shared by a big number of people.

The information is about the Russian Federation, but I am sure that in Ukraine and the post-Soviet space the percentage will not be much lower.

Let us instead try to evaluate the USSR from the cultural point of view. Ozhegov’s dictionary offers the following definition:

CULTURE: a sum of people’s industrial, social and spiritual achievements. 

So culture is not only cinema, art, music and architecture. Culture is everything, really. The iPhone, jeans, Google-Yandex, Ferrari and borsch also fall under this category. And the most important feature which makes us linger on culture is the fact that it can be exported. And this export, as opposed to oil and gas, is not done upon request of a foreign business. In most cases the demand for foreign culture is initiated by regular people, after which the representatives of business organize its import, or it foregoes all borders and independently penetrates an alien society. It is alien because any national culture is created within its nation, by the representatives of this nation (immigrants or locals, there is no difference) and is first and foremost oriented at the internal consumer. When in the States a director is filming yet another Independence Day, the newly created colonel Sanders is inventing the recipe for buffalo wings marinade, and the young genius in the basement of his house is soldering a chip of a revolutionary gadget, and they don’t care how their work will be accepted by some Ivan or Mykola. Creators and constructors, who are yet to become world-famous, think exclusively about the tastes of their compatriot consumers. And it is not the fault of the creators from the faraway States that soon their work will revolutionize another side of the world, and that every other Ivan and Mykola will line up for their gadget, dip buffalo wings in their sauce and venerate their blockbuster on social media. An American one, created for Americans and with the goal of profiting them – both in the spiritual and technical, and the material senses. It is not the Americans’ fault that the projects of our cultural creators will be shifted off-stage. It’s just that nobody needs our people, as they are not as good and not revolutionary enough, there were no investors who would discern the genius and risk investing in the idea or gadget of Ivan the unshaved. In the end, the creation of a gadget or writing a book demand a lot of money. And economical realities in our post-Soviet space are such, that working part-time in McDonald’s or living on unemployment pay, one cannot hold on long enough to have enough time to finish their job. Maybe in the States, but not here. So our unknown Gaydays and Tsiolkovskiys are forced to do everything they can to survive, but not something they really would want to do in their heart of hearts.

A couple of conclusions can be drawn from the aforementioned.

First, the richer and more successful a state, the more significant its cultural achievements are. Culture is a market of welfare of society of sorts, its elite. Should we be surprised that, say, the South Korean movie industry is becoming more popular as the country becomes richer? And that we have seen nothing from North Korea since the moment of its foundation which is grander that songs about the great leader, who wisely evaluated the characteristic of various bulbous vegetables for state agriculture?

Second, real, world-demanded culture is not created on order, the initiative always comes from below, from the creator, in response to society’s requests. There are some exclusions, of course, but they are quite rare. Therefore it is funny to listen to Vladimir Vladimirovich’s words when he is surprised that we are spending millions, ordering movies and books, and the people still go for the Western product and not our own. He doesn’t understand for some reason that movies and books won’t become better because they’re ours. Sorry, Vladimir Vladimirovich, but your own shit won’t become sweeter just because it’s yours. It is impossible to convince the consumer to fall in love with Russian movies and buy Russian goods, they have to want to do it themselves. Because the buyer always chooses the best, or strives to choose the best. And culture doesn’t care how much you invest into it, as a business, it only needs good conditions for development. It is impossible to grow a garden of Eden in a desert. It is an axiom, and it is fair for absolutely every state in the world.

Now let us return to the USSR with all the default data.

For some unknown reason, society is used to discerning the culture in the period of the Soviet Union’s existence in a special category “USSR Culture” and ascribe all of its fruit to the communist regime. It is wrong at the basic level. Culture is integrally tied to the people, as the one who creates is a representative of the people, and not an official working for the government. As has been mentioned before, the state only has to create conditions for creativity, therefore the achievements of an individual person should not be associated with the achievements of the entire country. It participated indirectly in scientific, artistic and engineering creativity.

The second important point is the period of the existence of the USSR itself. Oswald Spengler, in his work “The Decline of the West” discerned eight great cultures in world history and the youngest of all, the Western-European one, has only existed for 10 centuries. What are seventy years in comparison with such a significant amount of time? And if we put the USSR next to the five millennia of Chinese culture, which has retained its individuality until now, even with the communist regime? These seventy years are nothing, just an instance. Real Soviet culture died without even being born. It is a myth. It never existed, there was only a short period of time when the countries of the Russian FSSR ended up under communist power and the artists, scientists and inventors from the people were forced to work in accordance with the party line and for the good of the party, forgetting about the freedom of creativity and their national identity.

Those who dared to have their own opinion faced problems. For example, scientist Nikolay Vavilov. The reason as to why he was sent to the camp where he later died was his adherence to the “false science” of genetics, after which this scary word “genetics” was forgotten for decades. And imagine what our modern science could have achieved had the government not interfered actively? Nobel Prize laureate Pasternak was baited by the entire Union, the mouthpiece of communism Mayakovsky didn’t sit well with the party, and was void of the opportunity to be published and took his own life, the majority of Akhmatova’s works were not published at all. Even the “father of the nuclear bomb” Sakharov did not avoid exile, and S. Korolev in his own time was on the “shooting list” and spent six years in prison. The great constructor who sent the first man into space, was forced to leave his job for six years because of a stupid accusation. The representatives of the 80-90’s rock movement, whose songs we still know and sing to guitar accompaniment? Few of the underground rock activists was not subject to government persecution, and many came face to face with the guardsmen (hello to Crimean enthusiasts and Cossacks), which destroyed the musicians’ equipment with the silent allowance of the police. They even tried to imprison Boris Grebenshchikov, having accused him of hooliganism. They said he broke a statue.

The list of names of the repressed and persecuted artists, constructors and scientists can be continued forever. And these were the people who created all the achievements of culture that are ascribed to the Union. Yes, they lived in the Union, but they created first and foremost of themselves and for the people.

Therefore the words “the Soviet Union was a great country” should evoke hysterical laughter from any educated person, instead of an upheaval of patriotic feelings. All the fruit of “Soviet” culture which can be considered world masterpieces and conceptual innovations, emerged in spite of the Union. The people who were born in the USSR were great – it is an indisputable fact, but the country that actively interfered with their work was definitely not.

The communists strived to make everyone equal, and they almost succeeded – the best representatives of the Soviet peoples were put down to the level of laymen, of the grey mass. They were imprisoned, mixed with dirt, but they still continued creating.

With such an attitude the country has to its people, it is not surprising as to why all high-technology innovations and masterpieces of world art are created outside of the country. The only thing the Soviet Union really managed to do is to terrorize its people and the entire world during seventy years. The Union was even unable to fall apart normally and led behind a pile of unsolved problems.

But the USSR achieved something in the cultural sense, you may argue. Of course it did. Besides tanks, missiles, memorials to the leaders, many masterpieces were created that venerated love, friendship, faithfulness, duty and honor – qualities characteristic of any person. But even the movies by Gayday, loved by everyone, are full of irony in regard to their Motherland. And the relevance of art which propagates socialist values and that was created on orders of the communists strives for nothing.

The communists did not achieve much in export of culture which means a lack of broad interest in it. The only symbols of the Union which managed to stick in the global society and are accepted by it is the red star and the hammer and sickle.

Let’s summarize.

Any autocracy, totalitarianism, state regulation, state order, manual governance, quoting and other state behaviors that limit the initiatives of its people lead to the degradation of the state and society. The USSR was doomed since the moment of its birth, but the people simply did not understand this for almost seventy tears. It was not the country that one should lament. It was not the country to follow as an example and venerate.

The feelings of those who lament the fall of the Union are quite understandable – many dream of returning to their childhood. The wish of some to drag entire countries back to their happy childhood is strange and criminal.

Only recently it seemed that the society of stability built on oppressing the citizens and repressions remained in the past and will never be reborn. That the people understood their mistake and managed to correct it in 91. Forever. Unfortunately, it was just an illusion. The Union is back and with each passing day, with each repressive bill in the Russian Federation, with every percentage of citizens who support Putin, the USSR grows in power. Only in the world that Putin is so nostalgic about and which he, despite his words quoted in the beginning, is already resurrecting, there is no place for a normal human being. And perhaps tomorrow we will wake up in the day before yesterday.

And maybe we have always been living in the USSR, and it never disappeared? We just forgot about it for a long time…

Source: Petrimazepa

Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina

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