Staunton, June 13 – After the explosion of Soviet patriotism during World War II, Moscow downplayed the ideological meme of proletarian internationalism in favor of a new one, “the friendship of the peoples,” which was less about class and less about the ties between the peoples within the USSR with those outside.
After the disintegration of the USSR, that term too went into eclipse, with few talking about it except making derogatory references or jokes about the Soviet practice of asserting something that did not in fact exist, at least to anything like the degree that communist ideologists insisted.
Indeed, one joke quite current at the end of Soviet times involved a question for Radio Armenia. “What is friendship of the peoples?” the station was asked. It replied that “that’s when a Russian, a Ukrainian and a Belarusian get together and beat up a member of some other minority nationality, sometimes a Jew, sometimes a Central Asian or Caucasian.”
But as with so many other Soviet themes, this notion has begun to make a comeback in the last few years. In 2014, a Tver activist organized a parade devoted to the friendship of the peoples. By 2016, the practice had been picked up by others and spread to 11 regions (nazaccent.ru/content/27457-parad-druzhby-narodov-rossii-proshel-po.html).
Last year, the number of “friendship of the peoples” parades reached 34; but this year on Russia’s national day, there were only 17 of these, 11 in non-Russian republics and six in predominantly Russian oblasts and krays.
Vyacheslav Tikhonov, the man behind the idea of reviving this practice, provides no explanations for this drawdown. But it represents at least as much as most public opinion polls a shift in public opinion in Russia – and on an issue far more sensitive and even dangerous than most surveys try to tap into.