Monday, August 12, 2019

Nostalgia for Soviet Past Helping Russians to Overcome Trauma of Loss, Abramov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 10 – “Societies which experience historical traumas, need anesthesia an psychotherapy, sociologist Roman Abramov says. That often takes the form of nostalgia for “’the good old times,’” which in the Russian case for many but far from all was the period of Brezhnev’s rule (

            “Waves of nostalgia became a frequent phenomenon of the 20th century when major geopolitical cataclysms, world wars, revolutions, and sharp social and technological changes occurred,” he says on the basis of his investigations of nostalgia. Such attitudes, he says, “played the role of anti-depressant, anesthesia and an adaptive mechanism at one and the same time.”
            “People attempted to find a peaceful and well-off past and then lose themselves in it, forgetting their present problems for a time, Abramov says. “But this escapism interest on it n the end not infrequently helped them adapt to new conditions.” For Russians now, that past time was the Brezhnev era; and interest in it is helping them to cope. 

            Of course, he continues, that period was not all of one piece. There was economic stagnation, the Afghan war, the campaign against dissidents and the third wave emigration. But “these events did not touch everyone and appear less traumatic” to society as a whole than more recent ones.

            The investigator adds that “present-day societies with their ideologies of uninterrupted innovation and change and the doing away with traditional systems of values have promoted the growth of nostalgia.”  Millions of people not surprisingly respond to turning to a past real and often imagined to provide them with reassurance. 

            “The nostalgic eco-system,” Abramov says, “are a good example of the symbiosis of emotions, recollections, practical actions, institutions, people and things. All of them transform reality, giving it a nostalgic tone and at the same time stimulates nostalgic consumption” of goods from the past.

            “’The last Soviet generation’ using the words of Aleksey Yurchak, the author of This was Forever Until It ended, became the generator of popular museumification of the late ‘soviet’ world, which arrived in large measure in 2009-2012.” There are many museums now about Soviet life in the real and virtual worlds and set up by professionals and amateurs.

            This trend, Abramov continues, has been provoked by and is provoking the further development of museums, films, books and exhibits about the crimes of the Soviet past and especially the GULAG. Demographically, Soviet nostalgia has been greater in small cities and the countryside and less in the major cities.

            Soviet nostalgia in Russia has now become a major focus of scholarly research, Abramov says, with researchers in many disciplines making contributions to its description and meaning.  This research began in the West but has no engulfed many in the Russian Federation and the other post-Soviet states.

            He gives two examples of especially valuable work: Galina Orlova’s on the nuclear power researchers in Soviet times (Vestnik Permskogo nationalnogo politekhnicheskogo universiteta, 2 (2018): 108-126) and Valentina Kharkhun’s  study of museums on the victims of communism (

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