Friday, December 15, 2017

The Soviet in Russians Passing from One Generation to Another is ‘Immortal,’ New Study Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 14 – “We do not live in the Soviet, but the Soviet lives in us,” Elena Omelchenko and Yuliya Andreyeva say. It has become part of the daily life not only of those who actually lived in Soviet times but of their children and grandchildren who did not but who have received it from their parents and grandparents.

            In a new study, the two scholars at the St. Petersburg School for Social and Humanitarian Sciences of the Higher School of Economics, report on their investigation of how this memory is passed from one generation to another simultaneously continuing and being transformed in the process (

            They studied three generations of one family, the children aged 16 to 25, the parents (42-45), and the grandparents (65-76), conducting detailed biographic interviews with the members of each of them. They were especially interested in how the families talk about the past and about its impact on their lives then and now.

            As one would expect, these generations have different views about the past, but at the same time, they have “something in common … a special form of remembering about the Soviet period, a special canon of its interpretation, and a unique common memory” which remains very powerful.

            For the grandparents’ generation, the point of departure is World War II, which they experienced as children and remember in terms of their personal sufferings – the trauma of evacuation, deprivations and life on occupied territories.  In talking about these things, they stress their suffering and their survival and overcoming of these difficulties.

            And because they stress that achievement, they give the past a positive tonality despite all their real sufferings, Omelchenko and Andreyeva say.

            For the parental generation, memories of the Soviet past are “based on the one hand on their own biographies and on the other on the stories of older relatives who lived through the Great Fatherland War and the years after it.”  Indeed, it is those times that “the parents call genuinely soviet.”

            They view those who experienced the war and then rebuilt the country as the real victors and heroes, a status they do not ascribe to people of their own generation whom they view more critically and not as heroes of creators. They do talk about their individual lives under the Soviets but they don’t think of themselves as a generation because of that period.

            Instead, the researchers say, the parental generation has a unifying collective generation memory only about the 1990s, the collapse of the USSR, the reforms, and the difficulties which followed. They focus on this and thus celebrate as somehow better the lives and times of their parents, the grandparents of the third generation.

            For the generation of the children, they are building their memories on the basis first of their own experience but also on the stories passed down by their parents and grandparents, a sometimes difficult experience but one that they address by generalizing the messages of the two older generations.

            The children conceive of the Soviet past as a kind of detective novel and are united with their parents and grandparents in focusing on the war and the post-war period. Because of the horrific challenges those periods pose, they take from their ancestors the very Soviet view that “’if there is “a super task,’ then everything is justified.’”

            The two scholars say that the Soviet period remains incompletely assimilated by the generation of the children, one that the youngest do not yet know how to integrate into their lives. Hence, the playing of games about the past and interest in retro “quasi-Soviet styles” in fashion.

            But they conclude that the formation of the memory of the children about the Soviet past “to a large extent depends not on what politicians or the media say but on what they hear from their parents” and grandparents, two generations whose members have a more integrated and positive view of the past because of its selectivity than many assume.

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