Friday, August 23, 2019

Soviet Cultural Heritage Sets Post-Soviet States Apart from Both East and West, Ozimko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 20 – The continuing influence of Soviet-era on the post-Soviet states is typically discussed by those who are working to overcome it and who believe that unless they can do so, they will never be able to completely detach themselves from the Russian Federation which celebrates and exploits this communality.

            Most of those efforts focus on Soviet-era statues and the Russian language, but there is a broader and more deeply held set of attachments that in most cases only the admirers and the defenders talk about, a kind of cultural “code” involving literature, music, and anecdotes that is likely to be shared long after the more superficial commonalities are eliminated.

            A new article by Kirill Ozimko, a writer from Belarus who proudly identifies himself as “a Soviet man” even though he was born in 1994 and never had a USSR passport and who says that “like many” he to this day “possesses the deep cultural codes of that era” (

                “Like a strong thread,” the writer continues, “they connect me with the past of our Motherland, allow me to understand perfectly well the older generation, and to have tears come to my eyes after viewing Soviet films or reading the stories of Sholokhov and Shukshin and the poems of Asadov and Yevtushenko.” 

            These things “connect and will connect me in the present and future with millions of Russians, Tatars, Ukrainians, Kazakhs, Armenians … Among the representatives of these people, elements of Soviet culture are also quite firmly preserved,” Ozimko says. These “Soviet cultural codes” form “the bastion of our Eurasian project.”

            And these codes, which trump economic issues for most people, help to explain the support many give to the idea of the Union State and the Eurasian Economic Community. Ignoring them, the writer says, is to ignore the ways in which “the subconscious” matters more than most assume.

            It sets those who were and to a large extent remain part of the Soviet cultural paradigm apart from Western civilization with its pragmatism and individualism and Eastern variants with their greater attachment to traditions and religions, Ozimko argues; and it keeps them together even when other forces are pulling them apart.

            He suggests that among the most important carriers of Soviet culture are films, cartoons, music, literature, and anecdotes, carriers all the more important because since 1991, these forms have increasingly aped Western models rather than developed national traditions. Those from the Soviet period thus speak to people more than those from the last three decades.

            If the current trend continues, the peoples of the former Soviet space may eventually be dominated by Western culture, Ozimko says.  But that can be prevented by taking a number of steps now, including the development of traditions from the Soviet past in each of these sectors of culture.

            That means, of course, that each of the post-Soviet states must cultivate that which they share in common rather than the narrowly national be it Russian or Kazakh. And in focusing on their “common cultural heritage,” they must recognize that mass culture affects people far more than what people say about politics and geopolitics.

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