Staunton, March 27 – Soviet leaders sought to marginalize all nationality issues because the USSR came into existence by doing just that at precisely the time when the other European empires did not; and that experience, social psychologist Aleksey Roshchin says, explained their approach until reality impeded and the USSR collapsed as well.
That experience led not only the Soviet government to try to reduce ethnic issues to ideological ones and to present something it wanted as already having come into existence but also the post-Soviet government to pursue the same course, with similar outcomes, he argues (lenta.ru/articles/2021/03/27/homo_soveticus/).
In the first years of their power, the Bolsheviks, just like Vladimir Putin, focused on “strengthening the power vertical;” but after doing that, they turned to ideological measures, one of the most important of which was the idea of “a soviet people,” something so abstract that many remained unsure just what it meant.
The most useful way to understand this idea, Roshchin says, is to recognize it as a form of “socialist realism,” as a description of what the powers wanted people to believe in but that had not yet come into existence. It was never really a description of “the existing order of things” but only as something people were supposed to believe in but rarely did.
Most Soviet citizens could see that the ideas of a singular Soviet people dominated by friendship of the peoples were nonsensical, something they had to mouth in order not to get in trouble with the powers that be but hardly something they had to have their behavior toward others guided by.
This wasn’t and isn’t “hypocrisy,” Roshchin says, but “as it were the next stage: people pronounced these words as mantras without understanding their meaning or even thinking about them. They were able not only to pronounce these words but even show the corresponding emotions” even though they didn’t act accordingly. Instead, they became “totally cynical.”
Many outside observers didn’t understand this. For them, “the USSR was a single organism, one enormous social enterprise. The communist ideology served what in Western corporations is now called a mission. From the point of view of work, the Union was build precisely like an enterprise, one large enormous enterprise.”
“In 1991,” the psychologist says, “this enterprise went bankrupt, when its debits and credits ceased to align.” For those who viewed the USSR in this way, “it wasn’t important whether Tajiks or Uzbeks worker there;” and “in this sense, for the West even more than for residents of the USSR, this was the country of the Soviet people.”
Roshchin says that in his opinion, “homo soveticus was rather a designation used among our dissidents who left for the West and who promoted this term among American Russian specialists.” Unfortunately, most of these Western specialists use “Russians” in a similar way as the definer of the population of the country run by Moscow.
“For the Western world this is the same as calling them the Soviet people but even simpler because they are now Russians,” Roshchin continues. “Up to now, all of this angers Tajiks and Uzbeks not to speak about Ukrainians and Belarusians.” Moscow, of course, was pleased and remains so.
That led and may again lead to a situation like a peat bog fire. “When they burn, often no fire is visible and it seems that everything is in order.” But when it breaks through, it becomes obvious that the entire ground is burning up under those who assumed and assume that everything is stable.
“The Soviet people as a construct was very important for the system,” Roshchin says. “It provided an idea to which people strove and almost reached … and that meant that nationality was not important.” Today, he says, most consider that “’the Soviet supernational community’ fell apart after 1991.” But “in fact, this is not the case.”
“We know that the majority of the so-called post-Soviet elites, those who were at the head of Soviet republics after the disintegration of the USSR with all their strength worked for the disintegration of this community.” And they attacked anything like the Russian language that they thought could make it easier for Moscow to resume control.
But a large share of the citizens of these countries are still living in a world which defined them as parts of the Soviet people and they still think that way because of the media they watch and the holidays they celebrate – and especially because of the rhetoric even when it operates with a minus sign that ties them together.
Two groups of people are frightened by this reality, Roshchin concludes, the leaders of these countries and the countries neighboring the former Soviet space. The former fear there will be a re-integration of this region and the latter that if that should happen, they would be the next victims.