Or­der of mind:

What el­e­ments of nos­tal­gia for the past, in ad­di­tion to the de­sire to re­store the USSR, ex­ist in Ukraine

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - An­driy Holub

What makes Ukraini­ans nos­tal­gic of the Soviet Union or sup­port­ive of its legacy

In the early 2010s, long be­fore the Maidan and de­com­mu­niza­tion, the image of the ham­mer and sickle painted blue and yel­low was spread­ing on the In­ter­net. A sar­cas­tic re­make of once pop­u­lar sym­bol that was in­stalled in ev­ery city and town across the coun­try as a man­i­fest of Soviet mega­lo­ma­nia, it was now used as joke meme to il­lus­trate the essence the coun­try: a soviet sym­bol painted in the col­ors of the na­tional flag.

Sadly, the joke was an ac­cu­rate in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the sys­tem that had been in place in Ukraine for at least the first 20 years af­ter in­de­pen­dence. Af­ter the revo­lu­tion and the war with Rus­sia broke out, many rushed to claim that a re­turn to the past was no longer pos­si­ble. In­deed, the many bridges, soviet stars and even mon­u­ments to Lenin painted blue and yel­low no longer seemed funny. They were per­ceived in­stead as an at­tempt by so­ci­ety to show those in power the pre­ferred vec­tor for the fu­ture in a sit­u­a­tion where peo­ple had no other le­gal mans to show that will (de­com­mu­niza­tion laws came later, in 2015).

Three years later, it is more and more ob­vi­ous that changes in laws, how­ever slow, are still ahead of changes in the mind­set of the peo­ple. Nos­tal­gia over the soviet past and the homo sovi­eti­cus mind­set some­times hide in places where no­body ex­pects to see them.

They are not easy to trace through the avail­able so­ci­o­log­i­cal sur­veys. So­ci­ol­o­gists tend to claim that Ukraine has got­ten rid of its eter­nal mul­ti­vec­tor para­dox and has made a de­ci­sive choice in fa­vor of Euro­pean devel­op­ment. Sur­veys also in­di­cate that fewer peo­ple feel sorry about Ukraine get­ting in­de­pen­dent. The num­ber of those who would vote for sep­a­ra­tion from the Soviet Union if the ref­er­en­dum took place to­day is the high­est since 1991: 72% in 2015 com­pared to 46.5% in 2003.

Nos­tal­gia of Ukraini­ans over the Soviet pe­riod is also fad­ing, al­beit slower than many would like it to. Ac­cord­ing to a poll by Rat­ing, a so­ci­ol­ogy group, 35% of Ukraini­ans felt nos­tal­gic over the Soviet Union in 2016. This was slightly higher than the per­cent­age in 2015, but 11% down from 2010. 34% of Ukraini­ans still wish for a re­vival of the Soviet Union, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 poll by the Razumkov Cen­ter. The over­all find­ings of that sur­vey are pre­sented in the big an­nual re­port ti­tled The Iden­tity of Ukrainian Cit­i­zens in the New En­vi­ron­ment: The State, the Trends and Re­gional Nu­ances. At the same time, 65% of that share of Soviet Union-wish­ers re­al­ize that the restora­tion is un­re­al­is­tic to­day.

That same sur­vey says that only 10% of peo­ple at­tribute them­selves to soviet cul­tural tra­di­tion. It re­mains the se­cond most pop­u­lar one fol­low­ing the Ukrainian tra­di­tion, but the share of its adepts con­stantly de­clines. Some more than 2.5% of Ukraini­ans still iden­tify them­selves as soviet cit­i­zens.

It is in­ter­est­ing to ex­plore broader an­swers of those polled who would like to see the Soviet Union re­stored. They con­firm the as­sump­tion that the faith in the com­mu­nist ide­ol­ogy had gone bank­rupt way be­fore the Soviet Union col­lapsed. Lenin’s tes­ta­ments mean noth­ing to­day while the image of the Soviet Union in the eyes of to­day’s cit­i­zens is based ex­clu­sively on com­par­isons be­tween the present and the past, the lat­ter be­ing a fairy tale place where no prob­lems of to­day ex­isted. The sup­port­ers of the Soviet Union’s restora­tion most of­ten cite con­fi­dence in the near fu­ture (64%) and free higher ed­u­ca­tion in the Soviet Union (58%) as the rea­sons for their nos­tal­gia. Only 7.8% list soviet com­mu­nist ide­ol­ogy as their rea­son.

Still, soviet legacy re­mains very present. It man­i­fests it­self, first and fore­most, in the re­luc­tance to break




away from rou­tine habits, even if out­dated in the present time. Rat­ing did a sur­vey in Septem­ber 2017, shortly be­fore the newly rein­tro­duced Day of the De­fender cel­e­brated now on Oc­to­ber 14. It ex­plored public opin­ion on the at­ti­tude to this hol­i­day rooted in the Cos­sack cul­ture and the abo­li­tion of Fe­bru­ary 23, the Mother­land De­fend­ers’ Day or Soviet Army Day , a sub­sti­tu­tion for the Men’s Day in the post-Soviet ter­ri­tory. 59% of those polled sup­port or un­der­stand the idea of rein­tro­duc­ing Oc­to­ber 14 as the state hol­i­day. 27% op­pose it to a big­ger or a lesser ex­tent. Sup­port is higher in the West (77%) and de­clines in the East (to 33%). The East is the only re­gion where the num­ber of op­po­nents is 41%, ex­ceed­ing that of sup­port­ers. Even such re­sults, how­ever, were un­think­able of in East­ern Ukraine five years ago. The sup­port of the newly in­tro­duced hol­i­day does not vary much by ed­u­ca­tion, gen­der or age.

A sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in views is be­tween those who sup­port the recog­ni­tion of OUN and UPA as par­tic­i­pants of Ukraine’s lib­er­a­tion strug­gle or the sta­tus of the Ukrainian lan­guage, and those who don’t. The lat­ter are far less in fa­vor of the Oc­to­ber 14 hol­i­day. This out­come is not sur­pris­ing.

What is dif­fi­cult to ex­plain through log­i­cal re­flec­tions is the re­sults of the sur­vey on the abo­li­tion of Fe­bru­ary 23. 56% of re­spon­dents across Ukraine op­posed this, while 34% sup­ported the de­ci­sion to stop cel­e­brat­ing the day. “45% of those who sup­port Oc­to­ber 14 as the De­fender of Ukraine Day do not sup­port the abo­li­tion of the soviet hol­i­day,” the au­thors of the poll ex­plain. This means, that about 25% of Ukraini­ans be­lieve that it is fine to equally cel­e­brate the De­fender of Ukraine Day and the Day of the Soviet Army, and see no con­tra­dic­tion in that.

Abstract num­bers man­i­fest them­selves in life. Many par­ents of school stu­dents com­plained on so­cial me­dia about at­tempts of oth­ers to ar­range a Men’s Day cel­e­bra­tion on Oc­to­ber 14, like the one that was tra­di­tion­ally done on Fe­bru­ary 23 where boys or men are given gifts. Many be­gan to ques­tion why it was only boys that would get the gifts when women also serve in the East of Ukraine to­day, and why would any­body want to con­grat­u­late all men, even those who have noth­ing to do with de­fend­ing the coun­try? Many par­ents, how­ever, don’t see any­thing wrong about this: their pri­or­ity is to ar­range a cel­e­bra­tion for their kids.

Another ex­am­ple comes from a re­cent de­ci­sion to re­name the High-Mo­bil­ity Para­trooper Troops, widely known for the VDV ab­bre­vi­a­tion in Rus­sian, into the Para­trooper As­sault Troops, and to resched­ule their day from Au­gust 2 to Novem­ber 21. At the same time, their hats would be changed from blue to ma­roon.

The goal of the change is to har­mo­nize Ukrainian mil­i­tary with most of the iden­ti­cal units across the world. This de­ci­sion, how­ever, stirred a heated de­bate on so­cial me­dia.

This episode re­vealed an in­ter­est­ing para­dox. Many were will­ing to stand against Rus­sia that had at­tacked Ukraine. Yet, they find it far more dif­fi­cult to re­ject the tra­di­tion launched back in the soviet time. The Oc­to­ber 14 cel­e­bra­tion story also shows that demon­strated pa­tri­o­tism can of­ten be a way to stay in the com­fort zone and keep away from change.

Ukrainian so­ci­ety is still prone to para­doxes that co­ex­ist in its mind. So­ci­ol­o­gists de­scribe this as am­biva­lence in which an in­di­vid­ual ac­cepts and sup­ports op­po­site val­ues. A lot has been said and writ­ten about the am­biva­lence of Ukrainian so­ci­ety. “We have demo­cratic val­ues and to­tal­i­tar­ian means. We are build­ing a democ­racy but are will­ing to shoot any­one who dis­agrees,” so­ci­ol­o­gist Yevhen Holo­vakha once de­scribed this.

One of the rea­sons for this could hide in the skills that were nec­es­sary for a life un­der the im­pe­rial and to­tal­i­tar­ian regimes. While the val­ues of com­mu­nism have lost their mean­ing in the eyes of most Ukraini­ans, the model of life built then is still re­cre­at­ing it­self. In fact, the model in­her­ited from that time is the big­gest con­tri­bu­tion of the Soviet Union into the present. It is im­por­tant to re­move it like a Lenin statue or to cover it with a sheet like a plate. We should be cau­tious so that we don’t wake up in a coun­try with a gi­ant me­tal tri­dent painted in red one day.

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