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