Why did USSR appear and how did it work? Why does it cause nostalgia yet? IPN debate

In ten days, it will be 100 years of the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Even if the USSR stopped existing 31 years ago, this somehow unique state construct continues to influence the thoughts and even actions of large categories of people in the ex-Soviet space. The experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Why did the USSR appear and how did it work? Why does it cause nostalgia yet?” discussed why it happens so and to what extent the nostalgia for the USSR influences the present and future of everyone.

The project’s permanent expert Igor Boțan said that after the Revolution of February 1917, the new Russian interim government was unable to restore order in the country. This led to greater political chaos. The delay in convening the Constituent Assembly and its putting off created conditions for the putsch of November 7, 1917, which was staged by the Bolshevik Party. As a result of this putsch, the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin took over in Russia. They held elections to the Constituent Assembly, but lost these as they gained only one fourth of the vote, while the socialist parties polled an absolute majority of votes. But that Constituent Assembly was dissolved under the pressure of arms and this triggered the civil war in Russia.

“During the civil war, a number of so-called Soviet republics were created on the territory of the former Russian Empire, including the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republics, the Transcaucasia Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, the Khorezm and Bukhara People’s Soviet Republics, the Far Eastern Territory and so on. In all these republics, the Bolsheviks were in power and conditions were this way created for uniting them so as to resist the common enemies. In fact, the idea of an expected world revolution was at the basis. The Bolshevik Party had differing viewpoints on the principles of constitution of one multinational state,” explained the expert.

Igor Boțan noted that a special commission of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (b) presented a unification plan prepared by Commissar of Nationalities Stalin, which envisioned that other republics would join Russia as autonomous republics. However, Lenin harshly criticized the autonomization plan. He believed that the Soviet republics should form a union of states based on equality and the keeping of their sovereign rights. Each republic was to receive the right to freely separate from the union. The treaty on the creation of the USSR was agreed on December 29, 1922 and on December 30, 1922 already the First All-Union Congress of Soviets approved it.

“Nostalgia is the idealization of events, times, places with which pleasant recollections are associated. Nostalgia consists of recollections of the past that seem more attractive than the past itself. On a scale of intensity, the nostalgic feelings vary from sweetish sadness to obsessive or depressive states. The nostalgic persons can be classified into the reflexive nostalgic and the restoring nostalgic. The nostalgic affected by sadness and depressive states are actually the reflexive nostalgic and they are called the contemplative nostalgic. Those who are affected by obsessive states are supporters of the restoration of the URSS in different imperial forms,” stated Igor Boțan.

MP Virgiliu Pâslariuc, doctor of history and university professor, said the research concerning the way in which the functioning mechanisms of historical, collective memory worked have been trendy in the historiographic narration in the recent past. It is known that history has three registers. The first register is the academic one. This is reflexive and tries to establish facts through academic instruments. “Another not less impotent register is the didactic one, which reproduces historical phenomena – at school, in society, etc. There is also the political or propagandistic register that legitimizes the power. In our country, they often mix up these three registers even if these are extremely tied between them,” stated the MP.

Virgiliu Pâslariuc also said that the policies of history are extremely important in political narrative. It is that narrative that legitimizes the past, a particular regime. “What we see in the case of the war between Russia and Ukraine, the justifications are not related to the present or the future. The legitimization of this war is somehow related to problems considered as coming from the past. Is Ukraine a separate nation? Does it have the right to existence? ...The people’s perceptions of history are actually what fuel now that nostalgia. One thing is the facts determined by historians and another thing is the perceptions and interpretations. Here is the place of propaganda that manipulates, tries to legitimize a particular narrative. If we clearly distinguish the registers, it will be easier for us to discuss that type of inheritance,” stated the doctor of history.

According to him, a part of society considers that the Soviet and totalitarian inheritance is one of the causes for the current backsliding. Another part of society believes that the Soviet inheritance on the contrary is the foundation for a prosperous life. “In other words, they aim the projects of the state and society not at the future, but at the past. The past is the one that they legitimize. Some say “look what nice buildings the Soviets erected”, “look what industry they left to us”, but do not offer projects for the future and this is one of the big problems witnessed after Russia started its war against Ukraine. A lot of people and not only in Ukraine, but also from around the former empire wonder if this imperial project has a future,” said Virgiliu Pâslariuc.

Director of the Institute of Political Studies and Social Capital of Chernovtsi Marin Gherman, university lecturer, associate doctor of “Ștefan cel Mare” University of Suceava, said that for him the Soviet Union is nothing but a political construct, a religion in love with its own case, which banned yet the people from using these notions. “The paradox did so that in the communist time, geopolitics as a discipline and science was condemned. At the same time, the communist regime used it widely to divide and control the spaces around it,” stated Marin Gherman.

According to him, the decision to constitute the Soviet Union was taken 100 years ago. “I think Putin dreamed of celebrating the centenary of the Soviet Union in Kiev, Chisinau and elsewhere by rejoining these territories to the Russian Federation. I’m convinced that this was the plan and it didn’t come true fortunately. That’s why the extension of the Soviet Union was possible from legal, geopolitical, political viewpoints by the formula proposed by Lenin, with independent republics, with the possibility of joining new republics to the Soviet Union during the next years. If a union consists of republics, why shouldn’t be there possibilities of extending this state construct?” asked Marin Gherman.

He noted that the Russian propaganda currently uses multiple elements to achieve the direct military goals after the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. “The Soviet Union regrettably lives in the minds of people everywhere, especially in the south, east and center of the country and less in western Ukraine, if we speak about Ukraine. The Soviet Union, the resentments and nostalgia for the then stability were an important factor that led to the occupation of Crimea. The people considered that Russia’s annexation of Crimea meant their return to the previous stability. The people consider that current Russia is the Soviet Union and that they live in Russia exactly as they did 30 years ago, but this is not true. Russia is no way the Soviet Union. What is even worse is that this banking on an uncertain past becomes a factor of instability. Moreover, it is used in the context of this war, this military aggression against Ukraine and against the free world somehow,” stated Marin Gherman.

The public debate entitled “Why did the USSR appear and how did it work? Why does it cause nostalgia yet?” was the tenth installment of IPN’s project “100 years of USSR and 31 years without USSR: Nostalgia for Chimeras”, which is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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