“The irony is that the collapse of the Soviet Union was accompanied by other outrageous crimes instead: almost all public property became private property controlled by the former communist nomenclature or by thugs who became oligarchs overnight. It would be strange if, after remembering and understanding these things, there would still be restorative nostalgic currents in Moldova...”
Plans to exploit nostalgia for the Soviet Union
On 30 December 2022 there will be 100 years since the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was founded. Russian entrepreneurs have already stamped a medal to mark the USSR centenary and are waiting for orders from nostalgics who, in turn, are waiting for unifying ideas for those about 270 million people scattered around the world who were born in the Soviet Union. The PR specialists who helped to shape public opinion around the 70th and 75th anniversaries of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, transformed into propaganda projects like “Mozhem povtorit” (“We can repeat”), or the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, are now happily helping with the promotion of the USSR-100 project as well.
The main goal is to exploit nostalgia for nothing short of a lost paradise. It is difficult to say whether or not the propagandists will succeed in their goal. Today, everything depends on the outcome of the “special military operation” in Ukraine, which will be conquered in “two or three days… a couple of weeks, tops”. The destruction of Ukraine and its people is part of a project to launch the USSR 2.0 version, according to the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, or to restore the Russian empire, according to a former advisor to President Putin.
Either way, exploiting nostalgia for the defunct USSR has been planned for the entire USSR centenary year. The standoff reached in the Ukraine adventure has put on hold the grand plans to restore the empire. At any rate, the anniversary is a good occasion to reflect on the USSR project and its impact on the Moldovan society and others, which broke away from the Soviet empire in 1991. Therefore, the phenomenon of nostalgia for the Soviet Union deserves continued attention and understanding. First of all, we must understand that nostalgia is something absolutely natural and practically inevitable. Second, it is important to understand that exploiting nostalgic feelings has its limits, and they must be constantly narrowed. Third, it is necessary to undertake sustained efforts to show that the lost Soviet paradise was actually built on an infernal machinery that ground down tens of millions of lives just to fabricate a formidable mystification, which many, sadly, continue to believe in today.
Gauging nostalgic attitudes in Moldova
Before proceeding to estimate the extent of nostalgia for the Soviet Union in the Republic of Moldova, it is important to clarify what specialists in social and political sciences understand when they study nostalgia. Practicing sociologists found that only a few years after the collapse of the USSR, an active process of mythologizing history was set in motion. Such a process inevitably follows the classic trajectory of sliding into something known as the golden age or the lost paradise myth.
In this process, nostalgia manifests as an “intellectual and emotional construct that distorts the image of a certain period of history”. This happens naturally, because with the passage of time there is a need to reconstruct the past as a kaleidoscope of images. This is how longing appears for images that either existed in reality or only summarily “reconstruct” a utopia projected not into the future, but rather into a happy and irretrievable past.
So, being based on individual or collective, direct or implicit experience, nostalgia can have various manifestations. For our practical purposes, it is important to distinguish that, broadly, nostalgia can be of two kinds: restorative and reflective. The first one involves emotional idealization of past experience that underpins the need to repeat this experience. In the latter case, it is an attempt to understand it: what was good, what was bad in the idealized period, and why the bad things prevailed and eventually buried the longed-for ideal.
In Moldova, the Public Opinion Barometer poll measured, on several occasions (in 2009, 2016, and 2018), the extent of nostalgia for the Soviet Union. It appears that the Moldovans’ nostalgia is more reflective (see Chart 1) then restorative.
Interestingly enough, the number of nostalgics has increased with time. But this is no wonder, considering the massive 2014 bank fraud that involved many purported pro-Europeans. Later on, the attitudes have relaxed towards the initial state. Anyway, it is worth noting that the share of those who want the Soviet empire rebuilt (see Chart 2) is significantly lower than the percentage of those who regret its dissolution.
Nostalgia for the defunct Soviet Union is still strong in Moldova, but significantly less so than in other former Soviet republics. The explanation for why nostalgia in Moldova is more reflective then restorative is in that our political elites simply exploited this nostalgia before disavowing any USSR restoration ideas almost completely.
Notably, in the 2001 legislative election the Moldovan Communist Party (PCRM) won a whopping 70% supermajority on the promise to take Moldova into a hypothetical Union of Sovereign Republics alongside Russia and Belarus, only to flip-flop just a year and a half later, when it nominally changed course to European integration. Today, nostalgic feelings towards the USSR are intensely played on by the Shor Party, for example, with its pretended intentions of reinstating state control over private business, reanimating state companies, restoring collective farms on a mass scale, offering all kinds of free services to people, and so on.
To keep any restorative ideas at bay, it is important to remind nostalgic people - in a civil manner and using ample evidence - that the USSR was a totalitarian state, founded on lies and crimes, which completely replaced the promises enshrined in the November 1917 proclamations, and which practiced terror against its own citizens, including collectivization, deportation, destruction of churches and annihilation of the clergy, among many other heinous crimes. All this evildoing was done only for the Soviet Union to one day collapse under the burden of its own economic inconsistencies.
The irony, however, is that the collapse of the Soviet Union was accompanied by other outrageous crimes instead: almost all public property became private property controlled by the former communist nomenclature or by thugs who became oligarchs overnight. It would be strange if, after remembering and understanding these things, there would still be restorative nostalgic currents in Moldova.