Article by: Paul A. Goble
“For many people of the older generation,” he writes, “any promise of a bright future or talks that people will miraculously change works like the strongest of triggers,” given that in Soviet times efforts to make good on such promises led to disaster.
The last time many of that generation believed that a miraculous transformation in a short time was possible, itself a product of Soviet experience, was the 1990s; and the failure of that effort only reinforced the sense among older people that any such promise carries with it the seeds of disaster for all involved.
And when younger people defend the 1990s and say that of course there were some negative side effects, what older Russians here is the Stalinist line that when trees are chopped down, the chips will fly and the picture of the world that flowed from that observation springs to mind.
But that is far from the only trauma Soviet times inflicted on Russians and that defines how they react to discussions now. The Soviet system claimed the right to intervene in all personal matters, including sexual ones, and thus older people perhaps unexpectedly to some see such calls now as opening the way to disaster.
Freedom of speech was not respected in Soviet times and what one read or said could have serious negative consequences. When people today say “we don’t need such literature” and call for its exclusion, what many older Russians hear is a call for the return to that past and its horrors.
And the experience of Jews in Soviet times has disposed many older Russians to be suspicious of both negative and positive discrimination, convinced that the latter in which some are given advantages because of past mistreatment will inevitably entail the putting in place of the former.
“Russian people who lived a large part of their lives in the 20th century thus have as an inheritance from this century many traumas,” the journalist says. “These traumas to this day define their view on life and values. They cause them to feel a strong fear, masked as anger, suspicion, cynicism, and so on”.
“Encountering this, one must understand that most often behind these emotions is a trauma.” That needs to be understood in order to make possible a genuine conversation across generational lines. Russians of all ages simply need to recognize this most unfortunate survival of the past.
“Russia and its residents have an enormous and quite unique set of historical traumas, common for all Europeans in the 20th century and common for all residents of the USSR (plus differences for different peoples including Russians). One has no choice but to take this into consideration.”
Three things make Kuznetsov’s observations especially important. First, it makes clear that the reactions to current developments that are often said to be limited to the generation of the 1960s are in fact part of a larger reaction of people who were not part of that generation but rather all those who came of age in Soviet times.
Second, it explains why support for the radical transformations of the 1990s was initially so great and then disintegrated so quickly. In Soviet times, people had no choice but to continue to act as if they believed in what they had been promised. When after 1991, that compulsion disappeared, they turned away as soon as it became clear the transformation wasn’t taking place.
And third – and perhaps most important – it explains the suspicion many older Russians have to any promises about a bright future and thus why political leaders like Vladimir Putin don’t articulate an ideology. They know on their own skins that such promises will be rejected and thus it is better not to make them.