Poll: Most Russians Miss USSR Posted by Maria on Jan 2, 2019 in Culture, News
The Russian pollster Levada Center recently published thought-provoking, if unsettling, findings: Most Russians said they missed the Soviet Union. We will look at the detailed results of this survey and some possible explanations. You can read the pollster’s report in Russian.
More People Miss the USSR
The main finding of the poll (опро́с), conducted in late November 2018 among 1,600 respondents, is that 66 percent of all respondents said they regret the break-up of the Soviet Union. The question was worded as follows: “Сожале́ете ли Вы о распа́де СССР?” (Do you regret the break-up of the USSR?) Twenty five percent of respondents (респонде́нты) said they did not, and 9 percent were unsure.
Levada Center has been asking this question since 1992. Another interesting finding was that the number of people who missed the USSR has gone up since last year and is now the higher than at any point since 2005.
When asked whether the breakup of the USSR was inevitable, 62 percent said it could have been prevented, and 27 percent said it couldn’t have. The question was worded this way:
Как вы сейча́с счита́ете, распа́д Сове́тского Сою́за был неизбе́жен, и́ли его́ мо́жно бы́ло избежа́ть?
Do you now feel the collapse of the USSR was inevitable, or could it have been avoided?
Pride and Economy
The top reasons people named for missing the USSR were:
- “Разру́шена еди́ная экономи́ческая систе́ма” (“A unified economic system has been destroyed”) at 52 percent,
- “Лю́ди потеря́ли чу́вство принадле́жности к вели́кой держа́ве” (“People have lost the sense of belonging to a great power”) at 36 percent,
- “Возросло́ взаи́мное недове́рие, ожесточённость” (“Mutual distrust and bitterness have risen”) at 31 percent, and
- “Разруша́ются свя́зи с ро́дственниками, друзья́ми” (“Links to family and friends are being disintegrating”) at 24 percent.
The pollster notes that the relative ranking of reasons has remained largely unchanged.
Nostalgia Prevalent Among the Middle-Aged
Respondents in the 55 and older age group were most likely to regret the fall of the USSR. The 18-24 age group was the only one with more people who did not care about the end of the Soviet Union than those who did, and that has been true since the year 2002. However, the nostalgia (ностальги́я) for the USSR has gone up across all age groups.
What do you find these results scary, or do they make sense to you? Have you talked to people who have lived in the former USSR before it was “former”? How do they describe that era?
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David W Roberts:
I’m British, and I regret the passing of the USSR. I remember the mid 1980’s (Gorbachev era) as a time of optimism that the international scene was going to change for the better. I’ve always felt that if the West (Reagan and Thatcher) hadn’t been so intent on “winning” the cold war and fighting communism but had given Gorbachev more support and responded more positively, the present situation would be better both within Russia and internationally. I know quite a few people who grew up in the Warsaw pact countries – these are well educated people who have been able to prosper in our capitalist economy, but they tell me that life in those days wasn’t as bad as it is often portrayed. Overall the end of the USSR gave rise to winners and losers – maybe more of the latter than the former.
@David W Roberts David, you bring up a good point. Who knows, perhaps reforms might have been possible.
@Maria Do most of the people who took this poll realize the generally speaking, the Soviet citizens were banned from travelling outside the Communist Bloc countries. Are they aware that the Internet as we know today with a free flow of information including saying very insulting things about our political and business leaders would have been extremely curtailed, censored, or just would not even develop without the vibrant activity of free thinking entrepreneurs?
Do these people realize that there was no anti-war movement in the USSR during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (in comparison with the “Hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” protests in the West)?
Are they aware that the “Socialist” systems in the Warsaw Pact countries was imposed on those nations and not a result of organic revolutions? A few times Soviet troops had to come in and smash revolutions: East Germany (1953), Hungary (1956), Czechoslovkia (1968) – and Polish army in order to avoid Soviet intervention declared Martial Law (1980). Of course invading Afghanistan on Christmas Day in 1979 to prop up a “Socialist” government.
The only way the USSR could have avoided collapsing was to take the route China made following the death of Mao Zedong. China reformed the economy by inviting western companies like McDonalds thus creating a hybrid of Statism (Socialism) and Capitalism. By the time Moscow allowed this, it was too late. The USSR also had a problem of various nations in the other 14 Republics and countless ethnic groups that hated each other (e.g. Armenians and Azerbaijanis) and some that never accepted being ruled by Russia (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Western Ukraine). There also many ethnic groups inside the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic that were either discontent under Russian domination or hated other ethnic groups like in the Caucusus: Chechens, Georgians, Abhkazians (pro-Russian), and Alans/Ossetins (pro-Russian).
@David Wendt David, all excellent questions. The poll was conducted in Russia, so you’d think people would be aware. Then again, many were too young to really pay attention, and the older folks may be affected by their nostalgia for the time they were young.
@David W Roberts David W. Roberts, great job Turning Sweet into Sour. Gorbachev began his rule of the USSR fighting The Cold War just in equal measure as his opponents Thatcher and Reagan. His mentor and patron was the KGB Director Yuri Andrepov (Butcher of Budapest). He interfered in Central America, Africa, and of course Afghanistan. He pulled out only when it was too costly to stay.
The difference between British and American societies vs. Soviet is people like David W. Roberts and Oliver Stone being free to denounce their own governments (which of course is necessary at times) but Soviet versions of Oliver Stone first of all would never had their movies allowed and most likely if such films were smuggled out as Самиздат, this Soviet version of Oliver Stone would have been sent to a mental hospital. According to Amnesty International, such dissidents were subject to pain causing drugs. The Soviet government only announced what happened at Chernobyl after Sweden reported that there was radiation coming out of the USSR. If all of you posters prefer the Socialist model over “Cowboy Capitalism” then would not Sweden be a more honorable paradigm since it was and is Socialism with a Human Face? The USSR crushed that in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Where was the anti-war movement in the USSR when there was such butchery in Afghanistan? At least American peace activists called their President a Child Killer. I could not imagine that Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and even Gorbachev would have allowed that. All of what I wrote is a major reason why the Soviet system could not survive The Age of Information.
I honestly don’t find these results scary or unusual at all. Various peoples who experienced the Soviet Union viewed it differently, and it was not a system that treated everyone fairly, but it wasn’t, on the whole, the monstrous system that most people who have either grown up in a capitalist system or who were among the people whose families fled the Soviet Union think it was (with the exception of some troubling events during Stalin’s reign). I think the main thing we are seeing with these results, beyond nostalgia, is a longing for стабильность. While it is true that toward the end, there was a lot of upheaval in the Soviet Union, for most of its existence there was a certain level of stability. Since the collapse the economy has experienced the upheavals of the 90’s, and the disparity between people in regards to quality of life and income has increased dramatically, much as it has in America, with some people becoming obscenely wealthy, while others are required to rely on the government just to live. Some might say it was no different in Soviet times, with high level members of the party receiving greater benefits, but I’d say it is much more noticeable now. To be honest, I personally miss the Soviet Union. I don’t miss the paranoia we had about it in America, particularly in the 80’s, but in a way, it’s existence provided a sort of глобальная стабильность. I also think the collapse was avoidable, though it would have been a very difficult thing to avoid. If nothing else, I can’t help but wondering if the American political system would be in as dire straights as it is today, and if the instability in the Middle East would be as bad, if the Soviet Union was still around. In the end…if nothing else, having the world be spun between two polar opposites seemed to make things a little more straight forward.
@Mark Mark, thank you for your comment! I think you’re onto something in that the income divide was not as drastic before. I do wonder what young people have in mind when they say they wish the USSR was still around, seeing as they may not have experienced it at all.
@Maria Maria, I think Russian young people are a lot like American young people (our so called Millennials) and I think there is a strong presence of молодежный активизм in Russia (I think it has always been there, even through Soviet times), and I think with people like Навальный (and to a larger extent younger political activists and even celebrities and pop stars) out there talking to young people in a way that they relate to, they, like the Millennials in America, are very aware of the disparity. And even if they never experienced the way things were in the Soviet Union, they’ve seen what capitalism has done to their country, and I can’t blame them for not being thrilled. Socialism is starting to become more popular among the American youth as well because they are looking for more equality.
We can debate the merits of the Soviet Union and the reality of the implementation of socialism in the Soviet Union (though I challenge the idea of communism in the Soviet Union because it was never truly a communist state, it only aspired to be such) versus the ideals of socialism as a philosophy, but that ideal is pretty appealing to people who see an inherently unequal world, especially young people who don’t see a way forward if you aren’t already among the wealthy elite. And I’d argue that it wasn’t socialism that ruined the Soviet Union, but the iron dominance of a madman (Stalin) who would have been a tyrant in the Soviet Union or any other nation. I think that is why young people want the USSR to return, because of the ideal if not the reality.
@Maria Mark, your focus is on economics but you are ignoring individual freedoms including travelling outside the Communist Bloc which was denied most Soviet citizens until late Glastnost & Perestroika. I never saw a Soviet citizen in my home town until 1991. That year, the number of Soviet (soon to be Russian, Ukrainian, Estonian, etc.) enrolled in the two universities where I lived. That’s when I was inspired to travel to Russia and learn Russian in Summer of 1992. I love the Ukrainian Village in Chicago and in 2014 there were banners of СВОБОДА everywhere in that great neighborhood. What did William Wallace yell out before he died? “FREEDOM!!!!!!”
@Don Wade Don, nowadays Russians have the “freedom” to travel outside what was the former so called Communist Bloc, but many don’t actually have the resources to do so. Russians have two types of passports, the one that all citizens are required to have, the internal passport, that allows them travel only within former countries of the Soviet Union (what is now known as the Commonwealth of Independent States), but for travel beyond these countries you are required to have a separate passport, and not a lot of Russians actually have this загранпаспорт or the money to use it. So while they may be free to travel, people of means could always travel outside the Communist Bloc (performers, politicians, etc) and now the rich and wealthy have taken their place.
The concept of “freedom” is a fickle thing. I’m “free” in the US, but that doesn’t mean I can just do whatever I want. I’ve often wanted to travel outside the US, but that doesn’t mean I can afford to. You criticize my focus on economics over “freedom”, but I weigh economic stability over the ability to travel around the world. Freedom is great, and, while it is true that modern Russians enjoy a lot of “freedoms” the rich in Russian enjoy far more (including the ability to essentially get away with breaking the law). I’d wager there are plenty of people who would give up some of these “individual freedoms” you laud in favor of the ability to live without economic instability.
I believe that the USSR would have survived had it not been for the USA interference in the USSR internal affairs. I blame the USA for this paying off Yelstin and Gorbachev. Now, after the USA messed up the Soviet Union , all other countries in Warsaw pact fell and hatred and killing among ethnetic groups started. I hope the same fate destroys the USA! I see a Soviet Federated Republic forming in the future..
Capitalism is best for sharp-elbowed people with strong “people skills”, who are fearless and flexible. They are the ones who “get ahead” while the rest of us are left behind. I would not enjoy life in the former Soviet Union, but I do think we need to move more to a compassionate socialism in this country. If everyone had at least enough to live in peace, security and good health, rather than focusing on making it possible for a few to become fabulously wealthy while the vast majority live in fear of starvation and homelessness, then I think we would all be happier.
Great post, Maria!
Vladimir Putin: ‘The breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century’–which explains so much about his policies and actions, especially in the Ukraine.
Thank you, everyone, for a lively discussion! Please be respectful to the other commentators and attack issues, not people.