Wednesday, July 28, 2010


  One of the nicest things about the YSSP is how international it is, and how many different perspectives are represented by the students here.  I've had fascinating conversations with people from countries such as Iran, Senegal, India, and South Africa, to name just a few of the many countries represented in the program.  This morning I talked with a fellow named Igor, who is from Russia.  He was born in 1985, I believe he said; after perestroika had begun, in any case, so he doesn't remember the full-blown Soviet Union as it was in its glory days.  He also doesn't remember the wall coming down, but he says that's to some extent because that was not perceived as such a monolithic event within the Soviet Union as it was to the West.  We think of The Day the Wall Came Down, right?  In the Soviet Union it felt more like a gradual collapse.  His memories are of the adults around him being confused and frightened, and (I love this detail) of the television playing "Swan Lake" in an endless loop whenever anything bad happened.
  He also talked about the idea of Soviet culture in a way that was new to me.  The USSR made a deliberate attempt to essentially invent a new culture that was not Russian, or Ukrainian, or Georgian, or any particular country's culture.  This more or less invented culture lives on today, even though the Soviet Union no longer exists.  So there are drinks which are thought of as Russian, and drinks (such as a sort of alcoholic lemonade that used to be sold on street corners out of big barrels) which are thought of as Soviet.  There is a style of rock music that is thought of as Russian, and a different style that is thought of as Soviet.  There are cultural values (looking out for your fellow man, placing a high value on work) that are thought of as Soviet, and other values that are thought of as Russian.  Russians today think of themselves, in this sense, as bicultural.  The Soviet values and culture are often thought of nostalgically, even though few want to return to the politics of that era; a sharp distinction is drawn between Soviet-style politics and Soviet culture.
  Lots of other fun details: Stalin started out as a bank robber to raise money for the political group he was in, and rose in the ranks because he was very good at organizing heists.  Lenin hid out in Finland when the Russian government wanted to arrest him, before the revolution.  Etc. etc.  I love these kinds of details.

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