How powerful was the economy of the USSR
: 5 reasons why Russia is not turning back to the USSR
Russia likes to look back on its great past, on the former Soviet Union. Mainly on its size and influence in world politics. Nevertheless, the country is not developing back into this period - even if it regularly looks like this on May 9th, the “day of victory” over Nazi rule.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is a former KGB agent and he is known to describe the collapse of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century". But we are not experiencing a return of the Soviet Union in present-day Russia, even if the country has references to the collapsed empire under the increasingly authoritarian Putin. The country is rhetorically upgrading and looking in the past for concepts for today. However, this belies the concrete reality of the system.
Soviet references in the new Russian nationalism
Putin recently elevated "patriotism" to the "national idea of the Russian Federation". There could be no other “unifying idea”, he said at the beginning of the year. For years children and young people have been brought up in a patriotic spirit. A corresponding program has just been extended. The "moral, psychological and physical readiness to defend the fatherland" is an essential goal, as is "loyalty to the constitution and loyalty to military service in peaceful times as well as in times of war".
At the same time, Putin recently launched a new edition of the Pioneers under a different name for schools. Much like it existed in Soviet times, but without a proletarian revolutionary spirit. It is connections like these that bring set pieces from the old Soviet era into present-day Russia and connect them with new Russian nationalism.
Nationalism that was only really sparked with the annexation of Crimea. According to a recent representative survey by the independent opinion research center “Levada”, more than half of all respondents still want a new Soviet Union - only 14 percent believe that it can be resurrected. And so nostalgia and achievements of yore feed the national pride of today, including the Soviet space travel successes. Yuri Gagarin, who made history as the first man in space, was the "Hero of the Soviet Union" and is celebrated in Russia with unbroken popularity as a national hero.
Conjure up traditional values without ideology
In present-day Russia there is no ideology, no closed worldview like the socialist-Soviet utopia once did. And with the “Eurasian Economic Union”, Russia is only geographically drawing closer to itself the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan with a common internal market. This “Eurasian Project” is intended by Moscow as an antithesis to the EU and the USA, but the participating states are in part pursuing different interests.
In Russia, politics and media loyal to the Kremlin are creating a caricature of Western democracies that are becoming increasingly neglected and effeminate through individualization and liberalization. But Russia appears in bright colors. Essentially, there is an attitude of “against”, in which the Kremlin and Putin at the helm and the powerful Orthodox Church have long since allied themselves and preach a new value conservatism.
The law against "gay propaganda in front of minors" is one expression of this and has caused outrage around the world. The elite who encourage or support such initiatives like to own real estate in the supposedly hated West. Research and serious allegations by the anti-corruption fighter Alexej Navalny about the wealth or luxury property of the powerful - whether found abroad or at home - regularly cause a stir. That hardly ever has any consequences. The state seems to grow into a conservatively charged autocracy among self-enriching elites rather than restoring a Soviet Union.
"Victory Day" as a ritual self-assurance
The clearest reference to the Soviet Union is the celebration of “Victory Day” over Hitler Germany on May 9th, today the strongest identity-building event in the country. As the most important national holiday, it is now celebrated even bigger than in the past decade. A gigantic military parade is rolling across Red Square again. Tens of thousands of war veterans are honored nationwide. Russia not only presents itself as a victor in World War II, but increasingly also as a champion against allegedly newly inflamed fascism.
With the annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbass, to which Russia demonstrably also sent soldiers, a narrative of justification with a great Russian nationalist element emerged. The country becomes a bastion that has to shut itself up and at the same time hold a protective hand over “its” population groups in other countries, above all in Ukraine. In practice, this formula of protecting power takes on an unpredictable delimitation of all "being Russian".
A touch of it recently touched Berlin when a 13-year-old Russian-German claimed to have been raped by migrants. When Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov publicly expressed his concern about "our girl Lisa", it got a threatening note and almost triggered a state affair. As it turned out later, the girl had made up a white lie about her parents. That happened at a time when Russian state television began to paint a horrific picture of Germany in the turmoil of the refugee crisis - with Russia as a bulwark against such scenarios.
The pompous celebration of “Victory Day” reinforces the impression that today's Russia was the Soviet Union - and that it is now gradually resurrecting it. In this form, the holiday on May 9th serves above all to demonstrate demonstrative self-assurance as a great nation with weight not only in the post-Soviet space, but also in the world.
"Spies" and "Traitors" in a new guise
Civil society organizations have long had to register as “foreign agents” when they withdraw funds from abroad. Human rights activists are reminded of the “spies” or “traitors” of the past, i.e. those who were defamed, severely punished or murdered because they did not believe in the vision of the new progressive socialist man. Today these words are often used as a stigma for critical non-governmental organizations or opponents of Putin's Ukraine policy: for alleged patriotism objectors, rebels and saboteurs of emerging Russia.
With “extremism” accusations and sham trials for alleged crimes, criminal law becomes an instrument against unpleasant voices. The renowned Russian human rights organization "Memorial" has officially classified 86 people as "today's" political prisoners. Repressions like in the Soviet Union are not, however, rather deterrent (show) trials, intimidation and restrictions on freedom of the press and freedom of expression in the style of that time.
The director of the renowned Levada Center for Public Opinion Research, the sociologist Lev Gudkov, believes that Russia will become even “stricter and more repressive” than before, but without generating neo-Stalinism. In an interview at the beginning of the year, Gudkov said: "We are dealing with something else: an imitation of Soviet totalitarian practices."
“Hero of work” without a planned economy
He's back again, the “hero of work”. Putin dusted off the order three years ago - but of course without reference to socialism. You will look for that in vain in Russia. The country is highly capitalist, even if there are powerful state corporations closely linked to the Kremlin, be it in the oil and gas business or in the railways.
Controlling key industries is more like modern China than the former Soviet Union. At the same time, medium-sized businesses are busy in an environment of massive legal uncertainty. When Moscow's mayor Sergej Sobyanin recently had around a hundred stalls and kiosks flattened in front of the metro stations in a night and fog action, it was almost symbolic. The official reason was the lack of building permits, which was not a big issue for many years.
Those who still enjoy entrepreneurial freedom today can face the ruins of their existence tomorrow. Dishes that can be influenced and flourishing corruption determine everyday life. So far there are no signs of a departure from the capitalist economic principle. Despite all the mutually imposed sanctions, the country is integrated into the global economy and has also been a WTO member since 2012.
The ongoing economic crisis with falling oil prices, the ruble and lower incomes brings difficult times for the vast majority of Russians. For those who have the money, however, there is every private freedom to meet consumer needs. It is precisely this contrast to the Soviet Union that is a huge achievement, especially for the modestly prosperous middle class.
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