Nostalgia in Post-Communist Russia
Political commentators have noted that the results of the December 1995 parliamentary elections in Russia reflected increasing support for the reorganized Communist Party, particularly from the elderly and members of the military. This "protest vote" expressed popular dissatisfaction with four years of reform -- reform which has left most ordinary Russians materially worse off than in the past. The ballet box offered these frustrated people an opportunity to express their distaste with the new system.
But there is more to these election results than protest: Russia is undergoing a painful process of self-definition. As Peter J. Stavrakis has pointed out, "Rather than blithely dispense with its past and embrace Western-imposed reform, Russian society is seeking to distill the valuable elements of its twentieth-century experience and integrate it into a new identity" ("Russia After the Elections: Democracy or Parliamentary Byzantium?" Problems of Post-Communism, March-April 1996). One fascinating dimension of Russias search for self-definition is nostalgia for its past, which is evidenced everywhere, particularly in Moscow.
Nostalgia in Architectural Design and
Not far from the Kazan Cathedral, building crews have completed reconstruction of the 17th century Voskresenye Gates, which once again mark off the north side of Red Square. These were also destroyed by Stalin in order to make room for processions in Red Square and for lines approaching Lenins tomb. Near the Voskresenye Gates stands the newly-built bronze statue of Marshal G. K. Zhukov, Russias chief military commander in the Great Patriotic War (World War II), a clear reminder to all who pass by that Russia defeated the Germans. Their crumpled Nazi flags can be seen underneath the feet of Marshal Zhukovs horse.
The most spectacular building project of all is the replication of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior on a site on the Moscow River, only a half mile from the Kremlin. The original Cathedral was begun in 1812 to commemorate the defeat of Napoleons Great Army. It took over 70 years to complete. Less than fifty years later, Stalin demolished the building in order to make way for his planned monument to Communist power - a giant Stalinist-style building topped by a massive statue of Lenin. His project never was completed and ultimately the property of the cathedral was used for a massive outdoor swimming pool.
In 1986, the new foundation for the cathedral was laid with the blessing of the Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Alexei II, and Mayor Luzhkov, whose motivation was made clear when he said that the reconstruction of the Cathedral was a "symbol of might and well-being of a great power." Construction crews of more than 2,500 people work around the clock, seven days a week, to build this gigantic structure which will be one of the largest churches in the world. As Steven Erlanger pointed out, "This project is a good example of the moral ambiguity and political opportunism of the Russian state, led by former Communists who repent only some of Communisms crimes, like the destruction of this church, and take responsibility for none" (The New York Times, September 26, 1995).
Nostalgia in Popular Russian Culture
in popular Russian culture. When Vladimir Zhirinovsky was nominated as the Liberal Democratic Partys presidential candidate, he knelt and kissed a St. Andrews flag, the banner of the tsarist army. Even Russian nobility have re-emerged to stake their claim as the true elite of Russia. In the early 1990s the Assembly of the Descendants of Russian Nobility took over a former nobles mansion in downtown Moscow, which had served as a museum to Marx and Engels during the Soviet period, and are now sponsoring social events for which they dress in extravagant costumes flaunting their wealth. These descendants of Russian nobility want to see the "old days" come back again and many other Russians have a nostalgic fascination with this resurrected tsarist lifestyle (Russian Life, February 1996).
Nostalgia with a Warning
Dr. John A. Bernbaum