Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Can't Turn Back The Clock

Felix Dzerzhinsky is off his pedestal on Lubyanka Square. A 100-ruble coin bearing the two-headed eagle is now in circulation. It seems that metro stations and streets change names daily: Even old Moscow hands can be stumped when trying to find an address on Vozdvizhenka -part of Novy Arbat, formerly Kalininsky Prospekt. The stirring Soviet hymn is being replaced with music by the great Russian classical composer Mikhail Glinka.


In short, Russians seem to be trying to turn back the clock, at least symbolically.


But the KGB continues to operate behind that empty pedestal on the Lubyanka. The gleaming 100-ruble coin buys less every day in an economy devastated by attempts to reform the discredited command-administrative system imposed by the Communists. and no name change can bring back the lovely old streets of the Arbat district, razed to make way for the soulless showcase of communism named Kalininsky Prospekt.


It sometimes seems as if Russia is emerging from Communist rule the way it cast off the Tatar yoke more than six centuries ago. But the Communists were not foreign invaders, exacting tribute from a hostile and enslaved population. Soviet Communism was a domestic product, with its roots in Russian history and culture.


Literature lovers will find many typically "Soviet" scenes in the 19th-century classics. With a few cosmetic changes, Gogol's "Inspector General" could be transposed to the height of the stagnation period.


Why does any of this matter?


Films like Stanislav Govorukhin's nationalist diatribe "The Russia We Have Lost" paint idealized portraits of life before the Bolshevik Revolution. In this interpretation, Russia was a peaceful, prosperous, happy country that was destroyed by Jews and other "foreigners" bearing ideological contamination from the West.


Such ruminations push Russia toward isolationism, as it turns away from the "decadent" West to pursue its own unique path. This debate is not new. The Westernizers and the Slavophiles have been sparring for 150 years. But dismissing 75 years as a foreign imposition misses the point.


Russians must come to terms with the Communist period. and the focus of this should not be a witch hunt, a search for someone to blame. Millions of Russians supported the Communist government, and many participated in some of the worst excesses of the repressive regime.


Russians cannot excuse themselves from responsibility by casting off the trappings of the Communist society and wrapping themselves in folklore. In so doing, they risk treading the same path again.