I think I was in the 6-th grade at that time. It was Russian Language & Literature class and our home task was to write a composition. As usual, after the teacher checked our home task, she presented the best and the worst to us.
The best was by a boy, who started the composition with the quote from Brezhnev, the then General Secretary of The Communist Part of the Soviet Union, the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Of the USSR...
It stunned me, as it was not needed for the composition, and, as the Russian saying goes, was "drawn to the subject by the ears". Pretty much like we can now praise Al Gore for the end of Global Warming, while he is not even a President with unlimited powers... oops, I digress...
That was my encounter with being politically correct, which was an important survival skill and was geared towards success in the future. Since then I could notice it everywhere. Not that it started then, it just that we got grown up to start practicing it. Even class meetings speech often started or contained quotes. We were quoting either Lenin, or the current General Secretary of The Communist Party, The Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union or both. (Sometimes they were also the Prime Ministers in addition to their other titles, but that varied).
That was how the propaganda ingrained the ideology in their young citizens. Poems about Lenin and the Communist Party in the daycare were something different, because they were just poems that we learned and liked. Quoting great leaders was already a matter of our choice, and that was an act, that we needed to do.
Even if one was a mathematician, and his paper was purely scientific, if he was to publish something, he would have to preface it with a couple of quotes about the great right to learn (Lenin), or the importance of science for the future of the country (current leader).
It also meant that every act, that the establishment did not like, every behavior, not strictly approved, was declared against the good of the country. It was in different forms. Long hair was one of the signs of loving rotten capitalism, and it was not unusual for a dean at the University to run down the hallway during the break with scissors in his hand after students. When narrow trousers made it into fashion in the 60s, concerned citizen were gathering in groups and would stop young people they called (stilyaga - meaning a follower of fashion) and would cut off the bottom, or listening to Beatles in late 60 was a sign of influence of Capitalism. Simple listening to the foreign radio was a Crime. Our radio waves were controlled and blocked, but industrious guys would modify the wave length, and listen to the enemies. When they were caught (not a matter of if), they were sent to labor camps. Knowing what our enemies (you, my friends) were saying or thinking, or doing, was a prerogative of the government, and it would not allow anyone to compete.
Then it was also in the spiritual sphere, where the Communist Party dictated what good literature was, and what good music was, and what Soviet art should be. And that's how the nation that gave such an outburst of highest quality Art at the end of 19th - beginning of the 20-th century, ended up with officially approved art, which was a high cry from the Silver Century in Literature.
That moment, when this boy put a quote there was the moment where he accepted the dualism of it. Writing something not needed for the composition, but needed for his future career. Not that he was the only one, he was simply the first. His dad was a lecturer at the University, PhD and he knew that if you wanted to be something more than a laborer, you had to blend into the system, and it started with a person. It takes time to make a PC person so that he does not need to pretend. If we kept doing it from young age, it became our nature.
Times have changed dramatically. But deep down in the heart of my generation the values of the past are alive. The fear or the joy that they may come back (depending on your values) is still there. It is ingrained in us too deep, and it is too strong to just wipe it out by a decree or the executive order. those who are there praise Putin/Medvedev and blame US and/or the West for everything else, including Global Warming...
I often get the question why people would not oppose, or not sabotage, or engage in some other act of civil disobedience. But for that you should need to have both the forces of oppression, and the forces of opposition, and this is not what we had. Though there was opposition, we did not know about it. It was deep underground or they were in prison. This perception comes from not understanding the fabric of the society, woven the Socialist way. The cornerstones were that good of the citizen was always secondary to the good of the country, represented by the Communist Party. Therefore not being a formal member of the Communist Party did not mean that you could neglect its decisions, and that you even did not have to abide by their guidelines and rulings. And another very important thing was that individual was a bad thing, the collective was good, one person was nothing. We were all only nuts and bolts of this huge machine called Communism, that we were building, and we were all expandable, and only in fitting the machine was our survival and our future. And it was not enough to realize it and follow it. It was required and demanded that you glorify it, and not only follow yourself, but force others to follow. If they are not happy following us, they are against us.
It is wrong to think that repressive mechanism were only party ideologues, party officials, KGB. They did their part, no questions about it. But we, the citizens of this nation (conglomerate of nations) were the integral part of the regime, and the oppression. It was not us and them as the extremes, it was us and them as a unity, maybe not friendly, maybe not understood, but followed to the letter.
We are in the US since 1991, and we never lived in the so called Russian community, which can become nothing more as the Soviet Union with no shortage of food and free medical care (what was always the dream of socialism, and what was promised, and what so many older people found in an unlikely place - in the heart of Capitalist society). So, we are integrated into the American society as much as other immigrants who came here 20 years ago. And my wife has such difficult time coping with my blogs, which are "political". She knows that this is a free country, she understands that we are free people... but she would feel so much better if I did not write those "political" blogs.
She is not a nut, I am. Not only in her eyes, but in the eyes of many others, who have the same social background. I am not talking about those, who went through jails and Stalin's camps, who were tortured. We were the OK generation, we got through schools, through universities, we had decent jobs, and decent (by our standards) living. We were successful... as long as we did not cross the path with the system, like in my wife's mind I am doing now.
* Images courtesy of Flickr.com (under Creative Common license)