A Tale of the Past. Drawn By The Ears

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Real Estate Broker/Owner with Daytona Condo Realty, 386-405-4408

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...

the My memories of Soviet UnionThat 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.

pioneer in the Soviet unionThat 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)

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Rainmaker
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Bruce Walter
Keller Williams Realty Lafayette/West Lafayette, Indiana - West Lafayette, IN

Hi Jon.  Thanks for the glimse within your former nation.  As a former US History teacher who taught a class on The Cold War I just relish your observations of life inside the former Soviet Union.  Our government wasn't always forthcoming about what it was like inside the CCCP so it is refreshing to hear first hand your stories.

Just an observation,   Our leaders do in effect do the same when they stray too far from the public with their ideaology.  I can think during the darkest years of The Great Patriotic War how Stalin was smart enough to place communism on the back burner and Rally the Russian people around defending Holy Mother Russia.  President Clinton was smart enough to change course toward the center after the disasterious mid-term elections of 1994.  I wonder how President Obama will react to the recent elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and now Massachusetts??? 

Leaders do know how to "suck up" to the people when they have to for the mere sake of political preservation.

Thanks for another look inside your nation.  By the way during the same time period - I was in 6th grade in 1964 we started the school day with the Pledge of Allegience and all athletic contests were preceded by the National Anthem.

Jan 23, 2010 06:03 AM #1
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Bruce Walter
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Oh, one other thing Jon.  As a former teacher many, many students would always try and suck up to the teacher when writing a composition.  I always tried very hard to never let a student know my personal position on a matter because if students did know that they would try and play you.  I knew many teachers that had a definite political outlook and I always wondered how many of the students chose their topic very carefully to play to the teachers' favorite viewpoints, and not write what they actually believed.  I think this is something that kids know worldwide and try and play that to their advantage no matter what the country.  I concede that in a country that forces "the party line" upon the teachers that the outcome will be more uniform.

Jan 23, 2010 06:16 AM #2
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Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL
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Bruce - I am a bit afraid of making parallels with the Soviet Union. Not that there was nothing similar, of course, there was. I am afraid that similarity is way less than the major difference, but it is easy to take one for the other.

Just an idea what I mean is that would be like comparing two dogs, but forgetting that one is not a dog, it is a wolf, that looks very similar, but much stronger, and never let's the victim go, like dogs. One is playing the other is killing.

I can only say that in the US people mean something. You can actually elect, and in Russian it was just a farce for the world. Massachusetts could not have happened in Russia. Not because it is good, or because it is bad. But because it was against the will of the President, it would be unthinkable in Russia.

Thank you for a thoughtful comment.

Jan 23, 2010 06:18 AM #3
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Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL
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Bruce - yes, it was very uniform, and not only along the political lines. It was uniform even on the school curriculum line, too. The composition was not what the teacher could come up with, it was sent with strict guidelines. The system worked similar on all levels. Some were simply affecting you livelihood and even life, while others didn't but the uniformity of the underlying principles was incredible.

BTW, what an interesting coincidence. I was in the 6th grade in 1964. I - there, you- here. Same year. Which president were you glorifying then?

Jan 23, 2010 06:23 AM #4
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Bruce Walter
Keller Williams Realty Lafayette/West Lafayette, Indiana - West Lafayette, IN

Interesting question, Jon.  I really don't recall much about the 1964 election other than that very famous Johnson commercial against Goldwater with the little girl playing in the field of daisies and then the mushroom cloud going off.  I remember more about the 1960 election between Kennedy and Nixon and I recall changing sides two or three times.

Jan 23, 2010 06:30 AM #5
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Inna Hardison
ha media group - Orlando, FL
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Oh, Jon - i don't know... I don't recall ever quoting a 'leader' or some party dude in any of my essays, and I did fine (never mind the weird pants, the hair etc...)

PS: there is something to be said for some uniformity of standards when it comes to our school curriculums.  I fid it mindboggling that the kids in my son's generation have no common base; they took different subjects, read different books, and short of some very basic likes and dislikes, i think these kids will have a serious problem communicating even with their peers.  Their systems of reference are so distnct they might as well all live thousands of miles apart...

 

Jan 23, 2010 06:45 AM #6
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Tom Braatz Waukesha County Real Estate 262-377-1459
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Jon

Absolutely fascinating; that must have been interesting with all the culture you were in and the change of culture you came to.

Jan 23, 2010 07:41 AM #7
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Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL
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You were much younger, and even more relaxed generation than me. But it is funny that you do not remember you rebelling against the establishment, and fighting ferociously, sometimes putting yourself against the rest of your class, I am surprised with that.

I guess part of the reason you had it easier, besides your nature, as you simply could not do it any other way, was the fact that you mom was a heavy hitter in education, and everyone knew her not in Vorkuta only, but also beyond. And that was the reason, that though we were called to school, and they attempted to break not only you, but us as well, threatening to report to the Party officials, and so on, they did not want a serious scandal with Olga. Finally, even the principal, that did not like you for your open mouth (and she was not alone), did not want to really fight your mom as they were both principals and it would be a bad precedent if they would turn it into vendetta. When your friend was threatened that she would not be graded no matter whether she knew the material or not, and they simply failed her on the final test as promised... you told me this just recently... I did not know that story, imagine how they would have it to you on every subject...

So, if not for your mom, I do not think you would even have a HS diploma

Somehow this escapes you, and you think that this is how freely you could really express yourself.

Yes, they were not cutting pants in the 80s, but remember lipstick, or earring, or girl's underwear, and how not having that long gown under the dress automatically made you all "prostitutes"? You do not remember this?

As for Daniel and schools here, I have to shut up. I simply do not know, did not work in school here.

P.S. Yes, I forgot to add that when you were being silenced, I worked in the very same school, and this, though less than your mom's involvement, helped to keep you afloat

Jan 23, 2010 08:27 AM #8
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Tom - that's never a simple thing, as no matter how much better your life becomes, you still lose and lose a lot.

And yes, it is very different, and now i understand it more than before.

Jan 23, 2010 08:29 AM #9
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Bruce Walter
Keller Williams Realty Lafayette/West Lafayette, Indiana - West Lafayette, IN

Inna-I think your creative juices are being stirred by the US education system.  I do believe a blog is in order, and oh, do I have some views on that!

Jan 23, 2010 08:51 AM #10
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Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL
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Bruce - thecommercial that you remember from 1964, very subtle, don't you think so?

Jan 23, 2010 03:16 PM #11
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Inna Hardison
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Jon - granted, and it's not that I don't remember it, it's just that to me - that's the way it was, and I didn't have to 'quote' anyone in particular to do ok. Not spectacular, but ok.  Funny thing, the non-conformists in us end up having this same problem no matter our geography or politics.

:-)

PS: The way I see it - my friend and I got even with the principal, btw, and, for what it's worth, I am still me.  I have no way of kowing what would have happened should we have stayed, or were I born in an earlier generation, but reberrlions are never welcomed by authorities, no matter where you are, and conformity is, indeed, something that is drilled into our young.  At times, under the guise of respect for the elders, or more blatantly - by control-freak bosses one's livelihood depends on.  While the outcomes are drastically differnt between these two countries, what it does to a person is probably pretty darn close.  We are all taught to pick our battles, Jon.  So much for individualism.

Jan 23, 2010 03:50 PM #12
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Bruce Walter
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Jon, as subtle as a train wreck!

Jan 23, 2010 04:27 PM #13
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Inna - just thought about the dates. So, I started learing and accepting the science of surviving in the 6th grade. It was 1964 and Brezhnev was one year on the throne. He lasted 18. Then there was Andropov, a dark figure, chief of KGB, who, according to recent publication, was a very scared man afraid of his own institution (knew it well, obviously). We did not really praise him for a simple reason: he died very quickly.

Then it was Constantin Chernenko, and the whole thing would have blossomed and started again, but he also died very quickly. Then it was Ustinov, who died before we managed to replace all the portraits...

And next came young, ambitious Gorbachev... it was 1985, and your were in the 5th grade, and yes, kids did not start every composition with the quote. Officials started heavily using Lenin's quotes at that time, but that happened even before. Every transition brought Lenin to the front (beginning with 1961, when they stopped praising Stalin).

Interestingly, I became a University student in 1968, and our textbooks on General Linguistics were heavily quoting Stalin, who was called the founding father of modern general linguistics...New textbooks, where Stalin was not mentioned, were yet to come... I do not know whether Brezhnev was mentioned there at all, but later in his life he got into all History books, and they basically wrote a new History of the USSR, and History of World War II, which was won exclusively because of his involvement. They forced old Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who was the most well known military commander of the war, a full general, then a Marshal to "write" a Chapter in his book about how he was consulting colonel Brezhnev. Old Zhukov was told that his recollection of war would never be published.

The book was so heavily edited, that I think Zhukov is still turning in his grave

 

Jan 24, 2010 12:00 AM #14
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Paul Warkow
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I had an aunt who lived in the Soviet Union.  After years of trying, she was finally able to leave the Soviet Union and move to the United States in 1966.  After a few months of living here, she said something I will never forget, "The easiest place in the world to be a Communist is the United States."

Jan 24, 2010 02:09 AM #15
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Tim Maitski
Atlanta Communities Real Estate Brokerage - Atlanta, GA
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Jon,  I thought these quotes below are appropriate to your post.

Unfortunately a couple are from some prominent Democrats and  fit in so well.  Nahh, It couldn't happen here, could it?

 

Comrades! We must abolish the cult of the individual decisively, once and for all
- Nikita Khrushchev

The main plank in the National Socialist program is to abolish the liberalistic concept of the individual
- Adolf Hitler

At a time when our entire country is banding together and facing down individualism, the Patriots set a wonderful example, showing us all what is possible when we work together, believe in each other, and sacrifice for the greater good
- Ted Kennedy, 2002

There is the great, silent, continuous struggle: the struggle between the State and the Individual
- Benito Mussolini

We must stop thinking of the individual and start thinking about what is best for society
- Hillary Clinton, 1993

All our lives we fought against exalting the individual, against the elevation of the single person
- Vladimir Lenin

Jan 24, 2010 11:20 PM #16
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Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL
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Paul - it sounds very strange, but not for Russians, and I have heard it so many times from Russian immigrants. It is all we lived and died for, but here people were not dying to live a human life

Jan 25, 2010 12:29 PM #17
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Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL
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Tim - thanks for a great bunch you got here.

You always surprise me. You know so many things and so different that it seems impossible.

Jan 25, 2010 12:38 PM #18
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