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Coming to Terms with the Past

 

Many Russians still struggle to adapt themselves to the socioeconomic and political changes of recent years. This explains the growing nostalgia for the certainties of the Soviet past and the softening of critical attitudes toward the Soviet period.  

 

This reevaluation of history is clearly seen when Russians are asked to divide the historical periods into positive and negative. The perceptions of Stalin and, especially, Brezhnev’s periods have taken a noticeable positive turn. Under Brezhnev the country developed slowly but in a peaceful and predictable manner. The majority of the respondents appraise Gorbachev and Yeltsin’s periods in power highly negatively.  

Evaluation of Russian Historical Periods of the Twentieth Century (VTsIOM) 

Period

1994

1999

 

Positive

Negative

Positive

Negative

Nicholas I

n/a

n/a

18

12

Revolution

27

38

28

36

Stalin

18

57

26

48

Khrushchev

33

14

30

14

Brezhnev

36

16

51

10

Gorbachev

16

47

9

61

Yeltsin

n/a

n/a

5

72

It is obvious that, beginning from the mid-1990s, Russian society’s attitude to the Soviet past has been changing in the direction of a positive reappraisal. But it would be erroneous to attribute this change to a revival of imperial cravings or a renewed enthusiasm for Communist ideas. The main reason is the hard effects of the reforms.

In the 1990s, when Russian society struggled to preserve the remnants of stability in the economy and politics, many began to look back to Brezhnev’s days with nostalgia, realizing that stability in life had its own definite value and that, at times, “stagnation” was more desirable than reforms and changes. As liberal and democratic values that underpinned the reforms were discredited, society sought instinctively to establish a new identity and find an anchor of stability in other values, including those from the recent past.

Contemporary Russian society is characterized by the trend toward consolidation, searching for national accord and a reconciliation with its past.

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