Do Russian people miss USSR? Do people like or dislike USSR? Do people believe life was better in USSR or it is better now?
These questions I am often asked by people coming to Russia.
I attempt to answer this question dividing whole population into four categories. Each category defines certain attitudes towards life in USSR. In real life it’s often not that straight forward as people tend to have mixed opinions. These four groups are just to give you an idea of general streams of opinions circulating nowadays in the society.
Imagine a large country like USSR was, falling apart. And it is not just falling apart, but every aspect of life goes through a radical change. Political system, government, laws, economy, lifestyle— all changes happen really fast and everything becomes new. Because of the massive changes, there are chaos and uncertainty. Life, as people knew it, breaks apart, turning into what people called a "new reality." This new reality pushed people into finding new ways of building their lives. It takes personal transformation to adopt to living in a country that looks familiar, but in many ways have become new. One's ability to adopt to a new reality defines their success in life after USSR. Largely it also defines their attitude towards it.
Younger generation people, born after (roughly) 1980-1985. They do not remember USSR, and they have no idea what life in USSR was like. If they express any opinion, this is coming from memories and opinions of their parents, stories told by other people. Simply speaking whatever opinion they have about USSR, it does not count.
As a side note, those born after 1990 have notably different cultural programming that has less of “soviet” in it. Although not completely free from behaviors and mindsets of soviet times (as it transfers through education and parenting and society), they think and act quite differently.
”Unsuccessful” Those who did not manage to establish life in the “new reality”. There is a big population of Russian people pushed to the curbside as a result of USSR destroyed. At that time many were about to retire, some lost their jobs, some high-paid jobs turned into lowest wage employment, some went bankrupt… You can hear millions of stories of people who’s life went downhill and never returned to normal after USSR fell apart. People who belonged to older generation back then were already in that stage of life when it would be extremely difficult (if at all possible) to radically change their life and adapt to new ways of living. They, for the most part, miss USSR and would do anything to get back to soviet times. As these people pass away, USSR becomes like a myth.
”Successful” Those who managed to establish successful life in the post-soviet “new reality”. Successful means having job, or other sustainable source of income and place in the society. Their ability to adapt to new ways of living lies in their personality, connections and many other aspects that made them move forward. Nowadays people representing this group are in their mid-40s and older. They are happy about their lives now and not thinking about USSR times as they established lifestyle much better than they would have in USSR.
”Nostalgic” This sort of sub-group of people mostly belongs to “successful”. They do make a good (much better compared to USSR) living, but some of them still believe it was better back in USSR times. There is also a notable trend in social networks and blogs discussing how great life was in USSR. The ice cream was better, sausage was better, the grass was greener. People get nostalgic about artifacts existed in their lives back in USSR. They bring up memories, about daily life, food, toys, lifestyle. In their memories, life was better, easier, brighter back then (naivety multiplied by Alzheimer).
Personal opinion of the author.
I went to school in USSR times (graduated in 1991), so I vividly remember how life was back then. By all means, life in USSR was miserable — no question and no doubt about this. Yet, people managed to live their lives having joy and fun, despite outer circumstances. Those genuine joys came from basic things like family, relationships, friendships, other simple things in life. Yes, life in USSR was simpler and maybe this is what many people are longing for? When someone gets nostalgic about life in USSR — it's just their illusory memories about those feelings of joy and happiness they had long time ago, when they were younger.