Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tustan Saga, Part 4: Conversations

Our wonderful hosts always had something interesting to say. Vasyl was particularly happy to have a captive audience willing to hear him expound upon politics. On occasion, Nadia would interrupt him with skeptical harrumphs, challenge him on some of his statements, and admonish him not to talk about politics with company.

Among his revelations, fueled by his upbringing in the Soviet Union, false memories, and a large amount of vodka, were:

1) The US is responsible for all of the world's problems since the end of World War II. US-led combat in Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan (?), and elsewhere has been the source of woes for all. He was reminded of the USSR's war in Afghanistan, but instructed us that Americans were the root cause of this too.

2) He was highly critical of the US military, claiming that "US soldiers have no patriotism." Instead, he stated with authority that they serve only for the ample paychecks they receive. "It is all about the money." This is in sharp contrast to the Soviet military where patriotism was high.

3) In 1926, Lenin told Roosevelt that politics is equivalent to prostitution (he was reluctant to reveal this with women in the room).

4) As a big party man, he had access to lots of documents. He knew, for instance, that Nikita Khrushchev was fined $1.2 million by the United Nations for his shoe-pounding incident.

5) He told several interesting anecdotes related to economics. As a student, he had a brilliant professor who shocked the students by announcing that "markets are chaos." He asked the professor about this comment, and was instructed to look at the price of a particular item in several stores. Of course, it was the Soviet period so the prices were identical from store to store. In a market economy, the prices are different - this is anarchy and chaos. [Of course, from the perspective of a planned economy, this is correct. But, planned economy prices have little to do with scarcity or the value of a good.] Regarding today's economy: "it is not chaos, but simply a crime."

6) Stalin, in his view, did many bad things. But, today's politicians are even worse.

We are not relating these stories to lampoon Vasyl. Rather, these anecdotes provide some insight into the mindset of many elderly people in the former Soviet Union. The collapse of the USSR brought chaos where there was order, attempted to discredit a past that they helped build and maintain, widened the gap between rich and poor, and reduced the status of a once great superpower. It is important for us to realize that there is still a large number of people who believed in the Soviet Union and its propaganda, including the anti-American propaganda.

His family's experience with Soviet power was quite mixed. While he was an honorable cog in the mechanisms of the Soviet economy, his wife's family experienced the arbitrary and cruel power of the state. The false histories and interpretations of the world help support memories of a Soviet Union that never was, but he wants to believe existed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like many of the views from this side of the ocean, just from the other side of the mirror. Both sides meet in an invisible mirror surface. Or like the pre Vatican II versus post Vatican II views of the Church. Reality lies in the mind and interpretation of the perceiver and not in objectivity.
Lea's Dad