December 20, 2006

Life After the USSR: A Bitter Kind of Love

Life After the USSR: A Bitter Kind of Love

The first year [after the collapse] we got a woodburning stove. We burnt everything that would burn in it but wood — we couldn’t afford to buy it. And so went the Lenin books. I’m not sure if it was symbolic to my parents…

Narine Malkhasyan, in a conversation with Open Source, December 15, 2006

After last week’s show about the 15th anniversary of the demise of the Soviet Union, we noticed that some on the thread thought the show had too much of an academic take and “ignored the perceptions of the common Russians”. I got in touch with my friend, Narine Malkhasyan, a Ph. D. candidate in Chemical Engineering at Northeastern University, and her mother, Minna Gurgenyan, the former Chief of Consular and Legal sections at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Yerevan, Armenia. They shared some of their memories of life post-Soviet collapse and tried to answer some of the questions that arose during the show. What was it like for the common Russian after the collapse? Is it true what our guest Steven Cohen claimed, that most former Soviets regret the end of the regime?

When Iosiph [Joseph] Stalin died, I was a pupil of a school. Thanks to propaganda, we considered him the Great Leader. For this reason we wept bitterly and could not imagine how our country would live further, without him. Then children and youth did not know anything about “cult of personality,” [nor] about repressions, because in general, life was well-to-do. However, adults knew about them, although they thought mistakenly that those negative occurences were the result of the erroneous actions of the other leaders, and that Stalin was not informed of it. Atmosphere was strict, and they had to keep quiet and did not express their views. After Stalin’s death, people have breathed freely and felt themselves liberat[ed].

Minna Gurgenyan, in an email to Open Source, December 18, 2006

My dad once made soup from Spam. It was revoltingly delicious! And you had to know the right people to get Spam, too. It wasn’t something you could always just get.

Narine Malkhasyan, in a conversation with Open Source, December 15, 2006

You really got to know your neighbours well [after the collapse], because one who had means to watch TV (car battery, etc.) would invite others over for the soaps (mindnumbing that was much needed). Or if you were making food and missing an ingredient, you went to your neighbours for it…That’s one thing that I do miss, the human connections, the friendships that were made in those times. I don’t have that anymore. I don’t think kids growing up nowadays back home do either…It comes with the comforts in life. You have electricity, so you watch TV instead of reading. You play videogames instead of playing outside, you talk online instead of in person.

Narine Malkhasyan, in a conversation with Open Source, December 15, 2006

Electricity began to function only in 1995-1996, when hydroelectric stations received fuel. Everybody could guess about the time of light switching [on] thanks to the loud joyful cheers of children who were at home or in a yard. At that time every child applauded and shouted loudly: “Hoorah, the Lights have come,” or “Light!” in unison.

Minna Gurgenyan, in an email to Open Source, December 18, 2006
[After the collapse] was the best time of my life. It was much harder on my parents. I was a kid, I was content going to bed wearing a hat and mittens, I was content reading by candlelight. Good things were really great. It was like a game to us. It’s hard[er] to reflect on the Soviet times — they were comfortable and thus less memorable, what followed left a much bigger impression.

Narine Malkhasyan, in a conversation with Open Source, December 15, 2006

I do not feel that it would be worse for us for the Soviet Union to have remained intact. I am the representative of the oldest generation. Earlier I could not even imagine that the USSR ever could not exist or collapse.

Minna Gurgenyan, in an email to Open Source, December 18, 2006

I feel more loyal to the US because of the possibilities it has given me. Armenia has done jack for me or my family. I think it’s a very bitter kind of love for Armenia though. I grew up there, it’s in my blood. It’s less the people and more the land itself that I miss.

Narine Malkhasyan, in a conversation with Open Source, December 15, 2006

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