Ms. Gulsat Akhinoma was one among the fourteen members of our group that set out from Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, to explore the Caucasus Mountains recently. Gulsat was born in the city of Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan. She is a university graduate working in Bishkek. Since she was born in the erstwhile Soviet Union, grew up there and seen its downfall, I had a lot of questions for her and she had answers for all of them. For me, whatever she had shared seemed to be thought-provoking not only for those who support the ideology that the Soviet Union had practiced but for its haters also. This is an attempt to share it here in her own words.
“I was fourteen years old when the Soviet Union was dissolved. I still remember the day. There was a collective-farm building in our village. On its roof, there was the red Soviet flag, with the hammer and sickle imprinted on it, fluttering in the air. There was also a portrait of Vladimir Lenin on its wall. A few youngsters arrived there on horseback shouting loudly – God blessed us, the Russian army left our land, we are a free nation now. They pulled down the Soviet flag and tried to wipe off the image of Lenin from the wall…
There was a students’ organization in the name of Lenin at our school. I was its leader. We were committed to keep our society a classless one that depended on science for human progress. As you see, now there are limited opportunities for education and once you complete your studies, there is hardly any job opportunity. Under the Soviet regime, there were universities in every city with highly qualified teachers. There was nothing that limited our scope in terms of finding better avenues for education. Those excelled in the local universities were sent to Moscow for higher studies. The government provided for free boarding and lodging for such students. Once you complete your studies, it was the responsibility of the university to find a suitable job for you which could be anywhere in the Union.
During those times, our people used to work for everyone, for the state. Now everyone works for themselves. Still our needs are unmet. There are anxieties and uncertainties about tomorrow. You can find cut-throat competition everywhere. The youngsters were more energetic during the Soviet times. The farmers sowed and reaped together. The nation respected them. As the agricultural production increased, living standards of the people improved. Though there was a crisis in the agricultural sector during the Second World War, the Soviet Union managed to send food grains to countries that were reeling under acute food shortage, including India.
Individual freedom did not mean a situation where the citizens were free to do anything s/he wanted. But, they were free to do what was essential and in the best interest of his/her fellow beings. For us, getting equal treatment and opportunities in the society was freedom. In all such aspects, the Soviet Union was far ahead of any other country in the world ever. But, of course, there were certain controls which were absolutely necessary to keep the Union together.
What one needs to understand is that the collapse of the Union is not something that happened due to the policies of Joseph Stalin. It was largely due to the ‘De-Stalinisation’ process adopted by Nikita Khrushchev and his successors. They brought capitalism, religion and class differences back to the Society which ultimately resulted in conflicts in every realm of life and eventually led to the downfall of the Union. No country which was part of the Soviet Union progressed after its dissolution. There is extreme poverty everywhere. Women from these countries are being sold in the flesh markets in cities like Hong Kong, Bangkok and Dubai. All those youngsters who criticize the Union never lived there. You talk to our elders, they will tell you about a political party and their government that respected humanity, knowledge, science and agriculture. Our country is under Neo-slavery today. Our lives, nature and resources are being exploited. We can’t think about tomorrow without fear.
Religions have made a strong come back into our society. The Soviet Union had kept them at bay. There were just a few churches. Religious education was banned. Religious leaders had nothing to do with politics and governance. Today churches have mushroomed in almost every village with foreign aid. Religious leaders exert so much of pressure in governance.
The silver lining is that gradually people are realizing that everything is not going in the right direction. Despite all the sense of loss, we are hopeful that the Soviet Union will emerge again. Eventually, there will be a realisation that nothing other than a Communist establishment can treat everyone equally and provide for food, health, opportunities and peace. They will take up the red flag they had thrown away once. There may not be another country or political establishment that was loved and admired by people like the Soviet Union. My dream is to be able to live in the Soviet Union again.”
(This is a translation of the original post in Malayalam done by my friend Nissar Adoor. He is getting it translated into Russian)