The Last Years of the Soviet Empire: Snapshots from 1985-1991

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Neil F. O'Donnell | Go to book overview

FIGHTING TO WARM UP THE COLD SOVIET HEART APRIL 1988

This snapshot reveals the dark side of human nature that is exposed when
people have no social mythology on which to depend during times of trouble.
As we have already seen, and will see again, the Soviet people were facing
extraordinary difficulties without the benefit of a moral or ideological com-
pass. It is no surprise, then, that this snapshot finds them prepared to embrace
almost any ideology offering salvation.

In a recent series of programs on Soviet TV, secondary school teachers were unanimous in declaring cruelty among students to be the major problem in Soviet schools today. In the teachers's opinion, Soviet teenagers have little concept of compassion, altruism, or kindness toward their classmates.

Glasnost has permitted open examination of the morals not only of Soviet youth but of their parents as well. In the last few years, several outstanding Soviet intellectuals have expressed their views on the country's moral condition. Although they strongly disagreed on most social issues, all acknowledged Soviet society's moral malaise, which is manifested primarily in the harsh attitudes the Soviet people hold toward one another.

Ivan Vasiliev, a popular journalist living in the countryside, recently noted that he cannot recall a single voluntary collective deed in his village during the past twenty years, even when such activity was vitally important. This apathy contrasts sharply with the intense communal life of Russian villages before the revolution and even before the Second World War.

In an interview in Literaturnaia Gazeta, prominent writer Maia Ganina compared Soviet culture of the past to the current culture of cruelty and lies: "Now we choke with suspicion in the expectation of dirty tricks and malice; of the desire to mock, humiliate, and destroy whoever is weaker; of the dryness of souls and hearts."

This harshness pervades Soviet life. In most developed countries capital punishment is hotly debated and public opinion is strongly divided; in the Soviet Union, polls reveal a remarkable consensus in favor of the death penalty. The few voices that invoke the sanctity of human life are drowned out by cries demanding harsher treatment for criminals.

Soviet citizens have called for prison terms for those who do not work, those who earn too much, and those who express uncommon views. According to a recent poll, only 27 percent of all Muscovites--the most ed

____________________
This article originally appeared in "The Globe & Mail" on April 26, 1988.

-67-

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