If you grew up in the 1980s (or before that), the Soviet Union loomed large.
The Cold War was dwindling down but there was still a real fear that a nuclear war could erupt at any minute. And, of course, we had Rocky IV, Red Dawn, and all kinds of other propaganda-style films filling our little heads with messages about the evils of Communism.
But do the older generations of Russians miss the days of the USSR?
Here are some fascinating answers from AskReddit users.
1. You must play your part.
“Both my parents were born and raised in Kazakhstan. My dad’s side fled to Germany some time before the collapse but my mum’s side only had the opportunity during the collapse. She only recently told me that when everything started going to shit and all of the smaller countries decided they wanted to become independent states, the Russian government basically dropped the shared currency and introduced their new currency from basically one day to the next.
When this happened, they had already booked their flights from their town to Moscow and then from Moscow to Germany, with a day layover. They were very much aware that they didn’t have any money to spend in Moscow but luckily the hotel was paid for by the German government, however this still left them with the transport from the airport to the hotel.
She told me that when they got there, non of the taxis would accept the “old” currency, even though people who were natives there could have taken the money and exchanged it for new currency without much hassle. They finally found a taxi driver who took them to the hotel and accepted their money but she also said that he was very tense the whole time because apparently most airport taxis back then were controlled by the mob.
Mum told me that before the collapse the USSR wasn’t so bad, if you played your part. Dad’s side of the family are, for the most part, still very nostalgic about the “good old times” when everyone had a stable job and a simpler life. But I also have to mention that my mum lived in a bigger city in the North close to the Russian border, and had thus access to more amenities and more importantly information, while my dad grew up on a farm in a small village in the far south and his family were largely self sustaining.”
2. They were quite happy.
“My family and I are from Odessa. My parents were born in the early 1960’s. Generally speaking, they were what you’d call progressives today on most social issues, and they were both academics. In general they were quite happy living under the USSR – they had free education and free lodging. They grew up under a less restrictive Iron Curtain than their parents did, and they lived in a port city so it was easy to smuggle in things like fashion magazines, music, etc. The big things they hated were the food shortages in the 80s, the constant “political education”, and the big one — antisemitism.
My mom and her side of the family had a very different experience than my dad. For background: my mom’s side is Russian, my dad’s side is Jewish. My mother’s family were true, good communists who were proud to serve their country and proud of their ideals – my grandfather was some kind of special forces military?? and he was very, very proud of his country; my father’s family were less enthused about patriotism and more concerned with surviving and remembering that even though our home city had been occupied by Nazis, the Soviets had killed many of our family as well.
When my dad went to apply for a graduate program in physics in Moscow, there was an oral examination to get in. You answered questions essentially until you were wrong; most people were kept for an hour or two. What they’d do apparently to the Jewish students was they’d keep them for hours and hours longer until they finally made a mistake. They kept my dad for about eight hours, and then told him he couldn’t attend. He went to study in Siberia instead, which was very far from home and from my mother, and he was the target of antisemitic violence by the police there more than once. When she went to live with him, it was much harder to live in a small rural Siberian town than it was back home, and they really struggled.
Still, my dad really loved the USSR. He loved his life doing research and never worrying too much about funding or tuition (the way I do now as a PhD student…); he loved meeting students from all around the USSR and countries like Cuba; he was a Ham radio operator and chatted with people all over the continent. Neither he nor my mom really wanted or needed a big house or fancy stuff – they were happy with their apartment, and though life was hard sometimes and they had to grow their own food or forage, to them it was just what you did. It wasn’t fun or easy, but they don’t talk about it as if they’re angry about it. They did, however, absolutely hate the constant political education and having to recite whatever Brezhnev or whoever else said at whatever random day in history.
We immigrated in 1996 – 24 years ago, on the day actually! – after the inflation and general situation in Ukraine had become untenable. My parents don’t like Putin and don’t like “strong men” in politics in general, but they generally are wary about talking politics at all. They miss a lot of the life they had in the Soviet Union – they miss the music (my dad was really into the underground scene) and the art, the culture, the general values. They know that life wasn’t great and they weren’t well off by any means, but until the inflation got really bad they were pretty happy, and they think that things got much much worse after the fall. My mom even misses the kolkhoz — she picked fruit all summer in southern Ukraine — although my dad, who made bricks in Kazakhstan, is understandably a lot more ambivalent.
The big thing that I’m sad about is that we lost all our Jewish religious observances because of the USSR, but on the other hand my parents were absolutely SHOCKED when I told them how much debt I needed to take on for university, or when we moved to Canada and saw so many homeless people on the street in the winter. My parents live pretty comfortably now – my dad works as a software developer, my mom is retired – but when we moved, we had no money at all, and suddenly things actually became harder. Like, there was so much stuff to eat — but my parents had no money, and weren’t allowed by building regulations to grow stuff or have a garden, rent wasn’t controlled, and my dad’s PhD was suddenly absolutely worthless.
My mom says being poor back home was bad, but at least she knew how things worked, how to deal with it, and knew that people cared about her — when we immigrated, she felt that the country barely gave a shit about us at all. And my dad acknowledges that what the universities did was horrible, but as he points out, “it doesn’t seem like they let in too many different kinds of people into higher education here either”. “
3. Simplicity and camaraderie.
“My mother and I came here from a former Soviet Union state when I was 3. During her prime, she was a high ranking medical officer then afterwards she continued to be an OBGYN. She’s in her late 60s now but whenever I ask her how did our family live and what it was like, she always described it positively. For a family of doctors(mother, father, and grandmother were all doctors) we lived in modest high rise apartment (3 bedrooms, living room, couple bathrooms, kitchen) along with other tenants who had a wide range of occupations.
Everyone in my town went to the same bazaar. We used to play soccer in the parking lot of the apartment building. My grandmother used to tell us stories of how hard it was in the beginning of the Soviet Union and through WW2. When she was around the age of 10 she was forced to work on a cotton farm and till the day she passed she would always avoid them. But, she was very fond of Stalin and genuinely supported him because of how peaceful things became after WW2. My mother acknowledges the negative things that he did but she doesn’t disagree of how good of a life she had.
Up until the Soviet Union collapses and the states were over run by corrupt autocrats, there weren’t so many complications and difficulties as there are when we moved here. Day to day life wasn’t as gloomy and shady as everyone likes to describe it in the West. I’ve lived in the U.S. for most of my life. Life here is good don’t get me wrong but if I can speak for the older generation of my family I believe they loved the simplicity, camaraderie and how much people cared for each other rather than compare themselves to others.”
4. Felt more secure.
“Born after the fall of the USSR, but both my parents grew up and lived in it, my grandmother was in the siege of Leningrad, and is still alive.
There isn’t much I can say, but my grandmother says it was overall a tougher time to live, however it felt more secure than now, and much more secure than right after the fall, the ninetees in Russia were a mess and a half, where there basically was no functioning government or police.
My parents themselves say that the 90’s were so scary that they wonder if that was better during USSR times.”
5. An interesting family history.
“I belong to a Siberian ethnic group that faced repression during Stalinist Era and after. Plus, a good deal of my family fought against the soviets during the Civil War; a lot of them died or fled the country. My grandfather grew up in the gulag and never had a good thing to say about the communists, like much of the family of his generation.
He was branded ‘son of the enemy of the state’ his whole life and always had difficulties living in the Soviet state. My mother and aunt, on the other hand, grew up when it was much more stable – food, utilities and entertainment were plentiful (they listened to rock bands, ate ice cream and watched international films) and a lot of their peers joined organizations like Pioneers and the Party, much to disappointment of my grandfather and his peers.
However, 90s in Russia were absolutely savage, especially in Siberia. Normal functions broke down, currency was out of flux, people lost pensions, crime was out of control. My grandmother really missed and lamented the olden times in the 90s. Even though it wasn’t as ‘free’, there was security, certainty and overall hopefulness.
My uncle was killed by a reckless driver in the middle of the day and the police essentially refused to investigate. Grandparents’ dacha was vandalized and burglarized so many times without any concern from authorities, that my mild mannered, university professor grandfather decided to guard it himself with a shotgun and ended up ‘getting’ one of the guys.
My view and that of my family is scewed because of the fact that we’re a minority ethnic group in Russia. Even though my family has resided in Russia ever since they took over and colonized, even though I held Russian citizenship, ate bread, went to banya on Sundays spoke Russian as first language (native languages were illegal to be taught for a long time), I was never called ‘Russian’ in Russia, and at times treated rather poorly on that account.
Especially when I lived in Moscow I felt like a foreigner in my own country. I know I’m straying from the original question, but the overall point of this is to illustrate another dimension to the “older generations opinion of USSR” prompt. I hope I didn’t drivel.”
6. Love for the Motherland.
“My mother is Siberian.
Her grandfather was killed for refusing to fight in the military due to his religious views. She never knew any one of her grandparents. Her parents were farmers in a small Siberian village and she grew up poor, no running water,etc. We moved to the US in 91 and to this day says how much simpler life is in Russia and how much safer it was and how dangerous it is to live in America.
It boggles my mind but love for the motherland is strong I suppose”.
7. The lights used to be off.
“My gf is in Vladiovostok, her family is from Kiev. If I ever try to attack Putin, she defends him and I ask why.
Her answer is: ‘He turned the lights on!’
She was born ’88. She says her early memories as a child were when the entire apartment block would meet at the intersection. Everyone must bring a piece of furniture. They would make a bonfire, all the babushka would cook dinner for their families.
She said they told her Putin was now leader. Now the lights and heat came on, her parents received paychecks for their work. She will follow him forever.”
8. Confined and restricted.
“A lot of grandmothers from USSR seem to think that way. 90s wasn’t a great time but it let a lot of people out. One of my old customers told me about moving to the US and looking for work. In the USSR he was basically an IT Administrator. He came over here and moved to what used to be known as Little Russia in Seattle into a small apartment.
He moved up the ranks at his job and moved his parents out here. He said it wasn’t bad over there, just confined and restricted. He did say he had a motorcycle and the company he worked for set him up with a Vaz/Lada. I’m not sure of the model but he said it was similar to a Fiat 124. You can read about it all day but hearing it from the horses mouth is a lot different.”
9. A mixed bag.
“I am born in USSR in the late 70s. Good way to describe it, it’s like a big corporation. It gives you housing, lunches, etc, you work for it. You aren’t really supposed to do your own business, because you already work for the corporation. If you do something wrong, others are supposed to give you feedback. Everyone says they are super enthused about the corporation’s profits, but in reality they really don’t. Also a lot of people steal. Because who cares, it’s some faceless big business, you are not hurting anyone.
On the other hand, it’s a stable job. You can reasonably expect to work here for the lifetime and advance in your career even if you’re really stupid and can’t make decisions, as long as you’re not annoying the wrong people. In fact it was a pretty sweet deal for regular people who don’t really want to put in too much effort. Just do at least some job, and you’re all set.
Now, a lot of people are pretty butthurt about USSR, many of them rightly so. My family was like not an elite, but it was a working class family where everyone just did their job. It was a pretty shitty family by today’s standards, but it wasn’t a bad setting for it. Like, we had free housing, free medicine, free education, everyone was pretty happy.
If only groceries were also free, that would have been just awesome (and it was expected to happen at one point). What really screwed us over is the 90s. Those were fucking horrible.”
10. That’s depressing.
“Hungarian here. My dad grew up in the 60s in Communist Hungary.
We talk a lot about these things. He always says the Eastern Bloc was so happy that people just couldn’t take it anymore.
That’s why we became world leaders in both alcoholism and suicide rate.”
11. Looking for a way to live.
“I was born after USSR in a post soviet union country. I’m currently in my later 20s and my country has become quite poor after the break up. Because my country is really poor now a lot of young and middle aged people move out to other countries, Russia includes, so there are many old people and not so much young one’s.
Older generation miss USSR like nothing else in their life, I bet they would trade their relatives to go back again. One of the problems of USSR is that they provided everything in your life, house, car, vacations and etc, leaving only money for food and clothes. So you worked all your life, from your salary they give you a house, vacation, medicine and everything else.
Your end of the month salary was just for food and other amenities. You could not save up your money, nor did you learned how to save and use it wisely. So after USSR fallen, they couldn’t possibly adapt, no savings, no experience of living without anything and on your own.
So as the result, they miss it, it’s a big problem they are going through their life after USSR. How can you live on your own when 40-50+ years you were under someone’s admission and looking over your life and dictating it for you. Now you are abandoned 50+ years old baby looking for a way to live.”
12. No dreams or ambitions.
“Born and raised in Slovakia, parents grew up with the regime.
It was easy as long as you were the type to shut up, mind your own business, and accept the mininum. Everyone had a roof (even though it often leaked), nobody was hungry (but good luck getting meat without bribing the butcher), everyone had a job (some the one they chose, others the one they were forced to do).
Nobody was jealous of others because everyone had equally as much – nothing. There were no hard choices about career, what school to go to, whether the housing market was right to buy now, what credit card was the best, or what benefits to choose – these were not options because there was no variety. Everything was uniform and uniformly sub-standard. Minimum effort for minimum results.
But you were fucked if you had dreams, if you were ambitious. The regime ground you down, imprisoned you and slowly killed you if you dared to ask “why” or “why not this way”. If you were different. If you had the wrong background. If your parents happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. If you were one of the unlucky, it was life of imprisonment, persecution, and violence.”
13. Had to survive.
“Born in Moscow in 1982. My both parents had PhDs and we lived in one room apartment- we slept on couches so that it was double use. I didn’t have my own space. I remember 5 hour lines and there was nothing in the stores. People were always hostile and rude to each other because it meant survival. Some people lived better, my grandparents had a 3 room apartment, because they were older.
But still it was pretty dilapidated compared to the US standards. We had an old car called Moskvich. Some people lived better, but they either bribed someone (I was angry at my parents that they refused to), or were in the govt, or just knew someone. There was A LOT of corruption and red tape and you couldn’t own your own property- you couldn’t buy a house.
You had to “trade”- find someone who is willing to trade homes with you. My grandparents were from Odessa, Ukraine, and when they wanted to move to Moscow to be close to us, they found someone who would want their great apartment in Odessa in exchange for their awful panel apt in Moscow.
I forgot to add that my parents wouldn’t get paid for MONTHS and lived on IOUs from work. My mom worked as a biologist in an institute that developed Cold War bioweapons and dealt with Anthrax, Ebola, etc. At some point people were getting paid in coupons instead of money- sugar, bread, tobacco, vodka, flour, butter.”
Some very interesting perspectives in those answers.
Russians or people whose family grew up during the Soviet era: we’d love to hear from you in the comments. What do your older relatives and friends think about the USSR and its legacy?
Please share with us in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!