Europe Tuesday, June 5th 2012
Russia may be hungry for all things modern, it hasn't forgotten its communist past. In Moscow, while some take pride in soviet style, others swear by a forward-moving global world. Take your pick.
A Moscow highrise, Stalinism's answer to the American skyscraper © Louis Nardin
The end of the USSR signified both the demise of a social model and a rupture in continuity. Some twenty years on, Moscow and urban Russia as a whole move to a global beat. But evidence of sovietism lives on as two worlds coexist. From Moscow to Irkutsk, from Omsk to Novosibirsk, the entire country seems torn between two eras. Communist signs and symbols lend themselves to new interpretations, new definitions even, and are a source of pride for the country's inhabitants. Nowhere is this more apparent than in bricks and mortar. Buildings and monuments to the glory of communism are reclaimed and painstakingly maintained, although some are allowed to go to ruin by property developers eager to tear down the old and put up the new.
Certain young Russians play around with their country's past. The red star, soviet style, all the hallmarks of a regime have become symbols to be reinterpreted. Stalin and Lenin, two infamous figures of history, join Mickey and Donald as candidates for derision, the butt of jokes or material for artistic mises-en-scène. This kind of image-hijacking isn't new in itself, but the message takes on a different flavour, and far greater impact, when delivered in what was the epicentre of the soviet era.
And so time, as a regular and natural progression, operates differently in Russia. Like in an App Store full of applications to download or delete, we ricochet between sovietism and shopping mall, balalaika and drum 'n' bass, bortsch and burger. The Russians can dip into a vast heritage and mix it with other modern ingredients, never forgetting that what is now the basis for fiction was once very real. Could this mean Russians are more connected with their history and their roots than the Westerners who race from one technology to the next, as though trying to keep pace with time? In Moscow at any rate, the past, so very present, has no intentions of disappearing. ■