It’s not uncommon to have a longing for a place you’ve never been. Still, it is a bit odd if this place is the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, some young Georgians appear to miss this country they’ve never seen.
Almost 270 Georgians, 28 years old or younger, told a CRRC survey this year that the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union was a bad thing for Georgia. At 11 percent of the nationally representative survey, these are people who have no memory or, in most cases, no experience of life in the Soviet Union.
The search for the individuals behind these numbers predictably leads to the town of Gori, the birthplace of Joseph Stalin and a hangout for diehard communists.
Youngsters in the town park speak with assumed authority about the USSR.
“It was a great country, everyone was friendly then,” said Kote, an 18-year-old perched on the back of a bench. The Stalin museum, the country’s most controversial Soviet keepsake, serves as a backdrop for the chat.
“Everyone had jobs. There was no war and poverty,” knowingly chimed in Kote’s friend, who does not want to give his name.
“We don’t want to be Rustavi2-ed,” he added, meaning that he does not want to be shamed for his views on TV; especially on Georgia’s most watched, ardently pro-Western TV channel, Rustavi2. The absence of a camera did not reassure him.
Kote went on to list all the supposed merits of the Soviet empire that the two millennials have not seen.
“My parents had to queue for bread in the ‘90s, after the Soviet Union broke down . . . and we have tons of corruption and violence now,” Kote said, parrying points about Stalinist purges and Soviet-era lines for food.
Similar views, sometimes repeated word for word, are found elsewhere in Gori.
Back in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, young USSR fans are harder to come by, but there is no want for older ones, be it cab drivers or old-guard intelligentsia.
Piano tutor Dali Kapanadze, 56, makes her son watch Soviet cartoon hits like “Nu, Pogodi!” (“Just Wait!”) and Gena the Crocodile. “There’s something heartbreakingly charming about these old, Russian cartoons and kids love them,” she said. “There’s some good American animation, too; especially big [feature] movies, but some of it is just plain weird . . . For the life of me, I don’t get what’s so cool about SpongeBob.”
To Kapanadze, Soviet films also bring to mind an era of “order and calm,” when the world around her “made sense.”
Some observers believe that yearning for the Soviet past just reflects the speaker yearning for his or her youth.
Many Western-oriented Georgians often dismiss their nostalgic compatriots as the “37-ruble” people, a reference to the Soviet-era rate for Tbilisi-Moscow flights. Some older Georgians, mostly men, tend to bemoan the loss of cheap and easy access to a large metropolis, with its many opportunities for work and play.
There are worries that Soviet nostalgia plays into the hands of Moscow, which tries to prevent former Soviet republics from integrating with the West, but that longing for the Soviet past doesn’t appear to hinder Georgian enthusiasm for the Western future. The CRRC survey found that the vast majority of Georgians favor their nation’s trajectory toward the European Union.
Nonetheless, a significant 42 percent of respondents believed that the Soviet Union’s collapse was negative. “The majority of those who believe that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a bad thing, still support Georgia becoming a EU member,” the survey says.
The survey doesn’t elaborate about what motivates some younger Georgians to favor the empire that they missed, but their parents’s rose-tinted glasses might explain the trend. Kote and his friend served up a few tired tropes about “roaring factories” and booming agriculture.
Yet, with no need for short-term EU visas and growing options for cheap travel there, younger Georgians now have a chance for stories to rival those of their parents.
When Kote is asked which foreign city he would like to visit, he responds, in a why-of-course tone, “Berlin.”