Saturday, December 31, 2016

Russian Centenarians Remember the Past Very Differently than Younger Russians Do

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 31 – The approximately 7,000 Russians over the age of 100 remember the last ravaged century in their country to use Robert Conquest’s term quite differently than do younger groups, including the majority born after the death of Leonid Brezhnev in 1982 and the youngest who think about the Soviet past only in ideological terms.

            As Russia prepared to enter the centennial year of the 1917 revolutions, Dmitry Rogozin, a sociologist at Moscow’s Russian Academy of Economics and State Service, talked about some of the findings of his interviews with more than 100 100-year-old Russians to Olga Filina of “Ogonyek” (

            He noted that he and his colleagues spoke with this group of people in four regions of the Russian Federation – in the city of Moscow, in Astrakhan and Chelyabinsk oblasts and in the Khakass Republic.  People in Moscow, not in the North Caucasus, live the longest, he said, because they have more of the support infrastructure they need.

            But the most important thing for this group of elderly, he says, is that they know that they did not live in vain and that they were and remain needed by others.  Their memories of the past are informed by this and that contributes to the fact that they do not think in linear terms with one decade succeeding another but with a “broadened” present that includes all at once.

            Unfortunately, Rogozin continued, all too many of the relatives of these elderly Russians view such an approach to the past not as a specific feature of those who live a long time but rather as an indication of the onset of dementia.

            Those who are middle aged, he said, “live in the flow of events and must rapidly respond to the present. But at the age of 100 there comes a time for comparisons, for the reassessment of life, for ‘slow thought’ and here the broadened present becomes very useful: it doesn’t distort the significance of events … depending on whether they happened under the current president or in the past.”

            On the one hand, Russian centenarians become “freer in their assessments” of past events; but on the other, they also become “significantly less politicized” than are younger people.  That is, Rogozin says, “they concentrate more on the social life of the country than on the arrival of one leader or another.”

            “Of course, the Great Fatherland War is the key event for them, but precisely because there in a special way were manifest the human qualities of various people which became ever more real in the face of death,” the researcher says.  They remember the pre-war years and especially collectivization given that many came from the villages.

            As far as the post-1945 period is concerned, most recalled their transfer from the vilalges into cities and construction sites, something that they now recall “not only as a social life but also as a trauma, a break with their customary way of life,” one for which these Russian 100-year-olds still feel nostalgia.

            Concerning more recent events, he said, those who are still alive recall as “more or less a plateau without significant changes.” Rogozin said he had been surprised that “the 100-year-olds hardly took note of the 1990s.  They do not have a sense of a radical change in the social system.” There was one at the time of collectivization but not in the 1990s.
            Yes, they lost money, but no more than they lost in the mandatory purchase of state bonds in earlier times. And because they have that feeling, many of this age group, to the extent they can judge from TV and conversations, are inclined to view “the contemporary situation in Russia” as being much like “the Soviet system.” They “do not find a big difference.”

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