“Communism Happened!”

Experiencing a Multiplicity of Nostalgias

in Sibirica
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Vasilina Orlova Researcher, University of Texas, USA vasilina@utexas.edu

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Abstract

Nostalgia for the Soviet figures prominently in public imaginaries. Such nostalgia has been viewed as subverting and critiquing the post-Socialist neoliberal order. Others have suggested that “nostalgia” is a poor vocabulary for talking about post-Soviet affect. Ethnographic attention to nostalgia reveals a multiplicity of nostalgic registers. I argue that Soviet nostalgias can be roughly divided into lyrical, heroic, and practical. Lyrical nostalgia is for the Soviet time but without the corresponding ideological purchase. Heroic nostalgia pines for overcoming the difficulties associated with the Soviet period and its mission of constructing Communism. Practical nostalgia would like to restore the good associated with the Socialist period. Heroic nostalgia does not seem to be easily enlisted for restorative projects, and lyrical nostalgia is largely apolitical. Practical nostalgia, however, is deeply rooted in the conviction that the Soviet order of things was superior to the capitalistic order.

Before the flood, we ran barefoot. The land was not the rocks with sharp edges, like now. It was soft earth. There were islands covered in berries. I remember I was three. Mom took me with her to cut grass. I was playing with my toys. Mom was scything. I was sitting in the shadow and in the odor of black chokeberry bushes in bloom. Grasshoppers ring; she is scything, and I am falling asleep.

Alevtina and I are standing at the mooring in the village of Anosovo waiting for a riverboat to Irkutsk. The flood she mentioned happened in 1961, when the Bratsk dam reservoir submerged over one million acres of arable land. Two hundred and forty-eight villages went to the bottom of the Bratsk reservoir, which is now another name for the Angara River. People often recollected to me, during my fieldwork, fifty-five years after the event, how clear, fast, and transparent the drowned river was. Now, the Angara River is slow, wide, and touched by the patina of algae. Alevtina's memory, distinctly nostalgic, is, technically, a nostalgia for the Soviet time, but not the nostalgia for “the Soviet” as such.

Socialist nostalgia continues to tantalize researchers (Boele, Noordenbos, and Robbe 2019a; Todorova and Gille 2010). Scholars of post-Soviet and postcolonial nostalgias interrogate the interconnections between “rustalgia” (Brown 2015: 134–151), “Ostalgie” (Žižek 2002), and “melancholy” (Etkind 2013). Daphne Berdahl (1999: 193) has distinguished between “‘mere’ nostalgia and socially sanctioned commemorative practices” tying the former with the economies of the “nostalgia industry” and quick “museumification”: “practices of collecting, displaying, or cataloguing ‘GDR everyday life.’” She concludes that the ambivalent nature of “Ostalgie” consists in contesting and reaffirming of “the new order” (i.e., capitalism) (ibid.: 192). She also observes a “self-parodying” air of the practices and celebrations of Ostalgia (ibid.), which suggests an inexorable irony and less-than-serious indulging in nostalgia: the qualities that seem to be shared by Russian TV broadcasts (Oushakine 2007: 454). By contrast, at least some of my interlocutors are sold on the longing for the Soviet with a “ghastly seriousness” (as a Moscow journalist put it in a conversation with me).

Some long for the return of the sliver of grandeur of discontinued projects, and others predicted that the state, now or in the future, will be eager to use Socialist nostalgia for the reestablishment of authoritarian rule (Boym 2001; Nadkarni and Shevchenko 2014)—a concern that is only increasing (Boele, Noordenbos, and Robbe 2019b: 11–12). Mixed feelings arise because nostalgia tends to accompany political projects of restoration of the supposedly glorious past (Rosaldo 1989; consider also the success of the slogan “Make America great again”).

However, the nostalgia for the Soviet is not uniform. In my fieldwork in Siberia between 2016 and 2019, I routinely encountered nostalgic feelings and wondered how much of that was a “Socialist” or “Soviet” nostalgia, and how much was individuals’ longing for the time of their youth that happened to unfold during Soviet times. Can we distinguish between different registers, given how closely they are intertwined? Oushakine (2007) has expressed an irritation that nostalgia, with its admittedly poor and predictable affective vocabulary, has become the main semantics in which the post-Soviet affect is framed. While nostalgia for the Soviet may be less ideologically saturated than is assumed, it is structural, systemic, and has a potential for political ramifications.

In this article, I argue that Soviet nostalgias have different registers, and these registers are lyrical, heroic, and practical. Lyrical nostalgia, akin to what Alevtina shared, is ambivalent toward Soviet values. It is a nostalgia for the Soviet time, but without a corresponding ideological purchase. Heroic nostalgia, of which I further give ethnographic examples, is for overcoming the difficulties associated with the Soviet period and its mission of constructing Communism as a future for the whole of humanity. It is a nostalgia for a grandiose, messianic project. It is a longing for the past that manifestly cannot be repeated; the idea of attempting to reinstall such a past in any form is repulsive to those who experience heroic nostalgia because the past in their perception is absolutely unparalleled. Finally, practical nostalgia admits the fallacies and utopian nature of Communist ideas, but pragmatically aims for the restoration of the good associated with the Socialist period.

Categorizing nostalgias is useful to conceive the post-Soviet affect in more nuanced forms, which will lead to a better understanding of the mythologies of the Russian state, imagining itself a successor to the Soviet project but cherry-picking from it the justifications for colonial expansion. This is not the first attempt to classify nostalgias. Nostalgias for the Soviet have been recognized as personal and collective, public and private. Boym (2001: 49) divides nostalgia into “restorative” and “reflective.” “Restorative” nostalgia “attempts a transhistorical reconstruction of the lost home” and “think[s] of itself . . . as truth and tradition.” Reflective nostalgia indulges in longing, “loves details, not symbols,” and can take itself humorously, whereas restorative nostalgia does not even think itself to be nostalgic (ibid.). As far as I understand this division, restorative nostalgia wants a revanche and begets irredentism, whereas reflective nostalgia is more innocuous.

The importance of distinction between lyrical, heroic, and practical nostalgia is in the systematizing of widely spread affective varieties to observe how differently they make people behave or correspond to various political convictions. There are considerable differences in how easily various nostalgias lend themselves to politicization. “Heroic” nostalgia does not seem to be very easily enlisted for restorative projects. And while lyrical nostalgia is largely apolitical (“reflective,” in Boym's terms), “practical” nostalgia is deeply rooted in the conviction that the Soviet order of things was superior to the capitalistic order. Being not too invested in whitewashing and often admitting to the downsides of the Soviet time, practical nostalgia is not idealistic either. It is likely that practical nostalgia is the variety of nostalgia that is most potent politically.

Nostalgia for the Soviet figures prominently in contemporary Russian imaginaries. A poll by the Levada Center suggested that, while nostalgia for the Soviet past is characteristic of older generations, “young people . . . reproduce the convictions of adults regarding the socially just Soviet state” (Pipiia 2020: 3). According to the Levada Center, a “positive component” in the perception of the Soviet state “prevailed” in 76 percent of respondents (ibid.: 4). Neutral attitudes to the Soviet past were registered among 38 percent of respondents, and negative, specified as associated with “deficit, hard life, zastoi, [and] repressions,” among only 7 percent (ibid.: 5).

As Russia continues “reinventing” the past, looking at nostalgia for the Soviet ethnographically reveals a multiplicity of nostalgic registers. In what follows, I conceptualize the three varieties of nostalgia based on my ethnographic material. I show how these different types of nostalgia depend on the positionality of my interlocutors, and how attitudes may change over time. The ethnographic data was collected through long-term engagement in participant observation in Eastern Siberia—the village of Anosovo, the primary site of my research, the towns of Severobaikalsk and Shelekhov—and in Moscow.

The fieldwork that I conducted in Siberia stretched from 2016 to 2019 (pre-pandemic) and consisted of four trips. The main focus of my research was on mobility or absence thereof. Specifically, I investigated how people made decisions to stay in a place that did not seem to promise much in terms of future development. I attempted to explain this movement or “immobility” through the concept of affective infrastructures that kept people put (Orlova 2021a, 2021b, 2022). As an ethnographer, I investigated the connections of people in the region to one particular village, the village of Anosovo, and the choices that people made in selecting the place to live. This investigation led me to various other places where people who left Anosovo lived.

Along the way, I had many other encounters, unrelated directly to my research question, or unrelated at first glance. In many of these encounters, as well as in Anosovo dwellers’ memories and reflections, an affect featured prominently. That affect was nostalgia, as revealed using standard anthropological methods: participant observation, immersive fieldwork, and semi-structured interviews posing open-ended questions. However, nostalgia was not uniform. The sentiments that could be grouped together as “nostalgia” were contradictory, conflicting, and often accompanied opposing views. Even though the opinions that figure here are direct quotations from actual people (anonymized), the interlocutors should be taken as composite ethnographic characters, because they were selected on the basis of how strongly they expressed widely spread sentiments, not on the basis of how original their ideas were.

Multiplication of Nostalgias

A multiplicity of frameworks of nostalgia range from Rosaldo's (1989) dire warning against the seeming innocuousness and subsequent dangers of “imperialist nostalgia”—a kind of conservatism and allegiance to the status quo—to Williams's (1973) reading of nostalgia as a radical possibility and masked cultural critique that recognizes the failures of the present and therefore opens up a possibility of imagining alternative futures. A multiplicity of nostalgias is predicated on the multiplicity of positionalities of the nostalgic body. The idea that nostalgias exist in the plural (Stewart 1988) is coeval with the idea of “situated knowledges” (Haraway 1988) and depends on the positionality of the experiencing subject.

Such correspondence to positionality results in a nostalgia closely connected to the specificities of social realities. In particular, it has been argued, on the basis of the Evenk narratives of resident schooling in Siberia, that “expressions of Evenk nostalgia for the socialist era are a form of critique of the neoliberal logics emerging in Russia today” (Bloch 2005: 535). The longing, which Bloch defines as “for the kollectiv”—a form of collective sociality, shared experience, and camaraderie—is then subversive toward the contemporary, and colonial, order.1 (Compare to Berdahl's (1999) argument that “Ostalgie” both “contests and affirms” the (then) new order). My work suggests that different nostalgias—lyrical, heroic, and practical—would act differently toward the existing order of things, some reaffirming it, and some rejecting or subverting it.

In general, the turn in “nostalgia studies” was toward a “situated nostalgia” (Tsing 2015: 50). “Situated nostalgia” brings the concepts of “heterogeneous” nostalgia and “situated knowledges” together. Nostalgia is unique to the positionality as defined by class, race, gender, sexuality, social status, level of precarity, and physical capabilities of the nostalgic body, which means that it is situated. However, despite being the deeply personal experience of a nostalgic body, nostalgia for the Soviet is collective. Scholars seem to agree that there are two sets of attitudes related to the Soviet past, depending on whether a person knows the Soviet time as a set of embodied experiences or not (Nadkarni and Shevchenko 2004; Raleigh 2013; Oushakine 2019: 39). However, that an individual did not “experience” the Soviet does not mean they would not be nostalgic about it. Perhaps even to the contrary, the less embodied experience of the Soviet they have, the more susceptible to the Soviet nostalgia people are.

The data used in this article is a fraction—some of the more illustrative tidbits—of many conversations. The people here belong roughly to the same (older) generation that is familiar with the Soviet experience as part of their embodied knowledge. Names are changed, identifiers altered. Within their supposed generational “unity,” however, there are differences that seem to correspond with the level of education and the rural–urban divide. Nostalgia is not a monolithic feeling in each case—it can disperse into or mix with shades of regret, a sense of loss, a desire for a better future, hope, apprehension, resentment, and shame.

Heroic Nostalgias: “Communism Happened!”

A pronounced “Soviet nostalgia” often represents a “heroic” nostalgia of missing the narrative of great deeds through which people supposedly felt included in a larger project of bringing Communism to the planet (and eventually extraterrestrially). The new Soviet man was going not only to transform the political system of the world but to resew the fabric of everyday living (Lunacharsky 1927). And then he was to conquer other planets (Tsiolkovsky 1981), as evidenced in the Soviet program of space exploration. Heroic nostalgia is what I call the longing that people express—even as they understand the impossibility of return or of the utopian charge of such ideas—for the radically and “paradoxically” anti-nostalgic Soviet project, as Boym (2001: 59) observed. This type of nostalgia—which some experience and others reject—is ideologically invested.

Here, I will discuss my encounters with two “BAM constructors,” in the towns of Shelekhov and Severobaikalsk, that are illustrative of a heroic nostalgia. The “BAM,” or Baikal–Amur Mainline, is a project that spawned 4,242 bridges, brought to life sixty-three settlements, including three towns (Severobaikalsk among them),2 and connected space across 4,287 kilometers (Krylov 2019; see also Arzamas 2019; Schweitzer and Povoroznyuk 2019). In 2019, on the forty-fifth jubilee of the BAM, a second railroad line (“BAM-2”) was opened to a large celebration. The opening of the second line was touted as the continuation into the present of the process originating in the Soviet period, solidifying the idea of Russia as a preemptor of technological development in the USSR. The event aimed to establish the continuity between historical epochs.3 Originally, the BAM was constructed as a one-line railroad, even though the space for the second line was prepared during the Soviet period.

The beginning of movement along the second line was lauded in the central and local press as “the bridge between the past and the future” (Shadrin 2019). The second line initially went from Lena-Vostochnaya to Predlenskiy. However, compared to the Soviet-era BAM project, it represents a small fraction of the BAM's extent. The affective benefits that the state derived from establishing and proclaiming the project's—fairly nostalgic—continuity may not be proportionate to the project's obvious economic benefits. The capacity of the railroad is said to be increasing from 26.9 million to 34.5 million tons a year (Shadrin 2019).

The placard praising the BAM cited by Collier (2011: 32), “Where yesterday there was the taiga, tomorrow will be sunny cities,” presents a woman in heavy boots walking along the railroad. Behind her rise typical multistory tenement houses, inscribed in a circle (the sun). This type of imagery evoked visual impressions from childhood for many who were laboring on the second railroad line in 2019. No wonder then that the “second BAM” was a project of nostalgia as much as—if not more than—a project fulfilling ever-growing economic needs. Many of those I spoke to in the region in 2019 were thrilled about the continuation of the project. A dispatcher who worked at the railroad in the town of Ust Kut and whose photograph was placed on the first page of a local newspaper proudly displayed it to me. “How do you feel about the opening of the second line?” I asked. “It is as if my youth returned to me,” she said.

Affect is “sticky,” as Sara Ahmed (2004) put it. At that time, the whole town of Ust Kut appeared to be in a rather elevated mood. Lit-up boards in rows on the streets displayed portraits of the officials and workers laboring to bring the second railroad line to life. These portraits, stylistically and compositionally—showing people who were official, presentable, in uniforms, and framed with ribbons—reminded one of the “boards of honor” ubiquitous at the time of the construction of Socialism, similarly celebrating efficient workers and respected members of the community. Such boards were often displayed near buildings of administrations and manufacturers. The federal and local media replicated the Soviet-era aesthetics of placards and that period's lexicon, and broadcast the numbers, also in markedly Soviet style.

One of my interlocutors in Severobaikalsk in 2019 was a guard for an office building. Mikhail (62) wore a striped navy t-shirt—telniashka—under an unbuttoned shirt and looked like the captain of a building that itself resembled a creaky ship, a ship that required renovation, but as of now sailed along by the will of the waves just fine. Mikhail's wife was involved in the construction of the second line of the railroad. He spoke of her with pride: she was more educated than he and worked as an engineer. It was unfortunate, though, he said, that the second line would be used to no other end but to further deplete Siberia of resources. The celebration of the second line of the BAM left him as sarcastic as ever. “All these people getting ribbons, they are going to die tomorrow, and ribbons will not save them. We exchanged our lives for ribbons, that is what it boils down to.”4

In the late 1970s, when Mikhail first arrived here, things were easier for him mentally. There was no city, though, not even a settlement. The taiga stretched for miles around, and the word “Severobaikalsk” did not exist. Living was no picnic, he recalled. The BAM workers had trouble drying shoes and walked in wet ones due to the fragmented presence of decent pavement. When he started a family, they moved to one of the first houses “built by a project of Leningrad architects.” Those houses stood “on balls” worked into the foundation to protect the buildings from the predicted seismic activity.

Even though their shoes were wet, everyone was happy, according to Mikhail. “We were in love with the BAM,” he attested. The food supply was steady and included tushenka (canned meat), grapes, peaches, and Bulgarian wine; “truth be told, we were not given a lot of alcohol; it was the time of prohibition.” Everyone was young, had obtained professions, had jobs, and worked on foreign vehicles (“as if we could not produce ours just like that,” Mikhail remarked). Many quickly earned enough money—and obtained the opportunity—to buy a car, a craved object that meant mobility, freedom, and camping with friends.5

Mikhail and his friends experienced the brighter side of the Soviet era. He contrasted the past with the present and did not see any improvements. He viewed contemporaneity unfavorably and insisted that Gorbachev sold the country to Americans and other, even darker forces. “The reptiloid race is preparing the Earth for themselves, and the politicians work on the dark side.” I was interested to learn about the reptiloid race, but Mikhail declined to develop this line of inquiry: “Everything is explained on YouTube already.”

According to Mikhail, the future was dark. As history was being rewritten, we had little information about the impending doom. “We are basically a herd of confused cattle.” Climate change did not add a sense of security: the ice was melting, the cemeteries and mortuaries were thawing, and anthrax6 and other maladies were coming out to end the human race.7

The nostalgia and regret for the old BAM, concerns related to the thawing of cemeteries, and worries about the reptiloid race working with Americans and high-ranking Russians to establish a new world order composed the dark and glittering world Mikhail inhabited. The affect that he possessed, in which nostalgic longing, concern, and anxiety for the future were enmeshed, was palpable. Mikhail sat in front of several monitors in the dark of the lobby that he guarded and gazed at the lights of the houses on balls constructed by Soviet architects, bright in the evening window as if in some sci-fi film about a forgotten planet.

“The program goes as planned,” he said, referring to the plans of aliens to prepare our beautiful planet for their needs by eliminating life and making us into reptiloids’ servants and resources. To be clear, Mikhail did not actually support their plan; his remark was sardonic.

Nostalgia for the irretrievable spiced with a conspiracy theory played the role of a meaning-making endeavor, reconstructing a picture of the world and making disparate elements cohere in a way they may not have done otherwise. The changing world made sense: the past was bright, but once it ended, the future became very dark indeed. Mikhail's was also an example of a disempowered and disgruntled blue-collar masculinity. As Morris (2018) has argued, the neoliberal post-Socialist order produced a type of masculinity in search of coping mechanisms and alternative spaces in addition to the traditional workplace and home, where it no longer felt appreciated or competent. With the area of life under his control shrunk to the night lobby of a building, Mikhail found a dark satisfaction in how little hope the world offered to humanity as a whole.

The heroic nostalgia of the cosmic solitude of the last survivors of the Soviet project and their longing for the impossible was a daily occurrence in the field. Another person who powerfully expressed nostalgic longing for the Soviet past was Nikolai. Like Mikhail, Nikolai was a BAM construction worker, and they both, like many others in Eastern Siberia, expressed a type of sentiment that is “heroically nostalgic.”

“Uncle Kolia,” as he was called by everyone, including his wife,8 was a constructor of the Boguchany bridge, which was part of the BAM, and at the time of our conversation he lived in the town of Shelekhov. Like Severobaikalsk, founded as a Youth Communist League (Komsomol) working camp in 1974, the town of Shelekhov started as a bunch of tents for workers of the Irkutsk Aluminum Factory (IrkAZ) in 1953. Severobaikalsk had around twenty-four thousand inhabitants in 2017 and peaked at around thirty thousand in 1991, the year of the USSR's collapse. Similarly, too, Shelekhov grew explosively from thirteen thousand inhabitants in 1959 to around forty-eight thousand in in 2016. Shelekhov peaked so far at around fifty-five thousand in 2001. Today, it is forty-two thousand. Both of these towns, like countless others in the region, were products of the feverish Soviet industrialization. Shelekhov was named after the “Russian Columbus” Grigoriy Shelekhov (1747–1795)—an explorer, traveler, seafarer, merchant, and fur trader. A “businessman,” as the Russian version of Wikipedia has it. The plummeting of the population since the “wicked nineties” and aughts was also typical for the midsize Siberian industrial towns and reflects their worsening conditions. The marvelous Soviet “cities of the future” failed to produce the future they were called upon to bring.

Uncle Kolia spoke with sadness about the days that are never coming back, solemnly affirming, “Nothing like that has ever happened in human history.” He referred to the enthusiasm of the construction, the cheer of the time, and the camaraderie he experienced. The photograph of the Boguchany bridge and Uncle Kolia's working brigade was framed on the wall of the only room in his dacha.

“It has never happened before, and it will never happen again,” he repeated. He expressed this conviction with the resoluteness and even vehemence that I often encountered in participants of late, large-scale Soviet construction projects, who now tend to feel that they are abandoned and not given their dues of respect or even mere stability. Uncle Kolia felt like he was suspended between the world of the past and the endless and pointless span of the future. He felt lucky to have shared his youth with colleagues who became friends for life. The future as imagined in the past never materialized. “What was to be radiant future became the radiant past” (Burawoy and Lukács 1992: 26). There was no turning back—nor forward—for Uncle Kolia; he had resigned himself to rusticating at his dacha. In parallel to Mikhail's apocalyptic premonitions, Uncle Kolia had no hope for the human lot, since it had foolishly let go of its greatest—Socialist—aspirations.

Thus, nostalgia can arrest people at a certain point, foreclosed to future possibilities. “Those experiencing nostalgia are stuck, economically, socially, and politically,” said a social scientist in Moscow when I related to him my encounter with Uncle Kolia. “They don't experience what they should or could be experiencing. They do not seek social connections; they are stuck perpetuating family structures, relationships, and cycles of everyday life.”

Uncle Kolia did not attest to being “stuck,” though. Instead, his convictions suggested that we are all stuck in a period of ahistoricity, in a tremendous and unsurmountable void between “it was” and “it will never be repeated” (or lived up to) again. In his memory, events of the past belonged to a history, but that history had ended, yielding to an uneventful and dubious present.

For Pierre Nora (1989), memory and history, to a degree, oppose each other. Memory is collective and plural, even if expressed individually; it is living and self-actualizing. History is a mode of reconstruction of the past with a claim to “universal authority” (ibid.: 9). While the “memory” part of the dyad is actively analyzed by social scientists, “history” has become an abstraction. However, in relived Soviet memories, there is a sense of historicity, of co-participating in historic events, that constitutes a powerful affect of belonging. The revocation of a sense of historicity, of being within history, triggers a sense of nostalgia.

I call the feelings expressed by my interlocutors Mikhail and Uncle Kolia “heroic nostalgia.” Heroic nostalgia becomes an expression of regret that emerges in the aftermath of the feeling of being a subject of history or participating in a historic, meaningful time. A lot of effort by the current Russian state is directed to maintaining the “heroization” of World War II (called the “Great Patriotic War” in Russia). The severity of such efforts finds virulently punitive expressions: thus, recently, a teenager who urinated on the stand of a portrait of a World War II veteran was sentenced to four years in prison (Timofeeva 2021). The patriotic pride, whipped into such a frenzy, for the time of World War II is also connected to “heroic” nostalgia—the missing of the sense of historicity and of participation in a historic time.

“The life that we had at the BAM we will never see again,” Uncle Kolia proclaimed. “That's when Communism was. Communism happened. We only saw the tail of it [kraeshkom zakhvatili ego].” Caroline Humphrey has observed that some late Soviet people considered Communism to have been effectively implemented (2005: 42). Uncle Kolya went even further, construing Communism as something that had not only been achieved, but of which he was privileged to observe only the remainders in the 1970s. Among attributes that unambiguously proved that Communism was a reality, Uncle Kolia cited what for others might be a feature of rural, or preindustrial, living: the absence of locks on doors. “Well, someone had rusty hooks to keep the doors closed to dogs,” he admitted, “But people lived freely [zhili voobshche svobodno]. There were no quarrels, no scandals, and no clashes [razborkas].” The word “razborka” came into circulation in the 1990s and refers to violent fights between clans of local bandits, small mafiosi, and racketeers. For Uncle Kolia, the nonexistence of razborkas during Soviet times meant not only peaceful living, but also the absence of the unlawfulness that unfolded later.

Despite this portrayal of the BAM as a lost paradise, the advantages of working on its construction were material. These assets were concrete and related to access to goods, and cars in particular. Like Mikhail, Uncle Kolia regarded the possession of cars as the pinnacle of wealth and status in the Soviet Union. Daphne Berdahl (1999: 194) relates an East German joke: “We always used to say that Marxism could have worked if it hadn't been for cars.” Cars here signified the intractable nature of human beings that always wants to acquire more and more material goods. Car ownership provided spaces for sociality that were otherwise inaccessible. Morris (2018) describes garages as nooks and spaces of masculine sociality. Sometimes a broken car was purchased and decayed in a garage, which afforded gatherings, encounters, discussions of repair, drinking, smoking, and other forms of bromance sociality. Decades later, Uncle Kolia recollected with unfaded delight how he and his wife had selected a car to buy. “She said, I want a white one. No problem! Imagine what a car meant. In Ust Ilim, my older brother nearly fell out of the window. He was shocked! How could I have a car when he did not? He was a komsorg—Komsomol youth organizer—had everything, but a car? Not anywhere near! We earned well at the BAM. There we saw the Communist life.” The possession of material goods was identity-constructing, a means, for Uncle Kolia, to assert himself as more successful than his komsorg brother.

Apart from status-related material gains—which were not merely material but also symbolic—and a sense of belonging to and working on a greater project, Uncle Kolia enjoyed inclusion in a circle of friends “all over the Soviet Union.” Uncle Kolia was an internationalist. He proudly listed “the sea of nationalities—the whole Union” as one of the advantages of the BAM.

Bošković (2013) found that longings for certain types of internationality are a feature of “Yugonostalgia,” a form of nostalgia for Socialism peculiar to the state formations that emerged in place of the former Yugoslavia. Nostalgia, much as it is mixed with irony (another feature that Bošković highlights), becomes a mechanism where, in place of lost forms of collectivity, individual longing comes to the forefront. As is often observed in relation to Socialist nostalgia, it can whitewash or negate aspects of the past. However, when the past is erased by the new rhetoric, nostalgia can become a mechanism of resistance to such negation, which is what happened with Yugonostalgia.

In heroic nostalgia, however, there is no trace of irony; everything is deadly serious. The sense of belonging illuminated Uncle Kolia's life even now, while he spent most of his time on a sofa. He lay there like a rock, a noble ruin embodying the heroic epos of the Soviet state. The intense sense of belonging to something that Uncle Kolia himself avowed as irretrievable amounted to a form of nostalgic citizenship.

Affective citizenship grows out of “affective states” (Stoler 2004) and colonial sensibilities. Nostalgic citizenship is a form of belonging in which the new documents and records of a “nostalgic citizen” do not correspond to their affective affinities. Uncle Kolia could be one of the last citizens of the USSR, even though the USSR ceased to exist almost thirty years ago. Nostalgic citizenship, in turn, can define inclusion or exclusion in forms of societal participation. Thus, Neringa Klumbytė (2010) suggests that “equal citizenship” was denied to those members of post-Soviet Lithuania who experienced nostalgia for the Soviet. As we will further see, Soviet nostalgia in Russia is very much a basis for distinguishing between “us” and “others” (svoi-chuzhoi).9

Mikhail and Uncle Kolia, despite living in different locations, share the positionality of BAM workers. They, like my other interlocutors, experienced nostalgia in connection to the “BAM-constructed” part of their identity. Mikhail was not buying into the state's use of nostalgia in the “continuation of the BAM construction” upheaval. Uncle Kolia was similarly skeptical of the possibility of a meaningful return to what once was, but was indeed “no more.”10 Communism happened, but it was set to never return. Its faithful soldiers proudly refused to partake in the developments of the present. Heroic nostalgia was their consolation instead. It also seemed that there was a gendered aspect to the heroic nostalgia associated with masculine features (bromance, exploration, construction, and masculine socialities).

While researchers record lamentations about the past among BAM workers, the heroic nostalgia that I am describing is something different. Povoroznyuk speaks about “underlying” (2019b: 48) “collective nostalgia for the strong state” (ibid.: 41). She describes the expectations that the state must pay attention to and care about its citizens. It is not an unfair expectation given that these people sacrificed their lives and youths building this “strong state.” They had a promise of state care and societal respect in old age. However, this tacit social contract between the Soviet state and some of its citizens was not so much broken as dissolved. The state that was to uphold this contract disintegrated. The new Russian state, even though it strived to highlight, affectively and symbolically, its continuity with the Soviet project, would not or could not provide the same level of care. Society, too, withheld the levels of respect that the workers counted on. Instead of being venerated, their stories, life trajectories, and motives were questioned, or at least this is what they felt (Bogdanova 2013: 202). Some continued to lament. A trend of lamentations was recorded by Ries in 1997, and the rhetorical practice of complaints did not disappear, as Povoroznyuk (2019b) shows. Others, like my interlocutor Mikhail, perceived the new state as something entirely different from the previous state, and vehemently rejected it as a hostile entity, unapologetically engaging in an unplacatable, “heroic” nostalgia instead. This nostalgia was for an Atlantis that can never return, whereas laments and complaints expect some sort of hope and carry a demand for restoration.

Lyrical Nostalgia: The Drowned River

Unlike heroic nostalgia, “lyrical” nostalgia is not a nostalgia for Socialist transformations. Instead, it is affectively colored as light, as opposed to bitter, sadness, and is for the world that was sidelined because of Socialist projects. It also appeared that lyrical nostalgia may be somewhat gendered as feminine, as many older women, although not exclusively, seemed to inhabit this mode of nostalgia. This would not mean that men would experience only heroic nostalgia, or that lyrical nostalgia is reserved for women.

The village of Anosovo emerged as a result of the Bratsk dam construction and flooding in 1961. Having lost their previous homes, people established a pattern of rehearsing memories and cultivating a lyrical register of nostalgia. On the tragedy of the Bratsk dam flood, Valentin Rasputin wrote Farewell to Matyora (1995). Together with other village prose writers, or derevenshchiki (see Parthé 1992, 2019), Rasputin created a pantheon of portraits and scenes depicting a romanticized patriarchal rural life. Works by Rasputin, Astafyev, Shukshin, and other derevenshchikis give space to powerful nostalgia and regret, in a hopeless indictment of rapid industrialization and urbanization that infringes on and erases the rural.

As my interlocutors, villagers from displaced locations, kept lamenting the lost world, stable, almost ritualistic recollections came into rotation. These recollections revolved around meadows, berry fields, islands, and destroyed landmarks, like a church or a building of the brick factory.

It was almost like the reiteration of losses kept people going. Oushakine (2009) has showed that loss can work as a principle that creates a community, that overcoming the loss and the resoluteness of living through it can become foundations of community-building. “The mutual recollection of negative experience was often used to shape new forms of solidarity and belonging” (ibid.: 21). Oushakine describes as “patriotism of despair” the sense of layered losses in the Siberian city of Barnaul (Altai Krai). Earlier, he wrote that it is “the material, moral, and physical despair that became so characteristic in the lives of many people in postsocialist Russia” (Oushakine 2007: 452).

A decade later and in Eastern Siberia, despair seemed to fade, but an exploration of the poetics of decline was in full swing. People mined their memories to obtain more “findings”—details that would allow them to feel a common ground. The list of losses could never be extinguished: the plane used to land in the village and was no longer there, the bakery and the hospital closed, and the post perished in fire.

In Anosovo, the collapse of enterprises of Socialist modernity accrued to a version of nostalgia that was ambiguously connected to the Soviet period. The “then and now” comparison that people engaged in tended to reset the timeline not around the collapse of the USSR, but rather the relocation of 1961. Even though this was technically within the Soviet period, it is not really the nostalgia for the Sovietness of things. Perhaps it is a version of the “patriotism of despair,” given an affinity to the “small motherland” (malaia rodina)—homeland—that was lost. However, the feeling, often expressed by older generations, is also describable as a “lyrical nostalgia”—a longing for things rendered obsolete with the development of technology, the passage of time, and the death of loved ones.

Alevtina (63), with whose childhood memory I began this piece, was among many who recalled the steamboats Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels that used to traverse the Angara River. Alevtina remembered how children ran on board to buy lemonade and “something delicious” (vkusnen'koye) in the riverboat bar. “I said it, and I now have a taste of chocolate in my mouth,” she said. “I remember those [steamboats] that were—‘shliop shliop shliop’ [plop plop plop]”—she imitated the sound of wheels hitting water. “You could hear that ‘shliop shliop’ from afar. If you traveled, people would dress up in the evening and go to the salon to dine. There were white tablecloths and piano music. Adults danced. The steamboat took three days to reach Irkutsk from here.” Now the riverboat reaches Irkutsk in just several hours.

There is an endless rehearsal of stinging losses articulated around the intersensory (the sound of the steamboat, the taste of lemonade or chocolate). But it is not a “Socialist” or “Soviet” nostalgia, despite the presence of Socialist markers such as the names of the steamboats or the situatedness in the Soviet past. Rather, meadows, islands, and steamboats that disappeared, together with the piano and white tablecloths, become the objects around which the sense of the passage of time is constructed. Telling these stories generated a feeling of compassion, a unity, community, and belonging. Memories serve as testimonies to change. Often, stories were an invitation for the listeners to share in the misfortune of losing such treasures. The evocation of losses was something of an everyday conversation in circles of old women. Colored with lyrical nostalgia, the lists of losses were interspersed with observations about the weather and complaints of declining health. The stories were reserved for more intimate moments and worked to strengthen companionship and create a space of shared sociality, a sad solidarity of loss. This sense of solidarity could become a basis for economic relations. The conversation switched from exchanging lamentations to sharing mushrooms and berries, and greater tasks such as selling some timber or finding a useful connection in the city for a nephew.

This is not “a community of loss” as described by Oushakine—a club of mothers who lost their sons during the Russian–Chechen wars. The club has defined connections, a place and times for the meetings. The losses in Anosovo created a loose human network in which nostalgia became a weblike tissue of social connectivity.

Nostalgia, longing, regret, and living through the recollection of injustice and trauma of relocation by displacement were grounded in sensory impressions, such as the taste of lemonade. The relationship between food and memory has had a rich history since Proust's madeleines. The narrator in Proust's novel describes the cakes that evoked in him a memory of his childhood. Thus, Proust created a landmark in a long history of reflections on how memory and taste are connected. But the connection between taste and nostalgia is less explored, unless we equate memory and longing for the past, which can be closely related. Analyzing “nostalgia cuisine,” Melissa Caldwell (2006: 98) argues that foods designed to evoke a certain sense of time in Moscow become “the means . . . to engage in a form of time travel.” Food can be not only the time travel but the very measurement of time, such as the table with vinigret, olivier, and “herring under fur coat” salads on New Year's Eve in Russia. The travel of imagination is also connected to taste. For example, McDonald's in Russia provided a flavor of a Western life, not just Western fast food. The arrival of a McDonald's Café was symbolic. For a while, the building where McDonald's first opened in Moscow in 1990 famously carried the amalgamation of communist symbols and the yellow “M” logo.

Nostalgia is repetitive, on the verge of being caught in rigid forms. The “then and now” comparisons proliferate in Anosovo and elsewhere, reestablishing the timeline around big events, be it the collapse of the USSR, the BAM's construction, or the Bratsk dam flood. In exploring nostalgia repeatedly, people relive belonging. They do not wail in misery or recollect better days for the sake of it—they reinstall themselves as active sensing entities, who, by virtue of feeling, belong. Lyrical nostalgia, an apolitical nostalgia, despite being “Soviet,” nevertheless also has the capacity to aid in reestablishing a sense of belonging.

Anti-Nostalgic Pushback

Sharing in post-Socialist nostalgia can be an act of committing to an affective citizenship. The affective infrastructures of nostalgia, the doings of which resurface, are important since they lead to economic decisions and political consequences. People transmit their nostalgias to the younger generations through rituals, ceremonies, performances, celebrations, and school and museum practices. Socialist nostalgia is not a uniform or clear-cut affect, and below I show cases of refusal of participation in it. Notably, such refusals come from urban rather than rural settings, and in a characteristic case, there is a tendency for nostalgia to strengthen with age. I hope to open a space for understanding that nostalgias are more than political affinities because, in a Marxist sense, nostalgias are predicated on economic relations. One can consider an affect of Soviet nostalgia to be a revanchist affinity, but it is predicated on what people see as advantages that the new, capitalist order does not offer, nor seems to aim to offer to everybody—such as affordable healthcare and education.

Whenever I mention to my acquaintances in Moscow that I encountered post-Socialist nostalgia in Siberia, people tend to reject such nostalgia, some with horror and dismay. The complexity of nostalgias “on the ground,” like the Anosovian regret regarding the sunken land, tends to be substituted in perception by a uniform nostalgia for the Soviet era and judged harshly as such. I encountered the strongest statements of this sort on Facebook when sharing “preliminary results,” or, rather, impressions of my encounters. Peer reinforcement was possibly responsible for the conversation taking a particularly indignant form. But it is not rare to hear “offline” statements like Liliana's (50), who told me she “pitied” people “who indulged in nostalgia [nostalgiruyut—in Russian, “nostalgia” can be a verb] for sovok. It was an absolutely inhumane and cannibalistic regime.” Sovok is a derogatory term for the “Soviet,” “Soviets,” and the “USSR,” for people who express their affinity to them, and for Sovietness in general. “Sovok” is homonymic with “dustpan.”

Marina (47) seconded: “I am amazed! Even in the backward [dremuchem] Anosovo, for people of my age, it is impossible to be nostalgic for sovok. It is like for a zek [prisoner] to be nostalgic about prison, for a half-fed [person] to be nostalgic about severe hunger. Now we have freedom of the press and business. This is not at all nostalgia, meo voto. There must be something else, there must be another word for that. I cannot tell you at once which exactly, and yet—call it anything but nostalgia.” Evidently, for Marina, nostalgia was a romantic, beautiful feeling that could not be associated with things that are not nice.

Yet the carriers of the “heroic” nostalgia for the Soviet, like Mikhail, cheerfully recalling wet shoes and claiming that no one complained about it, recollecting cars, Bulgarian wine, and wondrous peaches, and like Uncle Kolia, articulating the sense of international solidarity experienced on the BAM, do not use the word sovok. As their dreams materialized as new apartments in the houses that stood upon balls and in the railroad, derogation of Socialism was offensive for them.

My Moscow interlocutors, who roughly belonged to the same generation, partook in the same intensity of feeling on the subject but with a different charge. If the charge for the BAM constructors was a “plus,” for Muscovite ladies it was a “minus,” but the feeling and conviction were of comparable strength. Heroic Soviet nostalgia and its rejection were equally passionate.

Not everyone who worked on Socialist construction sites talks freely about the memory of the Soviet era because of the shaming of nostalgic sentiments by those who, like my anti-sovok interlocutors, demand a complete and utter disavowal of everything Soviet. Bogdanova (2013: 202) points to the “silent social groups” and quotes her female interlocutor who spent sixteen years on the BAM: “I never told [anyone]. This was my youth, my cheer, my life. I do not want people to laugh into my eyes and ask me what I, an idiot, was doing there all those years.”

However, on my Facebook page, where the conversation unfolded, Polina (37), who belonged to the generation that were children when the USSR collapsed, was more forgiving of Soviet nostalgia. She commented,

I never thought I will be nostalgic for the Soviet time. To my dismay, I am! I am experiencing nostalgia. Not because I was young and those who I loved—like my father—were alive. There was something in that time and air that is dearly lacking today [chego smertelno ne khvataet segodnya]. If we correctly and honestly rebuilt that system, we would not observe the present lawlessness. It was cleaner, in every sense. Now, it feels like we are thrown one hundred years back. I wanted to get to the beautiful far away [prekrasnoye daleko] so bad!

“The beautiful far away” is a reference to a popular children song, an ephemeron of a generational experience, from the film Guest from the Future (1985). In the film, a girl from the future arrives in the (Soviet) present wearing a school uniform and paraphernalia, including a portrait of Lenin on a pin. The presence of these symbols unambiguously signals that the future is just as Soviet.

Nostalgia for the Soviet, into which the younger generations in Russia tend to be initiated, may be “second-hand” (Oushakine 2019), given the absence of first-hand experiences. But having first-hand experiences is not a prerequisite for nostalgia, perhaps the contrary. Nostalgia is not necessarily less intense when the golden past is remote.

The anti-nostalgic pushback is both practical and ideological: it is about what was absent then and, at least to a degree, came into being after (freedom of the press and market). The nostalgia creeps in to point out what was, in perception, present then and absent now (honesty, clarity, and purity). This discourse is affective and thus not necessarily levelheaded: it lives in the subjective perceptions and mythologies of the past and the present alike.

Practical Nostalgia

While younger generations did not have lived experiences of Soviet times, older generations did. Nostalgia for the Soviet past may be criticized as an affective dimension of the enduring myth in which realities are colored in a rosy light. However, the basis of this myth is solid in the experiences of those who vehemently reject the present, as the Muscovite Katerina (63) does.

Born in the same year as Mikhail from Severobaikalsk and Alevtina from Anosovo, Katerina is of the opinion that the Soviet way was simply the best. Granted, such a conviction is predicated on positionality, as nostalgias tend to be. Katerina was a wife of a Soviet officer; she belonged to a privileged social stratum. She passionately believed in the Soviet project.

Maybe for some part of population, the level of living is higher now. But if we consider percentage, during the Soviet time, the majority had a much higher level of living. In the seventies, we had everything. Everyone had jobs, pensions. Pensions were high: one hundred thirty-two rubles—lots of people had salaries like that. The majority of people over 40 had savings. We did not pay much attention to consumption.

She allowed:

There were deficits. People did not flaunt luxuries. Not everyone had an opportunity to buy a car. However, labor unions worked. The population [naselenie] traveled for vacations. Pioneer camps functioned. Everyone who worked in heavy industry had privileges and social security. Now, only a small part of the population can afford to send children to summer camps or go on vacation. Extracurricular activities were free for children. Draw, sing, dance, do sports, do theater. Now—if you have money, your child will be studying, and if you don't, the child won't. Well, some additional goods are now available. However, big cities were always well supplied. Perhaps the distribution was not smooth enough, but no one walked around hungry.

She paused to fix a curl that fell across her forehead and continued,

The healthcare was free. The education was free. Yes, there was censorship. Not everything sifted into newspapers. We had a certain ideology, and it worked. It was not the ideology of [the United States of] America. We were falling behind America ideologically. Americans think that they are the best on the planet. They were successful in developing this sense of superiority, exceptionalism. Russia failed to accomplish that. We constantly thought that there is something wrong with us. But Russia had different ideals. We had the project for the whole world.

Frankly, I do not believe in capitalism. There is nothing of merit in the uneven distribution of resources. A billionaire is not one billion times better than the guy next door. Communism did not bend to this obscenity. That is why the Communist ideals will always remain attractive, and this is why people regret losing it. As they should! They traded the beautiful idea for holes in donuts [dyrki ot bublika].

Katerina smiled at me. At this moment, I had no doubt that if she was in the same room as my other Moscow interlocutors who disapproved of my Siberian interlocutors’ post-Socialist nostalgia, she would defeat them in a debate about the (dis)advantages of the Soviet system. Katerina expressed regrets and delivered praise for the ideals, but she was not particularly nostalgic about the Soviet past. Rather, she coldly listed the Soviet model's advantages and shortcomings that, according to her, were to be fixed rather than traded for the capitalist model. She was not particularly optimistic about the future, nor counted on the return of the Soviet state. But her assertiveness, even if grounded in practical considerations (vacations, healthcare), hinted that regret—and nostalgia—for Socialist and Communist ideals are to last. Such nostalgia is not an aberration or some sort of insanity: it is a legitimate feeling of the loss of something worthy.

The reason that I still call this “nostalgia” is that the people who brought up all these considerations about practicalities often lived in a situation where their level of consumption was higher, not lower, than during Soviet times. This was the case for Katerina also. Their nostalgic attachment to Soviet times was still about feelings, even though it was explained through a utilitarian framework. It framed itself as practical, but at the root there was still a nostalgic sentiment. Like Katerina, these people often argued on behalf of somebody else who supposedly currently had fewer opportunities now, during Putinist “capitalism,” than during the Soviet period. Theirs were cases of nostalgia, or feelings-dictated attachment, dressing itself as rational.

In Conclusion: Heroic, Lyrical, and Practical Nostalgias and Their Political Power

The people I portrayed are not connected by any other commonality but the unity of affect. They can be as resentful and critical of Soviet nostalgia as embracing of it. Affective unity is polyvalent and does not make a unity of attitudes, opinions, or positions. This means that the secondhand shame or embarrassment felt by some when they glimpse or even are merely told of others experiencing nostalgia is part of the same affect, but with a different “polarity.”

Ethnographic depictions of nostalgia suggest that nostalgia is a spectrum. On this spectrum, there are heroic, lyrical, and practical sections. Heroic Socialist nostalgia misses the sense of inclusion provided by Soviet accelerated construction and achievements, such as the BAM. The more lyrical nostalgia is for the worlds whose development was sidelined as a result of Socialist transformations, such as the villages drowned after the construction of the Bratsk dam. Practical nostalgia is characterized by the loss of goods that were once accessible. These various nostalgias are not divided by unambiguous boundaries. Instead, they are on a spectrum where sections merge with one another. Thus, those who express a heroic nostalgia toward Soviet deeds and Socialist internationalism also remember access to goods now inaccessible to them, such as new cars, and evoke elements of practical nostalgia. Yet the tenors of heroic and practical nostalgias are unmistakably different. The longing for the heroic past leads in the former, and the regret for a lost more equal distribution is predominant in the latter.

If heroic and practical Soviet nostalgias are for the Soviet era, lyrical nostalgia is not for the Sovietness of things. Lyrical nostalgia disperses into longings for the past, material settings, elements of landscape, and the world back then. Its “landscape of the present” (Stewart 1988: 227), which is no doubt only a fragment of the landscape out there, is agglomerative but grounded in a very real sense of loss that has little to do with Socialist aspirations even if it is coeval to them.

Educated city dwellers tend to see Soviet nostalgia as shameful and embarrassing; they unequivocally reject it. If they experience it, they feel the need to justify it, like Polina, who said that she could not imagine herself being nostalgic earlier. In these societal settings, one of the most prominent feelings is the shame of those who experience nostalgia. Yet, again, shame is not a constant variable: lyrical nostalgia is shame-free because it is free from political purchase; it appears naïve to the critics of Soviet nostalgia because it does not take a stand. Practical nostalgia rejects the attempts to shame it. Heroic nostalgia is painfully aware that some consider it to be shameful; part of its bitterness stems from anti-nostalgic pushback.

For some of my interlocutors, Soviet nostalgia is a pathetic mourning of losses that are either dismissed or seen as worthy in terms of advantages gained instead, such as freedom of movement, the market, and the press. Others whom I encountered, expressing nostalgia freely and even as a challenge, were not highly educated and lived in rural areas or small towns. They were usually people from the older generations, for whom the shame expressed by my Muscovite interlocutors in turn was foreign and repugnant; they were open in their longing for the collectivities of the USSR. To say that nostalgia for the Soviet often belongs to those who dwell in small towns, are not highly educated, and are older, is not meant to dismiss it or relegate it to the impotent. On the contrary, it is to point out that this affect does not belong to elites who fantasize about the restoration of the glory of the USSR on the international scene.

The political meaning of nostalgia is often stressed. However, nostalgia is a domain where it is possible to find commonalities and deep affinities that go beyond the political even as they have a political dimension. Nostalgia emerges as a form of “biopolitics from below” (Allison 2013: 175), out of the shared sense of missed opportunities, regardless of how realistic they were. As a virulent “political affect” (Protevi 2009), nostalgia can be intense. It can be the sense of temporality of a construction project or a more existential sense of the ephemerality of living. It can be the knowledge of the irreversibility of change or a feeling of socioeconomic vulnerability and precarity.

Affect is a basis for subtle forms of solidarity and shared belonging. Nostalgia emerges as a reaction, but also as a meaning-producing device with which to make sense of the present. It is also an indictment of and a critique of the present. How (in)valid nostalgia for the Soviet is, in the evaluation of my interlocutors, depends on their evaluation of the Soviet, on whether, in simple terms, they deem it generally “good” or “bad.” Nostalgia, being a critique of present conditions, in all its engrossment with the past, is about imagining the future.

Additionally, it would appear that nostalgia can be gendered. While heroic nostalgia seemed to be somewhat related to masculinity, lyrical nostalgia seemed to be related to femininity. To make more certain claims, a separate investigation would be useful. It would be interesting to investigate eventually whether men and women experience or express nostalgia differently in general. Here, I would merely like to preserve an observation on the possibility that nostalgia can take gendered forms. I can also offer no observation regarding gendered aspects of practical nostalgia.

The nostalgias in question—heroic, lyrical, and practical—are developed out of different positionalities, partake in the forming of different affective identities and citizenships, and are likely to be connected to the political positions espoused by individuals. Distinction between various registers of nostalgia shows that statistical evaluations of nostalgia, Levada Center-style, have little meaning unless we know what nostalgia we are talking about: heroic, lyrical, or practical.

Heroic nostalgias are sold on the idea of the Soviet with such pathos and irreconcilable resoluteness that much more than a decorative restoration by the state is necessary to obtain approval from these nostalgic individuals. They may be extremely resistant to the state-led process of reestablishing continuity; for instance, unlike others, Mikhail was skeptical of the celebration of the opening of the second BAM line. Lyrical nostalgia tends to be apolitical. Finally, practical nostalgia—if the state can use it—appears to be the most potent politically. Without being “crazy” or whitewashing too much, practical nostalgia in effect may indiscriminately approve every gesture extended to reaffirm continuity with the past. Perhaps, in the ways that they dictate behavior and affectively, varieties of nostalgia differ more than such categories of feeling as regret, shame, and hope.

Acknowledgments

I am thankful to my interlocutors for their time. Thanks to Kamran Asdar Ali, Courtney Handman, Serguei Oushakine, Craig Campbell, Chelsi West Ohueri, Angelina Jean Locker, and Alexandra Simonova for commenting on the earlier versions of this article. Thanks to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and the University of Texas at Austin for supporting this project.

Notes

1

This doubtless subtracts the part of reality in which the experience of living in a boarding school brings no such longings. One of my interlocutors, an Udege by ethnicity and a Russian citizen, recalled the racist abuse in the boarding school built in a Russian village. His experience of boarding school did not evoke in him—and in his interlocutors, as far as he knew—nostalgia. The experience was associated with trauma, including, for his interlocutors, the trauma of sexual abuse. Therefore, a described “longing for the kollektiv” in a Soviet colonial residential school is merely an aspect and not a totality of experiences.

2

The other two towns are Tynda and Fevralsk (Krylov 2019).

3

Curiously, “an icon of connectivity and modernity,” the BAM, in the period of its construction, was also compared to a previous iconic railroad project and was called “the second Trans-Sib” (Trans-Siberian Railroad) (Povoroznyuk 2019a).

4

For a description of mixed feelings of the BAM builders toward the second line, see Povoroznyuk (2019b).

5

The “moneylessness” of money (Grossman 1986: 49; see also Pesmen 2000: 126–145) in the Soviet Union meant that to have money was not enough to buy a car; you had to also stand in a line and be sanctioned by your work to do so. See also Ledneva (1998) on blat.

6

Curiously, “anthrax” in Russian, translated literally, is “Siberian plague.”

7

In 2016, as the water level in the Angara River fell, previously flooded cemeteries rose to the surface. Rumor had it that children were playing soccer with human skulls.

8

Boym (1995: 121) has suggested that Russians reestablish nonexistent kinship connections by referring to unrelated elders with terms like “uncle.”

9

For analysis of what “svoi” means in Russian culture, see Yurchak (2006).

10

I am referring here, of course, to the maxim that “everything was forever until it was no more” (Yurchak 2006).

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  • Oushakine, Serguei Alex. 2019. “Second-Hand Nostalgia: On Charms and Spells of the Soviet Trukhliashechka.” In Post-Soviet Nostalgia: Confronting the Empire's Legacies, ed. Otto Boele, Boris Noordenbos, and Ksenia Robbe, 3869. New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Parthé, Kathleen. 1992. “Village Prose: Chauvinism, Nationalism or Nostalgia?” In New Directions in Soviet Literature, ed. Sheelagh Duffin Graham, 106121. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Parthé, Kathleen. 2019. “Peasant Nostalgia in Recent Oral History.” Post-Soviet Nostalgia: Confronting the Empire's Legacies, ed. Otto Boele, Boris Noordenbos, and Ksenia Robbe, 7085. New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pesmen, Dale. 2000. Russia and soul: An exploration. Cornell University Press.

  • Pipiia, Karina. 2020. Struktura i vosproizvodstvo pamyati o Sovetskom Soyuze v Rossiiskom obshchestvennom mnenii [Structure and reproduction of memory about the Soviet Union in the Russian popular opinion]. Levada Center, March. https://www.levada.ru/cp/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Pamyat-o-Sovetskom-Soyuze.pdf (accessed 15 May 2023).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Povoroznyuk, Olga. 2019a. “Constructing and Re-Constructing the Baikal-Amur Mainline: Imaginaries and Ideologies of a (Post)-Socialist Megaproject.” Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies Annual Convention, November 25. San Francisco.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Povoroznyuk, Olga. 2019b. “The Baikal-Amur Mainline: Memories and Emotions of a Socialist Construction Project.” Sibirica 18 (1): 2252.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Raleigh, Donald J. 2013. Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia's Cold War Generation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Rasputin, Valentin. 1995. Farewell to Matyora. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

  • Ries, Nancy. 1997. Russian Talk: Culture and Conversation during Perestroika. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

  • Rosaldo, Renato. 1989. “Imperialist Nostalgia.” Representations 26: 107122.

  • Protevi, John. 2009. Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Schweitzer, Peter, and Olga Povoroznyuk. 2019. “A Right to Remoteness? A Missing Bridge and Articulations of Indigeneity along an East Siberian Railroad.” Social Anthropology 27 (2): 236252.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shadrin, Vladimir. 2019. “Most mezhdu proshlym i budushchim severnogo Transsiba” [The bridge between the past and the future of the North Transsib]. Gudok 119, 9 July.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Siegelbaum, Lewis H. 2008. “Roadlessness and the ‘Path to Communism’: Building Roads and Highways in Stalinist Russia.” Journal of Transport History 29 (2): 277294.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stewart, Kathleen. 1988 . “Nostalgia—A Polemic.” Cultural Anthropology 3: 227241.

  • Stewart, Kathleen. 2007. Ordinary Affects. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Stoler, Ann Laura. 2004. “Affective States.” In A Companion to the Anthropology of Politics, ed. Stephen Nugent and Joan Vincent, 420. Oxford: Blackwell.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Timofeeva, Ekaterina. 2021. “19-letnii student pomochilsia na portret veterana v Moskve. Ego prigovorili k chetyrem godam kolonii [A 19-year-old student urinated on the portrait of a veteran in Moscow. He was sentenced to four years of imprisonment]. Snob, 24 December. https://snob.ru/news/19-letnij-student-pomochilsya-na-portret-veterana-v-moskve-ego-prigovorili-k-chetyrem-godam-kolonii/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Todorova, Maria, and Zsuzsa Gille, eds. 2010. Post-Communist Nostalgia. Oxford: Berghahn.

  • Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tsiolkovsky, Konstantin. 1981. “Kosmicheskaya filosofia” [Cosmic philosophy]. Tekhnika-molodezhi 4. http://tsiolkovsky.org/ru/kosmicheskaya-filosofiya/kosmicheskaya-filosofiya/ (accessed 15 May 2023).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Williams, Raymond. 1973. The Country and the City. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Yurchak, Alexei. 2006. Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Žižek, Slavoj. 2002. Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? Five Interventions in the (Mis)Use of a Notion. New York: Verso.

Contributor Notes

Vasilina Orlova is a sociocultural anthropologist interested in the materialities of affect, Socialist visions of the future, and the contemporary manifestations and endurances of such visions. She has a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin. Her articles have been published by Novy Mir, Sibirica, the Slavic Review, and the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Email: vasilina@utexas.edu

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Sibirica

Interdisciplinary Journal of Siberian Studies

  • Ahmed, Sara. 2004. “Affective Economies.” Social Text 22 (2): 117139.

  • Allison, Anne. 2013. Precarious Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Arzamas editorial collective. 2019. “Otkryvaya Rossiui: Baikalo-Amurskaya magistral’” [Discovering Russia: The Baikal–Amur Mainline]. Arzamas Academy. https://arzamas.academy/courses/69 (accessed 15 May 2023).

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  • Berdahl, Daphne. 1999. “‘(N)Ostalgie’ for the Present: Memory, Longing, and East German Things.” Ethnos 64 (2): 192211.

  • Bloch, Alexia. 2005. “Longing for the Kollektiv: Gender, Power, and Residential Schools in Central Siberia.” Cultural Anthropology 20 (4): 534569.

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  • Boele, Otto, Boris Noordenbos, and Ksenia Robbe. 2019a. Post-Soviet Nostalgia: Confronting the Empire's Legacies. New York: Routledge.

  • Boele, Otto, Boris Noordenbos, and Ksenia Robbe. 2019b. “The Many Practices of Post-Soviet Nostalgia: Affect, Appropriation, Contestation.” In Post-Soviet Nostalgia: Confronting the Empire's Legacies, 117. New York: Routledge.

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  • Bogdanova, Elena. 2013. “Kak utopiia stala realnostiiu: ‘Stroitelstvo BAMa—samoie schastlivoie vremia v moiei zhizni.’” [Utopia turned reality: “BAM construction as the happiest period of my life']. In Topografiia schastia: Etnograficheskie karty moderna [Topography of Happiness: Ethnographic Maps of Modernity], ed. Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov, 119–218. Moscow: NLO.

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  • Bošković, Aleksandar. 2013. “Yugonostalgia and Yugoslav Cultural Memory: Lexicon of Yu Mythology.” Slavic Review 72 (1): 5478.

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  • Caldwell, Melissa L. 2006. “Tasting the Worlds of Yesterday and Today: Culinary Tourism and Nostalgia Foods in Post-Soviet Russia.” In Fast Food/Slow Food: The Cultural Economy of the Global Food System, ed. Richard Wilk. 97112. Rowman Altamira.

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  • Collier, Stephen J.. 2011. Post-Soviet Social: Neoliberalism, Social Modernity, Biopolitics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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  • Haraway, Donna. 1988. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14 (3): 575599.

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  • Humphrey, Caroline. 2005. “Ideology in Infrastructure: Architecture and Soviet Imagination.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11 (1): 3958.

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  • Klumbytė, Neringa. 2010. “Post-Socialist Sensations: Nostalgia, the Self, and Alterity in Lithuania.” Lietuvos etnologija: 93116.

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  • Krylov, Ivan. 2019. “BAM v tsifrakh” [BAM in numbers]. Arzamas Academy. https://arzamas.academy/materials/1729 (accessed 15 May 2023).

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  • Ledneva, Alena. 1998. Russia's Economy of Favours: Blat, Networking and Informal Exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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  • Morris, Jeremy. 2018. “Automobile Masculinities and Neoliberal Production Regimes among Russian Blue-Collar Men.” In Masculinity, Labour, and Neoliberalism, ed. Charlie Walker and Steven Roberts, 171193. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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  • Nadkarni, Maya, and Olga Shevchenko. 2004. “The Politics of Nostalgia: A Case for Comparative Analysis of Post-Socialist Practices.” Ab imperio 2: 487519.

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  • Nora, Pierre. 1989. “Between Memory and History: Les lieux de mémoire.” Representations 26: 724.

  • Orlova, Vasilina. 2021a. “Malfunctioning Affective Infrastructures: How the ‘Broken’ Road Becomes a Site of Belonging in Postindustrial Eastern Siberia.” Sibirica 20 (1): 2857.

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    • Export Citation
  • Orlova, Vasilina. 2022. “Affective Infrastructures of Immobility: Staying while Neighbors are Leaving Rural Eastern Siberia.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography (October 11): 1–27. https://doi.org/10.1177/08912416221130940.

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  • Orlova, Vasilina. 2021b. “‘Cheerful Nonchalance’ as an Affective Response to Precarity: Refusing Safety Measures in Eastern Siberia.” Slavic Review 80 (4): 863882.

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    • Export Citation
  • Oushakine, Serguei Alex. 2007. “‘We're Nostalgic but We're Not Crazy’: Retrofitting the Past in Russia.” The Russian Review 66 (3): 451482.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Oushakine, Serguei Alex. 2009. The Patriotism of Despair: Nation, War, and Loss in Russia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

  • Oushakine, Serguei Alex. 2019. “Second-Hand Nostalgia: On Charms and Spells of the Soviet Trukhliashechka.” In Post-Soviet Nostalgia: Confronting the Empire's Legacies, ed. Otto Boele, Boris Noordenbos, and Ksenia Robbe, 3869. New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Parthé, Kathleen. 1992. “Village Prose: Chauvinism, Nationalism or Nostalgia?” In New Directions in Soviet Literature, ed. Sheelagh Duffin Graham, 106121. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Parthé, Kathleen. 2019. “Peasant Nostalgia in Recent Oral History.” Post-Soviet Nostalgia: Confronting the Empire's Legacies, ed. Otto Boele, Boris Noordenbos, and Ksenia Robbe, 7085. New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pesmen, Dale. 2000. Russia and soul: An exploration. Cornell University Press.

  • Pipiia, Karina. 2020. Struktura i vosproizvodstvo pamyati o Sovetskom Soyuze v Rossiiskom obshchestvennom mnenii [Structure and reproduction of memory about the Soviet Union in the Russian popular opinion]. Levada Center, March. https://www.levada.ru/cp/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Pamyat-o-Sovetskom-Soyuze.pdf (accessed 15 May 2023).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Povoroznyuk, Olga. 2019a. “Constructing and Re-Constructing the Baikal-Amur Mainline: Imaginaries and Ideologies of a (Post)-Socialist Megaproject.” Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies Annual Convention, November 25. San Francisco.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Povoroznyuk, Olga. 2019b. “The Baikal-Amur Mainline: Memories and Emotions of a Socialist Construction Project.” Sibirica 18 (1): 2252.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Raleigh, Donald J. 2013. Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia's Cold War Generation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Rasputin, Valentin. 1995. Farewell to Matyora. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

  • Ries, Nancy. 1997. Russian Talk: Culture and Conversation during Perestroika. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

  • Rosaldo, Renato. 1989. “Imperialist Nostalgia.” Representations 26: 107122.

  • Protevi, John. 2009. Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Schweitzer, Peter, and Olga Povoroznyuk. 2019. “A Right to Remoteness? A Missing Bridge and Articulations of Indigeneity along an East Siberian Railroad.” Social Anthropology 27 (2): 236252.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shadrin, Vladimir. 2019. “Most mezhdu proshlym i budushchim severnogo Transsiba” [The bridge between the past and the future of the North Transsib]. Gudok 119, 9 July.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Siegelbaum, Lewis H. 2008. “Roadlessness and the ‘Path to Communism’: Building Roads and Highways in Stalinist Russia.” Journal of Transport History 29 (2): 277294.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stewart, Kathleen. 1988 . “Nostalgia—A Polemic.” Cultural Anthropology 3: 227241.

  • Stewart, Kathleen. 2007. Ordinary Affects. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Stoler, Ann Laura. 2004. “Affective States.” In A Companion to the Anthropology of Politics, ed. Stephen Nugent and Joan Vincent, 420. Oxford: Blackwell.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Timofeeva, Ekaterina. 2021. “19-letnii student pomochilsia na portret veterana v Moskve. Ego prigovorili k chetyrem godam kolonii [A 19-year-old student urinated on the portrait of a veteran in Moscow. He was sentenced to four years of imprisonment]. Snob, 24 December. https://snob.ru/news/19-letnij-student-pomochilsya-na-portret-veterana-v-moskve-ego-prigovorili-k-chetyrem-godam-kolonii/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Todorova, Maria, and Zsuzsa Gille, eds. 2010. Post-Communist Nostalgia. Oxford: Berghahn.

  • Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tsiolkovsky, Konstantin. 1981. “Kosmicheskaya filosofia” [Cosmic philosophy]. Tekhnika-molodezhi 4. http://tsiolkovsky.org/ru/kosmicheskaya-filosofiya/kosmicheskaya-filosofiya/ (accessed 15 May 2023).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Williams, Raymond. 1973. The Country and the City. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Yurchak, Alexei. 2006. Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Žižek, Slavoj. 2002. Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? Five Interventions in the (Mis)Use of a Notion. New York: Verso.

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