Lenin and I, photo essay by Marianna Glynska
I belong to the generation born in the country that is not on the map today. This country was called the USSR. Although it has drowned into the history more than 20 years ago, it is still much discussed and talked about. Why did socialism fail? Was it just the wrong country for building socialism or is the idea itself too idealistic and utopian? Karl Marx and Engels are not read and respected much in post-Soviet countries, while in other countries these philosophers are read and widely discussed.
I belong to the generation born in the country that is not on the map today Some people of post-Soviet countries even have nostalgia for “those good old days”, where everything was cheap (although there wasn’t much of a choice on the market), where people earned more money and could afford a lot more than they can now. There is sometimes the idealization of the young and carefree years of those days. People, whose families were tortured or arrested, of course, have a completely different story. With all the good and bad sides, the USSR existed for a long period of time and has its place in the world’s history. But, if not to take into account those nostalgic idealistic feelings of some people, the majority agree on the fact that socialism failed and the USSR was a totalitarian country with no basic human freedoms and rights. While it fell apart, all the countries gained so much desired freedom and started paving their ways to truly free and democratic country.
Since I am Ukrainian, I would stop for a moment at the development of Ukrainian free country and the raise of nationalism. So what lessons did we take from the former USSR and how are we building our country? Why all the efforts of gaining real freedom seem to disappear in the air? Can we cross out our past and completely get rid of it? I’ll try to analyze it through my personal story.
I was born in 1984 in a small town in western Ukraine. I don’t have a lot of memories from my early childhood, but there is one thing I can clearly remember. I was 5 and I went to a local kindergarten. It was the time when kids started preparing for the school (usually children go to school at 6). I remember there were portraits of Lenin with the embroidered towels everywhere on the walls. The portrait of Lenin with the sun shining above his head was also at the first page of our first textbook (it’s called “Bykvaryk”). And the educators were telling to the children: “Lenin is our sun, Lenin is our sun”.
Lenin is our sun, Lenin is our sun, and we all love Lenin
That day I came home and started shouting “Lenin is our sun, Lenin is our sun, and we all love Lenin”. My parents looked at each other silently and it was then when I realized for the first time that something wasn’t quite right. My parents seemed not happy with what I said, and so my Dad just asked me not to scream so loud that “Lenin is our sun”. Maybe because of that incident later I’ve become so skeptical to the system and the following political leaders, but as everyone else I had a strong urge to believe that it will change for better, somehow, some day…
The time went by. Ukraine has got its independence, the Constitution was accepted, portraits of Lenin were thrown away and substituted by other political leaders. Though the arguments around Lenins’ monuments are still substantial today. We’ve already had two revolutions and are currently in the state of war (not officially though).
The political leaders have changed, but did we reach our real goal? The political leaders have changed, but did we reach our real goal? My guess is that we are trying to throw the history by throwing the monuments or changing the words, but do not change in a more global sense. There is this constant worship of a new person (usually the president) and the expectation that s/he will be a savior and will suddenly make our lives better with the following disappointment in this person and belief into other person… Is this the USSR that taught us to obediently listen to a leader, not to have our own attitudes (or keeping them to ourselves) and waiting for a few people to decide on our destinies? Is the fear imposed on us by tortures is still alive? Do we still have the need to worship somebody? (Lenin’s portraits with embroidered towels are changed into president’s portraits with embroidered towels?). Do we really believe that by changing titles we can change the whole system? Can we escape the theatre, in which we continue performing the same roles, roles, we do not believe into any more. Why do we have to hide under idealistic notions of patriotism, freedom, love, kindness? – These are questions that I first started exploring in my project “Lenin and I”. I have a strong belief that culture shapes the society and for the first time I turned my art into exploring socio-cultural aspects of today’s Ukrainian society by asking the above mentioned questions. My child’s photo with Lenin in embroidered towel travels via the most important event and personalities in the Ukrainian contemporary history and doubts whether it’s enough to change just the settings if the performance is the same and goes on for decades. (Marianna Glynska)