Back to the USSR and the 90s

Horrors and realities of Russia 1985-1999

Elnara Nuriieva-Letova

Elnara Nuriieva-Letova



Back to the USSR and the 90s

A month ago, a good friend of mine, a Portuguese photojournalist covering the war in Ukraine, sent a documentary to the BBC. This is a documentary about Russia in 1985-1999, and since I rode the S9 from Berlin Central Station to Adlershof, I had more than half an hour of free time. But from the very first frames, the documentary, assembled from fragments shot all over Russia, brought me back to the 90s, to my childhood.

At that time, Russian TV channels such as ORT and RTR dominated the broadcasting platforms in Crimea, until they were replaced by Ukrainian UT-1, 1+1 and Inter, as I recall, in 1996-1997. Before that, Russian channels constantly broadcast some horrors about life in Russia - then it was still allowed. Now they are dictated to show terrible footage from other countries, but only “victories” and “good” about Russia.

The footage from this documentary was exactly what I saw on our old “Record” - I remember reports about how teachers and doctors in Moscow are on strike because they are not paid salaries for 6 months and they have nothing to eat. I remember the news about how some alcoholics or psychics constantly killed others. I remember the uproar surrounding the murder of Russian journalist and showman Vlad Listiev in 1995, and Russian politician and Soviet dissident Galina Starovoitov in 1998. Both were shot on the stairs of their apartment buildings. Both murders struck Russia, and both cases are still unsolved more than 20 years later. I remember news about gangs whose members were constantly killing each other. I remember reports from Chechnya, where Russia blamed “bloodthirsty Chechens”, but almost never mentioned what terrible crimes Russia itself had committed there.

As a child, I always thought, what the hell is the Russian army doing there at all? When I was 20, I asked this question again, but this time about my country and my native Crimea. The entire civilized world could not and cannot answer this question. The Russian narrative of “protecting Russian speakers from Ukrainian Nazis” also does not give an answer, because it is nothing more than a pretext for invading a sovereign country.

When I was a teenager, I did not even realize that with the disappearance of Russian channels, our political news feed turned into constant airwaves of meetings of the Verkhovna Rada, where Ukrainian politicians immediately fought and everyone just laughed at our fools who cannot solve problems with words. I'm not saying it was right, but at least it was fun to watch compared to what was happening in Russia. There was no news on Ukrainian channels about war or mass killings in our own country simply because Ukraine had not participated in any wars since independence, and if there were any shootings between gangs or oligarchs or any other killings, the scale did not compare with Russia.

The end of this documentary shows the beginning of Putin's “career”. Then, in 1999, everyone was so happy that finally there was someone young and intelligent, not like Yeltsin, who barely read his speeches and at some point barely moved. I had no idea that in 1999 Russian children were given textbooks that already had information about Putin, it is clear that she praises the “dear leader”. Do you imagine that there is already a whole generation of adults who have seen nothing but the Putin regime? Do you imagine that in 1999 these children were already drugged with Putin's propaganda, and they, for their part, raised their children in the same way? Already at least two generations have been poisoned by Putin's propaganda, who, for their part, poison the little one in kindergartens, dressing her in military uniform and staging military performances.

You can say: “Poor people, they were simply deceived.” And I believe that they allowed themselves to be deceived and still do so. I can't imagine Ukrainians or any other civilized country staying silent and just swallowing whatever the government feeds them. The Maidanes in 2004 and 2013-14 did not take place out of nowhere, no matter how Russia would try to present it. The reason is simple and it is that the Ukrainians were not going to let the government continue to fool them. I believe that the main cultural difference between Ukrainians and Russians is that the former want freedom of choice, they want independence and transparency, and the latter, even as a nation, cannot survive without the rule of some “iron fist” who would decide for them what to do. They do not want to make their own decisions, they avoid responsibility and, in fact, did not even know what to do with the freedom they were given in the intervals between the rule of some dictator.

This documentary, although far from aesthetic pleasure, tells the truth about the Russia of 1985-1999. It's definitely one of the best I've watched lately. BE SURE TO WATCH if you want to better understand the “mysterious Russian soul”.

When I watched this documentary, I almost missed my stop, and when I heard Ivanushek International's song “So I am a lot universal” in the film, I even burst into tears - I listened to this song on my old cassette recorder and jumped wildly in my mother's living room of the house. The funny thing is that Ivanushka is the main character of almost all Russian fairy tales, and the name itself has become common to fools and rather primitively thinking or not very capable of thinking people, because Ivanushka's actions and behavior have always been incredibly stupid. Adding “International” to the name of the band would probably sound cool, but in the end, in my humble opinion, it turned out funny. Just as the international airport of Simferopol had “International” in its name, and in fact the only place from which one could fly was Russia. And that, before the war, it was possible, and now it is completely closed. After all, not quite “international”.

After getting off the train, I found the song on YouTube and listened to it with a smile. My inner child felt a strong nostalgia, although there is nothing special about this song. But she brought me home, to the Crimea, to my hometown of Bakhchisarai. To my mother's house, watch “Peak Time” with Listyev with my grandfather. To my grandmother who watched endless Santa Barbara and her favorite Brazilian soap operas. At a time when my mother was young and worked without days off to provide for the whole family. When my older sister was my idol for just bringing home cool new cassettes.

Immediately after Ivanushek's clip for this song, which for a 32-year-old more or less adult version looked terribly unprofessional and cheap to me, the same song played on YouTube, but this time performed by the band Rondo (which I had never heard of before) with a young Alexander Ivanov as a soloist. I had never heard this version, and it turned out that it was the original, and Ivanushek's version was a caber. The original song fascinated me, it has a wild spirit in the style of 80s glam rock that I adore. I think that the best Russian music was created in times of great changes, Tsoi is the best example of this.

And I thought that for me the Ivanushka song is about my past when I lived in the Crimea: just like this song, and Ivanushki themselves, in many ways just a parody of something that was intended to be cool and cool, but in the end has a ridiculous, artificial and cheap look, especially now, when Crimea was occupied by Russia. And Rondo's version is about my present, where I live in Berlin - the most authentic city of our time, with the wildest spirit imaginable. But this city had to see a lot and suffer a lot to become what it is today. It seems that in life with everything, with cities and countries - there is no pain, no fate.

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