View: There was a special place for the Soviets, whether in the Olympics or the MiGs
Even the headlines spoke of the US 7th Fleet and the USS Enterprise pouring into the Bay of Bengal to aid Pakistan, and two squadrons of Soviet cruisers and an attack submarine pursuing the Americans to ensure fair play.
As an Indian growing up in the early 70s, there was absolutely no doubt that the Cold War fighters were on our side. We read American authors, watched Hollywood films and listened to Dylan and Elvis. But in terms of geopolitics, it was the Russians that we trusted.
I remember watching the 1976 Montreal Olympics closely, hoping the Soviets would crush the Americans. And they did. And when their East German comrades pushed the Yanks to third place, my joy knew no bounds. I was not the only one in this case. Many friends have read as many Russian fairy tales featuring Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Beautiful as Snow White and the Ugly Duckling. Soviet children’s books were popular gifts. They were beautifully illustrated and much cheaper than the British and American ones.
And while solving Resnick-Halliday’s physics textbook problems was a must for engineering entrance exams, top students spoke loudly about mastering Irodov’s problems in general physics. Stalingrad, Kursk, Night Witch and Tarkovsky female pilots. The Russians have always been the good guys for us – even though we were completely unaware that Stalin had killed about a million of his fellow citizens and caused the death of about 20 million others.
Personally, the narrative of “good Russians” began to fade from the late 1980s. In 1991, I was surprised at the eagerness with which the former Soviet republics – of the Baltic States and Ukraine to Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan – wanted to move away from Moscow. And the joy of the Lithuanian team when they beat a combined Russian team to the bronze medal in basketball at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics had to be seen to be believed.
Soon we also realized that the engine room of the great Soviet football teams in the 80s – including the Euro runners-up in 1988 – was almost exclusively Dynamo Kyiv, ergo, Ukrainians, players who, in 1992, would be insulted if you referred to them as Russians.
It was also the face of the new Russia. American tycoons had decades of experience flaunting their millions. The New Russia oligarchs, on the other hand, were in a hurry, and rudeness only begins to describe how the likes of Roman Abramovich and Dmitry Rybolovlev flaunted their newfound wealth.
Which brings us to Putin. A former KGB agent who rose to power through threats, coercion and, above all, the nostalgia of a generation that simply could not overcome the humiliation of no longer being a superpower. Three decades ago, the Soviets were the underdogs. This Russian dispensation has nothing redemptive to support.
So, does a former Soviet fanboy accept the new Russia? There is hope. Schoolgirl Olga Misik reading the Russian Constitution surrounded by armed police. Lilia Gildeeva left Gazprom-Media’s NTV channel after posting a “No to war” message. Huge demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Also, many of the symbols we associate with Russia are actually not Russian. The synonym Stolichnaya vodka is made by Latvians, who are against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Borscht, the hot vegetable soup commonly associated with Russia, is Ukrainian.
I think I’ll console myself by watching Olga Korbut’s magic balance beam routine at the Munich Olympics in 1972. And hopefully Mother Russia will soon prevail over the thugs who now rule the country post-soviet.