A Child’s History of the USSR

Posted: September 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

Yesterday, one of my student’s from the 5th year invited me to go to work with her. She teaches English at a language school in the center of the city called the Simbirsk Resource Center. Apparently, everyone is very excited that there is a native speaker of English in the city with which to practice. From what I gather, it’s not incredibly uncommon for British citizens to come to Ulyanovsk, but being an American is like being a celebrity. At the school, I got to go to two different classes with young adults and children. The first class I went to was comprised of two girls in the 11th year, basically the equivalent of senior year of high school. At first, only one girl was present. The teacher told her that I was an American and that she would speak with me in English. The girl responded in Russian, “I’m scared,” to which I replied, “Don’t be.” She was shocked that I spoke Russian. I had a great time with the two girls.

For the second class, I spoke with five different children from the 6th class, so they were probably eleven or twelve years old. The younger children were more willing to speak with me and ask me questions. They said a lot of things that amused me. For example, the teacher asked the boys and girls if they wanted to travel to America. Some of the boys said no. When asked why not, one responded, “I’m a patriot.” Interestingly, it seems that some of the stereotypes of the Cold War are still alive and well in Russia as well as the United States. Some twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, both nations still harbor some suspicion towards each other. At least in my experience, I thought that some of this lingering distrust came from two sources: the older generation (some of the people I work with in the summer still think that jeans are a commodity in Russia and that I’m probably being tailed by the KGB) and old text books (I’m still not convinced that my 7th grade geography teacher knew that the Soviet Union had collapsed over a decade before our class). I’m assuming that these reasons also apply in Russia.

The other interesting discussion I had with the boys and girls as well as with the two teachers present in the room was about Soviet history. We were asking the students which Tsars they liked or were interested in. Then, one of the teachers mentioned Stalin, so I proceeded to ask the students what they knew and thought about various Soviet leaders. Interestingly, they confirmed the ideas in this video on youtube. The video is a “children’s” history of the Soviet Union animated with Legos. I recommend everyone watch it. There are subtitles and it’s quite humorous. Apparently, it’s also quite true.

What made me laugh the most was that the students and the teachers didn’t really know who Yuri Andropov or Konstantin Chernenko were. Their comments about Khrushchev was that he had something to do with the Space Race. The remarks about Brezhnev weren’t that enlightening either – he had big eyebrows and liked to kiss people. Furthermore, the majority of the people I talk to in Russia, including the children, seem to dislike Gorbachev because he broke the Soviet Union. It’s interesting how in America that makes one a hero, while in Russia it makes one unpopular. Although Russians seem to enjoy the post-Soviet life, they still harbor some resentment to Gorbachev, probably due to the nearly disastrous early 1990s.

Yuri Andropov

Konstantin Chernenko

Konstantin Chernenko

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