The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), or Soviet Union, dissolved in 1991. Many, but not all, of the former Soviet republics are now part of a looser union called the Commonwealth of Independent States. At over 22 million km2 (8.5 million mi2), it was by far the largest state on Earth during its existence, covering more than one sixth of the planet’s land area. One of its successor states, Russia, is still the largest at about 15 million km2.
Many traces of this superpower can be seen today, and many of its former citizens have strong feelings for as well as against it.
The Soviet Union, was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (Russian SFSR). Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.
The Soviet Union had its roots in the 1917 October Revolution, when the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Russian Provisional Government which had replaced Tsar Nicholas II during World War I. In 1922, the Soviet Union was formed by a treaty which legalized the unification of the Russian, Transcaucasian, Ukrainian and Byelorussian republics that had occurred from 1918. Following Lenin’s death in 1924 and a brief power struggle, Joseph Stalin came to power in the mid-1920s. Stalin committed the state’s ideology to Marxism–Leninism (which he created) and constructed a command economy which led to a period of rapid industrialization and collectivization. During his rule, political paranoia fermented and the Great Purge removed Stalin’s opponents within and outside of the party via arbitrary arrests and persecutions of many people, resulting in at least 600,000 deaths. In 1933, a major famine struck the country, causing the deaths of 3 to 7 million people.
Before the start of World War II in 1939, the Soviets signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression agreement with Nazi Germany, after which the USSR invaded Poland on 17 September 1939. In June 1941, Germany broke the pact and invaded the Soviet Union, opening the largest and bloodiest theatre of war in history. Soviet war casualties accounted for the highest proportion of the conflict in the effort of acquiring the upper hand over Axis forces at intense battles such as Stalingrad and Kursk. The territories overtaken by the Red Army became satellite states of the Soviet Union. The post-war division of Europe into capitalist and communist halves would lead to increased tensions with the United States-led Western Bloc, known as the Cold War. Stalin died in 1953 and was eventually succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev, who in 1956 denounced Stalin and began the de-Stalinization. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred during Khrushchev’s rule, which was among the many factors that led to his downfall in 1964. In the early 1970s, there was a brief détente of relations with the United States, but tensions resumed with the Soviet–Afghan War in 1979. In 1985, the last Soviet premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, sought to reform and liberalize the economy through his policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), which caused political instability. In 1989, Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe overthrew their respective communist governments.
As part of an attempt to prevent the country’s dissolution due to rising nationalist and separatist movements, a referendum was held in March 1991, boycotted by some republics, that resulted in a majority of participating citizens voting in favor of preserving the union as a renewed federation. Gorbachev’s power was greatly diminished after Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s high-profile role in facing down a coup d’état attempted by Communist Party hardliners. In late 1991, Gorbachev resigned and the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union met and formally dissolved the Soviet Union. The remaining 12 constituent republics emerged as independent post-Soviet states, with the Russian Federation—formerly the Russian SFSR—assuming the Soviet Union’s rights and obligations and being recognized as the successor state.
The Soviet Union was a powerhouse of many significant technological achievements and innovations of the 20th century, including the world’s first human-made satellite, the first humans in space and the first probe to land on another planet, Venus. The country had the world’s second largest economy and the largest standing military in the world. The Soviet Union was recognized as one of the five nuclear weapons states and possessed the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. It was a founding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council as well as a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) and the leading member of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) and the Warsaw Pact.
The Russian Revolution was actually three events: the revolution of 1905 led to limited reforms and the one in February 1917 replaced the czarist monarchy with a tenuous “dual government” of the elected Duma and the workers-councils (called “Soviet” in Russian). However, it was the 1917 October Revolution that brought the Bolshevik Party to power, led by Vladimir Lenin. The people of the imperial capital Petrograd (St Petersburg) were weary of the government’s involvement in World War I, and an early decision of the Bolshevik government was a truce with the Central Powers, led by Germany. Both the remnants of the czarist and the “bourgeois” provisional regime were quickly wiped out (including the execution of the czar, his wife and children), but this met with resistance which led to a civil war.
The Russian Soviet Republic was attacked by the Whites; an alliance of counter-revolutionaries (of all shades from moderate leftist social revolutionaries to czarists and ultra-nationalists) and foreign armies. This war was called the Russian Civil War. Finland and the Baltic States became independent during the war, but Belarus, Ukraine and other republics joined the Soviet Union. Lenin died in 1924; his eventual successor Joseph Stalin enforced five-year plans for industrialization and collectivization of farms which were followed by starvation, most infamously the Holodomor in Ukraine.
World War II
The people of the Soviet Union were once again decimated during the second World War. Soviet losses of more than 25 million exceeded the deaths of all other European and American nationals in aggregate. In secret collusion with Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union annexed Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and eastern Poland in 1939. The Germans broke the pact in 1941, invaded Soviet territory, and carried out the Holocaust, a campaign to exterminate Jews and other perceived enemies of the Nazi regime. After millions of casualties on both sides, the Soviet Army held back the invasion at Leningrad (now renamed St Petersburg), Moscow, and Stalingrad (Volgograd today), turned the tide of the war, and managed to capture much of Central Europe and the Balkans.
As the war ended in 1945, the Soviet Union became a superpower, controlling most of Eastern Europe: East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia (which went neutral in 1949), Romania and Bulgaria, as well as Mongolia in Asia were Soviet satellite states. The following decades were called the Cold War, where the Soviet Union competed against the United States and their allies in a nuclear arms race and the Space Race. The Soviets were successful, launching the first satellite into orbit in 1957, and the first man in space in 1961. Later the United States and its western allies got the upper hand, sending a manned expedition to the Moon in 1969; a total of 12 Americans landed on the moon between 1969 and 1972. Ultimately the Soviet Union scrapped their moon program and focused on their (hugely successful) space stations, claiming that had been their intention all along. The Soviet Union would also proceed to dominate the Olympics along with the United States, with both nations fighting for bragging rights by topping the medal tables. During the era of official amateurism the Soviet Union dominated even some sports that western nations usually excel at due to officially not having professional athletes. In general the Soviets and many of their satellites also engaged in large scale systematic doping.
The Soviet Union stagnated during the 1970s, and became unstable during the 1980s. The failed war in Afghanistan, the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster and Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika reform programs, as well as dwindling prices of oil and other raw materials (which make up much of the Soviet economy) brought a wave of revolutions in Soviet satellite states from 1989. During 1991, the Soviet Republics seceded from the Union one after another, marking the end of the Soviet Union.
Countries and territories
The Soviet Union consisted of fifteen Soviet Republics, which are now independent countries. More than two decades since the Soviet Union broke up, many conflicts in the region remain unresolved, and there are four, largely unrecognized, de facto independent states, shown in italics below.
Russia was the dominant republic of the Soviet Union, and its natural successor, with half of its population, and most of its land area, and the country still has some political and cultural influence on most other ex-Soviet countries. Russia itself is, and was, a federation of sub-national republics and oblasts (counties/provinces), many of them with other mother tongues than Russian. However, power has always been centralized to Moscow ever since the government moved back from St Petersburg in 1924. There are more or less violent secessionist movements within Russia, especially in Chechnya in the North Caucasus. Ethnic Russians tend to be very proud of the military achievements of the Soviet Union and view that era with some degree of nostalgia, and tend to be very fervent supporters of Vladimir Putin as he has pledged to restore the glory days of the former Soviet Union.
Crimea (including the Federal City of Sevastopol) is disputed between Russia and Ukraine, but since 2014 de facto controlled by Russia. Since Soviet times, the majority population is Russian, and the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based here.
Kaliningrad Oblast is a Russian exclave in Central Europe. At the end of World War II, Russian SFSR annexed the northern part of German province East Prussia, with its capital Königsberg, renamed Kaliningrad. As the Soviet Union dissolved, Kaliningrad became isolated from the rest of Russia, bordering Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic Sea. While the city is one of the most cosmopolitan in Russia, and the territory is undisputed, the border situation complicates travel to and from neighboring countries, as well as mainland Russia.
With close cultural ties to Russia, Belarus has mostly been Moscow’s closest ally. It is led today by Alexander Lukashenko, a man considered to be Europe’s last dictator.
Kiev was the capital of the Rus nation, considered the predecessor of Russia. However, Ukrainian relationships with Muscovy (which later became Russia) have been tense for centuries. Ukraine was tried hard during the Soviet era; devastated by two World Wars and the Holodomor starvation campaign during the 1930s, though being Europe’s most fertile farmland, followed by the Holocaust during German occupation. Perhaps the most far-reaching Soviet legacy can be observed in the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear plant at Chernobyl, infamous for the 1986 meltdown. In spite of vast natural resources, Ukraine remains one of Europe’s poorest countries. While the current Ukrainian government has revolted against Russian influence and made steps towards the European Union, much of the population of eastern Ukraine are ethnic Russians, and some of them are nostalgic for the Soviet era. Since 2014, Russia has grabbed the Crimea and supported an armed insurrection in Eastern Ukraine.
The three Baltic states came into existence in the last year of World War I. The area that today constitutes the Baltic states were previously divided into governorates of the Tsarist Russian Empire, and the 1917 Russian Revolution had an immense influence on the independence process of the Baltic states. The Baltic states enjoyed independence until World War II, when they were invaded three times; by the Soviet Union in 1940, by Nazi Germany in 1941, and again by the Soviet Union in 1944-45. They maintained a strong national identity throughout the Soviet era, with a resistance movement against the Soviet occupation called the Forest Brothers going on for decades, and were the first Soviet republics to break away, staying outside the CIS.
Today they are European Union and NATO members, and more integrated with Western Europe than any other ex-Soviet countries. They also generally have the highest standards of living among the former Soviet republics, and are the only ones to be recognised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as having successfully advanced to developed country status. Relationships with Russia, and with their domestic, Russian-speaking minorities, are tense, especially since the 2014 Ukrainian crisis. All three Baltic states consider their independence to be de jure continuous with the proclamation of independence in 1918.
Since 2015, all three Baltic states use the euro as currency.
Estonia. Due to its strategic location on the Gulf of Finland, parts of the country, e.g. Paldiski and East Estonia, are littered with various abandoned Soviet military and industrial instalments. Estonian is closely related to Finnish and during the Cold War many Estonians would tune in to Finnish radio.
Latvia. The destination of most of the Russian immigration to the Baltics during the Soviet period, almost half of the population of some of the largest Latvian cities, including the capital, Riga, is Russian-speaking.
Lithuania. The most religious of the trio, where the Soviets couldn’t manage to destroy the Hill of Crosses despite several attempts, Lithuania was the first Soviet republic to regain its independence from the Union.
This region was taken by Tsarist Russia in the 19th century, despite fierce resistance. There was considerable immigration of ethnic Russians (some of whom left after independence) and the Russian language is widespread, but the local languages, culture and Islamic religion are alive and vibrant. These countries maintain close ties with Russia, some more so than others.
Kazakhstan: The largest Central Asian country in terms of land area. Home of the Soviet projects that lead to much alteration of the environment such as the “virgin lands campaign” (which had the natural steppe landscapes ploughed into cereal fields, which resulted in enormous dust storms), the draining of the Aral Sea, the cosmodrome in Baikonur which launched Gagarin into orbit and is still used as Russia’ space launchpad, and a site the size of Wales where many of the tests of the Soviet nuclear programme were carried out, this is the most prosperous nation in post-Soviet Central Asia thanks to its large hydrocarbon reserves.
Kyrgyzstan has a volatile political climate in which the national government changes hands between fiercely contesting pro-Russian and pro-Western factions every now and then, although things rarely rise to the level of posing safety risks for the average traveller. Despite being the most tourist-friendly country in Central Asia, independent travel is still something of an adventure in the country.
Tajikistan: A mountainous meeting-point of Persian and Soviet influences and the poorest part of the Union, Tajikistan bears the scars of years of civil war (that is characterized by clan loyalties that even the Soviets were not able to suppress) and remains one of the world’s poorest nations. Nonetheless, visitors are greeted with characteristic Tajik warmth, and miles of some of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet.
Turkmenistan: The bizarre cult of personality around (now deceased) president for life and “father of all Turkmens” Turkmenbashi may remind you of Stalinism, the book 1984 or the portrayal of some fictitious banana republic. The current regime has eased up slightly on tourism, but human rights abuses and political repression are still widespread.
Uzbekistan: Once featured in Soviet tourism posters for its “exotic” Silk Road appeal, Uzbekistan is ruled by an authoritarian government (although in a less peculiar way than neighbouring Turkmenistan) wary of western tourists with a Soviet-style bureaucracy still in place. It has the largest population and second largest economy after Kazakhstan among the Central Asian countries, and is locked in a heated rivalry with its northern neighbour on several fronts including sports. However, as of 2019, travel restrictions are easing and more of the country is opening up to curious tourists. Ironically, the remote desert city of Nukus in western Uzbekistan, far from the main centres of the Soviet policy, was where the painter Igor Savitsky found freedom for his avant-garde art at a time when the deviants from the officially sanctioned socialist realism were condemned as “enemies of the people.”
Due in part to its difficult geography, the Caucasus has always been ethnically diverse and the Soviet policy of relocating big groups of people (sometimes forced, sometimes voluntarily) has exacerbated some of the ethnic conflicts some of the countries deal with to this day. The Caucasus is involved in an ongoing conflict between Russia and Turkey, which are both mistrusted for past events (notably the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and the Russian atrocities under Stalin) in the region.
Armenia: The genocide of 1915 as well as the Armenian diaspora that was one result of this sad event still dictate foreign policy (e.g. strained relations with Turkey) as does the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.
Azerbaijan: Relations with Armenia are tense, but relations with Turkey tend to be cordial. Anti-Armenian sentiment is so high that entry is banned not only for Armenian citizens, but also for anyone of Armenian descent regardless of country of birth or citizenship.
Nagorno-Karabakh: Predominantly ethnically Armenian, only accessible via Armenia, de facto independent but internationally considered a part of Azerbaijan, small-scale skirmishes happen frequently between the local forces and the Azerbaijani army in the border zones of this region, where many communities once inhabited by the Azeris are little more than ghost towns.
Georgia: The birthplace of Stalin is now one of the more anti-Russian (and increasingly pro-Western) countries in the region, which might have played a role when Russia supported the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008.
Abkhazia: Although the Russian tourists have started to return to this “Soviet Riviera” in numbers, many towns and resorts in this self-proclaimed republic feature empty and derelict parts due to the ethnic cleansing and forced relocation of the local Georgians carried out during the first Abkhaz-Georgian War that took place in the early 1990s, within the wider context of the Soviet break-up.
South Ossetia: Sharing the same nation with the Russian autonomous republic of North Ossetia just to the north, you have to make the Russian border guards believe that you have a very good reason to visit this region to get in (and good luck with that).
Moldova: the majority population is culturally and linguistically similar to Romania, but it has important Russophone and Turkic minorities. This is one of the poorest countries in Europe.
Transnistria is a nation-state with limited recognition, where much of the Soviet aesthetics still survive. The independence movement and continued de facto existence are mostly due to Russian support and the markedly different ethnic makeup from Moldova (large Russian and Ukrainian minorities). Transnistria is or was the seat of most heavy industries in the region.
The culture of the Soviet Union passed through several stages during the USSR’s 69-year existence. During the first eleven years following the Revolution (1918–1929), there was relative freedom and artists experimented with several different styles to find a distinctive Soviet style of art. Lenin wanted art to be accessible to the Russian people. On the other hand, hundreds of intellectuals, writers, and artists were exiled or executed, and their work banned, for example Nikolay Gumilyov (shot for alleged conspiring against the Bolshevik regime) and Yevgeny Zamyatin (banned).
The Lenin years
The main feature of communist attitudes towards the arts and artists in the years 1918-1929 was relative freedom, with significant experimentation in several different styles in an effort to find a distinctive Soviet style of art. In many respects, the NEP period was a time of relative freedom and experimentation for the social and cultural life of the Soviet Union. The government tolerated a variety of trends in these fields, provided they were not overtly hostile to the regime. In art and literature, numerous schools, some traditional and others radically experimental, proliferated. Communist writers Maxim Gorky and Vladimir Mayakovsky were active during this time, but other authors, many of whose works were later repressed, published work lacking socialist political content. Film, as a means of influencing a largely illiterate society, received encouragement from the state; much of cinematographer Sergei Eisenstein’s best work dates from this period.
Education, under Commissar Anatoliy Lunacharskiy, entered a phase of experimentation based on progressive theories of learning. At the same time, the state expanded the primary and secondary school system, and introduced night schools for working adults. The quality of higher education was affected by admissions policies that preferred entrants from the proletarian class over those from bourgeois backgrounds, regardless of the applicants’ qualifications..
Under NEP, the state eased its active persecution of religion begun during war communism but continued to agitate on behalf of atheism. The party supported the Living Church reform movement within the Russian Orthodox Church in hopes that it would undermine faith in the church, but the movement died out in the late-1920s.
In family life, attitudes generally became more permissive. The state legalised abortion, and it made divorce progressively easier to obtain, whilst public cafeterias proliferated at the expense of private family kitchens.
Arts during the rule of Joseph Stalin were characterised by the rise and domination of the government-imposed style of Socialist realism, with all other trends being severely repressed, with rare exceptions. For many notable Mikhail Bulgakov’s works were not repressed, although the full text of his The Master and Margarita was published only in 1966. Many writers were imprisoned and killed, or died of starvation, examples being Daniil Kharms, Osip Mandelstam, Isaac Babel and Boris Pilnyak. Andrei Platonov worked as a caretaker and wasn’t allowed to publish. The work of Anna Akhmatova was also condemned by the regime, although she notably refused the opportunity to escape to the West. During the time when the Party was trying to make Soviet regime more palatable to Ukrainians, a great deal of national self-determination and cultural development was tolerated. After this short period of the renaissance of Ukrainian literature ended more than 250 Ukrainian writers died during the Great Purge, for example Valerian Pidmohylnyi (1901–1937)), in the so called Executed Renaissance. Texts of imprisoned authors were confiscated by the NKVD and some of them were published later. Books were removed from libraries and destroyed.
In addition to literature, musical expression was also repressed during the Stalin era, and at times the music of many Soviet composers was banned altogether. Dmitri Shostakovich experienced a particularly long and complex relationship with Stalin, during which his music was denounced and prohibited twice, in 1936 and 1948 (see Zhdanov decree). Sergei Prokofiev and Aram Khachaturian had similar cases. Although Igor Stravinsky did not live in the Soviet Union, his music was officially considered formalist and anti-Soviet.
Late Soviet Union
In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the Brezhnev era, a distinctive period of Soviet culture developed characterised by conformist public life and intense focus on personal life. In the late Soviet Union, Soviet popular culture was characterised by fascination with American popular culture as exemplified by the blue jeans craze.
In arts, the liberalisation of all aspects of life starting from the Khrushchev Thaw created a possibility for the evolution of various forms of non-formal, underground and dissident art; still repressed, but no longer under the immediate threat of Gulag labor camps. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who wrote the critical One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and subsequently exiled from the Soviet Union.
Greater experimentation in art forms became permissible in the 1970s, with the result that more sophisticated and subtly critical work began to be produced. The regime loosened the strictures of socialist realism; thus, for instance, many protagonists of the novels of author Iurii Trifonov concerned themselves with problems of daily life rather than with building socialism. In music, although the state continued to frown on such Western phenomena as jazz and rock, it began to permit Western musical ensembles specialising in these genres to make limited appearances. But the native balladeer Vladimir Vysotsky, widely popular in the Soviet Union, was denied official recognition because of his iconoclastic lyrics.
Nostalgia for the Soviet Union
Soviet nostalgia is a social phenomenon of nostalgia for the Soviet era, whether its politics, its society, its culture, or simply its aesthetics. Such nostalgia is observed among people in Russia and the other post-Soviet states, as well as persons born in the Soviet Union but long since living abroad.
Russian sociologists define nostalgia for the USSR as a complex social phenomenon, including :
a certain nostalgia for a developed social system of the Soviet Union;
sympathy for the Soviet culture;
attitude to the goals and objectives of the USSR as a “great”, “ambitious” even among opponents of the regime;
positive attitude to certain details of the Soviet way of life – the system of GOST, catering, etc.
positive attitude to the Soviet leaders – Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, etc.
A characteristic feature of “nostalgia for the USSR”, researchers refer to the involvement of a large age group, seen in sympathy for the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, O.V. Smolin, a Russian sociologist, calls the generation 1976-1982 the main carrier of the phenomenon; childhood of these people passed before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The standard of living of the majority of the population in the first years after the collapse of the USSR (and the economic reforms that followed ) deteriorated sharply (according to many characteristics, by 1.5–2 times – to the figures of the 60–70s ), which is still causes negative memories among certain groups of residents. A. V. Ochkina estimates the percentage of citizens affected by market reforms at 40%.
In 1996, the TV show “ Old Songs about the Essential ” was broadcast for the first time, the leitmotif of which was the performance of Soviet songs by contemporary pop artists. The broadcast was extremely successful and has since been regularly aired, giving rise to a number of imitative or similar broadcasts. From the end of the 90s, criticism of capitalism began to appear in sociological surveys of students; in the early to mid-90s, it was not relatively common. At the same time, the theses on the totalitarianism of the system existing in the Soviet Union and the negative characteristics of Soviet society began to be questioned.. In the 2000s, with the stabilization of the economy of the former USSR, nostalgia for the USSR reached a new level, becoming a common marketing technique – dining halls appeared “Soviet-style”, the advertising campaigns used the GOST system and recognizable stereotypes of the Soviet times, sometimes reaching the grotesque. Partly a similar phenomenon was common in places of compact residence of emigrants from the former USSR, in particular, Brighton Beach. Began to appear museums dedicated to the life of the times of the “long seventies” (1968-1982), mostly private ones. Thus, a “Soviet retro” appeared, appealing to the time “when everything was“ just ””. However, as the researchers emphasize, it is rather haste to consider the phenomenon as a manifestation of exclusively nostalgic demands for the “Soviet” one; on the contrary, the phenomenon indicates an ideological crisis and the search for both new and old landmarks. It is characteristic that in the countries of the former Yugoslavia there is a similar phenomenon of “ Yugonostalgia ” – nostalgia for the times of the united socialist Yugoslavia, and on the lands of the former GDR – “ Ostalgia ”. On the territory of Russia there are numerous informal organizations of supporters of the restoration of the USSR .
Russian was the lingua franca of the Soviet Union. Most people born before 1980 have studied Russian in school, and many countries have a Russian-speaking minority. However, most ex-Soviet countries have a complicated relationship with Russia, and the domestic Russian-speaking minority. While Ukrainian and Belorussian are mutually intelligible with Russian, most Soviet republics are becoming more linguistically isolated from Russia. In some cases it might make sense to ask in the local language whether someone speaks Russian to try and avoid the tricky relationship many people have to the Russian language and the things it signifies. In areas where anti-Russia sentiment is high such as the Baltic States and Georgia, English has largely supplanted Russian as the main foreign language among the younger generation.
Even in Russia itself, many ethnic groups have a mother tongue other than Russian. Historically speaking, many countries in the region also had German speaking minorities as well as people who spoke it as a second language, but after the Cold War ended almost all ethnic Germans who weren’t expelled in the 1940s left the area and language policy has shifted towards English to a large degree with German now hardly taught in schools any more.
Architecture: Buildings built during the Soviet Union often have a distinct style, and many are still standing today. Spectacular Stalinist architecture can be seen in buildings especially in Moscow, such as Moscow State University. Monolithic concrete apartment blocks are common in smaller cities established or developed during the Soviet Union.
Monuments: There are countless statues and monuments of Lenin and Stalin around the former USSR, including the huge Lenin head at Ulan-Ude. Monuments in Eastern bloc countries that were not actually part of the Soviet Union tend to be less positive, often memorialising victims of Stalinism, famine or simply displaying Soviet monuments in a more historical context. Notable monuments include the Memorial to the Victims of Communism in Prague, and Memento Park in Budapest.
Stalin’s hometown of Gori contains a museum dedicated to him, and a few other notable sights relating to the famous Georgian leader.
Gulags: These Stalin-era forced labor camps were common across the USSR, but most closed in the 1950’s onwards. Dneprovsky Mine in the far east of Russia is a well preserved gulag open to visitors as a museum. There is also the more accessible State Gulag Museum in Moscow.
Transnistria: This tiny unrecognised republic has a Russian majority population, and never really gave up its Soviet roots. Cold War-era propaganda posters, images of Stalin and Lenin and pro-Russian sentiment are all more common here than other post-Soviet states.
Soviet chic: Many bars, cafes and hotels either never changed, or have recently adopted Soviet-style decorations to appeal to communist nostalgia and tourists.