Soviet nostalgia binds divergent CIS states

Thu Dec 8, 2011 11:31am EST
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By Dmitry Solovyov

ALMATY (Reuters) - That chilly day in December is etched in Anatoly Yankovoi's memory -- thousands of angry young Kazakhs faced police cordons rimming Brezhnev Square in the centre of what was then the capital of Soviet Kazakhstan.

"We were told they were drunken hooligans, but that was the beginning of the end. The end of the Soviet Union," says the retired police lieutenant-colonel, choking up at the memory. "My heart is still aching, and the pain doesn't go away."

The bloody disturbances in Almaty in 1986 -- sparked by Moscow's summary dismissal of veteran Kazakh Communist Party boss Dinmukhamed Kunayev -- sent shockwaves across what had seemed an impregnable nuclear superpower, and led ultimately to the demise of the Soviet Union five years later.

The Commonwealth of Independent States was set up in haste by 11 of the 15 ex-Soviet states just days before Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991.

From the outset, the loose grouping of impoverished new states was riven by separatism, ethnic conflict and economic disputes, raising questions about what they could possibly have in common.

Twenty years on, one thing they share is a nostalgia for the old Soviet days.

"The Soviet Union gave me a first-class education, for which I did not pay," says Saijon Artykov, a 67-year-old retired geologist who supplements his monthly pension of $32 by selling potatoes in a market in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe.

"We did a lot of good in our time, discovering bauxite and gold deposits. We had good wages and I bought an apartment in Dushanbe," said Artykov, a graduate of the elite Moscow Mining Institute. "Now we struggle to win our daily bread to survive."   Continued...

<p>Russian servicemen in historical uniforms take part in a military parade rehearsal in Moscow's Red Square, November 3, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov</p>