My Intellectual Journey, Part I

When I was 20 years old,  all I did was read CosmoElle and Marie Claire. I also believed that studying was useless and stooooopid and that the only worthy pursuit was to make lots of money to help one become a true Cosmo girl.

I didn’t arrive at this worldview by accident. It was a product of my experiences in the Ukraine of late eighties and early nineties. The years between 1986 and 1990 were a moment of a great intellectual awakening in the Soviet Union. This was the era when intellectuals had their long-awaited opportunity to read, think, debate, and feel very appreciated for doing so.

Every day brought new publications of authors that had been censored before perestroika. My parents subscribed to so many magazines and newspapers that it was weary work to drag them all out of the mailbox every day. Earth-shattering revelations about our history awaited us each morning. People gathered in the streets to discuss a new novel, film, or article. I remember many occasions on which I would be walking down the street with either of my parents only to have them stop and start delivering an impassioned speech on politics, literature, economy, etc. to admiring crowds. The Soviet intellectuals finally felt completely relevant and appreciated. They believed that now they would get an opportunity to have a say in where our country – or, hopefully, our many new independent republics – were heading.

And then all that came to an end. The nineties brought us bandit wars, organized crime, violence, fear, hunger, and insecurity. Most of the intellectuals never managed to find ways to inscribe themselves into the new economic reality. The hunger for material goods that everybody (except the Communist party leaders and their lackeys) had experienced during the Soviet era proved stronger than the need for intellectual nourishment. A veritable orgy of materialism overpowered the FSU countries. You either could inscribe yourself onto this really scary version of out-of-control, wild capitalism or you couldn’t.

For most of the intellectuals, this was a truly tragic moment. The new reality had arrived but there was no place for them in it. They had no tools that would enable them to deal with the demands of the free market. Looking for a job, starting a business, competing with others, being rejected when you apply for positions – these were skills that neither they nor their parents and grandparents ever had to develop. And it’s not an easy task to learn to adapt to this way of being from scratch.

(To be continued. . .)

14 thoughts on “My Intellectual Journey, Part I

  1. I love such posts. Clarissa, could you please make it clearer by telling when you left for US and when you started living alone with your younger sister? Were you a Cosmo girl then too? When did you begin your education in US to get Spanish studies degree?

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  2. I have always thought that the way the FSU countries moved to Capitalism must have been brutal on some sections of society. I am really looking forward to the rest of this post.

    BTW I am getting addicted to reading your past blogs. I find myself nodding over and over. I had not found something I disagreed with until I found that you dislike of cauliflower.

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        1. Cauliflower must be eaten raw. Perhaps (only perhaps) it should not be illegal to cook it, but eating it raw in a salad is a sublime experience. Broccoli, on the other hand, must be cooked. And it is not terribly good, even then.

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          1. I love broccoli. I used to like cauliflower, too, but then I ate some and got extremely sick, so now it makes me nauseous even to see it.

            I also can’t even look at cooked onions or cooked bell peppers, even though I love them raw. It’s very autistic of me. 🙂

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  3. You know, I think this related directly to the way the Russian-speaking blogosphere constructs India (as you mentioned in your post), and the way Indian (Communists) think of the USSR and post-Soviet East European countries.

    You grew up amongst crime and materialism, I grew up amongst a virtual absence of expendable income and consumer goods. So while your thinks of India as an exotic consumer product for the reasonably rich, we were encouraged (not very successfully) to think of Russia as the place where western market hegemony (cf. British colonialism) finally met its match. Till Those Imperialistic Americans and some Ideological Traitors within the USSR destroyed the last frontier against capitalistic materialism.

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  4. Дивно було б очікувати іншого від зубожілої країни, яка з середини 80-х років знаходилась в стані хронічного товарного дефіциту. Тоді самим фінансово-незалежним був не професор чи вчитель, а м’ясник, який за додаткові гроші зверх встановленої ціни, міг продати “з під прилавку” м’ясо, тоді як на вітринах магазину були лише кістки. А директор найменшої крамнички був шанованою людиною, оскільки міг пускати “на ліво” товари за підвищеною ціною, а різницю залишати в своїй кишені. Та інакше і бути не могло. Потреба духовного розвитку є вторинною після фізіологічних потреб. А у ті часи хлопці мріяли бути рекетирами, ходити у червоних піджаках із золотим ланцюгом на шиї :))
    Добре,що ті часи минули!

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