Back to the U.S.S.R.? Red nostalgia: Today's Russia may be flawed, but returning to the past is no answer.

March 25, 1996

HARKING BACK to the past surely takes some bizarre forms these days.

In Vietnam, trendy Saigonese gather in a disco called "Apocalypse Now." It features the usual flashing lights plus sounds of explosions, GI memorabilia and wrecks of U.S. helicopters hanging from the ceiling. In former East Germany, cafes have sprung up that celebrate the drab life and shortages of the now-gone workers' state.

These nostalgia trips help why the lower house of Russia's communist-led parliament overwhelmingly voted the other day to seek the restoration of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics, which went out of business four years ago when communism collapsed.

This symbolic vote has caused some anxiety among newly independent former Soviet republics. As for the Kremlin's erstwhile satellite states in Europe, they seem even more determined to take advantage of the planned expansion of the North American Treaty Organization and seek membership.

The communist deputies' resolution is little more than a prank and a publicity stunt. But even though restoration of the Soviet Union either as a political concept or a truncated geographical unit is well-nigh impossible, popular disenchantment with recent free-market chaos is so deep the call is certain to resonate strongly among ordinary Russians. That is exactly the constituency the reconstituted communists seek to reach as they rally against President Boris Yeltsin, hoping their candidate Gennady Zyuganov might unseat him.

After Secretary of State Warren Christopher criticized the resolution, the communists charged he had "crudely interfered in the internal affairs of Russia." This shows they will pump imperialist pride for all it is worth.

Nostalgia has often been defined as "the past, with the pain removed." The documented history of the murderous Soviet past is so painful it is hard to believe that Russians are seduced by the communists' cry for trying to re-establish a utopia that did not work.

Pub Date: 3/25/96

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