Living in the former soviet union is a trip. A lot of times, volunteers ask the question, “what exactly is Azerbaijani culture? How can you distinguish it from the Soviet influence? The Turkish? The Persian?” The truth is that you can’t. It’s a conglomeration of all of them with its own twist. Still, you can’t get past the soviet influence in many ways. Vodka is the drink of choice, people season their food with plenty of dill, and there is an unwavering obedience to the powers that be.
While Russian is still widely known and used (I teach english in russian-language school), the country itself is regarded by many as an imperialist power. Even before this last fiasco with Georgia, many Azerbajanis remarked to me how they thought Russia tried to come in and destroy their culture, and how Russia showed its true colors when they sided with Armenia in the Nagarno Karabagh conflict.
I definitely grew up after the cold war, so there wasn’t a whole lot of propaganda going on, but I still feel like I was told that the Soviet Union was one cohesive block. I had no idea that the countries that were adopted into what was basically Russia were less then willing participants. To know that the Soviet time can be viewed as an occupation was very new to me.
Yet while Azerbaijanis hold the independence of their country in the highest regard, many people still speak fondly of the soviet times. I’ve been told that during the soviet era, at least there was work for everyone. A statement that stands well against a high unemployment rate. I overheard a teacher at my school saying that during the soviet system, the teachers got paid twice a month. Now, i’ve heard of the teachers at my school going several months in a row without getting a paycheck. Say what you want about communism and capitalism, but there isn’t much debate about a functional system versus a dysfunctional one.
It helps me realize why a guy like Vladimir Putin is so popular. He came in and turned a struggling Russia into a powerhouse again. People don’t seem to care about what kind of economic system they have going for them, they just want one that works and at the same time preserves who they think they are.