The Price of Mammoth Meat
Story by Cadmus
Illustrated by Maryna Lutsyk
Not far from the subway’s exit, a group of old women crowded around their modest treasures. This makeshift commodities exchange was bustling. Terenteyivna was the first and closest to the subway with her head wrapped in her trademark lily-white scarf. She specialized in flowers, proposing whatever was in season: in the springtime, snowdrops; later — lilies of the valley; and in early summer — peonies. In the fall she focused on walnuts from Greece and white mushrooms. Seated to the right of Terenteyivna was Stepanivna. She was less talkative and less active. She had invested her money on the sale of all sorts of vegetables and herbage, but onions were her top sellers. Across from them was the meat section. Vasylivna stood there behind a box covered by the tabloid “Your Health,” upon which laid the yellowed carcass of a chicken (which looked more like a novelty rubber chicken than a real one).
No one had ever seen someone purchase the chicken from Vasylivna, but every day she appeared at the same time outside the same subway exit. Perhaps even with the same chicken. Next to the chicken lay a piece of salted pork fat which belonged to Ivanovna. She did fairly well. Ivanovna would buy pork fat at the market at the end of the day, to get a cheaper price. The butchers felt sorry for the old woman and sold the pork fat at a lower price, sometimes even below cost. They never gave it away for free — after all, in capitalism everyone needs to make a profit. Ivanovna’s profit margin was 10-15 hryvnia per kilogram. These minuscule earnings added a little to her already paltry pension.
Located to the left of Vasylivna and Ivanovna was a shawarma stand. It was impossible to miss even with your eyes closed — it filled the air with the smell of grilled meat. The stand made a lot of sales, comparatively speaking, attracting people who had skipped breakfast and other hungry commuters on their way home from work. The aroma crept into your senses, and your stomach, growling, made itself known. The shawarma stand was managed by the Turk Nurmukhammed and the Uzbek Karim. The Turk made a great shawarma but was bad at math and frequently counted out the wrong change. The Uzbek’s shawarma wasn’t as tasty, but he counted better and was always berating Nurmukhammed for making mistakes.
The most unusual business of all was that of the old Jew Rabinovich, a swarmy bald man with a stereotypical hooked nose. Displayed on top of the yellowed burnt by the sun edition of the newspaper “Pravda,” which was draped over a wooden box, was a generous slab of mammoth meat. Rabinovich’s side business consisted of handing out advice and telling jokes, both of which he gave out for free — a nice bonus to the choice cuts of the fossilized meat. The price was reasonable — 5 rubles and 30 kopeks. But if the buyer spoke Ukrainian, they got a discount — 5 karbovantsi and 10 kopeks. Whatever people thought about his salesmanship, all of Kyiv knew that Rabinovich was the best at marketing. Even restaurants purchased the mammoth meat from Rabinovich, because only he had the clandestine connections to find the meat. And why wouldn’t he? His grandfather had sold mammoth meat, his father sold it and now he does. And his own son, once he gets old and bald, will follow in his footsteps. The only thing that worried Rabinovich was the quality of the mammoth meat. When standards are absent — the quality suffers.
The Cold War beside the subway station had never come to an end. Stepanivna, Vasylivna and Ivanovna joined forces to oppose Rabinovich. They were united in their suspicion that the old Jew was cheating his customers by tipping the scale. Each one of the old women also had a bone to pick with Rabinovich. Vasylivna carped on the fact that the meat was not fresh. Stepanivna suspected that the meat wasn’t at all from a mammoth and was constantly invoking “the fear of God.” After which, as was usual, Ivanovna, the most enthusiastic of the three when it came to the Jewish question, piped in with “What God? They crucified our Lord!” As always, the old women would then start arguing amongst themselves, with Stepanivna recalling that long ago she knew a Jew, and he was a good guy, not like this swindler. All discussions about nationalities ended with Ivanovna declaring, “Like my grandfather used to say, “Kill the Jews — save Russia!”
The Uzbek and the Turk never got involved in these arguments, sedately watching from behind the counter of their stand. Nurmukhammed was the rookie addition to Team Shawarma, and the first time he heard the old women arguing, he asked his partner to explain what’s going on, to give him a lowdown on the situation. Karim replied that like them, Rabinovich is also “not Russian.” That was enough to understand the reason for the conflict, and at the same time enough of a reason not to intervene on the old man’s behalf.
But Rabinovich didn’t need any help. When he felt that nobody was paying attention to him, he acted out by scathingly commenting on the lack of quality and freshness of his competition’s wares. One time his comments almost turned the cold war hot. Ivanovna channeled her Kazakh grandfather and attacked Rabinovich with her cane, wielding it like a sword. The blow from the aging warrior-princess didn’t land as planned — the Jew was nimbler than would be expected for a man his age.
Every evening, after class at the University, Rabinovich’s son Misha would come by the subway station. Misha was a tall brunette who slouched when he stood, and riled Ivanovna even more than his father did. She called him the “Jewish spawn,” constantly needling him as he gathered up his father’s belongings. Vasylivna and Stepanivna didn’t say much — they had nothing against the younger Rabinovich. But Terenteyivna didn’t hold back and defended Misha, pointing out that there was no reason to pick on the intelligent young boy. The old women started to argue again. This gave Misha the opportunity to gather up his father’s wares without listening to barbs directed at him behind his back. When they were just about ready to go, unlike his elderly father, the younger Rabinovich politely said “Have a pleasant evening” to the old women and the two of them left, only to repeat the same ritual the very next day.
On the way home, Misha tried to convince his father not to go to the subway station anymore to sell mammoth meat. He proposed all sorts of reasons, starting with “they all hate you there” and finishing with “you aren’t making a profit, so it doesn’t make sense to keep doing it.” He tried everything, absolutely everything he could think of with his encyclopedic knowledge, but all of his efforts were nullified by his father’s one and only response: “This is the way it has always been.”
The confrontations continued at home. Misha’s mother, Ira, figured that Misha was right, but she never expressed her views aloud in front of her husband. She was a smart woman who knew very well that her assertions would have no effect on her husband. When he wasn’t selling mammoth meat, the old man hired some local kids to hang up antisemitic flyers he had printed himself all over the neighborhood.
Other times the elder Rabinovich would tell his neighbors that in the old days Jews would even sacrifice humans in their rituals. Ira didn’t try to dispel the myths told by her husband, although she did take down the flyers when she saw them. She complained to her son about the actions of the old fool, who for some strange reason had a yearning for antisemitism. Misha berated his father for spreading propaganda, but deep down he understood why the elder Rabinovich was engaged in this behavior. In fact, as a lecturer in the faculty of philosophy of a prestigious University, he knew quite a bit about his father’s affliction. Unfortunately, patients diagnosed with “nostalgia” don’t take well to treatment.
Can diseases have a nationality? Perhaps, some sort of epidemic that only affects one nationality. It sounds absurd, because we are all human and diseases affect us the same way. And like it or not, treatment protocols are the same worldwide. There is no asterisk next to the protocol with a footnote stating “this method of treatment does not apply to genetic Ukrainians. Please refer to the national protocol recommended by Ukrainian physicians.”
But this wasn’t always the case. For example, at the end of the 17th century Dr. Johannes Hofer, renown as one of the greatest Swiss physicians of the time, created a specific term for a disease which he thought exclusively afflicted Swiss soldiers. The world order was more prosaic at the time, and Switzerland was known not only for its cheese, watches and banks, but also for its mercenaries. Indeed, the Swiss Guard provides security for the Pope and the Vatican to this day. This is a reflection of an era when men from the Alpine cantons were the best cutthroats, and were prepared to sell their skills for coin.
However, there was one catch. Now and then the Swiss infantrymen would suffer from a strange form of melancholy. The Internet and mobile phones had not yet been invented, and the postal service was poorly developed, so there was no contact at all with loved ones back home. And this situation would last for years. Cut off for such a long time from the green alpine valleys, the soldiers started to miss home so badly that they were robbed of their capacity to fight, becoming a type of non-combat injury. The commanders even banned the singing of traditional Swiss ballads, so as not to provoke the development of symptoms. Eventually, the Swiss physician Dr. Hofer named the disease “nostalgia” combining two Greek words: “nostos” which means homecoming and “algos” meaning pain. For a long time, nostalgia was the medical term for a sickened state brought on by homesickness.
Almost an ocean of water has passed under the bridge of time since the 17th century; nevertheless, Dr. Hofer would be a busy man in Ukraine today. Nostalgia affects all human beings, and this is normal. That mixed up feeling is familiar to everyone. On the one hand are the sweet, pleasant memories of childhood and youth, while on the other hand — the bitterness we feel for the loss of that which cannot be regained. The aroma of borshch may remind you of your childhood, when you came home to eat lunch after playing outside with your friends. The comfort food was accompanied by adventures and more importantly, revelations — insects, lizards, newly discovered banks along a river or burrows in the fields of the steppe. A child’s responsibilities are few, certainly not burdens to be carried, and most of the time you had as a child was spent exploring your world. Borshch can only remind you of those times. Childhood discoveries cannot be experienced for a second time, except perhaps after the loss of memory.
Nostalgia’s affliction is not limited only to an individual. We also experience nostalgia on a societal level. The Swiss mercenaries were nostalgic for the cantons, which had de-facto gained independence at the end of the 15th century — a place where alpine cattle roamed the mountain pastures. Ukrainians, on the contrary, are nostalgic for the Soviet Union, where they were murdered by hunger, shot by firing squads and were held captive, not allowed to move from collective farms into cities. And occasionally Ukrainians are nostalgic for, well, only-God-knows-what.
This phenomenon can be labeled “subconscious” nostalgia and, sadly, has not been well studied. It is similar to being exposed to a persistent odor that over time becomes no longer noticeable. In garages, for example, after a while mechanics stop noticing the smell of gasoline or motor oil, but they all know not to light a match. “Subconscious” nostalgia happens when politicians bicker on talk shows and say things like: “we need to revive our healthcare system,” and “our economy is failing,” or “higher education has spiraled downwards” and so on ad nauseam. We hear their voices, but we are not listening. Besides, how can something that was always bad be revived or renewed? Why are certain spheres in Ukrainian society constantly failing, but never seem to reach bottom?
Like Schrodinger’s cat, nobody knows: are they alive, or are they dead? Listening to Ukrainian politicians, journalists or representatives of civil society, it sounds like Ukraine is some kind of radioactive element at its half-life. And only this one particular and magical political faction has the secret recipe that can turn back the clock transporting Ukraine to its glorious past. But does Ukrainian society know the truth? There never was prosperity here. There were slightly better times when compared to the catastrophes that Ukrainians were able to survive. That’s not a license to complain, but it’s also not a reason to lie to ourselves. To put it simply: since independence in 1991, we never had an effective healthcare system or economy, or anything else for that matter, that we could use as a gold standard towards which we could strive.
The roots of this “subconscious” nostalgia grow from a different, more recognized form of nostalgia — a yearning for the “glorious Soviet past.” At least this phenomenon is more widely discussed in society. Journalists and pundits often write about it, and sociologists measure it in surveys and polls. According to polling, about a third of Ukrainians in one form or another are nostalgic for the Soviet Union. The percentage varies by region and age group. The highest percentage is found in the East and South, where up to 40% of people express a longing for Soviet life, and by age group the highest numbers are found in people over the age of 60. At the same time, amongst those below the age of 30, people who have never lived in the Soviet Union, 14% are nostalgic for those times. That number brings about a lot of facetious observations – from accusations of societal schizophrenia to factual assertions that admirers of everything Soviet are not dying out as quickly as one would hope.
In addition to real nostalgia, Ukrainians are also dealing with the problem of a fabricated nostalgia. People who have no personal experience of life in the Soviet Union yearn for those times. The object of their desire in this instance is not Soviet reality, but a fairy tale about that reality. Perhaps this is a new form of nostalgia, one that was never seen before. But that misses the point. To better understand this phenomenon, it is useful to explore the neologism “anemoia.” This new word came into being not too long ago — in 2014, and was coined by an American writer, John Koenig. Anemoia, according to Koenig, means to feel nostalgic for a time when you weren’t alive.
John Koenig came up with the term not because he was studying the Soviet Union or twenty-something Ukrainians’ nostalgia for it. The American writer made a critical observation — that in English, as in any other language really, there is a deficiency of words to describe emotions. And that dearth is present in the language of the largest colonial empire, which was free to develop its language without constraint. When looking at the Ukrainian language, which has been banned several times, there can be no comparison. Koenig created a special “Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” which has both a website and YouTube channel. Some of the emotions Koenig described are the feeling that you are the protagonist of your personal story, and everyone around you is part of a supporting cast of characters. Or the embarrassment you might feel when you take photos in a location that’s been photographed a thousand times before, like the Eiffel Tower or the Parthenon on your smartphone. Why not? But each additional photo adds nothing of value — in fact, it devalues the previous photographs. A picture of your grandmother’s garden — now that would be a truly unique photo.
From one perspective, Koenig’s work may seem to be a frivolous intellectual pursuit. But from another — language is closely tied to knowledge and the name we assign to something is vital to our understanding of the world and societal experiences. Every language describes concepts that do not appear in other languages, and often are difficult to accurately translate. This can happen even when describing banalities. For example, Eskimos do not have a single word for snow. There are many different forms of snow: wet, dry, fluffy, coarse, etc., and each of these has a distinct name. People who encounter snow on a daily basis recognize its different forms. Or take the Finnish word “sisu,” which means to display extreme resilience and perseverance in the face of tribulation. Recently this term, or more precisely the mental characteristics associated with the term, have become popular to study. The world first learned of “sisu” in January 1940 from Time magazine. Journalists observed with amazement how the modest Finnish army stood up against the Red Soviet horde. Prior to this, the First World War clearly demonstrated to the world that courage has no place in modern wars — the most important thing is the economic might of a country: the number of soldiers, artillery, tanks and ability to retool quickly to a wartime economy. From this point of view, the Finns had absolutely no chance. The Soviet Army of a million soldiers, 3000 tanks and 4000 warplanes were pitted against 250,000 Finns with only 30 tanks and 150 warplanes. It would have been easier to surrender, but only if you are not a Finn. The Time magazine journalist wrote that the Finns describe “sisu” as the Finnish spirit, enabling them to push the Soviet army on one of the fronts all the way back into Russian territory. The relatively small country of Finland eventually did lose the war, but its losses, that is the number of killed soldiers, stood at 26,000, whereas the Soviet army lost 170,000 soldiers. History does not just record victories, but also remembers how well you fought. And everyone remembers that the Finns fought like lions. Everyone knows that they deserve to be independent. Reading this, any French general would choke on his foie gras.
Thus, the concept of “anemoia” has a right to exist, and furthermore, should be studied, including in academic circles. At one time the term “nostalgia” also did not exist, that is until the Swiss doctor Hofer coined the term to describe the affliction suffered by the Swiss mercenaries. Today no one could imagine calling nostalgia a psychological disease of the Swiss who live in alpine cantons. Or perhaps we should?
Rest assured, each of us has, at some point in our lives, experienced anemoia. Koenig himself describes how he encountered this emotion while sorting through black and white photos of people from another time. He caught himself longing for that time, wanting to experience it himself. A well-made movie about a historical drama can easily evoke this emotion. After watching a film about life during Victorian England, have you not ever thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be a 19th century British lord with a business in India or one colonizing Africa?” Some of you may have had this desire. It’s likely that the majority of historians and archaeologists chose their profession simply because of an irrational anemoia.
The term on its own is on the mark, but the emotion itself is absurd; that is, romanticizing not only the past but entire epochs. Lots of people would have wanted to live through the era of Colonial Europe, but only as a rich aristocrat. I would wager that nobody would want to be a worker in a British cotton factory, let alone experience being an African slave on a cotton plantation.
Anemoia may be triggered by an individual’s own fantasies or by the nostalgia of an older generation. Grandmothers and grandfathers describing their youth can easily misshape the views of their grandchildren about the past. That is exactly how it happens here in Ukraine, where the younger generation “inherits” nostalgia for Soviet times from those who actually lived through them.
If anemoia was identified by an American writer in the 21st century, and nostalgia — by a Swiss physician at the end of the 17th century, does that mean that the concepts they describe came into existence at the moment they were identified? Of course not. Nostalgia, as well as anemoia, although not employing those specific terms, were described long ago. Moreover, they significantly influenced national cultures, and in some cases the culture of an entire continent.
The first known example of nostalgic tendencies on the European continent is the work of the Greek poet Hesiod from the 8-7th centuries BCE. He labeled his epoch as the worst in history. Before the Age of Man was the obviously greater Age of Heroes. And before that was the Golden Age of the Gods. According to Hesiod, life was becoming more and more intolerable. Every generation was getting worse and worse. To put it succinctly, Hesiod could have easily hosted his own political talk show on one of Ukraine’s TV channels. Nobody would even notice anything unusual. Nonetheless, the Greeks highly regarded the works of Hesiod but managed to remain optimistic and live their lives one day at a time. From a cultural point of view, Hesiod’s attitude is best described by the concept of anemoia. He yearned for an imaginary past filled with heroes and gods that he could never have actually experienced.
Another ancient people of the Mediterranean region — the Jews — lived through a period of actual nostalgia. In the 6th century BCE the Jewish kingdom was defeated by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, after which a portion of the population was exiled to Babylon. That period, known as the Babylonian Captivity, lasted for 70 years. During the forced separation from their own lands, Jews experienced a longing for home. This nostalgia was described in the Old Testament. In the Book of Ezra, Cyrus the Great’s order to allow the Jews to return to Judah and permit the rebuilding of Jerusalem were God’s providence, and the Babylonian Captivity — God’s punishment for the apostasy of the Jews. Nostalgia, and later anemoia, became part of Jewish identity. Scattered throughout the world, the Jews longed to find the Promised Land — a place where the vast majority of Jews at the time had never lived, but at the same time yearned for it. This story lasted two thousand years and finally had a happy ending: the Jews were able to renew, or more accurately, once again create their own nation-state.
Two other examples of nostalgia, or, more precisely, anemoia, established entire cultural eras in the history of Europe. The first example is, of course, the Renaissance. From the early 15th century, European intellectuals were fascinated by the ancient world which was, in their estimation, the golden era of human history. Everything that happened between the epoch of the ancients and their own contemporary time was called the Middle Ages, also known by the derogatory term the Dark Ages. The Renaissance became a time of unparalleled explosion of art. Practically everything we travel to Italy to see was created during this era. The cultural impetus of the nostalgia for the ancient world is astounding. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Raphael Sanzio, Titian, Albrecht Durer — this is just a short list of artists known throughout the world and whose paintings were created thanks to the ideological return to the art of antiquity. Artists rushed to resurrect that idea in paintings and frescoes, while architects built the idea into cathedrals and palaces, and sculptors suffused the ideas in their reshaping of marble.
Bear in mind, however, that true art does not tolerate repetition or blatant copying. Humanity had a stroke of luck in that the ideas of antiquity survived to the Renaissance, and not the actual works of art. And the knowledge of the art of antiquity was formulated not by actual pieces of art, but by how contemporary artists imagined them. For that reason, Florence was known as the cradle of fine art, rather than the hub of copy-paste. That claim to fame belongs to the Soviet automobile factory known by the acronym VAZ where despite their attempts at copying the design of an Italian sports car, they could only produce the Soviet Zhyhuli. Sure, the first car off the production line was good enough to meet the needs of that time, but each subsequent iteration was either worse or no better. While others aim to improve upon their designs over time, manufacturing the exact same product throughout time engenders an endemic degradation.
Several centuries went by, and the Middle Ages, once called “Dark” during the Renaissance, began to capture the attention of intellectuals and artists and at the end of the 18th century Romanticism was born. The American, and later the French, Revolutions brought the masses to the forefront. They may not have always acted rationally or justly, but it was impossible not to recognize the raw energy that simmered throughout the citizenry. People began to show interest in who they were, where they came from, and the intellectuals searched for answers to these questions in folklore and historical accounts of the kingdoms of the Middle Ages.
For example, in Great Britain, Walter Scott authors “Ivanhoe” in which the events depicted in the novel take place in 12th century England, while Victor Hugo’s novel “Notre-Dame de Paris” is set in the 14th century. Meanwhile, the fragmented German states dreamed about unification. This desire brought about some truly unusual ideas. In an essay published after his death titled “Christendom or Europe,” Friedrich von Hardenberg, also known as Novalis, proposed that the Catholic Church should restore the lost European unity of medieval times. Nevertheless, the German fascination with its own folklore was fertile ground for art. To this day we read the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, and Heinrich Heine’s poem about the Rhine River mermaid Lorelei is still subject to interpretation by many modern musicians. The most renowned of these is by the hard rock group the Scorpions.
This momentous cultural shock reached Ukrainian shores as well. How else can we explain the creativity of Taras Shevchenko? Albeit, “Father” Taras was nostalgic for a more recent epoch — that of the Kozaks. He yearned for the times of the Kozaks and the Haydamaks as they were recounted to him by his grandfather Ivan. Taras Hryhorovich Shevchenko was the first to formulate a historical myth about Ukraine through his works of art, a substantial portion of which was inspired by nostalgia or anemoia. And to this day, Ukrainians exist within the paradigm created by Shevchenko.
Nostalgia can be a significant source of cultural inspiration or for the formation of identity. Perhaps, then, we shouldn’t worry that so many people are nostalgic for the Soviet Union. We just need to wait for a bit, and in time we’ll have our own Renaissance or Romanticism. But this seems like faulty logic. If there is a certain percentage of people in various countries that are nostalgic for a country that has disintegrated, conceivably someone may try to mobilize these people to restore it. The entire policy of the Russian Federation is based on just that idea, and nostalgia is its most formidable psychological weapon. The fact that nostalgia for everything Soviet and the restoration of the Soviet Union are linked is evident in the upswing of that nostalgia in Russia following the invasion and illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The percentage of those who long for the Soviet Union has been growing every year since 2014, in lock step with the fat content found in Soviet butter. Nostalgia inspired the annexation, and the annexation bolsters the nostalgia. This internal psychological link emboldens the empire to act.
In a cultural sense, Soviet nostalgia is unlikely to yield anything viable. The Renaissance and Romantic periods were based on the reimagining of the ideas from the time about which they were nostalgic, since the physical representations of those ideas no longer existed, and thus could not be directly copied. How would you reimagine tiny uncomfortable apartments built in the early 1960’s known as khrushchovky or the Soviet car manufacturing industry (maybe steal the designs and build flawed copies of Western automobiles)? How about Soviet Realism? Would writers agree to once again glorify the proletariat and grovel before the Party hierarchy? Will they extol the achievements of Stakhanov and hide the fact that he was a raving alcoholic?
In short, nostalgia for all things Soviet has only a single means of expression and that, unfortunately, is political. In this case Ukraine is in the avant-garde of global political processes, just as the Ukrainian propensity to vote for populist candidates makes us the leader of that pack. Nostalgia has become the psychological weapon of choice that is more and more commonly being exploited by political consultants. In the United Kingdom, the passing of Brexit was presented as a vote to hasten a return to the “good old days.” After the results were tallied, people complained that this crucial vote was decided mostly by the older generation, whose lives had been limited to their neighborhood which encompassed the factory where they worked, their homes and the local pub, while the younger generation did not participate in the referendum.
In the United States, Trump also toyed with nostalgia, promising to “make America great again.” He could claim victory in at least one election. Despite losing the election in 2020, he continues to have colossal influence on the dialog within the Republican Party — after all, 74 million people did vote for him.
Clearly, nostalgia can be easily manipulated for political gain. Political consultants will continue to utilize this instrument to mobilize the electorate. The population of planet Earth, at least in developed countries, and in Ukraine, is aging fast. In 2020 the average age in Ukraine was 41, while in Poland it was also 41, and in Germany 46, and in France 42. Population estimates suggest that by 2030 these numbers will increase, with Ukraine having an average age of 44, while in Poland it will be 46, Germany will be at 47, and France at 43. Of course, these are only estimates, and can be affected by multiple factors such as immigration, which usually lowers the average age, but for now the trend holds true. The elderly are more likely to be nostalgic, so it should come as no surprise that political consultants, sometimes not even knowingly, have caught on to this societal want for a return to “the old days” and have packaged it in slogans and advertisements. Perhaps this is the new “normal” in politics. It seems logical that in countries where the citizens are younger, that a bright future is proposed, and where the citizens are older — a return to the golden days of the glorious past. But in Ukraine’s case the choice between “kakaya raznytsia” (meaning “there is no difference”) and “sivocholiy hetman” (meaning “the gray-haired hetman”) is in reality not a choice at all, since both of these are forms of nostalgia.
Modern day psychologists and psychiatrists, in contrast to their Swiss colleague, no longer consider nostalgia a type of psychological illness or disorder. In fact, just the opposite — they speak of the positive effects of nostalgia. After all, it helped European Jews, those who survived, to endure the stress of the death camps. It is our internal secret hideaway, where our mind can take us when we are feeling particularly vulnerable. In other words, stress is a trigger for nostalgia. And in today’s world, the media and social networks allow those who control them to pull the trigger. It isn’t important how bad things truly are around you, what is vital to them is that you feel that everything is falling apart. This can lead to some horribly awful situations, because nostalgia could be used by populists and authoritarian leaders to gain political control. It is enough to perpetuate the myth that everything was better in the past and there is nothing good in today’s day and age.
Some hope can be gleaned from the premise that nostalgia can die out, not in the individual sense, but in its societal form. The 1990’s was the last time when a monoculture existed in the world. With the invention of the iPod, social networks and e-platforms to watch television series and films, culture has been completely individualized. We no longer have trending songs — if a song explodes onto the music scene, it is usually for a very short time. You can listen to music with headphones and make your own playlist. You don’t even have to pick a genre: if you like a song by AC/DC, put it on your playlist, right after a song by Sinatra, alongside techno or classical music — as many songs as you want. The world has never seen a concert with the combinations of various musical genres that we can listen to on our iPods. Facebook, apparently monolithic, is actually quite fragmented. Everyone has separated themselves into small groups according to their interests, and those groups are battling one another. Social networks have as many sides as our ancient pagan gods had faces. Platforms where we watch films and series also analyze our preferences and propose content they think we will like. Paradoxically, the atomization of society is happening simultaneously with the massive growth in the size of the global population, and that does not bode well. If culture is hyper-individualized, how can we build horizontal and vertical connections within society? How do we agree upon universal values for all of humanity? In an atomized world the greatest fear is that the largest predator, the one that evolves slowly and remains mostly monolithic, can, whenever it desires, gobble up the rest of the more progressive and fragmented.
The fact that the global monoculture ended in the 1990’s may make it seem as though nostalgia as a social phenomenon is destined to die out. But let’s not forget about the peculiar concept of “anemoia,” because one can be nostalgic for an imaginary past as well as for a real one or for an era that existed hundreds if not thousands of years ago. And technology allows us to experience almost anything. It won’t really be unusual, if tomorrow someone has a longing for mammoth meat, remembering that it was particularly tasty when preserved, and sold in glass jars for only 5 rubles.
What is happening in Ukraine is not the exception to the rule, but is part of current global trends and political practices. For some reason, Ukrainians are at the cutting-edge, although it is difficult to categorize these tendencies as positive. Our nostalgia for the Soviet Union is not only absurd, because that idea already died on the vine, and could never produce anything good, but is also dangerous. Whether the Kremlin desires it or not, nostalgia, as well as anemoia, formulates a certain identity, which can easily become the basis for the rekindling of the next iteration of the Russian Empire. So, remember, that the culture war and the war of ideas is just as important, if not more so, than the classic type of war…
The officers in the Israeli Defence Forces liked Misha Rabinovich, whom they now called “Moishe,” because although he had no notable physical prowess, he never complained about the heat or that he was thirsty. The Eilat region was not an easy place to serve — it was in the south and the driest place in Israel. Another of Moishe’s attributes was that you could give him general instructions for his assignment, and with his level of education, he could figure things out on his own. His only drawback was that he continued to slouch.
Moishe and his partner in the special forces, Natan, climbed onto the reddish cliff, leaned their M4 rifles against a boulder and crawled up onto the top of the massive rock. Unlike the other soldiers in their unit, they preferred to look out over the Sinai desert rather than out to sea, and often reminisced about Ukraine:
“You came alone?” asked Natan.
“Yeah, my parents stayed,” said Moishe.
“They always stay behind,” Natan replied.
Moishe added, “Yes, this is the way it has always been…”
Other stories written by Cadmus
Other stories illustrated by Maryna Lutsyk