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Table of Contents
1. How the homo sovieticus originally was conceived
2. How did the homo sovieticus come into being?
2.1 The functioning of an ideology
2.2 How the communist ideology shaped people’s minds
2.3 How economic issues and consumption were conceived
2.4 How the concept of freedom was conceived
3. The consequences of this probihiting of every individual initiative and the denial of individual freedom.
4. The “captive mind” mentality and the culture of fear
5. Political consequences till today
6. The legacy of communism in the Constitutions of the New Democracies of East-Central Europe.
7. The homo sovieticus in some East-Central European countries and Russia:
7.1 The homo sovieticus in the Czech Republic
7.2 The homo sovieticus in the Russian Federation
7.3 The homo sovieticus in Poland
7.3 1 The position of the Church in Poland
7.3.2 Politics in Poland as the pendulum swinging between AWS and SLD.
8. Constradictions between East and West
9. Some words about Polish love relationships Conclusion
The homo sovieticus has many faces. Originally meant to be a new kind of Uomo Universale, a new universal man as a part of the collectivity and incarnating the rationale of progression, social justice and social equality, the sociological concept became reinterpreted as a post- communist mentality, a social consciousness of being unhappy with its present situation amongst people of the former socialist countries. It became the opposite face of the coin of transformation towards the free market economy, the unability of people to make the sudden break with the totalitarian mentality to replace it for a new democratic free and open mentality.
The communist doctrine succeeded in shaping a specific mentality amongst the people, to deform their thinking and as a consequence evoked a lot of expectations at the part of the public authorities. When communism collapsed this social attitude revenged itself in a total frustration caused by the high disappointments which followed on the high expectations put upon the transgression to free market economy. Myths as a better tomorrow in the new era of democracy and capitalism also had their destructive influence on people’s minds in the first years of the transition. The future also then was believed to better. This mentality has had and still has a lot of influence on economics and politics in the former socialist countries. Till today mistrust, unreliability, lack of confidence and looking for protective umbrella’s is to be traced in specific events.
1. How the homo sovieticus originally was conceived.
The homo sovieticus should designate a positive concept, but during times it acquired many negative characteristics which were understood as inhibiting the democratic transition processes. During Soviet times the meaning and the initial purpose of homo sovieticus was to be a kind of new superman, a super human being in which Aleksandr Zinoviev seemed to believe. The man who seemed to have used the term for the first time is Joseph Novak in his book Homo sovieticus, der Mensch unter Hammer und Sichel, (Bern Stuttgart Wien, Alfred Scherz Verlag. 1962).
„Homosos nie oznacza degradacji. Przeciwnie, jest on najwyzszym produktem cywilizacji. Jest nadczlowiekiem. Uniwersalnym. Jezeli to koniecznie, zdolny jest do wszelkiego swinstwa. A jezeli to mozliwe, zdolny jest do kazdej cnoty.” (Zinoviev, 1984)
„Nie ma tajemnic, których by nie wyjasnil. Nie ma problemów, których by nie rozwiazal. Jest naiwny i prosty. Jest pusty. Jest wszechwiedny i wszechobecny. Jest przepelniony madroscia. Jest czasteczka wszechswiata noszacego w sobie caly wszechswiat. Jest gotów na wszystko i do wszystkiego. Jest nawet gotów na lepsze. Oczekuje na lepsze, choc w nie nie wierzy. Ma nadzieje na gorsze. Jest Niczym czyli Wszystkim. Jest Bogiem udajacym Diabla. Jest Diablem udajacym Boga. Tkwi w kazdym czlowieku.” (Zinoviev, 1984)
„Homosos jest najbardziej charakterystycznym i adekwatnym ucielesnieniem samej istoty nowego komunistycznego spoleczenstwa.” (Zinoviev, 1984)
Important is also that this homo sovieticus only had a meaning as being a member of a collective.
„Homo sovieticus jest zaledwie czastkowa funkcja owej calosci. Najrozmaitsze funkcje komunistycznego kolektywy ucielesniaja sie w poszczególnych jego czlonkach, którzy staja sie nosicielami tych funkcji. Z tej przyczyny przecietny homosos odczuw swa osobowosc.” „Homosos realizuje swe zdolnosci i pozytkuje swe sily jedynie w ramach kolektywu. I tak samo dzieki kolektywowi otrzymuje zyciowe dobra i osiago zyciowe suksesy. Glównym regulatorem postepowania homososos jest konformistyczna postawa, która nazywam kalkulacja socjalna. Wszystkie normy i zasady postepowania funkcjonuja na podstawie i z zaleznosci od norm i zasad sfery spolecznej. W tej liczbie równiez zasady moralnosci.”
„Gdy moze, zdolny jest do kazdego dobrego uczynku, jezeli zostanie on wlasciwie oceny przez kolektyw lub kierownictwo. Homosos jest istota, z której z zaleznosci od potrzeby i sytuacji - mozna ulepic wszelkie pozadanie spolecznie postacie. Jest uniwersalnym materialem dla przyszlej, historycznej tworczosci rodzaja ludzkiego.” (Zinoviev, 1984)
However today the concept acquired another meaning. It is described as a mentality shaped in the totalitarian communist system, the complex situation of transformation, and universal social processes. Processes of indoctrination, habituation, selective memory and the constant change of situation made the homo sovieticus who he is today.
Basically there are three kinds of homo sovieticus; 1. he who is conforming to everything, apathetic and passive in political and other opportunities; 2. he who is reacting against everything, the anti- man, unable and unwanting to cooperate with for example the neighbor East Central European countries, anti-Russian and mistrusting politics of today but nevertheless demanding of the system the same advantages of the former communist system (especially social and economic security) and 3. he who is not reliable in his actions, the more Russian political type of Homo sovieticus, the politician where the ends justifies the means when saying the first in fact meaning the second and doing the third.
A general characteristic for the three types is that people are not able to adapt that quickly to the changes taking place all around them, they want back to the former ‘good old days’ thereby forgetting all the bad elements of it, where everything was done for them.
2. How did the homo sovieticus come into being?
The homo sovieticus was made by the socialist system in a gradual way. The specific ideology of communism evoked three “virtues” in man. Obedience, fear and habit. Loyality to the system out of fear of punishment or just to be a ‘good citizen’; habit because everything was ruled and organized by the state. Each day looked very much the same. Everything was done for them and no individual initiative was allowed to take place.
Homo sovieticus was a „czlowiek zrodzony przez warunki istnienia komunistycznego (socjalistycznego) spoleczenstwa, bedacy nosicielem zasad istnienia tego spoleczenstwa, samym swoim osposobem zycia zachowujacy stosunki wewnatrz-kolektywne tego spoleczenstwa.” (Tischner 1992)
At the beginning of communist times, after the breakdown of class society the human being became isolated feeling insecure and futile. Class breakdown forced the individual to acknowledge the loneliness in which is always has been finding himself but which before was masked by class membership.
The totalitarian and authoritarian delusion of wholeness, where history and every part of live was explained by the law of progression, sounded as a very attractive offer, it was considered to be the big new perspective. It however soon became fixed as a doctrine. The ideology of dialectial materialism was used to explain all social facts. All human beings were obliged to think in the same terms. Free autonomous thinking was not allowed. People ’s minds became captive.
2.1 The functioning of an ideology.
To explain how this process of indoctrination took place I want to mention some characteristics of an ideology. Each ideology has a claim to the absolute truth, to explain all elements of reality, especially of social reality and history. It is a doctrine, worked out to a closed logical system in which everything fits and everything has its place. It is fixed, unchanging and because of that will not correlate anymore with the present day reality after some decades, becomes outdated and is therefore doomed to fail. The base of an ideology is always a theory; one or more books to be later worked out in a practical programme designed by intellectuals or people with experience. Mostly the claim of an ideology is also to create a happy society. Negative things in life have to be accepted as being necessary to work for a positive goal and can therefore be easily used for manipulation and coercion. And finally, each ideology wants everyone to believe in it because the designers of it are truly convinced of its truth.
2.2 How the communist ideology shaped peoples minds.
Communist ideology was based on the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, mixed with ideas of the rational progression of history developed by Hegel and vulgarized nineteenth century science. Its emotional and didactic component was so strong that they changed all proportions. All aspects of live, and for certain also the humanities got connected with the natural sciences and this logical vision of historical progress. Thanks to the excellent means of vulgarization unprepared people were taught to reason. School, theater, film, painting, literature, press and political meetings all shaped their thinking.
„Cala dzialalnosc rozumu naukowego poddac pod wladze rozumu politycznego, uformowanego przez ideologie komunizmu.” (Tischner, 1992). Thereby communist ideology eliminated all spontaneous, independent thought processes in an attempt to impose artificial controls on reality. The base of socialism was an unwritten contract; the citizen was not expected to interfere in public life, the State would guarantee a problem free life, neither poor nor rich. To this end, the State would tolerate almost everything; a poor work ethic (competition was completely squeezed because all suprus was immediately taken by the state), petty theft of communal property, irresponsible and inconsiderate behavior toward nature etc. The homo sovieticus became demoralized.
This contract logically led to a moral corruption and disintegration of values. Homo Sovieticus was the ultimate conformer, lacking all creativity, responsiblity and initiative. The nanny culture, wherein everybody had their house, their job, their income caused a lot of damage in the people’s minds and attitudes towards reality. Nobody had to look for a job, there was no (official) unemployment. Each effort for opposition, criminality was immediately suppressed. This culture of terror also made that socially society was very secure.
In his book the Captive Mind Czeslaw Milosc also describes the communism as a new faith which general ethical ideal was puritanical. If it were feasible to lodge all the citizens in cells and release them only for work or for political meetings, that would undoubtedly be most desirable. But alas, one must make concessions to human nature. Procreation is possible only as a result of sexual relations between men and women, and one must take this inconvenience into account.
2.3 How economic issues and consumption were conceived.
Economically the peculiar system of equality and social justice where everyone is entitled to the same amount of goods regardless of individual contribution demolished all initiative to make profit. Competition and individual achievements were not stimulated or allowed.
„Komunizujacy totalitaryzm wszedl w nasze zycie spoledzne, gloszac zniesienie “prywatnej wlasnosci” srodków produkcji, a wiec ich uspolecznienie. (Tischner 1992)
„Jesli konsumuje czlowiek uspolecznio ny to konsumuje cos, co wlasciwie nigdy nie bylo jego. But there is more. „Komunistyczny atak na wlasnosc prywatna mial na celu nie tylko przemiane ustroju spolecznego, ale równiez przemiane czlowieka.” (Tischner, 1992)
„Wlasnosc prywatna jest istotym zlem zycia spolecznego. Negacja posiadania nie tylko do tego, by zniesc prywatne posiadanie srodków producji, ale równiez ‘prywatne posiadanie siebie’. Trzeba uspolecznic czlowieka. Czlowiek musi uznac, ze jest wlasnoscia kolektywu.” (Tischner, 1992)
The concept of work was also very interesting. Man considered the work he did in his office or factory as essential to the harmonious functioning of the world. “Zaklad pracy, ktory go realizowal, wlaczal czlowieka w rozumnosc swiata.” (Tischner, 1992)
2.4 How the concept of freedom was conceived.
Of course the concept of freedom was very important during communist period. It was completely different understood as it is today. It had a teleological meaning as contribution to the revolution and the progression. Freedom meant „poddanie sie obiektywnemu prawu dziejów, wykladanemu prez nieomylna partie.” (Tischner, 1992).
„Homo sovieticus jest on tak niewolnik, który po wyzwoleniu w jednej niewoli czym predzej szuka sobie drugiej, gdyz buntuja sie przeciw komunizmowi, wielu przyjelo logike manichejska.” (Tischner, 1992)
Today after people became conscious that they received a lot of freedom but together with it high individual responsibility to take care themselves of their situation, many very quickly wanted back to the good old days.
„Homo sovieticus nie mo ze byc sam. Wsród targajacyg nim leków jest i strach przed wolnoscia, przed koniecznoscia, indywidualnego wyboru, przed znalezieniem sie na zewnatrz ludzkiego zbiorowiska.” (Zinoviev, 1984)
„Komunizm zmienil koncepje czlowieka; czlowiek byl bytem.” (Tischner, 1992) Of course such a concept of human being made any attempt to build a civil society impossible and forbidden. All capitalist thinking, attempts to set up his own company (which could develop quite quick out of the exchange mentality due to economy of shortage or the continuous lack of basic goods) had to be squeezed immediately. Middle class mentality was dangerous to the system. Thinking had to continue to be based on the firm principle of dialectical materialism and the dogma of historical progress. Man had to be made to understand, for then he would accept. Enemies were these more autonomous people who didn’t understand. They failed to understand because their minds worked feebly or badly. Of course this all made the mind completely bound and unfree, unautonomous.
3. The consequences of this probihiting of every individual initiative and the negotiation of individual freedom.
„Po pozegnaniu z komunizmem czlowiek wita sie z samym soba. Uswiadania sobie swa wolnosc. Wybiara ja jako podstawowa wartosc, od której moze zaczac sie etyka. Najpierw jest to etyka prawdy. Nastepnie staje sie wlasnoscia siebie.” (Tischner, 1992)
„Po upadku komunycznego system wskazuje na pozostalosci komunizmu w umyslach i postawach ludzi, mówi ze homo sovieticus to postkomunistyczna forma „ucieczki od wolnosci”. Mówi o tym jaki jest sens naszej swiezo zdobytej wolnosci, ze wolnosci nie jest celem sama dla siebie, ze chodzi nie tylko o wolnosc o czegos ale przede wszystkim wolnosc ku czemus.” (Tischner, 1992)
„Od tego momenty jest podmiotem praw i obowiazków. Jako podmiot praw i obowiazków, jest odpowiedzialny za siebie. Nie jest nie niewolnikiem. Dopiero teraz moze zdecydowac komu bedzie sluszyl, ale juz nie jako niewolnik, lecz jako wolny.” (Tischner, 1992)
Negating the law of individual freedom, „ze jego ograniczanie w imie rzekomej rownosci wszystkich w spoleczenstwie, faktycznie niweluje i wrecz nisczy przedsiebiorczosc, obywatela. W resultacie kszaltuje sie w ten sposób nie tyle rownosc ile rownanie w dól.” (Tischner, 1992)
„Zamiast tworczej inicjatywy, rodzi sie biernosc, zaleznosc i podporzadkowie wobec biurokratycznego aparatu który jako jedyny dysponen i decydent, jesli nie wrecz posiadacz ogolu dobr wytworczych stawia wszystkich w pozycji mniej lub bardziej totalnej zaleznosci, jakze podobnej do tradycyjnej zale znosci pracownika-proletariusza w kapitalizmie. Stad rodzi sie poczucie frustracji lub beznadziejnosci, brak zaaganzowania w zycie narodowe, sklonnosc do emigracji, chocby tak zwanej emigracji wewnetrznej.” (Tischner, 1992)
All concepts men live by are a product of historic formation in which they find themselves. The inhabitant of East Central Europe is incapable of understanding delays, absurd decisions, political campaigns, mutual recriminations, public opinion polls, and demagoguery, which he considers to be characteristic of the West. After the fall of communism people felt an unrest, niepokój z powodu pustki, jaka pozostala po racjonalnej wizji pracy, po socjalizmie, czy po rubryce pochodzenie spoleczne która odgrywala role istotna. (Tischner, 1992)
4. The “captive mind” mentality and the culture of fear.
So people became indoctrinated by the system, they had to accept everything without protest, instead of find it out by themselves. Their minds became enprisoned in specific mindsets of the all-encompassing illusion, which the communist doctrine had set up. During and also after communist times this captive mind mentality had three forms.
The first form of captive mind mentality was the individual actively supporting the regime, caused by the feeling of insecurity in an atomized society. This feeling of insecurity created a dependence upon the concentrated power of the regime. Totalitarianism offered a solution, “a chance to redeem the absurdity of physicological existence”. (Milosz, 1980)
On a social level this mentality translated itself into a political culture of obedience, loyalty and acceptance of the regime’s power. This selflessness maked individuals never being sure of their opinions because of the consciousness that their disagreements did not matter at all. They were members of a collectivity and only collective matters had meaning.
The second mentality is he who internally rejected the regime’s authority. However due to the terror and the wide use of coercion the individual was forced to adapt himself at an external level. He was forced to act in the public sphere (maybe even in private spheres because his friend could be the member of the security police and report his antagonistic ideas to his supervisors). In this way the individual policed himself and was obliged to engage himself in a conscious mass play to support a regime he internally rejects and hold all this rejections extremely for himself.
People were indoctrinated by the propaganda and living in a culture of fear. They were all the time acting in the public scene. Each word had to be valuated to its consequences before leaving the lips. A smile that appears at the wrong moment could already be suspicious. Even one’s gestures, tone of voice, or preference for certain kinds of neckties could be interpreted as signs of one’s political tendencies. It was a conscious mass play rather than automatic imitation, a habit that is common to all of us in socializing ourselves. Everyone played to somebody else and everyone was fully aware of it. Through constant repetition the party slogans became interiorized. After practicing this acting long enough the soviet man became acquainted with it and grew into it so closely that he could no longer differentiate his true self from the self he simulated, so that even the most intimate of individual spoke to each other in party slogans.
“Proper reflexes at the proper moment became truly automatic. All people act and think in the same way; they are modest, industrious and satisfied with what the state gives them. They limit their nights spent at home and pass all the rest of their time amidst their companions at work or at play, observing carefully and reporting actions of other people to the authorities.” (Milosz, 1980)
Reality became an illusionistic reality, the illusion had put a vail over the true reality. “People bestir themselves, work, go to the theatre, applaud speakers, take excursions, fall in love, and have children. Yet there is something impalpable and unpleasant in the human climate of such cities as Warsaw or Prague. The collective atmosphere, resulting from an exchange and a recombination of individual fluids, is bad. It is an aura of strength and unhappiness, of internal paralysis and external mobility.”
Due to the fact that informing was said to be a cardinal virtue of the good citizen, your college or even your friend good be a reporter to the secret police. Because this constant omnipresent vigilant eyes and ears, work at office or factory was double that hard. “After work one went to political meeting or lectures, thereby lengthening the day that is without any moment of true relaxation or spontaneity. The people one talked with may seemed relaxed, sympathetic and indignant, but they were only to arouse corresponding attitudes and to extract confidences which they could later report tot their superiors.”
This fear as well as not seeing any alternative to conform himself made this type of soviet man even to be more obedient than the first type of captive mind mentality and act as a super conform person to be sure not being caught. So what was held captive was the freedom of people to live according to their own principles and values and publicly express their true thoughts and beliefs. The obligatory imitation of participating in mass demonstrations and so on caused the individual to view all social interaction as farcical.
As a consequence people became bitter and very cynical, they became unable to believe truly in something. “The “inner sanctuary” of one’s concealed and protected autonomous viewpoint is buried ever deeper in and effort to separate one’s own “true” self from the corruption and deceptions which are seen to define politics.” (Sasinska-Klas, 1990, p. 248)
“What is held captive by this form of political consciousness is the individual’s view of society as a legitimate and relevant entity; he or she is unable to conceive of collective action or responsibility in anything but the deeply cynical terms of the regime’s propaganda” (Sasinska-Klas, p. 248). A resultant passivity and apathy as the individual’s sense of irrelevance to the political realm remained after the Stalinist period.
The third homo sovieticus with the ends justify the means political consciousness has its roots in this lastly mentioned form of captive mind because it displays a cultural cynicism and lack of social concern or responsibility. Efficacy in relation to the political system is of an extremely cynical type and is based upon manipulation and expediency rather than on one’s true political concerns or views. Also this self interest like opportunistic motivations to join the communist party resulted in the obedience to the regime. An example of the third kind of homo sovieticus is Vladimir Putin. In in an interview with Gregorij Jawlinski following things were said about him. „To typowy homo sovieticus. To znaczy, ze uwaza, iz cel uswieca srodki. Putin mowi jedno, mysli drugie, a robie trzecie.”
„Prawa czlowieka sa dla Putina pustym slowem. On jest czlowiekiem bez przekonan, bez zasad. Tylko tacy ludzie mogli robic kariere w KGB.” (Wprost 2 kwietnia 2000, p. 94)
5. Political consequences till today
A general consequence was that the captive mind dynamic which created an internally suppressed but intact autonomous viewpoint also created a “non-political, and potentially even anti-political attitude in people’s lives. This type of homo sovieticus mentality is visible in the chasm between external political change and the individual’s inner realm of political values, views and beliefs; in short the continuing division between ‘us’ and ‘them’.
The anti-political feeling is still found today in the very low trust of the people in the Polish government, in the low support for joining the European Union, but contrarily also in the high support for joining NATO. Why? To fill the vacuum which emerged after the fall of the Berlin Wall and with that delete any possible attempt of Russia to expand Westward, a tendency which is still present in today’s Russian political mentality. (Dawisha, Karen The Great Challenge, Eastern Europe, Gorbatshev and Reform, 1991, p. 20)
“In the most fundamental sense, what is held captive is the individuals ability to lie, and to hear lies, without vigilant protection of the truth which has fo und his last refuge in him. If he or she does not, factual truth will be manoeuvred out of the world altogether.” (Sasinska-Klas, p. 251)
Of course this deep cynicism which resists belief in everything may prevent new forms of legitimacy from being installed and constitute a barrier in the process towards free market economy and democracy. The shock therapy totally failed to include the social and institutional behaviour of the people educated in decades of prescribed economy. Also the anxiety and conservative response to all political activity is not easily or quickly disengaged. There is a low support. Last public opinion polls pointing at support for the government show a 62% of the Polish population saying the government is doing a lousy job and perceiving the government as concerned mainly with competition between themselves. One of the consequences of such a low esteem of the government who is nevertheless blamed for everything is no respect for the rule of law, because homo sovieticus understands freedom as lawlessness.
Because the people in the post-communist societies were not prepared to acknowledge the impact of communism on their minds and behavior there has been never a genuine decommunization either of personnel or of ideas in the governing stratum. It is also a kind of paradox that the big people of Solidarity where former members of communist party and that also many people in power have an active communist past.
Another socio-political problem is that with the release of individual expression, which was subverted and denied under the totalitarian system a wild revival of extreme nationalistic feelings, the hostility towards minorities, anti-Semitism and racism emerged. Politically the social apathy made place for temptations of authoritarian rule.
Fundamentalism often mixed with nationalism is coming to life again. A new populism, which finds its way in extreme rightist catholic fundamentalist parties, becomes visible. A radical critic of the Enlightment spirit is mixed with the strong language of moral absolutism. And both the critique and the language express a longing of those who do not benefit from the systemic changes, for the lost feeling of social security.
The former socialist countries are facing still a deficiency in four cultures: the enterprise culture, indispensable for participation in a market economy, the civic culture as indispensable for participation in democratic life, the discursive culture, indispensable for participation in free intellectual flow, including components like tolerance, open- mindedness, acceptance of diversity and pluralism, skepticism, criticism and the everyday culture, indispensable for daily existence in advanced, urbanized, technologically saturated and consumer-oriented society.
Life in the West depends on the existence of an active civil society, the direct involvement of individual citizens in the running of their country pressure groups, trade unions, associations, NGO’s. In East Central Europe and the Russian Federation civil society as everything that fills up the amorphous sphere between the individual and the state has not come fully into being. The multi- level structure of society was destroyed, along with all institutional ties, leaving at best only a few substitute bonds, based mostly on unoficial goods and services.
This resulted in a lack of openness and spontaneity in the public sphere. Political parties were founded by initiatives of individuals aspiring to joining the political elite. As a result these parties usually lack clear political programmes, which makes it difficult for voters to favor one candidate over another.
Individual initiative is rather low among the older generation. Also service is still quite bad today here in Poland. Clerks in the main station who only speak Polish and so on. Shop holders who only now their products in their shop and nothing more. How many times I didn’t have had to hear „Nie”, „Nie wiem” „Nie, „Nie”.
6. The legacy of communism in the Constitutions of the New Democracies of East-Central Europe.
Interesting is also to see for a moment how this homo sovieticus mentality determined the outlook of the today’s constitutio ns. In socialist times the meaning of the constitution was not was it is today. Every aspect of life was included in the legislative system, which on its part was self-referential. A judicial review by extraparliamentary bodies was not needed because the legislative system embodied the will of the people. However all rights of the people were granted according to the needs of the party. When the system didn’t need it, the rights were not there. Human rights were thereby clearly distinguished as a philosophical category form Fundamental Constitutional Rights as a political category.
The soviet constitutions may have contained a lot of social, economic and cultural rights for the ‘citizens’ however in practice not much of these rights were truly exercised. This constitution mainly served to as a legitimacy emphasizing the superiority of the socialist system over the capitalist one. Division of powers was not thought of. This centralism led of course to the abuse of power as democratic systems know now.
In the transition period major changes in the constitutions of the new democracies were introduced in the list of Fundamental Rights and Duties. However the skelleton of the homo sovieticus is still inside of these new democratic constitutions.
In the Polish constitution the economic system is called a social market economy, based on the freedom of economic activity, private ownership, and solidarity, dialogue and cooperation between social partners. Individual economic initiative is not allowed to develop contrary to the social interests.
Especially catching the eye is how many duties are described on the part of the public authorities. It is simply too much to be possibly fulfilled all effectively. Due to this huge obligations this new democracy can easily be called a socialist democracy.
Article 38, Article 65 § 5, Article 68 § 3, 4 and 5, Article 69, Article 70 § 3, 4, Article 71 §1, 2, Article 72 § 1, 2, Article 74 § 1, 2, 4, Article 75 § 1, 2, 4, Article 76. Areas are legal protection of life of every human being, emloyment, health care and physical culture, education, aid to families and the mother, the life of a child, ecological security, appropriate housing, protection of consumers, customers, hires or lessees.
Simply many things which were taken care of during communist times, plus the aspects of life and environment which the former system neglected.
Why is this list of duties that lenghty? Because it is all demanded by the people leaving the socialist system totally frustrated. A combination of social, economic and political circumstances made the constitutions what they are today.
At the part of the citizens there are also some duties, amongst others respect for the environment. Of course it will be very difficult to trace all injuries at it, and the question is if all people know the constitution that well.
If one now compares these lengthy East Central European Constitutions with the Western ones, he will immediately notice that the Western Constitutions are much shorter. This is simply because all these problems are already solved or because they are guaranteed in other separate laws.
7. The homo sovieticus in some East-Central European countries and Russia
The homo sovieticus existed and still to a certain extent exists in all parts of former socialist Europe and Russia. There also remain enormous differences between those countries where indigenous groups imposed communism and those where communism was imposed by a foreign system. Especially those countries where communism was always viewed as something foreign now experience are facing far more difficulties in transforming.
7.1 The homo sovieticus mentality in the Czech Republic.
The life of most of Czech society seems undoubtedly guided by the principle of constraint. Czech people are still used to deferring to regulations imposed from above just as in totalitarian times. From the times of communism they are also used to lack of open debate. The ostensibly British middle class concept of choice and freedom, open debated and highly valued education and trust at the heart of the social contract between the professions and society seem to be non-existent in Czech society. It leads one reluctantly to the conclusion that communism in Czechoslovakia succeeded in turning most of society into proletarians.
The communist totalitarianism caused slave mentality almost totally to overwhelm the Czech national character. People were unable to stand up for their rights openly, thus seeking to achieve their ends by indirect means, often by deceit. All communication links between the national elite and the man in the street had been cut. The intellectual had to conform to communist propaganda and relinquish all attemps at original, independent thought or to defy the totalitarian authorities, becoming a non-person.
The fall of communism shocked and confused the Czech dissident intellectuals who helped to overthrow the system. Constructing a new programme is far more difficult than fight against oppression. The new landscape, a headless body of society without one strong ruler at the top which gave people much more individual responsibility was unfamiliar. People also became disoriented here.
And as a consequence also there „homo sovieticus wymaga od owych kapitalistów, by zaspokoili te potrzeby, których nie zdolali zaspokoic komunisci.” (Tischner, 1992)
In Czech politics of today we can notice a high returning support for the communist party. The reason why people vote for it are because „le systeme capitaliste tout nouveau ne marche pas. Ou plutot, il marche tres bien pour les 10.000 individues en haut de la pyramide sociale, et très mal pour le reste d’entre nous.” (Le Monde Diplomatique, 12 avril 2000)
After many years spending in the margin of the political scene the communist party has suddenly doubled its score. People who vote for it are usually retired people, non-qualified workers older than forty. The party also gets some support from people younger than twenty five because they haven’t really consciously lived under the communist system. The anarchistic movements in Prague are more joining them selves into mobilisations against increases of the rent and the abscence of real services for the Prague people in a city which is overwhelmed by tourists.
During the former ruling of the conservative rightist party, the communist party found itself in a kind of ghetto. But rules changed when socio-democratic won in 1998. The support for the socio-democratics decreased from 20% in mid-1998 till 15% in November 1999 while the support for the communist party increased form 12% to 24,5% ranging from the same period. Although right still wants the communists out, 43% of the electorate says that the Communist Party may take part in the governing of the country.
Some homo sovieticus elements are a cause of this revival of the communist party; fear and unsatisfiedness with the present situation. The succes of the Communist Party „revèle d’une nostalgie, envers le regime antérieur à la „revolution de velours”. Beaucoup de Tchèques n’aiment pas l’idée que les Allemands puissent ache ter des maisons dans la zone frontalière „nettoyée” de sa population allemande à la fin de la deuxieme guerre mondiale”. (Le Monde Diplomatique, 12 avril 2000, p. ) Comparable to Poland in Slovakia socio-democratic left is coming up. In the Czech Republic the socio-democrats and the conservatives are trying to make a coalition.
7.2 The homo sovieticus mentality in the Russian Federation.
An excerpt of an intervieuw with Colin Thubron conducted in the Standaard, a Belgian newspaper of 24 February 2000 about the Russian type of homo sovieticus.
“The homo sovieticus sees himself as an international character, someone without a nationality. The original idea supporting idea of the homo sovieticus was to belong to one big Soviet-family. Reality was different. In fact one had to adapt himself to the Western Russian, no matter if the Baltics, the Central Asians or the people in Norther Siberia hunting for reindeers were the subject at stake. The Russians however, don’t accept theis people as real Russians. The power of communism in the Breznev years was not determined by communism, but by pattriotism. The party tried to get little Mother Russia behind itself and stated that the party programme and the country are one. The idea of the homo sovieticus as a superhuman being became never realized. (my emphasis) But now, from the glasnost on, I use the term for the people who are broken after decennia of communistic dictatorship, who still have difficulties with their feelings and who are not able to protest. The homo sovieticus as a creation of the system is a kind of Frankenstein made creature that also exists in other countries where communism was the state’s doctrine.”
In these circumstances of for example coercion it was typical that the perpetrator and victim are potentially exchangeable. Ethnically and culturally they were the same and knew what was going on. People who survived the Stalinist camps don’t focus on guilt or bitterness, they only say ‘That was the case’, they don’t blame anyone for it, not even Stalin. They worked very hard in terrible circumstances in Siberia but they saw it as a contribution to historical progress. Socialism transformed them into slaves.
Communist regime killed millions of people and destroyed their physical environment in the name of a supposedly higher good (a better tomorrow) and together with that these regimes deformed the mental and moral consciousness of the people living under them. But the stiff mentality of the collective made that the loss of some single human lives were not at all important when for example a new canal was built.
After the dismantling of the Soviet Union and removing the command economy the reformers promised to open a new page in the history of Russia. However like in the CEEC social consequences of transfo rmation where disastrous. People asked themselves. ‘Who are we, why are we being treated like this, and when is this all going to end?’ The initial optimism about the transition to a market economy has almost completely turned into feelings of disappointment, bitterness and insecurity.
Socialism, as it was originally drafted by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, was a utopian dream, impossible to be realised by normal human beings, simply because we are too egoistic in thinking. Communism required a new human who whould be absolutely collective minded, stripped of self-centred and egoistic desires. The Soviet regime wanted to emancipate man, let the proletariat rule, give power to the workers, lead the CEEC and Soviet Union through a revolution into a new better world (‘a better tomorrow’). But instead of all this just the opposite took place, people where suppressed, indoctrinated and bereft of aspirations for power.
Revolution became an empty word in all communist societies because each time the party failed to fulfil its promises to the people. A better tomorrow didn’t occur. Live standards were decreasing, coercion was increasing to keep the system intact and so on. These were precisely the traps, which were set by this type of communism which is simply to ideal to be realized.
As a consequence of the systemic context homo sovieticus became the proper term for an irresponsible being with very low self-esteem and without knowing his purposes. Socialism failed in its original concept of homo sovieticus. So-called socialist progress has always been paid for with the lives of innocent people. Instead of equality system of privileges given to the people holding power positions.
An existential emptiness and insecurity appeared in most people’s lives after the implosion of the last Russian Empire. Life became meaningless and without purpose. A mass interest in religion and the occult was one of the consequences of it.
People were indoctrinated that violence and crime are typically American problems. Many of its institutions, including law enforcement, were based on fear of punishment, pure and simple. There was no tollerance for innovation.
Today no institution functions properly in this transition. Law enforcement agencies are demoralized and confused because they were never taught how to defend private property, and demoralized because their Soviet trained officers are resentful over having to defend something of value that is not theirs.
The old ideology remains in Russia. The attitude towards private property continues to be very complicated. Sharing property is still considered a superior form of ownership. Everything is still considered to belong to the state. There is still this pertaining historically rooted belief in the collective over the individual that stubbornly persists among Russians together with the paternalistic role of the state and the conception of the individual as its ward From birth to death, Russians were taught to adhere to a conviction that the collective takes precedence over the individual. One may not forget that until the beginning of the 20th century Russia was basically an agrarian society based on rural communities. In this way Russian society was most suited for the birth and elaboration of communism. And today they simply cannot find a democratic alternative to communist rule.
Citizens of Russia and the surrounding former socialist countries lost their savings; the elderly and pensioners were particularly hard hit. The loss of superpower status is especially painful for the Russian people, whose greatness however was bought at the price of enormous human, political, and economic sacrifice. Where nationalist conflicts were in a way frozen during the Cold War, they returned with a vengeance after 1989 as is seen in the recent wars in former Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and recently Chechnya. Russia is always taking part of the Serbs in Yugoslavia and the Kosovo crisis. This illusory concept of greatness together with fear, lack of confidence made that also Yeltsin became to act very undiplomatic, Stalinistic and capricious way of ruling the country.
7.3 The homo sovieticus mentality in Poland.
In Poland the discussions about the homo sovieticus are connected with two important figures, Józef Tischner and Adam Michnik. In the Polish newspapers as Gazeta Wyborcza and Tygodnik Powszechny most of the articles wich tackle the issues connected with the homo sovieticus mentality in Poland are intervieuws with one or both of them, or their books or articles are quoted.
Compared to the West Poland is still a modernist country. The still haunting manicheistic thinking is one of the reasons why for example there is such much opposition to join the EU.
The illusionic division of a person looking to find the objective truth as the Polish side and a person who gives himself the right to decide about the truth are still maintained by church authorities. Manicheism, division between good and bad, universal norms and authorities, moral dogmaticism and claims of the universal moral truth are still inside of such expressions.
An opposition between East and West can be seen as the division between liberalism and moral dogmaticism. Of course to guide political activity and to maintain a kind of order and social efficient arrangement specific positions have to be occupied, a certain ultimate truth has to be taken into consideration. Democracy without values easily turns into open or camouflaged totalitarianism.
7.3.1 The position of the Church in Poland.
In the era of communist dictatorship, the Church was the teacher of everlasting and indestructible values and the conscience of an enslaved society. The Church in Poland has always served itself of an antiliberal language, against democracy and loose of values. The Polish Church has become a party to the political conflict by overtly lending its support to clericalistm chauvinism and antiliberals.
After the fall of communism, it had to redefine its role. Where it prior to 1989 had stood as a political cultural and moral antagonist of the State because totalitarian communism wanted to replace religion and wanted to establish an absolute truth, it now should seek itself a place in the transformation process.
A paradox is also that many people in the Polish Church made enormous contributions to the victory of democracy in Poland and now when they became disheartened with democracy they are against any further democratic developments.
The Church has assumed a position of mistrust toward democracy, while democracy has assumed a postion of deep mistrust toward the Church. Openly antiliberal language in the clerical circles and as a consequence in liberal and left wing opposition cirlces, hitherto unheard radical anticlericalism.
This all reminds me of a comparable furious debate which was conducted during the nineteenth century in Belgium between the Catholics and the Liberals, precisely about the same topics, also strongly supported by the famous priest poet, Guido Gezelle in his magazine ’ t Jaer 30.
Some people in the Church, bishops or priests are born politicians. A part of the Polish Church as well as a larger part of Polish society emerged from communism in 1989 convinced of its own sinlessness, as proclaimed by those who possessed the truth. This sinlessness had two faces: the face of the moral absolutists who sought absolute justice, and the face of a rebel who had overthrown communism and was now waiting to participate in power. Despite the fact that they look very different, both faces shared one particular feature in common with the Soviet man of the communist times, the habit of Manichaeistic thinking.
The manicheistic thinking has communist roots. Communism was the incarnation of the absolute good, a plan for a free, equal world “defending the peace” against the (Western) world of absolute evil. He, who should protest against such a perfect system would really be a fool and immediately needed help.
But as it turned out that communists had lied as it became clear that none of the promises ever became fully fullfilled homo sovieticus took part in rebellion. (This anti Soviet mentality is still existing in Central and Eastern European countries and Ukraine, not so in the CIS states and the Belarus.)
Being a slave of history he immediately had to seek another slavery after freeing himself from the first. The Manichean logic made opponents of communism seeing it as absolute evil and themselves as angels or absolute good.
The homo sovieticus does not know the difference between his own interests and the common good. That is how he chooses, pointing to ever new enemies, cursing, insulting and degrading them (again this is applyable for Lech Walesa).
Catholic fundamentalism proclaims that the democratic order is bereft of values; hence it attempts to impose upon the democratic order its own system of values. All societies, even if pluralistic ones, should live according to the same norms.
Catholic fundamentalism everywhere smells a plot by “strangers” - the free masons, or the Catho- left. They are the ones who destroy the Church from inside, spread chaos and relativize truth. Of course a Catholic fundamentalist is incapable of dialogue because real dialogue assumes the readiness to question one’s own convictions.
Democracy accepts the relativization of all absolutes, while it makes absolute only the democratic procedure for solving ideological disputes and seeking compromises among conflicting interests.
Wisdoms have to be discovered by experience because only then it will be true authentic wisdoms. All normative teaching at a certain moment will cause a revenge by the taught in wanting to break free and decide for themselves what is right or wrong for them, what they want.
7.3.2 Politics in Poland as the pendulum swinging from Solidarity to SLD and back.
In Poland politics represents always a shifting of power from the conservative rightist block to the liberal leftist block.
Solidarity as a bastion of overthrowing the system in fact seeked to really give the power to the workers, letting the normal, simple man of the street be elected to play a role in history. This in fact happened with Lech Walesa, also bearing some Homo Sovieticus features by very overtly expressing its hatred for all political heads of East and West). With this a new conflict emerged, namely between the rebels and the young democratic state. Communist repression in Poland revenged itself; the Polish national spirit seemed to have been too strong. Workers began massively striking, a thing which of course let a high solidarity feeling come into being (etyka solidarnosci, cf. Tischner, 1992). However the anti-element and the pathological
mistrustfulness also find its fundaments here. People however still believed in equality1, they still can’t see that real equality is a myth, even equality of opportunities is actually not the case. This belief was also mixed with religion (“May God be with us” and so on).
People also demanded freedom of speech, thereby revolting against the suppression of individual expression during the communist times. This all explains why Solidarity had such a tremendous succes in those days. But however, things have changed now, and the role of Solidarity seemed to be played out, its work is done.
At the present moment the government is perceived by Western European and surrounding countries as unreliable because of the political game, which developed itself in the course towards the elections. Politicians still look for power and influence by making deals and promises because power legitimates existence, makes sure you exist. Despite of the fact that the popularity and the image of Solidarity today is decreasing Krsaklewksi still claims that by uniting the forces of Solidarity they will win the next elections. Poland has always been good in revolting but never in constructive activities. The same counts for diplomatic affairs. Poles have never been good diplomats. Today the diplomatic relations with Russia for example are very bad.
8. Contradictions between East and West.
There still exist many differences in mentality between Eastern and Western Europe. Sociocultural differences are still existing but are however on their way to disappear. As the East did before, now the West demands Poland to accept full social, political, ideological, as well as religious liberalism. This could be seen as a new kind of totalitarianism (Knack 3 November 1999) masked as “freedom and democratic majority rule.”
Catholic fundamentalists regard the West as secular. Relativism and practical materialism as threats. So-called attempts are made to blur differences between good and evil and to regard temporary achievements as the ultimate measure of morality. They don’t want Poland to be Satan’s kingdom, they want Poland to be a kingdom of Maria.
The capitalist system of the Western democracies knew a completely other history of coming into existence. The transition from feudalism to capitalism took hundreds of years from the Renaissance on where in Poland it was a transition of 10 years. The process of industrialisation took a central place in it. Capitalism was not at all a planned development, just as it wasn’t the case with democracy. Only afterwards these systems became described as such by economist, as well as by social thinkers and political scientists. After the French Revolution and the invention of the steam engine, the rise of capitalism was embedded in a new ethos, namely the equality before the law. This new system fulfilled the previously nonexistent rule of egalitarianism: equality of opportunities.
This new economic formation symbolized at least in theory, a liberation from the chains of hierarchical dependence and the slavish permanence of one’s inborn social status.
What East Central Europe and Russia is concerned, transformation of the socialist into the capitalist economy is completely different in nature. It is not a spontaneous and natural but intentional process. New principles and procedures have to be implemented in an already existing infrastructure, which has to be transformed to serve the new different purposes.
Capitalist is being built in the post -communist societies after the development in the world of the leftist thought. Each economic decision entails a tide of unknown economic social and cultural effects, which are unknown because the transformation is taking place in conditions that had never accompanied the development of capitalism.
This dissonance between the internal needs of transformation and both the current Western cultural patterns and the rules of world economy leads to many discrepancies and hampers the development of capitalism.
Compared to the period of totalitarianism the social attitudes are much more expressed. Political problems constitute an important subject of those ostentatiously manifested attitudes
There are many comments on politics but not engagement in politics visible at a poor attendance of elections and social passiveness. Verbal reality is treated as a substitute of the actual reality. In a situation of feeling helpless conversation had a therapeutic function, making it possible to release tension and dissatisfaction.
In the West the politician is seen as a part of the ‘us’, in the East still of the ‘them’. The politician becomes a generalized characters. Whatever he proclaims and promises, he will nevertheless follow his own preferences and interests. Faced with the arbitrariness of politicians, the people feel as helpless as they did during communist times. Together with that it was completely new and strange for people to have actual influence in politics by voting
Another habit, which has its roots in the process of socialization under the totalitarian system is people’s use verbal constructs as emotionally-charged signals without any clear reference to the actual world. However rejecting the intentions of the communist propaganda which used that kind of new speak, this autonomous language which only becomes significant without signifie, people no longer needed language as a cognitive means of perception of the world, they no longer needed to understand the meaning of a term. In the West such reality is barely an issue.
But in the East these words form their own meta-reality. No one really questions these terms, reflects about their content and checks actual states of affairs with that content of the term. Such terms are for example ‘democracy’, ‘elections’, ‘the left wing’, ‘crypto-communism’, ‘national interests’, ‘Christian values’, ‘individual freedom’, ‘Pact for Poland’, ‘de- communization’, ‘the rule of law’. When experiencing one’s incompetence people used this ‘buzz words’ (Cultural Dilemmas of Post-Communist Societies, p. 230).
However the common opinions and judgments they express are seldom their own; usually they are borrowed from other people, authorities, press, politicians). These statements are internalized due to the indoctrination by the system, however the internalization is selective, only negatively charged constructions are remembered, next to that people again don’t really analyze the real contextual meaning and referential yielding of those terms. Examples are struggle for position, organized crime, they climbed to the top using our backs as the ladder; Jewish conspiracy, a plot of international secret agents, stealing and selling away the national property, thievery, incompetence, lack of manners, the new nomenklatura, the new slavery, getting rich at our expense, intolerance, antinational. (Cultural Dilemmas of Post-Communist Societies, p. 231)
Another specific feature is the atrophy of social bonds, mistrust and a tendency to criticize and blame one another. There are many problems of uniting people in the process of interaction. A climate of natural community and exchange of opinions is not developed; it takes an effort to find any subject tot talk about and to create a pleasant atmosphere. “There is a conflict between the need of togetherness with others and the avoidance of contact that requires any effort; as a result, the people take flight into loneliness or their ‘small family’.
However, when there is an actual threat, the fear of change, linked with an exagerated personal danger constitutes the driving force of joint action among people. Such mechanism of collective psychosis lead to strikes that lack a rational motivation. The typical mechanism that leads to the fo rmation of this kind of bonds is panic caused by the fear of the ‘safe’ status quo being disturbed. All in short the homo sovieticus mentality is a combination of civilisational incompetence and limited sovereignity (Kubiak, 1992).
To make things more clear a worked out some bipolar antonymic semiotic pairs. The fact if these features are truly the case for both factors is not at stake, it serves only to see the difference by setting up an antonymic semiotic division.
In the past and partially still today:
illustration not visible in this excerpt
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Soon new aspects of life as consumption, americanisation and junk society, the human being as ruled by a code of advertising, the culture of the immediate moment, kicks, the cultural revolution of the free market will appear in this part of the world to. In fact in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, brand new malls function much better, i.e. attract much more customers than previously expected, even more than compared to some cities in Western European countries. Due to its orientation towards America in Poland this already quite advanced.
Another interesting semiotic opposition is are the two political groups AWS versus SLD. Shifting of power happened always from the one ruling coalition to the other and back.
illustration not visible in this excerpt
AWS who advocated the modern revolution and the abolishment of communism gave in a way also birth to the etyka solidarnosci, fighting against the system.
However in present times we already are on our way to postmodernism in Poland and the role of modernist institutions as the Church and Solidarnosc seems to be finished. So paradoxically in relation to their initial cause of political involvement they now become regressive movements nowadays catalogizable as bastions of the past.
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Some words about Polish love relationships.
I also want to make some observations about love relationships between people here in Central and Eastern Europe. Already before I learned about the homo sovieticus mentality I assessed most of Central and Eastern European girls as submissive and devoted/committed.
In relationships the boys are frequently jealous, dominating and uncertain while the girl is many times lacking power to come up for herself. In character Polish girls for example are generally enjoyable, very pleasant and sweet. Boys are generally sturdy and sometimes chauvinistic. Concepts of relationships are still more conservative than they are in the West. It wouldn’t also supprise me when domestic violence is still higher here in East Central Europe and Russia as in the West. The chlopak is a kind of cage over the girl from which it is very difficult to escape. The chlopak wants, so the girl does, out of loyalty and obedience. Also the church has its influence in this depicting of the conservative modernistic type of how a relationship ought to be.
Of course things are changing following the social transformation processes in the former socialist countries (in a country of Belgium many times almost the opposite is true, where the roles of the boy and the girl can be exchanged in comparison to Poland).
The homo sovieticus of today has following features: lack of confidence in his/her own abilities because he was not allowed to develop them during communist times, unable to discern the difference between his/her personal interests and a common good. He/she is always feeling like the injured party, is always ready to blame others, pathologically mistrustful, steeped in unhappiness and incapable of making sacrifices. Usually looking for a protective umbrella he/she has difficulties by taking up his/her own responsibilities.
Socio-political consequences are:
1. Limited skills with regard to pragmatic social sefl-organisation, selecting political parties and fighting political battles in parliament,
2. Lack of a pragmatic middle-term view, short term politics and the lakc of socially accepted models ofindividual success in economy, power structures and other value systems.
3. Mythologisation of the social consciousness, escaping into an artificial world, a paradis artificiel. Gloryfying the pastand always looking for an historical background.
4. Social solidarity not built on a choice of values but on opposition against a foreign domination.
5. Unskillfulness at achieving a comprehensive view of natural and planned processes or tactical and strategic aims. Politisation of religion and religious institutions as a network for opposition.
6. Relative uneasiness to use newspeak language, which is not used to share information or to extend the ability to reason but to block it. Not communication but a simple use of slogans create a new superficial reality and kills independent ways of thinking.
7. Legal instability and violation of the principles of the rule of law, the law acting ahead, not retroactive
8. A tendency to explain one s failures as a result of unfavorable outside conditions The easy penetration of the political elite by individuals with fundamentalist orientations and mentality of the street barricade
9. The lack of a recipe for one s own sovereignity and a lack of skill at realistically perceiving the justifiable interests of other nation-states
The homo sovieticus mentality is however on its way to disappear, because the younger generation and especially teenagers are not any more that affected by it. In Poland politicians take decisions more out of pragmatic considerations than out of anti-politics and guarantee more power. Younger politicians also don’t see that more this strong contradiction between the AWS-UW and the SLD-PSL. Let’s hope that for joining the European Union, where the homo sovieticus mentality will be tested for, emotions won’t be that intense and circumstances quite positive to vote for a ‘yes’ in the referendum.
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1 In writing slogans at the walls as „Justice and Equality for all” and so on.
- Quote paper
- Diederik Willemans (Author), 2000, The homo sovieticus mentality. The failure of socialism and its consequences., Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/97817