FEATURE - Soviet Union Acclaimed Across Globe For Achievements In Social Welfare, Space

MOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 31st December, 2022) People all over the world associate the Soviet Union with the space race, a strong economy, and the welfare state, while also remembering its dark legacy of oppression, according to respondents surveyed by Sputnik for the 100th anniversary of the Soviet Union's founding.

Since its establishment on December 30, 1922, the Soviet Union has both inspired and repelled, with some emphasizing its achievements and positive contributions to the world, while others zero in on its shortcomings.

As one of the world's first avowedly socialist states, the Soviet Union advocated providing social protection coverage to as many people as possible. While not perfect and often conditional on political loyalty, it was a step up compared to its predecessor, the Russian Empire when it came to access to medicine, education and housing.

"I am from Ukraine and all the stories of my relatives about the USSR are positive for those who liked to receive free support from the state. Everyone was given apartments free of charge in addition to their salary, simply standing in line and waiting 2-5 years," Yaroslav Ivanov told Sputnik.

Yigit from the United Kingdom said a similar thing, drawing on his school and university curriculum, noting that he and his peers were taught about the Soviet Union's formation in 1922, its political system, and its role in World War II.

"The government controlled all aspects of economic and social life, including wages, prices, and production levels. The government also provided free education and health care for all citizens," Yigit said.

Yigit went on to highlight other Soviet Union successes, including its role in the conquest of space.

"The Soviet Union's biggest achievements include launching the first satellite, Sputnik 1, and the first human spaceflight, Vostok 1. It also developed a powerful military and nuclear arsenal, and it was a major player in international politics," Yigit noted.

Meanwhile, Ashish, a 16-year-old from India, stated "the Soviet Union had a strong economy and enjoyed higher standards of living than most other countries."

"During its existence, the Soviet Union had tremendous economic and military strength, and it was an important player in international relations," Ashish added.

Matt Robbins, a social activist from Portland, Oregon, told Sputnik that without the Soviet period, much of the country would not be as connected and united, both politically and socially.

"The USSR helped spread education in areas that were remote and promoted higher social wealth altogether. The USSR also was able to solve worldwide crises like the Pripyat reactor meltdowns, border crisis, you name it. It was impressive, and I believe that it gave people a chance to prove themselves," Robbins suggested.

When asked what they knew about the Soviet Union, all respondents showed their relative awareness of the country's history and defining characteristics, such as the fact its economy was based on central planning, and mentioned famous people, including spaceman Yuri Gagarin, physicist Andrei Sakharov, filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky and Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

At the same time, the positive impressions were offset by mentions of totalitarian practices, most often associated with the Stalinist period from the mid-1920s to early 1950s.

"Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953 and is remembered for being a ruthless dictator who implemented many oppressive policies such as collectivization and purges of political opponents," Ashish said.

Ivanov, for his part, also highlighted oppressive aspects of Soviet life, giving as an example the story of his great-grandfather, science fiction author Oles Berdnyk, who was put in prison on several occasions for his writing.

"For those who needed freedom, like my great-grandfather, the USSR turned out to be hell ... inside the country, the entire population did not feel the strength and power of the country, they all felt themselves to be slaves of the state and acted according to the schedule and according to complex laws where self-fulfillment is impossible," Ivanov explained.

This sentiment was echoed by Karen Woods, a co-founder of the Canadian Chinese Political Affairs Committee, who denounced the Soviet Union for its role in the 20th century.

"The USSR was a one-party police state ruled by the Communist Party. It had made billions of lives miserable. The USSR exported the toxic ideology of socialism to all corners of the world. In the former Soviet union, People experienced poverty, limited movement and loss of freedom," Woods said.

Aside from its domestic policies, throughout its existence the Soviet Union was a major player on the world stage, playing a role in many historical events. While most would understandably concentrate on its relations with Europe and the United States, other countries, including those newly independent ones who emerged in the flux of the post-WWII world, have their stories of dealing with the Soviet Union.

One such story was told Sputnik by a US citizen of Bangladeshi extraction, who wished to remain anonymous and shared their family's experience in the wake of the partition of British India in 1947, which resulted in the creation of independent India and Pakistan.

In 1970, Pakistan had a general election in which the Bengali nationalist party Awami League won a majority of seats in the country's parliament. However, the existing government refused to let the ethnic Bengali form a government and imprisoned the party's founder, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

"In the spring of 1971, the Pakistani government launched Operation Searchlight with the objective of killing individuals who might be able to lead a revolution. On the kill list were ethnic Bengali government officials, intellectuals, and so on. My paternal grandfather was a high level bureaucrat and was tipped off by a friend that he was on the kill list. He was also a good personal friend of the imprisoned politician that won in '70 and so he had a big target on him. So my paternal grandfather took himself, his wife, and six children into hiding for the remainder of the year," Sputnik's interlocutor said.

According to the family, the US government was aware of what was going on, as American diplomat Archer Blood cabled to Washington the infamous Blood Telegram where he mentioned the atrocities. However, neither then-President Richard Nixon nor his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger were concerned about those developments.

"In my father's telling, the American government was fed up with Pakistan's inability to crush the rebellion and had intended to send assistance to the Pakistani government. The Soviet Union then sent ships into the Bay of Bengal to prevent the United States from providing military assistance. I later heard that the United States had intended to send a ship, but the Soviet Union told the United States to f off. In any case, this allowed the Indian government to invade and end the genocide," they said, adding "I may exist today because of the USSR."