From a long, fascinating, video-clip-filled post about youth culture in the final decades of the USSR, this bit:
Sir Rodric Braithwaite, who used to be Britain’s ambassador to Moscow, has written a wonderful book called Afgantsy. It tells the story of the Soviet invasion through the eyes of those who took part, and that includes the thousands of aid workers and civilian advisers that also went in. Their aim was to try and build ‘socialism’ in Afghanistan, just as thousands of westerners would later try and build ‘democracy’.
Braithwaite quotes a Soviet youth adviser called Vladimir Snegirev who went to Afghanistan. In March 1982 he describes watching the Afghan New Year celebrations in the Kabul Stadium, and how they express the dream of creating a new world.
“There is a striking contrast which is only possible here: many of the women on the terraces conceal their faces under the chador – a primitive, medieval superstition; but parachutists are landing in the stadium and they are women too, who grew up in this country. The chador and the parachute. You don’t have to be a prophet to foretell the victory of the parachute”
For Snegirev it was the ageing and corrupt Soviet leadership under Brezhnev that was the problem. He later wrote of the optimistic vision that Afghanistan seemed to offer:
“Were it not for our sclerotic leadership, people like Brezhnev, everything would work out differently. That’s what I thought, that’s what many people my age thought. When we arrived in Afghanistan we began to do what we had prepared ourselves to do for the whole of our previous lives.
In Afghanistan it was as if time had gone backwards, but now a power had arisen in this land which wanted to drag the people out of their superstition, to give children the chance to go to school, women the opportunity to see the world directly, instead of through the eye slits of the chador. Was that not a revolution? The battle of the future against a past already condemned?”
Adam Curtis, the post’s author, then posts a clip from a Soviet-era documentary showing liberated Afghan women in the Kabul Stadium celebrating the liberation brought to them by Soviet socialist invaders. He then posts a 2002 film clip from the very same stadium, showing Afghan women celebrating all that American democratic invaders have done for them to change their culture.
Read the whole thing. I think the comparison between the Brezhnev and post-Brezhnev USSR, and contemporary America, is facile and seriously overdone, but not entirely without merit. The Afghanistan section is worth thinking about every time you hear Mitt Romney or one of his confreres open their mouths about foreign policy and America’s mission civilisatrice.