The Legacy of Homo Sovieticus
Image by foundin_a_attic on Flickr

October marked 100 years after the Russian Revolution and the birth of the Soviet Union. Although this polity dissolved in 1991, its legacy has remained. From language to everyday practices and mentalities, traits of ‘Homo Sovieticus’ have survived throughout the Eurasian landmass and shape regional politics.


  • A photo project titled Lost Territories in Berlin captured the traces of the Soviet Union that can still be found throughout its immense space and in Warsaw Pact countries. Subsequently, the journal New Eastern Europe published a new issue on Homo Post-Sovieticus, in which it looks at Soviet legacies from Georgia and Poland to Uzbekistan.
  • On March 18, 2018, the next presidential elections take place in Russia. In advance, the country has blacklisted five U.S. media outlets such as CNN, Radio Liberty, and Voice of America, whose activities could be restricted. Also, a new law requires virtual private networks (VPNs) to block access to banned foreign content.
  • The centenary of the Russian Revolution received little attention in Russia. According to the Economist, this is because of fear that could stimulate contemporary revolutionary energies.


October 25 marked the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution that brought down Tsarist Russia and led to the creation of the Soviet Union. It emerged as an industrial and military powerhouse that dominated half the world and controlled much of the Eurasian landmass for seven decades. Vladimir Putin called its collapse in 1991 “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”. It seems that in the light of the coming elections, this anniversary has not received much focus, but the legacy of the Soviet Union merits attention. In the seventies, Alexander Zinoviev coined the term ‘Homo Sovieticus’ to describe inhabitants of this past nation. Many of its traits have an enduring legacy.

In the seventies, Alexander Zinoviev coined the term ‘Homo Sovieticus’ to describe inhabitants of this past nation. Many of its traits have an enduring legacy.

A first feature is the Russian language that remains the lingua franca throughout the region. From Armenia to Kyrgyzstan, Russian is what English is for Europe. A second feature is its impact on everyday practices like cuisine and healthy living. Throughout the region, Ukrainian borsch, Caucasian shish kebabs, Central Asian pilov, and Moldavian wines can be found. A third feature is a certain mentality that developed in response to life in the Soviet Union. Maxim Rust identifies characteristics like collectivism, subservience, opportunism, adaptability, lack of respect for the rule of law, a monistic worldview, and an instrumental approach to religion. Others that can be identified are toughness, self-sacrifice, cynicism towards politics, and an exploitive attitude towards nature. A fourth feature is the intermingling of ethnicities. As a result of Soviet policy, ethnic Russians make up large parts of the population from Latvia to Kazakhstan. Furthermore, intra-regional migration within Eastern Europe and Central Asia is the largest source of migration worldwide, as we argued before.

These features show that there is a strong cultural affinity throughout this region. Like the United States for western countries, Russia is the most powerful and advanced nation within this bloc. Of course, the legacy of the Soviet Union is negative for many people and there is a lot of protest against Russia’s influence on what it is called as ‘Near Abroad’. However, its influence is based on more than raw force and also derives from soft power. Russia often portrays itself and this region as a bridge between East and West, belonging neither to the Far East nor to the materialist West, an idea that was earlier expressed by authors such as Dostojevski. However, the borders of this cultural region are contested. The fault lines over Baltic airspace and conflict in Donbass and Nakorno-Kharabag attest to this.