If you’re planning a trip to lift your limp, post-Christmas spirits, a spring tour across the former USSR could be one of the best choices you can make!
Even now, 30 years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall, the countries that have emerged from the aftermath of the Soviet Union have unique features and are far less travelled than other parts of Europe. In some ways, they are similar – they are bound together by the shared history and heritage of their time under communism. In other ways, however you couldn’t image a more diverse collection of countries. Spreading from close to the Scandinavian countries down to Romania and Hungary, while to the East it spread into Asia, sharing borders with countries as diverse as Japan and Turkey.
If you travel simply to one city, or tour across multiple countries you’ll find both startling modern attitudes and initiatives, as people are still trying to forge new identities in the wake of the break up of the Union, and rediscover the history blotted out by the monolithic project of the USSR, and relics of the recent past, as that same monolith tried to forge these diverse countries into a single, unified bloc.
Something you’ll want to look for as you travel are bus stops – that’s right, bus stops. The artist Zurab Tsereteli was commissioned to bring his monumental, artistic and sculptural sensibilities to roads across the USSR and inject some inspiring sights into the every day lives of workers. There’s quite some travelling to do to collect the full set, but as a motivation for a series of trips, it’s a good reason to book some holidays!
If that whets your appetite for the relics of the Soviet Era, you need to consider Stalin World (or Grutas Park) in Lithuania. Located near the town of Druskininkai, it’s the site of as many statues of Stalin the owners could gather. Homeless after the USSR was no more, a significant proportion have found their way to this woodland sculpture park, along with Lenin and other giants and ogres of the Soviet era.
It’s a strange place to visit, but a compelling one – the statuary itself is interesting as a history of how authority used art to legitimise itself, but people’s reactions to it are more interesting still. The terrors of the height of Stalinism are still in living memory for some, but here, children play and make fun of these figures and perhaps that is the best way to diffuse the unexploded bombs of the Soviet past.