The power of myth on envelope corners

Last year at this time, to commemorate the passing of 2009 and the coming of 2010, neweurasia looked into Central Asia’s future; this year, we’re looking into its past. neweurasia’s Schwartz opens the week with another batch of Soviet-era stamps, this time of famous myths from throughout the region.

Last year at this time, to commemorate the passing of 2009 and the coming of 2010, I published a collection of Soviet stamps that depicted some of the more sublime qualities of communist ideology. Well, to commemorate 2010’s passing, here’s another collection, this time depicting the mythological heritages of the various Turkic and Islamic SSR’s. I found them on a site full of beautiful Russian and Soviet stamps.

There’s been a huge debate about whether the Soviet nations policy was superficial or sincere. Those of us familiar with the discourse have heard a huge gambit of opinions, from the view that communism was Russian imperialism by other means, to the view that it was a very real tension between nationalism and communism, stoked by the Soviets’ sincere attempts to be a multicultural union, that brought about the latter’s collapse.

The truth is, of course, complex, and depends a lot on which particular era in Soviet history one is examining. These stamps come from the 1980s and 90s, when nationalism was most assuredly on the ascendant and the contradictions within Soviet ideology, and indeed, within the Soviet system itself, were proving to be catastrophically untenable. Hence, the stamps below represent the last expression of that now all-too-often misunderstood strain of Soviet idealism — the aspiration to be a nation of nations, the reaching for a larger sense of humanness.

In the end, as we all know, the Soviets’ dreams slipped from their grasp, which is why I find these stamps so interesting: stuck to the corners of envelopes, although their imagery may be archetypal, tapping into a deep, eternal current within the human psyche, they themselves physically embody the thin, easily disposable nature of Soviet ambitions.

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