In Moscow, Nostalgia For USSR

This New Year's Eve, a few well-off Muscovites will plunge back into the "good old" Soviet times, riding a wave of nostalgia for the Soviet Union 13 years after it collapsed.

Amid an array of New Year cabaret shows and contemporary rock concerts offered in today's Moscow, revelers will be able to spend a night "Back in the USSR" at a VIP party at a restaurant in one of the many shopping malls that have sprouted around Moscow.

For a hefty $500 per person, guests will be greeted by actors portraying Soviet leaders, eat black caviar, the sought-after delicacy of Soviet times, and be entertained by Soviet-era singers.

"We were aiming at people aged 35-40 and older, with already established jobs and incomes, who yearn for the time when they were young," said organizer Anna Osiptseva.

The party marking the New Year - still Russia's biggest holiday, after Soviet authorities promoted it as a secular substitute for Christmas - is one of the ample signs of nostalgia for the trappings of Soviet times.

Other heralds of the trend are T-shirts displaying the acronym USSR and revived Soviet brand names for various consumer goods -"That Very Tea," "Friendship" processed cheese, and cakes and cookies made by the "Bolshevik" factory.

"My daughter is 13 years old, so she grew up when the USSR was no longer there," said Diana Vainberg, a 36-year-old journalist. "But she tells me that the Soviet Union is in fashion these days." She said the girl collects Soviet pins of heroes such as Yuri Gagarin, the first man to orbit the Earth.

For most, it's not the actual Soviet dictatorship they miss, with its chronic shortages, shoddy goods and curbs on free speech, but their own youth and what they perceive as a simpler age before capitalism and its attendant challenges and inequalities took over.

Svetlana Ponochevnaya, a 50-year-old Moscow doctor, together with six friends, has bought tickets for the "Back in USSR" party and said she looked forward to hearing retro music and feeling the old atmosphere.

"I wouldn't say that it is the Soviet Union that I miss, but rather the happy years when I was young," she said.

At home, TV viewers are tuning in to a plethora of new soap operas set in Soviet times.

One, "Black Raven," portrays the serpentine fates of two Tatyanas - one the daughter of a prominent scientist, the other an orphan. The production is set mostly in the 1970s and scrupulously details the period minutiae - from mass-produced, bulky furniture to high-platform shoes and bell-bottom jeans to addressing one another as "comrade."

Retro motifs appear in some Moscow clubs that cater to those nostalgic for the Spartan meeting places of their Soviet youth, with cheap beer and humble interiors.

"Zhiguli," a restaurant and club in the center of Moscow, stands on the site of a popular 1980s beer joint. The Zhiguli, a boxy Soviet-made knockoff of the Fiat, was the only car most Soviet citizens could aspire to own.

Hanging at the door is a massive photograph of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev drinking beer with his fellow party members, and the background music is decades old.

"Believe it or not, this place is in fashion today, it's what they call a 'cool place,"' said manager Maxim Popov, adding that Zhiguli is often frequented by people in their 20s and younger. "You should see them dancing to the songs their parents were fans of."

By Maria Danilova