The Soviets Still Had Technical Skill
It’s just hard to see where it all went. One of the features I think a lot of people associated with the Soviet Union is a vast reserve of technical skills. Backwards economic ideas aside, there were still impressive things coming out of the Soviet Union like Sputnik and phenomenal chess players and beautiful architecture. What really frustrates me, though, is the legacy of the Soviet Union that persists, such as passive attitudes towards accomplishing things (“the government should do that”) or the overabundance of vodka. That’s not really to my taste in alcohol.
Yet, other important features of the Soviet Union have nearly dissipated. The education system has crumbled, really. It’s not uncommon to hear older Azerbaijanis lamenting the loss of a thorough education, even if it was Soviet-style. And this also probably why most of the young people I talk to dream of going to England or the US to get an education. Aside from education, basic infrastructure is in poor repair as well. Even in a nice city like Lənkəran, we still lose electricity fairly often for no apparent reason. Just as an example of what they accomplished years ago, there is a place in Quba, along the river that runs through it, where engineers diverted the river for some tree crops farmers had put along the riverbank. Not only did they divert part of the river, they diverted it uphill. Sure, knowing a little physics can get us to that point, but actually using the power of the river to get water to flow uphill and then effectively irrigate a few hectares of crops is quite a feat, no?
Another example is actually the healthcare “system.” As an American, I can’t really fault another country for not having a true system in place. Yet, the amount of scientific medical knowledge is noticeably lacking around here. Even basic things like washing hands to rid them of germs seems a rather new concept. The brief AZERB.com article gave some insight into why that is, noting that “…in fact Azerbaijan’s health care system was one of the least effective in the Soviet republics, and it deteriorated further after independence.”
Lastly, concerning how the Soviets used their annexed countries, I’ve heard more than a few times that often the people of their satellite nations, like Azerbaijan, were used as the more menial labor for many projects, and efforts to educate them effectively in fields like engineering and scientific research were half-hearted at best. Even in the military, it’s been said that many of the Azerbaijani soldiers of the Red Army were not necessarily taught tactics and technical skills regarding military machinery, but instead were generally used as the cooks and other non-combat members. And anyone who overcame educational obstacles to succeed in these fields were probably shipped off to Moscow, anyway.