Today's Russia Fails to Live up to the Sky-High Hopes Buried With Time Capsules in 1967

Soviet workers laying down a time capsule into a factory floor's foundation, 1967 // Credit: Seryogin100, Wikicommons

1967 was a significant milestone for the Soviet Union: the 50th anniversary of the Great October Revolution (as it’s still known in Russia and ex-USSR countries) which changed the course of history on the entire planet. Thousands of streets, factories and military units across the largest country in the world were renamed to commemorate the jubilee.

Among other festivities from half a century ago was the burial of hundreds of time capsules across the entire USSR by students, labor collectives and other Soviet citizens, with instructions to open them exactly 50 years later, on the revolution’s centennial.

With much fanfare, many Russian and ex-Soviet cities and towns obliged.

On the day of the October Revolution’s centenary the city of Penza opened time capsules buried in 1967 and 1977 and containing messages to the descendants.

Turns out their contents are somewhat dispiriting for Russians living in 2017.

The messages from 1967 come across as rather naive, full of hopes and optimism. Their authors were convinced that by 2017, most diseases would be eradicated, wars would be a thing of the past and space-faring communists of the future would have long colonized the solar system. One message in a capsule unearthed in Murmansk in the north of Russia said:

Мы сделали лишь первый шаг в космос, а вы, наверное, будете летать на другие планеты. Вы раскроете много новых тайн природы, которые еще не известны нам, обуздаете ядерную энергию, подчините своей воле стихийные силы природы, переделаете климат, разведете в Заполярье сад… Помните же о нас, ваших предках, о тех, кто строил ваш город и чья жизнь была отдана борьбе за создание коммунизма..

We only made the first step in space, and you will probably be flying to other planets by now. You will have uncovered many mysteries of nature yet unknown to us, submit the elemental forces to your will, change the climate and transform the polar regions into a blooming garden… Remember us, your ancestors, those who laid the foundations of the city you are living in and who gave their lives for the advent of communism…

And another in Serov stated:

“We envy you, the young generation of communist tomorrow”: a school in the town of Serov opens a time capsule

Perhaps the most hopelessly futuristic is this message from 1967 Novosibirsk:

Мы верим, что вы превосходно оборудовали нашу прекрасную голубую планету Земля, освоили Луну и высадились на Марсе, что вы продолжаете штурм космоса, который начали люди первого пятидесятилетия, и ваши корабли давно уже бороздят Галактику.
Что вы ведете переговоры о научном и культурном сотрудничестве с представителями других, иноземных цивилизаций. Мы верим, что дело, которое начали 50 лет тому назад наши отцы и деды и которое продолжаем мы, вы доведете до победного конца. Счастья вам, дорогие товарищи потомки!»

We believe that you have taken great care of our beautiful blue planet Earth, colonized the Moon and landed on Mars, that you are carrying on with the brave exploration of space that the people of the first semicentenary had initiated, and that your spaceships are crisscrossing the galaxy.

We also believe that you are already negotiating terms of scientific and cultural cooperation with delegates from other, extraterrestrial civilizations. We believe that you will fight to finish victoriously what our fathers and grandfathers started 50 years ago and we have been carrying on since. Be happy, our dear descendants!

Not all messages were equally inspiring — some were rather lackluster and formal, informing the communists of the future in minute detail about the millions of eggs their poultry farm produced in 1967 or megawatts their power station generated. Some social media users were quick to ridicule the Soviet nostalgia:

Penzainform [a local news website in Penza] published the contents of a time capsule from ‘67 about milk yields and kilowatt-hours, am laughing at the comments below: “We lost such a great country”

Today I was at the ceremony of the opening of a capsule with a message to future generations, when they were reading out the melodramatic message, young people sniggered, one old man was weeping and I felt ashamed.

The sense of acute embarrassment over the betrayal of their grandparents’ hopes seems to dominate Russian social media. A couple of representative Twitter comments read:

I wish they hadn’t opened those time capsules. What a shame.

The same Komsomol [Communist Union of Youth] members who wrote these letters to future generations, they are now opening these capsules and reading their contents. What do you think, are they aware that it was them who f*cked everything up?

Which probably explains why some towns aren’t eager to open the capsules at all. A local newspaper in Shakhty in the south of Russia tweeted:

A message to future generations from Shakhty turned out to be unwanted by everyone: no one is planning to open the time capsule [POLL]

The article which the tweet links to says the paper’s reporters approached local authorities, but their requests to open the capsule were turned down. However, the poll conducted by the paper shows that the overwhelming majority of their readers (85 percent at the time of writing) support the opening of the capsule: “It’s our history.”

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