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Something to believe in

Bn 1989, the long established Soviet belief systems had been discredited, and many people were grasping for something to believe in. The old communist icons were still on display, but so were the icons of western decadence. There had been a resurgence of religious faith -- especially in the Russian Orthodox Church. And in front of the Kazan Cathedral, which had itself been converted into the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism under Stalin, a group chanted and danced Hari Krishna.

At the Kremlin in Moscow, soldiers still stood guard at Lenin's tomb, and patriotic citizens lined up to catch a glimpse of the embalmed body of the founding father of the Soviet Union -- though cynics snickered about the frantic efforts of the taxidermists to keep Lenin from turning to dust.

On a frieze along the pediment of the National Museum in Georgia, Stalin looked out over the city of Tbilisi, surrounded by patriotic laborers, with images of modern industry -- and Lenin, of course -- in the background.

A few blocks away, pious worshipers lit candles in a Georgian church. The fervent nationalism of the Georgians was palpable. They loved to claim that Georgia was the cradle of Western civilization and the joke was that some of their churches dated back to 300 BC.

Tbilisi is in fact a city with a long multicultural tradition. There were several old mosques in the center of town, a sizable Armenian community, and a long-established Jewish community. We stumbled into a synagogue during a wedding.

New sorts of idol worship were also evident at various stops around the country.

The games were a bit dated by US standards, but these kids didn't seem to mind.

Busts of Lenin were available in many sizes and price ranges but only one facial expression -- stern.

It was not uncommon to see a jarring clash of the two belief systems.

They served a sour, watery beer from small, desolate shops or even from roadside tanks, and for many Soviet citizens, it offered spiritual fortitude.

Consumerism was also clearly gaining a foothold as a belief system among young Russians. Here they peruse a shop window with a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt on the right, a Mickey and Minnie Mouse t-shirt on the left, and a Glasnost - Perestroika t-shirt in the middle.

In the Baltics and the Caucausus, popular movements to gain greater autonomy (or even independence) were gaining strength, and out of earshot of any potential eavesdropping by the KGB, most people could not hide their disgust with the system and the Communist Party. Here, Georgian nationalists are marching down the main street of Tbilisi. A couple of months earlier, Soviet army troops had cracked down on a nationalist demonstration, killing around 20 protesters.

The Soviet Union was officially godless; Marxism was supposed to replace religion, but in the republics, more people gravitated towards nationalism and anti-communism. The sign on the left says "Our goal - Lithuania without the occupier or the colonist". I have no idea what to make of the swastika in the background.

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