So they turned off the hot water in my apartment. “They” are the mysterious maintenance people who run the five buildings of my apartment complex. Though I never seen “them”, “they” seem to have their base of operations in a building across from me. Anyway, every summer the hot water in Russian apartments are shut off for repairs. It can last from a few days to two weeks. It’s really the only time they can do this because of the winter. Hot water is centralized throughout Russian apartments, so unless you’ve installed a hot water heater, you’re pretty much showering cold. Not pleasant. Not pleasant at all.
The unpleasantries don’t stop there. The people who live above me must be either, a) drunks, b) crazy, or c) both. Natasha told me that they are drunks. But your run of the mill drunk does not constantly move furniture and bang on the floor. Normal drunks just drink. They may scream. But mostly they just drink. I don’t know what is going on up there, but the apartment must be in perpetual remont. In the several months I’ve been here, they must have rearranged the whole apartment 100 times. Sometimes this continues well into the early morning, like until 2 or 3 am. To make matters worse, they like to throw shit out the window. They other day I heard water splashing on the ground outside my window. Now water isn’t anything to complain about. My fear is that it wasn’t water from a faucet, if ya know what I mean.
Yesterday, I went with a few friends to Novodeviche Cemetery to look at all the old Communist graves. There are some important notables buried there, the most famous being Nikita Khrushchev. It also has the graves of the novelist and essayist Nikolai Gogol, the playwright Anton Chekov, long time Politburo and Stalin confidant Viacheslav Molotov, the famous Socialist Realist writer, Nikolai Ostrovskii, avant-garde poet Vladimir Mayakovskii, Bolshevik-feminist Alexandra Kollontai, Stalin’s wife (who committed suicide) Nadezhda Allilueva-Stalina, among other revolutionary and war heroes, academics and scientists, artists, composers, writers, directors, opera singers, actresses and actors. Even circus performers. That’s right circus performers. Just take a look at the photo of Vladimir Durov, the famous clown. His statue makes him into an image of a revolutionary hero. You wouldn’t even know he was a clown without the monkey on his shoulder and ruffle shirt. The grave stones for these people are truly out of this world. Some are just massive with fully statutes or busts of the dead. Others, like Khrushchev’s are works of abstract art. There is sometime to be said for how the Russians remember the dead, and especially how they remember the heroic. I can’t think of a cemetery in the states that honors intellectuals and academics to the extent that the Soviet Union did. The place is truly amazing. It would take two days to look at all the graves. It is one of my favorite tourist places in Moscow. (See below for pictures).
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By Sean — 11 years ago
I have this week’s edition of Novaya gazeta in front of me. The cover is all black with a center photo of Anna Politkovskaya. Above the photo it simply says “Anya.” There is a short editorial at the bottom of the page. It begins, “She was beautiful. She only became more beautiful with age. Do you know why? At first we receive our face from God unfinished, and then we make it ourselves. That is how we live. Still they say, in maturity the soul begins to appear on the face. Her soul was beautiful.”
Anna Politkovskaya’s murder has sent shockwaves not only across the Russian body politic, but the world. Almost every newspaper in Moscow had her murder as their cover story. Many of Russia’s state owned television channels heaped praise on Politkovskaya. They may have ignored her in life, but her tragic death couldn’t be so easily swept under the rug. Even NTV quickly reported the murder as political. Its evening Sunday talk show Voskresenyi vecher devoted a half an hour of its programming to discuss the murder, speculated on who committed it, and the threat it poses to the Russian press. Suggestions ranged from the Putin administration, nationalists and fascists, and Razman Kadyrov, the young Prime Minister of Chechnya and Putin proxy.
It is difficult to capture the Politkovskaya’s courage in words. She was a rare breed of journalist in Russia, who braved and eventually gave her own life to report on human rights violations in Chechnya and her native Russia. Internationally known, she has three books in English: A Small Corner in Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya (2003), A Dirty War (2004), and Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy (2005). The latter was not published in Russia because of its harsh criticism of the Putin’s rule. What separates her books from most journalistic accounts is not the acerbic words she uses to condemn those who don’t hesitate to stomp on humanity; it is the deep humanism that pervades her prose. While violence may dehumanize her subjects, often to a bloody pulp, she resurrects them to their full humanity. This is an art in any language let alone in Russian journalism where the cost for telling the truth has now become the lives of 42 journalists since 1992.
Details of her murder are brutal. On Saturday afternoon Politkovskaya was returning from Ramstore, a Moscow supermarket chain. She brought up two bags of groceries to her apartment and went down to fetch the remaining three bags. As she stepped out the elevator, the killer shot her four times. Twice in the heart. Once in the shoulder. Though the first two killed her instantly, the shooter let one final bullet into her head.
Her neighbors didn’t hear anything because the killer used an Izh pistol with a silencer. He dropped the pistol at the scene. The weapon had its serial number filed off. A neighbor discovered Politkovskaya’s body five minutes later at 4:15 pm. Needless to say, the murder was a professional hit.
The apartment building surveillance cameras captured the shooter but only from the back. It is being compared to video from the Ramstore cameras in hopes to getting his identity. The killer was a male, 180 cm tall in dark clothes. Police were able to compose a sketch from witnesses from a nearby pharmacy. There is talk that he was aided by a female.
There is no doubt that Politkovskaya’s work was the reason for her death. More than anyone she exposed Russian terror, either direct or by proxy, in Chechnya. She dared to speak when everyone else was silent. She was an opera singer among the tone deaf. Her bravery poured out of the last letters she wrote. The last article she published in Novaya gazeta was titled “Vindictive Collusion” (No. 74, 28 September) she wrote, according to Kommersant,
“Most of the followers of Kadyrov, Yamadaev and Kakiev are fighting on the side of the federal forces to avoid blood vengeance or to take vengeance,” she wrote. “Members of those divisions are involved in the same kidnappings and commit torture and murder. Their cruelty has long been comparable to the death squads’ of Russian officers in the special services, but their activities are more selective.” Specific cases of kidnapping, with the names of those she considered their perpetrators—fighters and heads of the law enforcement structures controlled by Ramzan Kadyrov, were given in the article.
It is this type of reporting that makes many think that Politkovskaya’s murder is connected to, if not was directly ordered by, Ramzan Kadyrov. The Chechen Prime Minister, of course, denied any connection to the murder stating, “Despite not always objective character of Anna Politkovskaya’s materials about Chechnya, I sincerely and humanly feel sorry for the journalist,” adding “to suppose [Chechen involvement] without any reason and serious proof means to argue at the level of rumors and gossips; it does not adorn neither the press nor politicians.” Kadyrov’s 30th birthday this past weekend was met with much fanfare. He opened the new Chechen airport, though it hasn’t been cleared for commercial travel. According to Novaya gazeta, he also used Chechen police paychecks to buy a $450,000 Ferrari. Many newspapers are also declaring that turning 30 has opened his path to the Chechen presidency.
Putin remained silent until the pressure for him to speak became too much. In a televised statement made today (some say three days too late), he promised that “all necessary efforts will be made for an objective investigation into the tragic death,” calling the murder “an unacceptable crime that cannot go unpunished.” Hopefully this statement is enough to stir the Russian police out of complacency.
Politkovskaya’s enemies were many. Kommersant and Izvestiia are now reporting there are three main theories to her murder. One is a conspiracy by opponents of Kadyrov and Putin. The idea is that Politkovskaya’s murder would undermine both Putin’s and Kadyrov’s authority. The conspiracy involves Boris Berezovsky as the mastermind. The second is that corrupt police officers from the Siberian city of Nizhnvartovsk had the journalist murdered because her investigation of their brutality in 2001 led to their imprisonment. Finally, there is the theory that influential Chechens, most likely connected to Kadyrov, had her killed in revenge from her reporting on Chechnya. Lesser theories include the involvement of fascists, nationalists, and others who have been angered by her muckraking reporting and polemical positions. Given the Russian propensity for conspiracy theories, I’m sure the Jews will surface as potential culprits at some point. As for real progress on the killing, the business daily reports that little headway has been made.
Anna Politkovskaya was buried today in Troekurovskoe Cemetery. Two thousand people attended. Her reporting angered many but that’s what good journalism is supposed to do. Many loved her and her work despite her detractors. Hundreds of people have left flowers at her Moscow apartment. Others are demanding that the Russian government make the case a priority. Her newspaper, Novaya gazeta has offered a $1 million reward for information leading to the killer’s capture.
In her final interview with Radio Svobodna on September 28, Politkovskaya had one wish: “Personally I only have one dream for Kadyrov’s birthday: I dream of him someday sitting in the dock, in a trial that meets the strictest legal standards, with all of his crimes listed and investigated.”
If that day ever comes, it will because of all the work she did. Rest well, Anya.Post Views: 188
By Sean — 10 years ago
Smoke on the fuckin’ water. If you think soon to be Russian prez Dmitiri Medvedev is a square, think again. Forget the Russian pretension for opera and ballet. Dima is a metalist, a head bangin’, shout at the devil, Rock afficionado.
One of Medvedev’s dreams came true. Last week, Deep Purple, one of his favorites, rocked a Gazprom party to celebrate his vacating the chairman seat. Even better is that Ian Gillian, Purple’s lead vocalist, gave an account of the gig in the London Times.
I don’t know if playing a Gazprom party really classifies as a “tennis and bar mitzvah gig.” The Russian elite spares no expense in showcasing their wealth. As Gillian describes,
Security was high but being checked by the guards was a lot less dehumanising than going through most commercial airports. The hospitality was fantastic. They provided my normal two boiled eggs, slices of toast, beers and whisky – and I have to say my eggs were cooked to perfection.
To be sure this was a far different scene than when Deep Purple played in the Soviet Union. Purple were icons behind the iron curtain. Their records were copied using the plates of x-ray machines or recorded on tape, sold in Russia’s urban centers or traded through the mail. The use of x-ray machines to copy records, or “rock on bones” (rok na kostiakh) dates back to the 1950s, when Soviet music fans used their connections to burn jazz, rock, samba, tango, and spirituals, on plastic x-ray plates. As Artemii Troitsky described the method,
These were actual x-ray plates–chest cavities, spinal cords, broken bones–rounded at the edges with scissors, with a small hole in the center and grooves that were barely visible on the surface. Such an extravagant choice of raw material for these ‘flexidiscs’ is really explained: x-ray plates were the cheapest and most readily available source of necessary plastic.
Who knows if any of this “necessary plastic” donning the tunes of Deep Purple still exist as commodities, but if they do, I wouldn’t be surprised if Medvedev has one.
Rock was the shit among Soviet youth in the 1970s and 1980s. As Alexei Yurchak describes in his excellent Everything was Forever, Until it was No More, Komsomol leaders used their connections and access to resources to put on gigs of their aspiring rocker friends. But the real point of ecstasy was when their favorites toured the Soviet Union. As Gillian recalls
We would play a stadium for a week and whole villages would turn up with their chickens and goats and make campfires. They wouldn’t know why they were there but there was an event going on and they wanted to be part of it. And when we played they went mental.
The Gazprom gig lacked the going mental part but it wasn’t as “straight” as some other corporate gigs played by the Purple. Young Russian suits got a bit loose though guarded as they looked “nervously over at their bosses to see whether they could loosen their ties. It was as if they were asking, “How much fun are we allowed to have?”
After their set, which was followed by Tina Turner, Gillian and his crew met with Medvedev and Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller in back room for drinks. According to Gillian, “When we met Medvedev he had this stupid grin on his face because he was meeting his favorite band.”
Putin was also there. But rock ain’t his thing. Gillian did notice him dancing with his tie loose during the opening act, which included a opera singer and a dance troupe.
Not Dima though. The devil got his due that night. I only wonder who will play the inaugural party. The Prince of Darkness, anyone?
Photo: ReutersPost Views: 155
By Sean — 12 years ago
The 50th Anniversary of Khrushchev’s speech has passed but not unnoticed. There was lots of commentary over the week in English and Russia media. Below you’ll find links to English and Russian language articles that have been published in the last few days. The list is far from complete. I won’t provide any detailed commentary on them.
Khrushchev’s Secret Speech & End Of Communism
1956: Khrushchev Lashes Out At Stalin
Khrushchev: The Man Who Stood Up To Stalinism
Russia Turns Its Back On The Man Who Denounced Stalin
Stalin Nostalgia Growing in Russia
1959: Macmillan And Khrushchev Talk Peace
‘The First Nail In The Coffin Of Communism’
The Speech Russia Wants To Forget
Instead I would like to concentrate on a recent poll by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Social Opinion (VTsIOM) on “Repression, the Repressed and ‘the Strong Hand’” released this week in conjunction with the anniversary of de-Stalinization. An analysis of the poll can be found here. Such polls are common in Post-Soviet Russia. Many people see them as a gauge to the Russian population’s “transition” to democracy. In fact, I was at a conference on Stalin at USC last week and one presenter used statistics from VTsIOM as evidence of Stalin’s “reemergence” in Russia. I personally don’t put much stock in these polls as a representation of how Russian’s view Stalin. Instead I see them as interesting indicators to how Russians remember and understand Stalin’s Terror. Here are some of the polls statistics.
Who in your opinion carries the primary responsibility for mass repression in the country after the Revolution up to the 20th Party Congress? (in percent)
Leaders of the NKVD –Iagoda, Ezhov, Beria.
The upper Party leadership – Khrushchev, Malenkov, Molotov, Kaganovich, and others.
In the conditions of enemy encirclement and the threat of war, repression was inevitable.
Difficult to answer.
What is interesting about these answers is not that 41% named Stalin. It is that fact that 59% said that it something else besides Stalin was responsible for mass repression? Now, does this mean that Russians are more favorable to Stalin? I would say no. What it tells me is that given a set of explanations, many Russians understand mass repression as a phenomenon conducted by individuals. This is perhaps because of the canonizing effect of Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror, which was very popularity when it was translated into Russian in the 1990s. Conquest portrays the Terror as part of a master plan executed flawlessly by Stalin.
What is conspicuously missing in the list of answers are the Russian people themselves. There is no space for collective responsibility. This could be simply explained by the fact that the questionnaire did not provide an answer for some sort of collective responsibility. This in and of itself is suggestive of how such polls construct the memory of such events. They reduce a potentially diverse set of viewpoints into a few. They create a narrative for how events are represented and remembered. It however makes one wonder whether Russians see any collective responsibility at all for the horrors of the Soviet regime. My guess is that there continues to be little sense of this, and as a result a failure to come to terms with living and participating in an authoritarian society.
The lack of recognition of a collective responsibility about mass repression in Russia has always stuck me. After all, the term “mass repression” is not only one that denotes scope; it also suggests a process that goes beyond one man or a group of leaders. Essentially, this survey hides the fact that thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of rank and file Party members, secretaries, local leaders, and regular people participated in the execution of this “mass repression.” Without them, I doubt it could ever have become mass. Take for example, this denunciation written by a student of the Leningrad Technical Institute and Komsomol member in 1936 to the editor of Pravda, Lev Mekhlis about one N. V. Kitaev:
How can a parasite WHO ALWAYS SOBS WHEN HE HEARS LENIN’S NAME AND GROANS WHEN HE HEARS STALIN’S (those are not just words, comrade Mekhlis, but the appalling truth), how can such a person be allowed to remain within the walls of the institute, how can we, comrade Mekhlis, shelter such a snake in our bosom?
The letter went on to state how the denunciation of Kitaev was not out of personal malice toward him.
No comrade Mekhlis, it’s much worse—for four years, until February 1935, we venerated him as a “real party man,” politically highly developed, an activist, someone who always spoke up at every meeting and assembly, who could quote Lenin and Stalin and in our (Komsomol members’) eyes was the INCARNATION OF PARTY CONSCIENCE, ethics, and PARTY SPIRIT.
Since Kirov’s murder, [Kitaev] arouses an animal fear in me, an organic disgust. Just as I previously venerated him and respected him, now I fear him and expect him to do something terribly evil, some irreparable harm to the whole country. If you could have seen the unfeigned joy we all felt . . . when we learned of his expulsion [later revoked] from the Institute after the execution of Zinoviev and Kamenev . . . It is impossible and criminal to allow him to finish his studies at the Institute, because comrade Mekhlis even THE CAMPS OF THE NKVD WILL NOT REFORM HIM . . . I am terribly sorry now that he was not sitting next to his hero Zinoviev and Kamenev [in the court that ordered their execution.](cited in Shelia Fitzpatrick, Tear Off the Masks, 213.)
The fate of Kitaev is unclear. What is clear is that many more similar denunciations can be found in the archives as well as incidents where people participated in the public denunciation of others in local show trials.
None of this would be found in the survey. It only recreates the idea that history is the work of great individuals rather than the multitude of actions carried out by regular people.
The memory of the “mass repression” is inscribed in other parts of the survey. Here it is the memory of victims rather than perpetrators is formed.
Were any of your relatives repressed in the 1930s and 1940s? (in percent)
Of all Respondents
60 and older
Yes, I know much about their fate from stories of close relatives and family archives (letters, photos, etc)
I know that my relatives were repressed but the details aren’t known to me.
None of my relatives were repressed.
I don’t know if any of my relatives were repressed or not.
Difficult to answer.
According to the survey one in four respondents were “repressed.” But what does repressed mean? Does it mean execution, arrest and imprisonment, deportation, or dispossession? Or does it also include much more? Does this include all soldiers imprisoned after the war? War collaborators? It is difficult to say because the survey doesn’t give a definition. This says to me that there is a question as to what repression means, and how it is defined and remembered by the respondent. I think that what exactly “repression” means is an important question because the trend has been to think that everyone imprisoned under Stalin was “repressed.”
It would be difficult to verify if the 25 percent figure in the survey is correct. The difficultly is not simply that “repressed” is not defined, neither is “relative.” Does this mean close relative—mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, etc? Or does it mean great uncle, cousin, third cousin etc? On this, the survey is potentially misleading in demonstrating the scope of repression among the population because when reading the one in four statistic, one assumes that one in four soviet citizens in the 1930s and 1940s were “repressed.”
Thanks to the opening of the archives, we now have a better sense of the numbers of executions, Gulag inmates, arrests, etc. Some of them are considered accurate; others are based on estimates when set against demographic materials. Some of the numbers are for specific periods, like 1936-1937, or for the whole Stalin period 1930-1953. Some include NKVD victims, other numbers include famine, and still others even include war deaths. The point is how you frame the figures, what you include in the count, and what you don’t. Most importantly when evaluating numbers on the victims of Stalin, what you mean by “repression” and what you think Stalin is responsible for is of utmost importance.
Here part of what we now know. And I should first preface this by stating that all of these figures are from scholarly studies, most of which are based on archival documents. But as many scholars freely admit, the numbers from archival documents and census data also contain inaccuracies. All in all, they act more as a guide than a way to posit completely accurate figures. The population of the Soviet Union in 1937 was 162 million. In 1939 was 167.3 million. Population growth was estimated to be around an average of 3 million per annum.
1921-1953 total arrests
1938 camp population
1938 prison and camp population
1952 camp population
1937-38 camp deaths
Source: J. Arch Getty, Gabor T. Rittersporn and Viktor N. Zemskov, “Vitcims of the Soviet Penal System in the Pre-War Years: A First Approach on the Basis of Archival Evidence,” American Historical Review, 98:4, 1993, 1022.
Grated these figures don’t give us a sense of the percentage of people repressed in the Stalin period in terms of overall population. Most the above figures are for a narrow period of time that coincides with the Great Purge, 1937-1938. These also don’t include deportations of ethnic groups or kulaks (razkulachivanie). There are estimate figures for these too, but I will only state one since it coincides with not only the anniversary, but also Russia’s Men’s Day holiday that was on February 23.
On February 23, 1944 the NKVD began the deportation of Chechens to Kazakhstan. I won’t go into the history of it because I am not an expert on this. But according to figures in the archives, 400,478 Chechens and Ingushes were recorded in special settlements (spetsposeleniia). This is not the number of those deported, only those who arrived. Some estimate that over 100,000 died in transit to Kazakhstan.
Suffice to say and attempt on producing numbers on the victims of Stalinism will remain only estimates. And like I mentioned above, it depends on what you mean by “repression” and to a certain extent “victim.” But complexity hasn’t stopped scholars from trying. But the more sophisticated scholars who are armed with minutia of demography tend to be inconclusive on total numbers, but have offered numbers in specific areas: executions, deportations, sentences, Gulag populations etc more as a way to disprove previously offered guesstimates that were often steeped in Cold War ideology and misconceptions about how the Soviet Union functioned. As one can imagine the battle over figures has caused fierce academic debates. Even though most scholars agree that we have a much better picture of the scope of repression, the ability to come up with a best estimate on the total of victims under Stalin continues to be marred in politics, definition, inaccurate data, not to mention academic nit-picking over tables, calculations, and figures.
Personally, I don’t have much of an intellectual interest in numbers. I can’t comprehend the mass slaughter of a 100 people let alone millions. Plus at some point the humanity in all of it gets lost. The human gravity in the difference between one million and two million gets erased by the short abstract distance between one and two. After all, whether the estimate on the total number is 20 or 30 million, does 20 million make the Stalin period less repressive than 30 million? Or does 30 million make it more repressive than 20 million? Less or more inhuman? Hardly.Post Views: 305