The Library of Congress has an interesting online exhibit of photographs taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944). Prokudin-Gorskii’s photos record Russian everyday life around the on the eve of World War I. His subjects include peasants, monestaries, Russia’s many nationalities, agriculture and factory work as well as other subjects that give us an visual impression of Russia before its implosion in 1917. What is more, the Library of Congress took Prokudin-Gorskii’s negatives and turned them into color prints. The colorful portrait on the right of Alim Khan (1880-1944), the Emir of Bukhara, and the serene photo of the Church of the Resurrection in Kostroma are just two examples of an extraordinary collection. Another online exhibit of his work featured at the ?echtl and Vose?ek Museum of Photography in the Czech Republic can be found here.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
The post election political lull appears to be over as Russia’s politicians gear up for Medvedev’s presidency. As everyone already knows, Medvedev is expected to nominate Putin as Prime Minister. No one expected any opposition to this, since denying Putin dominance over Russian politics is like preventing tidal wave from hitting the shore. But it seems that Zyuganov’s Communists will make a show of opposition. The KPRF threatens to oppose Putin’s nomination because they haven’t been invited into any discussion about the future cabinet or Putin’s candidacy. According to Zyuganov, any candidate for Prime Minister “has a duty to meet with all [Duma] factions and give his opinion on how he will carry out his administrative and economic duties and how he perceives the administrative system.” Deputies from the other Duma parties, however, don’t see what Zyuganov is griping about. Sure, there might be a custom for an aspiring PM to meet with Duma leaders, says LDPR deputy Igor Lebedev, but “I think that Vladimir Putin can’t be bothered with it.”
The Duma pasted the third reading of a law that places new restrictions on national referendums. According to the Moscow Times, the law abolishes referendums on the federal budget, taxation, treaties and presidential terms. The Communists’ 57 members walked out of the vote. KPRF deputy Alexandr Kulikov stated that the passing the bill meant “we’re asking people to shut up.” United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov touted the bill as as a effort to maintain political stability. “We don’t need any political forces promoting the idea of a referendum, playing on the destabilization of the political situation,” he told reporters.
Gryzlov’s days as United Russia head appeared to be numbered. Putin is expected to be named party leader at its congress on April 14.
Russia’s self-proclaimed oppositions are also making moves and giving ultimatums. Last weekend, oppositionists met at the “The New Agenda for Democratic Movement” conference in St. Petersburg to plot their next move. 200 delegates from 30 regions came together with the to hope of forming a broader united democratic opposition. Until now, Russia’s liberals–Yabloko and Union of Right Forces–have declined joining up with Garry Kasparov’s Other Russia coalition. But given that Yabloko and SPS are on the precipice of political irrelevancy, it seem they need all the friends they can get.
However wide the democratic movement may be, it certainly is in no position to make ultimatums. But that didn’t stop the conference from passing a resolution that informed the Kremlin that they are prepared for a “constructive dialog with the state” and to have “contact with the state” on a variety of questions, namely, “the dismantling of authoritarianism.” Then came the ultimatum to President-elect Medvedev. Their demands were:
A review during the first hundred days after inauguration of all political issues including the Khodorkovsky case, securing the rights of citizens to assemble and demonstrate, the revoking of media censorship, and most important to change the electoral laws and prepare to conduct a special parliamentary election.
Let’s see, the chances of any of these happening are about, well, zero. But you have to give them a gold star for persistence.
The fact that the “orange threat” has been declared over hasn’t stopped the FSB. On Tuesday, FSB director Patrushev accused foreign NGOs of aiding terrorists. “Emissaries of foreign terror and religious extremist organizations, exploiting socio-economic problems and ethnic and religious differences, are trying to conduct recruiting efforts,” Patrushev said. “Individual foreign nongovernmental organizations provide information support to them to a large extent.” No specific NGO was mentioned. Patrushev’s comments were made with the announcement that the number of NGOs operating in Russia has dropped from 600,000 in 2002 to 227,577 in 2007. Human rights activists are expected an additional 15,000 to 20,000 to collapse this year. It seems that Russia’s new NGO registration law is doing its job. 11,000 NGOs were denied registration and another 8,274 were closed by the courts.
Aida Edemariam notes that Antonia Shapovalova’s Nashi wear is part of a wider phenomenon of political panties.
Quibbles about the usefulness of a political statement generally hidden under outergarments notwithstanding, a bit of digging reveals that there is quite a precedent for this kind of thing. In the run-up to the 2004 US election, for example, an outfit called Axis of Eve organised what they called “Operation Depose and Expose”: gaggles of women flashing red, fuschia, black and lavender drawers at TV cameras. It was the slogans that were the point, however. “Weapon of Mass Seduction”, many of them read. “My Cherry for Kerry” and “Expose Bush”. This time round BarelyPolitical.com has got in on the act, selling skimpy red boy-shorts with “OBAMA” written in big white lettering across the back.
And just this February Agent Provocateur, not generally known for its serious political leanings, designed a pair of Guantánamo Bay orange knickers, accessorised with a tiny pair of handcuffs, some fetching black ribbon, and the slogan “Fair trial my arse” curling across the rear. Vivienne Westwood (whose son runs Agent Provocateur) sent some down the catwalk at London Fashion Week. Even Gordon Brown was presented with a pair. The effectiveness of pants in the fight for justice across the world is unrecorded. But cavilling seems churlish. After all, in a healthy – or aspiring – democracy, everyone must do their bit.
In this case, that “bit” includes wearing only a little bit.
Natalia Morar, who was banned from Russia as “a danger to the safety and security of Russia,” has lost her appeal in Russian court. The court gave no reason for denying her appeal to get the ban removed. According to her lawyer Yuri Kostanov, “I have no proof but I suspect the case has a political subtext,” he told reporters. “As far as I understand it, Morar has not done anything subversive. But her activity is journalism and she published a great many political articles, including about VIPs. I cannot exclude that namely these people applied some leverage, and this may be the root cause (for the decision). I cannot rule this out.” No, really, you think?
And finally, it seems that Putin could only contain himself for so long at the NATO-Russia Council last weekend. This is despite the fact that Western diplomats pleaded that he tone down his rhetoric. But apparently Putin could only contain himself for so long. According to reports, Putin “lost his temper” during discussion about Ukraine’s possible NATO entry. One diplomat told Kommersant that at one point Putin turned to Bush and said, “You do understand, George, that Ukraine is not even a state! Part of its territory is in Eastern Europe and considerable part was given to them by us!” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Putin ever made any such statement. Nevertheless, I’m sure that after hearing this, there are many Ukrainians who can’t run into NATO’s arms fast enough.Post Views: 220
By Sean — 12 years ago
Articles and commentary commemorating Khrushchev’s speech to the 20th Party Congress in 1956 continue. Today Anne Applebaum, the author of Gulag: A History, weighs in on the pages of the Washington Post. Unfortunately, her commentary is more about us than about the historical significance of Khrushchev.
I’ll do my best to refrain from ranting on Applebaum’s statement that the American military is in Iraq “trying to pick up the pieces after the collapse of another totalitarian regime.” Excuse me, but last I checked Saddam Hussein’s Iraq didn’t collapse. That state was smashed by the very military that is now “trying to pick up the pieces.” So let us not equate Iraq with the Soviet Union and the US military as some sort of altruistic totalitarian mop up force.
But I digress. . . One thing that you can count on with the commemorations of Khrushchev’s speech is a lot of historical re-evaluation of it in terms of the present. Applebaum suggests that Khrushchev’s speech was “the first step in what turned out to be a very long struggle to end totalitarianism in the Soviet Union.” Forget the fact that I disagree that the Soviet Union was ever totalitarian. I think that to say so is to ascribe too much perfection to an incredibly inefficient system. Authoritarian? Absolutely. Granted, Khrushchev was trying to reform the Soviet system of some serious problems inflicted upon it by Stalinism. And I’m willing to accept that denouncing Stalin opened up the possibility for reform. However, I refuse to believe that the speech had anything to do with being part of a very long struggle to end “totalitarianism” in the Soviet Union. Khrushchev was hardly anti-authoritarian. Just ask the Hungarians.
Nevertheless, Applebaum does make some interesting points. She is right to state, as so many others have, that Khrushchev’s denunciation wasn’t completely out of distaste for Stalinism, as it was to consolidate his own power:
Although it was an international sensation — no Soviet leader had spoken so frankly before — the speech didn’t exactly tell the whole truth. Khrushchev accused Stalin of many crimes, but deftly left out the ones in which he himself had been implicated. As William Taubman, author of Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, has documented, the Soviet leader had in fact collaborated enthusiastically with Stalinist terror, participating in the very mass arrests he condemned. Khrushchev’s speech was intended as much to consolidate his own power and intimidate his party opponents — all of whom had also collaborated enthusiastically — as it was to liberate his countrymen.
Applebaum also presents a lesson to all those “impatient” Americans who think that the blossoms of democracy can quickly flourish from the soil of authoritarianism. The “authoritarian impulse,” as she calls it, sometimes takes generations to shed.
Clearly there is a lesson here for those who would bring down totalitarian regimes, and it concerns timing: The death of a dictator or the toppling of his statues does not necessarily mean that a complete political transformation has occurred, or even that one will occur soon. On the contrary, it takes a very, very long time — more than a generation — for a political class to free itself of the authoritarian impulse. People do not easily give up the ideology that has brought them wealth and power. People do not quickly change the habits that they’ve incurred over a lifetime. Even people who want to reform their countries — and at some level Khrushchev did want to reform his country — can’t necessarily bring themselves to say or to do what is necessary. Certainly they find it difficult to carry out political reforms that might hasten their own retirement.
This isn’t to say dictatorships must last forever: Despite some of its current leadership’s repressive instincts, Russia itself has changed in fifty years, beyond recognition. But the transformation was often incremental, always uneven, and difficult for impatient Americans to understand or support. But then, all such transformations are difficult for impatient Americans to understand or support, and probably always will be. If history is anything to go by, we’ll have no choice but to try and do so anyway.
The Moscow Times provides more memories of Khrushchev’s speech and how Soviet citizens came to know it. An article in today’s edition focuses on the recollections of Khrushchev’s daughter, Rada Adzhubei.
Adzhubei and her fellow students in Moscow State University’s biology department had the speech read to them, she said, speaking Monday in her apartment near City Hall on Tverskaya Ulitsa, which she shares with her son and his family. It took between 1 1/2 and two hours to read, she recalled.
Like the delegates at the Party Congress, the students were given no opportunity to ask questions afterward.
“The person from the Party’s neighborhood committee took the booklet away, and we were left with our thoughts and opinions,” said Adzhubei, who is reserved when talking about the now distant past.
“Stalin was our God, tsar, hero and everything else. It wasn’t easy to debunk him.”
Yury Levada, who was editor of the scientific journal Nauka i zhizn at the time of the speech, remembered similarly:
The journal’s office, like the entire country, was abuzz with rumors that Khrushchev had attacked Stalin. In early March, the staff realized the rumors were true when they were shown the booklet of 20-odd pages, Levada said in an interview last week.
Levada was picked by his colleagues to read out the speech, and after he had finished, it was given back to Party officials, as happened everywhere else across the Soviet Union, he said. The booklet had a warning stamped on its cover, “Not for publication,” Levada said.
“I thought I’d never see an official copy being handed out. It was a surprise,” he said.
Khrushchev did not explain what caused Stalinism, or invite any discussion of the subject, Levada said. “Khrushchev made a strong effort to make sure that people didn’t ask too many questions and that faith in the Party wasn’t undermined,” he said.
Although rumors had prepared the journal’s staff for what was in the speech, they felt “a certain shock,” Levada said. Afterward, they wondered in private conversations why the Party had allowed Stalin to do what he did, he said.
Why did the Party allow the speech to be read and not published? After all, reading it does make it public. But printing it makes it permanent. The Bolsheviks put a certain value in texts; there was something dangerous about the existence and presence of subversive texts. Nothing said this more than the obsession over the existence of the Riutin Platform (1932). Take for example, S. V. Kosior’s speech to the December 1936 Central Committee Plenum:
Kosior: Take for instance, the decree and the [Riutin] platform. You know, no matter how much you try to prove it by saying that you were shown the platform and that you didn’t read it, no one will believe you.
Bukharin: I didn’t read it.
Kosior: That’s just talk. At the time the matter [of the Riutin Platform] came up, it was clear to all of us what was going on.
Bukharin: Comrade Kosior, I was not in Moscow at the time.
Kosior: Nothing is proven by that. This doesn’t prove that he didn’t read the platform. That’s no argument, either. Do you want us to believe now, after all that’s happened, do you want us to believe that Bukharin is such an honest devoted party worker, that he knows nothing?(J. Arch Getty, The Road to Terror, 317)
In my own research, I’ve found transcripts of Komsomol purge commissions questioning members about the presence of Trotsky’s New Course at “oppositionist” meetings. There were few questions about what members talked about. Questions focused only on whether the text was present, who was at the meeting, and if the defendant saw or read it.
Perhaps something was similar about Khrushchev’s speech. If there was no printed copy it was like it never existed. Khrushchev’s denunciation existed for as long as it took for it to be read aloud. After that it only existed in citizens’ memory and never in a form that could be read, reread, analyzed, discussed, or questioned.Post Views: 188
By Sean — 12 years ago
As I’m sure many known, Belarus holds presidential elections on March 19. Unfortunately time doesn’t allow me to provide extensive comments on the Lukashenka government’s crackdown on the opposition. I hope to write something on the role of youth in the election in the coming days. In the meantime, let me point readers to some places that are providing news and analysis.
Radio Free Europe has sent up a special section called Belarus Votes 2006 which has daily coverage. I also recommend the hour long panel discussion (Real Audio Windows Media) on the elections sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
I have only one quick observation about the reporting. I find it interesting, and frankly quite predictable, that the elections about being placed in a narrative of the Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. In fact, some are already giving the would-be “revolution” a name—the “Denim Revolution.” The drama is certainly building with all the physical attacks on the opposition. Let’s see how this narrative plays out in reality. To me this poses all sorts of questions about how “democratic” elections in the Former Soviet states are being framed in the West.Post Views: 216