Meet Don Kozlents. This octogenarian medal of valor holder is one of the millions of Red Army veterans of WWII. Like so many others, most of his family perished at the hands of the Nazis. He fought in the Battle of Kursk, where he was wounded when he crawled out of a pit to reconnect the wires of his primitive radio. A shell hit him, shattering his arms. Ironically, the very faulty radio equipment that brought him out of his hole was the very thing that protected him from the shell’s fatal blow. To this day shrapnel from the shell float in his body. As Kozlents spreads his metals out on his kitchen table in his apartment in Rishon Letrzion in Israel, he tells Haaretz‘s Lily Galili, “I did good work as a soldier. I was there for Russia, but as a Jew for Russia.” After the war he continued this good work by developing drug patents for the Soviet state.
Indeed, Kozlents was a “Jew for Russia.” Like so many WWII vets, Kozlents’ identity is irreducible. Like his father, also a Red Army officer, Kozlents was and remains a Zionist. By the 1970s, he joined thousands of refusniks, Soviet Jews who wanted to immigrate to Israel but were denied. Success finally came when his son Mark managed to immigrate. The elder Kozlents followed shortly after thanks to a Canadian “kibbutznik” and the personal intervention Margaret Thatcher.
Also like his father, Kozlents was a die hard communist. And remains so to this day. “I worked in the plant from morning until evening,” he says as he shows Galili a certificate signed by Stalin thanking him for his pharmaceutical work. “We sent the drugs to Africa and Asia. I worked to achieve a better world. I wanted to change the world.” But even Kozlents’ Marxism is difficult to categorize. As Galili writes,
He remains a fervent communist, but over the years he has also become a loyal “Bibi-ist.” According to him, Benjamin Netanyahu is following in the path of Karl Marx, more or less, and if we fail to understand this, that’s our problem. Kozlents says he is a real Marxist, just as he is a real communist, a real Jew and a real Likudnik – he sees no contradiction among these elements.
A Marxist Likudnik? I shutter to think. But who am I to say who is and who isn’t a real Marxist. “In Russia, the communists weren’t real communists,” he explains to Galili, “certainly not the counterfeits of Lenin and certainly not Stalin. I’m a real communist. Marx wasn’t a Bolshevik.” He doesn’t waver in this view when the Haaertz reporter points out to him that Marx wasn’t a member of Likhud either. But her question of how the two–Marxism and Likudism–mesh goes over his head.
“Read this,” he says, pointing to one of the volumes of Das Kapital. “The rules written here are Marx’s economy. Bibi understands these rules. More or less.” A remark that Bibi is a capitalist does not sway him. “So was Marx,” he claims, without showing any confusion.
And so when you put it all together Kozlents is a symbol of two events being commemorated this week: the Soviet defeat of the Nazis and the 60th Anniversary of Israel’s independence. For him the two are in an eternal dialectical relationship. “Without our victory over the Nazis, there wouldn’t have been a state,” he proudly tells Galili. “Everything is connected.” Such is the happy life of a Red Army veteran, Zionist, and Marxist Likudnik. Happy Victory Day and Independence Day, Don.
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By Sean — 13 years ago
“At least under the Communists I wasn’t hungry.”
—Zoya Ivanova, 73, pensioner, protester, (Moscow Times, Jan. 25, 2005)
It has been a year of colored revolutions in the former Soviet Union, and many pundits and experts are speculating whether Russia might get its own. For the last two weeks pensioners have been protesting across Russia, from St. Petersburg in the northwest to Khabarovsk in the Far East. These are the largest protests in Russia since the coal miner strikes in 1998. Vladimir Putin’s uncontested dominance over Russian politics suddenly looks like it stands on shifting sands. The issue: a new law that went into effect January 1 that stripped pensioners, servicemen, WWII veterans, victims of Stalinist repression, Chernobyl victims, and the disabled of their in-kind benefits for cash payments. In-kind benefits of free public transportation, medicine, reduced rents, and other state subsidized services were a hold out from the Soviet system. The Putin Administration decided to celebrate the New Year by removing all of these benefits in exchange for an increased monthly cash payment of 200 rubles ($6). The result: the possible emergence of Russia’s Grey Revolution.
Even in the wake of Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” the protests caught everyone by surprise. After all, for the last few months experts routinely denied any such thing occurring in Russia. Putin had too much control, was too popular, and the Russian electorate was too passive. Moreover, as many Western pundits like to explain the Putin phenomenon, Russians are “naturally” tuned into the authoritarian personality. Its logic speaks to them in simple language. Despite the fact that Russia has experienced three revolutions in 100 years seems to escape most, though this is not to suggest the pensioner uprising will result in anything of the sort. Not even in the year that marks the 100th anniversary of the 1905 Revolution.
Not even the most opportunistic anti-Russia pundits have jumped on the opportunity to spit venom on the Putin regime like they did in the Yushchenko affair. No Western foundations are pouring funds into any “pensioner” or youth organizations. No Western campaign strategists have arrived to coordinate the pensioner campaign. Even William Safire has yet to write a column declaring that “democracy was on the march” in Russia.
Perhaps “democracy” isn’t on the march according to Western pundits because pensioners are doing exactly what their brethren in the U.S. should be doing: flooding the streets against the Bush Administration’s swindle of social security privatization. Yet, we Americans are the more democratic nation, while the Russians are perfectly comfortable living with what their government dishes out. But the silence from the American Right is understandable. The whole pensioners’ revolt probably has their pro-market and anti-Russia personalities waging their own subconscious civil war. But, they are not the only ones that seem dumbfounded. These protests seem abnormal even to well intentioned journalists, like Fred Weir. “What’s astonishing,” he wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, “is that this is the generation that grew up under Stalin. The idea that someone who fought on the Russian and Polish fronts during World War II would now confront the Russian police is remarkable. You expect the post-Soviet generation, like the students in the Ukraine, to behave this way. But this is the first time we’ve seen such widespread demonstrations in the Putin era, and I certainly didn’t expect to see pensioners to be leading it.” Apparently, such actions are unfathomable to the pre-Soviet generation, who were thoroughly atomized by Soviet totalitarianism.
Many instances during the Soviet period could be cited to the contrary, but I will only point to one. These protests are not so remarkable if you consider the historical phenomena of “babi bunty.” In 1930, civil war loomed over the Russian countryside. The violence of collectivization was met with peasant uprisings, rumors of apocalypse, bands of peasants slaughtering any Communist they could find, and something called “babi bunty”, or “women’s riots.” In many cases, special military detachments of the NKVD (the then secret police) were sent to quell the uprisings. According to Historian Lynne Viola, in an article published almost twenty years ago, “babi bunty” were when women “physically blocked the carrying away of requisitioned grain or the entrances to huts of peasants scheduled to be exiled as kulaks, and forcibly took back seed and livestock, and led assaults on officials.” “Babi bunty” were tactical masterpieces because they played on the regimes own prejudices toward peasants. Since these “riots” were led by women, Soviet officials viewed them as expressions of the “dark masses” and tended to let them run out of steam rather than crush them with violence. Peasant men, knowing they would be thoroughly crushed if they participated from the get go, could join the protests by claiming they were “protecting” their wives and daughters. So much for that totalitarian atomization.
One can’t help view the current protests of the elderly as a contemporary echo of the “babi bunty.” Pensioners around Russia have spontaneously blocked intersections in the towns of Penza, Vladimir, Samara among others. In the Moscow suburb of Khimki, they stopped commuter traffic on the Leningrad Highway for two hours. Russian TV news show images of old people chastising local politicians and crowd the entrances of government buildings only to be held back by walls of police. (Ironically, the police themselves also lost their transportation benefits at the start of the year.) Veterans in Petersburg greet the year of the 60th anniversary of the Soviet defeat of the Nazis with signs that read: “Putin is worse than Hitler!” and “No to Genocide!” For people who survived WWII and the 900 day blockade of Leningrad, not only can these actions punch holes in Putin omnipotence, it shows that they aren’t going to be deterred with idle threats or cheated with verbal promises.
To free market reformers, the monetization of benefits was a long time coming. The in-kind benefits were yet another moribund legacy of the former system. Monetization would give the government flexibility that marketization had longed for: cash payments, unlike their in-kind variant, can be streamlined, more closely monitored in the government books, and slowly whittled down. Nothing indicates this more than the fact that the Kremlin only allocated $6 billion to cover $18 billion in benefits. Moreover, the center has shifted the majority of the pension payment to its provinces. As the law went into effect, two-thirds of Russia’s provinces could not afford to make the cash payments. Some opted out of implementing the law altogether, citing a provision that allowed cash strapped provincial governments to do so.
The unpopularity of the monetization law was well known before January 1, yet the Putin government decided to strip all in-kind benefits in one fail swoop. Some 40 million Russians (out of a population of 144 million) were affected. In St. Petersburg, where 15,000 protested, one out of four residents are pensioners. Interestingly, Moscow residents are exempt from the law. Pensioners in the capital retain full in-kind benefits. Perhaps this “exemption” is the reason why the Putin government is still standing.
The outrage over the law goes beyond the fact that compensation does not cover the costs of lost benefits. For residents of Moscow’s environs, free public transportation allowed many to travel to the capital to earn extra money. The entrances to the Moscow Metro are frequently occupied by old women selling trinkets, fruits, vegetables, nuts, clothing, and prepared salads to earn a few extra rubles. Now with the costs of transportation added to their expenses, whatever is earned is quickly siphoned away. Cash payments only cover about 20 one-way trips a month. To make matters worse a Metro ticket in Moscow was increased from 10 to 13 rubles ($.50) and a bus ticket from 10 to 11 rubles ($.30) on the New Year. Not only has Putin alienated the pensioners, who were a large portion of his political support, the law also strips servicemen of free travel. Reports indicate that the rank and file have been grumbling increasing concern that the soldiers might join the elderly.
Protesting old women plus angry soldiers makes the specter of February 1917, not to mention Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution,” haunt Russian pundits’ analysis and predictions. The more outlandish experts predict (or perhaps hope for) Putin’s demise before his presidency ends in 2008. Others, especially those tied to the liberal Yabloko Party, hope that this will spur the creation of a much desired “civil society.” While still others issue idle threats such as that from Duma Deputy Andrei Isayev, who promised harsh punishment to “those who seek to carry the orange illness to Russia.”
Such threats have done nothing to deter the elderly and the forces that now support them. There have been reports of the elderly attacking bus and train conductors. An anti-Putin student group called Marching Without Putin (a play on the pro-Putin group Marching Together) has emerged in St. Petersburg to protest not only the abolition of benefits, but also the Chechen War and the government’s plan to eliminate student exemptions from military service. A dozen WWII veterans who participated in the Khimki protest are to be prosecuted. The Christian Science Monitor reports that some pensioners claim the police have used dogs and beat them.
Even Russia’s political opposition of Communists, Nationalists, and Liberals has decided to step into the fray, as they did after the protests took down the Tsar in February 1917. Unfortunately, Marx’s remark that history occurs the “first time as tragedy, the second time as farce” rings true in this situation. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation’s attempt to wrest control of the protests has only injected it with hyperbole that is usually reserved for Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Communist Party leader Gennadiy Zyuganov declared on radio station Echo Moskvy: “We demand that this government be sacked, it couldn’t cope with Beslan, it still hasn’t managed to cope with it, and now it has created a quiet social Beslan here, in a country in which citizens are dying by the million, now they are putting this plastic bag over the heads of all the veterans.” The Communists are also collecting support to hold a no confidence vote in the Duma. Not to be outdone, five members of the Motherland Party, who until now supported Putin, have declared a hunger strike. All the opposition parties, who ironically formed an anti-Putin coalition a few weeks ago, are vowing to stage a day of mass protest in February.
Putin has made the typical response: blame subordinates and make compromises to defuse the situation. After coming out of silence last week, he immediately blamed the provincial governments and his lower functionaries for not implementing the law correctly. He also declared an increase in payments from the measly $3.57 scheduled for April, to an equally measly $7.14 now to begin in March. Also pensions would be pegged to inflation two months earlier.
The Putin government has since bended further. Free transportation has been reinstated, though only for those pensioners on the federal list. Although this is a great victory, the central government has stated it will only finance 30% of the costs, once again leaving the provinces in yet another bind. The Kremlin also announced it will fund any pension short fall with oil receipts from the recently nationalized Yukos. The government has also backed away from plans to eliminate student exemptions from military service, fearing that students might join the pensioners. Finally, the Russian Minster of Finance, Aleksei Kudrin, has assured citizens that the benefit payments would be pegged above inflation and all disbursement mistakes would be solved by the end of the month. Regional governments in Liptesk and Omsk, for example, have paid the cash payments and reinstated the majority of benefits. Despite these concessions pensioners persist, knowing full well that what the Russian government says and what it does are always two different things.
Should we be even surprised that the Russian government has made some compromises? Not really. No, because even Stalin compromised. Most historians recognize Stalin’s March 1930 speech “Dizziness with Success” as a retreat from full throttle collectivization. Collectivization remained but not without some permanent compromises: peasants were allowed private plots, domestic livestock, and limited direct access to markets. Viola argues that “babi bunty” played an important role in forcing these compromises. Peasant women didn’t back down from Stalin, so there is no reason to think Russian pensioners would let Putin run roughshod over them. One therefore shouldn’t be surprised by pensioners’ willingness to take to the streets or success in gaining some victories. For all we know, some of these pensioners’ mothers could have been participants in “babi bunty” or maybe they grew up with the folklore that now surrounds them. If not, they survived WWII, and anyone who thinks these people are going to let the State push them around, let alone the Russian police, then you haven’t been to Russia.Post Views: 159
By Sean — 11 years ago
Here is an important announcement for researchers. Kommersant reports:
Russia’s Defense Ministry has declassified archive documents of Red Army and Navy for 1941 to 1945, RIA Novosti reported referring to Colonel Sergey Ilienkov, who heads the Archive Service at Defense Ministry.
The secrecy labels were removed from documents stored in Defense Ministry’s Central Archive in Podolsk, where over four million dossiers of the WW2 time, 250 pages each, were kept closed for public at large. The Central Naval Archive in Gatchina and Military Medical Archive in St. Petersburg, containing hundreds of thousand documents, were opened as well.
The work is underway to process archive documents and create an electronic database, the so-called Electronic Archive, by late February or early March. Once emerged, the Electronic Archive will make more precise the WW2 casualties of the Soviet Union, Ilienkov said.
According to the current data, the overall death toll of the Soviet Union in WW2 stands at 26.600 million, including 8.660 million as military casualties.
Electronic Archive! Oh how I dream of the day when Russian archives could be accessed on the net. The only archive I know of that is currently available in digital form is the Comintern. And who really cares about that?Post Views: 53
By Sean — 12 years ago
Obsession about the quality of Russian youth is not new. In a 1928 study on the daily life of Russian youth titled Life Out of Control (Zhizn’ bez kontroliia) sociologist and moralist V. Ketlinskaia wrote,
We want our youth to be strong, hard-working, optimistic, and energetic. It must have unsullied heads, masterful hands, a healthy body, and cheerful mood. And for this, the youth’s lives—both social and private—must be normal and healthy. It is known that family discord, casual sex, abortion, venereal and feminine (sic) diseases, “alimony issues” and other accompaniments to a an unorganized sexual life strongly destroys the health, rattles the nerves, and kills the good spirits and energy of youth. It is necessary to organize the sexual habits (byt) of youth so that they don’t destroy the strength of youth, but assist in the knowledge of health and physical strength of the young generation. (5-6)
In the 1920s hundreds of studies on youth sexuality, everyday life, health, work, living conditions, etc were conducted in factories, schools, the Komsomol, villages, and the military. For the Bolsheviks, the concern was centered on the debilitating influence of the “bourgeois culture” of the New Economic Policy on worker and peasant youth, as well as how this would affect the politics and culture of the Komsomol and ultimately the future of socialism in Russia. Making “youth” the object of social inquiry and moral regulation continued throughout the Soviet period.
The focus on sex, health, and psychology aside, (these tended to be grouped together in late 19th century and early 20th century studies on youth), the main point is about preventing the degeneration of youth. Degeneration was a constant obsession in all Western countries at the time, and if current reporting on youth is any indication, “degeneration” remains a social and political concern even though it is crouched in different terminology.
In the end, what youth in general and Russian youth in particular are is grounded in the anxiety or hopes of adults. Their voices are often heard but rarely listened to, as their words are stuffed into a prefab narrative to justify or condemn.
Russia Profile has given three examples of how youth remains the fascination of Russia’s adult population: “Russia’s Youth: Myths and Reality”; “Why Are Young People Rehabilitating Stalin?”; and “Playing on Old Myths”. Though none of them are specifically concerned with sex, all three echo the general concern Ketlinskaia raised almost 80 years ago: What is today’s youth? And how will “what they are” effect not only the present, but the future of the nation?
What strikes me about these articles, and ironically many of the ones written in the Soviet Union, the United States and Europe at the turn of the last century, is how similar they are despite ideological and temporal difference. Youth is always the signifier for adult anxiety, whether it be their attitudes to sex, politics, history, economics, education, patriotism, and the nation. Often youth are categorized with negative terms—ignorance, flippant, na?ve, egotistic, apathetic—though adults at the same time want them to be the opposite of all these. Youth are passive political subjects that are easily manipulated. Youth rarely have agency of itself and for itself. When this agency is recognized, it is usually denounced as too radical, misguided, or idealist.
Take for example, the paragraph from Alexei Kiva “Why Are Young People Rehabilitating Stalin?”:
Watching these television series, [youth] see Stalin as a larger-than-life figure in whom evil and greatness are combined. The creators of both series have repeatedly said they were trying to emphasize Stalin’s crimes so, rather, the problem lies with the view of history among the young.
Mature, educated adults watching these series see Stalin as a monster as his whims seal the fate of the series’ main characters and the country descends into poverty and suffering. But young people are used to hearing about their country being rocked by crime, economic crises and suffering one defeat after another on the international stage. They see every day how people flaunt their ill-gotten wealth harming the country with their immoral acts and feeling no shame or fear of retribution.
Because they know little about the facts about life in the Stalin years, young people perceive even “glamorous” overtones in these programs. The average young viewer sees Stalin as a Shakespearean character of both great evil and great genius.
Putting aside Kiva’s point about Stalin, look at how youth are positioned versus adults. Youth are the ones who are manipulated by the “larger than life” images of Stalin. The problem is not with the cultural production, which is made by adults, but with “the view of history among the young.” “Mature, educated adults” however have the correct historical view because they see Stalin as a “monster.” Adults have some sort of inherent access to the light, while young people remain in darkness by virtue of their youth.
A much different picture is created when you actually listen to youth’s voices. Contrast the above with an excerpt from Dmitry Polikanov’s “Russia’s Youth: Myths and Reality”. His assessment, which is based on VTsIOM (the All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Research) opinion polls, paints a much more positive picture.
Young people are also proactive. They have a totally different view of the role of state in the economy and the social sphere in comparison with other age groups. It is clear that the new generation is drifting more toward a traditional liberal world and away from traditions of paternalism. Thirty-seven to 42 percent of respondents in this age group say that they can do without help from the state, which they believe should focus instead on providing basic equal opportunities for all.
In order to achieve success, many 18-to-24-year-old respondents are ready to jettison existing moral principles that officially upheld by the older generation (62 percent). This view is shared by only 50 percent of those from the older group (25-to-34-year olds), who belong partly to a Soviet code of morality.
Therefore, the younger generation is one made up of optimistic realists trying to find a balance between universal liberty (in income and morality) and conservatism for all (with regard to family values).
Polikanov finds that Russian youth’s idols are not Stalin, but rather predictably actors, rock stars, sports stars, and the rich. Politically they tend to be more socially liberal, while politically moderate. The far left and right are mostly marginal, and in terms of youth organizations, Nashi is viewed more positively than the National Bolsheviks mostly because the former is “perceived as offering help up the career ladder through involvement with actual groups in power and social networking.” With youths like these adults can sleep soundly.
Much of the ambivalence in what youth are is lost among the anxiety ridden articles about the rise of Russian nationalism or every protest staged by the National Bolsheviks or the Red Youth Vanguard. I’ve been partly guilty of this myself as I too am fascinated by political radicalism among youth. Youth radicalism must be placed in a context in order to evaluate its potency.
The question however, and this is something I am dealing with in my own academic work is how do we represent youth so they are representing themselves? One way is to stop thinking of them as passive political subjects that are more susceptible than adults to political or ideological manipulation. They are political agents in their own right. The history of the 20th century shows this as will certainly that of the 21st.Post Views: 77