Those communists in Voronezh really, really like Stalin. Last month, the Voronezh KPRF put up billboards of Stalin to promote the dictator’s great achievements. The local government demanded that the billboards be removed citing laws on advertising.
But the KPRF is undeterred. Spurred on by the OSCE’s recent resolution equating Stalin with Hitler and the local ban of their Stalin billboards, the regional KPRF office has decided to create pocket Stalin calendars to protest “against the discrimination of their party.” So far 20,000 copies have been printed with plans to produce a total run of 100,000. The calendars won’t be sold, only distributed through Party cells. However, local KPRFers don’t discount a few ending up in local kiosks.
The protest against Stalin haters worldwide doesn’t stop with pocket calendars. In the coming months, Voronezh communists plan on staging an motorcade rally to support the vozhd‘s positive image. As for any possible repercussions, Andrei Poerantsev, a KPRF representative in the Voronezh city council, seems unconcerned. “It’s possible that the protest will alienate some voters who have been convinced by TV propaganda and think Iosif Stalin as first and foremost as an initiator of repression,” he told Kommersant. “But we remember him first and foremost as a powerful leader who has no rival in modern Russian history.”
The calendar’s contents will repeat the general look of the billboards. Inside, the calendar will honor only one holiday: December 21, “the birthday of the People’s Father” with the date embossed in a red star. As Komsomolskaya pravda notes, “Apparently, holidays like New Year’s Day, March 8 (International Women’s Day), and even May 9 (Victory Day) don’t have any real meaning to the calendars authors . . .”
Nope. It’s Comrade Stalin unfettered and undisturbed. Day after glorious day.
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By Sean — 9 years ago
Protests flared around the world last week in response to the global economic crisis. Last Thursday, a one day general strike of 2.5 million people brought France to a standstill. Wildcat strikes hit Britain as workers at two nuclear power plants protested the use of foreign workers. An action of a few hundred Black Bloc anarchists in Geneva turned violent when police blocked them from entering the city’s center. Protesters responded with bottles, the police returned with clubs and tear gas, arresting 60. A column of Greek farmers consisting of 300 tractors, trucks, and other vehicles protesting the drop in commodity prices were met by riot police. One farmer tried to ram a police van as protesters chucked potatoes, tomatoes, and rocks at the cops. Clashes between farmers and police continued into this week as more of the farmers pour into the port of Piraeus. Protests in Iceland brought an interim Left-Green coalition to power which promises to implement measures to quell protests. Latvia saw a protest of 10,000 people turn into a riot against their government’s dealing with the economic crisis. Many of neoliberal miracles of the last decade–Estonia, Lativa, Ireland, Ukraine, and Iceland have hit the economic wall. Experts say that Ireland is the worst hit in the Eurozone. There a job is lost “every five minutes.”
Indeed protest is in the air. More importantly economics stands at the center. As the Guardian described last Thursday:
It’s a snapshot of a single day – yesterday – in a Europe sinking into the bleakest of times. But while the outlook may be dark in the big wealthy democracies of western Europe, it is in the young, poor, vulnerable states of central and eastern Europe that the trauma of crash, slump and meltdown looks graver.
Exactly 20 years ago, in serial revolutionary rejoicing, they ditched communism to put their faith in a capitalism now in crisis and by which they feel betrayed. The result has been the biggest protests across the former communist bloc since the days of people power.
Europe’s time of troubles is gathering depth and scale. Governments are trembling. Revolt is in the air.
And not just in Europe. There is an estimated 20 million Chinese migrant workers who’ve suddenly become unemployed, adding to the estimated 10 million jobs lost in December when manufactures shut their doors. The high levels of migrant unemployment are feared to make an already tenuous situation in the countryside worse. About 50 to 60 percent of rural families’ incomes come from remittances sent from migrant factory workers. Chinese officials are already contemplating a “softer line” to protesters by urging Party officials to address people face to face. And then there is the shoe throwing copycat in London who failed to plant his rubber sole on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s grill. Some experts are seriously wondering if China is on the brink of an enormous social explosion, if not revolution.
Then there is Russia. Russia joined the chorus of global protest as thousands rallied in several cities last weekend. Actions targeted the economic crisis, the government, car taxes and the murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anastatia Baburnova. Important issues for sure. Still these protests appeared no more stage managed than past ones. Many of the usual protagonists were center stage–Other Russia, National Bolsheviks, anarchists and others from the Russian “Opposition.” OMON played its usual part as dastardly antagonist, though one should recognize that this time its iron fist wore a velvet glove. The dance between OMON and dissenters went according to the usual script. The only additions were the unknown assailants who attacked a group of marchers in Moscow. Each side appeared to get what it wanted. OMON (i.e. the state) showed its ability to keep order. Other Russia affirmed its self-importance and secured its foreign press coverage. As one commentator said about the Moscow action: There were “more journalists than participants.”
Perhaps most interesting was Russia’s real political opposition joined the protests’ ranks. The Communist Party attracted large crowds in the provinces. In the Far East, the communists wedded the unpopular car tax with challenges to the “government of oligarchs'” promises to “make life better by 2020”. Maybe this is the first sign that the KPRF might actually become an opposition in content rather than only in form.
Popular discontent is growing in Russia. No one argues against this. Recent polls indicate a increasing drop in Medvedev’s and Putin’s popularity. The former is hovering around a 51 percent approval rating, while the latter commands a 65 percent majority. A Levada Center survey found that people are increasingly questioning whether the government has a plan to deal with the crisis. “Twenty-eight percent of respondents said their biggest grievance was that leaders “can’t deal with the economic problems in the country,” and 17 percent faulted the Kremlin for not having a “well-considered plan of action,” reported the NY Times.
Growing public discontent also fuels speculations that there is widening rift within the Kremlin elite, particularly between the President and Prime Minister. Is the supposed rift a sign of healthy and needed disagreement at the top? The beginning of the son moving to bury the father? Or is this simply wishful thinking fueled by general social uncertainty? If there is any rift at the top, I don’t think veiled criticism uttered by Medvedev against Putin will be the telltale sign. If any fissures emerge, they will begin just below the tandem as Russia’s political boyars use the situation to rally around one or the other to better jostle against their rivals.
Despite the growth in Russians’ public frustration with the authorities, one shouldn’t jump the gun and put their hopes before reality. Granted the police are concerned, particularly about the potential rise of “extremist” youth on the left and the right. But to call last weekend’s protests “rare” or a sign of the Kremlin’s rule looking “shakier” are more rooted in fantasy. The problem is not that protests are rare. One might say there are too many that are too often ineffective.
The reality is that while last week’s protests should be situated within the larger trend of global discontent, they nevertheless show the longstanding poverty of Russia’s self-proclaimed political Other. National Bolsheviks, Red Vanguard Youth, and Other Russia political celebrities will find little public support with slogans and flares. Clashes with provocateurs and skirmishes with neo-Nazis may give the taste of a Wiemar flavor, but it occupies a fringe on Russia’s political palate. The truth of the matter is that Russia’s wannabe revolutionaries are either incapable or unwilling to do any real organizing that weds politics and people’s lives. Instead, ephemeral calls for democracy and rights stand in for real political action.
Perhaps this points to poverty of liberalism itself. And here Russia isn’t alone. Opposition movements have completely purged the hunger for state power from their gut. A general strike of 2 million French a century ago would have brought the state down. If not, it would have certainly lasted for more than one day. Revolutionaries of yore wouldn’t have bothered calling for the resignation of politicians. They would have demanded the destruction of the state itself. Russia’s revolutionaries too, except for the hapless liberals, would have spent more of their energies burrowing within the working masses than wasting them on spectacles.
But what makes the Russian opposition so pathetic is that it rejects its own history. Revolutionaries of the late 19th and early 20th century–whether they were populist, socialist, or anarchist–faced more difficult challenges than the oppositional diletantes of today. They had no websites or youtubes to organzie and propagate with. The Tsarist regime was far more repressive. Funding was more scarce and cadres were smaller and even more vehemently fractuous. Yet, they were far more organized, purposeful, and diligent. And more importantly they endeavored to connect with people’s everyday lives.
But Russia’s liberals of today, let alone many of Europe’s former “socialists,” makeshift anarchists, unionists, and environmentalists, decry this past because of its association with Communism. Well, like it or not, the communists won and they did so not by calling for resignations, democratic elections, human rights, or freedom of speech. Their position was encapsulated in two words that today’s opposition are too incompetent to imagine or too timid to utter: state power.Post Views: 64
By Sean — 5 years ago
The trial and conviction of Pussy Riot has sparked a number of historical analogies. Never wanting for hyperbole, the Washington Post, among others in the West and Russia, argued that the trial echoed “Stalinism” (an analogy nicely rebutted by Mark Adomanis). The Pussy Riot case has also been likened to the 1964 trial of the Soviet poet Joseph Brodsky, not to mention harking back to the trials of Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel in 1965. But historical analogies did not end with the Soviet period. Another common refrain was that the accusations and trial of Pussy Riot reflected medieval Russia. This comparison wasn’t hard given that Artem Ranchenkov, one of the case investigators, cited Orthodox canonical rules of proper church dress from the 4th century Council of Laodicea and the 7th century Quinisext Council. Nor was it difficult to call the affair “medieval” since the trial proceedings were often more like an ecclesiastical than a civilian court. The coup de grace for which was when Yelena Pavlova, a lawyer representing nine of Pussy Riot’s “victims,” called feminism a “mortal sin.”
Another common historical analogy making the rounds were excerpts from Article 231 of the Imperial Russian Criminal Code of 1845, which stated that “improper loud cries, laughter, or any other noise or unseemly conduct that causes temptation, averts attention of worshipers from their duty to God” carried a fine of 50 kopeks to a ruble or detention from three to seven days. If the disturbance occurred during church service, the sentence was prison for a period of three weeks to three months. The irony here was that under the “well-ordered police state” of Nicholas I, Pussy Riot’s sentence would have been far lighter. Yet, others listed other possible laws applicable to Pussy Riot from the 1845 code. One blog post listed 24 satutes, Articles 182-205, concerning blasphemy, sacrilege, and other violations of faith. The sentences varied from corporal punishment, forced labor in factories and mines, jail time and exile to Siberia. The only problem is that blasphemy and sacrilege are not in the Russian Criminal Code of 2012. That is unless it’s disguised as “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
But the historical semblances didn’t stop with references to bygone eras or now defunct imperial codes. Some of the more interesting ones were those that placed Pussy Riot within a broader historical tradition of Russian minstrelsy, where hooliganism, art, and protest collided into a staple of Russian medieval culture.
Indeed, there were two references to Russian medieval minstrels, or skomorokhi, in the trial. When one of the prosecutors asked Stalnisalv Samutsevich, the father of Pussy Rioter Yekaterina, if he believed “it was acceptable to say ‘Holy shit’ in a church”, he compared his daughter’s act to that of the skomorokhi of the sixteenth century. Likewise, in her statement to the court, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said that Pussy Riot were in the tradition of the skomorokhi. “We are jesters, skomorokhi, maybe even, holy fools. We didn’t mean any harm.”
Skomorokhi were minstrel entertainers in Kievan and Muscovite Russia that performed for public and Tsar alike. They were wildly popular as they performed songs and folktales or acts of trained bears to the delight of onlookers. Despite their entertainment value, like Pussy Riot, they combined entertainment and mockery with unruliness. Unlike the balaclava-clad feminists, however, the lawlessness of the skomorokhi mostly involved theft and pillage. One famous story told of a band of minstrels distracting the peasants of Likovo with their performance, while their comrades were busy rounding up the villagers’ sheep. Other incidents told of skomorokhi ransacking barns, raiding animal pens, and making off with whatever they could grab. According to Russell Zguta, a historian of the minstrels, “The performing minstrels would frequently allude in song and proverb to the mischief their unseen comrades were engaged in, but no one was wiser until it was too late.”
Sometimes minstrel “hooliganism” was sanctioned, especially by Ivan IV, who was known to use them to mock and heap scorn upon his enemies. These acts were sometimes sacrilegious. One story told of Ivan having Archbishop Pimen of Novgorod placed on a white mare which paraded him around Moscow accompanied by a band of minstrels. In fact, Ivan Grozny was no mere observer. Sometimes he was a participant in the revelry. In the later part of his reign, he was known to put on a mask himself and dance and frolic with the skomorokhi.
As Ivan’s unleashing of the skomorokhi on the Archbishop suggests, the minstrels had few friends in the Orthodox Church. Church officials viewed the skomorokhi as disseminators of paganism, purveyors of “shameful performances” on street corners and marketplaces, and disruptors of church rituals. Weddings garnered many priests’ ire as the minstrels’ performance often overshadowed the religious sanctity of the nuptials. Sometimes confrontations between priests and skomorokhi descended in fisticuffs. In his biography, Ivan Neronov, a leader of the Orthodox Zealots of Piety, told of an incident in the mid-1640s where he attacked a group of minstrels, seized their instruments and smashed them. Angered, the skomorokhi severely beat clergyman in return. But the zealot was undaunted. As Zhuta reports:
Henceforth [Neronov] and some of his students patrolled the streets of the town during the major festival periods such as Koliada in order to discourage the skomorokhi from performing. But, says the author, students “received not a few wounds at the hands of the skomorokhi, those servants of the devil, and they bore these bodily wounds with joy as they returned to their homes, bloodied but alive.”
Avvakum too had confrontations with skomorokhi. When a band of minstrels with dancing bears arrived to his village of Lopatishch in 1648, he quickly set to drive them away. “I, a sinner, being zealous in the service of Christ,” he wrote, “drove them out and destroyed their masks and drums, one against many in the open field, and I took two great bears from them—one I killed but he later revived, the other I set free in the open field.”
Neronov’s patrols and Avvakum’s clash with the minstrels provide a whole new historical context for the recent call by Ivan Otrakovsky, head of Orthodox Christian movement Holy Rus, for Orthodox activists to form patrol squads to protect worshipers from the “enemies of faith.” “The time has come to remind all apostates and theomachists that it is our land and we forbid blasphemous, offensive actions and statements against the Orthodox religion and our people,” Otrakovsky wrote in his appeal to the faithful. A modern day Zealot of Piety, I’d say.
Though skomorokhi enjoyed the patronage of Tsars Ivan IV, Fedor I, and Mikhail Romanov, the latter’s son, Alexei, took stringent action against minstrelsy. Urged by his confessor and leader of the Zealots of Piety, Stefan Vonifatev, and pushed to reestablish public order in the wake mob violence in Moscow and revolts in Ustiug, Solvychegodsk, Yaroslavl, Tomsk, Novgorod and Pskov, Alexei issued “On the Righting of Morals and the Abolition of Superstition” in December 1648 against the skomorokhi. Aleksei was alarmed by the “drunkenness and devilish amusements” of the skomorokhi, which turned the people away the Orthodox faith and God and to the worship of the minstrels. The 1648 edict unleashed a wave of repression against minstrels, including the confiscation and destruction of their instruments, and penalties such as knouting and exile for performing skomorokhi entertainments, as well as prohibitions on a whole host of pagan rites, festivity, games, and practices. Even priests questioned confessors about their connection to the skomorokhi. They asked penitents: “Did you seek out the games of the skomorokhi? Did you seek out Satanic games, look upon these, or yourself take part in them?” If they answered yes, the penitent was required to recite, “I have sinned, I delighted in hearing the sound of gusli and the organon, of horns, and all manner of skomoroshestvo, of Satanic sayings, and for this I also paid them [that is, the minstrels].”
The skomorokhi hobbled along after 1648, but thanks to Alexei’s crackdown, they never regained their popularity, notoriety, or cultural significance. While the practices of the skomorokhi certainly continued in different forms, according to Zhuta, historical references to them died out after 1768.
But as the Pussy Riot affair shows, the memory of the skomorokhi lives on in Tolokonnikova’s “We are jesters, skomorokhi, maybe even, holy fools.” And perhaps thanks to her, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevitch’s “punk prayer” they will live again, in all their former anarchic glory.
All references come from:
Russell Zguta, Russian Minstrels: A History of the Skomorokhi, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978.Post Views: 108
By Sean — 12 years ago
Have you forgotten all of your Sovietese? Can’t remember what ???? (????????? ???????????????? ????????? ??????????, Kazakh Socialist Soviet Republic), ??? (??? ????? ?????????, without the right to correspondence, part of a prison sentence that really meant execution), or ??? (????????-??????????????? ????????, party-state control) stands for? Don’t fret dear post-Soviet citizen or bewildered non-Russian academic; a new book complied by Valery Mokiyenko and Tatyana Nikitina will save you.
That book, reviewed in the Moscow Times, is The Dictionary of the Workers Paradise (???????? ??????? ????? ????????). A title, according to the review’s author, Michele A. Berdy, is an awkward translation. You see, ???????? is itself a term of the bygone Soviet past which was short for C???? ????????? or “council of worker, peasant and Red Army deputies”. With long titles like these you can see why they were shorted by smashing roots together or just making them into acronyms. I come across these all the time with my research on the Komsomol. Even the Komsomol itself is a creation such a chain of words. Kom-so-mol breaks down into “kom”, or communist (????????????????), “so”, or league (????), and “mol”, or “youth” (????????). The full name of the Komsomol is really the All-Union Leninist Communist Youth League (?????????? ????????? ???????????????? ???? ????????), or ?????, another horrendous name reduced to a simple five letter acronym. One of the longest of such acronyms is the name for the first Soviet secret police, the Cheka (???): The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for the Struggle Against Counter-Revolution and Sabotage, or ????????????? ???????????? ???????? ?? ?????? ? ??????????????? ? ?????????.
According to the review, one of the most interesting aspects of the book is that it includes terms and acronyms that Soviet citizens created outside and even contrary to officialdom. Not only does this show how deeply Soviet language was subsumed into the nation consciousness, it also demonstrates how language was turned upside down in ironic and sometimes humorous fashion. As Berdy writes,
“The dictionary is filled with hilarious examples of anti-Soviet Sovietisms: ?????? (scarecrow) for any statue of a Party leader; ???????? (partymobile, or literally a “member carrier”) for a limousine that ferried around Party members; ?????? (“Vladdy”) the diminutive of Vladimir used to mean a statue of Lenin; ????????????? (to rip something off), in reference to communist expropriation, with some implied obscenity thrown in.”
But are these really “anti-Sovietisms”? I am inclined to say no. Poking fun or ridiculing the state or the state’s culture hardly constitutes as anti-soviet. If anything, they are emblematic of the range of possibilities created by Soviet language that don’t undermine their hegemonic status, in fact, I would said reinforce it, but nonetheless creates a space for different articulations. A world like ????????, while points to, and even mocks, the acute difference between a party member’s status and regular citizens, its articulation still reinforces that hierarchy. I doubt that Soviet citizens who spoke this word looked to rip the system any more than a Tsarist citizen with pornographic pictures depicting the Tsarina Alexandra with Rasputin, a post-Soviet citizen with a mocking picture of Putin, or for that matter, an American citizen who uses the word “Bushit” does.
The book also contains what I think is one of the most fascinating aspects of Soviet language: the naming of children after revolutionaries, soviet holidays, industrial motifs, and even institutions. Berdy notes that names like “?????? (Lenin spelled backwards), ??? (Era) and ?????????? (Engelsina) for women and ???????? (Electron), ???? (Ural), ??????? (New World) and ???????? (Electric) for men” were fashionable after the revolution. My research attests to this. I found an article in a Komsomol newspaper from 1924 that suggested that Komsomol members name their children similar names. The reasoning was that since Christianity had saint names to commemorate and reinforce its ideology, communist ideology also needed “red names.” Some appropriately communist names were ????????? (October), ????????? (Star), ??? (Communist Youth International), ??? (International Youth Day), ????? (Change), and ????? (Study).
At any rate, Dictionary of the Worker’s Paradise sounds not only like a valuable resource for people like me, but a reference to the awkward, and even wacky, side of Soviet everyday life.Post Views: 37