In Russia, October 30 is the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions, and to commemorate the day I thought I would provide readers with some things that I’ve done on this blog and interviews from New Books in Russian and Eurasian Studies relating to political repression in Soviet Russia.
From the blog:
- The Kirov Law at 75
- Dissecting Kirov’s Murder
- Operational Order No. 00447
- The Day They Raided Memorial
- (Un)documenting Stalinism?
- Memorial Vindicated, Again
- Memorial’s “Winchesters” Returned
- Victims of Communism Remembered
- Stalin by the Numbers
From New Books in Russian and Eurasian Studies:
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By Sean — 12 years ago
A rather strange article appears in today’s Johnson’s Russia List #53 and I’m not sure why. It’s a piece by Alice Gomstyn called “Where the Cold War Still Rages” from the February 6, 2004 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Gomstyn revisits the “totalitarian”/”revisionist” debate that has structured Russian historical studies in the United States for the last 25 years. I mention the article here because some readers might be interested especially since totalitarianism has recently appeared on this blog in conjunction with Khrushchev’s speech.
As a member of the so-called “post-revisionist” generation, I lament the passing relevance of this debate in Russian historical studies. When reading over that work one gets the sense that ideas mattered. The polemics that fueled it made the scholarship people were producing exciting. I can’t say the same for now. I just don’t see the debates over modernity, periodization, the (in)applicability of Foucault, the linguistic turn, etc as having as much punch as the totalitarian/revisionist debate. The creation of schools like the so-called “Soviet subjectivity school” out of the work of really two scholars seems manufactured and forced, if not down right lame. As does claims about the emergence of a “neo-totalitarian” school. They just leave me limp.
The only light I see at the end of this tunnel of boredom is perhaps some of the interesting scholarship being done of nationality and ethnicity. But until we see whether that scholarship will make an impact on the field, I will have to sit around and lose myself in nostalgia for more political charged times.Post Views: 46
By Sean — 10 years ago
Today would have been the famed Soviet bard, actor, and conscious of a generation Vladimir Vysotsky’s 70th birthday. Vysotsky, who died in 1980 at the age of 42 from heart failure, perhaps proves once again that “its better to burn out, than to fade away.” True enough. Vysotsky’s great cultural impact in life and sudden death is the stuff icons are made of. Brilliant and moving, his passionate raspy voice made him a man fit for his time. It was also a time fit for the man.
Vysotsky’s 70th birthday is not going unnoticed in Russia. Monuments to the legendary actor, poet, and vocalist are being unveiled today in Samara, Voronezh and Dubna. The one in Samara is a 5 meter tall piece sculpted by Vysotsky’s close friend and well known artist Mikhail Shemyakin.
My love of Vysotsky’s music is only a few years old. My most memorable moment was last year in Israel. I was shopping at this flea market in Jaffa and stumbled upon a Russian immigrant selling records. Among his collection was a seven vinyl series of Vysotsky’s music called Na kontsertakh Vladimira Vysotskovo. He sold them to me for a dollar a record. The wax is in perfect condition. The sleeves are a bit worn, some have a few stains of god knows what, but not too bad. The records were published between 1987-1988 by Melodiia, the official Soviet record press, and are based on recordings Vysotsky did in the 1960s and 1970s. I figured that today is a good day to bust them out of my crate of records, blow the dust off of them, and give ’em a spin.Post Views: 61
By Sean — 11 years ago
Sixty-Six years ago tomorrow, Adolf Hitler put Operation Barbarossa into action. The Nazis invaded the Soviet Union with initial overwhelming success. What Stalin knew, when he did, and what he did about it continues to be hotly debated. Like most topics in Soviet history, scholars are in a struggle to wrestle the Soviet response to the Nazi invasion from the politics of the Cold War. But these issues are for the most part academic and have little bearing on societies wider remembrance of June 22, 1941.
The real weight of WWII on Russia’s consciousness is difficult to measure. Opinion pulls show that 64% of Russians lost relatives in the war. Millions and millions of Soviet citizens were mobilized in the war effort. If there ever was a historical example of total war, Soviet Russia is it. However, this generation is now dying. When I was working in the Riazan Party Archive, the reading room head told me how she was working on a multi-volume encyclopedia of the biographies of Riazantsy who died at the front. She would call these old veterans at home urging them to give their testimony. Often she would yell because most couldn’t hear her of simply didn’t understand why she was calling. It is estimated that over 400,000 Riazantsy went to the front. Less than half returned. The window for collecting these remembrances, she surmised, was quickly closing. She estimated that she had about 5 years before all veterans were dead. As it stands, the encyclopedia is around 12 volumes.
The threat of forgetting is what RIA Novosti political analyst Maxim Krans finds so disconcerting. Statistics show that the memory of June 22, 1941 is being forgotten by Russia’s younger generation.
Seven years ago, I helped to conduct a poll of senior high school students in four Russian cities with dismaying results. Only 34% of the respondents knew when the war began; 93% said American, British and French forces had aided the Red Army in the capture of Berlin; and 81% knew nothing about the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial.
The situation has probably gotten worse since then. Only 20% of students polled in Krasnoyarsk, a city in Eastern Siberia, could say anything about the events of June 22, 1941. A sample survey by the Public Opinion Foundation, an influential pollster, involving Russians aged from 18 to 35 yielded similar results. It looks like all these people are suffering from amnesia.
For him, this forgetting is one of the underlying roots of neo-Nazi revival in Russia. “According to the Public Opinion Foundation,” Krans writes, “15% of young people believe that Nazism as a system of views has some positive aspects. When asked what would have happened to the U.S.S.R. in the event of a German victory, 33% of university students in Moscow said the defeat would not have had any negative consequences. Over 10% said national living standards would have improved, and 5% virtually praised a hypothetical German victory.” These views are made all the more concrete when you consider that the human rights group SOVA recorded 32 murders and 245 persons injured at the hands of extremists in January-May 2007 alone. Legal deterrence is minor since most of these crimes continue to be prosecuted as hooliganism.
Sure the war continues to be a central theme for remembering and celebration on holidays. But it appears, if Krans statistics are correct, that the memories those holidays seeks to induce are being performed by rote or simply lack the emotional substance to make the trauma of the past an inescapable weight on the present. Could it be that the pageantry around the celebration of WWII in Russia really yet another Potemkin village?Post Views: 60