Jon Platt is an assistant professor in the Slavic Languages and Literature Department at the University of Pittsburgh where he specializes in Pushkin, literary theory, Soviet culture, and Russian contemporary art and poetry. He recently published Greetings, Pushkin!: Stalinist Cultural Politics and the Russian National Bard (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016).
Sebadoh, “Rebound,” 4 Song CD, 1994.
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By Sean — 3 years ago
Pavel Baev, a senior researcher at the International Peace Research Institute Oslo. He writes about contemporary Russia for the Eurasian Daily Monitor. His most recent article is Putin’s Disappearing Act May Be Sign of a Leadership Crisis.
Pietro Shakarian, graduate student at the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Michigan. He has written widely on Russia and the former Soviet space and maintains his own blog Reconsidering Russia and the Former Soviet Union. He is the editor of The Red Flag at Ararat by Aghavnie Yeghenian and two forthcoming republications Transcaucasia (1854) by Baron August von Haxthausen and Journey to Ararat (1846) by Friedrich Parrot.Post Views: 111
By Sean — 11 years ago
Anyone interested in the status of Russian archives should read the NY Times article, “Iron Archives.” However, some of its claims about the shrinking access to Russian archives should be put in context. For example, anything that is located in the infamous Presidential Archive is off limits, except if you have connections. I know a few scholars who’ve gotten special dispensation to work there. The Foreign Policy and Military archives (19th century materials are available) are also closed.
It is also true that the declassification process has been slowed. As the article points out and honest archivists will attest, this is mostly because the process has been formalized. The body in charge of declassification, the Commission on State Secrets, is under funded and understaffed. Add the lack of incentive to make documents open and the process slows to a crawl. But scholars shouldn’t take this as a sign that archival research on “sensitive subjects” is impossible. Sure military and foreign policy are out. Postwar Communist Party materials are also difficult to get your hands on.
also has a policy concerning personal files. They are only accessible after 75 years unless you have permission from the family. However, historians of some of the darkest moments in Soviet history will tell you that documentation about the Terror, Collectivization, deportation, and the GULAG are abundant. A lot of documentation in the Presidential Archive will only spice up footnotes and pad bibliographies. The new information they contain will mostly further confirm already existing materials. Also, in most archives a researcher with good connections can get classified material even if it is classified. But despite what anyone thinks, there is little left to know that the archives can tell us. I personally doubt that there are any smoking guns buried deep in even the most secret Russian archives. Access to them will only satisfy historians’ own archival fetish. Russia
Still, each Russian archive has its own rules and culture. State and Provincial Archives like the ones cited in the article fall under the laws and policies of Rosarkhiv, the State Archival Administration. Their rules specifically make statements about researchers’ rights to open materials. If all else fails, embarrassing archivist by citing these rules can sometimes works. Going straight to the director does too. The most difficult archives are the ones that are under city administrations. The Moscow City Archive for Social Movements is notoriously difficult. I think I was able to work there by charm alone.
The real problem with Russian archives is not reclassification or access. It is funding. The Komsomol archive where I work has had a staff reduction from 8 to 4 people. Many archives are housed in crumbling buildings or worse are considered prime real estate. Some, like the State Historical Archive in
, have been forced to move. As the main state archive for the 19th century, this is a huge blow to the history of the Imperial period. The lack of funding has also prevented archives from modernizing their reading rooms, purchasing copiers, microfilm readers, etc. The most modern archives are the ones like the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History and others who have signed publishing deals with Western publishers like Yale University Press. St. Petersburg
Lastly, Russian archives are beginning to suffer from a lack in training. Pay is incredibly low—about $100 a month. Most of the staff is either old, mentally deranged or both. Recent rules have reduced archival training to simply a certificate rather than a degree. The next generation of archivists will be poorly trained, paid, and therefore disinterested.
So put in this perspective the status of Russian archives is direr than the Western historians’ obsession with classification.
All this said, my favorite part of the whole article was the final quote from Robert Conquest. I quote the Times quoting him:
“There’s a drive of sorts toward the truth,” said Robert Conquest, the venerable cold warrior and author of “The Great Terror.” “After all, they didn’t really manage to totally suppress it the whole Soviet period, in spite of destroying the intelligentsia and ruining the country.”
It’s funny for a historian like him to speak about the truth. Especially coming from a guy who once declared that rumor was one of the best sources for understanding the
Soviet Union. Plus how would he know about suppressing the truth? To my knowledge, none of his books contain a single archival citation. There is some speculation around the field whether the man has ever stepped into a Russian archive at all.Post Views: 61
By Sean — 5 years ago
It just goes to show that there are two things that will bring Russia to the world’s attention: a Vladimir Putin PR stunt and a meteorite smashing into the country. The latter happened today outside of Chelyabinsk causing a lot of fear and a lot of minor injuries. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and the Russian propensity to mount dash cams, there are some amazing videos of the fireball from space.
But what is perhaps better than the apocalyptic magic of Hollywood (almost) coming to life are the wild conspiracy theories that leap to the mind. After all, there is no way that the meteorite could actually be a meteorite, right? The obvious is merely for dupes of the Americans and Putin. For the former we have the always cogent words of Vladimir Zhirinovsky: “Those were not meteorites, it was Americans testing their new weapons.” But such musings are EXACTLY what we expect from our favorite Russian clown.
Zhirik, however, isn’t the only circus performer who is gayly dancing around the meteor crater thinking they’ve exposed a naked emperor. We also have the equally foolish Yulia Latynina, columnist for Novaya gazeta and the Moscow Times and harsh critic of all things Putin. Those familiar with Latynina’s usual screeds won’t be surprised by her latest conspiracy-mongering. But those who embrace her commentaries as insightful depictions of modern Russia might pause and consider who they’re putting their faith in.
What did Latynina make of the meteorite? Well, that it wasn’t a meteorite at all, but a secret rocket fired by the Ministry of Defense. Here’s a screen shot of five questions Latynina put forward to suggest her Kremlin rocket theory:
I’m not a rocket scientist. I’m a philologist. Therefore as a philologist I have several questions about rockets (and the Ministry of Defense) in regard to the meteorite near Chebarkul.
Question #1: Why did the meteorite fly directly from the Elansk area to the Chebarkul area?
Question #2: Why did it fly parallel to the ground, that is, along a trajectory which looks more like a rocket than a meteorite?
Question #3: Why did the meteorite leave a tail that looks like one from rocket fuel?
Question #4: Why did the meteorite’s explosion look like the emergency self-destruction of a rocket at launch?
Question #5: Why did such an incredible number of servicemen participate in the search for the meteorite? Eight planes, 20 thousand cops and soldiers, thousands of units of technology? (Tanks, for example, located the crater.) Where they afraid that someone would find the tail number on a piece of the meteorite?
Now you won’t find this article any longer on Novaya gazeta’s webiste. Nor will her English readers find a translation in tomorrow’s Moscow Times. It’s been removed because according to the url where it first appeared: “The author asked to remove their article from the site in light of new information.”
You bet she or the Novaya gazeta editors did. Becasuse Latynina’s “five questions” are those of an utter fool.
It never ceases to amaze me that anyone continues to publish her.Post Views: 219