Interwar émigrés

Although my academic work gives no hint of this, I’ve always been oddly fascinated by the interwar period. I know exactly where the fascination came from: mystery novels. No, even more specifically, British mystery novels, where the specter of war is rarely foregrounded but often there, from poor (well, not poor) shell-shocked Lord Peter Wimsey to clever and displaced Hercule Poirot. I even love more recent mystery novels that take interwar Britain as their setting—an awfully popular setting, really, perhaps because everyone is trying to recapture the allure of Sayers and Christie.

Because I’m me, there is one extra thing I always notice in these novels—the random Russian émigrés who show up around the edges of the stories, making their lives in the wider European world. In Dorothy L. Sayers’ Have His Carcase the murder victim is a young Russian émigré working as a professional dancer at a resort hotel. In her Strong Poison Lord Peter visits the smoky rooms of hipster Bloomsbury, where Russians fry sausages and play atonal music.

Yesterday I got a book out from the library that made me think about those Russians wandering about interwar Europe. On the surface, there’s no reason for the book to lead me there—it’s a history of the colonization of Siberia, by V. I. Shunkov, from 1946. But the book had this stamp:

Bookstamp

It says Библиотека русских шофферов, or the library of Russian chauffeurs, and gives an address in Paris. Well, of course I had to find out a little bit more about that.  Continue reading

Posted in Soviet Era 1917-1991, Transnational History | 9 Comments

Ivanovo: Manumission

As I’ve spent time reading files and writing about Ivanovo, one of the things I’ve wondered about is how exactly the spate of manumissions that first created this odd part-serf/part-industrial society happened. Obviously it happened when a group of serfs gained their manumission, but that’s not actually a simple thing. Manumission was not in general an unknown part of serf life, and a number of accounts of Ivanovo note that the Ivanovo serf E. I. Grachev had received his freedom back in 1802. But that had been a single instance of manumission, and since then Ivanovo had been developing into a major textile center without additional cases over the next two decades. Then, suddenly, in the middle of the 1820s, something changed, as a dozen or so serfs gained their freedom over the course of just a couple of years. The short time period in which this number of serfs gained their freedom is still a clear sign of some specific event.

Part of the answer to this question almost certainly has to do with something that has nothing to do with Ivanovo itself: Sheremetev’s age. Born in 1803, and orphaned just a couple of years later, he only gained control of his estates from his guardians in the middle of the 1820s. Before then, he had just barely begun to think of manumitting serfs. In 1819, his former wetnurse, Anna Danilova, and her family, were granted freedom through Sheremetev’s personal desire. This was an isolated incident, though, and because at that point he was still a minor, Emperor Alexander himself had to approve the manumission. Continue reading

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Motivations

I have a memory from graduate school of driving up to Northwestern University to hear a talk by Sheila Fitzpatrick. This is a little bit odd because I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and therefore had ample opportunity to hear Sheila speak. I know I went with my friend and fellow graduate student Jenifer Stenfors, and I think it was the lure of a day, or at least an afternoon, away from school playing hooky, or so it felt, that was the real pull. I remember stopping in at the Bahai temple on the way, still the only time I’ve been in that space, and being struck by the contrast between its opulent exterior and the very ordinary chairs scattered about its interior. Even there, I’m not sure of why we stopped—had we planned it, or were we running ahead of time and decided to stop, on a whim? (And, in fact, I now realize, looking it up to give a link, that it is not on the way, but past Northwestern, and so we had to have made some decision about going there.)

At the talk Sheila said something—or at least, I remember her saying something—that has stuck with me ever since. This would have been sometime between 1995 and 1997, and so Stalin’s Peasants had recently come out and Sheila must have been working on Everyday Stalinism. My memory is that Sheila mentioned that she was thinking of writing a book that looked at the relationship between Stalin and Molotov—clearly an early version of the project that became On Stalin’s Team—and that one of the reasons the idea appealed to her was that as a social historian she was constantly seeing little bits of people’s lives, but only little bits, never a full story, never people you could really know. In contrast, focusing on just a couple of figures, and well documented figures, to boot, would let her get to know these people in a way that writing social history didn’t allow. Continue reading

Posted in Historiography, Imperial Russia, Ivanovo, Research & Practice | Leave a comment

Ivanovo: Ivan Baburin, IV

Ivan Baburin’s intransigence completely puzzled the Ivanovo estate administration. In the archival files he comes off as completely unconcerned with the fact that he had just decided to stop paying rent, and was therefore maintaining a presence in Ivanovo totally illegally. In reports from the administration, Baburin seems to have believed—or at least claimed—that he was totally justified in his actions. He had faithfully paid rent while using the buildings. Now that they no longer existed, he felt no need to pay for them. He also told the estate administration multiple times that he was planning on going to St. Petersburg in person to talk to Sheremetev, implying that they could work something out man to man. Of course, he told the estate administration this in 1842, claiming that he would go as soon as he got back from the Makar’ev market… and then told them the same thing in 1844, when he had not gone. Clearly, he had no intention of doing anything other than staying in Ivanovo, not paying rent, and rebuilding.

In response, the administration sent reports. And occasionally petitions. And mostly didn’t know what to do about him. Continue reading

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Visualizing the 1897 Census in Pie Charts

A couple years ago one of my Soviet history students, Jessy Mwarage, said he wanted to do a bit of extra work at the opening of the semester, so I gave him some Russian census data from 1897 to play with. He turned the data into very elegant pie charts.  

I should add one caveat. I’m not absolutely positive about the quality of the data, but I think it’s reasonably good. Above all, it will give students a sense of the diversity of the population in the Russian Empire.

Russian Census Data, 1897

Total population:  125,640,021 people
Sex:  50.2 % female;  49.8 % male
Urban:   16,828,395 (13.4%);   Rural:  108,811,626 (86.6%)
Literacy:   29.3% of males;  13.1% of females were literate
 
Nationalities (as determined by language)

  • Russians:  56 million (44%)
  • Ukrainians:  22 million (17%)
  • Poles:  8 million (6%)
  • Belarusians (a.k.a. White Russians):  6 million (5%)
  • Jews (Yiddish speaking): 5 million (4%)
  • Kirghiz = 4million (3%)
  • Tatars = 3.7 million Tatars (3%)
  • Georgians, Germans, Latvians, Lithuanians, Moldovians: 1-2 million each (1.6%)
  •  
     

     
     
    Religions

    • Russian Orthodox:   69.34%
    • Muslims:   11.07%
    • Roman Catholics:   9.13%
    • Jews:   4.15%
    • Lutherans:   2.84%
    • Old Believers and others split from Russian Orthodox:   1.75%
    • Armenian Gregorians & Armenian Catholics:   0.97%
    • Buddhists, lamaists:   0.34%
    • Other Protestants:   0.15%

     

     
     

    Social Groups

    Peasants and Cossacks:                      99.8 million (79.4% of the total population)

    Towndwellers:                                     13.4 million (10.7%)

    Total lower classes:  113.2 million (90.1%)

    Merchants, honored citizens:             0.6 million (0.5%)

    Church estate:                                       0.6 million (0.5%)

    Nobility:                                                  1.85 million (1.5%)

    National minorities [inorodtsy] incl. Jews:      8.3 million (6.6%)

    Foreigners:                                            0.6 million (0.5%)

     

     

     

     
    Source of Income of Main Breadwinner

    Agriculture  (incl. livestock prod., fishing, forestry):  74.57%

    Manufacturing & crafts (esp. sewing, construction, metal, textiles, woodworking):  9.34%

    Servants and daily manual workers:   4.61%

    Commerce:   3.99%

    Transport and communications (nearly one half were horse and cart drivers)  1.55%

    Army and navy:   .99%

    Public administration (state & local authorities):   .75%

    Living on capital income:   .72%

    Religious institutions (including clerks & janitors):   .63%

    Medicine, education, science, literature, and legal practice:  .61%

    Mining:   .44%

    Others:    1.8%

     

     

     
     
    Largest Cities of the Russian Empire:

     

    Data from Wikipedia (English and Russian) and other sources.   Pie charts by Jessy Mwarage.

    Posted in Imperial Russia, Teaching Russian History | Tagged , | Leave a comment

    Russian Census of 1897 as teaching tool

    This week Pietro Shakarian posted an article on Russia Direct that addresses the issue of the ethnic composition of the Russian Empire in 1897 as it relates to current crises in Ukraine, Crimea, Nagorno-Karabakh and Trans-Caucasia. To my mind it is very informative and would be a good article for students to read if one also gave them good maps. (Shakarian is apparently a PhD student at Ohio State University.)

    Posted in Crimea, Imperial Russia, Teaching Russian History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

    Shopping in Moscow, 1705

    The British expat community found living in Russia to be a great hardship, regularly complaining about the inhospitable weather and its remote location. Even worse, Russia was expensive, especially for prominent foreigners who expected access to some of the finer things. The British envoy to Russia at the beginning of the eighteenth century (Charles Whitworth ) was one of those men. Fortunately, we happen to have access to a couple of his shopping lists (for 1705 and 1706) that provide some insights into the sorts of luxuries a diplomat needed to maintain his position in society. These items were also treated a special project for his staff to acquire, suggesting they weren’t always available in the local markets.

    Charles Whitworth

    Charles Whitworth

    All the items below are on his list from July 1705. In Moscow, Whitworth instructed the British consul to purchase:

    6 hogshead of good claret (1 hogshead is about 300 liters)
    1 hogshead of good French white wine
    1 hogshead of Languedoc or any other good wine
    1 or 2 chests of Florence if they are to be procured
    1 barrel of English ale
    2 dozen drinking glasses
    10 dozen of lemons
    5 dozen China oranges
    A quantity of Dry Sweatmeats Continue reading

    Posted in Imperial Russia, Russia in World History, Transnational History | 1 Comment

    Ivanovo: Ivan Baburin, III

    The story I’ve set up so far has three elements: first, a huge fire that caused massive damage to the village, and perhaps particularly to the merchant entrepreneurs and their economic interests; second, a lingering issue over land tenure based in the terms of most of the local merchants’ manumission; and third, the specific ways one particular merchant, Ivan Baburin, interacted with his former owner and his former fellow serfs.

    At first, in the aftermath of the fire, Baburin tried to use the good relationship he had built with the larger village community to his advantage. In early 1840 (so, the year after the fire), he petitioned Sheremetev asking to have his rental agreement renegotiated. As he put it, ever since his manumission he had been faithfully paying 1,000 rubles each year for use of the factories he had built.  Now, though, after the fire, he was faced with a problem: he had to rebuild, and this was going to be extremely expensive. Given that he had even gone beyond the requirements of his manumission agreement, acting in the best interests of the local community by doing things like building a bridge for general use, he asked, could Sheremetev and the estate management see fit to reduce his yearly dues until he had rebuilt and was once again manufacturing at full capacity.

    Baburin hoped that the good relationship he had built with the local peasants would stand him in good stead, and lead them to recommend leniency. He was soon disappointed. The peasants of Ivanovo met at a skhod to discuss his case, but although they claimed to sympathize with Baburin, they argued that the fire hadn’t hurt his trade enough to warrant a reduction in his annual payments to the estate. As a result, they reported to the Sheremetev administration that Baburin ought to be held to the terms of his original agreement, and the administration agreed.

    If that had been where the matter ended, this wouldn’t be much of a story. But instead, a couple of things happened that make this case interesting: first, how Baburin reacted, and second, what the Sheremetev estate was then able to do in response. First, Baburin engaged in what was essentially an act of civil disobedience: he stopped paying his dues. And second, despite the vaunted power of Russia’s serf-owners over their own serfs, the Sheremetev estate found itself unable to do anything about it. Continue reading

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    Letters to Max

    Letters-to-Max

    This intriguing 2014 documentary takes place in an obscure part of the former Soviet Union called Abkhazia – a tiny sub-tropical mountainous region on the coast of the Black Sea (“Letters to Max,” https://vimeo.com/89560258). This country of 242,000 residents, most of them ethnic Abkhazians who practice Eastern Orthodoxy and who speak Russian, is ostensibly a part of the post-Soviet nation of Georgia. But like many former Soviet territories, simmering ethnic tensions exploded as the Soviet Union disintegrated, turning into a brutal civil war in 1992 and 1993. The Georgian forces were defeated, leading to the expulsion of ethnic Georgians from Abkhazia and a ceasefire in 1994 enforced by a combination of United Nations and Russian peacekeepers. Abkhazia’s independence, however, has only been recognized by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru. The forces of Abkhazia periodically clash with the Georgian army as the nation-in-formation, with Russia’s help and in opposition to the United States, seeks international recognition.

    abhazia map

    Abkhazia’s fate provides a window into two processes. The longer-term process is the formation of modern nation-states, which invariably involves competing forces who claim to represent the “real nation” and who seek backing for their claims. The second is the backdrop of the Soviet Union’s attempts to build national communities within the confines of its vast borders. It was a project that simultaneously promoted and suppressed a bewildering array of national identities and various levels of cultural and political autonomy for hundreds of ethnic groups. The tensions and conflicts created by Soviet policies were contained only by Soviet authoritarianism and by the communist party of the Soviet Union. When both the party and the Soviet Union collapsed, unresolved national tensions, exacerbated by various land grabs by newly independent and former Soviet national republics, produced a number of frozen conflicts along the Russian Federation’s borders – in Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, just to name a few.

    abkhazia_old_gagra_lrg

    The documentary tells the story of Abkhazia’s search for legitimacy through a diplomat named Maxim Gvinjia, whose mission since the Soviet Union’s collapse has been to establish Abkhazia’s place in the community of recognized nation-states. During the course of filming “Max” occupied various positions inside and outside Abkhazia’s Foreign Ministry, eventually becoming Foreign Minister in 2013 for a brief period. The filmmaker (“Eric”) uses the narrative device of the letter to tell his story, filming Max as he opens letters from “Eric” in Paris in which Eric asks Max a question regarding his job and life. The film consists of Max’s responses to those questions, set against the backdrop of Abkhazia and Max’s daily routines.

    Photo 2 Passport

    Max is an amiable and interesting narrator, with the detached and wry sense of humor of a person (and people) whose experiences defy clichéd conceptions of liberation, democracy, national sovereignty, and progress. The film opens with Max wondering about Eric’s question of where exactly he is. His philosophical answer touches on one of the central dilemmas of the modern nation-state, namely, that most people’s identities and sense of self do not match the ideas about identity projected by the state that purports to embody their “will.” Max points out that there are many recognized countries, such as Somalia, Afghanistan or Yemen, which make little sense as nation-states. The way various peoples within those states self-identify rarely match state conceptions and often are violently at odds with official political visions. Max claims that Abkhazia, in contrast, is unique in the relative perception by its citizens and state leaders of a united community of interests and identity.

    sukhum

    Abkhazia is a beautiful country, situated in a mountainous region that hugs the Black Sea Coast. The spectacular coastline views combine with a human-built world which, like much of the former Soviet Union, is in a state of exquisite decay and dilapidation – a place frozen in a Soviet past, similar to the frozen political conflicts that provide the political and social equivalent of a landscape. For Max, the state of decay is a starting point for his own discourse on nostalgia for the Soviet period, when the Abkhazian sea city of Sukhum (known in Soviet times by the Georgian Sukhumi) was a meeting point of cultures and peoples, and also a resort town for Soviet citizens. With its harbor, Sukhum in the Soviet era was far more open to the world and various peoples than other parts of the Soviet Union. That openness contrasts with the city’s current isolation in the post-Soviet world – yet another one of the many ironies highlighted by Max in his letters and discourses on camera.

    photo-6

    The director is careful to ask tough questions of Max, especially regarding the fate of Georgian refugees, who are unable to return to the Abkhazia that their families for centuries called home before the war of 1992-1993. Does creating a new Abkhazia mean erasing their memory? Is the coherence of Abkhazia as a nation-state, in which the identity of its citizens seems to match ideas about identity projected by the state, a result of ethnic cleansing? Max’s very surprisingly honest and apolitical answer — perhaps one reason for his being sacked as Abkhazia’s foreign minister — is both yes but also that the fate of Georgians is part of the tragedy and irreversible change in Abkhazia as a result of the Civil War. There can be no return to the Soviet period, though Max admits he would love to do so, when ethnic harmony was supposedly far more the norm than the exception. With regard to a question regarding whether Abkhazia has escaped from Georgia only to be eaten up by Russia and become a playground for Russian Oligarchs, Max is unequivocal. Russians, says Max, are the ones willing to buy Abkhazian products, spend tourist dollars in Abkhazia, and support Abkhazian independence. Given the limited range of options for Akbhazians, and the reality of Russia’s presence, Abkhazia has no choice but to align itself closely with Putin and the Russian Federation. The Mexicans say, “It’s the same hell only with a different devil.” For the Abkhazians, aligning with Russia is not quite the same hell, and perhaps preferable to Georgia, but few Abkhazians would mistake Russian leaders and oligarchs for saviors.

    Posted in Nationalism and National Identity, Nostalgia and Memory, Post-Soviet Russia, The Collapse of the Soviet Union | Leave a comment

    Ivanovo: Ivan Baburin, II

    In my first post about Ivan Baburin, I concentrated on the ways that he likely felt at odds with the estate administration or with Sheremetev—he was a prosperous man by nearly any measure, having purchased his freedom and entered the Moscow merchant society, apparently quickly moving into the first guild. His consistent success allowed him access to the status of honored citizen, as well. At the same time, however, he paid dearly to continue to manufacture in Ivanovo. And more troubling, he paid more dearly than his fellow former serfs by a considerable amount. Given his success, some extra payment might have seemed acceptable, but it’s hard to imagine that he did not feel some resentment at the degree to which he was burdened by payments to his former owner in comparison to others.

    The Church of Christ's Birth in Ivanovo; Ivan Baburin contributed to its construction. Source: Фотосайт Владимира Побединского.

    The Church of Christ’s Birth in Ivanovo; Ivan Baburin contributed to its construction. (I think.) Source: Фотосайт Владимира Побединского.

    There is, however, another way to view the story of Ivan Baburin’s experience after his manumission, one that focuses not on sources of resentment, but instead on a much more positive view of his relationships in Ivanovo. This vision of Baburin’s later role in the village focuses not on his relationship with Sheremetev and the administration, but on his relationship with the Ivanovo serfs, with his own workers, and with his fellow factory owners.

    When looked at from this point of view, Ivan Baburin seems to have been both well respected and well liked in Ivanovo after his manumission. Although his decision to join the Moscow merchant society as opposed to one of the more local merchant societies of Shuia or Vladimir might have marked him as someone with hopes of social advancement and therefore separation from his former society, in the middle of the 1830s he was instead described as a model factory owner in the village. Continue reading

    Posted in Imperial Russia, Ivanovo | Leave a comment

    Travel tales and unreliable informants

    While I was moving some stuff around my office, I rediscovered my copy of Kazan’s Mother of God icon.  I haven’t really thought about it since I wrote my first book, but I had recently come across some interesting pieces of misinformation about the icon that cropped up in eighteenth century sources.  Before I can relate the later stories, here’s a brief summary of what I know about the icon.

    Copy of Kazan's Mother of God Icon

    Copy of Kazan’s Mother of God Icon

    According to a manuscript version of the miracle tale from the beginning of the seventeenth century, during a fire in Kazan’ on June 23 June, 1579, the icon appeared in a vision of a young girl, instructing her to take shelter in Church of Nikolai Tulskii the Miracle-worker. The tale informs the reader that the appearance of the icon during the fire was a reward from God for the Orthodox faithful in Kazan’ for their ongoing battle against “non-believers” (inovernye).  Following the first appearance, the icon performed a number of miracles – about ten, the number varies slightly in different versions of the tale. Its miracle-working powers were sufficiently well known that a copy of the icon was carried into battle against the Poles in 1612, where it was recorded as having performed new miracles which, in turn, were recorded in the edifying tale, “About the Advance of the Kazan’ Icon of the Mother of God toward Moscow.” With a proven reputation, Kazan’s Mother of God icon acquired a national festival on July 8, 1633. Continue reading

    Posted in Imperial Russia, Medieval Russia, Nostalgia and Memory, Russian Orthodoxy | 2 Comments

    Ivanovo: The Case of Ivan Baburin, Part I

    The massive 1839 fire clearly caused upset among the local manufacturers of Ivanovo. They hoped to get greater recognition of their important role in the local economy, but found their proposals shut down by Sheremetev. Most seem to have accepted this, perhaps with some bad feeling, and rebuilt either locally or on purchased lands outside the village.

    One of the merchants, however, continued to fight.

    Ivan Aleksandrov Baburin was freed in late 1833 along with his wife, Anna Ivanova. This made him one of the last of the serfs freed during the initial burst of manumissions made by Sheremetev at the end of the 1820s and beginning of the 1830s. According to the notice sent from the St. Petersburg chancellery of the Sheremetev estates to the Ivanovo estate administration, Baburin was allowed to continue to live in Ivanovo for twenty years (counting from the beginning of 1834), and also agreed to pay “five hundred paper rubles for the lord’s income, and the same amount to the village to help the poor.”

    This was a fairly standard agreement for the time, but it was unusual in one important way: Baburin agreed to pay much more than others freed around the same time. An 1843 register of freed serfs with agreements to continue living in the village makes this absolutely clear. Twenty former serfs were listed (actually slightly more than twenty, as several pairs of brothers had been freed together and were still running their business as a partnership). One, Anton Nikolaev Shodchin, was paying 300 rubles to Sheremetev and 100 to the village. Another, Nikandr Ivanov Posnikov, was paying 150 rubles to Sheremetev and 50 to the village. One pair, Petr and Nikon Mefod’ev Garelin, were paying 25 rubles to Sheremetev and the same to the village. Everyone else on the list was paying either 50 or 60 rubles to the village. Continue reading

    Posted in Imperial Russia, Ivanovo | Leave a comment

    New online journal

    Just this week a new online journal for Russian Studies arrived, The Journal of Frontier Studies/Zhurnal frontirnykh issledovaniiIt is being edited by a group of scholars at Astrakhan State University, and aspires to put Russian and Western scholars into conversation.  They are planning on publishing articles in English down the line.

    By way of disclaimer, I’m on the editorial board, but if there’s a new forum to publish articles on the relationship between Russia and Iran in the imperial era (as an article by V. O. Kulakov does in the first issue), then I really am on board with the journal!

    Posted in Digital Russian History, Historiography, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

    Links of interest

    Two links of interest to researchers!

    First, the Summer Research Laboratory (SRL) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has announced its call for applications for summer 2016 work.

    Second, the Russian State Library (aka Leninka) has just announced that as of today library users may freely photograph most materials. Check out the announcement for the limitations, but this is remarkable news!

    Posted in Research & Practice | Leave a comment

    On Hungary, Gorbachev, Fence Demolitions, Wet Kisses, and Collapsing Empires

    nemethyounger

    Miklós Németh

    Historians often say that at least twenty years must pass before people can begin to grasp the true significance of an event. The passage of time dampens the passions, permits a more objective view, reveals new documents, and provides some sense of the long-term impact of the event. Yet the passing of more than a quarter century since communism’s demise in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has produced more light than heat. The documentary entitled simply “1989” provides a valuable eyewitness perspective on the collapse of communism.(http://www.budapesttelegraph.com/news/788/1989:_new_documentary_features_miklos_nemeth’s_help_bring_down_berlin_wall) It suggests the vital role of one small communist nation, Hungary, in setting into motion a chain of events that led, willy-nilly, to the dismantling of the Iron Curtain. At the center of this story – known previously but not so clearly and compellingly conveyed as it is here in this hour-long documentary — is Miklos Nemeth, the last prime minister of the communist government of Hungary. Forty years old at the time, Nemeth seemed like the perfect party scapegoat for an intractable economic crisis brought about by a severe financial crisis. Hungary had been unable to pay back Western banks for millions of dollars of loans that had replaced Soviet subsidies through the 1980s.

    As with many dramatic political upheavals – including the French Revolution of 1989 — a budget crisis precipitated the chain of events that ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its system in Eastern Europe. As a professional economist, the technocrat Nemeth seemed a logical choice to handle Hungary’s economic crisis – or at least to find a way to service that debt and avoid larger political repercussions. Western banks in the early 1980s had financed consumerism in Eastern Europe. They believed that communist governments in Eastern Europe provided an ideal customer for their loans, as the communist governments, immune to democratic political pressures, seemed likely to service the debt. The Soviets, for their part, were happy to allow Western banks to subsidize Eastern European consumerism, thereby shifting the burden of empire maintenance to the capitalist enemy (echoes here of Lenin’s dictum that the capitalists would give the Bolsheviks the rope with which they would hang the fat cats in top hats). But as with Germans banks and Greece more recently, the Western banks began demanding payment on their loans which the Eastern European nations simply could not provide; and as with Greece in 2010 the burden of servicing massive debt triggered an existential political crisis that went far beyond the economic and political fate of Hungary itself. greeceCombined with Soviet-driven reform efforts under Gorbachev, and the ensuing political instability, the economic crisis created a perfect storm that resulted, contrary to anyone’s expectations, in the dramatic end of communism in Europe – the reverse domino effect.glasnost

    In Hungary, the panicked party leadership handed the mess over to the unknown Nemeth as the new Prime Minister in November 1988 – just one year before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, which it is safe to say no one, and certainly not the CIA or secret services of the Communist states, would have predicted. Few believed Nemeth could survive – the proverbial lamb fed to the lions. Desperate to trim state expenses, one of the first things that he did was to scour the budget line items for areas where he might save money. He noticed a large, mysterious and recurring expenditure. It was labeled with a secret code that he did not understand, which turned out to be for maintaining the electrical fence that kept Hungarians behind the Iron Curtain. It was badly in need of repair, as he discovered when he inquired about this line item with party bosses, and the Soviets, facing their own budget crisis, had recently refused to provide spare parts and money to maintain it. So the Hungarians had been turning to France, spending what little money the government had, which was also borrowed from Western banks, to maintain a critical part of the Iron Curtain that even the Soviets had little desire to maintain. It is a curious footnote to the history of the late Cold War: the role of Western banks in first propping up communist states in Eastern and Central Europe and then in prompting the political crisis that brought them down when the bill for loans came due.

    This is a late Cold War propaganda cartoon from East Germany that mocks West German consumerism. It is unintentionally ironic at two levels. First, East Germans and other Eastern Europeans had a clear hunger for this kind of consumer society. Second, the Eastern European communist governments were accumulating massive debt from Western banks to fund an increase in the purchase of consumer goods from the West.

    This is a late Cold War propaganda cartoon from East Germany that mocks West German consumerism. It is unintentionally ironic at two levels. First, East Germans and other Eastern Europeans had a clear hunger for this kind of consumer society. Second, the Eastern European communist governments were accumulating massive debt from Western banks to fund an increase in the purchase of consumer goods from the West.

    As a budget saving measure, Nemeth decided to curtail this expenditure in December 1988, though actually tearing down the fence proved more problematic. Understandably, he encountered stiff resistance from the party leadership and then discovered another surprising fact that turned him against the system he was appointed to serve: the news that Hungary since the 1970s – contrary to official claims that denied nuclear bombs on its soil — had housed nuclear bombs pointed at Italy.

    Little Moscow -- the secret Soviet nuclear bomb site in Hungary

    Little Moscow — the secret Soviet nuclear bomb site in Hungary

    Nemeth, meanwhile, traveled in March 1989 to Moscow with grave doubts and fears, given his own family experiences and trauma associated with the brutal suppression of the 1956 attempt by Hungarian reformers to gain some independence from Soviet control. His father, a farmer, had been an advocate of the revolution of 1956 crushed by the Soviets. Hungary1956-LgNemeth claims he joined the communist party in the early 1960s to try and change it from within. His father did not speak to him for six months but eventually reconciled himself to his son’s decision, telling him only that he must tell the truth to his people and to the world if he were to attain a position of power. He took that advice when he traveled to Moscow to meet Gorbachev, nervous but determined to discuss his reform plans, including holding free elections that would almost certainly result in the victory of non-communists and to remove the fence that the Hungarian treasury could no longer maintain. To his great surprise, Gorbachev greeted him with a firm handshake rather than the sloppy kiss and warm embrace typical of Brezhnev’s encounters with Eastern European counterparts. Gorbachev-shaking-hands-with-Miklós-Németh-Archive-21st-CenturyGorbachev, incidentally, preserved the practice of the lip kiss and warm embrace for more reactionary communist party bosses in Eastern Europe, suggesting that the wet kiss, in semiotic terms, signified a certain unequal power relationship between Moscow and Eastern European leaders, whereas a firm handshake, absent the kiss and hug, indicated a new kind of political relationship. the kissAt any rate, Gorbachev assuaged Nemeth’s fears, promising not to send troops and also endorsing Nemeth’s plans to take down the fence (telling Helmut Kohl later that Nemeth was a “good guy — khoroshii chelovek“). Nemeth then grasped an important dynamic of the developing political situation: he would have to rely on Moscow for support and face his stiffest resistance from old line Stalinists and Brezhnev cronies back in Prague, East Berlin, and his own capital of Budapest.

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    The Austrian and Hungarian foreign ministers dismantle the border fence between their countries in the summer of 1989, thus creating the first breach in the Iron Curtain

    Nemeth’s decision to open the border with Austria in May of 1989, by tearing down a 40-year old electric fence that guarded the border with Austria, soon triggered an exodus of Eastern Europeans and a refugee crisis, especially from East Germany, which was still under the control of the hardliner Erich Honecker. That refugee crisis spilled into Western Europe when the Hungarian government decided in September 1989 to allow all East German refugees to pass across the border and into Austria. How much Nemeth understood the momentous political impact of that decision remains unclear, though the East German communist party boss Erich Honecker seems to have been acutely aware of its potential effect on his own power. The West German government had promised housing and support to all East Germans. Tens of thousands accepted that offer, travelling through Hungary in their Trabants and the now open border and then making their way to West Germany to collect their Deutschemarks and free housing. trabant exodusThe exodus, involving many of East Germany’s most highly qualified professionals, who believed they had good prospects in West Germany, enraged the East German leader Honecker, as well as the remaining hard liners still in power in Bucharest, Prague, and Sofia. As in 1960, when there was a mass exodus of East Germans to West Germany in Berlin, the East German government demanded that the Soviet Union plug the hole in the Iron Curtain that was allowing the best and brightest in East Germany to leave. But unlike Khrushchev, who responded by building the Berlin Wall, Gorbachev refused to stop the mass emigration, consistent with his promise to Nemeth earlier that he would not interfere in plans to remove the electric fence between Hungary and Austria whose absence now provided an exit path for East Germans. That refusal set into motion the dramatic events that led first to Honecker’s ouster in October 1989, the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the disintegration of communist control in Eastern Europe shortly thereafter.

    nagy's burial

    The reburial of Imre Nagy

    Among the other dramatic moves made by Nemeth was to exhume the body of the executed leader of the 1956 Hungarian reforms, Imre Nagy, who had been buried secretly after his execution by the Soviets. His body was exhumed and given a public ceremonial burial in Bucharest in June 1989, against the wishes and thinly veiled threats of the old party diehards. Nearly 200,000 attended the event, which Nemeth’s security people thought might result in an assignation attempt on his life (they instructed him to keep moving his head to avoid having a sniper blow a hole in his brains). The re-burial catalyzed opposition to the communist party and helped to mobilize the movement that resulted in the electoral dismantling of the communist one-party system in Hungary and eventually throughout the rest of Eastern Europe. It turned out in some ways to be the burial of the Soviet system.

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    Nemeth in the documentary “1989”

    The story is narrated by Nemeth and the point of view is almost his exclusively, though he comes across as honest and reflective, especially regarding his own inability at the time to understand the larger implications of his decisions. Would communism have collapsed without the specific decisions of Gorbachev and Nemeth? History is not written in the conditional tense, as they say, so it is impossible to answer that question. But the evidence from the documentary certainly suggests the critical role of individual leaders and decisions in determining the specific timing and outcome of events leading to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. berlin_wallThose dramatic events almost always unfolded in unintended ways and to the astonishment of those, like myself as a student in Moscow in 1989, who believed that the Soviet system in Eastern Europe, whatever its clear weaknesses and problems, would last for a very, very long time.

    As a prologue to this story, Hungary in 2015 began constructing a fence along its border with Croatia and Serbia to handle another refugee crisis — this time one involving Syrians trying to get into the EU.

    The 2015 Hungarian fence on the border with Croatia and Serbia. Fences, apparently, make the best neighbors

    The 2015 Hungarian fence on the border with Croatia and Serbia. Fences, apparently, make the best neighbors

    The documentary’s celebration of barrier demolitions should be placed into the context of this new border fence. Fence and wall builders once again have seized power — in Hungary as in Israel and all along the US-Mexico border. Perhaps some may say it is inappropriate to make such connections between Cold War walls and present ones erected by the supposed winners in the Cold War, but one thing is clear: the era of fence and wall demolition seems to have been very brief, a mere quarter of a century. The brevity of the fence-dismantling era reinforces the point made in the beginning of this post — that the true significance of an event only becomes apparent with deep hindsight.

    The Israeli West Bank Border Fence

    The Israeli West Bank Border Fence

    The US-Mexico border near Tijuana

    The US-Mexico border near Tijuana

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    Ivanovo: A Modest Proposal

    The fire in 1839 was hugely destructive, and after it the peasants and industrialists of Ivanovo were faced with a major task of rebuilding. One group, the industrialists, also saw this fire and the task of rebuilding as a possible chance to alter their current economic position by changing their relationship with the owner of Ivanovo, Count Dmitri Nikolaevich Sheremetev.

    Portrait of Dmitry Nikolaevich Sheremetev

    Dmitri Nikolaevich Sheremetev (1803-1871), 1824. From kuskovo.ru, the website of one of his major estates.

    Most of the industrialists in Ivanovo—that is, most of those who ran factories there—had themselves been serfs of the village. Around 1830, Sheremetev freed twenty serfs along with their families. They all took on merchant status in a town (most in nearby Shuia or Iurevets, a few as far away as Moscow) but continued to live in or near Ivanovo, running various sorts of businesses. Most were manufacturers, and a few engaged in trade, bringing the raw materials Ivanovo needed to the village for future processing. All of those who were still running factories in the village did so based on lease arrangements with Sheremetev. They owned and were responsible for the buildings they had built, but Sheremetev owned the land.

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    Ivanovo: Fire

    Oil painting of peasants fleeing a burning village

    N. D. Dmitriev-Orenburgskii, Fire in the Village, 1885, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

    One of the first things I did when I started archival research back in the mid 1990s was look at the annual reports sent to the Ministry of Internal Affairs by provincial governors in the 1830s and 1840s. I was reading them looking for anything about food, but I remember being struck by the fact that they always included reports on local fire preparedness. I apparently didn’t take any notes about them, but I distinctly remember things like a report of the fire department of some district town being armed with two buckets and an axe, or something incredibly modest like that.

    It made me think about fire and its possible destructive role in a new way. In fact, at one point I thought I might do a whole research project on fire, and then Cathy Frierson’s All Russia Is Burning! came out. So that was out (even if the pre-reform period could still use some (any) work). But fire appears in so many different places in the eighteenth and nineteenth century that it’s hard not to notice it.

    Looking at reports and files on Ivanovo, the role of fire is thrown into even greater prominence, in ways both specific and general. On the specific side, there are accounts like those that the Vladimir Provincial News at times included as part of its regular column “news from the province.” I suspect these were only the most dire cases, and so when Ivanovo appears in the newspaper in 1855, it is for a rather terrible reason: Continue reading

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    Ivanovo: Vagrants and beggars

    Vagrancy was a nearly constant background issue throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It shows up all over, in legislation about internal passports, in newspaper notices announcing arrested vagrants, in state concerns about what people are doing. I particularly like Simon Franklin’s description of why vagrancy was seen as such a problem: in his words, “vagrancy was abhorrent, dangerous, and wasteful,” as vagrants were at best lazy, and at worst were criminals.

    Postcard of four woman beggars

    From http://www.rusfond.ru/encyclopedia/2860

    In 1842, there was a crackdown on vagrancy. According to one account, in September of that year Nicholas I was traveling in Tver’ Province and “happened to notice, that on the main road many mendicants (nishchie) were wandering” despite the fact that laws strictly forbid vagrancy. As a result, he ordered the Minister of Internal Affairs to see to this problem, the Minister wrote to provincial governors telling them to take steps against vagrancy, the provincial governors wrote to town and district police agencies, and those agencies wrote to large settlements. And so by November, the order to crack down on vagrancy had made its way to Ivanovo. The Ivanovo Estate Administration received a notice from the Provincial Chief ordering them to pay attention to vagrancy. The Ivanovo Estate Administration then wrote to the sotskie (the peasant hundredmen, a kind of village policeman) of Ivanovo (the village was so large it had eight of them) to bring in anyone they found begging in the village. A second notice asked all villagers to turn in beggars, as well. Over the next year, several more calls repeated the call to crack down on vagrancy and begging.

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    What’s in a Strikethrough?

    Can a simple manuscript strikethrough be a sign of deep affection?

    I’m currently writing a book on Alzhir, a special Gulag camp division designed to hold women arrested during the so-called Great Terror of 1937-1938 as “family members of traitors to the motherland.” These women largely came from families of the political and cultural elite of Soviet society and were arrested for no crime other than being the spouses of men arrested and usually executed during the terror.

    My book will be based in part on careful readings of a sizable corpus of Alzhir survivor memoirs. Mostly unpublished, the memoir typescripts often contain handwritten additions, deletions, and corrections. Mostly, the edits are minor, focused on typos and other proofreading minutia. At times, though, they ooze potential, if not easily discernible, meaning.

    First, a little background. Tamara Tanina was married to one of Nikita Khrushchev’s assistants in 1937. (Khrushchev was then Party boss in Moscow.) Her husband was arrested and executed in mid-1937, and she was arrested in early 1938 as a “family member of a traitor to the motherland.” Initially sent to Alzhir, Tamara survived her Gulag experience and in the early 1960s wrote In Those Years, a memoir that like many others was sent to the Communist Party’s Central Committee during Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization. 1

    The two-volume unpublished typescript memoir found in the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History tells an engaging, often moving story about her experience in the camps, personal relationships, conditions, work, etc. 2 Of particular interest given the widespread taboos of Russian Gulag memoirs, Tamara describes what she calls her “unusual friendship” in Alzhir with Pavla (Pavlusha) Eletskaia. Tamara is at times reticent to describe this relationship as romantic, and at other times easily recalls how Pavlusha “tenderly kissed me.” (148) Same-sex relationships in the Gulag are uncommonly discussed in Gulag memoirs, and when they are it is particularly rare that they are first-person told with a tone of tender remembrance rather than third-person accounts told with a tone of moral revulsion. 3 Tamara’s recollections of Pavlusha are decidedly in the tender mode, at times moving in their description of brief, warm, summer moments when they could “luxuriate…hugging each other…under the low Kazakhstani skies full of especially bright and large stars.” (152) It is clear that Tamara really loved Pavlusha. Although they were soon separated to different camp divisions, they stayed friends even in the years after they were released from the camps. (Nothing indicates that their post-Gulag relationship was still of a romantic nature.)

    It is at the moment of their separation that the fascinating strikethrough appears in the manuscript. Tamara writes that she was suddenly transferred from the Alzhir subdivision of the Karlag labor camp to the Dolinka division. She had been diagnosed with an unspecified gynecological medical condition and was presumably shipped to Dolinka to see a gynecologist there for emergency surgery. When she arrived in Dolinka, the doctor told her that she had no problem requiring surgery. This led Tamara to suspect there might have been other motives for her transfer. She wrote:

    Was it possible that the camp leadership perceived something unnatural in the type of friendship that I had with Pavlusha? And perhaps they were right. Later, recalling our affection for one another, I felt that my feelings for her bore the seeds of an unhealthy attraction. (155)

    Had Tamara Tanina’s memoir been published, the latter two sentences may have been left on the cutting room floor, and we would not even know about them. In the typescript, the sentences absent presence is fascinating.

    Page from Tamara Tanina's Typescript Memoir with Strikethrough

    Page from Tamara Tanina’s Typescript Memoir with Strikethrough

    In fact, it is tempting as a historian to read a great deal into the strikethrough, but what exactly? The romantic in me wants to tell the story that Tamara wrote the lines with an eye toward the Party’s expectations at a moment when she was trying to get her life back in the midst of Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization. Then, when rereading the typed manuscript, the passionate memory of her tenderest and most affectionate relationship drove her to strike the offending sentences with gusto and submit the memoir to the Central Committee without remorse.4

    Of course, this may not at all be the proper reading of something so inscrutable as a strikethrough. If Tamara wrote these lines just for Party consumption–just to express her condemnation of a taboo relationship–why did she write at such length about her relationship with Pavlusha in the first place? How do we even know it was even Tamara who crossed out the sentences?

    1. These memoirs, including Tamara Tanina’s, are discussed in Nanci Adler’s Keeping Faith With the Party: Communist Believers Return from the Gulag.
    2.  Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI), fond 560, opis 1, delo 37. The memoir consists of two volumes. All parenthetical citations here refer to the handwritten archival page number in the first volume.
    3. Adi Kuntsman describes memoirists’ “lack of sympathy for–and often an active disgust and scorn towards–same sex relations in the camps.” Figurations of Violence and Belonging: Queerness, Migranthood, and Nationalism in Cyberspace and Beyond, Peter Lang, 2009, p. 54.
    4. Although she continually professes her love for her executed husband in the memoir, it is also clear that he was abusive toward her.
    Posted in Gender and Sexuality, Gulag, Kazakhstan, Soviet Era 1917-1991 | 1 Comment

    1979, the End of the Cold War, and the Law of Unintended Consequences

    _images_afghan-rugs-5Nineteen seventy nine was a pivotal year in twentieth-century history – as momentous, perhaps, as 1945 and the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan; Iranian revolutionaries seized American hostages in Tehran and overthrew the Shah; Islamic fundamentalists attempted to seize Mecca; and enraged crowds of Pakistanis, goaded on by Islamic extremists, attacked the US embassy in Pakistan. With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that these events signaled a radical break from the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. The world had changed, and a new kind of war had emerged; yet the United States and the Soviet Union continued to fight proxy wars against each other, blinded by their own ideological obsessions and incapable of discerning the new common enemy of Islamic fundamentalism.

    Fyodor2650

    A captivating and timely film tells the story of the ten-year Soviet war against Afghanistan (Afghanistan 1979: The War that Changed the World: http://icarusfilms.com/new2015/afg.html). The war triggered an ever-increasing cycle of violence. Fueled by American and Soviet weaponry – which armed future enemies of both the United States and Russia – Afghanistan became a failed state, creating a power vacuum filled by terrorist movements of various sorts and spreading like a cancer throughout the region. Over a decade more than one million Afghanis died – mostly civilians – and millions more became refugees. At least 15,000 Soviet soldiers fell in battle, and the aura of the Red Army’s invincibility, which had been so crucial to Soviet power and prestige around the world, was shattered.

    graveyard

    Curiously, despite its enduring and tragic significance, few historians or political scientists have studied the war in depth: the reasons for the Soviet invasion, the conduct of the war, the relationship of the failed war to the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, and the role of the war in creating the world in which we now live. The primary piece of documentary evidence for the decision to invade comes from a single hand-written page from the Soviet Politburo leadership. The document does not even mention Afghanistan, referring to it as simply country “A,” and it provides little insight into the Soviet decision to send in troops. It is as if Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader at the time, was a kind of Mafia Don, and his fellow Politburo members and generals his mob family bosses. Through various winks and nods – but with nothing concrete or coherent presented as an explanation – Brezhnev let it be known that it was time to do a “hit” on the increasingly annoying and irksome Soviet clients. By comparison there has been far more research and analysis of the war with which the Soviet invasion is often compared –the American Vietnam War – though arguably the Afghan war has had a much greater impact on the course of world history.

    stinger

    Whatever the exact reasons for the invasion, Afghanistan was certainly considered a strategic prize, both for the Soviet Union and earlier for the Russian Empire, when the region became a pawn in the “Great Game” for control between the British and Russian Empires. The Soviets were the first to recognize the new state of Afghanistan in 1919. Relations remained close, as the Soviets attempted to use Afghanistan as a buffer zone between itself and Pakistan and Iran. Only an attempt at radical communist revolution – generated not by the Soviets but independently by more extremist communists within Afghanistan in April 1978 – destabilized the situation. The revolutionaries’ agenda of social, agrarian and economic reform immediately created stiff resistance and polarized the country, radicalizing the political environment and opening the way to more extreme forms of political expression from all sides. Afghani communist officials persecuted religious leaders, causing blowback that drew inspiration from the Iranian Revolution in February 1979 and the Ayatollah Khomeni. As resistance to the new communist Afghani President Nur Mohammad Taraki grew, so too did Afghani appeals for Soviet aid. Meanwhile, the country continued to splinter, as warlords and tribal leaders began to fill the vacuum of power created, unintentionally, by the revolutionary upsurge.

    Afghan 1 F

    One of the more intriguing claims in the documentary is that Brezhnev’s advancing dementia and lack of stamina played a central role in the invasion. Manipulated by alarmist memoranda from the KGB head Yuri Andropov, and their suggestion that immediate action needed to be taken, Brezhnev assented to intervention – though just what kind and why was unclear, and perhaps will never be known if in fact Brezhnev was not entirely lucid, as seems to have been the case. The seeming success of the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which Andropov believed produced a more docile and controllable client state to its west, perhaps fed the delusional notion in the Kremlin leadership that Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, could be just as easily invaded, and with just as few military and political consequences. Eurocentric views of the Afghanis as inferior, similar to US views of the Viet Cong, also seemed to have made the Soviets underestimate their foe.

    withdrawal

    There are many compelling stories and revelations in the film. The Soviets, for example, early on trained Soviet Central Asians to form a special battalion that would wear Afghan uniforms – so that Soviet military intervention could be disguised in May 1979, before the actual invasion in December of that year. The CIA countered, on the borders of Pakistan, with support for anti-communist insurgents. A state of civil war, with various war lords in control of the provinces, emerged by December 1979, when another fateful event occurred. President Taraki’s erstwhile ally and Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin overthrew his revolutionary comrade, commanding his secret police to strangle him.

    460px-Afghan-war

    The documentary claims, though it is not clear based on what evidence, that the Soviets believed Amin was an American pawn. In his brief time in power Amin waged a campaign of terror and purges against the dead former President’s real and suspected allies. At one point the Soviet officials in Kabul charged with protecting Amin from a counter-revolution were now ordered by the Soviet secret police to assassinate him and his entourage. They tried to poison the President’s drink at a dinner in the palace – by slipping poison into his Coca Cola, with which the Soviet agents were not yet familiar. Coke, however, was not “it.” It apparently neutralized the poison and the dining party survived! So the Soviets instead bombed the presidential palace to smithereens, sure that they would find evidence that Amin was a CIA pawn (just as, perhaps, the US was sure in its invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction). There was no such evidence; Amin was simply a loose cannon — and not even a Chinese spy, as other KGB agents thought might be the case.

    Gorbachev_1747829c

    By the mid-1980s it had become clear to Mikhail Gorbachev that the war was a strategic, political, and military disaster. The architect of Perestroika and new political thinking makes a fascinating and typically self-serving appearance in the film. As a young Politburo member, he claims that most of the political leadership was excluded from the initial decision to invade, and that the invasion was a kind of coup orchestrated by Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Gromyko, General Dmitrii Ustinov, and Brezhnev. Of course, this position perhaps too conveniently absolves Gorbachev of complicity in the invasion on December 28, 1979. The absence of documented records makes it impossible to say. When Gorbachev in the film proclaims fatefully, “you can’t rewrite history,” it is entirely possible that he is the one doing the rewriting.

    a974_carter_zia_brzezinski_2050081722-20904

    Among other things, the Afghan war derailed the politics of Détente, which Jimmy Carter and his hawkish National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski decisively ended. Providing lethal aid to the Mujahideen, they intended to make Afghanistan the Soviet Union’s Vietnam, payback for the American nightmare that had only ended five years previously. A boycott of the Moscow Olympics soon followed, as well as termination of broad-ranging intellectual and cultural exchanges — as well as collaboration in space exploration — between the United States and the Soviet Union, all initiated by Nixon and Kissinger.

    Reagan with Afghan Mujahideen 1985

    Especially blameworthy in this story, as recounted in the documentary, is the role of the ideological Cold Warriors of the Reagan Administration, who were determined to defeat the Soviet Union at all costs, even as Gorbachev attempted to rely on the most moderate forces in Afghanistan, in order to achieve a national reconciliation and remove Soviet troops. Reagan’s advisors, gleeful at the humiliations suffered by their ideological foe, armed the most radical Jihadists they could find with billions of dollars of sophisticated weaponry and training, thus creating a kind of hothouse for growing future terrorism. Stinger missiles — handheld anti-aircraft weapons — were given to the Mujahideen, taking down hundreds of Soviet attack helicopters. Sly Stallone exploited the triumphal embrace of the Islamic Jihadists in 1988, producing Rambo III, in which Rambo heads a CIA operation to help Mujahideen blow away Soviet soldiers. Reagan greeted Mujahideen in the White House as partners in defense of religious faith and freedom against Godless commies.

    2260151-rambo_iii

    karmal

    If Brezhnev’s dotage played a role in the initial Soviet invasion, goaded on by hawks within the Soviet military industrial complex, Reagan’s own advancing senility in the mid-1980s allowed Cold Warriors like Richard Pearle, blind to the dangerous implications of their Afghanistan gambit, to enact a fatally-flawed policy in the Middle East.

    pearle

    This is a well told story that clearly outlines the series of blunders and missteps that led to the overthrow of Amin, the invasion, the installation of the new Soviet-chosen leader Babrak Karmal and to the many unintended and tragic consequences that resulted – especially for the United States and the Soviet Union, who armed their current and future enemies in waging a proxy war against each other. It contains excellent archival footage as well interviews with important historical figures on all sides of the conflict at the time. This documentary, in short, is a must see for anyone interested in the blunders and miscalculations of both Soviet and American leaders that produced the terror-infested world in which we now live.

    REAGAN-US

    Posted in Soviet Afghanistan War, Soviet Era 1917-1991, Terrorism, Transnational History | 3 Comments