Categories
Cold War Crimea Current events in the Putin Era Nostalgia and Memory Post-Soviet Russia Russia in World History Russian History in Popular Culture Teaching Russian History Transnational History Ukraine Uncategorized World War II

History in the Crimea & Ukraine Today

Protest in Kiev, December 2013

History is being blithely tossed about these days by everyone from Vladimir Putin himself to Sarah Palin and John McCain. What is the real story? Is there a real story?

To answer that question, I invited two eminent historians – well, one historian and one historically minded political scientist, Serhii Plokhii and Mark Kramer, both of Harvard, to speak at MIT on this exact situation. They spoke on Monday (3/17), the day after the Crimean Referendum and the day before the Russian President’s speech.

Categories
Cold War Gender and Sexuality Russian Space History Soviet and Russian Space Flight

Russian Space History — Dreams in Orbit

Murzilka_Jan65In an oft-quoted remark, Svetlana Boym asserted that “Soviet children of the 1960s did not dream of becoming doctors and lawyers, but cosmonauts (or, if worse came to worst, geologists.” [1. Svetlana Boym, “Kosmos: Rememberences of the Future, in Kosmos: A Portrait of the Russian Space Age, Princeton, NJ: Princeton Architectural Press, 2001, 83.] This illustration from a December 1960 issue of the children’s magazine, Murzilka, suggests that even before Yuri Gagarin’s leap into the cosmos, Soviet children’s culture was compelling the USSR’s youngest citizens to commit their dreams to the stars.

As Monica Rüthers pointed out in a recent article, in the aftermath of Sputnik and Gagarin, the twin catapults of celebrity and propaganda bombarded children with irresistible images of success and personal possibility: “The strong and meaningful motifs of ‘childhood’ and ‘cosmos’ were used in combination,” Rüthers argues. “In their symbolic meaning, these iconographic motifs signified the belief in the country’s leading role in the future of mankind.” [2. Monica Rüthers, “Children and the Cosmos as Projects of the Future and Ambassadors of Soviet Leadership,” in Eva Maurer, et. al., eds., Soviet Space Culture: Cosmic Enthusiasm in Socialist Societies, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 206.]

Murzilka_Sept61

In his initial posting to this conversation, Asif Siddiqi asked us to consider (among other things) “the co-production of imagination and engineering in Soviet space culture” and, more specifically, “the challenges of drawing connections between popular discourse and real world changes.” When it came to imagining their future selves, at least some among the first generation of space age children believed that they were living in a time and place where their dreams would come true. Consider the following excerpt from a letter written to Valentina Tereshkova by a girl in Irkutsk oblast:

I just finished the 4th grade, so at the moment I can’t think about a flight to the cosmos. Your deed made me very glad. I hope that when I grow up the success of our science and technology will stride far beyond the limits of outer space and in time no doubt there will be a flight for tourists to other planets. How fortunate that I live in this century, when my native people are capable of space flight and I know that my dream will also come true. [3. RGAE, f. 9453, op. 2, ed. khr. 151, p. 46-46ob]

Categories
Archives Cold War Detente Soviet Era 1917-1991

“Brezhnev’s hospitality was effusive, if unpredictable…”

The words in the title of this post come from a description by Donald M. Kendall, CEO of PepsiCo from 1971 to 1986. Kendall met Brezhnev in August 1973 in the Soviet Union and reported back on his meeting to Nixon and Henry Kissinger — who were both close to Kendall. Kendall — who had also played a critical role in the overthrow of the Allende regime in Chile — used those connections to penetrate the Soviet market during Nixon’s detente and thus counter Coca Cola in the epic sugar water wars  (Jimmy Carter was later close to Coca Cola and aided its penetration of the Chinese market in 1979). Kendall’s enduring influence in Russia is suggested by his receipt in 2004 from Vladimir Putin of the Order of Friendship medal.

The result of Kendall’s meeting with Brezhnev is a fascinating read: 15 typed pages of his observations of Brezhnev’s personality, political inclinations, and endearing qualities — endearing, that is, for certain types of males who like sports, drinking, hunting, fishing, boating, and cars (Brezhnev’s favorite was the iconic 1970s muscle car, the Dodge Charger).

The document below comes from the National Security Council, Henry Kissinger/Anatoly Dobrynin files at the Nixon Presidential Library and Archives in Yorba Linda, Ca. I came across them as part of my latest research project on international collaboration in space as a window into detente and the late Cold War. Soviet/American collaboration, leading to the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project of 1975, played a critical role in the creation and unfolding of Nixon’s policies of detente (referred to as peaceful coexistence by the Soviets). While providing insight into Brezhnev and the Soviet political leadership, the document also illustrates the shared culture of male bonding and machismo on both sides of the Cold War divide.

Categories
Cold War Historiography

Child of the Cold War

Ivan and the Secret SuitcaseLike most people studying Russian history, I’m sure, I’ve been asked many times what drew me to the subject in the first place. I give different answers depending on my mood and the person asking. They include: TV coverage of the 1989 revolutions, which provoked lots of adolescent questions about why the Berlin Wall had been built and how politics in the communist bloc were different to those in the UK (was Gorbachev left or right-wing, I wondered); an eye-opening school trip to Moscow and St Petersburg a few years later; my passion for Anna Karenina (my well-read copy unravelling to the point it had to be carried around in what my Dad fondly called “Anna Karenina’s body bag”)… But recently I have realized that it all started much earlier.

Categories
Cold War Historiography Soviet and Russian Space Flight Soviet Era 1917-1991 Uncategorized

Call for a Wider Perspective

Many thanks to Alexander Geppert, a leading figure in the history of space flight and European culture, for this review of two recent volumes on Russian space flight and culture (in which I and fellow blogger Asif Siddiqi have essays). It’s nice to see a scholar from outside our field address our scholarship.

http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/rezensionen/type=rezbuecher&id=17657

What I find most interesting about this outsider’s perspective is that it confirms something that many of us perhaps already know – or should know: the parochial nature of our scholarship and scholarly community (as an aside, it’s great that the Russian History Blog has included scholars from outside the Russian field to comment on our scholarship in the Blog Conversations). The point was driven home to me at the April 2012 conference in Berlin put on by Alexander (http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/tagungsberichte/id=4303). I was the lone Russianist at the conference. I was struck by the marginalization of Russia in the European context (even as the papers devoted to the United States, in a conference dedicated to European visions of space and utopia, dominated parts of the agenda). I think we Russianists share some of the blame for this, precisely because of our tendency to eschew transnational or global approaches to writing the history of Russia and the Soviet Union in the 20th century. But what would a transnational history of space flight and culture look like? It’s a question that consumes me now as I attempt to research the space race in a transnational context — focusing on collaborative moments such as the Apollo-Solyuz Test Project, the Interkosmos flights beginning in 1979, the Association of Space Explorers in the 1980s, and the Mir and ISS space stations. If anyone feels so inspired, perhaps they could point me to interesting examples of attempts to write Cold War Russia and the Soviet Union into a more global — or at least — pan-European history.

Categories
Closed Cities Soviet Baby Boomers

Soviet Baby Boomers – Closed Cities, CHMO and Soviet Regionalism

The very important issue addressed in Don Raleigh’s book is the relations between Moscow and provincial cities, especially between Moscow and such “closed” cities as Saratov, during late socialism.

Categories
Cold War Nostalgia and Memory Soviet Baby Boomers Soviet Era 1917-1991 Uncategorized

Soviet Baby Boomers- What’s a generation?

I know I won’t shock anyone by admitting that I often ask myself “why?” when reading an academic monograph: why this topic, why this approach and yes, why this book? Reading Don Raleigh’s Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia’s Cold War Generation was, for me, the very opposite of that experience. In fact, the book got me right from the cover, with its charming, evocative photograph of two Soviet teenagers in a phone booth circa 1966. Something about the expression of the girl in the photo—I suppose it’s the way her mouth is half-opened, and the knowingness in her eyes—tells us she has something to say; the crisscrossed metal bars of the phone booth (and, in another way, the impinging presence of the boy beside her) suggest her limits.

In Soviet Baby Boomers, Raleigh has given her the opportunity to speak, forty plus years on and better late than never. There is no question that documenting the life story of this Soviet girl and of her cohort is a worthwhile project, intellectually and ethically. Raleigh’s book is both a goldmine of information on everyday life in the final decades of the Soviet Union and a powerful gesture of respect for the people who lived those lives. It is also immensely interesting. I would, nonetheless, like to raise a few questions about some of its key categories of analysis: generation, baby boomers, and history.

Categories
Cold War Nostalgia and Memory oral history Soviet Baby Boomers Soviet Era 1917-1991

Soviet Baby Boomers – preliminary thoughts

I am happy to launch the fourth “blog conversation” which will be about Donald Raleigh’s recent Soviet Baby Boomers. His excavation of late Soviet society through the medium of oral history is highly readable and I will be recommending it strongly to my students next year.  The work draws on interviews with men and women born in 1949/50 who attended two schools: one in the closed city of Saratov and the other in Moscow. Both were prestigious schools and most graduates went on to college and interesting careers: they make lucid and articulate companions to travel through the Soviet Union of the post-Stalin era. Raleigh’s monograph takes us through the different chapters of their lives – childhood, school, college, adult family life, work – and in doing so traces their attitudes towards Soviet power and the wider world.

Categories
Chernobyl Cold War Films Post-Soviet Russia Russia in World History Russian Orthodoxy

The Nuclear Age: A New Documentary

People often say we live in the “nuclear age,” but what that means is never entirely clear. A new documentary produced by a former ABC newsman captures the spirit, or rather spirits, of that era – from its beginnings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and up to the present.

Inspired by the late Cold War, when Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan initiated a process of disarmament in Iceland in 1986, the producer hopes to make viewers believe that eliminating nuclear weapons can happen – despite the growing fatalism and relative inattention to the problem in the post-Cold War era.

Categories
Closed Cities Cold War Gulag Soviet Intelligentsia Soviet Science Uncategorized

ZATOs In View

A few weeks ago, on March 27, I was at a reception at the Harriman Institute (for Russian, Eurasian, and Eastern European Studies) at Columbia University for the opening of a new exhibit entitled ZATO: Soviet Secret Cities During the Cold War. The exhibit, which will be on display until May 22, was curated by Dr. Xenia Vytuleva, an architectural historian who did her graduate work at Moscow State University and is now visiting at Columbia. The exhibit includes images, diagrams, maps, and documents, some of it provided by Richard Pare, the English photographer well-known for his work on Soviet modernist architecture. Dr. Vytuleva has done an exemplary job of visually communicating the essence of the “closed cities” and I encourage all in the New York area to come and see her superb work.

My contribution to the project was to provide the historical text (and context) and to help conceptualize an exhibit ostensibly designed to render visible a phenomenon that was largely about invisibility. I provide here a brief summary of some of my thoughts that fed into the ZATO exhibit and the ways in which we might begin to situate the “secret cities” phenomenon on the social and political geography of the former Soviet Union. On a very cursory level, these cities are no mystery. Consider the official designation that created this typology of urban life: the Closed Administrative-Territorial Formation (Zakrytoe administrativno-territorial’noe obrazovanie, ZATO). All of these words hold certain meanings, but they all communicate a sense of boundaries, demarcations, limitations, and circumscriptions on the social and political geography of the Soviet Union. At a deeper level, the language of secret cities is also one of omission, most starkly demonstrated by the fact that the cities themselves were never shown on official maps produced by the Soviet regime. Implicated in the Cold War posture of producing weapons for the Soviet military-industrial complex, these cities were some of the most deeply secret and omitted places in Soviet geography. Those who worked in these places had special passes to live and leave, and were themselves occluded from public view. Most of the scientists and engineers who worked in the ZATOs were not allowed to reveal their place or purpose of employment. Again, this omission.

If the secret cities can be seen as a phenomenon of omission, they can also be understood as spaces of exclusion. Much like other social spaces that were highly exclusionary—such as the Gulag—passage in and out of these urban “formations” was very strictly regulated, even for people who lived within. Yet, what made them different from the Gulag was, of course, the intersection of exclusion and privilege. For Soviet intelligentsia—particularly scientists, engineers, and technicians—secret cities represented aspirational spaces, idealized urban formations where the day-to-day amenities of life were seemingly abundant and plentiful. In these markers—exclusion, omission, and privilege—we see the secret cities functioning as metaphors for the place of knowledge in Soviet civilization. Knowledge—and information—was excluded, omitted, and privileged, according the often arbitrary codes of the Bol’sheviks, creating a system of secrecy at the political, social, and cultural levels that affected every Soviet citizen. Activities from the most anodyne to the most dissident acquired and lost meaning when they were confronted with the boundaries of acceptable discourse.

Much of the discourse surrounding the secret cities has centered on Cold War imperatives and pressures; this was a story of the Soviet military-industrial complex.[1. For some useful social science and history literature, see Richard H. Rowland, “Russia’s Secret Cities,” Post-Soviet Geography and Economics 37.7 (1996): 426-462; Ira N. Gang and Robert C. Stuart, “Where Mobility is Illegal: Internal Migration and City Growth in the Soviet Union,” Journal of Population Economics 12.1 (1999): 117-134; Cynthia Buckley, “The Myth of Managed Migration: Migration Control and Market in the Soviet Period,” Slavic Review 54.4 (Winter 1995): 896-916; David Shearer, “Elements Near and Alien: Passportization, Policing, and Identity in the Stalinist State, 1932-1953,” Journal of Modern History 76.4 (2004): 835-881] But an obvious touchstone for the ZATO, especially in terms of secrecy, was the Gulag. Everything about the Gulag, its institutional structure, the scope of its camp system, how it operated, how many prisoners labored as part of it, where it was located—all of these were considered secret. The Gulag archives are, in fact, replete with directives whose sole goal was to ensure occlusion from public view. Like the ZATOs, the Gulag camps that dotted the Soviet landscape were also omitted from official Soviet maps.

Once the ZATOs began to emerge on the topography of Soviet maps in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they immediately became the object of study for Western security studies scholars (interested in weapons proliferation) and environmentalists (who were concerned with the effects of nuclear and industrial waste). Their concerns are certainly legitimate but it has been equally exciting to see humanities scholars and social scientists exploring other aspects of the ZATO phenomenon. New work among others by Victoria Donovan (who is studying migration) and Ekaterina Emeliantseva hold much promise to add to what has so far been a relatively straightforward recounting of facts. Much in the mode of this new work, the Van Alen Institute is hosting a discussion on May 15, 2012 on the theme of “ZATO: Secret Soviet Cities During the Cold War.” Present will be Jean-Louis Cohen, the Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture at NYU, Xenia Vytuleva, Richard Pare, and myself. On the same day, the Harriman Review will issue its Spring/Summer issue containing an essay by me proposing a conceptual framework for the study of ZATOs in the context of the history of secrecy in Soviet civilization. We hope that this will be the beginning of further discussion on the history and urban ecology of the phenomenon of closed cities.

Categories
Cold War Films Nostalgia and Memory Post-Soviet Russia Soviet Era 1917-1991 Teaching Russian History

Three Songs About Motherland

My university (California State University, Long Beach) is screening a number of documentary films about Russia this semester, including three films from the esteemed documentary film maker Marina Goldovskaya: A Taste of Freedom (1991, 46 min.), A Bitter Taste of Freedom (2011, 88 min.), and Three Songs About Motherland (2009, 39 min.)  Goldovskaya will be attending the event on this March 18 — and I will be participating in a panel discussion along with a number of other professors. So if you are in the LA area please do attend. Venue and details about this and other events can be found here: http://bwordproject.org/

Here is my review of one of the films, Three songs About Motherland. I have found it especially valuable for the classroom because of its brevity and neat division into three compelling stories.

Categories
Cold War Detente Soviet and Russian Space Flight Soviet Era 1917-1991

Hot-Tub Diplomacy and Star Wars

I’ve been reviewing documents from the Hoover Archives in connection with my latest project (http://russianhistoryblog.org/2011/10/transnational-history-and-space-flight/). The ones I’ve posted here, with brief commentary and historical context, concern an organization of astronauts and cosmonauts called the Association of Space Explorers, which held its first Congress in Paris in October 1985.

Aleksei Leonov and Deke Slayton on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

The idea for the group emerged during informal conversations between cosmonauts and astronauts dating back to the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975 — that “memorable handshake in space,” as the world press at the time put it. The end of detente, however, got in the way, first with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, followed by the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Summer Olympics, the Soviet boycott four years later of the Los Angeles games, Reagan’s announcement of the Star Wars program in March 1983, and the Soviet shooting down of a South Korean jet airliner in September 1983.

Categories
Cold War Films Stalinism Teaching Russian History

Stalin’s Daughter

The death of Svetlana Alliluyeva in a nursing home in Wisconsin brings to a close a fascinating and tragic life. The documentary film maker Lana Parshina in 2007 had the good luck of landing one of the few extensive interviews with Stalin’s daughter, who had taken on the new name of Lana Peters. Here are my thoughts on the film.

In 2007, the producer and director, a young Russian émigré named Svetlana Parshina, learned to her great amazement that Stalin’s 82-year-old daughter Svetlana was not only alive—but living in a retirement community in Wisconsin under the name “Lana Peters” (Peters is the name of her last husband, an American architect whom she divorced in the 1970s). Fiercely protective of her privacy, Stalin’s daughter had famously refused for decades to entertain requests for interviews, for they invariably turned toward the deeds and misdeeds of her infamous father.

Categories
Cold War Russian and Soviet Art Soviet and Russian Space Flight Soviet Era 1917-1991

A Priest Contemplates Gagarin’s Feat

Here is a painting entitled “Meditation,” which was done in 1964 by Pyotr Mikhailov. It is from the old Leningrad Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.  In it a priest contemplates Gagarin’s flight into space. What is not clear to me, however, is just what this piece of official art would have conveyed to viewers. It hardly seems like a straightforward piece of atheist propaganda, or does it?

Categories
Cold War Russia in World History Soviet and Russian Space Flight Soviet Era 1917-1991

Transnational History and Space Flight

Goodbye to my previous project

Having finally finished my biography of Yuri Gagarin (The Cosmonaut Who Couldn’t Stop Smiling: The Life and Legend of Yuri Gagarin, due out in March with Northern Illinois University Press) I’m trying to figure out my next project. This blog presents some very preliminary thoughts about a topic that may occupy my mind for the next number of years. I welcome any thoughts and suggestions.

Extending aspects of my previous book into a later period, I want to investigate the political and cultural significance of transnational manned space flight in the 1970s and 1980s. The beginning point of my project is the Apollo-Soyuz mission in July 1975, which marked both the beginning of a new era of transnational space exploration and an important shift in the political and cultural meanings associated with space flight. Aleksei Leonov, the cosmonaut who participated in the mission, said he was struck again and again during the flight, that “cooperation means friendship, and friendship means peace.” (Hoover Institution and Archives, Association of Space Explorers 1983-85, Box 1, Folder 1.) Cliched statements, for sure, but not, I believe, devoid of genuine belief.

Categories
Cold War Films Nostalgia and Memory Post-Soviet Russia Soviet Science

On Monkies and Lost Colonies

Having just finished my last classes for my modern Russia survey, I wanted to share some thoughts on a documentary that I used to discuss Post-Soviet Russia. The 2008 documentary is entitled The Lost Colony. For a clip, see: http://hotdocsaudience.bside.com/2008/films/thelostcolony_hotdocs2008.

The action takes place in the tiny sub-tropical region of Abkhazia on the coast of the Black Sea. While Abkhazia is ostensibly a part of the post-Soviet nation of Georgia, it has been a de facto protectorate of Russia since the early 1990s.

Categories
Cold War Digital Russian History Soviet Era 1917-1991 YouTube in Russian History Classes

YouTube of the Week – Khrushchev’s Visit to Iowa

So, this week’s YouTube of the Week is perhaps of more interest to researchers than it is to students. This is just part one of a series of videos uploaded by the Iowa State University Library’s Special Collections. They include raw news footage of Nikita Khrushchev’s 1959 visit to Iowa. I have not yet watched all of the footage, but in the midst of a lot of dullness, many great moments and images often tell you more about American history than Soviet. Of particular interest are the Iowans lining the roads for Khrushchev’s motorcade and holding up signs, including slogans like “The Only Good Communist is a Dead Communist.”

Unfortunately, it seems the ISU Library has disabled the capacity to embed the video in a blog post, so you’ll have to go here.  Khrushchev in Iowa

Categories
Cold War Soviet and Russian Space Flight Soviet Era 1917-1991

The Flight that Launched a Thousand Rumors

Gagarin sometime from 1953 to 1955 as a student in the Saratov air club (DOSAAF), a paramilitary organization that trained young Soviets to fly and repair airplanes.

As I noted in my first post (“Creating Cover Stories: A National Pastime”), an intense feeling of vulnerability and insecurity had compelled the Soviets, along with Russia’s authoritarian traditions, to surround Yuri Gagarin’s flight in secrecy. But they paid for their secret ways in the coin of rumor — a legacy that survives as the world celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of Gagarin’s flight this April 12. As a noted geographer once remarked: “When we wonder what lies on the other side of the mountain range or ocean, our imagination constructs mythical geographies.” Gagarin’s flight and life were (and will forever be) a mythical geography.[1]

To navigate the mythical realms of Gagarin’s flight I have analyzed special summaries of foreign press reports (located in the State Archive of the Russian Federation). Those summaries, with occasional commentary, were provided by Soviet analysts. Those analysts systematically sampled the foreign press, and also the climate in the Moscow press corps, for reactions to Soviet space exploration. The target audience for these reports was apparently the political leadership as well as managers of the Soviet space program. 

Categories
Cold War Post-Soviet Russia Soviet and Russian Space Flight Soviet Era 1917-1991

Some Notes from My Gagarin File

Celebrations of Gagarin's feat in Moscow on April 15, 1961

When I began my study of Yuri Gagarin many years ago, my biggest challenge, as any historian who has worked in Russian archives can appreciate, was getting access to sources. Gagarin was and remains not just a Soviet icon — but a Russian icon, manipulated and exploited for various patriotic purposes by Soviet and post-Soviet governments. That is especially the case with the fiftieth anniversary of Gagarin’s flight less than two weeks away. Vladimir Putin has personally chaired the organizing committee for celebrations. Relatives, cosmonauts, government officials, museum workers, and curators have arranged the proverbial wagons around Gagarin to protect him from any attempt to tarnish his image — either those based on historical evidence or those concocted from urban myth and hearsay (the main source of information about Gagarin for many journalists, as noted in my previous blog).

Categories
Cold War Soviet and Russian Space Flight Soviet Era 1917-1991 Soviet Science

NPR Causes a Gagarin Kerfuffle

A recent controversy surrounding the biography of Yuri Gagarin, and involving NPR, highlights the gaping divide separating academic history writing and the public presentation of history. Last week Robert Krulwich, who writes on science for NPR, posted a blog based on a 1998 book entitled Starman (http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2011/03/21/134597833/cosmonaut-crashed-into-earth-crying-in-rage). The blog uncritically presented the book’s dubious account of the tragic death of the cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov on April 24, 1967. Gagarin was the back up for that flight. Historians at NASA immediately alerted fellow blogger Asif Siddiqi and me to the blog. Asif, who knows the history of Soviet space better than anyone, posted his critique of the NPR article, followed by many others (see the comments following the blog above). To his credit, the journalist involved has decided to investigate further(http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2011/03/22/134735091/questions-questions-questions-more-on-a-cosmonauts-mysterious-death?sc=emaf).