A few years ago Steve Barnes was visiting Hawaii to give a talk on his work on campus here at UH. He spent a bit of time at our Library, and came across an unusual find in our special collections, the American Express Travel Service’s 1936 Guide Book of the Soviet Union. It is included in the material we call The Social Movements Collection, which does contain a lot of Soviet material. American Express offered four different tours of the Soviet Union: “A Tour of Great Soviet Cities” that went from Leningrad to Moscow to Kiev, and then returned to the West via Warsaw; “The Crimea Tour” that went from Moscow to Kharkov to Sevastopol, Yalta, and Odessa; “The Volga River Tour” that left Moscow for Gorky, Kazan, Kuibishev, Saratov, Stalingrad, Rostov, and then a train to Kharkov, Kiev, and Warsaw; and “The Caucasus-Black Sea Tour” that took a train down the Volga to ultimately reach Ordzhonikidze, Tiflis, and then depart onto the Black Sea from Batum.
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.
In October 2010 influential filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov published an extensive “Manifesto of Enlightened Conservatism” which was published as “Right and Truth” in polit.ru. (Read in Russian here.)
The defense of serfdom attributed to Mikhalkov, which I posted yesterday, may well be a fake, but his conservative views are well-known and worth reading. A shorter overview (and critique) of his Manifesto was published in Vedomosti and translated in The Moscow Times. I am taking the liberty of copying that article in full (below) as it might be interesting for our students in Russian history classes. Lest they (students) think the debates and views of Russian conservatism are archaic, they can see them returning in the extremely conservative new laws on homosexuality, on diversity within the Russian Orthodox Church (the rules on “insulting believers” are very broadly construed), and in the takeover of the Russian Academy of Sciences (long a bastion of independent thinking).
According to a website called “Tsenzor.Net” filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov told a group of journalists that he is preparing to make a film praising serfdom as “the wisdom of the nation.” His comments show a romanticization of history that is pretty hard to believe:
After all, what was serfdom? [he told the journalists]. Serfdom was patriotism, secured on paper. A person was tied to his mother-earth not only by a feeling of duty, but also on paper [in documents]. Serfdom is the wisdom of the people. It is 400 years of our history. And now, when people suggest we should erase 400 years of our history, I say to them, “Brothers, do you think our ancestors were idiots?”
“I am very happy that Putin is now reviving our historical memory,” said the director. “The law on registration [propiska] is exactly what our people are missing, what was torn out by the roots.”
The Nazi siege of Leningrad began on September 8, 1941. It ended 874 days later, one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history. The Soviets won at the cost of more than 1 million soldiers killed, captured, or missing and more than 640,000 civilian dead. Nearly a third of the city perished — from disease, bombings, and starvation. Soviet propagandists — during the siege and afterwards — constructed a heroic story of perseverance and courage as part of a broader mythologizing of the war. That tale has served various social, political, and cultural purposes ever since. In the process, however, the real story was sanitized and simplified, hidden and censored — to the point that even participants often preferred the mythological version (which at any rate was more ennobling than the real story). This fine documentary (900 Days, 2011) uses interviews with survivors and archival sources to help peel back the layers of myth and to reveal the historical siege that few survivors had ever discussed publicly.
Many of you no doubt know of the work of MIT’s Elizabeth Wood. She has turned her attention in recent years from Russian revolutionary gender politics and early Soviet propaganda trials to the cult of Putin in contemporary Russia. Wood brings the trained eye of the historian and gender studies scholar to the image of Putin created and propagated over the last dozen years.
Wood has just published a fascinating blog piece for The Boston Globe tying together her studies of Putin with an astute analysis of the protests in Russia. She also (rightly) takes issue with an ill-informed analysis of the protests by Paul Starobin that dredges up old literature and old stereotypes to dismiss the protests:
[A] longer view of Russian history suggests that what looks like a harbinger of democratic change can be better understood as something else: a familiar drama pitting the father of the nation against a flock of discontented children.
Just a quick update to my last post on “Ivan the Terrible and the American adolescent.” The show in which I appeared (http://www.spike.com/full-episodes/59fkzw/deadliest-warrior-ivan-the-terrible-vs-hern-n-cort-s-season-3-ep-307) declared Hernan Cortes the victor over Ivan the Terrible. Ivan’s weapons were superior but psychological factors, once entered into the “Simulator,” did him in.
I got involved in the TV show described below to see first hand the process whereby expertise gets turned into entertainment. The show is called Deadliest Warrior. It’s on Spike TV and seems to be for the 12-18 year-old male demographic. When I was asked to appear on the show, I’d never heard of it and asked my 13-year-old boy Alex: he, of course, knew all about it. My character plays an Ivan the Terrible expert. In the favored sporting metaphor of American culture, I’m Ivan’s coach (the “brain”), along with another actor who plays the role of Ivan’s warrior, an ex-Russian special forces guy and stuntman trained in shooting, horseback, and swordplay known as “the brawn.” He bears a remarkable resemblance to Vladimir Putin.