Children of the Soviet Union

This fascinating documentary, made by Disney in 1987, gives its putative US television audience a glimpse into the daily life of a Leningrad schoolboy, Alyosha Trusov. Alyosha attends Leningrad School No. 185, an English-language magnet school that my boon companion had graduated only a few years before this film was made.

Thanks to Yelena Yoffe for the heads-up.

 

Everything Is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid, a recent memoir by the narrator and protagonist’s older half-brother Sergey Grechishkin, also gets my seal of approval. I would especially recommend it to university lecturers teaching courses about everyday life in the late-Soviet period and anyone else who wants to know what childhood was really like for what anthropologist Alexei Yurchak has rightly called “the last Soviet generation.”

Don’t be scared off by Grechiskin’s explicitly pro-capitalist, pro-western stance: he is too good a writer to let that get in the way of the story he has to tell, which he tells much more honestly than most of his compatriots and, certainly, nearly all westerners who have written about the period.

Thanks (again) to Yelena Yoffe for the heads-up. Grechishkin’s book turned several long bus trips in December into supremely pleasant journeys.

grechishkin

This book is both a memoir and a social history. On one hand, it is a light-hearted worm’s-eye-view of the USSR through one middle-class Soviet childhood in the 1970s–1980s. On the other hand, it is a reflection on the mundane deprivations and existential terrors of day-to-day life in Leningrad in the decades preceding the collapse of the USSR.

The author occupies a peculiar place in the Soviet world. He is the son of a dissident father and also the stepson of a politically favored Leningrad University professor and Party member. He also occupies a peculiar place in the literal geographic sense — both his home and school are only a few blocks away from the city’s KGB headquarters, where a yet-unknown officer called Vladimir Putin is learning his trade.

His world is a world without flavor. Food is unseasoned. Bananas are a once a year treat. A pack of instant coffee is precious enough to be more useful as a bribe to a Party official than a consumable. Parents on business trips thousands of miles away from home schlep precious and scarce bottles of soda across the Soviet empire for their kids. Everything is bland: TV, radio, books, music, politics — life itself. The author staves away boredom the best he can, with a little help from his friends. They play in the streets of their beautiful city, still resplendent with pre-Revolutionary glory; make their own toys and gadgets; and, when they get older, pass around forbidden novels and books of poetry.

But occasionally, an infinitely more exciting world makes itself briefly known. A piece of foreign bubble gum with a Disney wrapper. A short Yugoslavian cartoon. A smuggled cassette tape with mind-blowing music by someone named Michael Jackson. And these hints of a completely different life introduce small cracks into the author’s all-pervading late-Soviet boredom — cracks that widen and widen, until reality itself shatters, and a brand new world rushes in.

Zaharia Cușnir, Rural Moldovan Photographer

zaharia-cusnir-zacu-2520

Found in an Abandoned House in Northern Moldova, Zaharia Cușnir’s Photographs Have Been Published Online
Locals
January 5, 2020

The official presentation of the online archive of works by the amateur photographer Zaharia Cușnir  (1912–1993), who took pictures of northern Moldovan villagers in the 1950s and the 1960s, took place on January 3, 2020.

zaharia-cusnir-zacu-2456

Three and a half years ago, while working on his graduation project, Academy of Arts student Victor Gălușcă found around twenty old photographic negatives amid trash in an abandoned house in the village of Roșietici, 122 kilometers north of Chișinău. He showed his find to his teacher, Nicolae Pojoga. Even this small number of shots was enough to convince Pojoga of their artistic and ethnographic value. A week later, Gălușcă returned to Roșietici hoping to find at least a few more shots by the unknown rural photographer. In a house whose windows and doors were missing, he found a dozen more, and when he climbed into the attic, a real treasure awaited him: a suitcase containing thousands of negatives. Thus began the project of restoring the photo archive of amateur photographer Zaharia Cușnir, who recorded the faces and everyday lives of villagers in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Cușnir was the youngest of the sixteen children of Iacov and Anna Cuşnir, who lived in the village of  Climăuți (now known as Roșietici Nou) on the Răut River. Zaharia went to the village school in Rogojeni before graduating from a pedagogical lyceum in Iași. He worked for a short time as a geography teacher before the war. We know that he spent time in prison after the war, and later he went from being an individual farmer to working on a collective farm. His work record book contains such entries as “plastered,” “hauled clay,” “laid concrete,” and “carried stones,” but there is no mention of his being employed as a photographer. Photography was Cuşnir’s hobby and labor of love.

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Cuşnir began taking pictures around 1955. His wife Daria and four children reproached him for photographing everyone, including beggars, who they though should not be in the frame since they could not serve as an example to others. Until 1970, he shot scenes of village life, leaving us nearly 4,000 medium-sized (6 x 6 cm) photographic negatives. Since they were found three and half years ago, the negatives have been thoroughly restored and archived, as well as painstakingly scanned under the direction of the well-known documentary photographer Ramin Mazur. There have been several shows of Cuşnir’s work in Moldova, Romania, and Germany, and Cartier Editions published a book containing 204 photographs by Cuşnir in 2017.

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Since Cuşnir died in 1993, his house has been abandoned. His daughter lives next door in the same village, and all the negatives were obtained with her permission. Work on the negatives was supported by a project grant from the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Fellowship.

High-resolution scans of Cuşnir’s photographs can be found at zaharia.md.

Thanks to Alexander Markov for the heads-up. Images courtesy of Locals. Translated by the Russian Reader

Last Address: December 8, 2019

черняховского-все таблички

This Sunday, December 8, 2019, three new Last Address plaques will be installed in Petersburg.

At 12:00 p.m, a plaque in memory of Nikolai Fabianovich Pavlovsky will be mounted on the house at 6 Kirochnaya Street. An ethnic Pole and driver for the Leningrad Fur Procurement Organization (Lenzagotpushniny), Pavlovsky was executed on October 7, 1937, the same day as his brother Pyotr, who has already been memorialized with a plaque on the same house.

At 1:00 p.m., a plaque in memory of Vladislav Stanislavovich Voronovich will be attached to the house at 147 Nevsky Prospect. Before his arrest, Voronovich worked as head of the thermoelectrical block at the Bolshevik Factory. Voronovich was shot on September 28, 1937.

At 2:00 p.m., a plaque in memory of Anton Filippovich Gribovsky, foreman of the conductors on the Polar Star train, will be installed on the house at 72 Ligovsky Prospect. Gribovsky was shot on November 15, 1937.

All three men were exonerated in 1957–1958.

The installation of all three plaques was initiated not by relatives of the executed men, but by people who cherish their memory. The first plaque will thus be installed by a friend of the family, while the second two will be attached by the descendants of people who were part of the same criminal case as the executed men.

We invite you to join us for the installation ceremonies.

Courtesy of the Last Address Petersburg mailing list. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Svetlana Bulatova: The Levashovo Barrens

The Barrens of Memory: Place of Burial Unknown
Svetlana Bulatova
Republic
October 30, 2019

The Levashovo Barrens is one of the largest cemeteries in Petersburg. It is the burial place of men and women who died or were killed in Leningrad’s prisons between  1937 and 1954. According to the Petersburg office of the FSB, 19,450 people were buried in the Levashovo Barrens. Their names are unknown, and there are no lists of the people buried there.

Until 1989, the cemetery was a secret site of the Soviet KGB. It was in 1989 that relatives and friends of people killed during the Great Terror began spontaneously beautifying the place by installing memorial plaques and symbolic tombstones. Many of the photographs were nailed right to the trees and have thus been covered by resin over the years, while others have faded in the sun.

Using the inscriptions still preserved on some of the photographs, I found the names of the people depicted in them in the Open List, the largest database of victims of political repression in the USSR. The Open List was compiled by International Memorial.

bulatova-1Name unknown. The need to combat “enemies of the people” was based on the notion that, as the class struggle intensified, new “class enemies” emerged, including so-called counter-revolutionaries, wreckers, spies, and saboteurs. They were punished under Article 58 of the RSFSR Criminal Code. The term “enemy of the people” was not only a cliché of political rhetoric but was also used in official documents.

bulatova-2Karl Davidovich Ozol, died at the age of 42. Born in Wenden (Cēsis) in Livonia Province, Ozol was an ethnic Latvian and a non-member of the Communist Party. He worked as a fireman at the heat and power station in Pskov, where he lived. He was arrested on December 25, 1937. On January 12, 1938, Ozol was found guilty of violating Articles 17.58.8 and 58.6-9, 10-11 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. He was executed in Leningrad on January 18, 1938. His wife, Minna Yakovlevna, and their daughter were expelled from Pskov. His place of burial is unknown. Ozol was exonerated by the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court on September 29, 1956.

bulatova-3Names unknown

bulatova-4Anna Alexandrovna Kolupayeva, died at the age of 33. An ethnic Russian, she was born and lived in Petersburg, and was a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) from 1929 to 1937. She worked as an accountant for Eksportles (All-Union Association for Timber Exports). Her home address was 19 Borovaya Street, Apartment 30, Leningrad. Kolupayeva was arrested on September 28, 1937. On December 2, 1937, she was found guilty of violating Article 58.6 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. Kolupayeva was executed in Leningrad on December 8, 1937. Her place of burial is unknown.

bulatova-5Veniamin Ilyich Baraden, died at the age of 46. An ethnic Russian born in Petersburg, he was a non-Party member. He worked as a legal consultant at the Ilyich Plant, and resided at 18 Skorokhodov Street (Bolshaya Monetnaya Street), Apartment 16. Baraden was arrested on October 26, 1937. On November 25, 1937, a special troika of the Leningrad Regional Directorate of the NKVD found him guilty of violating Article 58.10 of the RSFSR Criminal Code and sentenced him to death. Baraden was executed in Leningrad on December 3, 1937. His place of burial is unknown.

bulatova-6Nikolai Mikhailovich Makarov, died at the age of 44. Born in the village of Ivakino in the Rostov District of Yaroslavl Province, he was an ethnic Russian, a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), and secretary of the Party committee at the Institute of the Arctic. He resided at 44 Krasnaya Street (Galernaya Street), Apartment 46, in Leningrad. He was arrested on July 16, 1937, on charges of espionage. On January 10, 1938, an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office found him guilty of violating Article 58.6 of the RSFSR Criminal Code and sentenced him to death. Makarov was executed in Leningrad on January 15, 1938. His place of burial is unknown.

bulatova-7Name unknown

bulatova-8Name unknown

bulatova-9Name unknown

bulatova-10Herbert Karlovich Hesse, died at the age of 40. A native and resident of Petersburg, Hesse was an ethnic German who received his higher education at Tomsk University. In 1919, while still a university student, he was drafted into the army of Admiral Alexander Kolchak. He had a non-combat position in an artillery brigade in Tomsk. After returning to Leningrad, he resided at 9 Serpukhovskaya Street, Apartment 2. He worked as an electrical engineer at the Elektrosila Plant and an assistant at the Сommunications Research Institute. In March 1935, Hesse was expelled from Leningrad as a former White Army officer. Arrested on February 25, 1938, he was found guilty of violating Article 58.6-11 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. Hesse was executed in Leningrad on June 28, 1938. His place of burial is unknown. Hesse’s brother Friedrich was executed on September 6, 1938.

bulatova-11August Ernestovich Egleskaln, died at the age of 34. Born in the Berezovo Rural Society (Atheist Collective Farm), Valdai District, Novgorod Province, Egleskaln was an ethnic Latvian who was expelled from the Bolshevik Party in 1935. He worked as head of the cable recovery united of the 2nd Communications Regiment of the Leningrad Military District. Arrested on November 5, 1937, Egleskaln was found guilty of violating Article 58.6 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. He was executed in Leningrad on January 5, 1938. His place of burial is unknown. Egleskaln was exonerated in 1957.

Today, October 30, is the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression in Russia. See the Ioffe Foundation’s website Map of Memory: Levashovo Barrens (in Russian) for more detailed information on the Levashovo Cemetery. See also my posts on the Last Address project. Translated by the Russian Reader

Sputnik

Sputnik
Roky Erickson and the Aliens

When it comes to fattening
there’s no need for an end
And when it comes to herding my creations
I don’t need a space bend

Spelling your theory
alien I creator
Spelling your theory
alien I creator

Everything started by me it could end to begin
It could explode into the cosmos
to begin from nothing on a clear night
As I started in before infinities infinite

Spelling your theory
alien I creator
Spelling your theory
alien I creator
Spelling your theory
alien I creator

The sunset mount the rain
In the right place the trees
At the right time time time the stars
All familiar before me

It was flying, it was flying
would ultimate space be my replacing friend
ultimate knowledge theorizes null
It dissolves before it begins

Spelling your theory
alien I creator
Spelling your theory
alien I creator
Spelling your theory
alien I creator

Spelling your theory
alien I creator
Spelling your theory
alien I creator
Spelling your theory
alien I creator
Spelling your theory
alien I creator

Source: LetsSingIt

That was so lovely we should hear it again, this time in a demo version broadcast on August 20, 1979, on the “Modern Humans Show.”

Death to Traitors!

536635Visitors to the Dnieper Line Military History Festival in Shipunovo, Altai Territory, interacting with a “German soldier,” August 24, 2019. Photo courtesy of Altapress

“Traitor to the Motherland” Mock-Executed at Military History Festival in Altai Territory
News.ru.com
August 26, 2019

On August 24, the Dnieper Line Military History Festival was held in the village of Shipunovo in the Altai Territory. Its main event was a reconstruction of the Battle of the Dnieper in 1943. Clubs from the Altai Territory, Berdsk, Krasnoyarsk,  Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tomsk, and Tyumen took part in the reenactment.

One hundred thirty people took part in the staged battle, thirty of them playing German soldiers. According to the scenario, a group of German invaders was burning part of a Ukrainian farmstead that had been helping pro-Soviet guerrillas right when a detachment of Red Army soldiers arrived at the farm.

Festivalgoers were also treated to a mock “execution of a traitor to the Motherland.” His sentence was read aloud by a “Red Army officer” on stage and carried out, despite promises by the “traitor” to redeem himself and his pleas not to shoot “one of your own.”

The military history festival in Shipunovo was held for the second time. Organizers estimated 9,000 people attended the event, writes Altapress.

Festivalgoers enjoyed an exhibition of vintage military equipment as well as musical performances and reenactments. Altapress noted visitors were especially keen to have their pictures taken with the reenactors dressed in Wehrmacht uniforms and asked them to say something in German.

In May, Novaya Gazeta wrote that 157,593 people were sentenced to death by Soviet military tribunals and executed during the Second World war. This number is the equivalent of approximately fifteen Red Army divisions, but it does not take into account people executed on the orders of regular courts and the NKVD’s Special Councils, as well as extrajudicial executions by SMERSH.

Among the “traitors to the Motherland” who were executed, according to Novaya Gazeta, were Red Army servicemen who spoke approvingly to their comrades of the German Messerschmitt fighter plane, gossiped about news that had arrived from nearby battalions or picked up German propaganda leaflets and put them in their pockets to use latter as rolling paper for homemade cigarettes.

During the Second World War, British military tribunals sentenced 40 British servicemen to death, while the French executed 102 of their soldiers, and the Americans, 146, added Novaya Gazeta. Between September 1, 1939, and September 1, 1944, 7,810 people were executed on the orders of German military tribunals.

In December 2018, after an air-rifle shooting competition, schoolchildren in Yekaterinburg were given the chance to shoot at a photograph of retired US Army General Robert Scales, whom the event’s organizers had identified as an “enemy of the Russian people.”*

A few months earlier, Russian National Guardsmen and members of the Cossack Watch movement held a “patriot” quest outside of Yekaterinburg. One part of the event was a reenactment of the September 2004 Beslan school siege.  Cossack Watch later claimed  it had actually been a “staged special forces operation to free hostages,” and that “idle, unscrupulous people on the internet” had dubbed it a staging of the Beslan tragedy.

* “On 10 March 2015, Robert Scales told in an interview with Lou Dobbs Tonight at Fox News about the War in Donbass: ‘The only way the United States can have any effect in this region and turn the tide is to start killing Russians—killing so many Russians that even Putin’s media can’t hide the fact that Russians are returning to the motherland in body bags”. The Moscow Times wrote that the context of his statement suggested that his words were rhetoric, rather than a call to arms. [] On 12 March 2015, Investigative Committee of Russia launched a criminal case, describing Scales’ words as a call to the U.S. political and military leadership and the American citizens to ‘conduct military operations on the Ukrainian territory and to kill Russian citizens, as well as Russian-speaking people.’ The case was launched under the article of Russia’s Criminal Code that prohibits ‘public calls to unleash an aggressive warfare, made with the use of media outlets.’ If arrested and convicted by a Russian court, Scales could theoretically be faced up to five years in prison.”

Source: Wikipedia. I hope I do not need to point out to readers that the slightly off-kilter language of this passage suggests strongly who might have written it. TRR

Thanks to Jukka Mallinen for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Yevgeniy Fiks, “Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s–1980s”

Exhibit Opening. Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s–1980s
Wednesday, September 4, 2019, 6:00 pm
Harriman Institute Atrium (12th floor, 420 W 118th St., New York), Harriman Institute, Columbia University

Please join the Harriman Institute for the opening reception of the exhibit Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s -1980s featuring a series of works photographed in 2008 by artist Yevgeniy Fiks.

The exhibit runs September 3–October 18, 2019. Exhibit hours are Monday–Friday, 9:30 am–5:00 pm, excluding university holidays.

The exhibit documents gay cruising sites in Soviet Moscow, from the early 1920s to the USSR’s dissolution in the early 1990s. Photographed in 2008 in a simple but haunting documentary style, these sites of the bygone queer underground present a hidden and forgotten Moscow, with a particular focus on revolutionary communist and Soviet state sites appropriated by queer Muscovites.

This opening reception will feature a performative reading by actor Chris Dunlop of the 1934 letter to Joseph Stalin by the British Communist and Moscow resident Harry Whyte, in which he attempts to defend homosexuality from a Marxist-Leninist perspective in the face of the campaign of mass arrests that swept Moscow and Leningrad gay circles from 1933 to 1934. After reading the letter, Stalin wrote “idiot and degenerate” in the margins. The letter, which remained unanswered, was kept in the closed Soviet archives until 1990 and translated into English by Thomas Campbell for publication in Fiks’s Moscow (Ugly Duckling Presse).

Yevgeniy Fiks was born in Moscow in 1972 and has been living and working in New York since 1994. He has produced many projects on the subject of the post-Soviet dialogue in the west. His work has been shown internationally and has been included in the Biennale of Sydney (2008), Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2011), and Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art (2015).

Text and images courtesy of the Harriman Institute