In 1941, before the United States officially joined the Allied war effort, the Lend-Lease Act passed by Congress offered assistance to any nation fighting aggression (which effectively meant any nation but Germany and Japan) and pushed for the rapid expansion of meat production. The government called on the nation’s meatpackers to provide 4 million, then 8 million, then 15 million cans of tinned meat weekly for shipment abroad. The John Morrell and Company plant in Sioux Falls—drawing much of its meat supply from southwestern Minnesota farms—specialized in tushonka, or canned pork with onions and spices [sic], for the Russians.
—Annette Atkins, Creating Minnesota: A History from the Inside Out (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2007), pp. 193–194
Three days before the Karelian Supreme Court handed down its ruling in the “case” of the historian Yuri Dmitriev, the program “Vesti” on state TV channel Rossiya 24 ran a segment in which “shocking pictures” of Dmitriev’s foster daughter were aired. The voice of reporter Olga Zhurenkova shook with anger as she said that “hundreds of Internet users were shocked by these terrible pictures that appeared on the Internet on the morning of September 26,” that “the Internet is boiling with indignation” at this monster who “ruined a child’s life.” The security services got into Dmitriev’s computer and pulled out photos of his foster daughter. Then the security services leaked these photos to the Internet for thousands to see. After that, Rossiya 24 showed them on TV to millions. And they also showed a video in which the foster daughter hugs Dmitriev: the girl can clearly be identified in the video, and just to make sure, Rossiya 24’s reporters called her by name.
This goes to the question of who actually ruined the child’s life and why they did it.
Rossiya 24’s handiwork lasts 4 minutes, 48 seconds. The state channel’s reporters managed to pack into this amount of time all the hatred that the ideological heirs of Stalin’s executioners feel towards the man who for many years studied and presented to the public the traces of the latter’s crimes. In all his previous trials, Dmitriev and his defense team managed to fully prove his innocence. And the prosecutors were well aware that he was innocent, so to concoct and pass a monstrous sentence on him, they recreated the ambiance of the show trials during the Great Terror. Back then, the “people’s anger” was fueled by newspaper articles, demonstrations outside the courtroom, and meetings at factories where shockworkers demanded that the Trotskyite-fascist Judases be shot like mad dogs. Now, in the third decade of the 21st century, the Internet and TV organize the “people’s anger.”
The appeals hearing in Dmitriev’s case was orchestrated like a special military operation whose goal was to prevent the human rights defender from getting out of prison alive. To accomplish this, in addition to organizing the “people’s anger,” the authorities virtually deprived Dmitriev of legal counsel. His lead defense attorney, Viktor Anufriev, was quarantined on suspicion of having the coronavirus, while the court-appointed lawyer said that it was a mockery to expect him to review the nineteen volumes of the case file in three days. Despite the fact that Anufriev petitioned to postpone the hearing for a specific period after his release from quarantine, and Dmitriev declined the services of the court-appointed lawyers, the court, contrary to normal practice, refused to postpone the hearing, and so Dmitriev was left virtually with no legal representation.
Yuri Dmitriev’s work touched a very sensitive chord in the collective soul of Russia’s current bosses, who see themselves as the direct heirs of those who organized the Great Terror, which, they are firmly convinced, is a purely internal matter of the “new nobility.” It is virtually a family secret. They believe that Dmitriev—who not only investigated the mass murders at the Sandarmokh killing field, but also invited foreign journalists there and published lists of those who were killed—is a traitor who deserves to die.
Moreover, the Dmitriev case has come to embody one of the most important amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation adopted this past summer. Namely, the new Article 67.1, which establishes a completely monstrous norm: “The Russian Federation honors the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland [and] ensures the protection of historical truth.” In other words, the task of protecting the “historical truth” is assumed not by historians, but by the state, that is, by the apparatus of violence and coercion.
In fact, the Dmitriev case has been a demonstrative act of “historical truth enforcement.”
The fact is that on the eve of Dmitriev’s trial, members of the Russian Military History Society attempted to write a “correct history” of the killing field in Sandarmokh. They dug up mass graves and hauled away bags of the remains for “forensic examination,” subsequently that they were Soviet soldiers who had been shot by the Finnish invaders.
There should be no blank or black spots in the history of the Fatherland: everything should shine with cleanliness, resound with military exploits and feats of labor, and smell of patriotism. To this end, MP Alexei Zhuravlyov—the man who recently told Russian TV viewers that Europe has brothels for zoophiles where you can rape a turtle—introduced a bill under which you could get three years in prison for “distorting history.” To Zhuravlyov’s great disappointment, his legislative initiative was not appreciated.
And really, why send someone down for three years for promoting “incorrect history,” when you can send them to a maximum security penal colony for thirteen years, which for the 64-year-old human rights activist is tantamount to a death sentence. It was this verdict that was issued by the Karelian Supreme Court by order of the heirs of those who organized the Great Terror.
Translated by the Russian Reader
Yuri Dmitriev. Photo by Igor Podgorny/TASS. Courtesy of the Moscow Times
Prominent Gulag Historian’s 3.5-Year Prison Sentence Lengthened to 13 Years Moscow Times
September 29, 2020
A Russian court has lengthened the term prominent Gulag historian Yuri Dmitriev must serve in prison to 13 years, the Mediazona news website reported Tuesday, a surprise increase of a lenient sentence for charges his allies say were trumped up to silence him.
Dmitriev was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison in July after a city court in northwestern Russia found him guilty of sexually assaulting his adopted [sic] daughter, a ruling his supporters viewed as a victory given the 15 years requested by prosecutors.
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia overturned that ruling and sentenced him to 13 years in a maximum-security penal colony, Mediazona reported, citing the lawyer of Dmitriev’s adopted [sic] daughter.
Under his previous sentence, Dmitriev, 64, would have been released in November as his time already served in pre-trial detention counted toward his sentence.
Human rights advocates condemned the Karelia Supreme Court’s ruling, calling it a “shame.”
Dmitriev has vehemently denied the charges against him.
The head of the Memorial human rights group’s Karelia branch, Dmitriev is known for helping open the Sandarmokh memorial to the thousands of victims murdered there during Stalin-era political repressions in 1937 and 1938.
The horrific famine of 1921 confronted the Soviet government with an inevitable decision: to recognize the disaster and accept foreign aid. Within a short time, more than twenty agreements were signed with international organizations that had expressed a desire to help Soviet Russia. Third on the list was an agreement between the People’s Commissariat and the Quakers. The Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, is a Protestant Christian church whose history of interactions with Russia dates the seventeenth century. From 1916 to 1931, the Quakers were able to cooperate quite peacefully and fruitfully with all the authorities: with officials of Tsarist Russia, with the Czechoslovak Legionnaires, and with the Bolsheviks. This cooperation helped save hundreds of thousands of people, people who survived thanks to Quaker rations, doctors, tractors, and horses. In Russia, almost nothing is known about this assistance: the names of the saviors have been forgotten, and their good deeds have been consigned to oblivion. Sergei Nikitin, a long-time representative of Amnesty International in Russia and a researcher of Quaker history, is committed to restoring historical justice with his book. The book features an introduction by Vladislav Aksyonov, a senior researcher at the Institute of Russian History (RAS) and a member of the Free Historical Society, which situates the Quakers’ efforts in the socio-political context of the era.
Sergei Nikitin has written an amazing documentary book. We are taught that we are surrounded by enemies, but this book is about how this isn’t the case at all. We are taught people do everything only for their benefit, but it turns out that there are people who live quite differently. Books like this change the world.
Boris Grebenshchikov, musician
This book by Sergei Nikitin, a long-time representative of Amnesty International in Russia, is dedicated to one of the most important values of human civilization—love for one’s neighbors, no matter how close they really are geographically, ethnically, or politically. Religious feeling and compassion lead thae book’s characters, British and American Quakers, to distant Russia to help the starving and dying. The author opens this page of Russian history for the first time, carefully and thoroughly extracting hitherto unknown facts. This is not just a chronicle of humanitarian aid, but a history of humanity.
Mikhail Fedotov, lawyer and civil rights defender
No matter how you look at the story told by Sergei Nikitin, it contradicts commonly held notions in modern Russia: the English and Americans help refugees and starving people in Bolshevik Russia; Quakers cooperate with the Soviet government to combat hunger and establish health care; a religious society serves as a channel of communication between a diplomatically isolated country and the outside world. The book also discusses the commonalities between the Communist utopia and Quaker ideals, and whether it is possible to emerge victorious based on your own idea of what should be done, despite the framework in which you are placed by politicians at home, the host government, and even those you help. These are deeply personal stories, intertwined with the history of our country—a history that we need to know.
Ivan Kurilla, historian
Sergei Nikitin talks about his book How the Quakers Tried to Save Russia
“I Don’t Think Punk Rock Is Very Viable”: Andrei “Swine” Panov’s Widow Talks to Us About Him and the Soviet Underground Ona Razvalilas (It Fell Apart) Sergei Vilkov April 1, 2020
A week ago Andrei “Swine” Panov, the now deceased founder of the first Soviet punk rock group, Automatic Satisfiers (AS), would have celebrated his 60th birthday. In an interview, his widow, Olga Korol-Borodyuk, talked to our community page about how Soviet youth of the late 1970s managed to move in sync with the second wave of British punk; what ideology Swine and his crowd professed; what he thought of the political events of the Yeltsin era; Panov’s image in the movie Leto; how the current troubled times differ from the troubled times back then, and much more.
What kind of person would he be now, if he’d lived this long? I didn’t want to touch on this topic because I can’t say anything good. I think it would have been very hard for him to survive. When he left us he was 38 years old; what his health would be like now, 22 years later, is unknown, you understand. When everything commercial is totally alien to a person . . . It’s really difficult to live, to survive in Russia nowadays, even in comparison with those years that were so . . . precarious. Incomprehensible, troubled years. It’s become 100 times worse now. So, I can’t even imagine what he would have been like in this situation. Holding those same noncommercial punk festivals without money would be impossible.
To me personally it’s a great shame that Andrei couldn’t realize himself as an actor. Because in that capacity he was astonishing, profound. His origins as an actor were the main thing about him. Back in the day, he had left the theatrical world: he didn’t want to play Communist Youth League members. Well, it’s also unclear how it would have played out in the Soviet period. It all somehow fell by the wayside.
On his attitude towards politics: the events of 1993, Yeltsin, the war in Chechnya I’m probably going to deeply disappoint you: Andrei tried as much as possible to separate himself from [politics], because he had had very negative experiences in his life. In the first place, there was his father, who went abroad permanently. (Panov’s father, a well-known ballet choreographer, abandoned his family and emigrated to Israel when his son was 14 — editor’s note.) In the Soviet period, that caused particular complications in one’s life: you were the “son of a traitor,” as it were. Then, you see, the word “punk” itself means “anti-social.” The punk denies his own social affiliations, he cannot take an interest in politics in principle. [Andrei’s] attitude towards [the Soviet Union] was of course negative, but he never went into it and didn’t discuss it.
How it was possible to play punk rock in the USSR in the late 70s It’s very simple. At that time there was a whole cohort of music lovers who practically lived on the musical “can.” They bought records and hung out with each other. Basically, new records got to the Soviet Union rather quickly. There are at least four versions of our crowd first heard about the Sex Pistols: all of those stories are credible but different. The main thing is that Andrei found out about the Sex Pistols practically right away. Meaning that in 1976 the Sex Pistols album came out. [Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols actually came out in 1977 — TRR], and AS was formed in 1978. There was a crowd led by [Yevgeny] Yufit (one of the founders of Soviet “parallel cinema” — editor’s note). It included Andrei, Khua, [Alexei] Rybin [co-founder of Kino], and [Viktor] Tsoi. They fooled around, ran around the garbage dumps. Basically, they were having fun. Then they started shooting their escapades, first with photo cameras, later on video. This was where Yufit got his genre [necrorealism] and how Andrei formed AS. At first, it was all a lot of fun. But there’s nothing surprising about this: information was getting to us very quickly.
Was Panov a punk? Andrei never called himself a punk at all. He very much disliked it when he was called that: he considered it a label. They called themselves “anarchists.” They denounced the established order. Another very telling point is that this crowd had this thing. You know the song “Commissar”? (Also known by such titles as “A Bullet Whizzed Past,” “My Steed is Black,” and others, the song is mistakenly thought to be a 20th-century Cossack folk song — editor’s note). The song has been attributed to any number of people. In point of fact, the song’s lyricist, Misha “Hefty” [Tinkelman], is alive and well. We’re friends. He lives in Petersburg. He’s just a humble person and doesn’t want to get mixed up in this story and that’s it. And it was like this: when they were at school, they had this crowd who amused themselves by making up songs à la the White Guards.
Since it was the Soviet period, this was the form their internal protest, or hooliganism, took. They liked that kind of aesthetic, and so on. “Commissar” is one of those songs. The aesthetic was White Guard-anarchist, at the level of denying the Soviet system. Is it really possible to compare this with the way Sid Vicious wore a swastika for the shock value? I don’t think it’s worth comparing them: all these stories are completely different. I wouldn’t draw any parallels at all.
They were schoolboys, and theirs was a very romantic generation. But the romanticism was expressed idiosyncratically, and it included White Guard lore. All of the people from this crowd who are still alive are still the same hopeless romantics. There’s nothing like them nowadays: people are very cynical and pragmatic.
How they met We met at LenFilm studios in around 1985. They were filming Burglar(in which Leningrad rock stars Konstantin Kinchev and Oleg Garkusha also acted; Panov himself appears in one scene — editor’s note). A group of punks was hired as floor hands on the set: Alexander “Ricochet” Aksyonov, Yuri “Scandal” Katsyuk, Andrei “Willie” Usov. Alexei Rybin was also among them: his wife worked there officially. I’d been working there since 1983 in the costume shop. We had such a cheerful Komsomol committee, headed by Masha Solovtsova. Later, she also had a group, 88 Air Kisses, but unfortunately, Masha’s no longer with us. She would simply take the keys to the snack bar, and in the evenings we would go there, lock ourselves in, and hold improvised concerts. Andrei was still playing the guitar then, and he would be squatting down on his haunches with the other musicians in the middle of the room. And he still smoked then. Basically, the young people at the studio were very progressive and very tight-knit.
Andrei was a person who thought in his own utterly particular way, who hungered for knowledge, who read an awful lot. He had a good knowledge of history, including art history. He had his own brand of logic, which couldn’t be simplified. I remember him being asked whether it was true that he’d begun to play as soon as he heard Iggy Pop. He only laughed in reply. He was a very complicated figure psychologically.
On the character “Punk” in the movie Leto It’s a confusing story: the screenplay was rewritten numerous times. I know this well, because I’m friends with the guys from Zoo (Mike Naumenko’s group – editor’s note). At one point, a girl from the film crew called me to ask whether I could find an actor who outwardly resembled Andrei. I expressed the opinion that playing Swine was madness: there was no way to make a copy of him. I proposed that instead we proceed from a prototype, keeping the concrete person somewhere in the back of our minds. Thus arose the character by the name “Punk,” who was conceived with Andrei in mind, of course. The most interesting thing is that he was the most authentic character in the whole movie. [Alexander] Gorchilin, who played him, was able to capture exactly that childlike quality, the purity of a harmless fifth-grade delinquent. That was the essential thing about Andrei. Even his mother, Liya Petrovna, admitted that he was really quite similar.
On punk rock in our time For 22 years I’ve been organizing a festival in memory of Andrei. This year I’m doing it for the last time. You have to pay for everything, and I do it at my own expense. I’m a one-woman organizing committee. And so very little remains of the audience for whose sake I do it. More and more people drop in just like that, because it’s a freebie: entry is free, and they’re simply random people. In 2004, when I did it at Port [a music club in Petersburg], which is rather large, the place was packed: I gave out only 800 free passes. But now I can hardly herd them in. Many folks have died. There are ever fewer people to whom it matters, people whom I know by sight. And none of the musicians are left: everyone’s died. Its time has probably passed. I don’t think that punk rock is very viable. Each musical genre has its own audience, but there’s just no mass audience [for punk rock in Russia]; There was Korol i Shut, but that’s not punk rock at all. It was called punk, yes, but that’s another story. Andrei’s punk is pure punk, it’s not for the mass market.
All photos courtesy of Ona Razvalilas. Translated by Mary Rees
On August 9, three new Last Address plaques will be installed in Petersburg.
At 12:00 p.m., relatives will install a plaque in memory of Anatoly Viktorovich Abramson at 77 Chaykovsky Street. Educated as a lawyer, Abramson worked an economic planner. In 1935, as a “socially dangerous element,” he was exiled to Saratov along with his family. He was arrested there in December 1937 and shot on January 6, 1938, after being convicted by an NKVD troika.
At 1:00 p.m., a plaque in memory of Artemy Markovich Markov, a mechanic with the Kirov Railway, will be installed in the courtyard of the house at 44 Ligovsky Prospect. Markov was shot on December 10, 1937, as a member of an alleged “Polish counter-revolutionary sabotage group” of railway workers. The grandson of one of the men shot as part of the case has been installing memorial plaques for all of his grandfather’s co-defendants.
At 2:00 p.m., a plaque in memory of Iosif Kazimorovich Kazanovsky will be installed at 1 Dzhambul Lane. A 38-year-old technician at the Plastics Factory, he was arrested on September 16, 1937, and shot on September 28, 1937, along with classmates from the Polish High School. The plaque is being installed at the behest of the son of one of the executed men.
All three men were exonerated in the 1950s.
We invite you to join us for the installation ceremonies, while asking you to assess the risks and observe safety measures in connection with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (such as wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance).
Courtesy of the Last Address Petersburg mailing list. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader
Bearing the proud name Yellow Submarine, the commune at 28 Primorsky Prospect [in Leningrad] arose in August 1977 and lasted for just one year. Its organizers were university classmates Alexander Skobov and Felix Vinogradov, who had dreamed about a place where everyone could experience personal freedom, where everyone could distance themselves from the current regime and express themselves freely.
The history of the commune’s emergence as a nonconformist association and, simultaneously, a haven for free thinkers originates in western culture. However, as Skobov notes, there were no concrete prototypes, meaning that its inner workings were shaped by the intuition of the people involved in it.
And so, a commune. What the heck is that, and what has brought us here? For nearly a year, several of us had been building magnificent castles in the air, which unexpectedly acquired an extremely firm earthly foundation. First and foremost, who are We? Let’s identify ourselves in full: students Marina Nikitina (Vinogradova), Felix Vinogradov, Tatiana Komarova, Alexander Skobov, Igor Malsky, Andrei Antonenko, and Alexander Volkov (aka Lupus). [From the commune’s log book]
The commune was located in a private, two-story wooden house (something rare for Leningrad) on Primorsky Prospect that Felix and Marina Vinogradov had rented not long before their son was born. The first people to join them in the commune were Skobov’s university crowd and several acquaintances from their school days. Later, Andrei Reznikov, one of the founders of the so-called Leningrad School, and Alexei Khavin, who was involved in creating the dissident magazine Perspektiva, joined the commune. Then the commune gradually became a refuge for Leningrad hippies and various acquaintances who were looking for temporary housing or simply а “crash pad.”
Alexander Skobov and Felix Vinogradov outside the Leningrad University history department, circa 1976–1977. Photo courtesy of the Iofe Foundation
One of the motives for founding an “island of liberty” like the commune on Primorsky was the desire to live an independent life and leave home.
“It was a way of dropping out of society,” Skobov said in a 1991 interview.
The commune was created not simply as vehicle for internal emigration and distancing from Soviet reality, but also as an alternative cultural and ideological space based on establishing certain shared values of freedom and mocking certain existing official norms. This was expressed even in the commune’s interior decor, including yellow walls with wild strawberries drawn on them and homemade ironic posters that played off Soviet and western symbols. The parodic decrees and decisions issued by the Yellow Submarine and its separate “holds,” as well as poems and songs that turned propagandistic clichés inside out, were an ironic response to the meaningless words of the official Soviet discourse. One inhabitant of the commune on Primorsky, Igor Malsky, even claimed that the communards collectively invented the folklore genre “sadistic verse.” The peak of the commune’s creative powers is considered the “rock poem” “Lazha” (“Crap”), among whose characters one can recognize the residents of the Yellow Submarine.
Felix Vinogradov, Seal of the Yellow Submarine commune, 1977. Image courtesy of Felix and Maria Vinogradov
In an interview with us, Skobov said that his idea, subsequently, of engaging in political activity, printing flyers, etc., came to him while living in the commune. Many participants named as their motive for moving into the commune the “total crap,” i.e., the lies that surrounded the celebrations of the October Revolution’s sixtieth anniversary and the adoption of the new Soviet constitution [in 1977]. As for revolutionary sentiments, Skobov said that those went no further than kitchen table conversations “berating the authorities.”
Daily life in the commune took shape as in a large family: arguments periodically arose among its inhabitants. The commune was supported by various means, but everyone tried to contribute in accordance with the main rule, “a little bit from everyone each day”: one person received a university stipend, another was working, while a third person “dragged it out of their parents.” The refuge itself was a two-story wooden house whose first floor belonged to the “dissidents,” and the second to the “hippies.”
“Two rooms, two kitchens, a wooden staircase. All of it was quite exotic, except for the fact that the decor was even more exotic,” Skobov said when describing the interior. The commune residents took care of decorating and the “cozy touches” themselves.
We can divide the commune into two ideological centers: those who took part in publishing Perspektiva magazine (which was originally Skobov’s initiative), and those who were “Soviet hippies.” For example, Felix Vinogradov, one of the commune’s founders, was interested exclusively in the cultural aspect of the process—art, music, lifestyle, and language. All of it was inspired by western ideas of nonconformism, hence his choice of name for the commune. His opposite number was Alexei Khavin, another striking member of the Primorsky scene. He was actively involved in the protest movement: he typed up leaflets on a typewriter in the commune and wrote articles criticizing the government for Perspektiva. Khavin was eager to go beyond kitchen conversations and do something more concrete.
The confrontation between the inhabitants of the first and second floors of the commune—the more bourgeois “upper level” and the anarchic “lower level”—at times began to resemble the intensity of a cold civil war, complete with mutual insults, reproaches, and accusations. [Andrei Antonenko and Felix Vinogradov, press release for the exhibition The Yellow Submarine Commune, 1977–2007]
This internal division could not but determine the community’s fate. Felix Vinogradov was the first to leave the house on Primorsky, followed by almost all the hippies.
The KGB took an interest in our magazine: its destruction was imminent, and our commune was threatened along with it. They didn’t nab us at the house itself. The thing was that its residents felt that something was brewing and departed to their own homes. My friend from the university, an idealistic hippie, rented apartments for the commune with me, and his father was a colonel in the Border Guards, and they were under the KGB. He worked in [the KGB’s famous local headquarters] on Liteiny Prospect. It was then a rather widespread phenomenon, not only here but also in Europe: the children of wealthy parents and security forces officers turned into hippies. And so this hippie’s dad pulled up to the house in a small truck filled with soldiers. They loaded up his things and drove him and his wife away. The others understood what was going on, and they left too. [Alexander Skobov, “Our Oppositional Communism Was an Oddity”]
Alexander Skobov, Tatiana Komarova, and Felix Vinogradov, 1977. Photo courtesy of Felix and Marina Vinogradov
The only residents remaining were those who were primarily interested in publishing Perspektiva and were organizing a meeting of opposition groups, which the New Left group planned to hold on the Karelian Isthmus. But because information about the upcoming meeting was leaked to the KGB, the group’s members were also forced to urgently remove everything from the commune having to do with their political activities. Alexander Skobov and Arkady Tsurkov were soon arrested, and the apartments of other members of the New Left group were searched, while the house on Primorsky Prospect was completely abandoned. After the dissidents left their Yellow Submarine, the house was razed, and no photos of it remain. But the phenomenon of the Yellow Submarine commune itself is one of the most striking examples of the “islands of freedom” adrift in the space of Soviet Leningrad.
Moving along from street to street, the tram gains speed, brakes, stops and lets passengers out and on. They make for a seat or stay on their feet, leaning against the doors or hanging from the handles above. Then the tram gets underway, off to the next stop. The down-to-earth driver talks about her job and her life in St. Petersburg (still known as Leningrad when the film was made), the second biggest city in Russia. As she drives, she is filmed from above so we get to look her in the eye. The expressions of her passengers are also captured as they peer out the window, look at one another, read the paper, daydream or just stare off into space. This is all about observing and being observed, a game that Russian documentarian Lyudmila Stanukinas loves to play. She intercuts the microcosm of the tram with telling observations from outside: a statue filmed through the trees, and the rippling water of the Neva River, the bubbling heart of the city. Stanukinas develops a Russian variation on direct cinema, combining it with the visual poetry of city symphonies from the 1930s, made by countrymen such as Dziga Vertov. Though this is the Soviet Union of the 1970s, communism seems far away for the moment. For now, it’s all about the day-to-day goings on in the tram. (Kinoglaz)
[Voiceover] That’s how it goes. I drive myself around in the morning, the car is half-empty. Familiar places that I ran around as a child. Before the war, my mother also worked on the trams as a conductor out of the Leonov Depot.
That is where I went to kindergarten.
I love my tram, I love it more than any other job. If you do a good job of getting ready and get a good night’s sleep, it’s a joy to work. I’m rarely in a bad mood. Although one of our drivers says that going to work is like walking uphill. For me, it’s like walking downhill.
It’s always quiet in the car in the morning. My passengers are half asleep, half dozing. They’re not talkative now. That’s okay: by evening, they’ll be talking up a storm. It’s quiet. They’re reading newspapers.
My kids, Zhenka and Galya, also want to be tram drivers. Zhenka can oversleep and be late for school, but s/he will come to meet my tram, even at night.
[Newspaper headline] “A strategy for peaceful coexistence”
Oh, look how many people the subway has coughed up: it’s a throng.
Sometimes, a passenger is coming to getting on my tram, supposedly, but they move so lazily, in no hurry, flailing around trying to figure out what door to enter. I immediately get angry and close the doors. You have to decide right away whether you’re getting on or not. A passenger who is slow on the uptake. In the evening, I wait for all of them to get on: they have to make it home. It’s a long wait between trams.
Soon the commercial workers will go to work: their time is approaching.
What’s it going to be, old woman? Are you and I going to avoid a collision?
People are like pigeons. They don’t hurry and they don’t fly. And they walk on the tracks. I read them. I don’t take my eyes off them. They always run out onto the tram tracks, thinking it’s a safe area. So, I have to think for them in order to save their lives. You need to have a sense of pedestrians, of which ones will run out on the tracks, and which won’t.
I love the morning shift. At twelve o’clock that’s it: you have the whole day ahead of you. You still have time to cook lunch.
[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Nevsky Prospect. . . Transit tickets are available for sale.”
They keep traveling. Some have caught up on their sleep, while others are headed to the night shift. Why do they keep on traveling? Where are they going?
Our interactions with people are very limited. That’s why I suffer heart and soul over the fact I can’t chat with them. I watch them in silence: that is my only way of interacting and getting to know them.
Our work is not so nerve-wracking. It just requires maximum concentration. Basically, you have to like people. If you don’t like them you might jam them in the doors. You have to keep your eyes peeled the whole time. When I sneeze and my eyes close, I get scared. When I close my eyes, the car can travel eight meters in that instant, but there is no way I can sneeze with my eyes open. Soon the tram would be going sixty kilometers an hour, and then, I think, I could run someone over.
I remember the war, the Siege [of Leningrad]. I remember that Mom would lock me in our room. I was very afraid when the sky blazed red. The neighbor lady would be cooking wood glue [to eat], and it smelled really delicious.
[Title] Wednesday: shift from 1:06 p.m. to 5:41 p.m.
What weather today! It’s the most typical Leningrad weather.
Now there are more female passengers, including old women, wallets in hand, going to the market. They’re a cagey lot: potential nannies, who are in short supply.
Here, on the fifth floor, my child draws blueprints. It’s been a month since my daughter Galka became an adult.
Everybody bothers the elderly passengers. Why are you traveling during working hours? Are you having trouble sleeping? Once, this one old woman was standing next to the door. People kept asking whether she was getting off. She kept answering, “I’m thinking about whether this is my stop.” Finally, everyone lost their cool and told her to get off. She said, “I’ll get off, I’ll get off, dears, it’s a big day.” It was like a comedy.
I think I’m the first to see “natural phenomena”: how people dress, what the fashions are, what the trends in colors are. It all happens right before my eyes. I manage to see everything. If a housewife is drinking tea on the second floor, I see what she’s having with it.
Galka and I often talk about life and love. Galya keeps asking me, “How do you get to know a person?” Spend more time talking to them, I tell her. Their personality will come out, they’ll reveal themselves.
[Title] Friday: shift from 6:30 p.m. to 12:49 a.m.
My No. 40 tram sails through the city. People keep waiting and waiting. They keep putting their hands over their eyes to see whether the tram is coming.
When my children were little, I would tell them poetically, “When dusk descends on the city, the tram’s green eyes light up.” Yes, she’s a fashionable one, my No. 40. [Leningrad-Petersburg trams use a system of two lights and a combination of four colors—red, blue, green, and yellow—to indicate their numbers in the dark. The code for Tram No. 40 is two green lights.]
I tell Galka that, in my opinion, unofficially, behind the scenes, a matriarchy exists: you have to raise not only your kids, but your husband as well. You’ve got to plan the weekend. He’s not going to think about where to go, what to take along. You have to make all the preparations and discuss everything. Basically, the way the woman organizes life is how it’s going to be.
How marvelous! The cold is so palpable. When there are fireworks here, we travel slowly along this section, and even the passengers don’t want me to go faster. You can see how beautiful it is. Just imagine: our city stands on one hundred islands. And all the bridges: there are almost six hundred of them. Where else can you find a marvel like our city?
In the evening, there is light in the windows and you see what kind of furniture people have, how they’ve decorated their places in their own way, the way they feel it. On Science Prospect there is a small room whose walls are lined with bookcases. When I drive by in the evening, I always look at it.
We really love the opera, we go to the ballet and to hear music. When we go to a concert and take Zhenka with us, and I see on the program that there will be an evening of organ music, I manage to read the entire program, trying to calculate when Galka and I will have an evening off.
My Galka doesn’t use make-up or paint her face. That’s my influence. By the way, she doesn’t like perfume or cologne. She likes it when people don’t smell of anything, like clean dishes.
It happens that, when you’re returning to the depot in the evening or even late at night, some people feel like chatting, but usually acquaintances are not struck up then. Sometimes, though, you look in the mirror, to take a break for a second, and wink back. The drivers sometimes make eyes at each other, too. It’s okay—if they like each other’s looks, if they’re working the same route. Generally, though, I put on a strict, official face: when I’m driving I don’t give anyone cause to make eyes at me.
[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Labor Square.”
Those two will be out all night. The wanderers and the strays ride the trams in the evening.
Transcribed and translated by the Russian Reader, with timely assistance from Comrade Koganzon. To help me continue translating and editing this website you can donate at your discretion at paypal.me/avvakum.
Lyudmila Stanukinas, the film’s director, died in Jerusalem on July 8, 2020, at the age of 89. Her distinguished career as a documentary filmmaker included a series of films about famous Soviet writers, actors, and musicians, as well as Moving Day (1970), which won a Silver Dragon at the 7th Krakow International Short Film Festival. Viktor Kossakovsky has made a film about Stanukinas and her husband the filmmaker Pavel Kogan, the award-winning Pavel and Lyalya (1998).
The 1973 Leningrad Public Transport Route Map. Although Lyudmila Grigorovich, the narrator and heroine of A Tram Runs Through the City, says that she is driving the No. 40 tram, its route, neither nowadays nor in 1973, has ever passed through all the stops she calls out in the film, which are located in very different parts of the city.
In 1973, 16-year-old Víctor Yáñez travels from his home in Chile to the former USSR to study agriculture. But when a military coup strikes at home, he’s stranded in Communist Russia . . . for the rest of his life.
Martina: It was the fall of 1988, when Víctor Yáñez found himself listening to his radio in secret. In a tiny Russian town 2,000 miles from Moscow, Víctor and his friends were listening to one of the few American radio stations to reach the Soviet Union. Finally, the piece of news they were waiting for: the referendum in Chile.
Víctor: En la Unión Soviética no se hablaba de Chile porque era una dictadura de derecha. Los periódicos extranjeros estaban prohibidos. Era el año 1988 y todavía no había internet. Si querías saber de Chile, tenía que ser en secreto. Fue así como me enteré del referéndum.
Martina: When the results came in, Víctor was stunned. Through the static, he learned that 54% of Chileans had voted General Augusto Pinochet out of power. The dictatorship was falling. Although Víctor lived half a world away, the results had huge implications for him. As a Chilean, he would finally be able to go home.
Víctor: Yo había llegado a Rusia quince años antes, en un viaje de estudios durante el gobierno de Salvador Allende. Cuando empezó la dictadura de Pinochet, ya no pude volver a mi país. Yo había vivido la mitad de mi vida en Rusia, sabía muy poco de Chile y estaba lejos de mi familia. Ahora iba a tener la oportunidad de volver a casa, pero yo tenía una duda: “¿Cuál era mi país en realidad?”.
Yevgenia Litvinovareports that Karelian historian and human rights activist Yuri Dmitriev was found “guilty” by the court today and sentenced to three and half years in prison. She remarks that this is tantamount to an “acquittal” because the prosecution had requested a sentence of fifteen years for Dmitriev. With time already served (in remand prison, where he has been nearly continuously since the spring of 2017), Dmitriev should be released from police custody in November.
It’s pointless to discuss the “crimes” of which Dmitriev was convicted today, because the charges were trumped-up and the trial was a sham. The real reason that Dmitriev was arrested and put through this hell was that he unearthed a massive NKVD execution/burial ground in a wooded place called Sandarmokh, a place that in the years since it was discovered has become a memorial to the victims of Stalin’s Great Terror.
A state now “led” by people who happily let themselves be called “Chekists” and are most certainly “ex” KGB officers could never forgive Dmitriev for a crime like that.
You can read all about Dmitriev, his persecution, and Sandarmokh by clicking on this link. \\ TRR
Claudia Chadova, a young woman, 19 years old, worked at a factory for 3 years. After joining the RCP, she expressed a voluntary desire to engage in military training and stayed in the barracks for 1 month.
Having been stationed in the barracks, she was sent to the front to fight bandits in Ukraine. After staying at the front for about 8 months, she was captured by bandits and ran back towards the Reds, who did not find out that she was a Red, and hacked her to pieces. Comrade Chadova laid down her young life for the cause of the working class.
Source: Mass Grave: A Biographical Dictionary of Deceased and Killed Members of the Moscow Organization of the RCP, vol. 1 (Moscow, 1923), p. 176