Riding the Moscow Subway with the Ceausescus

ceausescus“Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. Nicolae Ceausescu looked after his health. The family of the Romanian Communist Party’s general secretary was especially proud of their bathrooms, equipped with gold faucets, shower, and sinks, their swimming pool and day spa, their home movie theater, and their greenhouse with exotic plants. Peacocks roamed the premises…” Photo courtesy of Tatiana Tanja Yarikova

Tatiana Tanja Yarikova
Facebook
January 16, 2020

Many trains in the Moscow subway are decked out thematically. There is, for example, an Oleg Tabakov train with pictures of him in every car, photos of him in various roles in the theater and cinema, and so on. And there are many other oddly themed trains. No one pays them any mind anymore. Yesterday, however, I found myself on the “Health” train on the Ring Line for the first time. There were pictures on the walls of pumped-up athletes and champions, and of Brezhnev and Khrushchev for some reason. And, believe it or not, of CEAUSESCU! Who comes up with this stuff? Who gets paid money for this nonsense?! Maybe they can stop prettifying Moscow?

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Best Russia Experts Don’t Live in Russia, or, Crypto-Putinism

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“There’s a more likely possibility, and it doesn’t hinge on accumulated historical trauma or some irrational longing to go back to the Soviet system. With the USSR’s fall came the loss of many other things Russians valued: their country’s stature in the world, decent living standards, the welfare state, education, even a sense of community and collective identity. Putin’s apparent promise to restore some of these things is a far better explanation for his widespread popularity at home than the theory that most citizens have been too brainwashed or traumatized to think for themselves.”

But he’s been eighteen years “in office” and he hasn’t restored any of these things really, and he never really promised to restore most of them, not that you would notice if you hadn’t lived here during those eighteen years, as the author of the book review, quoted above, has signally not lived here.

Nor, as far as I know, did the author ever live in the Soviet Union he misses so much, but which lots of former Soviet citizens I know don’t miss at all.

Go figure why the western left misses a country most of its current supporters never lived in or visited for a millisecond, but which millions of its actual former inhabitants don’t miss for a second. It says something slightly disturbing about the intellectual integrity of the western left, doesn’t it?

As for brainwashing, I can’t say anything about Russians, but I know a lot of foreign so-called Russian experts and reporters covering the Russian beat who have been brainwashed by the triumvirate of dishonest Russian pollsters known as FOM, VTsIOM, and Levada Center into believing that Putin enjoys “widespread popularity at home.”

In fact, this popularity is a lot less apparent when you’re actually on the ground day after day for years on end, conversing and dealing with lots of different people who say lots of different things but somehow usually fail to express their ardent love of Putin. Here, in the actual Russia, not the imaginary Russia inhabited by the Russia experts, his “popularity” looks more like a dictatorship for life, reinforced by brute police force, flagrant corruption, major TV channels that have been nazified to the point that almost no one I know has watched them for years, and selective but regular show trials in case anyone has forgotten where they really live.

Why do so-called Russian experts, like the author of the review, quoted above, believe every poll about Russia those shysters and shills publish, including the pap about Putin’s rampant popularitry?

I’ll tell you why.

Because the world’s greatest Russia experts do not live in Russia, nor do they want to live here (they’re not stupid!), but endlessly citing so-called Russian public opinion polls as if they are the gospel truth gives their specious, highly partisan arguments an air of scholarly or empirical knowledge, of “knowing what Russians really think.”

The subject of today’s Russia and what Russians really think is way more complicated (and, sometimes, way more simple) than the certified Russia experts suspect or want to admit, however. TRR

Photo by the Russian Reader

But What Does the Proletariat Have to Do with It?

I’d like to offer you an odd little musical and visual artifact from late Putinism 3.0 to while away a slightly gloomy autumn evening, just as the song and video, below, attempts to conjure away the mounting troubles of the present by returning musically to the allegedly untroubled years immediately after Stalin’s death.

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I came upon the song and video through a post sponsored by the Facebook page “Petersburg: Only For Love,” as pictured above.

The Facebook post quotes dialogue from the end of the video, featuring the members of the Petersburg band Proletarian Tango performing Mikhail Matusovsky and Tikhon Khrenikov’s famous 1956 song “Windows of Moscow.”

“Will you go with me to Petersburg?”

“What is there to do in that Petersburg of yours? Drink?”

“Live… Create… Love…”

“Thanks to the band Proletarian Tango for reminding us that the curb capable of dividing Muscovites and Petersburg still hasn’t been laid!” the post concludes. This is a reference to one of few shibboleths that distinguish Moscow Russian from Petersburg Russian—the two cities have different words for “curb” (bordyur and porebrik, respectively).

The still image shows a band member’s hand caressing a poster featuring a photograph of Petersburg singer and actor Mikhail Boyarsky, a vocal supporter of the Putin regime.

WINDOWS OF MOSCOW (1956) 

Music: Tikhon Khrennikov
Lyrics: Mikhail Matusovsky

Up high the sky darkens again,
And windows have lit up in the dusk.
It is here that my friends live,
And with bated breath
I gaze at the windows at night.

I love to dream under the windows.
I love to read them like books.
And, holding on to the precious light,
Exciting me and enticing me,
Like people, they look at me.

As in years gone by, once again I
Am ready to stand beneath your window.
And to the light of its rays
I alway hurry faster,
As on a date with my youth.

I admire you at night.
I wish you, windows, good luck.
It has been dear to me for many years,
And there is nothing brighter than
The unquenchable light of Moscow’s windows.

Source: Viktor Kalugin, ed., Anthology of Russian Song (Moscow: Eksmo, 2005). Translated by the Russian Reader

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This tellingly depressing passage from Wikipedia’s article about the song’s composer, Tikhon Khrennikov, restores everything to the period that Proletarian Tango’s video tries so hard to airbrush out. TRR

By the 1930s, Khrennikov was already treated as a leading official Soviet composer. Typical was his speech during a discussion in February 1936 concerning the Pravda articles “Chaos instead of Music” and “Ballet Falseness”:

The resolution of April 23, 1932, appealed to the consciousness of the Soviet artist. Soviet artists had not withstood scrutiny. After April 23, young people were inspired to study. The problem was, we had to master the skills and techniques of composition. We developed an enthusiasm for modern western composers. The names of Hindemith and Krenek came to be symbols of advanced modern artists. […] After the enthusiasm for western tendencies came an attraction to simplicity, influenced by composing for the theater, where simple, expressive music was required. We grew, our consciousness also grew, as well as the aspiration to be genuine Soviet composers, representatives of our epoch. Compositions by Hindemith satisfied us no more. Soon after that, Prokofiev arrived, declaring Soviet music to be provincial and naming Shostakovich as the most up-to-date composer. Young composers were confused: on the one hand, they wanted to create simpler music that would be easier for the masses to understand; on the other hand, they were confronted with the statements of such musical authorities as Prokofiev. Critics wrote laudatory odes to Shostakovich. […] How did young composers react to Lady Macbeth [of Mtsensk]? This opera contains several large melodic fragments which opened some creative perspectives to us. But the entr’actes and other things aroused complete hostility.”

Together with other official representatives of Soviet culture […], Khrennikov signed the statement welcoming the “sentence of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union passed on traitors against the Motherland, fascist hirelings such as Tukhachevsky, Yakir, and others.”

[…]

In 1948, Joseph Stalin appointed Khrennikov Secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers, a job he would keep until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 when the Union of Soviet Composers was disbanded.

The controversial Shostakovich memoir Testimony claims that Khrennikov was so intimidated at a meeting with Stalin that the composer soiled his pants and suffered a nervous breakdown.

For a long time, it was held that no Soviet composers were arrested or prosecuted thanks to Khrennikov’s efforts.

In an interview with pianist Jascha Nemtsov on November 8, 2004, in Moscow, Khrennikov claimed that composer Mieczysław Weinberg, when arrested, had been discharged immediately because of Khrennikov’s protection; according to Khrennikov, the same had happened to Alexander Veprik. The facts are that Veprik spent four years in a prison camp, and Mieczysław Weinberg, who was released in June 1953, had been saved from prosecution, and probably from execution, only because of Stalin’s death. In recent years, information that had been suppressed since 1948 has been published, and documents and facts, now known, confirm that there were extensive prosecutions.

In 1949, Khrennikov officially attacked the young composer Alexander Lokshin, using the rhetoric of one of Stalin’s most notorious ideologists, Paul Apostolov. In his speech, Khrennikov contrasted Lokshin’s “modernist” style with Stepan Razin’s Dream by Galina Ustvolskaya, which he considered an ideal example of true national art.

Khrennikov’s speech aroused great indignation in Mikhail Gnessin, who accused him of duplicity. Not daring to criticize Lokshin in the professional milieu, Khrennikov attacked him ideologically from his position as a leading Soviet official. After this ideological campaign, Lokshin was excluded from academic circles.

Khrennikov did not prevent Prokofiev’s first wife, Lina Ivanovna, being charged as a “spy” following her arrest by the NKVD on February 20, 1948. As head of the Composers Union, Khrennikov made no attempt to have the sentence against Lina Prokofieva quashed or even to mitigate her plight in the Gulag. The Composers Union did not help Prokofiev’s sons, who were forcibly evicted from their apartment. After Lina Prokofieva returned from the Gulag, the Composers Union did nothing to improve the extremely bad living conditions of her family. It was the prominent singers Irina Arkhipova and Zurab Sotkilava who protected Prokofiev’s first family. Afterward, the family was exposed to regular official humiliations. According to Prokofiev’s first son, Sviatoslav, the Composers Union officially refused Lina Prokofieva permission to go to Paris, after she had been personally invited by the French culture minister to the unveiling of a Prokofiev memorial plaque. Instead, Khrennikov took part in that ceremony with his whole family. The Composers Union also refused Lina Prokofieva permission to go to the opening of the Sydney Opera House. At the same time, Sviatoslav Prokofiev noted the typical rationale of the Soviet functionary: sometimes Khrennikov would help if it was not dangerous for his own position and career.

The ideological campaigns of 1948-49 against the so-called formalists in music were directly connected with the offensive against the so-called rootless cosmopolitans, which formed part of the official anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, which flourished after the Second World War in various shapes: ideological resolutions, declarations by official writers and critics, and offensive caricatures and vulgar anti-Semitic abuse in the satirical magazine Krokodil (Crocodile). Historians of official anti-Semitism in the USSR name Khrennikov among the most active fighters for the “purity of Russian culture.” In Soviet official policy both before and after Stalin’s death, a clear distinction was drawn between “good Soviet Jews” and “Nazi Zionists.” True to this party line, the leadership of the Soviet Composers Union branded composers as “Zionist aggressors” or “agents of world imperialism,” and made accusations against “ideologically vicious” and “hostile” phenomena in Soviet musical culture. The accusation of Zionism was often used as a weapon against people of different nationalities, faiths, and opinions, such as Nikolai Roslavets. The “struggle against the formalists” was pursued in other countries, too. According to György Ligeti, after Khrennikov’s official visit to Budapest in 1948, The Miraculous Mandarin by Béla Bartók was removed from the repertoire, and paintings by French impressionists and others were removed from display in museums. In 1952, Ligeti was almost forbidden to teach after he had shown the score of the proscribed Symphony of Psalms by Igor Stravinsky to his students. Ligeti was saved only because of the personal protection of Zoltán Kodály.

Khrennikov and other functionaries of the Composers Union constantly attacked the heritage of the Russian avant-garde as well as its researchers. For example, the German musicologist Detlef Gojowy (1934–2008) was persecuted because of his promotion in the West of modern Soviet music of the 1920s. Gojowy was proclaimed to be an “anti-Soviet writer.” Until 1989, he was forbidden to visit the Soviet Union, and some of the publications he sent to Soviet colleagues were intercepted by Soviet customs. At the same time, Soviet musicologists engaged in developing the Russian avant-garde tradition were officially prohibited from going abroad. Once again, Nikolai Roslavets was an example.

[…]

In his last years, Khrennikov made extremely negative statements about perestroika, its leaders, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the liquidation of corresponding organizations:

“It was a betrayal by our leaders. I consider Gorbachev and his henchmen, who deliberately organized the persecution of Soviet art, to be traitors to the party and the people […].”

In another interview given to the same newspaper Zavtra […] he described Stalin as a “genius,” an “absolutely normal person,” tolerant of criticism:

“Stalin, in my opinion, knew music better than any of us. […] As in classical Ancient Greece, so too in the Soviet Union music was of the greatest importance to the state. The spiritual influence of the greatest composers and artists in the formation of intelligent and strong-willed people, first of all through the radio, was huge.”

Source: Wikipedia. The above article was lightly edited to make it more readable.

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By way of cleansing your palate, I’d like to sign off with a recording by the wonderful Soviet jazz singer and actor Leonid Utyosov performing “Windows of Moscow” with real feeling and dignity.

“tajikistan is russian country”

Yesterday, somebody googled the phrase “tajikistan is russian country” on (t)he(i)r personal confuser and somehow happened upon my crap blog.

In keeping with this hoary (imperialist) and blighted conception of Tajikistan’s mysterious existence, let’s take a gander at all the stories on this blog tagged “Tajikistan.”

Since they are listed in reverse order, with the latest story coming first, what you will find near the top is a really heartwarming article, translated from the website Mediazona, which I entitled “Deported Mother Returns to Tajikistan with Baby Son’s Body.”

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Here’s the nasty little editorial I wrote on that fine occasion:

Do Tajik lives matter in Petersburg? The official answer has so far been a resounding no. (And the “grassroots” answer has been a resounding yawn, actually).

Well, now that that pesky Zarina Yunusova and her creepy little dead baby are out of our hair, we can move on with our more important “European” lives, which here in the former capital of All the Russias are entirely built, swept and cleaned, and stocked and supplied with all the essentials for a pittance by expendable, utterly disempowered insectoid others like Zarina’s husband and Umarali’s father Rustam.

I don’t have the foggiest why anyone who lives in such a backward cesspool can imagine they have anything meaningful or helpful to say about the actual Europe and its alleged “Muslim,” “refugee,” “terrorist,” etc., problem, but as many of us know, nattering on endlessly and furiously about the “fate of Europe” is almost a national sport among the Tajik-loathing Russian jabberwockies.

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Unfortunately, I cannot improve on or amend anything I said back in the heady days of November 2015. All I would add is that a less stupid Google search might be “Russia is  Tajik country.” Just a thought.

flag of tajikistan

Hanna Perekhoda: Freedom and Social Identity in the Donbas

Freedom and Social Identity
Hanna Perekhoda
August 11, 2014
OpenLeft.ru

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Donetsk. Photo from an album of the 1970s

The past is the locomotive that pulls the future. Sometimes it is someone else’s past to boot. You go backwards and see only what has already disappeared. And to get off the train you need a ticket. You hold it in your hands. But whom are you going to show it to?
—Victor Pelevin, The Yellow Arrow

I was born in Donetsk to a family in whose home there were two diplomas on the bookshelf: a factory furnace builder’s and an artist’s. The holders of these diplomas desperately tried to build their happiness on the ruins of a communism that might have been. But what seemed like temporary measures turned into permanent professions, and now my father is a taxi driver with years of experience, and my mom has been selling flowers for fifteen years. Earnings were laid away; I studied foreign languages, graduated from a lyceum, got into university in Kyiv, and then went to Europe to study. It is time, in my self-imposed exile, to reflect on where I come from and how to live with it.

The Donbas, where I lived for eighteen years and where my friends and family still live, has now borne the brunt of post-Soviet society’s collective hysteria. And so I feel all the consequences of the conflict that has broken out in my country and that rages in the hearts of many of my countrymen. Attempting to analyze what has happened is primarily a way of understanding myself, this flimsy construction of memories, desires, and ideas that threatens to crumble with each new surge of emotions.

In the most difficult moments of internal fragmentation and rethinking, I remember what French writer Amin Maalouf wrote on this subject in his essay “Deadly Identities”: “The identity cannot be compartmentalized; it cannot be split in halves or thirds, nor have any clearly defined set of boundaries. I do not have several identities, I only have one, made of all the elements that have shaped its unique proportions.” However, I have trouble with my identity, and finding its advantages and positive aspects is a matter of survival and mental health.

Today, the line between absurdity and reality has seamlessly disappeared for a long time to come, obviously, and one spends all one’s mental energy only on understanding the causes of what has happened. For example, why did the separatist movement turn from a marginal idea in the east of the country into the cause of a political and military conflict that has riveted the world’s attention for several months? Why does the line of fire run along the borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions? What exactly does this line separate? Russia and Ukraine? Asia and Europe? The Soviet Union and the capitalist West? The best minds (and not only the best minds) in different countries have been strenuously and almost fruitlessly reflecting on these questions day after day, especially in Ukraine, for which the situation proved indecently unexpected. I won’t hidе the fact it was a surprise for me as well, and for all the people in Donetsk I know.

Donetsk is a city that had always lived comfortably without any ethnic identity. It is a city of immigrants, ex-prisoners, and a totally impoverished proletariat that owns nothing but the strength of its own hands. Its center was never a church or town hall, and for a long time no public square was provided in the city plan for assemblies or celebrations. The heart of Donetsk was the factory, something terrible, dangerous, and unpredictable, and at the same time necessary, generous, and paternal. The factory and the mine played the role of idols and taboos: they gave life and had the right to take it away.

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Donetsk. Coal ’75 Expo

Self-definition was based primarily on the principle of “private property,” which clearly divided the proletarianized city and the kulak villages long before these concepts were adopted by the Bolsheviks. The total opposites of the townspeople psychologically, culturally, and economically, the villagers spoke Ukrainian to boot. Few people nowadays know (and usually just deny the fact) that people who spoke Ukrainian had also inhabited the region. The reasons for this memory lapse largely lie in the policy of collectivization, “dizziness with success,” and the famine of 1932–1933. My great-grandmother, a resident of the village of Chicherino in the Donetsk region, was one of three survivors in a family of eleven children. The first time she talked about what she had been through was at the age of ninety, when she was finally convinced the hammer and sickle had been removed from the village council building for good and the yellow-and-blue flag had been hanging there for several years. It was already her grandchildren and great-grandchildren to whom she told her story. She talked about executions and cannibalism, finishing her story with the phrase, “If only Stalin had known.”

According to those whose children and parents had died of hunger, none of it would have happened if Stalin had known. It is quite scary to realize it is the regions that were most affected by the man-made famine that deny this crime most furiously. I am not willing to support Ukrainian politicians who claim it was a genocide of the Ukrainian people. The people who spoke Ukrainian back then did not always think of themselves as a nation, but they did feel the land belonged to them and they held onto it until the bitter end. My great-grandmother’s family suffered not because they spoke Ukrainian, but because they did not want to give up their patch of black earth and their cow. It was easier to nurture the new “Soviet” man on this scorched earth, and it was not hard to convince my grandfather to speak Russian and be ashamed of his uneducated mother, babbling in a dialect alien to the mighty country.

I was born to a Russian-speaking family, but I went to a Ukrainian-language school (then one of fifteen in a city of a million people) only because it was close to home. I never cease thanking the heavens that my teachers were people with “double” identities who gave us the ability to think critically and try on different “folk costumes.” Thanks to our history lessons, Bandera is not a dirty word to me, but nor is he a guiding light. I was never faced with the question of choosing heroes and ideals, because I felt my future should not and would not depend on my country’s past. And the issue of countries never came up. I always loved the Russia “we had lost,” while contemporary Russia mostly inspired pity and disgust, increasingly causing me to try on the Ukrainian embroidered blouse known as “it’s not much of a democracy, but it’s a democracy all the same,” because it obviously fit better.

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Donetsk. Photo from an album of the 1970s

While I was wearing embroidered blouses, speaking Russian in Lviv, studying French in Kyiv, and insisting on my proletarian background in the company of European students, life went on its own way in the Donbas. When revolution began in Ukraine, I once again actively reconstructed my identity, organizing fellow citizens to demonstrate outside a UN building in Geneva, giving fiery speeches about my love for Ukraine, feeling I was needed, and also feeling guilty towards those who were risking their lives for our country.

Then one day some Donetsk friends sent me a video. A column of several hundred people with foreign flags and shouting the name of a foreign country march down Ilyich Avenue, where I was born and where I went through more than one stage of socialization. A woman at a bus stop ostentatiously displays her Ukrainian passport, which the marchers snatch from the woman, violently insulting her in the process. I can use bare facts, surveys, and other data to analyze why this happened, but I cannot get my head around the fact that it happened on my street.

As a native of Donetsk, what has surprised me about this situation is the demand of the regions to grant them greater economic and cultural powers. Over many years, not counting the Kravchuk and Yushchenko administrations, the Donbas received unprecedented subsidies, since the Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk clans were in power. But the local bosses, who tirelessly chanted the mantra that Donbas money was going to feed the idlers in Lviv and Kyiv, pocketed the money. The region’s economy was totally controlled by the local authorities. What greater powers could there be to give? And to whom could they be given? To the same local bosses who all these twenty-three years, working like dogs, “raised the Donbas from its knees”?

They say each region should decide what language to speak and what heroes to honor. But in order to decentralize one fine day, it would be first necessary to centralize the country around a common cultural concept. Complaints about excessive Ukrainization of the region not only do not correspond to reality, but contradict it. Ukrainian was more exotic sounding than Arabic in Donetsk: I never heard anyone speaking Ukrainian on the streets there. No newspapers were published in the language, and the local TV stations did not broadcast in Ukrainian. To find the books I needed on Ukrainian literature, I had to order them from Kyiv. The last step to de-Ukrainization was removing the Ukrainian flags from government buildings, which were the few signs of Ukraine’s presence in its eastern lands. And the popular masses took this step to de-Ukrainization.

The Ukrainian project failed because it did not succeed in making the Donbas part of Ukraine over these twenty-three years. No unifying idea based on a vision of a common future, rather than on the historical legacy, on ethnic and linguistic identity, was found. So Ukraine lived for its heroic and tragic history of the struggle for freedom, while the Donbas was left to dream about returning to the Soviet Union.

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Taras Shevchenko Cinema, Donetsk. Photo from an album of the 1970s

The project of creating a “Soviet people” was a success in the Donbas, and now the hour has come to reap its fruits. The fact that the “Kyiv junta” is being warded off there with two iconic images simultaneously—those of Stalin and Christ—should not be taken seriously. They are merely symbols, shells, talismans, and amulets. People in the Donbas are motivated by the honest desire, which no one makes any bones about, to obey someone who can embody the image of the “father” (or batya, in the common parlance).

Whence this desire for a strong hand? Increasingly, journalists provide a simple explanation: it is all because mentally, physiologically, and almost genetically they are slaves, sovoks (homo Sovieticus), irrational, and uneducated besides. I find explanations like this unacceptable. They render this gap almost biologically insurmountable, and doom attempts to find common ground to failure before they start.

First of all, it is worth remembering this society had no experience of building horizontal social ties. This chance was first given in 1991, but the criminal clans quickly took advantage of it. They grabbed the “strong hand” baton, leaving behind, in terms of social welfare, the working people, who were totally out of their depth and utterly discouraged.

A government that controls nothing, but instead shifts responsibility to its citizens, is a weak government. For example, many people in Donetsk consider democracy a weak form of government. Why are the local housing authorities dysfunctional? Why are there no light bulbs in the stairwells of residential buildings? Because all that has multiplied like rabbits is democracy and freedom, they think. Freedom turned out to be something no one needed, because it was confused with the liberty to do what you want and survive as you can.

Thanks to the experience of living in a European country, I became aware of the inconsistencies in this understanding of freedom. I once had to explain to a Western classmate the perennial dilemma of our society: the question of whether order or freedom was more important. He saw such reflections as something out of the Middle Ages, because for many Europeans it is evident that the freedom of each citizen is the sole guarantee of order. Freedom of choice and democracy are, in fact, the mechanisms that enable society to control those it elects to leadership positions.

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Donetsk. Photo from an album of the 1970s

It seems the Donbas lived until 1991, and after that it only survived and was more like a terminally ill patient. It was not only high salaries that disappeared along with prosperity but also the meaning of life, which had been based on a belief in slogans about the invaluable contribution of miners and workers to building the bright communist future. And then it was gone: the privileges, the confidence in the future, and the pride in one’s work. Poverty is easy to manipulate, and the people who stated at every opportunity that “the Donbas feeds Ukraine” and that it “could not be brought to its knees” have secured a comfortable future for themselves at the expense of the region’s population, who live below the poverty line.

All these twenty-odd years, people of the Donbas who had been born in the Soviet Union recalled it with nostalgia, reviving only the good things in their memories. My mother often recalled how there was such delicious fatty milk every day in kindergarten, and how she had been paid a phenomenally high salary for frescoes depicting athletes and cosmonauts on the walls the Mariupol House of Young Pioneers. Even queues for dish sets and rugs, and then for sausage and bread, were recalled as something bright, as a symbol of the people’s unity amidst its misfortune. After all, almost everyone stood in queues for sausage, and those who did not stand in them avoided flaunting their wealth.

People are not looking for politicians who tell them uncomfortable truths. And the truth is that the coal industry has long been a loss-making dead end. The whole industrial structure of the Donbas has to be changed and the process of retraining the region begun: there are no other chances. It is not hard to guess that the population has preferred to be robbed, but consoled. In Orwell’s anti-utopia 1984, there is the following passage: “[Winston] knew in advance what O’Brien would say. That the Party […] sought power because men in the mass were frail, cowardly creatures who could not endure liberty or face the truth, and must be ruled over and systematically deceived by others who were stronger than themselves. That the choice for mankind lay between freedom and happiness, and that, for the great bulk of mankind, happiness was better.” Maybe those born in the Donbas can fully sense the meaning of these lines.

The Soviet-era rhetoric came back pretty quickly, while the standard of living increased very slowly: the population contented itself with the myth of the good life more than the real thing. My neighbors on the landing spoke with pride of what a pretty stadium Rinat Akhmetov (the oligarch and “boss” of the Donbas) had built, and how nice it was that the European football championship was being held in our city. They were genuinely happy, although they had no way of buying a ticket to any of the matches and had no idea who had footed the bill for building stadiums they could only look at from afar.

All reputable political forces in the Donbas persistently promised one thing: union with Russia. No one dared promise a return to the Soviet Union, but the descriptions of Russia were exact copies of a landscape from the lost Soviet paradise. In this fairytale Russia, everyone was equal, loved the motherland and the supreme leader, despised the rotten West, and belonged to the Moscow Patriarchy of the Orthodox Church (the real patriarchy). But most importantly, everything was stable in Russia: there was a normal life there without shocks and unnecessary hassles. Well yes, there were parasites there, too, who scoffed at the government and the church, demanding some kind of freedom, but they were quickly isolated from normal healthy society, thank God.

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Honest naïve citizens believed in this caricature of the Soviet Union. They took the flagrant mockery at face value and raised it on a pedestal as a national idea. This unimaginably grotesque amalgam of tsarism, Stalinism, National Bolshevism, Eurasianism, the cult of victory in World War Two, and Orthodoxy was crowned with the name of Putin, who subsequently betrayed the sincere faith of Donetsk’s people.

I am faced with a lot of questions. First, how will these deceived people go on living if the twenty year-old promises of the Russian world do not come true? Second, how will those who never believed in these fairytales live alongside them? How can I return to my hometown? After all, my age-mates, who once waited outside the entrance to my building to scare or insult me for the fun of it are now toting machine guns and having fun the adult way. Who knows when I will get answers to my questions, when I will be able to live at home and not travel in search of gracious hosts willing to shelter me. Who knows when my parents will again find work in desolated Donetsk, where no one takes a taxi nowadays, and flowers are bought only for funerals.

Identity comes at a high price to us. Thousands of people have been killed, and one of the reasons is so that more and more Russian-speaking people in the country can say with confidence, “We are Ukrainians,” not because we speak Ukrainian, but because we want to be free. People are not free if they do not want to know the truth and are comfortable living in ignorance. People who began to think become free. That is why I want Ukraine to become free in the search for truth, which often hurts the eyes, but cleanses the soul.

Hanna Perekhoda, a native of Donetsk, is a student at the University of Lausanne. Translated by the Russian Reader. Images courtesy of OpenLeft.ru.

 

Typical Soviet Factory Canteen Fare

London’s creative class has lost its mind:

In September we teamed up with theatrical chefs Katrina and Karina from Russian Revels to bring you an entirely unique Soviet Dining Experience.  

We transformed the main space at Rich Mix into a Soviet Factory Canteen. Our audience were treated to a feast for all the senses with the evening hosted by esteemed Factory Director DJ Max Reinhardt and with fantastic live music from Elena Dana and Igor Outkine.

This was a night to forget the worker blues and celebrate some Russian hospitality.

Our workers dined on the freshest Siberian dishes such as:
home-made pelmeni (dumplings) with free-range pork and juicy beef
Ode to a Buterbrod’ [sic]
(open sandwiches with such toppings as aromatic sprats, potato and caraway bread with roasted garlic, Kamchatka crab and sweet cucumber pickle)
Siberian pinenuts, cowberries and condensed milk Mess

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