For Fatherland, and Freedom.

The Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were never too pleased to be part of the Soviet Union. These three satellite countries had been incorporated into the USSR against their will, through rigged elections set up by the USSR, through the capable hands of Vladimir Dekanozov, Andrey Vyshinsky, and Andrei Zhdanov, all of whom happened to share a strong distaste for America. Since the secret protocol formed between Russia and Germany in 1939, the Baltic States had been shuffled around by the greater nations of the area, very much to their own disadvantage. Because of their comparatively fertile lands, the USSR took hold of these nations to make up for it’s own lack of agriculture, and until recently claimed that these Baltic States assimilated their countries willingly into this union.

Life in these Baltic states was cruel to say the least. These nations had to live a puppets under Soviet control, leaving them with a wealth of disdain, and a serious lack of control of their own lives. Using Latvia as a specific example, the Russians not only occupied this country with their armed forces and secret police, but also managed to take over the Latvian government leaving the people of the nation with a thin guise of nationality, that was beyond useless. However, the Soviets did bring in some technologies that helped Latvia bloom into a “Flowering Soviet Nation”, and helped modernize these Baltic nations.

Eventually though, after many years of living chained to the Soviet culture, the Baltic States finally achieved their own freedom. As the USSR fell, the Latvians, Estonians, and Lithuanians shouted to the world that they deserved freedom, and their own sovereignty. The debates weren’t long, or hard fought, to many people’s surprise, but in reality, what could Russia do to make them stay? Their arm, and influence had slowly been broken, leaving the fates of many satellite states to themselves. The Baltic States gained their freedom to live as they pleased.

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The Latvian Freedom Monument, pictured above, was originally unveiled in 1935 to honor the fallen brothers from their War for Independence in 1918. In the mid 40’s after the Russian’s had reclaimed Latvia, there was a good amount of talk wishing to tear down this monument. It was said to not run with the Communist Ideology, in that it represented the countries singular nationality, as opposed to the people of the nation, and their communist beliefs. Through some stroke of luck, the plans to demolish this monument, and replace it with a statue of Peter the Great, which had inhabited this location until the Latvians won their freedom, fell through, and the statue remained. As Latvia was granted it’s sovereignty once more, it’s said that the people celebrated at this monuments feet once more. Embracing the simple phrase that adorns the base, the people celebrated their own Fatherland, and their own Freedom.

TV, Soviets, and letting go

No matter where you were from WWII had a great impact on your nation. By 1970, most nations had licked their wounds though, and moved on. For Russia though, this wasn’t really possible. It’s true, the world lost about three percent of it’s population, but the Soviet Union lost about sixteen percent of it’s people. When a nation loses that many people, mostly drawn from the everyday people, you don’t move on so easily.

The Soviets had a great reverence for those who served, and the part they played in bringing down the Nazis, and with good reason. This reverence, mixed with their great loss allowed the television industry to create many powerful series, with a single great result. Shows like Seventeen Moments of Spring, based on the novel of the same title, by Semyonov. This series was based on real events, and followed the trials and works of an under cover agent by the name of Maxim Isaev and proved to benefit all parties influenced by this powerful miniseries. The series was originally funded by the government, in a roundabout way. It was used to show a more humane side of the KGB agents that in the past had terrorized many. It was also used to subtly shed a not so nice light on the USA that may not have been entirely accurate. The people found this series endearing and powerful, not only bolstering their national pride, but also creating an all encompassing sentiment. Whether you were a worker, manager, or farmer, if you owned a TV you would have seen this show, and could talk with anyone about it. Finally the producers also were able to use this series to question the Soviet system in a way that didn’t end with them in jail, but could still portray some powerful messages. Personally I enjoyed what I have seen of this series, and intend to finish this 12 part series.

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Of course, this wasn’t the only thing that came on the televisions, but this series is generally considered one of the most important, and powerful broadcasts made by the Soviet society. It’s one of the most watched Russian productions still today. This series helped the Russians not only honor their fallen family and friends from the Great Patriotic War, but it also helped them to finally move on. Taking place in the last seventeen days of WWII, this series brings closure to the war once more.

Поехали.

As Yuri A. Gagarin left the launch platform on human life’s maiden voyage into space the Soviets knew if they succeeded, the world was about to change. After all, if a man could survive in space, the universe was truly ours to behold, and explore. Space travel would actually become possible, in time of course. The minds behind the launch of the Vostok spacecraft had done quite a lot of research, and quite a lot of testing, but in reality they had no clue if a man could survive in outer space. They were trying to send a man off of Earth.

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(A picture of Yuri in his Cosmonaut gear)

If anyone was qualified among the Russians for this daring, and awe inspiring venture, it was Yuri. He was a citizen that modeled the Soviet way of life, and was recorded to serve the USSR in many fields. Raised on a collective farm, he embodied the every day working class family, and serving as a pilot in the Soviet Air Force his dedication to the country, and the people, was well established. Among the 20 candidates selected for the Vostok space flight program, all but three of the candidates said that he deserved to make this first trip into space.

This mission into space opened the door, not merely into a new world, but into the universe. Yuri’s flight would eventually be recorded to have 108 minutes in space, but nonetheless, the Soviets had put a man in space. What started as a glorious victory for the USSR, putting the first man into space, would interestingly enough help ease the tensions between the USA and Russia as time passed. If the Soviets had not succeeded in this mission, the International Space Station would never have been created, and old tensions may never have been swept away. Moments before Vostok 1 left the ground Yuri was quoted with saying a simple, “let’s go.” and frankly, I can’t wait to see where we’ll go next.

In The Absence of Stalin

As Stalin lay dying in Moscow due to internal hemorrhaging in March of 1953, the world was changing. The Presidium of the USSR was planning it’s next step. Since Lenin had died, Stalin had run the show and anyone who had gotten in his was had been removed or run over. What would they do without him? How would they handle this vacuum of power? Would they separate his job into more specialized positions, or would they leave his legacy in tact?

Eventually, the Presidium came to the conclusion that three men should fulfill their passing leaders position, and interestingly enough, all three of the men selected had fallen out of Stalin’s favor. These three were Georgii Malenkov, Lavrentii Beria, and Nikita Khrushchev. Each taking part in what was referred to as a “collective leadership” would bring about many changes in the Soviet way, at least until they were ousted or executed by another.

More importantly though, Josef Stalin was dying and all of Moscow, and most of the USSR was… mourning? This man had held the helm, during some of the most cruel and logistically fueled times in human history and had encouraged more than one massacre himself. Under his rule, for a good period of time might I add, basically random executions were taking place, just to keep the people on their toes. He approved of the extremely dysfunctional collective farm idea, and encouraged it’s implication strongly. He “may have” intentionally caused one of the worst famines in Eastern European history just to wipe out tons of people and reenforce Soviet rule.  Yet, when this man is dies, thousands of people flock to see him one last time before he is entombed beside Lenin? Yes, Stalin did a great deal of good for the people, but at what price did that good come? Did he really better the lives of these people? Did his actions actually save lives, and improve the nation? Many of his actions easily fall under the definition of Crimes Against Humanity, and that’s no small feat. Yet, the people loved him. He led them headfirst into some rocky seas, but he brought them through. He made many sacrifices in a cold and calculated manner, but in doing so he preserved the people as a whole.

Joseph Stalin

Stalin was the face of an Empire, and was the symbol of an Era in Soviet history. On March 4, 1953 that Era passed away as Stalin was entombed and the three new leaders took their spots in the Soviet nation, and history atop the country Stalin had made. These three had some mighty big shoes to fill, and the world was watching.

A City of Heroes

By October in 1942 the situation in Stalingrad was bleak. In the city named after the leader of the great Soviet nation the people were slowly being eradicated by the forces of General Von Paulus and the German Sixth Army. The invasion had started on September 7th, and in a grueling calculated push Paulus started to envelop the city. As the situation unfolded the situation only seemed to grow worse for the defenders of the city. In these times of great pain and loss a handful of heroes arose to the challenge of the oncoming Germans and inspired the everyday people to keep up the resistance.

The first of these heroes was a man by the name of Lt. Anton Kuzmich Dragan. On Sept. 15th he received orders from the General to undertake a near suicidal mission to hold Station No. 1 in downtown Stalingrad from the German onslaught. With less than 50 men in total and five days of ammunition Lt. Dragan would hold the station for over two weeks against a seemingly endless string of men, artillery, and tanks supplied by the Germans. After running out of ammunition Dragan and his five surviving men were said to have kept fighting with rocks and bayonets until night fell and they slipped through the German lines back to the Volga River.

Dragan 1942 A picture of Lt. Anton Dragan from his file.

Another great hero of this terrible battle was Vassili Zaitsev, the famed sniper. Vassili was a Seargent First class upon arrival in Stalingrad in 1942, and quickly gained a reputation for his accuracy. After being shown a German officer in a window 800 meters away, Vassili took him out with one shot from his optic-less Mosin nagant rifle. When two lower ranking officers showed up in the window to inspect their dead commander he took each of them out with a shot. Upon this success he received a “Sniper Rifle” (in the Soviet Army a “sniper rifle” was simply the common infantry rifle with a scope) and a medal for Courage. Following this happening Zaitsev was documented with 225 confirmed kills, and an estimated up to 500 total kills during the Battle of Stalingrad alone.

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These examples of Military excellence were used to inspire other soldiers in these grim times and also showed the resilience of the Soviets.

A Cacophony of Sound

In the mid 1930’s the works of a certain composer by the name of Dimitrii Shostakovitch continued to catch the eye and heart of the public with his opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. This opera was centered around a woman who has an affair, due to her loveless marriage, ends up causing the death of her husband and his father, and also was the turning point in Shostakovitch’s career. Due to the impressively high grossing nature of this controversial and musically diverse production he was viewed as “The premier Soviet composer” until one fateful day, when Stalin watched this production.

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After walking out of a performance of this show Stalin wrote an editorial entitled “Chaos Instead of Music” in which he basically said that Shostakovitch had not only not lived up to the Soviet standard of opera, but also musical production. Stalin went on to say that the works of Shostakovitch were “leftist” or followed in the works of Meyerhold,  which in a nutshell, accused him of being against the Soviet way of life, therefore endangered his life. It is recorded in Shostakovitch’s logs that he took up sleeping in the doorway of his apartment in case he was arrested in the night so that his children would not see. Even though the public and professional critics were enchanted by his modernist styles and creative writings, this condemnation by the most powerful man in the USSR caused his ample stream of funding to dry up almost instantaneously.

It is speculated that Stalin not only disliked his works, but also used him as an example to the other artistic producers of the nation. His message was clear, and rather definite. There would be no criticism, or anything remotely critical aimed at the government, or the Soviet way of life. Shostakovitch eventually found favor in the eyes of Stalin and the public once more with the production of his Fifth Symphony, and continued to write in this conservative style until the death of Stalin in 1953.

1917: An UnOrthodox Revolution

As the Romanovs abdicated the throne in the beginning breaths of 1917, and the new governing bodies took their places in this shaky society, many things changed. The Provisional Government was doing its best to sort out the ocean of affairs that were left untouched by the Autocrats preceding them, while still working with the Petrograd Soviet, fighting a war, and dealing with a moderate famine. With that groundwork being lain, there is a lot to talk about in this time period, but I’d like to focus on a problem left behind from the Autocrats: The Eastern Orthodox Church.

During the rule of Tsar Nicholas II, and the Romanovs preceding him, the church had obtained a very important position. Not only did the church provide “justification” for the Tsar to rule, (claiming that he was able to interpret God’s will, and no one else could) but also was the basis for the every day Russian’s education. This combined, allows for a lot of bad things to happen to the people. So! When the Provisional Government takes power, and the church has just had it’s leader removed from the governing position, many questions are brought to the table. Some, with slightly more relevance than others, such as, “Who will run our schools?” and “What are we going to do with the massive tracts of land the church owns?”  Especially since the Bolsheviks controlling the very powerful Petrograd Soviet were secular by nature, and constantly pressuring the government to do their will. The result? The PG decides to say that the church would be removed from the school system, and that it would have no play in the role of education. On the ruling of land, the government decides to take it all and label it as basically, “Public Property.”

The short term results are kind of easy to read here, in the fact that the church is going to freak out, and start a religious “anti-bolshevik” campaign. So posters, and propaganda such as the image shown here, start to flood the religious sects of Russia.

The basic idea behind the anti bolshevik campaign led by the church was that the Bolsheviks, here embodied by the Red Guard pushing the people to the front lines, were doing the work of Satan, and that the faithful should avoid them at all costs, lest they be devoured by the movement.

I suppose the long term effect of this societal change can only be pondered. The general opinion of the church was bad enough that the public wouldn’t have had any objections to this turn of events, but I doubt that many common people would believe that this would in time lead to the outlaw of religion altogether. I find it slightly ironic that the laws establishing a Freedom of Conscience for the Russian people would result in a soviet nation so oppressed.

 

Sources for these facts:

http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1917church&Year=1917&navi=byYear

Russia: A History, by Freeze pgs. 269-306

and the image is from:

http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&show=images&SubjectID=1917church&Year=1917&navi=byYear

The 1905 Revolution

As the turn of the century passed, there was a lot going on in Russia. The nation was still working out the kinks of a national industrialization that had only really started twenty years ago, and had not gotten very far. There were many, many problems here, as many political activists were clear to point out. Some of these had to do with the outrageous hours being worked, the extremely poor working conditions, and the working class’ inability to represent themselves. One of these political activists was a guy by the name of Vladimir Lenin. You might have heard of him. His general take on the issue was that the country as a whole needed Marxism of a sort. He emphasized the need to disregard the standing “tactics-as-plan” idealism that had taken hold of a fair branch of politically minded peoples in favor of a more real, traditionalist Marxism, with a few minor adaptations for the Russian system. The thoughts of Lenin and others like him had some good effect along with the works done by Father Georgi Gapon to entitle the workers of Russia to a form of suffrage that was indeed lacking in those times.

As the general situation got worse, the workers were urged to strike until there was a written declaration of their rights, which was embodied in what was called the October Manifesto. The strikes reached a point where the only possible routes that Tsar Nicholas II had left available for himself were to allow such a doctrine to exist, or to create an empire where the people were oppressed by a military hand. Logically, the Tsar went with the first option following the guidance and pleas of Sergei Witte. So, Nicholas II gave in, and had the October Manifesto penned, and signed giving the common man the rights to conscience, speech, and public gathering. In the general scheme of things, they didn’t get too much, but it was a first step. They could still be legally thrown in jail without trial, but hey, you gotta start somewhere.

 

All of the information listed on this post comes from:

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/ii.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RUS1905.htm

http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?action=interpret&id=GALE|CX3404100942&v=2.1&u=viva_vpi&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&authCount=1

or my own knowledge of these issues.

 

 

The Village of Kolchedan

Kolchedan

The photograph I have chosen is of a village in Russia by the name of Kolchedan . One might wonder the significance of such a picture to someone so important as the ruler of a country. The Reasoning behind this photo, as far as I have learned, is to give an example of the average town prior to the Industrialization that had taken place shortly before this was taken. Kolchedan was the location of a stone quarry, and a place physically and socially centered around the church. It may not have been intentional by the photographer, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, but the way this photo is shot displays what was the basic Russian social system of the era past. The house in the center-left of the shot seems to belong to a family of some wealth as you can see by it having a metal roof, and being somewhat expansive in size. This house could almost be used to represent the nobles that used to be front and center in the Russian system, while the houses presumably belonging to the the people of the working class hanging in the background seem to be of much lower quality. This picture is finished out by the church looming in the midground, hanging over the working class, showing the establishment that connects these two social groups together.

This picture is The Village of Kolchedan (1912)

and can be found by record at: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/empire/architecture.html