More Than Just Radiation Damage: Chernobyl

The nuclear explosion at Chernobyl on April 26, 1986 caused more damage to the Soviet Union than just sending a deadly amount of radiation into the sky and surrounding areas.  The nuclear consequences were great, but the accident produced many other results in addition to physical damage.

chernsiteThe Soviet economy was already struggling and the Chernobyl accident created more economic distress.  The cost of clean up and rehabilitation for the evacuees added up to billions of rubles.  Aside from cleaning up after the disaster, the money lost on productive and non-productive assets was incredible.  Agriculture was also severely damaged and created a loss of income for the local people.

This added stress on the economy also fueled discontentment with the central government, especially in the Ukraine and Belorussia.  They already felt victimized by the famine in the 1930’s after the collectivization of farming, and the seemingly slow move to help the people directly impacted by Chernobyl did not brighten their opinion of the government.

The physical damages of Chernobyl were devastating and still cause health and environmental issues today.  The more abstract consequences of the disaster were just as great.  It was an emergency situation that the Soviet government, as it stood, could not handle.  This lack of control brought the already questioned government under criticism and strict scrutiny and fueled the fire that became the end of the Soviet Union.

Sources:
Seventeen Moments: Meltdown in Chernobyl
Economic and Social Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident

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The Third World War

DISCLAIMER: this isn’t about World War III.

Bears

In the 1960’s, the USSR and United States were engaged in the Cold War.  One of the “battles” of this conflict was the struggle for influence in the Third World countries; a battle that the Soviet Union dominated.  But how did they manage to gain such positive relationships where the United States could not?

The Soviet Union was seen as the ‘good guy’ in this dimension of the war by the Third World, as they were anti-imperialist, supported the struggle for independence, and supplied these revolutionary countries with weapons and financial assistance to carry out their plans.  The United States represented the imperialist west that dabbled in foreign affairs and caused the problems that the Soviets were now helping to fix.

At the 19th General Assembly of the United Nations in 1964, Che Guevara spoke on behalf of Cuba.  His anti-imperialism sentiment was explicitly stated as he called for peaceful coexistence among all nations, not just international superpowers.  However, he spoke very highly of the Soviet Union, as if they had done no wrong.  It was very clear that his opinion of the United States was equivalent to that of a ‘carnivorous animal that feeds on unarmed people’.  The Third World had great reason to think poorly of western nations at the time, but his high regard for the Soviet Union was suspicious.

While the Soviet Union did not engage in colonialism as the west did, they were much sneakier when seeking influence with Third World countries.  They practiced imperialism in a much less invasive way.  Rather than taking over the government of a developing nation, they aided them with weapons and money, thus winning positive influence.

Guevara and other revolutionaries might not have noticed or cared that the Soviet Union was sneakily winning influence just like the United States was trying to, just in a different way.  Either way, the Soviet Union won the “Third World” War against the United States in the 1960’s through subtle, sneaky tactics.

Sources:
Third World Friendships
Che Guevara At The United Nations
Photograph

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A Transitional Time For Women

After Stalin’s death in 1953, the strict, forced way of life waned and old thought crept back into Soviet culture.  One transition of thought was the shift of Soviet understanding of gender roles, particular of women.

There was a transition of women into a more welcomed role in society.  The ban on abortions was repealed, allowing women a choice over that aspect of their life and taking the stern emphasis off of having a family as a woman’s number one priority in life.  Women were also allowed back into the same classrooms as men after co-education had disappeared in 1943.  This inclusion of women back into a normal educational setting shows that Soviet culture was readjusting its values and was going through a liberal transition in regards to many things, especially women.

The housewife and the school teacher became role models for women as they took on work and home life.  However, there was fine line between a women’s role in work and becoming a public problem.  Frida Vigdorova was dubbed as a nuisance by Soviet leaders as she became renown for her work in journalism.  She was well educated and published many works in major Soviet newspapers.  It was okay when Frida began using her fame to advocate for co-education, as Soviet leaders were on board with that; when she insisted on recording the Joseph Brodskii trial is when she ran into trouble with authorities.  This is not meld well with the Soviet system and made her into a public problem.

While culture and gender roles were transitioning in the Soviet Union and women were finding more and more freedom and relative equality, there were still clear boundaries that the nation was not ready to cross.

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Soviet Deception in the Katyn Forest Massacre

katyn_wood_massacre
THE DISCOVERY

In 1943, German troops discovered a mass grave near Smolensk in Katyn Forest.  They realized that the Soviets were responsible for the graves as they had uncovered evidence that these bodies were those of thousands Polish officers that had been imprisoned by the Soviets and had been missing since 1940.  The Germans announced this discovery in hopes of severing alliances between the Soviet Union and the other Allied Powers, but Stalin, of course, denied this accusation, and the Allied powers turned a blind eye to it in favor of defeating Nazi Germany.  The Germans even had residents of Katyn come and see the mass grave so that they could provide a witness on the Germans behalf.  Check out this video taken as the grave was discovered.  Dmitry Khudykh, a resident of Katyn, provides insight on the discovery of the massacre.
Discovery at Katyn Forest

WHY?
As I read about the Katyn Forest Massacre, I had so many questions.  Why would Stalin need to murder 4,000 Poles?  Why would he hide the evidence if he believed his actions were justified?  How could the United States and Great Britain simply ignore this massacre?  And why had I never learned about this in school until now?  I may not have all of the answers, but I certainly have an idea.

BACKGROUND
In August of 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; a non-aggression agreement between the two nations which kept the Soviets out of a European war and kept Germany from forming an alliance with Japan.  In addition, this pact created ‘spheres of influence’.  Border countries, including Poland, were divided into German and Soviet Territory.

THE ORDER
In September of 1939, Poland was invaded by both of these nations to claim their territory.  The Soviet Union tried to justify their invasion by saying that they were liberating the Ukrainians and Belorussians of their Polish rulers (Seventeen Moments).  In return, thousands of Polish officials were arrested.  In a top secret order from March 5, 1940 (disclosed in 1990 with the fall of the Soviet Union) the NKVD and Stalin ordered that the prisoners, upwards of 20,000, be executed due to the danger they posed to the Soviet regime.

THE LIE
In 1941 Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union; a direct violation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.  This was when the Soviet Union joined forces with the Allies against the Nazis.  The Katyn Forest Massacre had already occurred, but had not yet been discovered.  When the Germans announced their discovery in 1943, they showcased the skeletons in the Soviet’s closet.  If this massacre was proven to be the work of the Soviet Union, it could significantly weaken Allied support and weaken the defense against Germany.  Cover-ups and tampering with evidence was not a foreign concept to Stalin and the Soviet regime and as expected, they denied accusations.  They even went so far as to send Soviet authorities to the grave at Katyn to falsify documents and evidence to turn blame on the Germans.  Residents of Katyn were threatened by Soviet’s to withdraw their previous testimonies they had given to the Germans.  Even after the war, Soviet officials were questioned about Katyn during the Nuremburg trials and the truth was not willing given.  For almost half a century, the Soviets said “that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” regardless of the evidence against them and the pure ridiculousness of false Soviet claims and evidence.

This attempt at deception did not fool anyone.  Churchill and Roosevelt certainly knew that Stalin was responsible for the massacre, but they could not afford to lose an ally at this point in the war.  They put their hands over their eyes and kept on fighting the Germans.  After reading a British report of investigation at the scene, Churchill stated “we should none of us ever speak a word about it.”

THE END
After World War II ended, the Soviet and the western allies went their separate ways, and the mystery of what really happened at Katyn remained a mystery.  Upon the fall of the Soviet Union, Soviet authorities finally confirmed that the NKVD were responsible for the murders and in 1992 evidence was released that tied Stalin directly to the massacre.

LEGACY
The Katyn Forest Massacre further exemplifies the seemingly compulsive actions of censorship and deception from Stalin.  Not only does it point out the Soviet Union’s character flaws, but it also paints a different picture of the Allies in World War II.  In all of my history books growing up, I never read about the villainy of the Soviet Union during WWII, only after the U.S. alliance with them had ended.  It is interesting to see the difference in perspective here, but also to realize how determined the U.S. and Britain had to be in defeating Nazi Germany for them to turn a blind eye to such blatant horror.
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Visit the Katyn Memorial website for photographs of the site today and also a brief history of the massacre.
http://www.katyn-memorial.ru/

Sources:
PBS
http://www.pbs.org/behindcloseddoors/in-depth/katyn-massacre.html

“Seventeen Moments”
http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1943katyn&Year=1943

“Order For the Katyn Massacre”
http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1943katyn4&SubjectID=1943katyn&Year=1943

“Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molotov%E2%80%93Ribbentrop_Pact

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October 20, 2013 · 4:19 PM

Censoring the Census

1937CensusPropaganda

A happy country is a healthy country, full of growth and solidarity of beliefs.  Stalin incessantly promoted this as a truth for the Soviet Union, but it had not yet been backed up with facts.

The First All-Union Census of the Soviet Union was taken in 1926 and the next one was to be taken in 1933.  However, it was delayed for 4 years, until January 6, 1937, most likely to avoid evidence of the famine caused by collectivization in 1932-1934.  Stalin anticipated staggering growth in population to be recorded in the 1937 census, but he did not receive the results he had hoped for.  The results of the 1937 census were destroyed.  Stalin and the Sovnarkom accused priests, kulaks, and other enemies of the Soviets of sneaking into the positions of census takers to sabotage the data and many of them were arrested.

The Soviets may have criminalized and destroyed the census, but the truth of the situation is still apparent.  The projected population for 1937 anticipated an increase of 37.6 million people.  The census data only recorded an increase of 7.2 million people.  This population gap showed the terrible amount of unnatural deaths, which did not align with the Soviet’s misconception of a happy nation.  The data showed how collectivization fueled the famine of the early 30’s, which could undermine the respected authority that the Soviets hoped to maintain.

Aside from the staggering population gap, there was a significant amount of people that were recorded as religious; over 50% in fact.  Again, this was not a favorable, or “correct”, answer for Stalin and the category was ejected from the publication of the 1937 census and was not featured on the 1939 version.of the questionnaire.

The “lost” census of 1937 is a testament to the censorship of Stalin in order to preserve his happy, healthy nation image.  The results had to be destroyed in order to further put off the truths of famine and oppression in the Soviet Union.  The population was not thriving, religion had not been squelched, and Stalin’s vision for the perfect communist nation was shattered by the 1937 census.  After destroying the data, the 1939 was highly manipulated to construe the “correct” vision of the Soviet Union back to the people.

For more information on the Lost Census:

“The Lost Census”: http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1939census&Year=1939&navi=byYear

“Soviet Census”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_Census_%281937%29

Photograph taken from: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6a/1937CensusPropaganda.jpg

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October 13, 2013 · 10:34 PM

Magnitogorsk: A Mine Field of “Opportunity”

http-inlinethumb31.webshots.com-3102-2367193220104237032S600x600Q85

Stalin’s Five Year Plan, introduced in 1928, was essentially Russia playing a game of catch-up with the Western world.  It was designed to strengthen Russia’s economy and to encourage the nation’s self-sufficiency.  Rather than let nature take its’ own course, Stalin wanted to speed up the process.  This rapid transition is reflected in the development of Magnitogorsk.

Magnitogorsk was a planned city; it’s city and steelworks center was designed after Gary, Indiana.  A Soviet delegate traveled to Indiana in 1928 to meet with an American consultant.  The contract for Gary, IN was increased by 4 times.  Stalin and his regime meant business when it came to industrialization.  They were going to not only catch up to the industry and technology of the Western world, but they were going to out do it.

How does Magnitogorsk show the dynamics of the Five Year Plan?

It demonstrates 3 important aspects of Stalin’s plan.

  1. Stress on the importance of industrialization above all else
  2. Rapid transition into a new phase of society
  3. Population shift

The stress on industrialization is demonstrated in the development of Magnitogorsk as a city and as a steel working center.  The facilities were 4 times larger than the greatest ones in America, had the capability of producing 4 million tons annually, and gave Russia an opportunity to be industrially self-sufficient.  Stalin idealized industry and paid less favor to agriculture as he was in search of catching up with the rest of the world in technology.  What he didn’t realize (or care about) was the fact that BOTH areas of work are vital to a society that it trying to be self sufficient.  Not everyone can be a farmer, and not everyone can be an industrial worker.  The Soviet’s stress on industry left agriculture to struggle to feed the nation and themselves.  Often times, the food they did produce went to the cities, leaving the rural areas to experience widespread famine.  This alone shows the glorification and emphasis on industry with the Five Year Plan.

workersWorkers in Magnitogorsk

Secondly, Magnitogorsk is a perfect example of the rapid changes in the Soviet Union during this time.  As stated earlier, the nation was playing a huge game of catch up with the rest of the world.  Magnitogorsk was only planned in 1928 and was granted township in 1931.  Construction of the factories and housing had begun before city planner, Ernst May, had even finished planning for the city.  In order to accomplish the Five Year Plan (which according to Stalin’s regime should ACTUALLY be accomplished in four years) there was no time to waste.  Construction and production needed to happen as soon as possible.  This immediate rush to construct a city resulted in many problems for Magnitogorsk as it developed.  Workers and eventually families lives in tents, mud huts, and poorly put together dormitories where sleeping happened in shifts.  The feel of Magnitogorsk was very much a feeling of competition with other industrial sites.  Whether those other sites knew they were engaged in a competition can be debated, but the attitude of the Soviets in building Magnitogorsk and during the Five Year Plan in general was definitely a competitive spirit.  This spirit was captured in Time Forward!, a book published in 1932 about the technical backwardness of the regime.  To read more about the novel, click here.

Lastly, the rapid development of Magnitogorsk was partly a result of the population shift.  Due to the problems with collective farming and widespread famine among rural populations, many peasants fled to the cities for their livelihood.  As stated by Freeze in the text, the city went from 25 inhabitants in March 1929 to 250,000 by the fall of 1932.  That is an incredible increase in population and demonstrates how ‘ruralization’ took place.  ‘Ruralization’, as coined by Moshe Lewin in the Freeze text, meaning “the squeezing of the village into the city and the subjection of urban spaces to rural ways”.  Public places became temporary shelters and bazaars because of the influx of so many peasants.  Life in the industrial world was not luxurious, so the rapid growth of the city goes to show how bad collectivization was and the effect it had on peasants.

 

Magnitogorsk is such an interesting city, between it’s rapid growth and it’s overly ambitious expectations.  It was known as Russia’s model city at the time as it demonstrated so many points of the Five Year Plan in its very being.  However, the last passage about the city in the Seventeen Moments in Soviet History blog speaks a lot about its symbolic alignment with the Soviet Union.

11. Magnitogorsk_340Magnitogorsk today

“…its significance as a symbol of revolutionary transformation declined, so too did capital investments and the efficiency of its mills. Officially closed to foreigners during the Second World War, Magnitogorsk was not opened again until the early 1980s by which time its steel plant had become badly outdated and its air badly polluted.”
***Magnitogorsk ‘thrived’ and had ambitious goals of becoming the best there ever was in the world, but it quickly fell and vanished as a symbol of greatness because it was rushed and was not built on stable plans.  We watch this same rapid growth with Russia, as well as the catastrophic repercussions that come from snap judgements, unrealistic expectations, and poor planning on the part of Soviet leadership.

Read more about Stalin’s model town:Seventeen Moments in Soviet History: Magnetic Mountain
Magnitogorsk: Once Stalin’s Model Town, Now a Polluted Hell-Hole
Magnitogorsk: Wikipedia
Freeze, Gregory L. “Building Stalinism.” Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.

Pictures found here:http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/featured/magnitogorsk-once-stalin-model-town-polluted/16708
http://pcgladiator.blogspot.com/2008/12/crowds.html

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October 6, 2013 · 5:04 PM

The Kornilov Affair

General Lavr Kornilov became the Supreme Commander of the Russian Armed forces on July 18, 1917.  He was seen by the people of Russia as a hero after he returned from being held in a prisoner-of-war camp in Hungary.  When he returned and was exalted, he was determined to end the disorder of the revolution.

kornilov

Kornilov ordered an assault on Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) on August 27, 1917.  He did this because he held the Provisional Government responsible for the chaos in Russia, and deemed it unworthy of survival.  Aleksandr Kerenskii, leader of the Provisional Government, did not want to abolish the Soviet institution, just to slow it down.  Kornilov did not agree and decided that this government needed to go.

The assault was a terrible failure.  General Krymov, appointed to lead the assault, had committed suicide and Kornilov and the other leaders of the movement were under arrest.  The Soviets were so well organized and clearly passionate about what they were doing; they could not be beaten.

This attempted assault proved that the Soviets, particularly the Bolsheviks, were stronger and that they were determined to realize “all power” of Russia.  The Provisional Government was severely comprised after the Kornilov affair, giving the Soviets more momentum and making Lenin’s goal that much closer to realization.

 

Read more about the Kornilov Affair here: http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1917kornilov&Year=1917&navi=byYear

Photograph & more information on General Kornilov: http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&show=images&SubjectID=1917kornilov&Yea..

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The Intentions of the October Manifesto

October_Manifesto_1

In the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, Nicholas II issued the October Manifesto.  This document was an effort to end the autocracy of the Russian empire, create a constitutional monarchy, guarantee certain civil liberties to citizens, and include more socio-economic classes in the political process.  This could be compared to the Articles in Confederation in the United States: it put forth a good effort in governing its people, but it just didn’t cut it.

If you look into the events leading up to the October Manifesto, you may also find that the intentions of Nicholas II were not as civil as the document may imply.  He did not issue the manifesto out of good-will and want for change, it was out of desperation.

The people of Russia expressed their desperation for change with Bloody Sunday and it was reiterated time after time with peasant revolts.  Britain was pressuring the imperial government to change its’ policies and to stop its’ obvious antisemitism.  The Russo-Japanese war was also particularly embarrassing for the tsar due to his own army mutinying and losing the lives of many Russian soldiers.  Nicholas II needed to show the people of Russia and leaders of other countries that he was actively implementing change to their benefit, whether he wanted to or not.  Count Witte, his adviser, even told the tsar that repression would not work because the army was disloyal and a constitutional document was the only choice.

I believe that intention is everything.  For that reason, I believe that the October Manifesto, which was the precedent for the Fundamental Laws (constitution), did not work in the long run because its’ intention was not to improve Russia.  Its’ intention was to appease the revolutionaries and to divide them in order to weaken the revolution.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think that Nicholas II was forced to issue the October Manifesto or did he have other options and chose this route?

SOURCES:

Photograph: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:October_Manifesto_1.jpg

The October Manifesto: http://www.dur.ac.uk/a.k.harrington/octmanif.html

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/424878/October-Manifesto

http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/october_manifesto.htm

 

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Jews in Russia: Paled in Comparison to Other Ethnic Groups

Screen shot 2013-09-01 at 9.45.39 PM
Group of Jewish Children with a Teacher

Russia is and always was a place of great ethnic diversity.  Being so large geographically, how could it not be?  Not all ethnic groups were treated equally.  The Jews living in Imperial Russia suffered legal discrimination and were blamed for many problems in the empire.

The photo taken here by Prokudin-Gorskii shows a group of young children learning with a Jewish teacher.  All seems well in this photograph, but what this picture does not portray is the persecution that they likely suffered by living in Imperial Russia as Jews.

The Pale of Settlement was a region of czarist Russia where Jewish settlement was allowed and beyond which Jewish movement was restricted.  The Pale covered the area between the Baltic and the Black Sea.  This territory was acquired during the late 1700’s-early 1800’s in military conquests.  Many Jews already lived in this area and were for the most part required to stay there.

MapPaleofSettlement

First created by Catherine the Great for economic and nationalist purposes, the Pale of Settlement turned into a region closely associated with antisemitism.  There were large numbers of Jews living there in shtetls, or small towns with a large Jewish population.  The high concentration of people in these areas led to a poverty-stricken population.  On top of that, it made it easy for antisemitic mobs to riot and terrorize those people.

Many pogroms, a violent persecution, were aimed at Jews at this time.  They were not only forced to live in one place and restricted from another, but they were physically attacked by antisemitic mobs.  The pogroms of 1881-1884 were very notable.  The Jews were wrongly blamed for the assassination of  Tsar Alexander II.

An ethnic group, the Jews, being blamed for a problem and consequently being exiled, attacked, and even killed.  Sound familiar?

This type of religious and ethnic purging is characteristic of a regime beginning to shift.  Things always get out of hand when a big change is about to happen, which is definitely the case here.  Russia was on the verge of a major revolution and this is a tell-tale sign of that.

What do you think?  What does the Pale of Settlement mean to you in regards to leading up to the Soviet Union?

Read more about this topic at these links:
Prokudin Gorskii – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergey_Prokudin-Gorsky
The Pale of Settlement – http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/pale.html
Catherine the Great – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_the_Great
The pogroms – http://grossmanproject.net/pogroms.htm

***After reading many comments, I feel that I should update this and post this link to the history of Bukharan Jews.  In the 1880’s, there was a mass exodus of Jews to Samarkand, where the above picture was taken by Prokudin-Gorskii.  The goal of this blog post was to shed light on the persecution of the Jews in imperial Russia, focusing on the Pale of Settlement.  Just as some minorities are discriminated against in certain parts of our own country and not in others, the same concept applies to imperial Russia.  There are always exceptions.  This photo just led me to discover what life was like for the Jewish community in the Pale, even though the setting and the conditions of the photograph were not exactly the same.  It was simply the beginning to a route that I took to learn something new about a people and and an area that I have a limited knowledge of.

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September 2, 2013 · 2:06 AM