From Vodka to Water

It was a particularly tough time in Russia from 1985 to 1987. This was due to the fact that Mikhail Gorbachev had issued an anti-alcohol campaign throughout the entire Soviet Union. Alcohol was linked to extremely high levels of child-abuse, suicide, divorce, accidents at work, and a rise in mortality rates among men. However, alcohol was a huge part of Soviet culture. It was used for celebrations and bonding between friends. It also helped the Russian economy tremendously. In 1979, the Soviet Union gained 25.4 rubles from the sale of alcoholic drinks. They did this by placing monopolies on the production and distribution of alcohol. Once May 1985 arrived, the way alcohol was viewed changed drastically.

An anti-alcohol campaign poster
An anti-alcohol campaign poster

The shops that sold alcohol were limited severely. Many state-owned vodka-distilleries were closed. Vineyard for wine production were destroyed and closed. Restaurants were no longer allowed to sell alcohol before 2 in the afternoon. The Soviet government officials became alcohol-free in order to set a positive example. This is how Gorbachev became known as the ‘mineral-water drinking secretary’, as opposed to the ‘General Secretary’.

An anti-alcohol campaign poster
An anti-alcohol campaign poster

The anti-alcohol campaign had huge ramifications on the country. Alcohol consumption dropped by 50%. However, moonshine production increased sharply as well as organized crime. The amount of deaths from alcohol poisoning increased as well because people turned to other substances to get drunk. The large profits that the government had earned from alcohol production and consumption disappeared. The economy suffered, and more money was printed in order to help. The consequence of that was high levels of inflation. All of these problems resulted in the repealing of the campaign in 1987.

Works Cited:

T. Boikova, Rationing Vodka. March 27, 1987. Sovetskaia Rossiia, 27 March 1987.

Images: Yuri Matrosovich: Museum of Anti-Alcohol Posters. 1996.

Rock’n Russia

Rock’n roll and Russia- two things that are often not thought of together. However, that all changed in the early 70s. Originally rock’n roll music was typically only thought of as American or Western. Bands did not realized that they could write their own songs in Russian with a rock’n roll flair. Early rock’n roll Russian groups sang along to English songs often without understanding what they were even singing.

The Russian group ‘The Songsters’ were one of these groups. They originally began singing along to the Beatles. However, they found their own sound by electrifying folk music. They became extremely successful and even won the 1969 All-Union Competition of Variety Show Performers. Part of why the group was so successful is because their sound was still within the scope of what was acceptable for Soviet music. There sound was however, was a new and different take on Soviet music. Around the same time, the popular music was called estrada. Estrada was simple melodies combined with pro-Soviet messages about peaceful living.

Rock music eventually replaced traditional dance music
Rock music eventually replaced traditional dance music


If artists wanted to take a more creative approach to their pop music, they typically attached pro-Soviet messages to their songs. David Tukhmanov did this perfectly in his song “My Address is the Soviet Union”. The song had a strong message of how the Soviet Union was his home. However, his song featured an electric guitar, an instrument that was not normally ever featured in Russian music. The message of the song was able to glaze over the fact that Tukhmanov was breaking societal norms by adding a rock’n roll flair.

Works Cited:

N. Alekseeva, The Songsters (Pesniary). October 1972. Ogonek, No. 42 (October 1972), pp. 32-33.

Photo: Irkutsk Regional Art Museum. 1998. Tatyana Nazarenko: Dance Floor (1977).

The Toils of Tol’iatti

The cities that sprang into existence in the 1960’s were unlike any Soviet cities that had come before. The city of Tol’iatti was transformed during the 60’s through industrialization. Prior to the transformation, Tol’iatti was known as Stavropol. It was renamed after the Italian Communist Party leader Palmiro Togliatti. The city’s revolution started with the creation of the Kuibyshev Hydroelectric Station that generated huge amounts of electricity for the increased industrial production. Following that, the Volga Automobile Factory was established in 1966. The creation of the factory also introduced a new section of the city. This Avtograd (auto town) was completely comprised of auto workers and their families.

A map of Tol'iatti after the creation of the new housing districts
A map of Tol’iatti after the creation of the new housing districts

The population of the city was incredibly young. The average age of the city’s inhabitants in the 1970’s was 26 years old, the youngest in all of the USSR. The young tenants of the city also engaged in many acts of “hooliganism”. The city became famous as a ‘crime capital’ due to the amount of crimes reported.

In addition to the high amount of crime, Tol’iatti was often thought of as a cold and heartless city. The city was constructed with what was thought of as “heroic intensity”. In all actuality however, the large and booming housing structures were thought of as depriving the city of an atmosphere of warmth.

The city of Tol'iatti in 1975
The city of Tol’iatti in 1975

The construction of the city also encountered many problems according to an article from The Current Digest of the Soviet Press. As of January 22, 1969, only 29,000 square meters of housing space had been constructed. However, 137,700 square meters should have been constructed. The housing feat was so large that there was not enough manpower to build the towering city. However, the city still grew astronomically as a result of the industrialization that was brought to the city.

Works Cited:

To’liatti Picture: Flicker, 2010.

Map of To’liatti:

Bolshakov, V., Vorobyev, A. On the Construction of the Volga Automobile Plan: Changing Horses in Midstream- Why Plans for the Opening of Housing for Tenancy in the New Borough of Togliatti are being Disrupted. 22 January 1969. Current Digest of the Russian Press, Pages 32-33.

Russia, We Don’t Have A Problem

On October 4, 1957, Russian scientists surged ahead of the United States with their launch of Sputnick I. The “space race” between the two countries was only just beginning.

Sputnick, the First Soviet Satellite
Sputnick, the First Soviet Satellite

Russia’s launch of Sputnick I put the United State’s attempted launch of the Vanguard satellite to shame. Sputnick weighed six times more than the Vanguard satellite. The US had attempted to launch the Vanguard into space in December 1957, but had failed. The Russian’s widened the gap between the two countries further when they launched Sputnick II on November 3rd, 1957. However, this time the dog “Laika” was sent into orbit.

The Soviets were beating the United States in the ‘space race’, and they knew it. An article from The Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press shows how the Russians believed they would beat the Americans in the space race. For the Russians, it was not just about beating the Americans. Rather, it was scientific and technical advancements that earned the Soviet Union international prestige. It was something for the country to be incredibly proud of. It also was something that could benefit the country in a huge way.

“There is no doubt that the launching of three Soviet satellites in less than a year and the rapid improvement in these satellites testifies to the unprecedented tempo of scientific and technical progess in the Soviet Union and gives us the right to think that these rates will, in the near future, increase still more rapidly for the good of the great Soviet people and all the world’s peaceful working people” (18 Rybkin). The Soviets truly believed they were making technological advancements that would change their way of life.

Work Cited:

The First Soviet Satellite Sputnik, FUNET Image Archive. 1997.

Rybkin, F. “Outstanding Feat of Soviet Scientists and Production Workers.” 25 June 1958: 18-19. East View Information Services. Web. 3 November 2013.

The Phantom Purges of the Opera

Russian opera was under strict scrutiny in the 30’s. Ideas, people, subjects, or traditions that went against the Soviets were not tolerated in 1936. Cultural norms were not to be violated. Once they were, it could potentially have life-threatening ramifications. Two composers faced accusations of violating cultural norms. This was especially dangerous because of the “Great Purges” were occurring throughout Russia. Lenin wished to destroy any person that posed a threat to the Soviets. Therefore, any person that was labeled as an “enemy of the people” was arrested and possibly executed.

Dmitrii Shostakovich was a Russian composer during the time of the “Great Purges”. He was accused of violating cultural norms in 1936 at the young age of 29. He had been praised for his wonderful work prior to the accusations. The opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” was a controversial piece of work. It pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable socially and boldly stepped past those lines. Many loved the opera, though some did not believe it to be acceptable. Most notably of those people was Stalin himself, who stormed out of the opera. A newspaper editorial appeared later in the week accusing Shostakovich of violating cultural norms.

Dmitrii Shostakovich in the 1930s
Dmitrii Shostakovich in the 1930s

Another notable Russian composer was Semian Bednyi. Bednyi was a different kind of composer than Shostakovich. He loved satire, and used it as a weapon. His opera ‘Ancient Heroes’ was a satire of the first Russian national heroes. He mocked the men, and made them into drunken idiots.He had been hugely popular for his previous work. However, he was condemned for this opera.

Music that was even slightly controversial was shunned during this time period. The population was terrified of having an accusation being made that condemned them as an “enemy of the state”. The Soviets had an incredible amount of power, and this affected cultural and social dynamics. They had the power to arrest and execute anyone that did not conform to social norms. For that reason, musical modernism did not appear until much later in history.


Image: Grigori Chudakov, Olga Suslova, and Lilya Ukhtomskaya, eds.: Pioneers of Soviet photography. New York: Thames and Hudson. 1983.

Freeze, Gregory. (2009). Russia, A History. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

The War on Orthodoxy

The government’s relations with the Orthodox Church in 1929 were not pleasant. To fully understand the declining relations between the two, we need to go back a few years.

In 1918, the Soviets declared that there was a separation between state and Church. They also decreed that church land was nationalized property and could be seized at anytime without compensation. That was not even the worst of it. Militant forces destroyed religious buildings and churches, in addition to killing priests and bishops. Buildings were then converted to cinemas, libraries, clubs, or factories.

Many people also began to convert to other religions. The Baptist Church particularly gained many new members. Other liberal break offs from the church were more appealing than the Orthodox Church.

1929 was a particularly tough blow to the Church. The state passed a law that “restricted religious activity only to registered congregations, banned all religious instruction and proselytizing, and presaged the still more brutal assault on the Church soon to come” (Freeze, 336). The war on religious was renewed with new vigor. The authorities used violence towards the Church far more readily than they had before. Church property was continually seized. The church bells were taken and melted down for the great industrialization project.

Church bells are taken and melted for their metal
Church bells are taken and melted for their metal

A new workweek was also introduced in 1929. The nepreryvka was put into place to try to raise productivity and keep the machines running through the whole year. The “five-day week” was then introduced. The employees worked for four days and then had a one day break. This was in order to take any special meaning away from Sundays and religious holidays. This five day workweek was to happen during the entire year, except for one period of five days that celebrated revolutionary holidays.

On Easter Day Nobody Skips Work
On Easter Day Nobody Skips Work

Therefore, the workers were supposed to slowly lose their interest in religious holidays. However, with the continuous work schedule the machines began to break down and it decreased productivity. In 1931, Stalin adopted back the 6-day week to try to increase productivity.

Works Cited:

Destruction of Church Bells (1929)Felix Corley, ed.: Religion in the Soviet Union: an Archival Reader. New York: New York University Press. 1996.

On Easter Day Nobody Skips Work! (1929)Hoover Political Poster Database. 2007.

Freeze, Gregory. (2009). Russia, A History. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Sayonara to the Tsar

The Romanov family ruled Russia for more than three centuries by autocratic rule. However, that all came to in end in 1917. Many different factors went into the fall of the Tsar Nicholas II rule. One of the most important contributing factors was the February Revolution in 1917.

It all began on February 23, 1917. On International Women’s Day, women workers from a textile factory decided to protest against the food shortages and high bread prices. Their protest was the spark for many other riots and demonstrations. The amount of protesters grew astronomically once people saw what they were doing, and they all converged on St. Petersburg.

Soldiers march towards St. Petersburg during the February Revolution
Soldiers march towards St. Petersburg during the February Revolution

Troops and units of police were sent to try to end the riots and protests, but they were unsuccessful. Too many people had joined in the revolution. Nicholas II began to take the revolutionists serious. He did not want them to find a leader, so he dismissed the Duma. However, they simply decided to reconvene. The Tsar finally realized that he needed to abdicate his thrown. The autocracy was finally abolished. The Romanov family rule ended on March 2nd, 1917.

A telegram that reports the abdication of the Tsar Nicholas II
A telegram that reports the abdication of the Tsar Nicholas II

The fourth Duma organized a provisional government following the abdication of Nicholas II. This provisional government would share power with the Petrograd Soviet. It would be a “dual government” that shared power between the two. However, the power of the provisional government was limited. The real power was with the Soviets. They showed their power when they issued Order #1 to the provisional government. The order said that they could remain in power, so long that they enacted what the Soviets wanted. This order was the start to the “dual government”. Gone was the tsar, now, a new type of government was in town.

Works Cited:


It’s Sunday…Bloody Sunday

If you type in the phrase “Bloody Sunday” into google, many different choices appear (40,900,000 to be exact). The first few are song lyrics from U2’s ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’. Next on the list are from a Bloody Sunday that happened in 1972. The incident I was researching happened on January 9th, 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The movement all started with an Orthodox priest named Georgii Gapon. Gapon began organizing thousands of people into the “Assembly of Russian Factory Workers”. It was a legal labor organization that was approved by the government as a way to guide workers away from new extreme ideas and continue their support of the Tsar and his autocratic government. The movement took off. Thousands of people joined and supported Gapon’s assembly.

In December 1904, the machine-building Putilov factory laid off many workers. These workers happened to be part of Gapon’s assembly. The conclusion was drawn that they were trying to reduce the power of the Assembly by getting rid of workers that were members. This incident helped to spark the march on January 9, 1905.

Gapon wanted to deliver a petition to Tsar Nicholas II at the Winter Palace. The petition asked for a shorter work day, increased salary, as well as free elections. As the day arrived, the people peacefully began to make their way towards the Palace. They walked with religious icons and sang traditional Russian songs. What they met at the palace was not what the people expected.

The Preobrashensky Regiment greeted the peaceful petitioners outside the Winter Palace
The Preobrashensky Regiment greeted the peaceful petitioners outside the Winter Palace

The Tsar was not even at the palace when they arrived. Instead, the Preobrashensky Regiment was. They had been ordered by the chief of the security police to fire to kill. More than 100 people were killed, and hundreds more were injured. This incident caused for public opinion of the tsar to drop immensely. People turned against him after hearing about  this atrocious event. What started as a peaceful day turned into a horrible event in history.

Works Cited:

Freeze, Gregory. (2009). Russia, A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Photograph: The Tsar’s soldiers shooting at demonstrators at the Winter Palace – still shot from the Soviet Film “Devyatoe yanvarya – 9th of January” (1925) by Vyacheslav Viskovsky

Out with the Old, In with the New

Russia has always been a country that fascinated me. They are like that mysterious, leather jacket wearing, brooding person standing in the corner at a party. No matter what you learn about them, there always seems to be some secret that is just out a reach. This articulates my feelings about Russia perfectly. No matter how much I learn about Russian culture, history, architecture, politics, and just about any other topic for that matter, I always want to learn more. There always seems to be something more, lurking just beneath the surface, just out of reach. So, if you would like, you can come along with me to try to discover a little more of the rich and complex Russian history from the past 100 years.

For my first blogpost, I examined photographs by Prokudin-Gorskii that were taken in the early 1900’s. The thing that is so striking about these pictures is that they are in beautiful color, taken in the early decades of the 20th century. Every photograph that he took is quite spectacular, but the one that caught my eye is called Three Generations.


The picture above is of A.P Kalganov, his son, and his granddaughter. The reason why I was so drawn to this picture is because it shows how the country was beginning to transition to a more modernized nation. The grandfather on the left wears traditional Russian clothes and a long masculine-looking beard, while the other two appear in more modern Westernized clothes. This picture was taken in 1910, just seven years before the Russian Revolution took place. To me, this foreshadows the changes that took place in the overthrowing of the final tsar of Russia, and the takeover by the Bolshevik Party. The Bolshevik Party worked to modernize Russia and “catch-up” to the rest of the world. So, getting back to the photograph above, the grandfather symbolizes the old, traditional way of Russian life under the rule of the tsar. The two on the right show the changes that were to come to Russia under the Bolshevik rule. One simple photograph was able to portray so much history. A big thank you to Sergei Mikhailovich Produkin-Gorskii for his fantastic work.

Permanent Record:

Picture Titled: Three Generations, By Sergei Mikhailovich Produkin-Gorskii, 1910

Works Cited: