An Olympic Medal In Distraction

In 1980, the Soviet Union was changing and evolving. The Soviet people were experiencing new social freedoms and opportunities that they had never had before. While experiencing social liberation, the Soviet Union was also experiencing economic uncertainty, the unpredictability of the Cold War, and major global backlash over the invasion of Afghanistan. I think the perfect example of these opposing aspects of the Soviet Union can be personified in the 1980 Summer Olympic Games. The 1980 Olympic Games were held in Moscow and were set to be a massive spectacle for the Soviet people. Before the games, the Soviet nation had already held numerous carnivals, parades, or celebrations for any and every feat that the Soviet nation accomplished. I believe that these celebrations were a spectacle used for distraction. Every celebration kept the people focused on their social lives and new social freedoms, while also getting them to ignore their economic troubles and looming threat of the Cold War. It also helped to keep their citizens in support of the nation and rallying around national identities. As far as distractions go, the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow were set to be the biggest and most costly distraction of them all. The Soviet Union, regardless of any economic issues they were having, focused all of their resources on creating new facilities and making preparations for the Olympic Games. New stadiums were built, training facilities were built, and more hotels were built. The Soviet Union even went as far as building a new airport in Sheremet’evo just for the Olympics. On top of building new structures, roads were freshly paved, trees were planted, and debris and trash was cleaned across the entire city. The Soviet Union was throwing more and more money at the Olympic Games and I think it perfectly represents the complexity of the Soviet Union at the time, in which the social side of the country is evolving and improving, while the outside involvement of the Soviet Union with the rest of the world is complicated and devolving. Even though the Soviet Union was trying to distract their citizens from their problems, their plan worked. According to the Current Digest, the people of the Soviet Union were extremely excited for the Olympic Games and were excited to interact with people from around the world as they came to Moscow. Two-thirds of the Capital’s residents said they would like to interact with foreigners and familiarize them with the Soviet way of life. Polls taken of the Soviet citizens showed that the games had created a favorable and joyous environment in Moscow, proving that the distraction of the games was a success.  Although the games helped the citizens ignore the troubles of the Soviet Union, the outside world was not easily distracted. 55 nations boycotted the games in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Below is a map depicting the countries that boycotted:

Although the outside world protested the games, the Moscow games still very much had the support of their citizens. A reported 5.2 million tickets were sold for attendance of the games, with 3.9 million of those tickets being bought by Soviet citizens. It appears as though the distractions and the celebratory rallies for a Soviet national identity worked, and the Soviet people continued on, seemingly blind to any issues in the Soviet Union.

More Than a Game

Following Stalin’s death in 1953, the country begins down a path of “De-Stalinization” and the landscape of the Russian culture is shifting once again. When looking at the 1956 module on “Seventeen Moments”, I discovered an interesting change occurring among the masses of Russian civilians. A massive shift of culture took over Russia following the death of Stalin. The “expansion of higher education and technical training had created a more complex and articulated society“. Russian culture was evolving and growing. The work day was reduced from eight hours to seven hours, and the work week was reduced from six days to five. The people were gaining freedom and with that freedom were gaining a cultural identity. One of the biggest parts of this culture growth was sports. With people gaining free time, they began to spend time and energy watching and supporting Russian sports. Soccer and Hockey rose to prominence in Russian culture, as citizens rallied around local and national teams. Watching sports is a leisure activity, but it has never been just a game to any sports fan. Whether it’s hockey or soccer, to be a fan of a team is to have an identity. For the Russian citizen’s that spend their free time watching sports, their team is an identity, a cultural identifier of who they are as a person and as a Russian. It’s a freedom of expression to support a sports team and is an invitation to socialize with other supporters. The support of sports teams after the death of Stalin was the “symbolic culmination of the massive transformations undergone by the entire country“. Below is a picture of a Russian stamp commemorating their national soccer team:File:The Soviet Union 1968 CPA 3643 stamp (Football (70th Anniversary of Russian Soccer) and Cup).png

On a larger scale, national sports are a means to show the outside world how strong and unified Russia still is. Cheering on the Russian national team in soccer or hockey gives the citizens of Russia something to rally around, something to identify with, and something to believe in. It’s a unifying experience for the people. The growth of sports stadiums proves the importance and power that sports have in culture. In 1952, Russia had more than 1,000 stadiums which could seat at least 1,500 spectators. By 1960, the number of stadiums that size grew by more than 1,400. And by 1968, the number of stadiums at that size grew again by almost 700 stadiums. The increase from 1,000 stadiums to 3,000 shows the surge and growth of Russian culture and the role that sports played in the culture shift.

In 1957, Russia invited numerous countries to compete in the World Ice Hockey Championships that were hosted in Moscow. The massive hockey event hosted in Russia, allowed the Russians to display their support as a nation to opposing countries and “show off” their nation by hosting the teams in their capital city. All countries accepted their invitations to the tournament, except for the United States. The United States State Department refused to issue visas to the hockey team to attend the event in Moscow, stopping them from travelling to the tournament. I honestly believe that this is because the United States knew that the hockey tournament in Moscow was more than a hockey tournament. It really is more than a game; this tournament was a display of nationalism and patriotism. Hosting the event against the Americans in this time period was a symbolic and monumental event that the U.S was safer avoiding. Winning a game over a rival country was a symbolic display of power and control. Had the Americans gone and lost this hockey game in Moscow, they would look weaker and lesser, and would have had to “retreat” back to the United States. That may sound childish and unbelievable, but in any form of match up between the United States and Russia, whether in war or in hockey, neither side will want to lose or look weak in any way. It really is more than just a game to both countries. Besides the 1980 ‘Miracle on Ice’ sports moments like these are often lost in history and undervalued when looking at countries’ cultures. I believe that this is important to Russian culture, and was extremely valuable in shaping and molding the post-Stalin culture in Russia.

Rosie The Russian Riveter

This blog post was nominated to be featured on the “Comrade’s Corner” of the class website.

After reading another classmate’s post about propaganda usage in media and in the movie industry, I was intrigued and wanted to look more into the role that propaganda has, especially during war time. When looking at the Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, I stumbled upon a piece about the role of women in war time films. The article talked about the massive number of war films that were made during World War II, and mentioned that the majority of war films that were made actually did not focus on the wars themselves, but focused on average citizens, specifically women a lot of the time. The piece from the Seventeen Moments speaks about how movies were made to depict women stepping up and being strong supporters while the men were away at war. It also references the usage of women in recruiting posters across Russia, as seen below:

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According to the Seventeen Moments article, the poster reads “The Motherland Calls You” and depicts a strong, weathered women who is calling for the men to step up and serve.

This Russian movement of using women in propaganda stuck out to me because I actually had a discussion about it in my “Modern Military History” class this past week. This usage of women in propaganda in WWII is very similar to the American usage of propaganda in WWII as well. Americans in WWII used posters and other forms of propaganda to compel women to “step up” as the men were away at war. Many women were recruited into the job industries to support war efforts, such as working in factories and assembly lines to support the male soldiers over seas. Everyone can recognize this iconic poster of Rosie the Riveter, which depicts a strong women showing other women that they can do the “harder” and “manlier” jobs:

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It’s interesting to see the shift in ideology in this era. With so much history of sexism and discrimination against women in the workplace in both the United States and Russia, it is ironic that during WWII they needed women to keep their workforce and economy afloat to support the war efforts. I think that the importance of women in World War II is too often overlooked and underappreciated. I think it’s important to recognize these propaganda efforts, the posters and the movies, that depict women as strong and brave characters that step up for their countries because I think it truly is a more honest depiction of the home fronts of the countries during the war.

Prokudin-Gorskii Photograph

Vid na monastyrʹ ot Svi︠e︡tlit︠s︡y. [Monastyri︠a︡ Pr. Nila Stolbenskago, ozero Seliger]

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Factual information about photo from:

When looking at the photographs taken by Prokudin-Gorskii, I wanted to really focus on the images that had a significant historical background to go with them. I felt as though the pictures with more background would really provide a better insight to the social and economic changes in Russia in their history. The photograph above taken by Prokudin-Gorskii is titled “View of the Nilova Monastery” and depicts the image of the monastery of St. Nil which is located in Lake Seliger, northwest of Moscow (Library of Congress).  Below is a map that vaguely shows a location of where the monastery is located in relation to Moscow:

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The reason that this image initially stuck out to me was because of the monastery’s massive size and incredible architectural structure. It is a large and beautiful structure and to me showed a demonstration of both Russia’s passion for their religion as well as their economic capabilities to build such an enormous religious facility. However, the main reason that the image was of interest was the history of the building as it stood for more than 300 years outside of Moscow. As per the picture’s caption on the Library of Congress’ site: The monastery was built in the 1600’s and was one of the largest and wealthiest monasteries of the Russian Empire (Library of Congress). It was used until it was closed by the Soviet Regime in 1927 and was used afterwards as both a concentration camp and an orphanage (Library of Congress). This history is extremely interesting to what we are looking at in class, as it shows a change of Russia’s religious and economic change right after the rise of the Bolsheviks. Another interesting aspect of the photo is that the photo which shows the monastery and all its size and beauty was taken in 1910, only 7 years before the rise of the Bolsheviks and 17 years before its closure (Library of Congress). The monastery was a place of great religious importance to the Russian empire, worthy of spending massive amounts of money to make it one of the largest monasteries in the entire empire. It’s extremely interesting to see a structure of that much importance then be stripped of its religious meaning only to then be used as a concentration camp. To me, the monastery’s history of going from monastery to concentration camp is the perfect epitome of the economic and religious change as the Russian empire evolved and shows just how quickly and drastically the ideals and values of a country can change.