Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Rise and Fall of The Aral Sea, 1985


From as early as 1939, canals began to be constructed redirecting rivers that feed the Aral Sea to the cotton field plains of Uzbekistan, which at the time was under Soviet Rule.  The construction of the original Great Fergana Canal was a part of Stalin’s Second Five Year Plan, which would increase the grain export industry in the region exponentially.  Eventually a second canal was constructed in the early 1960’s, known as the Karakum Canal, which relocated water from the Syr Darya and Amu Darya, which were two of the biggest feeder rivers to the Aral Sea, to the cotton fields of Uzbekistan.  Although the construction proved successful at first with huge profits from the now exponentially growing grain industry, several unintended consequences began to result in the region.

Once the 1950’s came about, scientists were able to notice the beginning stages of desertification in the Aral Sea region, by shortening coast lines.  These shortening coast lines began to destroy the once thriving industry, which at one point, contributed a sixth of the Soviet fish stock piles and was the source of somewhere between 30,000-40,000 jobs in the area.  Once the 1980’s arrived, the industry was completely diminished, with dead shipping villages and towns, and scattered shipping vessels sitting on dried up land.

Although, in the initial canal construction, Soviet scientists stated that the Sea was bound to dry up at some point in time regardless due to its geographic location and changing environment, they did not expect the health and economic consequences that would come along with it.  These dried up sea grounds left the now dust like excess runoff of fertilizers, dried up sea salts, and other man made waste laying around in the area.  Dust storms began to sweep these dusts and chemicals off the the dried up sea floor, and blow them into town and villages in the region.  The inhalation of these chemicals began to lead to a huge increase in the number of cancers, kidney diseases, liver diseases, new born deaths, and maternity deaths just to name a handful.  Besides the chemicals, the blowing of salts and their pile up in cotton and other agricultural fields killed off significant numbers of crops, sharply decreasing the Soviet and Uzbekistan economy.

In response, scientists devised a plan to redirect the canals in a way where water still reached the fields, but also began refilling the Aral Sea as well.  Although, the construction of these canals proved to be unpopular to those officials over seeing it in main land Russia, and the inefficiency of these poorly built canals and the need to build new ones proved more expensive then necessary.

In recent years, attempts to redirect groundwater flows into the Aral Sea have been made, and annual progress has been noted, but the figures from the groundwater move are quite small, and at this rate, the process of restoring the Aral Sea to per-canal standards will takes decades, and may never reach its original state.

I find it mind blowing that such drastic measures can be taken without grasping the full extent of the short term and long term effects to come along with it.  The scientists saying that the sea was bound to dry up in time sounds like an excuse to go through with the construction to accomplish that era’s “five” year plan that would later turn into a “two-hundred” year fix.  This, again, just goes to show the Soviet Union’s obsession with quick industrial growth, despite the result of long term economic, environmental, and human destruction on a massive scale.

Solidarity in Poland, 1980


The Solidarity movement in Poland began in 1970 at the shipyards in Gdansk in response to a sharp increase in food prices.  Workers responded by marching on the Polish Communist Party Headquarters and striking outside of it, ultimately setting it on fire.  This event sparked other movements in other port towns and cities, and spread even further throughout Poland as a result of the zero growth the Polish economy was experiencing.

A second attempt to increase food prices in 1976 led to an increase in sit downs and strikes, including the formation of the Workers’ Defense Committee.  Tensions began to reach a boiling point in Poland when a Polish cardinal was elected as a result of Pope John Paul II’s vocal support for the Polish working class.  The combination of international support and western economic aid to a failing Polish economy only required one more significant event.

That significant event that put the already defensive minded Communist party over the edge and lead to the formation of Solidarity in Poland was when the government announced that there would be a mandatory rise in the price of meat.  This declaration sparked increased support by workers for Solidarity, along with several face offs between the Polish Communist Party and Solidarity members. The Politburo urged the Polish Communist Party and other allied trade unions to mend ties with the working class by adjusting their economic policies which caused the Solidarity movement in the first place.

Despite the Soviets denying military intervention, to guarantee the put down of Solidarity in Poland, a solely Polish military operation, with the use of Marshal Law, took place where leaders of Solidarity were arrested, including the party’s leader Lech Walesa, and the organization had to go “underground” until it was able to reorganize membership and power around 1989.

Solidarity reappeared in Poland when the first anti-Communist candidate, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, was elected in 1989.  This was the first anti-Communist leader in the Eastern Bloc since Soviet occupation.  As one would imagine, this event of Solidarity in Poland would be seen as the basis for other anti-Communist revolts in Eastern and Central Asia, and ultimately prove to be one of the events that would ignite the fall of the Eastern Bloc, and eventually, the crumbling of the Soviet Union as a whole.

The Novocherkassk Massacre, 1962


In 1962 workers, from the Novocherkassk Electric Locomotive Works (NEVZ), marched on the Communist Headquarters in Novocherkassk in protest of Khrushchev’s passing of legislation that would double the prices for meat and dairy products.  The march on the headquarters turned into a labor strike consisting of thousands of laborers that were displeased with the new prices for these goods for multiple reasons.  NEVZ workers were the strongest crowd at the strike since they have been overworked recently since their factory began competing in a socialist competition, where they received no extra benefits or compensation for the extra work.  Secondly, it is rumored that their factory manager was over heard saying something along the lines that he could care less about the workers not being able to feed themselves.  When the protesters refused to disperse and heed the Soviet Army’s request one of the generals ordered his troops to fire their guns into the crowd.  The shooting resulted in 24 deaths, dozens injured, and the arrest of over 100 strikers for causing disorder and committing banditry.  Many of those charged with these crimes were exiled to Siberia.

Although one would think news of an atrocity like this would spread rather quickly to other nations and peoples, the Soviets managed to keep the major details and events secret until 1988, when close to two dozen bodies were found and ultimately connected to the massacre of ’62.  Once the discovery occurred, a Soviet newspaper acquired classified documents on the event and published an article revealing the true events that took place.

Part of the reason the Soviets were able to keep this event under wraps for so long was because they quickly and quietly buried the bodies of those killed and immediately shut down a second attempt at protest the next day.  Another important aspect of its secrecy was that Soviet authority grew concerned about the proletariat taking the upper hand, and in response, quickly organized themselves with the help of some Politburo members, executives in the communist party, who flew in the next day to Novocherkassk to assess the situation and stabilize it.

As our progression through 20th Century Russian History continues, it becomes more and more evident that the Soviets were able to hide the majority of human rights violations and oppressive actions quite effectively.  Many of the truths of Soviet massacres and abuses were kept secret up until the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Although other countries had ideas as to what was happening, the Soviets were able to keep many of the major details and evidence hidden from external eyes.  By successfully doing this, the Soviets were able to maintain friendly ties with other communist nations on the eastern bloc that they had annexed or aligned themselves with and, most importantly, maintain favorable relations with citizens throughout the Soviet Union by preventing the spread of this information domestically as well.  I feel that if a decent amount of this information got out, not only would there be a call for a large scale rebel movement, but other communist nations that the Soviets associated with may cut ties with the Kremlin and instead, support the proletarians movement for social, economic, and political reform in the S.U.