Soviet Movies Finally Released to the Public

Gorbachev was known for being more of a lenient ruler of the Soviets. He issued a number of reforms and policies that were much different from his predecessors, including glasnost and the tearing down of the Berlin wall. With these leniencies, the Soviet people were able to express themselves much more fully, especially with film. For years the Soviets had had a strong grip on censorship of movies and did not allow many of them to reach the public. But by 1985, that all changed.

In 1986, three of what would become iconic films of Soviet Russia were finally released to the public after Elem Klimov was elected as head of the Cinema Workers Union: Trial on the Road (1971), Commissar (1967), and Repentance (1984). Each of these films was deemed by the censorship program to be somehow not worthy of being shown to the public.

Poster for “Trial on the Road”

Trial on the Road is the least controversial of the 3 in my opinion, and it’s a little confusing why it was even censored. The movie is set in World War II when a Soviet soldier defects to the Germans, but when captured by Soviet partisans, switches sides again. He eventually earns the trust of the partisans for his bravery in battle.

The film presumably was censored because of its theme that suggests sympathy for not only a traitor, but for someone who fought for the Nazi army. The Soviets still remembered the loss they experienced at the hands of the Germans, and my guess is that seeing a film in which a Soviet defector becomes the hero was not very ideal.

Whatever the reason, the film was very well received upon its release in 1986, and has received a score of 8/10 on IMDb. This just shows that the Soviet regime obviously did not have the people’s interests at heart, but was trying to save face both domestically and internationally.

So America RSVPed, they said nah…

This is the Olympic Emblem used in the 1980 Summer Olympics held in Moscow

Until 1992, the Summer and Winter Olympics were still held on the same year. In 1980, the Winter Olympics were held in Lake Placid, New York, while the Summer Olympics were held in Moscow, USSR. The Winter Olympics were famously marked by the US win over the Soviets in hockey, but the Summer Olympics are remembered for something a little different.

The US Olympic Hockey team celebrates its victory over the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics

The United States boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow due to the fact that the Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan at the end of 1979. In addition to the US, 55 other countries also decided to join the boycott.

The USSR, which had poured so much time and effort into making the city look pristine, was obviously unhappy about the United States basically destroying the Soviets claim-to-fame in the Olympic world. In an article from Pravda in March of 1980, the Soviets go all-out in their criticism of the United States decision, specifically targeting President Carter. They refer to the boycotters as “…enemies of the Olympic movement,” and later go on to say “Certain politicians have brazenly interfered in the international athletic movement, their aim being to wreck the Moscow Olympics to please the personal ambitions of US President Carter.” The Soviets make the boycott out to be an attack on the Olympics themselves rather than strictly for political reasons. They even later write “The clear intention is to carry over the policy of blocs into sports,” meaning that the US is just trying to find another way to work to undermine the Soviets. Whatever the case, the Olympics were still held, and millions of people bought tickets and attended.

On a much lighter note, here is a picture of “Misha,”  the mascot of the Moscow Olympics. Now how could anyone boycott something so cuddly?

“Misha,” the cute and cuddly mascot of the Moscow Olympics

Cowards are to be Exterminated…

In 1942, the United States had hardly stepped into World War II. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, was getting beat up pretty badly by the Germans. The Nazis were moving hard and fast through Russia, pushing the Red Army further and further back. But one battle showed the that the Soviets were not going to go down without a fight…

In the summer of 1942, the Germans were trying to get to the oilfields of Baku in order to cut off the Soviet oil supply. Stalingrad, a city on the Volga that was a target of the offensive, was not only of strategic significance, but also was the city named after the Soviet’s fearless leader, Joseph Stalin. The Germans began a ruthless bombardment of the city in August of 1942, and soon gained control of 90% of the city.  With their backs to the river, the Soviets held their ground and pressed forward, eventually surrounding the Germans and turning the tide in the war. But was the victory due to Soviet aggression, or because of fear?

On July 28, 1942, Stalin issued order no. 227. This infamous order is known for its harshness and its significance for the Soviets in World War II. It was basically an order from Stalin to all soldiers that there will be no more retreating. In it, he wrote “The conclusion is that it is time to stop the retreat. Not a single step back! This should be our slogan from now.” This doesn’t seem too bad, almost just like a motivational speech. But later he writes: “Panic-mongers and cowards are to be exterminated at the site” and “…[those] who retreat without order from above, are traitors of the Motherland.” At the end of the order, Stalin even orders that units should be created to shoot anyone who retreats, and those that break discipline will form “Penal Battalions,” which will be sent to places of the heaviest fighting in order to redeem their cowardice.

What started out as a rally cry turned into a death warrant for anyone that retreats from battle. The Soviets fighting in Stalingrad were fully aware of this and fought theGermans rather than face death from their comrades. History writes Stalingrad as a huge victory for the Soviets, but maybe it was the fear of Stalin himself that kept the Soviets from being utterly defeated.

Attached are videos from the battle of Stalingrad. The first is a video of street fighting taken by the Soviets during the battle. The second is a BBC radio broadcast that details the battle.

“We’ve Taken One More House” (1942)

“Siege of Stalingrad” (February 9, 1943)

Fame, Fortune and Propaganda

No one thinks of aviation when thinking of Russia. But in the 1930s, flying was all the rage, with explorers adventuring out into the great white north. Each pilot set out to make a name for himself, and including one by the name of Valerii Chkalov.

Chkalov entered the Soviet Air Force in 1921, but was shortly grounded for flying under a bridge in Leningrad. The young pilot was obviously a daredevil that wanted to show his skill. The Soviets eventually let him fly again as a test pilot in 1930, and from there he became one of Russia’s most famous pilots. His most infamous flight was that from Moscow to Vancouver, where the daredevil flew straight over the North Pole. The Soviet regime was proud of his accomplishments, but had an alternative motive for publicizing him so much: propaganda.

In a 1937 article written in the famous Russian newspaper, Pravda, the author gives the details of Chkalov’s famous flight. Several times he mentions the greatness of Stalin and the Soviet government. In one such instance, Chkalov is speaking of Stalin’s great love for the people, “…’in Stalin’s eyes people are always the most important thing.'” The author was using this national icon as a way to get the people to support Stalin’s regime.

And it worked.

In a letter from a 14-year-old boy to Chkalov, he speaks about how his hands are shaking as he writes because he is so nervous/excited. In another part, the boy writes, “I’ve been saving up for a bicycle and I’ve got 35 rubles in the bank already, so if you need anything I’ll take them out at once.” This kid is willing to give all his money to his hero. Maybe he just loved the pilot that much, but it sounds like brainwashing to me…

Why Starve When You Can Steal From the Church?

During the famine that plagued Russia during the early 1920s, the relationship between the Church and state was deteriorating. The Bolsheviks hatched a plan to defeat the Orthodox Church in one decisive blow.

With the state in a famine, Lenin needed something to help gain support of the peasants that were struggling through this time. The Bolsheviks, realizing that the Orthodox Church had a vast amount of wealth, ordered them to turn over all their riches in order to help the state provide food for those suffering. Until this point, the Bolsheviks were hesitant to attack the Church since the working class relied on the Church and the Bolsheviks did not want to lose the support of the people. But in a letter from Lenin to the Politiburo, he realized something that could solve his dilemma: with the people suffering and some members of the Church refusing to comply with the order, he could turn the Church into an enemy of the people. Yes, he is going to paint the Church as hoarding riches while the peasantry starves to death. He wrote in his letter that the peasants will have no choice but to side with the Bolsheviks if the Church is seen as not even caring for its flock. Lenin was very serious about this, and wrote later in the letter that they should take any means necessary to get the wealth from the Church.

By July of 1922, only a few months after the order came out, the Russians had collected a vast amount of wealth. In a telegraph from the Finance Department describing the goods taken throughout the RSFSR, the Bolsheviks had managed to confiscate enough gold, silver, precious stones, and other riches to rival the ancient Emperors of Rome.

These actions against the Church helped solidify the relationship between the new government in power and the peasantry.

Father Gapon Arrested!

The soul of the Revolution has been taken into custody! Read all about it!

Father Gapon was a man of the people in Russia during the  Revolution of 1905. In fact, it was a well-known fact that the working class loved him. In the New York Times article from January 21, 1905 entitled Czar Menaced By Revolution, it says, “He [Father Gopon] is idolized by the workmen, who, since the beginning of the strike, have furnished him with a body guard.” The people thought so highly of him that they gave him personal protection!  The Chicago  DailyTribune also spoke about the priest in an article from January 24, 1905 entitled Father Gopon Is A Born Leader. The article goes in depth about his life and his power over the people. It even goes as far to say that “Nobles Long Have Feared Him,” speaking about how his power over the people makes the nobles nervous.

From looking at these two articles, there is a little bit of a gap in what happened between January 21-23. The New York Times article speaks about how Father Gopon was somehow lured away from his security guard, and then was taken into custody on January 21st. But in the Chicago Tribune, there is an excerpt from a cable directly to the tribune from St. Petersburg on the 23rd saying that Father Gopon barely escaped being shot by soldiers firing into a crowd of protestors. So he somehow escaped custody, and was back out leading the people within a few days. Quite and incredible feat.

Father Gapon seems to have been a pretty incredible person. In the same excerpt about him escaping capture/death, it says, “…the priest was thrown to the ground. He crawled to a neighboring house, where he put on civilian’s attire and so was able to make his escape unnoticed.” The more I read about him, the more I think a movie should be made about this guy.

Note: You may have noticed that I referred to this man as both “Father Gapon” and “Father Gopon.” This is simply because the newspapers say “Gopon” while most modern pieces refer to him as “Gapon.

Czar of the Sands

This image, captured by photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii in the early Twentieth Century, was taken near the current city of Mary in Turkmenistan. It is among ruins of the former city of Merv, which at the time was part of the Russian Empire. The famed ancient city was once the biggest city in the world and was part of the Silk Road. 

I specifically liked this photograph because it gives a new perspective on the Russian Empire.  When traditionally thinking of Russia, we think of Moscow, the Vulga River, and other well-known parts of the country. We often fail to realize just how huge Russia really is, and how big it was at the height of the empire. At one point it stretched as far south as Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan and virtually surrounded the Caspian Sea.

Who thinks of sand and adobe buildings when they think of Russia? I know I don’t.