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Cheers Comrades

Throughout my whole life I knew about the Prohibition in the United States, where alcoholic beverages became illegal. Beyond that it never crossed my mind that other countries may have tried the same approach as the United States, especially as recently as the 1980’s and in Russia. All I have heard my whole life is how much the Russian’s drink and that it is apart of their culture, so I was very surprised when I learned about the Russian Anti-Alcohol Campaign in class last week, which was implemented under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.

When I traveled to Russia for the first time I half expected Russians to be raging alcoholics and to see drunk Russians all over the place. After I arrived and had spent some time there, it seemed like this was not the case at all. Even though I would see a few people handing around the metro stations and other areas near when I lived drinking beers outside after work, none of these people seemed to be drinking very heavily. There were only a few occasions where I saw people who drank more heavily than the college students I have been around in the U.S.. There were only two instances where I saw people who may have had a drinking problem. The first instance was when I witnessed a group of very elderly Russian men stumbling out of a bar pretty early in the evening, and one of them ended up having to be taken away in an ambulance because he fell and injured his head. The other instance was when I was in a store and a man almost fought a cashier because he would not let the man purchase a bottle of vodka since it was after the legal time to sell alcohol. Reminiscing on these events made me even more interested in the subject of the Anti-Alcohol Campaign.

Another cool poster: “Alcohol: The Enemy of Production”

The Anti-Alcohol Campaign was a campaign which had the purpose of combating alcohol abuse in the Soviet Union. It was launched by Mikhail Gorbachev in May of 1985. The campaign did not rid the country of alcohol, but rather attempted to reduce the amount of alcohol being produced. The way Gorbachev did this was by limiting the times during the day when alcohol could be sold, reducing the amount of shops allowed to sell alcohol, as well as closing down vodka distilleries and vineyards. Although this campaign was implemented with the best interests in mind, there were some very serious consequences. One of these consequences the Russians may have been able to avoid and been prepared to combat it if they had researched the Prohibition. This consequence is the rise of the production of illegal moonshine. According to this article, moonshining was a serious problem. It also shines some light on the seriousness of the alcohol by stating that “… more than one third of all crimes are directly linked to drunkenness.” Other statistics this article includes is the amount of traffic accidents and crimes that occurred in homes that occurred due to the consumption of alcohol which are one in five and 60-70%. Another issue this article addresses is the dangers of drinking moonshine. The articles states that over the 18 months prior to March of 1987, 200 people had died from the consumption of moonshine. Unfortunately, even though this program may have reduced the amount of alcohol consumed by the population, by 1987 the campaign was cancelled due to economic burdens and the rise of organized crime.

Finally, I was surprised to discover, after reading an article discussing the consumption of alcohol is not a “… characteristic of our people [Russian]…”, that this was not the first attempt of the Russians to prevent alcoholism and drunkenness. In fact, there are four previous instances in which people took a stand against drunkenness since the 19th century. For a country that supposedly likes to drink a lot, it sure seems like they do a lot to prevent the over-consumption of alcohol.



The Afghani Government plays Russian Roulette

The beginning of the Soviet Russian occupation of Afghanistan took place when Russian paratroopers were deployed in the capital of Afghanistan. The date was December 27, 1979 and the beginning of a very long and costly occupation, that would be described in the future as the Russian Vietnam. There were a few specific events which occurred over the few years previous to the Soviet invasion that are directly related to it. These events were the Afghani government’s coup roulette.

Mujahideen fighters relaxing in the mountains of Afghanistan

There were two coups which occurred before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and one that directly coincided with the invasion. The first occurred in 1973, the second in 1978, and the third occurred in 1979. While researching these coups I discovered a few discrepancies between the sources I was using. One of the discrepancies occurred between a Russian source, which was published on May 24, 1978 and the Wikipedia source I used. In the 1978 coup, the current leader, Mohammad Daud, was ousted by Nur Muhammad Taraki, a military leader. The differences in the reports on the events which ended up with Daud being killed are the discrepancies I found between the Russian source and Wikipedia source. The Russian source claimed that Daud was killed in a firefight between him and Taraki’s troops because he “[…] refused to surrender to the troops…”(Current Digest). The other source claims that Daud and most of his family were executed by Taraki over the days that followed the coup. I find it very interesting that the Russian source seems to twist the story a little bit in order to make it sound a little less brutal, and make it look like Daud’s death could have been avoided.

Another interesting Russian source I found discussed the accusations of U.S. news sources about the possibility of their being Soviet troops in Afghanistan on and was published on December 23, 1979. As you may have noticed, this is just four days before Russian troops invaded Afghanistan, and overthrew and killed the Afghani president. These articles make me wonder how much of the news that was published about the events that were taking place in Afghanistan at the time were actually truthful accounts.


“Russian Invasion of Afghanistan.” Russian Invasion of Afghanistan. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2014. <>.

“Situation in Afghanistan.” The Currect Digest of the Russian Press 30.17 (1978): 17. East View Information Services. Web. 16 Nov. 2014. <>.”
Soviet Troops in Afghanistan? Pure Fabrication.” Editorial. Pravda 23 Dec. 1979: n. pag. Print.

To Infinity and Then a Rough Trip Home

One of the coolest moments of my life occurred while I was touring Звёздный городо́к, otherwise known as ‘Star City’, the home of the Russian space program. As I stepped off the bus, I noticed a women walking towards the group I was with surrounded by what looked like a few body guards. This lady turned out to be Valentina Tereshkova, the first female to travel to space. The date was June 16, 2013 and it was the 50th anniversary of her historic flight into space. Even though she did not have time to stop and talk to us, I can still say I met the first woman in space.

Valentina Tereshkova in her military uniform

On June 16, 1963, Valentina launched in the Vostok 6 for what would turn into a three day space flight. This individual flight ended up being longer than all other the U.S. space flights until that point. There was also some mystery and cover ups surrounding the flight. The true story of the flight not being released until 2007. The information that came out following the flight was that Valentina performed poorly during the flight, had emotional problems as well as physical problems. All of these claims were used to cover up the fact that there were technical problems with the reentry system that if no fixed, would have resulted in Valentina’s death. It was all due to Valentina’s intelligence that the reentry was completed successfully. The problems did not end there, though. She was exhausted after the three days in space and when the parachute opened to slow her decent she realized that she was descending towards a huge lake. She would have been in serious trouble if she had landed in the lake, but luckily for her, the wind blew her over the land. With that, the three day journey of the first women in space was complete and Valentina Tereshkova was home safe and sound.



The Mysterious Gift

Khrushchev after turning Crimea over to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic

In February of 2014, the world was shocked on February 26, just three days after the Sochi Olympics ended, and the days following when reports began to surface that Russian troops were deployed in Crimea. Russia had poured billions of dollars into the 2014 Winter Olympics and other things in order to attempt to portray Russia in a more positive light, and now they had just invaded one of their neighboring countries ruining any progress they had made.

Henri Cartier-Bresson: The People of Moscow. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1955.
Celebration of 300th anniversary of the union of Russia and Ukraine, which was followed by the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine

In 1954 on February 19, Crimea became apart of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. This move surprised many because Russia has a long history with Crimea and has gone to great lengths in the past to add and keep Crimea under their control. What is even more strange is the reasoning behind the transfer, which were “the economic commonalities, territorial closeness, and communication and cultural links” between Ukraine and Crimea (Siegelbaum). The weird thing is that their economies really were not very intertwined, since Crimea relied mostly on tourism. On the other hand, Russia was economically and militarily intertwined with Crimea due to Russia’s need for a warm water port that can be used all year around, which has recently been reaffirmed through Russia’s invasion of Crimea. As for the cultural connection, the same is true in the sense that Russia had greater cultural ties to Crimea since the majority of its population in 1954 was Russian. The thought process involved in this exchange is very mysterious. It makes you wonder if Ukraine had some sort of leverage against the Russians at the time, which they used to make this transfer occur.


Siegelbaum, Lewis:

A Martyr of the Great Terror

Leon Trotsky hanging out with soldiers of the Red Army


When I traveled to Russia during the summer of 2013, I was fortunate enough to stumble across an exhibit dedicated to the life of Leon Trotsky in the basement of a Gulag museum in Moscow. I knew very little about the man who at one point was one of Vladimir Lenin’s right hand men, and ended up being a casualty of Stalin’s Great Purges. Ever since visiting this exhibit, I have been interested in learning about this man whose very existence Stalin probably wished he could erase from the history books.

Leon Trotsky was born on November 7, 1879 in Yanovka, Ukraine. As a young man Trotsky became involved with the Russian Social Democratic Party when he was exiled to Siberia in 1900. In 1903, Trotsky had a falling out with Lenin when the Social Democratic Party split into two factions, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, since Lenin sided with the Bolsheviks and Trotsky, the Mensheviks. In 1917, after spending many years in exile, Trotsky returned to Russia, overcame his differences with Lenin and join the Bolshevik movement. Trotsky played an important role in the  1917 Revolution and the subsequent take over by the Bolsheviks, which earned him a important position under Lenin. Everything was going well for Trotsky until the death of Lenin, where things began to take a turn for the worst.

Cubist portrait by Yury Annenkov

In 1927, Trotsky was dismissed from the Social Democratic Party and was exiled from Russia soon after. In 1936, the Great Terror, also known as the Great Purges, began. Trotsky was directly affected by the Great Terror due to the outcome of a trial which found Trotsky and 16 other former Communist leaders guilty of organizing a Trotskyite-Zinovievite terrorist center and plotting to kill Stalin, and sentenced to death. At this point Trotsky was living in Cuba and managed to stay out of the murderous grasp of Stalin until 1940. Two attempts on Trotsky’s life were made after Stalin ordered his assassination. Both assassination attempts were executed in 1940 and the second attempt succeeded. Trotsky became one of the over 72,950 people executed as the result of the Great Terror, and was one of the last Bolsheviks rehabilitated by the Russian government.

Leon Trotsky played a huge part in the history of the Soviet Union and continued to contribute to political world throughout his life even though it put his life and family in danger. This man deserves to be more than just a statistic of the Great Purges.




Never Underestimate Your Enemies

Russian and Japanese Calvary meet on the battlefield during the Battle of Yalu River

As I went about trying to figure out how I was going to approach the discussion of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 and 1905 I came across the picture above, which I later discovered was part of a collection of Japanese woodblock prints that depicted portions of this war. I was further intrigued by the collection in to determining what part of the Russo-Japanese war this painting depicted. I discovered that the battle from the painting was the Battle of Yalu River, which had a great impact in the Russo-Japanese War.

The Russo-Japanese War was initiated in February of 1904 when the Japanese, as they would do at Pearl Harbor during World War II, launched a sneak attack on the Russian naval vessels located at Port Arthur, a warm water port located on the east coast of present day China. The result of this attack was a declaration of war by both Japanese and Russia parties involved. The next course of action for the Japanese were military incursions into Manchuria, which the Russian’s occupied. These actions set the stage for the first major land battle of the Sino Japanese War: The Battle of Yalu River.

Map of the Battle of Yalu River

The battle of Yalu River took place over the period of two days. Contact was initiated by Japanese troops with Russian troops on April 30, 1904 and the battle officially ended on May 1, 1904. Major General Kuroki Tamemoto and his 42,000 Japanese soldiers outnumbered Lieutenant General Mikhail Zasulich and his 25,000 soldiers. The Russians, who were greatly outnumbered, were also ill prepared for the battle just as then had not been prepared for Japan’s sneak attack on Port Arthur. Since the Russian empire covered so much territory, General Zasulich’s mission was to delay the Japanese advance in order to buy enough time for Russian troops being transported via the Trans-Siberian railroad from the western portion of the Russian empire to reinforce the troops under his command. The strategy employed by General Zasulich was one of static defensive positions along the bank of the Yalu River. The problem with this strategy was that “this force was spread out piecemeal over a 170-mile front, whereas the Japanese could concentrate its efforts on any single point of its choosing” (Battle of Yalu River). While the Russian troops were setting up their static defensive positions on the Yalu river, the Japanese were gathering intelligence for the upcoming battle using forward deployed scouts disguised as Korean fishermen. Due to Japan’s effective use of scouts and the Russian’s poor attempts to hide their defensive positions, the Japanese were able to gain excellent intelligence in the days before the battle, which enabled the Japanese to be able to pinpoint the exact positions of Russian troops and determine the best point of attack on the Russian positions.

Employing several pontoon bridges that spanned the width of the Yalu river at several different locations, Japanese troops began to move across the Yalu river under the cover of darkness and fog. By April 29th, the Japanese First Army had crossed the river and began their assault on three different Russian positions. The consequences of the Japanese assault was a Russian retreat. Due to poorly timed counter attacks by Russian troops, the Japanese were able to punch more holes in the Russian lines and the Russian began a full retreat. The Russian’s were now on the run, the battle was over, and the Japanese now had a foothold in Manchuria. This battle showed that the Russian’s were not prepared for a war with Japan and that the Japanese could match European powers in battle.



The Last Deportation

In a photograph taken near Samarkand, an old man, probably an ethnic Tajik, holds birds he has just caught. Samarkand and its region were noted for wide diversity in ethnic groups, including Uzbeks, Tajiks, Persians, and Arabs as well as the more recently arrived Russians.

When I first sat down to write about this photo, my efforts were focused on the large number of different ethnic minority groups that made up the population of the Soviet Union. As the caption of the picture above states, just the region where this picture was taken is home to many different ethnic groups.  Although I knew about the mass deportations of ethnic groups from the western Soviet Republics and Oblasts, which occurred while Stalin was in power, I had not heard anything about deportations of ethic groups from the southern Soviet Republics. From further research into the matter I discovered that ethnic groups from the Southern Republics, such as the Kazakh, Tajik, and Uzbek Soviet Republics, suffered the same fate as the ethnic groups from the western Soviet Republic. The most interesting information I found was that one of last ethnic groups to be deported in the Soviet Union were from the Tajik Soviet Republic. This group was the Yaghnobi, a Tajik ethnic minority of mountaineers that inhabited the valleys of the Sughd Province of the Tajik Soviet Republic.

Yaghnob Valley×692.jpg

Although many ethnic groups were deported from their home territories during the reign of Stalin and the rule of the Soviet Union, the Yaghnobi people are unique in one way: they were deported in the 1970’s almost 20 years after Khrushchev condemned the deportations which took place in the Stalin era. The reason it took so long for these mountain dwellers to be deported was because of their location in the mountains, which was very secluded. The reasoning behind their deportation was due to the Soviet Union’s need of workers to grow and harvest cotton in Zafarabod. After the deportation some of the Yaghnobi people managed to make their way back to their home in the Yaghnobi valley only to be deported again and returned to the cotton fields. As a result of the Yaghnobi’s actions, the Soviet Union essentially attempted to eradicate the Yaghnobi culture by destroying all the villages in the Yaghnobi valley and their religious books.

Due to the harsh environment and poor living conditions the Yaghnobi were exposed to when they were deported, of the three to four thousand Yaghnobi people deported, “between 400 and 700 Yaghnobis died during their first year in Zafarabod” (Yagnobi People, 2007) (Loy, 2005). It was not until 1983 that some of the Yagnobi people began to migrate back to the Yagnobi valley.



Loy, Thomas. 2005. Jaghnob 1970: Erinnerungen an eine Zwangumsiedlung in der Tadschikischen SSR. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag