Thursday, October 31, 2013

Anti-Gay Laws in Russia

Recently Russia has passed an anti-gay law prohibiting gay propaganda among minors in Russia. This has led to much concern over the Olympic athletes and visitors who may be gay and how they will be treated at the Olympics. President Putin of Russia assures that these individuals will be tolerated and will not be treated differently. In additional a gay activist of Russia Alexey Davydov who was supposed to participate in the gay protest died due to a weakened immune system that had resulted from an injury in a previous arrest. Alexey Davydov was arrested in 2011 and his arm was broken by the police, this resulted in a long hospital stay and difficult recovery, he was diabetic and contracted an infection in the hospital that led to kidney failure requiring him to have dialysis. When he was going to the Gay protest he contracted food poisoning and was unable to beat it, he slipped into a coma and died the next day. Although the police did not directly kill him they sure had a part in his demise. This anti-gay law has instigated a movement to inform the Russian youth about the true nature of being gay and that it was natural and should be accepted as such. How long will this anti-gay law stay? At some point in time, I believe that most all governments will come to realize that you cannot fight what is not going away. A society cannot move backward towards not accepting such behavior when its become recognized as “normal”.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Don't. Invade. Russia.

Having been reading for my senior research on the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, let me just take this opportunity to talk about something that I have observed that won't make it into my senior research - for reasons that will become apparent shortly.

In brief, my thoughts are these: don't invade Russia. Just don't do it. Take Vasili's advice:

"You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders - The most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia"

Obviously this is glib, but seriously.  Napoleon tried it on 24 June, 1812 with his Grand Armee and made it all the way to Moscow (the Russians just let him have it).

It was at this point that the Cossacks burned essentially EVERYTHING in Napoleon's path in one of the greatest exemplars of scorched earth warfare in history, and upon reaching Moscow, the Russian General ordered it evacuated, refused to send a delegation to Napoleon to officially surrender the city, and then set Moscow on fire as well. 

This whole situation might not have been so bad except for the fact that Napoleon was now 1700 miles away from Paris, and he had forgotten that Russia in the winter gets really, really, really cold (as low as 30-40 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit).

Demoralized, defeated, starving, freezing and utterly aware of how short he was, Napoleon was forced to retreat with the Cossacks and peasant partisans at his heels, followed closely by the regular Russian Imperial Army who nipped at Napoleon's heels until he crossed back over the Berezina River. Napoleon had entered Russia with almost half a million men in his Grand Armee, and returned with approximately 27,000.

Almost exactly 129 years later, this guy thought it'd be a great idea to try and do the same thing:

... he did nazi what he was getting into.

 When Hitler made the decision to invade the Soviet Union on 22 June, 1941, it would set off the bloodiest war in modern history. Estimates for German casualties are around 5 million, and the Russian estimates are anywhere from 15-30 million between June 1941 and May 1945.

(When Stalin heard about the invasion, historical sources say he stroked his glorious mustache and laughed)**

Timothy Snyder coined the term "Bloodlands" talking about the area of Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, because of the number of people who died on that land.


This ties into my senior research insofar as I am investigating the instances of partisan violence in the Soviet Union when the Nazis invaded. The German military used the trope of "anti-partisan" warfare to justify so-called "reprisal killings" for German soldiers who had been KIA. Essentially this boiled down to a weak justification for killing civilians indiscriminately. There are two cultural trends that come to a head in this instance between 1941 and 1944 (after 44 they were mostly out of Russia and the invaded territories).
The first trend is the long history of Russian irregular troops utilizing guerrilla fighting methods to harass and pick apart invaders (of which Napoleon was only one). The second is the Prusso-German military's extended history (which actually started with Napoleon) of despising and utilizing excessively brutal tactics against irregular military forces that they deemed dishonorable. These two trends found their ultimate expression in the bloodbath that was the Eastern Front in WWII. In the end, they should have just learned from history: Don't invade Russia.

**not really

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Last week at the Russian studies event, Pelmeni party, there was a contraption from which people were serving tea. It looked like a giant tin ornament that shouldn’t have been touched, let alone had tea being served from it. Curiosity got the best of me so I asked what it was to which I found out that it was called a Samovar. Samovar is a purely Russian invention. It is used for making tea. In the 17th century tea was delivered to Russia from the territory of West Mongolia and it was used as medicine among the nobility. Tea was a competitor of 'sbiten', the most favorite drink in Russia back then. Its components were: hot water, medicinal herbs and honey.
In the 18th century in the Urals and Tula samovar-kitchens were invented. They were divided into three parts, two of them devoted to meals cooking, and the third one wholly devoted to tea-making. Sbitennik and samovar-kitchen were samovar prototypes.
There were different ways of manufacturing the first samovars. Samovars were produced in the Urals, Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Tula; and later in Vladimirskaya, Yaroslavskaya and Vyatskaya provinces. The first samovar factory was founded in Tula by Nasar Usitsin in 1778.
Samovar manufacture soon became to be very profitable. Handicraftsmen were quickly turning into manufacturers; workshops were transformed into samovar manufactures. In 1826 there were only eight samovar factories, whereas in 1896 there were already seventy.
Samovars were made out of cupronickel, red and green copper, pinchbeck, and in special cases, out of silver. Some samovars were plated with gold or silver, but brass was always the basic metal. In the course of the centuries samovar shapes changed. By the end of the 19th century the number of samovar types reached 165.
Samovar was not only a feature of home comfort, the symbol , but also a kind of a mascot. Among articles of folk domestic art samovars occupy a special place. They are often viewed not only as domestic utensils, but also as real works of applied arts. Each true samovar master always wanted to astonish his customers by his creativity.
Conservative design and durability in combination with decorative qualities draw interest to samovars of the people all over the world. Tula samovars were represented at many exhibitions in Russia and abroad. Manufacturers taking part at the exhibitions were constantly awarded with medals, the reprints of which often appeared on their samovars after that.
Tula samovars were spread all over Russia. At the fairs one could find samovars of very different shapes: vase-shaped, pear-shaped, wine-glass-shaped, etc. Prices reduction in the process of manufacture caused standardization of samovar shapes. The so-called cylindrical samovars became widely spread.
Originally Tula produced coal samovars (the water in them was heated up by charcoal), kerosene samovars and combined variants, the water in which could be heated up by any kind of fuel. Prices were set in direct dependence with shape, material and dimension of a samovar. Simple samovars were sold in bulk. Articles of complicated shapes (presents, samovars made to order) were sold by the piece.
During the whole of the 19th century portable samovars were produced in Tula. As a rule, they were multi-sided, cubic and right-angled.
Over the two hundred years, production technology improved greatly. Now presses and conveyor lines are widely employed. Casting under pressure is also widespread. At "Shtamp" plant nickel-plating automatic line was introduced. Samovars here are decorated by art rolling. The plant produces samovars of different types: coal (of six versions) and, from 1956, electrical, combined and painted.
Samovars are still produced today and are still earning awards for their beauty and design. 
Although yes this is all long and boring, I personal found it interesting (for some reason). I didn't really know how much of a big deal tea was to Russians until I started looking up information on this. 

These are just some examples of samovars from plain to elaborate. The one in the middle is more like the one that we had at the Pelmeni event on Friday.

Andre Walton Unit 3

The Russian "Iron Maiden"

     I'm a big fan of American and European heavy metal, but it never occurred to me (somehow) that big scary Russians could also make big scary music.  Aria is a Russian heavy metal band that was formed in 1985, and while they weren't the first Soviet heavy metal band, they were the first to become well known and successful. The media have dubbed them Russia's version of Iron Maiden and they seem to live up to that. They released an album in 2011 titled "Феникс" (Phoenix) and seem to still carry quite a fan-base despite the band being 28 years old.

Other notable Russian metal bands (according to some guy from Russia):

Critiques from the Inside

A Voice from the Heart

     Of Author and Country

As Marx said in the Communist Manifesto, a man should, in a utopian society, be free to "hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, heard cattle in the evening and criticize after dinner." Mikhail Khodorkovsky must have just finished his dinner.

Кодорковску has been held in Russian penal camps for a decade due to "atrocities committed as the head of the Юкoс Oil Company." 

Well, he might not actually be that size ...

Now, he distances himself from the other inmates around him who seem to be "dead to the world" and immerses himself in current events and the modern goings on of his nation. Khodorkovsky letter to the NY Times is his assessment of the state of affairs of Russia as well as an insight into what he believes would help to solve some the crises not just in his motherland but also throughout Asia. 

After pointing out recent shortcoming sin the Russian education system and discussing the decrease in production levels of Russia as compared to parts of East Asia and the West, Khodorkovsky points to the head of the Russian state and criticizes the centralized power in modern Russia, saying the amount of power Putin has varies very menially from the power of Lenin, Stalin, and other Soviet Union heads. "In a changing world, the leadership of the nation must be willing to change, and Putin is not willing to do this. He continues to try to live in the old ways; if he has his way, we shall all be reduced to dust."

Finally, Khodorkovsky closes by propagating collaboration between Russia and Western Europe. 

For our people — the Russian people — this would become a real opportunity to overcome a situation that has existed since the 17th century, and to bridge the gap that has formed between the limited number of Russians who have a notion of modern Europe and live by its standards, and the rest of the country’s population, the many millions whose dream of a better life has been unscrupulously exploited for centuries by politicians who continue to preach a nonexistent “special way” for Russia that only leads people deeper into misery.

 Khodorkovsky seems to truly believe that collaboration is one of the most important facets of being human, and therefore we have a mandate to come together in order to solve the social, economic and ecologic problems which face us both as individuals and, specific to this article, as societies. 

New IPhone5s on sale finally

Last Friday, the new IPhone 5s and the 5c made its debut in Russian and more than 30 countries worldwide. The IPhone 5s costs between 30,000 and 40,000 rubles (950 and $1260 respectively) depending on the model while the less expensive model costs around $800.

According to the report, neither phone will operate on Russia's long term evolution networks due to the poor quality service they provide. Apple believes that they may make the consumers believe the phone has problems. They will enable this feature once the networks have been approved accordingly.

The demand was strong over this weekend, the IPhone 5s was much more successful than its cheaper counterpart however. Also, they have sold more than the IPhone 5 about a year ago, but still the number sold will not exceed the tens of thousands according to Maxim Klyagin, an analyst.

The biggest problem with the sales is that the die hard apple fans have already ordered them overseas. This means that the total amount of IPhone 5 devices in Russia is much higher than the sales indicate.

Zero Waste Olympic Pledge

The 2014 Winter Olympics are being held in Sochi this year Russia made a vow to have the "cleanest games ever." Basically they were planning on using reusable resources instead of having to dump construction waste. One major reason for this "Zero Waste" Pledge is because the government is trying to keep Sochi's freshwater pure.

But this pledge was broken when The Associated Press found a landfill just north of Sochi, where a state-owned railway was dumping construction wastes. They tried to cover up the dumping by covering the landfill with clay and mixing the waste and clay together, but obviously that didn't succeed. It's also shown in other areas that Russia has tried very little to keep the "Zero Waste" Pledge upheld, especially since none of the $51 billion budget goes to environmental protection.

Raising Chernobog: Mussorgsky's "St John's Night on the Bare Mountain"

Modest Mussorgsky (Модест Петрович Мусоргский) was one of "the five" -- a circle of five composers who met at St. Petersburg, Russia. Mussorgsky was heavily inspired by both Russian history and folklore. 
Mussorgsky was initially heavily criticized and considered an eccentric  both in the west and by colleagues in Russia. It was not until after the success of "Boris Godunov" that reception warmed significantly. "Boris Godunov", however, was his second tone poem -- one of the first of Russian composition -- and not the first, although it remains his only completed opera.

His first tone poem was his work "St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain (Иванова ночь на лысой горе)", better known as "Night on Bald Mountain" in English, is considered his most famous piece amongst modern listeners. The piece was never produced in Mussorgsky's lifetime, and the composition that exists today is neither the original nor the finalized edition.


The first edition, sharing the title above, was originally envisioned in 1867. It, like later incarnations, was based on the idea of a witches' sabbath happening on St. John's Night, also Kupala Night. Chernobog, which translates to "Black God", is a devil-like figure present in Slavic mythology. Mussorgsky's mentor, Balakirev, was savagely critical of the piece, and it was never heard until manuscripts were discovered in the 20th century. This is not the version most listeners are familiar with.

The second version was known as "Glorification of Chernobog (Славленье Чёрнобога)" and "Worship of the Black Goat (Служение чёрному козлу)." This was to be a part of the opera Mlada. Ultimately, the collaborative project of Mlada was never completed. Unlike the first version, no manuscripts survive of this edition, and it was never performed.

The third version, Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad Сонное видение паробка, was partly based in the reworked composition of the second version. It was to function as a dream intermezzo for the uncompleted opera The Fair at Sorochynsti. The opera was posthumously completed, and this version, although unpopular, was performed in 1931. It is the only version with vocals.

The version most people are familiar with (although not entirely the Disney's Fantasia version) is Rimsky-Korsakov's edition, which was constructed based on portions of the first and third edition, along with his own personal touch. However, he had no original copy of the original tone poem.

Rimsky-Korsakov wrote, 

"During the season of 1882-3, I continued working on Khovanshchina and other compositions of Mussorgsky's. A Night on the Bare Mountain was the only thing I could not find my way with. Originally composed in the sixties under the influence of Liszt's Danse Macabre for the piano with accompaniment of orchestra, this piece (then called St. John's Eve, and both severely and justly criticized by Balakirev) had long been utterly neglected by its author, gathering dust among his unfinished works. When composing Gedeonov's Mlada, Mussorgsky had made use of the material to be found in Night, and, introducing singing into it, had written the scene of Chernobog on Mount Triglav. 

That was the second form of the same piece in substance. Its third form had developed in his composing of The Fair at Sorochyntsi, when Mussorgsky conceived the queer and incoherent idea of making the peasant lad, without rhyme or reason, see the sabbath of devilry in a dream, which was to form a sort of stage intermezzo that did not chime at all with the rest of the scenario of The Fair at Sorochyntsi.This time the piece ended with the ringing of the village church bell, at the sounds of which the frightened evil spirits vanished. Tranquility and dawn were built on the theme of the peasant lad himself, who had seen the fantastic dream. In working on Mussorgsky's piece, I made use of its last version for the purpose of closing the composition. Now then, the first form of the piece was for piano solo with orchestra; the second form and the third, vocal compositions and for the stage, into the bargain (unorchestrated). None of these forms was fit to be published and performed. 

With Mussorgsky's material as a basis, I decided to create an instrumental piece by retaining all of the author's best and coherent material, adding the fewest possible interpolations of my own. It was necessary to create a form in which Mussorgsky's ideas would mould in the best fashion. It was a difficult task, of which the satisfactory solution baffled me for two years, though in the other works of Mussorgsky I had got on with comparative ease"

This version was completed in 1886, and remains the favored version.

Lastly, Leopold Stokowski specially arranged a version based in part on Rimsky-Korsakov's version, with the most significant change being an absence of fanfare upon the arrival of Chernobog. This is the Fantasia edition.
Fantasia's stylized edition of Chernobog, "Chernabog"

Mamayev Kurgan

   World War II was mostly decided at the Battle of Stalingrad for the Soviets versus the Axis. It was arguably one of the bloodiest battle in human history. The battle raged on from August 1942 to February 1943. The city of Stalingrad, now known as Volgograd, is looked over by the hill known as Mamayev Kurgan. The hill was a vital part during the battle being controlled by both sides many times through out the battle, and was a key point in controlling the battle. In the end the hill was stained black from the gunfire and explosions.
    Naturally being such a historic spot a memorial was constructed on top of the hill. The memorial is a ginormous statue representing the Motherland. It is represented as a woman holding a sword that is 52 meters tall with the sword pointing 30 meters above the head. It took about 8 years to build and was constructed by Yevgeny Vuchetich. It is mostly built out of concrete and still stands today. However the statue is starting to lean due to changes in groundwater levels causing shifts in the foundation. It is considered one of the 7 Wonders of Russia.

Chechnya wants Freedom one way or another!

Terrorism is a constant worry for people in America and since 9/11/01 we have been very concerned with the issue of the Middle East. The Taliban, and other terrorists foreign and domestic cause constant worry for Americans, but what we fail to see is that terrorism is not a narrow faucet only aimed at America, there are many acts of terrorism in other countries that have been going on for decades that we here in America fail to see. For instance Russia has had a conflict with the Chechens sin the late 18th century. This century’s long conflict, often armed, between the Russian government and the various Chechen forces started when Russia took an interest in the North Caucasus as a communication route and way to keep a watchful eye on its enemies the Persian and Ottoman empires. The Chechens and Russians have battled before but in 1991 the Chechens took advantage of the disintegrating Soviet Russia and claimed independence. In 1994 the first Chechen War broke out and by 2000 the Russians established control over Chechnya. So still today Chechnya is not free and chooses to take its anger out on the civilians of Russia by planning and executing various terrorists attacks in the name of Chechen nationalists.
            The most notorious attack shook the world in 2004, when over 30 Chechen terrorists captured 1,128 people as hostages in Beslan’s secondary school in North Ossetia, on the first day of the school year, September 1. For more than 50 hours, the hostages were held at gunpoint and denied water, food or medical help. The three-day siege left 334 people dead, 318 of them hostages, including 186 children. Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility for the terrorist act.
Meanwhile, Russia’s most wanted fugitive is Islamist Chechen warlord Doku Umarov, who took responsibility for the Moscow Metro bombings of 2010, in which two female suicide bombers detonated bombs in a metro station, killing thirty-nine people.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The State Hermitage Museum/Государственный Эрмитаж

     The first time I had ever heard about The State Hermitage Museum was when I was at my best friend's house and he was watching some Russian news and he bumped me and said "Look! Look! That's my grandmother!" My best friend's name is Vladimir Kirill Ukhanov/Владимир Кирилл Уханов and his grandmother's name is Ирина Николаевна Ухановаand she works at The State Hermitage Museum. Ирa has been working at the world renowned museum since 1949, she has a doctorate in historical sciences and is the chief scientific officer of the history of Russian culture at the museum. The first picture included is an image of my friend's grandmother from The State Hermitage Museum's website (по-русски: , не по-русски:
     Now more on the facts about the museum itself. The State Hermitage Museum/Государственный Эрмитаж is a museum of art and culture located in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is one of the oldest and largest museums in the world and it was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since 1852. The museum's collection comprises of over 3 million items which includes the largest collection of paintings in the world. The collections occupy a large complex of six historic buildings along Palace Embankment, including the Winter Palace which is a former residence of Russian emperors and apart from them, the Menshikov Palace, Museum of Porcelain, Storage Facility at Staraya Derevnya and the eastern wing of the General Staff Building. The director of the museum is  Mikhail Piotrovsky/Михаил Пиотровский. When I go to Russia one day, I am planning on visiting this museum and I cannot wait!


Petersburg Floods

Hare statue atop a wooden pole next to Ioannovsky Bridge in Saint-Petersburg, Russia
This unusual sculpture that stands as you look to your left going across the Ioannovsky Bridge to go to the Peter and Paul Fortress, you will see the sculpture of this small and frightened looking Hare.

"Legend has it that one hare, caught by the rising waters during a flood, saved itself by jumping into Peter the Great's boot as he disembarked from a boat onto the island. This idiosyncratic memorial to the floods that plagued St. Petersburg through the 18th and 19th centuries was erected in 2003 during renovation of Ioannovsky Bridge. The heights of major floods in the history of St. Petersburg are marked on the post beneath the hare."


The new Russian Movie Stalingrad (2013) broke box office records in Russia this weekend!    
    Fyodor Bondarchuk's Stalingrad, Russia's entry for the best foreign-language category at next year's Academy Awards, has now become the highest-grossing film in the country's history.  Stalingrad brought in $38.49 million in Russia as of this weekend, beating the romantic comedy The Irony of Fate 2, which earned $38.46 million back in 2007.
    Stalingrad is a love story that is set in 1942 in the eponymous city on the Volga River, a site of one of the bloodiest battles fought between the Red Army and the Nazis.  The film is Russia's first IMAX 3D production, and was made on a budget of $30 million as well as was partially funded by the state. However, despite its success at the box office, Stalingrad received rather mediocre reviews in the Russian press and only scored a  4.6 out of 10 on IMDb a film website. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Polina Semionova

Polina Semionova was born in Moscow in 1984. She studied at the Bolshoi Ballet School in Moscow and graduated in 2002. She was invited to join the Berlin State Opera Ballet as a principal dancer and became the youngest principal in the company's history as she was only 17 years old. She showed outstanding talent by winning several international ballet competition awards. She toured Japan dancing the lead roles in The Nutcracker and La Bayadère during her first season. She followed with the role of Tatiana in Onegin, which became her favorite role. In 2003, at the age of 19, Semionova performed with the English National Ballet in Swan Lake. The following year she joined the California Ballet in their production of The Sleeping Beauty. Polina Semionova, now 25 years old is not only a very gifted dancer but also a social media phenomenon. Her appearance in Herbert Groenemeyer’s video Letzter Tag (Last Day) made her a big hit on YouTube and she has close to 40,000 fans on her Facebook page. Her repertoire includes: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake (with ENB), Nikiya in La Bayadere, Marie in Nutcracker, Swan Lake Pas de trois, Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, title role in Malakhov's Cinderella, solo role in Balanchine's Ballet Imperial, and roles in modern works by Uwe Scholz and Christian Spuck. Awards she has won: Gold medal at the Moscow International Ballet Competition 2001. First Prize at the Vaganova-Prix Ballet Competition in St Petersburg 2002. Junior Prize at the Nagoya (Japan) International Ballet Competition 2002.

Russia and Japan

World War 2 Today?
Russia never got the memo... 
Approximately 70 years after World War II ended for, well, the majority of the world, it still dragged on for the formerly communist nation. 
In 1951, the Soviet Union declined to sign the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which would have ended the conflict between themselves and Japan. Even to this day, Russia and Japan continue their feud over the four Southern Kurile Islands, which both countries claim as their territory. Still, there is hope for peace – just this May, Vladimir Putin met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to negotiate the terms for an end. This urge for reconciliation comes largely from China’s growing prominence in Asia, and the desire to impede/balance that rise. Other reasons for reviving the peace talk include eastern Russia’s desperate need for modern technology and investment, and Japan’s interest in a more diverse marketplace and economy.
Interestingly (though unsurprisingly…) enough, the lack of official armistice did not stop the Russians from celebrating the end of World War II.  After Germany surrendered, people flocked into the streets of Moscow and drank the city dry. When Stalin addressed the nation 22 hours later, almost no alcohol could be found anywhere! Tourists claim that, even at train stations, finding an ounce of vodka was akin to finding a brick of gold.

Sites you guys can check out: 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Russia's New Anti-Terrorism Bill

Earlier in the month, Russia's State Duma approved the reading of a new bill that will require the families of terrorist to compensate the families of the victims that they hurt. Along with compensating the families for all the damages incurred, the bill will simplify the punishments given to members who participate or train in acts of terror. The new bill, if it were to go into effect, would also allow the family members of terrorist to be fined for not informing the state government of terrorist activity. Currently under Russian law victims can only sue the people directly involved in the acts of terror for compensation. Normally the Russian government compensates the victims, and the Russian government is looking to change that. The goal is to make terrorism "unprofitable and unappealing" with continued hopes that family members will report potential terrorist to avoid paying for damages. If charged and convicted, a terrorist undergoing training will face five to ten years of prison time and pay a fine of 500,000 roubles. Organizing a terrorist group will get you ten to fifteen years in prison with a fine of 1 million roubles. The country of Russia already has anti-terror laws in effect, but the Supreme Court and President Putin are hoping to simplify them.

Friday, October 25, 2013


When Dr. Denner described the traditional Russian beet salad, made up of boiled beets, potatoes, and carrots as well as onion, zucchini, and pickled cabbage, I thought it sounded absolutely awful. And you know what? I was...well...sort of right. It's not the most appetizing looking dish if you're used to American food. Almost a uniform shade of magenta, only the zucchini and the carrots escape with some semblance of their original color. And it's easy to see where the explosive pink comes from. The beets are a really deep shade, basically purple. To be honest, I was scared to try eating something that matched my own unnatural hair color. But I did. The taste is....odd. But not too terrible. The flavor primarily remains a constant blend of the ingredients, leaving me unable to identify individual vegetables. But every once in a while there's a distinctive burst, easy to recognize. Previously hidden pepper reveals itself with a mild bite to the tongue. The beets lend an earthy aftertaste while the carrots bring a sweetness. Potatoes are a reassuring presence in this foreign dish, bringing to mind an old fashioned American potato salad. Although it must be said that potatoes are far more prevalent in Russia. All in all, it's not quite to my taste but worth trying all the same.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Darvaza, the "Door to Hell"

Darvaza, the "Door to Hell"
     The rapid program of Soviet industrialization was environmentally costly in many respects; Ulanbataar in Mongolia still bears the scars of its modernization, and the Aral Sea has dried up immensely from the diversion of its waters to sustain cotton fields in Uzbekistan. However, there are much more regionally infamous, exotic examples of problems that arose from often freak accidents and unintended consequences. One such is Darvaza, also known as Derweze. Located in Ahal Province in Turkmenistan, the stench of burning sulfur and the sight of the burning pit is perhaps the most earthly example of the idea of fire and brimstone.

     The natural gas pit has been continuously burning since 1971. When the ground beneath the mining operations began to collapse, a large amount of methane gas was being released, posing a potential health crisis for the neighboring residents. The scientists believed it would be less costly to simply burn it off rather than extract it, and they wrongly believed the gas would burn off within a few days. 

File:The Door to Hell.jpg

    The village that was Darvaza has been disbanded since 2004 by order of Niyazov -- not out of concerns for the health of the residents, but out of tourism concerns that their nomadic village was an unpleasant sight. Although plans were announced to fill in the pit, it continues to burn even today, and scientists are unsure of when it will cease.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Since the fall of the Soviet Union the Communist party in Russia is still making moves, according to the Russian Times. Party members are hoping to push new legislation calling to cut out the middle men who fund various parties during elections. The Communist party in Russia is hoping to pass legislation to remove foreign donations, and also make it mandatory for donors to keep receipts and become public. The problem is expected to be resolved quickly, though in the Russian constitution political parties are granted the right to control their income without government interference.



A film I recently viewed was centered around the life and wrongful imprisonment of Khodorkovsky. He was the wealthiest man in Russian in 2003 and almost the wealthiest man in the world. He was arrested on charges of tax evasion however, he was not allowed a trial.

His impression of why he was imprisoned was because of his support for the political resistance, and the possibility of another wealthy man owning an oil company wanted to take over Khodorkovsky's oil and market share.

The president at the time refused him a trial, and instructed the public of Russia, and other surrounding countries to forget him, and not discuss it further because it was not going to change.

I found it interesting that the government can so clearly see the abuse of power, and have no movement towards correcting it. Different cultures enact different behaviors.

Russia’s 2018 World Cup and 2014 Winter Olympics:

In the next few years Russia will be very busy hosting some of the world’s most important sporting events. Coming up this February Russia will be hosting the Winter Olympics in Sochi and there have been a lot of international conflicts over Vladimir Putin’s outlooks on what he calls the gay problem. There has been controversy centered on sponsors such as McDonalds and Coke wondering whether or not they want their logo being worn to such an event.  Russia has recently released draconian new anti-gay propaganda which causes concern for the athletes, guests, and media attending the Winter Olympics this next year. We can only hope that Putin can find a compromise to his problem with homosexuals by the time the Soccer World Cup is to be held in Russia in 2014. For America soccer may not be the most popular sport but to the rest of the world, and to many soccer-loving Americans, the World Cup is the Olympics.,0.jpg&w=300&h=439&ei=4WBUUuL1OIn92QWQsIHQBA&zoom=1&ved=1t:3588,r:2,s:0,i:85&iact=rc&page=1&tbnh=179&tbnw=123&start=0&ndsp=36&tx=55&ty=112

Mass Murder in Russia

Mass murder in Russia

 - this is a picture from a political pamphlet for the "Great anti-Bolshevist Exhibition" - a Nazi political indoctrination exhibit from the late 1930s. 

Below is the introduction to my senior research - being written this semester - on the mass murder of Jews in Eastern Europe in what is today western Russia, and the formerly Soviet states of Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus. While my topic is focused on the German side of the killings, there are many interesting aspects to this that come from the Russian side. One of the primary tropes of the Germans used to justify killings en masse of not only Jews, but nationalists and ethnic slavs was partisan warfare (a partisan is an armed combatant that wages unconventional warfare behind enemy lines). Partisan war was widely used as an explanation for the Wehrmacht's (German armed forces) role in the shootings. In this and other tropes, ideology and worldview play an imperative role in explaining these murders not as fanatical Nazis killing indiscriminately, but combating what they perceived as a legitimate threat to their safety and existence. Among these are also the Jews who supposedly began and operated the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the fanatically committed ideology of Soviet Commissars, and strain between simultaneously a racial ideology that sought to liberate the Slavs from brutal Soviet rule, and the perception of Slavs as Untermenschen worthy of destruction. 
What I think is interesting and worthy of investigation  (and now that I'm thinking about it, maybe I should add it into my senior research) is that when analyzing Nazi ideology in the Eastern theater of Operations (Eastern Europe/Western Russia), the way they perceived the Soviet military, citizens and above all else the Jews who supposedly ran the Soviet government stands out as being vastly important to the opening phases of the Holocaust in 1941-42. The role of ideology is closely linked to that of propaganda, and numerous books have been written regarding the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of Nazi propaganda on the German populace. However, the worldview regarding the Soviets/Russians/Jews seems to go beyond basic propaganda rhetoric, instead lying deeper in the German psyche. These are really just musings about the possible directions of my research, but questions that this writing brings up in my mind are
how committed were average Russian soldiers to their cause? Couldn't their willingness to fight even after being overrun by the Wehrmacht be simply the result of fighting for their homeland, rather than any fanatical loyalty to the Soviet regime? If this is so, why did the Nazis ignore these aspects of "normal" warfare in favor of orders like the Commissar order which stated that all political commissars were to be shot on sight? (subsequently, this was one order that was expressly utilized in killing the Jews. Jews=Bolshevik Commissars in the Nazi mind). Anyways, this is probably way too much text for anyone to get through willingly, but below is the introduction to my senior research as it is.

With the invasion of the Soviet Union – code named Operation Barbarossa – in June 1941, a new chapter was opened in the book of Nazi-Jewish relations. Historians differ as to the exact date, but between June and December the decision was made that all Jews were to be killed. This genocidal policy would find its ultimate expression in the systematic murders of the gas chambers at camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Sobibor, and Treblinka; but before these camps were opened, the Holocaust was well underway in the East. Geographically this onslaught took place primarily in the areas that today comprise the nations of Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus and Poland. Early historiography focused primarily on the role of the SS in their Einsatzgruppen for the mass shootings that took place, but in the late 1980s and early 1990s, another group came under scrutiny for their role in the first stages of the Holocaust: the Wehrmacht.[1] Contrary to the image of a “Clean Wehrmacht” that had been in no way complicit or aware of the scale of mass shootings in the east – an image that had been propagated by former Wehrmacht officers and soldiers from the time of the Nuremberg Trials – in the early 90s Omer Bartov argued that the Wehrmacht was not only complicit in mass shootings, but broadened its role in the Eastern Front as active perpetrators of the “Holocaust by Bullets.” This began a slow deconstruction of the “clean” image of the German military on the Eastern Front and led to numerous new studies situated both geographically and around tropes such as partisan warfare. More recent authors have fine-tuned this discussion including Waitman Beorn and Ben Shepherd.[2] Both of these men investigate so-called anti-partisan warfare as a primary trope utilized by the Wehrmacht, and how it was utilized as an all-encompassing blanket to cover even the most obvious killings of non-combatants. This trope of partisan warfare was buttressed by soldiers’ general anxiety as to the nature of the “Bolshevik menace” or the new fight they were getting involved in, as well as orders such as the Commissar Order and others, exclaiming the danger of the Russians and the need to combat the evils of Bolshevism[3] 
In all of these discussions is an overarching issue that has been dealt with in varying levels by historians: the role of ideology in the Eastern Theater. The idea is that the SS were the most ideologically indoctrinated and fanatical troops, and consequently their participation in mass shootings have been explained accordingly.[4] For the Wehrmacht the claims are quite different. As seen above, one of the ways that the Wehrmacht’s role in the first days of the Holocaust can be explained is by their engagement in so-called Partisan warfare (Shepherd, Beorn). But when investigating the role of ideology, one must come to terms with Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men.[5] Browning stresses that his subject group did not belong to the ideologically fanatical or intensely indoctrinated, which brings to light the most prominent (and in my opinion valid) counter theses to arguments of ideological indoctrination or fervor – that of various psychological and group mentality pressures – as regards the beginning phases of the Holocaust during Operation Barbarossa. In his (in)famous rebuttal to Browning, Daniel Goldhagen provided the extreme opinion that a particular, eliminationist, racist ideology played a pivotal role in the actions of Police Battalion 101 specifically, but in the German military and mindset in general.[6]

[1] The cornerstones of these two additions to the historiography are Omer Bartov, Hitler’s Army: soldiers, Nazis, and war in the Third Reich, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991; The Eastern Front, 1941-45: German troops and the barbarization of Warfare. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986.
[2] Waitman Beorn, “A Calculus of Complicity: The Wehrmacht, the Anti-Partisan War, and the Final Solution in White Russia, 1941–42,” Central European History (Cambridge University Press / UK). Jun2011, Vol. 44 Issue 2, p308-337; “Negotiating Murder: A Panzer Signal Company and the Destruction of the Jews of Peregruznoe, 1942.” Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Volume 23, Number 2, Fall 2009, pp. 185-213; Ben Shepherd, Terror in the Balkans: German armies and partisan warfare. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012; “The Continuum of Brutality: Wehrmacht Security Divisions in Central Russia, 1942.” German History. Jan2003, Vol. 21 Issue 1, p49-8;1 War in the wild East: the German Army and Soviet partisans. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004.
[3] Commissar Order (IMT document), specific instances in memoirs forthcoming.
[4] Helmut Langerbein, Hitler’s Death Squads: The Logic of Mass Murder, (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004).
[5] Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, New York: Harper Collins, 1992.
[6] Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, New York: Random House, 1996.

If you got to the end of this, thanks for reading. Enjoy a brief youtube video of witty repartee between various Russian leaders from the last 100 years.