Tag Archives: Soviet Union

Kiev and Kievans, decked out in gold and sun and honey — summer 2010

15 Jan

In August of 2010 I was in Kiev for the first time since the fall of communism. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a honey festival — honey being one of Ukraine‘s and Russia‘s and wooded eastern Europe’s valuable trade product for centuries — that that year was held on the grounds of Kiev’s Pecherskaya Lavra – Києво-Печерська лавра, one of the most stupendous collections of churches and monasteries in the world and most sacred to both Russian and Ukrainian Orthodoxy (not a pretty dialogue these days): a farmers’ market from the countryside surrounding the city, and they all brought their honey and other bee-related products to sell.

Between the sun, the huge summer sky, the blinding gold of the church towers, the blue and gold of the flag, the dizzying array of hues of honey and honeycomb and honeycakes and beeswax and candles and sunflowers and between the hair, eyes, cheeks, smiles and the particular beauty of a Ukrainian farmer’s tan worn with that panache that only a Ukrainian farmer can wear it…. The whole thing was this gigantic fugue in gold!

*********************************************************************************************************

But tell me: how did gold get to be the highest value? Because it is uncommon and useless and gleaming and gentle in its brilliance; it always gives itself. Only as an image of the highest virtue did gold get to be the highest value. The giver’s glance gleams like gold. A golden brilliance concludes peace between the moon and the sun. Uncommon is the highest virtue and useless, it is gleaming and gentle in its brilliance: a gift-giving virtue is the highest virtue.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

*********************************************************************************************************

*********************************************************************************************************

Огромное спасибо!!! to my friend Elias Hantula for taking these pictures and putting up with me that hot August day. Especially thanks to all these great folks. I took their names down in meticulous order so that I could label the photographs and then promptly lost them. And then promptly took ten years to finally post them. Maybe…maybe…weirder has happened…maybe, someone will recognize someone and however many degrees of separation these folks might have between each other…they were almost all from Poltava.

Mihail’skiy Sobor’ (above) unrelated to the Pecherskiy complex; completely, magnificently, painstakingly rebuilt in every glorious detail after the end of communism; it had been entirely levelled to the ground by the Soviets in the 1930s.

*********************************************************************************************************

Write us: with comments or observations, or to be put on our mailing list or to be taken off our mailing list, contact us at nikobakos@gmail.com.

Jordan Peterson calls out West’s ignorance of Stalinist/Communist repression: “…the fact that we don’t know that deep inside our bones is a testament to the absolute rot of our education system.”

12 Jan

“Well…Solzhenitsyn estimated the deaths in terms of repression inside the Soviet Union at something approximating 60 million between 1919 and 1959.  Now that doesn’t count the death toll in the Second World War by the way.  He also estimated that the same kind of internal repression in Maoist China cost a 100 million lives.  One of the things that is really surprising to me and that I think is absolutely reprehensible, absolutely reprehensible, is the fact that this is not widespread knowledge among students in the West, any of this, and it’s because your historical education, if you started to describe it as appalling you would barely scratch the surface.  These are probably the most important events of the 20th century and they’re barely covered at all in standard historical curricula.  …my experience with students is that none of them know of anything that happened as a consequence of the repression of the radical left in the 20th century and I believe that the reason for that is that the communist system had extensive networks of admirers in the West, especially among intellectuals and still, in fact, does, which is also equally reprehensible and I believe that one of the consequences of that is that this element of history has been…underexamined…  And that there’s absolutely no excuse for that.  It was the worst thing that happened in the 20th century and that’s really saying something because the twentieth century was as bad as it gets and the fact that these deaths on a massive scale occurred and the fact that we don’t know that deep inside our bones is a testament to the absolute rot of our education system.”

*********************************************************************************************************

Write us: with comments or observations, or to be put on our mailing list or to be taken off our mailing list — at nikobakos@gmail.com.

New header image from Sergey Paradzhanov’s “Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors” — Тіні забутих предків

26 Dec

See previous posts on Paradzhanov and “Shadows…” and his other films.

*********************************************************************************************************

Write us: with comments or observations, or to be put on our mailing list or to be taken off our mailing list, contact us at nikobakos@gmail.com.

Viken Berberian in the NYRB: Armenia’s Tragedy in Shushi — “Will the apocryphal stories continue or will one day both sides acknowledge the other’s memories?”

23 Dec

Will the apocryphal stories continue or will one day both sides acknowledge the other’s memories? For answers, I revisited the pages of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. “The city of Zora is like a honeycomb,” he wrote, “in whose cells each of us can place the things he wants to remember: names of famous men, virtues, numbers, vegetable and mineral classifications, dates of battles, constellations, parts of speech.” And what if Shushi, too, were to become a honeycomb in whose cells memories coexisted without vitiating or privileging one over the other? What if we included in those cells not just the names of famous women, places, fictions, and nonfictions that we have been taught or lived and gotten to know, but other such signs, peoples, and meanings that can be acquired outside ourselves and communities? Can we not meet halfway in those liminal spaces to build new histories of inclusion?

[my emphases]
SHOUSHI, NAGORNO-KARABAKH – OCTOBER 12: A view of the inside of a church which was struck twice by UAV strike on October 12, 2020 in Shoushi, Nagorno-Karabakh. On the day after a ceasefire was broken between Azerbaijan and Armenia, war continues to wage between the two countries over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. The Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital was left largely untouched by the latest spate of Azeri shelling, with fighting in the south intensifying and the city of Hadrut sustaining the heaviest damage. (Photo by Alex McBride/Getty Images)

See full text of article below.

Continue reading

Photo: Moscow, Nikol’skaya Street

15 Dec

After the Red Plague came to an end in the 1990s, post-Soviet urban renewal started to focus on the back streets of Moscow, and the restoration of the streetscape and churches of these previously neglected neighborhoods revealed something lovely and unexpected: the fact that much of pre-twentieth century Moscow had survived totalitarian depravations intact.

And, of course, the glamorous Neo-Tsarist consumerism and glitz of contemporary Russia — accompanied, as it is, by the sea change in dress, grooming and physical fitness of an already handsome people and, though ethically problematic in a social and economic sense, is sensually great fun — all take place on these rehabilitated streets, while the grim Stalinist boulevards, with their massive building scale, have just become grimmer than they were and now feel like what they really are: anti-human and anti-urban Robert-Moses-style guttings of a great city.

*********************************************************************************************************

Write us: with comments or observations, or to be put on our mailing list or to be taken off our mailing list, contact us at nikobakos@gmail.com.

Photos: Hutsuls!

25 Nov

Some cool photographs I stumbled on of the Hutsuls of the Ukrainian Carpathian highlands (some live on the other side in Romania too), taken between 1918 and 1935. They are described in “New header image: Paradzhanov’s “Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors”. If you’re wondering why these Ukrainians look both so traditional and relatively happy and healthy, it’s because western Ukraine was part of Poland at the time, and though Polish rule wasn’t necessarily that benign for the Ukrainian, non-Catholic minority in that country, it was obviously, no-discussion better than the Leninist-Stalinist-Bolshevik reign of terror and deliberately induced famine that central and eastern Ukraine endured as part of the Soviet Union, and in which some 10 million — by conservative estimates — Ukrainians and Russians starved to death. Western Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union only in 1945, when Stalin annexed the eastern part of Poland, while Poland was given part of eastern Germany.

************************************************************************

Write us: with comments or observations, or to be put on our mailing list or to be taken off our mailing list, contact us at nikobakos@gmail.com.

New header image: Paradzhanov’s “Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors”

25 Nov

The new header image is a production still from the filming of Sergei Paradzhanov‘s Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors / Тіні забутих предків), 1965. This is one of my ten — or maybe even five — all-time favorite films. It’s a half Romeo and Juliet, half Wuthering Heights, full of eternal love, and cool stuff like frustrated desire, obsession and death.

The other pleasures this film offers is entirely ethnographic; Paradzhanov, a Soviet Armenian filmmaker from Tbilisi, Georgia, was completely enthralled with the material culture, music, languages, and human (especially male) beauty of the Caucasus and Anatolia. Elsewhere — probably when I’ve used pictures from his films as header images before — I’ve referred to him as an “our parts” pornographer. He really had a fetish for his cinematic object, and though we use “fetish”, usually, to describe something unhealthy, it might be better to just accept it as a point on the broader spectrum of object relations.

In Shadows… Paradzhanov moves from his home territory to the Ukrainian sub-ethnic group of the Hutsuls (Гуцулы/Гуцули), that live on the Ukrainian side of the Carpathian mountains in the far west of the country. (I’m sure his appreciation of male beauty was sated there as swell.) The Hutsuls have one of the most richest High Folk Civilizations of Europe: clothes, dance, music, handicrafts — they’re also the people that make those famous Ukrainian Easter eggs you might have heard tell of. In fact, Paradzhanov was kind of a prick when the film was being filmed: he would borrow heirloom items for the shoot from the local inhabitants and then never return them.

Shadows… may be my favorite Paradzhanov film. It’s his most cinematic film, meaning it has the most conventional visual and cinematic narrative — cinema comes from Greek kinema (κίνημα), which means movement. After Shadows…, which put him on the map cinematically, he turned to extreme long shots and extreme long takes of static tableaux; they’re beautiful, but sometimes they try even my patience.

For example, from Color of Pomegranates / Նռան գույնը / ბროწეულის ფერი / Цвет граната (1969):

…and The Legend of the Suram Fortress / ამბავი სურამის ციხისა (1985):

…and Aşık Kerib / აშიკ-ქერიბი (1988):

Color of Pomegranates in 1969 and The Legend of Suram Fortress in 1985What was he doing for twenty plus years? you ask. Well, he was arrested several times between 1973 and 1982, a period during which his previous films were prohibited, for “sexual crimes”, i.e. homosexuality, along with “rape and bribery” — probably trumped up charges. Only when censorship in the Soviet Union started to ease up during the Gorbachev years was Paradzhanov allowed to make films again.

The header photo is not a scene from Shadows… though. It’s a production still, a lovely photo of two Hutsul children watching the filming.

Here are the famous Easter eggs:

I’ll post a collection of cool Hutsul photos I came across in separate post.

************************************************************************

Write us: with comments or observations, or to be put on our mailing list or to be taken off our mailing list, contact us at nikobakos@gmail.com.

Photo: St. Petersburg, 1962

25 Nov

Provenance unkown.

New Header Image: Sergei Paradzhanov’s “Color of Pomegranates”

31 Aug

Though he had made a name for himself with Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1965) earlier than Color of Pomegranates (1969), it was with the latter that S.P. first unveilled his particular style of almost still life tableaux — one after the other. So much so that it’s almost hard to call it cinema: “cinema” is Greek for movement, and nothing much moves in most of his films. But they’re insanely watchable.

************************************************************************

Write us: with comments or observations, or to be put on our mailing list or to be taken off our mailing list, contact us at nikobakos@gmail.com.

“I demand either city-states or a universal imperium of humanity” — great line from Murtaza Mohammad Hussein

4 Nov

So great I put it on my homepage.

Murtaza Mohammad Hussain (@MazMHussain) does some great work at The Intercept (@TheIntercept), on a broad variety of issues.  Check him out.  Here he comments on an article from Foreign Policy on the Kurds and the nation-state that’s worth looking at.  Lifted the motto from there.  Whole text of FP piece by Malka Older pasted below.
Nation-state tweet .png
**************************************************************************************

The Kurds Are the Nation-State’s Latest Victims

The global order has been stuck with states since 1648. It’s time to move on.

By Malka Older
 

October 31, 2019, 3:47 PM

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters patrol the northern Syrian Kurdish town of Tal Abyad on the border with Turkey on Oct. 31.

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters patrol the northern Syrian Kurdish town of Tal Abyad on the border with Turkey on Oct. 31.  Bakr Alkasem/AFP via Getty Images

Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish-held areas of Syria is horrific and the decisions that led to it shameful. But it is also representative of a larger problem. The global system is built around sovereign states, and it shows. This is an enormous problem for groups that define themselves, or are defined by others, as distinct from the country within whose borders they happen to reside, and it’s also terrible as a framework for navigating the global politics of a rapidly changing world.

Sovereignty is usually traced back to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which was pivotal in shifting conceptions of government toward a secular state with entire authority inside inviolable territorial borders. Designed as a diplomatic solution to catastrophic religious wars among feudal, monarchical territories, its tenets have persisted into the modern world largely due to the entrenched power of those states, jealously guarding their unfettered rule over their slice of geography. An arrangement of convenience between princes to end a religious war has become the be-all and end-all of the way the world is governed. Even as sovereigns in Europe fell, the idea of the nation came to the fore—with all its possibilities for excluding those who were not truly German or Italian or Polish. And even as European empires crumbled elsewhere in the world, they left behind a very particular view of nationhood.

Over the next several centuries, as the power of monarchy eroded and European countries needed something else to inspire loyalty among their citizens, the ideal of the nation-state—that the people within those arbitrary borders would feel some sort of collective identity—became popular. This led to more wars as European states expelled or converted anyone who didn’t fit their concept of nation: not French enough, not German enough, not Italian enough. They also spread this idea to their colonies, exporting successive waves of destructive conflicts.

Today, norms have shifted to a greater focus on individual rights, and power has eked out to nonstate players, but governments still harass, expel, and attempt to exterminate minority groups in the name of the nation-state ideal, and sovereignty still gives them carte blanche to do so.

The insistence on the nation-state as the only legitimate and legal actor on the world stage leaves substate groups vulnerable to exploitation, attack, and shady dealing.

The Kurds have been promised and denied so many times over the past century that it would be a wonder that they trusted anyone anymore if they had a choice. But the issue isn’t limited to the Kurds. In the news this week are Rohingya refugees stuck between two countries that don’t want them, Uighurs forced into detention camps, and Catalan protests for independence. History offers even more parallels, from the United States repeatedly breaking treaties with Native Americans to World War II, in which the United States was willing to go to war to protect the territorial integrity of France along with the people in it but was not willing to accept refugees fleeing the Holocaust. The nation-state system is designed to protect itself and its members, rather than people.

True, strong states screw over weaker states sometimes, too. But nonstate groups are at a particular disadvantage. Though they may hold de facto territory, they don’t hold it legally; they have no international rights to a military or to self-defense. They have no seat in international or supranational organizations, leaving them outside global decision-making and with no recourse in attempting to hold states accountable for their actions. Their leaders are not accorded head of state status, and they have no official diplomats. Since even the most generous autonomy statutes don’t confer the protections of statehood, separatist groups are often willing to risk high losses to win independence, fueling conflicts.

The global order provides more mechanisms for states to deal diplomatically with each other than with the people inside them. While interstate conflicts have fallen over the past 50 years, intrastate fighting has soared. These wars disrupt trade and world politics, weaken countries, and raise uncertainty in neighboring states. On the other hand, states have proved themselves adept at using substate actors to further their own interests within foreign countries while evading responsibility for it, from the United States arming the Contras in Nicaragua to Sudan and Chad supporting each other’s rebel movements.

The state-focused global order has shown itself poorly equipped to deal with these conflicts. States remain reluctant to break the collective agreement on the legitimacy of sovereignty. They are similarly reticent about adding more states to their exclusive club, in part because it might suggest to dissidents within their own area that renegotiation of borders is possible. Although a large number of states emerged from the Soviet Union in the 1990s, and there have been a few more recent exceptions such as Timor-Leste and South Sudan, it remains difficult to garner international recognition for a new state. That leaves mediators attempting to convince vulnerable groups to settle for something less, in the face of all evidence that a recognized state is their best chance for security and self-determination.

There have been some efforts to mitigate the effects of sovereignty. The responsibility to protect movement posits that states must protect their citizens and that if they fail to do so, others can step in to assist. It is intended as a way to justify and streamline the use of U.N.-sanctioned force in saving populations from genocide or other attacks perpetrated by the government they are subject to, but so far at least it has not proved successful as a way of overcoming the reluctance to breach sovereignty.

Substate groups are not the only example that the system is failing. Nonstate actors from terrorist groups to multinational corporations have increasing impacts on global politics, and traditional geopolitical theory does not do a great job of dealing with them. Even for bilateral issues, the nation-state is not always the most useful unit of analysis.

Take the numerous headlines and articles proclaiming that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. To imagine this as a coherent national policy designed to attack the United States is not an accurate depiction of reality. Russia is not a democracy, and such interference is not aimed at, for example, winning territory from the United States. A more precise description would be that Russian elites attempted to tip the scales of U.S. leadership in order to win more modern spoils: unfettered soft power in their region, access to trade, and, notably, the ability to infringe on other countries’ sovereignty without consequences.

[my emphases throughout above]

*************************************************************************************

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

%d bloggers like this: