Tag Archives: Stalin

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.”

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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.

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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.

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Photo: Moscow, a perfect palimpsest of said city

22 Nov

Churches, Stalinist skyscrapers, new skyscrapers. According to legend, Moscow had 1,600 churches before the Revolution, so that the bells of 40 churches could ring for every 40 days of Lent, and all 1,600 on Resurrection Sunday.

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Photo: Athens, c. 1865, colorized, and a Beirut addendum

14 Sep

From: George Kessarios@GKesarios Check out GK for fuller-size image, since WordPress doesn’t let readers do that anymore.

These photos are beautiful, but always also depressing, given what we’ve done to Athens, which was once one of the most beautiful cities in Europe/Mediterranean.* If you’ve been to Hermoupole/Syra on the island of Syros or to Nauplio in the northeast Peloponnese — think one of those two on a much grander, Bavarian Neo-Classical, large Haussmanian boulevards and public square scale, and that was Athens until the 1960s. No other city in Europe or the Med — that wasn’t bombed in the war or which wasn’t subjected to the psycho-whims of a Stalin-type dictator — was so wholly destroyed by its own inhabitants; 80% of Athens’ pre-WWII building stock is gone.

Athens from top of Lycabettus in 1929

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* An exception in the Mediterranean might be Beirut. And by that I don’t mean the whole-scale destruction the city endured through the war/s of the 70s and 80s, but that even before that the city’s pre-concrete architecture had suffered large-scale destruction to be replaced by the Mediterranean beton apartment house whose only saving grace is their large balconies. I don’t have this on any source other than old photos I’ve seen and from the great Samir Kassir‘s magisterial Beirut. That said, in watching news and footage of last month’s beyond-belief destructive explosion, one of the things that surprised me was how much nineteenth and early twentieth-century architecture had survived…survived only to be trashed in 2020.

If you’re interested in a deep immersion in traditional Beiruti architecture, try and find (won’t be easy) Jennifer Fox 1987 documentary: Beirut: The Last Home Movie, about the Greek Orthodox Bustros family in what I think is Achrafieh. It’s almost entirely shot in their family home and it’s a stunning look at the time-warp, physical, cultural and psychological ecosystem of the Levantine bourgeoisie. Yes, many of you will think it’s just a romanticizing of “elite minority supremacism” as my buddy X likes to say (IMBd says: “The movie shows how spoiled the Bustros family members really were, even during the horrors of the war.”) So I dunno — hold your nose, then, and watch it.

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P.S. Back to Athens and lead photograph — is there anyone else out there who thinks our much-mocked Parliament (at the time of photo above it was still the Wittelsbach Royal Palace) is actually a handsomely austere and Doric and impressive building? People seem to think it’s blocky and dreary and the quintessence of Neo-Greek, neo-classical, Hellenic-wannabe pretensions. But similar architecture in Munich isn’t as disliked; it may be thought creepily Teutonic, but nobody makes fun of it. And I think it’s gorgeous.

Below, von Klenze‘s (responsible for much of the construction, street plan and general idea behind modern Athens) Propylaea in Munich’s Königsplatz.

The whole panorama of the Königsplatz below.

And the reason it might make some people nervous:

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“…one of the most moving traditions in post-Soviet Russia” — remembering Stalin’s victims

30 Oct
I thought this had been cancelled by Moscow authorities last year, but it apparently continued this year.
Very moving…and very infuriating that Western leftist intellectuals still give Bolsheviks and Stalin — the whole nightmare of 20thc. communism — a pass.  And this memorial is just for the victims of the late 1930s, not the Bolshevik’s massacres during the Russian Civil War, the tens of millions who died of starvation during the collectivization programs of the late 1910s and mid-to-late 1920s…the list goes on and on.
Возвращение имен 2017
Возвращение имен» 2016
Возвращение имен» 2016 (приглашение)
Общество «Мемориал»: «Возвращение имен». Промо
Общество «Мемориал»: Акция «Возвращение имен»
Общество «Мемориал»: «Возвращение имен». 2014-

Times: “Top Secret Russian Unit Seeks to Destabilize Europe, Security Officials Say”

8 Oct

No kidding.  Is this a surprise to anybody? 

Someone I know in the Greek foreign service once said to me that he thinks Western policy towards Russia is not even leftover post-Cold War, but that it’s perhaps even an unconscious but very persistent and irrational remnant of Great Game mentality left over in the Anglo-Saxon world/mind that influences the rest of the West.  And if you know a bit, that’s a smart analysis.

But even if you start from there you immediately have to turn to the chicken-or-the-egg dynamic that’s happening here and that has obtained in the world’s policy towards  Russia and vice-versa for almost forever.  You can’t always treat Russia like the big, drunken thug that needs to kept out of the club by the bouncers and not expect them to react with a defensive — and offended — stance.

It seems impossible to get out of the West’s mind the sense that Russia is an inherent enemy that needs to constantly and aggressively be watched and contained instead of accepted, and expect it to not be actively aggressive in return.  What “accepting” Russia would mean exactly is tricky and needs to be thought out — but needs to be given a chance in terms of policy.  We might get our rocks off by saying that Putin is a bad, strong-man who’s unacceptable in x amount of ways, undemocratic blah blah.  But some thoughtful expressions of good will towards Russians might eventually be the precisely the “soft power” that prods Russians on to getting rid of Putin themselves — and all the other huge flood of positive changes that might, and will, come in his eventual disappearance from the scene.

I’ve said before, in “Syria, Russia, ISIS and what to do about everything” :

“First and foremost and again: let Russia in. ENGAGE RUSSIA. We all have everything to gain and nothing to lose if we stop treating Russia like a pariah nation. Russian power is not a threat and can instead prove massively useful to the world if we bring Russia into the fold instead of trying to desperately keep her out of everywhere and even foolishly try and fence her in. It may be a little more complicated than a simplistic “more flies with honey” theory but whatever it is we choose to describe as Russian aggression, Russia sees as defensive and that may not be an irrational response from a powerful nation that sees itself treated as an amoral being that is constantly excluded from all the West’s major moves.

“And I’m talking about radical engagement: not just lifting sanctions and trade blocks and visa requirements. I’m talking about making Russia a part of the European family of nations, as laughably dysfunctional as that family may be looking right now. Why are Montenegro or Georgia on the list of candidates for NATO membership — Montenegro probably as some sleazy old promise offered to it if it seceded from Serbia; and Georgia, one of the oldest polities in the Russians’ sphere of influence (for better or worse and partly of its own initiative at the start) and with a complicated love-hate relationship between them – while Russia itself is not?  Too big to absorb. Well, yes, but my point is to stop thinking of her as an entity to control and absorb and start thinking of her as a political and especially military power that’s just too enormous to not have as an ally in the current struggle we’re engaged in.

“ISIS (and Turkey to some degree) ticked off the Russians bad and they have already done more to weaken the “caliphate” in the past few weeks than all other Western actions combined. Is it escalating the conflict? There is no escalating this conflict: when your enemy is sworn to escalate it to the maximum, and there’s no reason to think they’re bluffing, you’re already there. Yes, there’s reason to fear that Russia – which uses Powell-Doctrine-type “overwhelming force” more than the United States ever has – will go too far and turn central Syria and Raqqa into a Chechnya and Grozny, but the best way to limit those kinds of excesses are to enter into some coordinated action with Russia and not just allow her to act alone. Because we’re going to need Russia when the air campaign needs to stop, when at some point it will. And that’s when I predict that Russia will also be willing to send in men on the ground and I don’t mean just a few special operations groups. While they’re certainly not eager to send their young men off to die in another Afghanistan or Chechnya, this has already – again, for better or worse – become a sort of Holy War for Russians and they will be far less squeamish about sending in troops than any other European society or even the United States at this point. And working with them on such an operation will not only increase its efficacy but limit the risks and excesses.

“In the end bringing Russia in from the outside will also change it from the inside; as the nation itself feels less like it has to be on the constant defensive, then so will the Russian government adopt a more open and progressive attitude to its own internal political life.   This is what we saw happening in Turkey in the early 2000s when European Union accession was still a negotiable reality; much of what Turkey and Erdoğan have turned into since are a result of those cards being taken off the table. Do it for everyone then, for us and for them. Engage Russia; it’s a win-win proposition.

And in The first two of my cents on Ukraine and Russia…“:

“So treating Russia like a pariah will only play into Putin’s hand.  That’s, in fact, what has happened; the whole country has fallen in line behind him and anything like the РОССИЯ БЕЗ ПУТИНА — “Russia without Putin” — protests of two years ago would be considered, in a spontaneous act of socially unanimous censoring, pure treason these days with no one even daring to publicly air such opinions in the current heady climate of nationalist excitement.”

“History, climate, geography have always conspired to isolate Russia.  And, in a sense, the pathos that drives Russian history and is the force behind her brilliant civilizational achievements (and, yes, her imperialism too), is  that of a constant, heroic struggle to break out of that isolation and find her place in the larger world.  Yacking on, like Snyder, about how Ukraine is somehow “essential” and central to the very idea of Europe (when, ironically, it’s very name means “the edge”…the edge of what? of Russia/Poland…the EDGE of Europe…what an elevation of status Snyder grants Podunk…), while treating Russia as dispensable or as a dangerous threat that needs to be hemmed around and contained — isolated again — is criminally unfair to Russians (if not to Putin and his cronies) and will end up backfiring on the West in ways it hasn’t even begun to anticipate.  Russia is not dispensable.  Nor is she to be ignored or patronized.  We think of her in those terms and the results will just get uglier and messier.”

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Catalonia: I find these photos GENUINELY TERRIFYING — “¡Basta ya con Cataluña!”

31 Oct

Supporters of Catalan independence outside the Catalan parliament in Barcelona during a speech by Premier Carles Puigdemont on whether he would declare independence from Spain, October 10, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 11.44.33 PM

Catalan nationalist

These are photos of a jubilance that one imagines accompanied the Emancipation Proclamation or sees in images of the Liberation of Paris or of the Greek flag being raised over the Acropolis in 1944 or of V-J Day or the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Instead, they’re photos of a sociopathic hysteria: of a people with one of the highest living standards in the world, with their language and culture (a word I’ve come to hate) fully un-threatened, living in a region with the absolutely highest level of autonomy than perhaps any region of any other state in Europe, or even the world, cumming in the streets because of an absolutely meaningless independence they think they’ve won in an increasingly interdependent world.  Meanwhile their “leaders” are having their moules frites in Brussels.

Really, they scare me.  The affect is so off, the affect level so incommensurate to the stimulus, that it suggests the haunting spectre that even people in one of the most liberal, progressive of human societies can be convinced they’re victims of something.  And like the convert, beware the victim.

There’s a name to that spectre and the victim narrative that is now haunting not only Catalonia and Spain and Europe and American democracy, but the entire world: identity politics.  As Mark Lilla has already said — please read the piece — the main problem with identity politics is that they don’t do politics: Mark Lilla’s “The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics”.  It’s nonsense.  It’s a waste of all of our time, something even more precious than our energy and our resources and brain cells.  It’s a lame Fifth Avenue parade that’s supposed to actually express the soul of a particular segment of human civilization.  It’s an adolescent acting out of culture in a Mardi Gras costume in a deadly serious arena of politics that can quickly get dangerous.  And cultures that deserve to survive, will, by definition, do so on their own and don’t need constant “Pride” parades and manifestos and events and pointless — and dangerous — referenda.  (It’s bad enough to give the demos something complicated to think about; giving them an easy yes-no question is potentially fatal to any polity.)

Andrew Sullivan did a really good job in his  “I Used to Be a Human Being” for New York magazine last year, describing how being hooked up to a screen and keyboard all our lives makes our brains oatmeal, and how blogging all the years he did for his Daily Dish started to have physical health consequences for him, physical consequences that he could only deal with through treatment of his mind and soul.

I’m not in danger of that — usually.  One, I’m too lazy.  Two, I don’t “cover” running stories like Sullivan used to do on his Dish, in what really was a border-line manic-obsessive fashion.  Rather, I jump here and there, back and forth, with now and then ruminations that are all kind of “evergreens”, to use journalist sprache.

But as the child of a family that suffered terribly as an ethnic minority under a Stalinist regime, as a member of an ethnic group that was once spread all over the eastern Mediterranean and was then locked up in the pigsty of a nation-state, as an ethnic-American who always felt the world outside his window was sort of a foreign country, I’m acutely sensitive to issues of pluralism and how they should be negotiated and they strike incredibly powerful chords in me.  And they’ve made me a defender of minority rights but an even more intense critic of self-determination.  It’s not pluralist for every two-bit tribe of Balko-somethings to have their own country; you’re destroying pluralism that way — and the “way” always involves violence of some sort.  WHICH IS WHY I STILL GET SO FREAKED OUT ABOUT YUGOSLAVIA.

That’s also why a story like Catalonia can consume me for weeks if I let it.  And this post was actually meant to declare that I will not myself be writing or quoting or even linking to anything that has to do with the issue — at least until something substantive happens — which may be tomorrow…  I still have some identity politics/multi-culti-bashing pieces knocking around inside my head, but they’ll be dealing with other parts of the world.

Because Catalonia — which infuriates me — and Spain — which I love — are two players that can completely eat me alive if I let them.  For other gold-and-red semiotics, see my Bodegas.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Bodega 10

This is one of the most moving things I’ve seen

29 Oct

People are reading the names of victims of Soviet repressions at KGB HQ in Moscow for 12 hrs today. Livestream here

See “Родные” — “Close Relations” — at the MMI in Astoria

23 Sep

Bad translation.  “Pодные”…”rodnye” means intimate, familiar, related; by extension born-beloved, dear one, cared for, same root in Russian as parents, birth, homeland, Christmas…wouldn’t be surprised if it has the same Indo-European roots as “root”.

Rodnye Vitaly Mansky

Vitaly Mansky‘s documentary is being screened this coming weekend and the next at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens.  (See schedule. It’s two train stops into Queens, guys.  Then you can have a nice dinner for half of what you pay in Manhttan at a good friend and koumbaro‘s place: Mar’s.)

“In this follow-up to his award-winning documentary Under the Sun, filmmaker Vitaly Mansky examines Ukrainian society amidst the 2014 national election, a period rife with political chaos and growing uncertainty over national identity and integration. As both a Russian citizen and native Ukrainian, Mansky deftly underscores personal and political complexities as he visits with relatives living in Lvov, Odessa, the Crimean peninsula, and the Donbass region, and in the process discovers a wide and disorienting spectrum of outlooks and affiliations, including his own sense of ongoing exile and unease. Close Relations is at once an intimate family portrait and a graceful journalistic endeavor, a movie of the intense present that illuminates a place caught between a troubled past and an anxious future.”

Watch the trailer below.

Lots of moving, “disorienting” footage.  Also, lots of humor, which reminds us that so much of a certain ironic, sardonic take on the world — a viewpoint “from a certain angle”, as E.M. Forster said of Cavafy — that we in the United States think is particularly Jewish, is really just a trait common to all eastern Europe, even Greece, or perhaps just a trait common to the powerless everywhere:

“Crimea was a pity, but the Donbass…they can have it.” *

But I think the most important moment in terms of geopolitics comes at 1:15:

“So Ukraine decided to join NATO.  Isn’t that its own business?”

“Nyyyyyet!”

…comes the reply without a moment’s hesitation.

“Nyet” with its palatized “n” and final “t” is one of humanity’s great no-words.  Like “yok” in Turkish, it literally means “there isn’t” or “Il n’y a pas”.  But while “yok” has a kind of know-nothing passivity about it, “nyet” is an active “Halt!  No way you’re going further down this road.  There’s no access.” **

That moment in Mansky’s doc is why, despite widespread support for a Putin I find repulsive, I can’t get as angry at Russians as I get at Trump Americans and Türk-doğans; because Russians aren’t stupid.  They’re not as smart as they used to be in the old days, при коммунизме, when everybody knew not to believe any-thing.  They now believe all kinds of nonsense.  And they went and got religion on me too, which is one of my life’s greatest watch-what-you-wish-fors.  But they’re still pretty intelligent about the world.

I can’t get inside Putin’s head, like Ben Judah convincingly does in what’s still the best book on the Путинщина, the “Putin-ness” or the “Putin thang.”  Judah’s thesis is that Putin is really just a nebech apparatchik who others put in his place and who now — having trampled over so many people on his way up — is terrified of stepping down and that the macho persona he so tiringly projects masks mega insecurity.  It almost makes you feel sorry for him.

But this relative of Mansky’s and her coldly realpolitik “nyet” tell you why he has so many Russians’ support.  Because it means: nyet, you can’t tell me that the U.S. and NATO suddenly developed a major crush on Estonia and Georgia; nyet, you can’t suddenly tell me you’re interested in Ukraine too, because this was already starting to feel like a corporate raid on all the old girlfriends who dumped me, but Ukraine, especially, is like hitting on my sister; nyet, you can’t moan and groan about how we’re violating a basic credo of the European Union by changing borders, when neither Russia or Ukraine are part of the European Union and you wouldn’t even have considered Ukraine — with its resources, access to the Black Sea and huge Russian population —  a candidate if it weren’t a way to totally encircle Russia; and, nyet, you can’t tell us that you’re not still treating us with a Cold War mentality that you inherited from an Anglo tradition of Great Game power struggle that doesn’t apply anymore and is now completely counter-productive.

At least talk some truth and maybe we can get somewhere.  And then I’ll reconsider breaking up with Putin.

In the meantime, we can try to think of everyone as “close relations.”

For more on these issues see: The first two of my cents on Ukraine and Russia… from a couple of years ago, and more on the imperative to engage Russia in Syria, Russia, ISIS and what to do about everything“.

Putin Judah Fragle Empire

************************************************************************************* * The Donbass, the river Don basin is part of southeast Russia and the Russian-speaking parts of eastern Ukraine where the current conflict is centered.  From The first two of my cents on Ukraine and Russia“:

“Also, thence, a crucial point: that Ukraine wasn’t so much conquered, but settled by Russia…

“The independent “frontiersmen” mentality of the Russians of these areas, a sort of Russian Texas  — among its ethnic Cossack peoples especially — should not be underestimated and should not be disregarded as a possible element in the current conflict.  (See: And Quiet Flows the Don at Amazon and at Wiki.)”

“Новая Россия,” (Novaya Rossiya), New Russia, is not a Putinism.  It’s a name for these lands that goes back to Catherine the Great and the first serious subduing of Cossack rebelliousness and settling of Russians in the region in the 18th century.  It was part of the Russian empire’s most fertile grain-producing regions and then the scene of crazy industrialization under the Bolsheviks; maybe it was once a sort of “Russian Texas” but now it’s more like a sort of Russian Rust-Belt.  Hence, the “they can have it” comment.  The Soviet Army, decapitated by Stalin’s purges of its most talented and experienced, and ill-prepared and ill-equipped, only made the Nazi sweep through Ukraine grind to a halt once the Germans had made it this far east and after hundreds of thousands of Russian men had already been sent to a meaningless death and the Nazis had swept the old lands of the Pale clean of Jews through massive massacring and mass executions which were an integral part of the military strategy of the eastern front; many military historians believe that if the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union hadn’t been slowed by German troops stopping every other community to round up and shoot its Jews (a method/process that killed more Jews than the gas chambers did), they might have been successful in beating the coming of winter and more successful in their campaign long-term.  The region then became the scene of brutal attrition warfare, culminating in the siege of Stalingrad (now reverted back to its original name, Волгоград / Volgograd on map below).  This left the region seriously trashed and so huge numbers of Russian workers were settled there post-WWII, Russianizing the Ukrainian far east even further and setting the stage for today’s conflict.

Map of the Don Basin.  The grey line shows the border between Russia (РОССИЯ) and Ukraine (УКРАИНА) and the broken grey lines in Ukrainian east indicate the Lugansk (Луганск) and Donetsk (Донетск)

Don_basin

** “У меня денег нет” (“U menya deneg nyet”) in Russian is the same structure as the Turkish “Benim param yok” — “I don’t have any money.”  Though Russian has a verb for “to have” like other Slavic languages, these structures both mean, literally: “By me there’s no money” or “My money isn’t there/isn’t by me.”  Wondering whether it’s a construction Russian acquired through contact with Tatar.  There is apparently a phenomenon where languages effect each other and transmit certain properties between them, though there’s no large bilingual population to bring them together and though they’re not genetically related, at least not closely.  The absence of an infinitive, for example, in modern Greek, Albanian, Bulgarian and Romanian/Vlach, though each are from different Indo-European families and more closely related languages have an infinitive, is one good example.  Also, Yiddish “by mir” (as in “By mir bist du shayn”) which is like the Russian по-моему (“according to me”) — for me, in my opinion.  Though German uses “bei mir” also to mean same thing.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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