A. Nelson

Things Fall Apart

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Baltic Way Memorial Wall – Vilnius

Welcome to the final edition of the 20th-Century Russia Digest for Spring 2016. The collective  went out on a very strong note and the best of the final posts are featured in the top section of the site. These posts suggest the array of challenges that ultimately overwhelmed the Soviet system, including the war in Afghanistan, the effort to affect social and economic change by regulating the supply of alcohol, mounting tensions in the Caucasus, and the successful bid for independence from the Baltic republics.

The lower section of the site features posts the class selected as “Greatest Hits” from the entire semester. Your editorial team is proud of the range of interests, topics, talent, and perspectives represented here and elsewhere on the site. We’ve learned a lot together and these greatest hits offer visitors to the site an overview of how exciting that journey has been. As part of an effort to see how broader social dynamics worked over the long haul we are assigning the final “sticky post” below the slider to Sean’s wonderfully detailed and provocative examination of the importance of youth and the dynamics of generation to the success of the Soviet project. It’s a marvelous read – and you won’t want to skip the video of the pioneers proclaiming their devotion to the cause. I joked that a more apt title for the post would have been “Curiosity Killed the Communist,” but will let you all judge for yourselves.

Final Blog Post Guidelines

"A Punk and 'Liuber'" 1988

“A Punk and ‘Liuber'” 1988

As the Pizza Hut ad we watched today suggested, Mikhail Gorbachev’s leadership ushered in an era of increased freedom, opportunity, and hope for Soviet citizens, even as it fostered economic uncertainty, political instability, and the threat of chaos. For your final blog post, please choose a topic that gives you some insight on the collapse of Soviet communism and the social transformation that accompanied it. 

The Social Is Political – Beyond Stagnation in the Seventies

ap9109060344_wide-7d6ea895e371884e0a237aa1c95ce04d498aca9c-s1500-c85We had some terrific submissions this week, many of which circled around changing cultural conventions and social norms.

The slider and Comrade’s Corner are brimming with posts about the influence of Western clothing, rock music and television on Soviet youth (and their parents). In many ways, these cultural shifts seem incongruous with the more famous profile of the dissident movement, which, like the Soviets’ ill-fated war in Afghanistan and the controversial boycotts of the Moscow Olympics grabbed many headlines in a decade that was far from stagnant.

“No Greater Love” – Soviet Victory in World War II

Irakli Toidze, "For the Motherland" (1943)

Irakli Toidze, “For the Motherland” (1943)

Defeating Nazi Germany on the battlefield required an all-out mobilization effort from the Soviets. Indeed the home front became as essential to eventual victory as the battlefront, as Soviet citizens realized that the nation’s very survival was at stake. This weekly edition reflects the varied and integrated aspects of the Soviet Union’s struggle for survival and the costs of its eventual victory in World War II.  This week’s posts are the most insightful and original group we’ve produced all semester, and many gems await the curious reader in the Red Star / slider category and in comrade’s corner.  Our title this week is an homage to Penzosite’s wonderful discussion of gender in Friedrich Ermler’s film about the courageous partisan leader played by the great Vera Maretskaia.  Known as “She Defends the Motherland” in Russian, the film was first released in the United States during the war under the title, “No Greater Love.”

Image: Irakli Toidze, “For the Motherland” (1943)

Building Socialism in the Thirties

Stained glass Shabalovskaya Metro

Stained glass Shabalovskaya Metro

A fine series of posts populated the site over the Spring Break. This weekly edition focuses on some of the key themes of the Soviet thirties, particularly the transformation of the built environment and the evolution of new sensibilities around physical culture, sport and gender roles. Other posts explored these contours of the “Great Retreat” in ways that highlight the contradictions and appeal of “Socialism in One Country” by focusing on the new patriotism. Your editorial team invites you to savor the wonderful offerings in the slider, and comrade’s corner, and encourages you to make time for this Buzz Lightyear-themed discussion of Stalin’s favorite pilot, Valery Chkalov.

Stained Glass in Shabolovskaia Metro Station. Creative Commons 3.0