Posts Tagged ‘USSR’

Georgia on My MInd

06/25/2010

In the summer of 2008 I watched footage of the Russian-Georgian war with horror and the morbid fascination that come with having visited a place that has unexpectedly turned into a war zone. I had visited Gori (famous as the birthplace of Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, aka Joseph Stalin) in the summer of 2007. I toured the Stalin museum, the fort, ate khachapuri, drank wine, sifted through Stalin memorabilia at the local market and stood in the central square staring up at the larger than life statue of Stalin wondering – how can he possibly still be standing here?

Well, it looks like the time has come for the museumization of this important relic of the cult of Stalin. A friend who is in Georgia for the summer on internship posted on his facebook page that he’d missed the demounting of Stalin by mere hours. A historic occasion in a city that has for years defended Stalin’s place of honour in front of the municipal parliament building at the base of Stalin Avenue. Al Jazeera picked up the story, stating that the Stalin statue is being moved to the nearby Stalin Museum.

This museum has been on my radar for a little while: rumour has it that the Stalin Museum may soon to be re-designated the Museum of Russian Aggression. If this is true, it marks a cultural shift in a country that has held tight to pride in their “great leader” while much of the rest of the former Soviet Union has worked hard to out Stalin’s crimes against humanity. One exception is Russia, where Stalin is lauded as a great military leader and “effective administrator”, especially during the celebration of the Allied victory in WWII (celebrated with great solemnity in Russia). By removing the Stalin memorial in Gori, Georgia is making yet another assertion of which direction they are looking for assistance – towards Europe and the West. Not that this wasn’t clear already.

On a lighter note, looks like the Stalin impersonators are going to have to find a new line of work.

A Soviet Themed Hair Salon

06/04/2010

Lenin haircuts in Siberia!

This is an RFE/RL’s picture of the week. The caption reads: A hairdresser cuts a customer’s hair at the “USSR” salon in the city of Barnaul in Russia’s Altai region. The salon attracts elderly customers and veterans with its low prices and Soviet decor.

I wonder if they do Brezhnev style helmet hair? Would they tattoo on a birthmark a-la-Gorbachev? Maybe if I asked pretty they’d give me a nice Yeltsin…

Photo by Andrei Kasprishin for Reuters

In the “You’ve Seen One You’ve Seen Them All” Dept…

05/03/2010

Getting Soviet history right isn’t always easy, especially when parsing the Great Patriotic War (WWII as it is known in the former Soviet region). The anniversary of the Soviet victory is still paid lip service in many former Soviet countries, often with grand parades or commemorative exhibitions, but as veterans and civilian survivors age and pass on, first-hand accounts are disappearing and details are being forgotten. A publishing house in Perm came face to face with this reality when it commissioned a calendar to honour Soviet veterans and somehow ended up with images of Nazi troops surrounding Soviet tanks instead.

The designer’s excuse? “We were young and we didn’t see the war.”

Who says that history is written by the victors?

Cold War technology so retro it’s modern.

03/24/2010

Four years ago the U-2 bomber was slated to be retired. Originally designed to find Soviet missiles (it was photographs of taken by U-2’s that sparked the Cuban Missile Crisis), this piece of Cold War technology has found new life as a reconnaissance aircraft that can outperform drones used by the US missions in Afghanistan. According to this article in the New York Times the updated sensors in the U-2 bomber can detect slight disturbances in soil, indicating the possible presence of mines or improvised explosive devices (IEDs), take panoramic photos that often reveal footpaths used by insurgents and can even intercept cell phone signals that would ordinarily be blocked by the mountainous terrain.

Pretty remarkable for a piece of Cold War technology. One major downside, though, is that the pilots have to wear space suits and eat their meals through tubes because of the crazy altitudes they fly at.

I wonder when they’ll find a re-use for the poison-tip umbrella.

Lenin lives (and lives… and lives…) in the Antarctic

03/15/2010

I’ve seen a lot of Lenin’s over the course of my travels through the former USSR, from the Lenin my mom remembers standing in downtown Vilnius (now residing in Grutas Park open-air monument and sculpture museum) to the gigantic striding Lenin behind the National Museum in Bishkek Kyrgyzstan. He was moved from in front of the museum to make room for Independence Square. Now he stands overlooking the American University, making his usual grand gesture of benevolence.

However, by far the strangest place he’s turned up is in Antarctica where a plastic bust of the man himself was discovered by explorers in 2007. He stands proudly at the site of an old Soviet base at the South Pole of Inaccessibility. Made from plastic, the Lenin has stood there since 1958 and is, by all reports, in pretty good shape. The man is simply eternal.

Anyways, as soon as the South Pole of Inaccessibility Tourism Association and BIA get their act together I’m positive he’ll be fenced in and farmed out as a prime tourist attraction.

Soviet Town for Sale: the life and times of Skrunda-1

02/25/2010

Inspired by this article: For sale: one communist-era ghost town

Occasionally after a research trip I spend a month or two in Latvia at a translators’ and writers’ house in the small city of Ventspils, on the shores of the Baltic Sea. One afternoon last winter Ieva, one of the administrators at the house, and I climbed into her green Lada Zhiguli and drove out into the Latvian countryside. I’d been talking to Ieva about my fascination with abandoned Soviet-era military sites — the shores of the Baltic made up one of the borders of the USSR and were heavily fortified — and she thought I should see the abandoned city of Skrunda-1.

The drive took about an hour. We travelled along a narrow highway through thick pine forests then made a right hand turn on a marginally paved road that led towards the radiological observatory, visible from the highway. Part of the site was dismantled in 1994 (the radar) and what remains looks like a giant satellite dish and is currently used by Latvian scientists at the International Radio Astronomy Centre. During Soviet times it was part of the early warning defence system and is rumoured to have been used to intercept communications of all sorts.

It is possible to tour the Radio Astronomy Centre but no one was around so we couldn’t go inside and climb to the top of the dish. Instead we got back into the Zhiguli and drove about two kms back towards the highway to the site of the town. About 5,000 people lived and worked in this secret city during Soviet times. There was a chain over the entrance but we just stepped over it. A couple of young Latvian guys were tearing down a building nearby. Ieva asked them what they were doing. They pointed at the bricks piled neatly at the edgs of the access road — “Selling bricks.” During the late 1990s, this site was being considered for an amusement park but now, according to the workers, the crumbling ruins were going to be torn down and allowed to be rehabilitated slowly by nature. According to them the site is quite polluted with heavy metals and leaked oil and petroleum.

We asked if we could explore the buildings. They just shrugged.

All the buildings were in a serious state of disrepair. Any metal objects of any value had long been stripped. This is the case in most of these military installations; scrap metal equals money. There were many broken windows and a lot of evidence of squatters and parties. Racist graffiti, of course. And a lot of faded murals. It was eerie and beautiful and sad. Most of the people who lived here were kicked out very suddenly in 1994 when the Russian military was ordered out of Latvia. A few hundred stayed for four more years to manage the site, but it was fully abandoned in 1998. According to Ieva, many of the apartment blocks, buildings of reasonable quality, were abandoned with furniture and appliances intact. Something could have been done with the infrastructure, but there was no organization, no money, no foresight.

Skrunda-1 was sold to a Russian company last month. There have been rumours that it will be turned into a huge pig farm or a large factory of some kind.

Whatever ends up on that location, it’s going to cost a lot of time, energy and money to remove this relic. Multiply this story by hundreds of kilometres of border land to be protected, throw in the Stalin Line and the Molotov Line and you’ll get a sense of just how militarized the former Soviet region was, and how much clean up there remains to be done.

Soviet soldier who hoisted flag over Reichstag in 1945 dies – thestar.com

02/21/2010

Iconic images are what history is made of. I wonder when Mr. Eastwood is going to make his Great Patriotic War epic?

via Soviet soldier who hoisted flag over Reichstag in 1945 dies – thestar.com.

Welcome to Lenin Land…

02/16/2010

Hi, hello and welcome to “Adventures in Lenin Land”.

About the project:

This blog is part of an ongoing book project looking at the intersection of history and tourism in the former USSR. Over the past three years I’ve spend a good deal of my time exploring the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, looking at museums and tourist attractions that find novel and controversial ways of dealing with the Soviet legacy. Think Lenin Land, Club Gulag, Bus Tour Chernobyl and Stalin Tours. Think former Soviet prisons turned hostels, “authentic” Soviet apartment tours and Cold War bunkers in Moscow hosting your office party. Think and then re-think Soviet history as you know it.

As I’m working on the book I will be posting out-takes, previews and news links related to the project. I’ll also be streaming photos of my travels (past, present and future) via my flickr account.

Welcome to the wacky world of post-Soviet tourism. I hope you’ll visit again and visit often.

Medeine Tribinevicius