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In Eva Hoffman's moving memoir of her emigration from Poland to North America, she describes the constructed nature of memory in reference to another earlier Jewish emigrant: "The America of her time gave her certain categories within which to see herself — a belief in self-improvement, in perfectibility of the species, in moral uplift — and these categories led her to foreground certain parts of her own experience, and to throw whole chunks of it into the barely visible background.
The collections are part of a recent outpouring of memory from the former Soviet Union in the form of autobiography, published diaries, and oral interviews. The focus on women's memoirs accords with this "opening," as the private lives of women have been generally less accessible to our eyes and our understanding than the more public lives of some men. Some of these questions relate to the life stories themselves, others to the meaning ascribed to these life stories by historians and literary scholars.
What were the "categories" within which Soviet women saw themselves? What was the relationship between women, the Soviet experience, and women's own sense of self as described in these life stories? Was women's sense of self a gendered sense?
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Secondly, how do we use these life stories? How do we compare and evaluate the meaning, or even the "truth," of works written for official purposes, diaries written for the desk drawer, comments made around the kitchen table, and interviews done 40 years later? Are they best understood as narratives or are they also repositories of experience? Can we generalize about women's selfhood in Soviet Russia on the basis of these individual accounts? Although the book extends from to the eve of World War II, the collection is organized around key historical periods — the Revolution and Civil War, NEP, and the s — and there are only a few women whose stories cover the entire period.
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In contrast, A Revolution of Their Own: Voices of Women in Soviet History contains the life stories of only eight women, again of varied backgrounds working class, peasant, the daughters of nobles and of parish priests , but we hear about each life experience from the Revolution through the early s. These narratives come to us through interviews conducted by Anastasia Posadskaya in the post-Soviet period, and then selected, edited, and annotated by Posadskaya and Barbara Alpern Engel.
The editors of A Revolution of Their Own write that they looked for "ordinary" women to interview; they "did not actively seek out stories either of Access options available:. Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.
Of course, I visited several of the main tourist attractions including the Cathedral, the remains of Gediminas Castle, St Annes Church along with several other beautiful churches and the Dawn Gate.
I also enjoyed sampling some traditional Lithuanian cuisine! Cepelini Zeppelins! Tree Jumpers — yarn bombing in Vilnius! Open Air Gallery — street art on display on Literatu. The quiet, relaxed feel to Vilnius belies its turbulent recent history, however. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the visit for me was exploring some of the lingering traces of Soviet occupation. Goodbye Lenin! A portrait of Lenin for sale at a small flea market in Vilnius. However, there is an argument to be made that the brutal nature of Soviet occupation means that the psychological legacy rather than the physical traces of communism lingers longest for many Lithuanians.
With that in mind, one particularly striking aspect of my time in Vilnius was my visit to the Museum of Genocide Victims, an extensive exhibition housed in the former KGB headquarters on Gedimo prospect, which charts the oppression and suffering of the Lithuanian people under successive foreign occupations between Letters written by Lithuanian citizens who were interred in prison camps during the Stalinist era. The letter on the left has been censored by the camp authorities. However, the tour of the former prison still affected me on a personal level more so, I found, than similar visits in Berlin and Budapest, but less than my visit to Auschwitz , which was emotionally draining, an experience I previously blogged about HERE.
There was something about the heavy feeling that settled in my stomach while my footsteps echoed down the dark, dank, narrow corridors the fact that I was entirely alone in an otherwise deserted basement prison probably contributed to this! All of this was accompanied with information about various individuals who had spent time and sometimes even died whilst in the prison.
In Memoriam — names inscribed into the walls of the Museum of Genocide. Today Katyn remains a contentious and highly emotive issue, one that casts a long shadow over Russian-Polish relations. In recent years, some important gaps in our knowledge and understanding of the Katyn massacres — the mass execution of over 22, members of the Polish military and intellectual elite and their burial in mass graves in the forests around Smolensk during April-May — have been plugged. Developments in the post-Cold War period have tended to focus upon the information that has slowly and often reluctantly trickled out from the Russian archives, particularly in April , when publication of key documents confirmed beyond any doubt that the mass executions had been carried out by the Soviet NKVD, acting on the direct orders of leader Josef Stalin.
It is generally accepted that Stalin approved the massacre to ensure there would be no organised domestic resistance to the extension of Soviet control over Poland after World War II for more details see my previous blog post about the Katyn massacre and its historical legacy HERE. However, the recent release of over pages of documentation held by the US National Archives has focused attention on a new and previously under-discussed perspective of this tragedy; assessing the extent of US and UK complicity in hiding the truth about Katyn. The newly declassified documents , released on 10 th September , confirm that both the US and UK authorities were aware of strong evidence pointing to Soviet responsibility for Katyn soon after the initial German discovery of the forest graves in , but deliberately chose not to question Soviet claims that it was the Germans who were responsible for the slaughter, in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary, due to the importance of maintaining good wartime relations with Stalin.
Even after the end of World War II, they chose to remain silent about much of what they knew. Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, pictured at the Yalta conference in By this point, the western leaders knew that the Soviets were responsible for the Katyn massacres, but chose to ignore the evidence and focus on attempting to maintain good relations with Stalin.
The documents released yesterday tell a very different story: comprised of detailed accounts from officials in the Polish exiled government; reports from U. Donald B. Stewart and Lt. John H. Van Vliet Jr — all of whom provided strong evidence suggesting Soviet culpability. The testimonies provided by Stewart and Van Vilet Jr are particularly compelling. Theit accounts describe how they were taken to Katyn which had recently passed from Soviet to German control by their Nazi captors in May The bodies they viewed were all already in an advanced stage of decay, indicating that they had been killed prior to the recent Nazi occupation of the area.
However, their testimony was supressed. At a time when the allies remained desperate for Soviet military assistance, neither Roosevelt or Churchill were willing to risk confronting Stalin. The US documents do not contain any radically new information or earth shattering revelations about Katyn. Rather, they simply confirm what most historians have long suspected. However, they do add to our knowledge of events, suggesting that both British and American administrations were aware of the truth about Katyn at an early stage from at least mid but chose to conceal the truth, in a deception that extended up into the highest political levels.
The increasingly uncertain economic climate and global financial downturn also dominated news coverage throughout , particularly of late due to the growing crisis in the Eurozone. Much of the subject matter presented here at The View East aims to combine historical analysis with more contemporary developments.
Something that I constantly stress to my students is the need to recognise how our knowledge and understanding of modern central and eastern Europe was, in many respects, transformed as new evidence and sources of information became accessible to historians of Eastern Europe after the collapse of communism ; and the ways in which our understanding continues to evolve as new information and perspectives continue to emerge today. So, with that in mind, here is a quick review of some of my own personal favourite topics of interest, events and developments during This short summary is by no means exhaustive so please feel free to add suggestions of your own in the comments section below!
The centenary of Reagan's birth was celebrated throughout the former communist block in Today, citizens of the former East Block tend to view Reagan much more kindly than his Cold War counterpart, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who celebrated his 80 th birthday back in March. Still feted in the West, Gorbachev was the guest of honour at a celebratory birthday gala in London and and was also personally congratulated by current Russian President Medvedev, receiving a Russian medal of honour.
In a series of interviews , Gorbachev claimed he remained proud of role in ending communism, although for many, his legacy remains muddied. April saw the 25 th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, while August marked the twentieth anniversary of the failed military coup launched by communist hardliners hoping to depose Gorbachev from power and halt his reforms and finally, the 25 December was 20 years to the day since Gorbachev announced his resignation from power and the formal dissolution of the USSR.
March - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev shakes hands with Mikhail Gorbachev during a meeting to celebrate his 80th birthday. August marked 50 years since the construction of the famous wall which divided Berlin and became one of the most iconic symbols of Cold War Europe. The anniversary was commemorated in Germany as I discussed in my earlier blog post here and was also widely covered by international media including the Guardian and the BBC here in the UK.
I particularly enjoyed these interactive photographs, published in Spiegel Online , depicting changes to the East-West German border. NATO have released a fascinating series of archived documents relating to events in Poland which have been published online here. Fresh attempts to prosecute 88 year old Jaruzelski for his repressive actions were halted due to ill health in , as the former communist leader was diagnosed with lymphoma in March and has been undergoing regular chemotherapy this year.
I particularly liked the archived photos that were published in Spiegel Online , taken during a course to teach Stasi agents the art of disguise, as discussed in my previous blog post here and, in a similar vein, information from Polish files about espionage techniques used by Polish State Security which was published in October.
In recent interviews, such as this one, given shortly before his death, Havel commented on a range of contemporary issues including the Arab revolutions and the global economic crisis.
'We want a voice': women fight for their rights in the former USSR | World news | The Guardian
RIP Vaclav — you will be missed. December - News breaks of the death of playwright, communist-era dissident and former Czech President Vaclav Havel. Hundreds of candles were lit in Prague's Wenceslas Square in his memory, thousands of mourners gathered to pay their respects and tributes poured in from around the globe. Many more universities and academics are also now realising the potential benefits of using social media sites to promote their interests, and achievements, disseminate their research to a wider audience and engage in intellectual debate with a wider circle of individuals working on similar areas of interest, both within and beyond academia.
On a more personal note, promoting The View East via Twitter has also helped me develop a much stronger online profile and contributed to an increased readership in , something I discussed further in a September blog post here. Was the year of the 'Twitter Revolution'?
Today, while many aspects of the Stalinist era still spark contestation and controversy, the crimes of Stalinism can be documented more clearly than ever before. Despite this, nostalgia for the despotic leader appears to be ever more apparent. Research undertaken by the Levada Centre in Moscow indicates that, two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, attitudes towards Stalin are becoming increasingly positive. The contested nature of historical memory about Stalinism runs more deeply than the publication of controversial popular opinion polls, however.
The textbook portrayed the mass terror of the Stalin years as essential to ensure rapid modernisation in the face of military threats from Germany and Japan; avoided any attempt at a moral assessment of Stalinism and strongly implied that the victorious ends of World War II justified the repressive means of the pre-war years. The memorialisation of Stalin-era victims is also the subject of a contentious ongoing dialogue between the state and those who seek to commemorate the darker aspects of the Soviet past. In Vladimir Putin ordered the confiscation of digitally archived material from Memorial , a non-governmental organisation which aims to aid the process of memorialisation of state terror in Russia.
The psychologist described a former patient who had recently returned to him seeking treatment — she was in deep distress, because newly published accounts had described how her father, a former diplomat, had been responsible for the denunciations and subsequent imprisonment and deaths of many people during the Stalinist era.
As a result of his actions, her father had not only remained alive but had even been promoted whilst most of his colleagues had perished. Her father was already dead, but now the woman had to confront and come to terms with his memory all over again. This case illustrates an important point. During the Soviet terror, the line between victim and perpetrator was often blurred: the persecutors often became the persecuted. For example, the CPSU regional committee secretaries of were responsible for sanctioning many death sentences, but by November half of them had fallen victim to the terror themselves.
During the Stalinist era, life for many people was never black or white, but instead comprised of shades of grey. Many people engaged with Stalinism, passively if not actively. Today, widespread public reluctance to confront the past can therefore be attributed to more than just general ignorance: in some cases outward ambivalence stems from a deep-rooted fear of uncovering atrocities committed by close friends and family members, or even confronting ones own past culpability, therefore leading to a greater sense of guilt about the past.
At first glance, the number of monuments and exhibits appear impressive: listing museum exhibits and monuments relating to Soviet-era mass repression.
'We want a voice': women fight for their rights in the former USSR
However, none of these monuments have been overseen by the central government, but were developed through the efforts of local communities and independent organisations such as Memorial. The location of the monuments are also telling: within cities, these monuments and commemorative signs are not located in central areas, but are overwhelmingly found in more remote locations.
The contentious dialogue surrounding negative memorialisation is also reflected in the design of such monuments, which are largely depoliticised. This aesthetic, created somewhere between the need for memory and political confrontation may hinder popular memory as a certain amount of accountability or even historical truth is lost in transmission. The artwork on the bill depicts the Solovki monastery, a historical complex on an island in the extreme north of Russia.
The ruble note depicts the Solovki Monastary, site of one of Stalin's notorious Gulag camps. Despite the existence of Russian museum exhibits relating to mass repression, in reality only a few of these are specifically dedicated to the history of the terror. Roginsky argues that the exhibitions relating to the Gulag camps and labour settlements are usually embedded within wider displays relating to Soviet-era industrialisation, modernisation and economic development.
The repressions themselves i. Today, there is still no national museum of state terror, which could play an important role in crystallising the image of the terror in popular consciousness. Monuments are often used as a positive political tool, to demonstrate the continuity of the political tradition of a nation state and to represent its perceived or desired identity.
As a result, it is perhaps unsurprising that attempts at negative memorialisation have been limited in post-Soviet Russia. The memory of the Second World War therefore, serves important functions for the Russian state in a way that the memory of the terror could never do. A Rise in National Self-Esteem and Hard Work — war time victory, bolstered by the notion that Russia had to overcome all the odds in order to fight back after the surprise German invasion of June 22 The scale of these monuments is nothing short of breathtaking.
The immense pride in Soviet victory during the Second World War thus provides one of the most important bases for contemporary support for Stalin, particulalry amongst the older generations, effectively marginalising the darker aspects of Stalinist rule. In April the Russian Federation also published documents relating to the true nature of the Soviet role in the massacre of 20, Polish Army officers in the Katyn forest. When the mass graves were uncovered in the Soviet Union blamed the murders on the Nazis, and it was only in that Mikhail Gorbachev admitted Soviet guilt.
However, the Russian leadership have indicated that they will only allow historical revisionism to go so far. The dark chapter in their recent history involving terror, mass repression, denunciation and death does not fit with the heroism promoted by the dominant narrative of war memorialisation. The dichotomy of the Stalinist era is not one that can coexist peacefully, particularly while a significant proportion of the population hold some kind of personal attachment to the horrors of Stalinism.
At the current time, the Stalinism that represents an era of glorious victory and great achievement outweighs the Stalinism of a criminal regime responsible for decades of terror. His words also serve as a powerful testament to the enduring legacy left by the successful Soviet launch of the satellite Sputnik on 4 October Serving as a demonstration of Soviet technological advancement, its launch was met with a response of shock, awe and fear which reverberated across both sides of the Iron Curtain. Sputnik spent a total of 3 months orbiting the Earth, emitting a simple signal that was picked up by amateur radio operators around the world.
The satellite weighed pounds, and the R-7 rocket that launched Sputnik into orbit was capable of generating 1,, pounds of thrust. Soviet technology thus appeared to be firmly in the ascendency, with the implication that the Soviet Union was now also capable of launching a long-range nuclear strike.