Jewish Fate and the Soviet-Jewish “Madam Bovary”

[From Mosaic magazine]

Arrested in 1949 on charges of “anti-Soviet crimes,” the great Yiddish author Dovid Bergelson was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad in 1952. Bergelson had fled the Soviet Union in 1921 for exile in Berlin, but in 1926 began to take a more pro-Soviet stance, arguing that the USSR was the best place for Yiddish culture to flourish, and he moved to Moscow in 1934.

Dara Horn writes:

[In the 1920s], Stalin’s effort to brainwash ethnic minorities involved the Soviet government’s financing of Yiddish-language schools, newspapers, theaters, and publishers, to the extent that there were even Yiddish literary critics who were salaried by the Soviet government. During World War II, Stalin used these loyal Jews to his advantage by creating a “Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee,” a group of Jewish celebrities, including Bergelson, tasked with drumming up money and support from American Jews for the Soviet war effort. After the war, Stalin announced that the committee he himself had created was actually part of a vast Zionist conspiracy. Bergelson and his co-defendants endured three years of torture in prison before pleading guilty to the crime of “nationalism” (read: Judaism). He was executed along with a dozen other Jewish luminaries.

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Review: Cold War by Pawel Pawlikowski

[From InQuire]

After 5 years of absence, Pawel Pawlikowski returns to the big screens with the beautiful ‘Cold War’. The film takes place in post-WW2 Poland under the Soviet regime and is loosely inspired by the relationship between the director’s parents. The two, according to Pawlowski, is “the most interesting dramatic characters I’ve ever come across … both strong, wonderful people, but as a couple a never-ending disaster”. An ambitious pianist and composer Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Irena (Agata Kulesza) are putting together a big band ensemble ‘Mazurek’ out of talented young people from the rural areas. They are gathering them to perform traditional Polish folk songs and dances. One of the candidates, mysterious Zula (Joanna Kulig) catches Wiktor’s eye. Zula is ambitious, cunning, and beautiful which makes it easy for her to get what she wants from life. The central characters engage in a passionate life-long romance with various ups and downs, break-ups and come-backs, journeys and returns.

Although the plot might sound like a cliché the film is a true masterpiece. The story is told with earnest attention to details, with subtle moments and gestures, scenes full of emotions and passion. Although the film is centred around the relationship of Wiktor and Zula, the overall theme is freedom in divided Europe. After the war Poland  was devastated by the Nazi and Soviet armies which used the land as their battlefield. The authoritarian government tries to gain favour in the rural areas by investing in folk culture and lifestyle. In return, Wiktor has to promote the Soviet government although this clashes with his artistic vision. Zula has no freedom to be with whoever she wants as she has escaped prison by being a minister’s favourite. When a chance comes Wiktor plans an escape beyond the iron wall but Zula hesitates. The life of a foreigner has also its limitations. The two have to fit into the expectations of the elite and live with a feeling of being constantly at someone’s mercy. They both struggle to be happy as their expectations clash with the harsh reality.

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Get ready for a new celebration of cult Russian cinema in London

[From, The Calvert Journal]

A series of Russian and Soviet films celebrating the defiant, electric and subversive in are set to show in London as part of a special event celebrating classic cult cinema.

Generations: Russian Cinema of Change will screen five landmark movies released between 1935 and 2014 at London’s Barbican Centre.

They include the heavily-censored youth culture epic Lenin’s Guard, nihilistic 90s drama Brother, and coming-of-age film The Student by Kirill Serebrennikov — currently under house arrest amid controverial fraud accusations.

Accompanied by a programme of talks and discussions, each movie pieces together the effects of Russia’s profound 20th century upheaval on screen.

“This season explores the shifting forms of self-expression, independence and defiance through Russia’s seismic cycles of reinvention,” organisers say.

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Iosif Kobzon, Known as the ‘Russian Frank Sinatra,’ Dies at 80

[From the New York Times[]

The standard shorthand is to describe Iosif Kobzon as “the Russian Frank Sinatra,” a moniker that encompasses both his career as a popular singer and suggestions that he had connections to the Russian mob.

But what with the hostage-negotiation heroics, the bombing that may or may not have been aimed at him, and the international eyebrow-raising over his political positions, Mr. Kobzon, who died on Aug. 30 at 80, may have outdone even Ol’ Blue Eyes for high drama.

His death was announced on the website of the Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, of which he had been a member since 1997. The location and cause were not given, but the Russian news agency Tass said Mr. Kobzon had had cancer since 2005.

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How Cheburashka, the “Soviet Mickey Mouse,” Achieved International Fame


In America, the beloved cartoon character Mickey Mouse has had nearly a century of shows, books, films, amusement parks—and now an upcoming exhibition—to make a lasting impression across generations of children. But in the U.S.S.R., the national treasure Cheburashka, a small, brown, furry creature of unknown origin, was only featured in one book and four short films—a total of 70 minutes over 14 years.

Despite his small footprint, Cheburashka, who was created in 1965 by the recently departed cartoonist Eduard Uspensky, survived the collapse of the Soviet Union and continued to be a beloved icon in Russia—and, over the decades, he became an international icon, as well. The character has starred in far-flung spinoffs and a major motion picture, been present at political protests, and even had a rocket launcher named after him.

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Born in the USSR: A guide to the ‘red wave’ of Soviet rock

[From The Spinoff]

It’s been almost a year since Russia’s acclaimed theatre and film director Kirill Serebrennikov was confined to a house arrest – banned from talking to media, accessing the internet and attending his own film premiere. Serebrennikov was detained on charges of corruption and fraud, accusations his supporters call a politically motivated sham.

Leto – written and directed by Serebrennikov and filmed around the time of his arrest – tells the story of the Leningrad Rock Club, the first legal rock music venue established by the KGB in 1981. Let me take you back there…

In the 1980s, life behind the Iron Curtain was slowly starting to change. Pepsi (the first Western product) was widely available on Soviet shelves, tourists were welcomed and the state could no longer control the underground music scene which was spreading like an infectious disease. This is when some Communist Party genius decided to open a number of rock clubs around the Soviet Union to control and treat the rock mania from within.

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8 Tracks that Defined the Soviet Era’s Industrial Scene

[From Electronic Beats blog]

The Moscow-based techno-punk outfit Interchain (comprised of Andrew Lee and Jenya Gorbunov, pictured above) already has an impressive discography. But their most recent release, Plenum—which just came out on the Hivern Discs sublabel HVNX this past March—is a particularly fiery addition to their original take on frenetic, punk rock-indebted electronic sounds. They sat down with us to shed some insight onto their wide range of influences from the Soviet era’s industrial music scene. Listen to their eight selections—from the ’20s to the ’90s—below.

Arseny Avraamov, “Symphony Of Factory Sirens” (Public Event, Baku 1922)

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Czech communists confront bitter legacy of Prague Spring

[From The Guardian]

The ghosts of the past are returning to haunt the Czech Republic’s communists just as they become closer to gaining power than at any time in the past 30 years.

A month after agreeing to prop up a minority coalition government led by the country’s second-richest person, Andrej Babiš, the once all-powerful Communist party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) is being confronted with one of its most baleful legacies: the brutal crushing in 1968 known as the Prague Spring.

The forthcoming 50th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of what was then Czechoslovakia is awakening renewed hostility towards the sole viable communist party of the former eastern bloc.

In 1968 Alexander Dubček, leader of the Czech Communist party, was introducing liberal reforms, but Moscow and other Warsaw Pact countries considered he had gone too far in his pledge to deliver “socialism with a human face”, changes that included abandoning censorship and allowing free speech.

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Yuri Tynianov’s “Film — Word — Music” (1924)

[From the Los Angeles Review of Books]

ALONG WITH the somewhat better-known Viktor Shklovsky and Roman Jakobson, the writer and literary theorist Yuri Tynianov was a central figure of the revolutionary-era school of literary and cultural criticism that came to be known as Russian Formalism. The Formalists were contemporaries and advocates of Futurist poets like Vladimir Mayakovsky and Velimir Khlebnikov, as well as early Soviet film pioneers like Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov. In keeping with the mood of avant-garde experimentation that held sway in the early years of Soviet rule, Formalist ideas about literature and art were radical and stark, especially in comparison with the mystical impressionism of pre-revolutionary Russian writers and critics. Like Shklovsky, Jakobson, and their colleague Boris Eikhenbaum, Tynianov was first and foremost a scholar of literature, but the creative explosions of the new Soviet film industry demanded the Formalists’ attention. Tynianov, like Shklovsky, dove in as both a theorist and practitioner; he began penning screenplays and working directly with actors and filmmakers, most notably with the wacky and inventive “Factory of the Eccentric Actor” (FEKS) group. He also wrote a series of articles on film, like the one below, which were published in daily newspapers, and in 1927 contributed to a substantial volume of Formalist essays on cinema, edited by Eikhenbaum. Tynianov’s writings on film are valuable for their insider’s perspective and the sense of palpable, physical immediacy they convey (even as he insists on the fundamentally abstract quality of film as an art form). He applies his formidable skills as a literary theorist to this material, teasing out fascinating parallels between the way words and images can be shaped and altered by their place in a work. But Tynianov is also unique among the Formalists, in that he argues for film’s essential difference from all other art forms.

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When a Long, Dark Night Lit up with Music: The Story of the Leningrad Symphony

[From The Wire]

For us Indians, August 9, 1942, will forever remain a date to look back to with awe and pride. On that day, with the launch of the Quit India movement, India’s colonial masters were served their final notice: get out or get shoved out. 

August 9 was supposed to have been a very important date in the Third Reich’s calendar as well, perhaps the most important date. In the end, it may well have been that, but in not quite the manner Adolf Hitler would have liked. Indeed, in some sense, the day proved to be the tipping point for the Nazi campaign for world domination. Hereafter, it would only be a journey downhill, to disaster (though it did not necessarily look like that at the time).

This may sound somewhat far-fetched – after all, the Stalingrad offensive did not even start before August 22 that year, while the epic tank battle in the Kursk salient was nearly a year away yet – and so the story of that day bears retelling.

Shadows lengthen across the Soviet Union

When Operation Barbarossa burst upon the Soviet Union like a screaming tornado in June 1941, the city of St Petersburg featured very prominently on Hitler’s list of most prized targets. One reason, of course, was that it was Russia’s second largest city, arguably still her most important city in many ways, though it had ceded to Moscow as the country’s capital in 1918.

But what mattered even more to Hitler was its name – Leningrad (as it was known then, after the man who had led the October Revolution) – as well as the fact that Leningrad, and not Moscow, had been the cradle of the Revolution. In Hitler’s eye, Bolshevism/Leninism (together with Jews everywhere) were the worst scourge of the great ‘Aryan’ civilisation, and his visceral hatred of Vladimir Lenin (who had been dead for 17 years in 1941) prompted him to make a dash for Leningrad even before he grasped at Moscow.

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