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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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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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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Nearly half of Russians ignorant of 1968’s Czechoslovakia invasion – poll

[From The Guardian]

More than a third of Russians say the Soviet Union was correct to intervene in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and nearly half of the population says it knows nothing about the invasion at all, according to new polling data obtained by the Guardian before its release on the 50th anniversary of the crushing of the Prague spring.

The polling data reflects the resurgence of “Brezhnev-era propaganda, stereotypes of the Soviet period,” said Lev Gudkov of Russia’s Levada Center, which will release the results on Monday.

More than a fifth of Russians blamed a “subversive action by western countries” to split the communist bloc for a Czechoslovak programme of liberalisation that ended in a Soviet-led invasion of the communist country.

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What was Russia’s October Revolution for, and does it matter any more?

[From The Conversation]

Few episodes in history capture the imagination quite like the Russian Revolution of 1917, undeniably one of the most important episodes of modern history. But a century later, what does it really mean? After all, the Soviet state that emerged from 1917 no longer exists, and the Cold War is over. Does the revolution have any relevance today?

To judge by the flurry of interest in the centenary, a great deal. Historians and writers are in overdrive trying to convey what happened, how, and why, many focusing on the “ordinary” people involved and the extraordinarily talented artists who experienced, made, and captured the revolution. That’s certainly in the spirit of the thing; Lenin himself described revolutions as “festivals of the oppressed and the exploited”. But it’s unwise to romanticise revolution in general, and the Russian Revolution in particular.

The course the Revolution took was determined above all by Lenin and his ruling Bolshevik party, often alongside “the people”, but often also by force against them. One of the most important questions to ask, then, is: what was the October Revolution actually for? Why did the Bolsheviks take power?

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