Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’

leningrad-gas-mask-drill-1937This old photo I recently came across fascinates me.  From 1937, it depicts a gas mask drill and the participants are the Pioneers of Leningrad.  The Pioneers were a Soviet youth organization similar to the Boy Scout movement of the west.  They learned skills related to civic and social cooperation with social gatherings and summer camps in order to create good, loyal Soviet citizens.

Beyond the obvious weirdness of the image, the photo carries the haunting thought that just four short years later many of these young people would most likely perish in the Siege of Leningrad.

For 900 days, the Nazis held Leningrad, which it had been unable to take by force, in siege attempting to starve the city into submission. Over a third of the city’s population- over 800,00 people– died during the Siege.  Most died from the depths of starvation that found the citizens eating anything at their disposal– sawdust, wallpaper, and any and all pets.

It’s a horror that is hard for us, so far removed from that place and that war, to fathom yet it happened just a little over 70 years back.  Some of those children in the photo, if they were fortunate to survive the war and the siege, could easily be alive today. I am sure when the photo was taken they felt strong and prepared to face whatever adversity lay ahead. They had no idea what the future truly held.

For today’s Sunday morning music I am using a song that relates in a way to the photo. It’s Red Army Blues from the Irish band The Waterboys‘ 1985 album, A Pagan Place.

The song tells the story of a Soviet soldier in WWII who somehow survives the war and comes in contact with American troops.  Joseph Stalin felt that troops who were taken prisoner were weak and traitors to the Soviet state and that troops who came in contact with Allied troops were in danger of being Westernized. So after the war, many Red Army troops who had been held as POWs or had much contact with western troops were considered a threat to the state and were sent directly to the gulags where many would die while working and starving in forced labor camps. We’re talking in the millions here.

I bring up this dark page in history because of our current head of state’s recent warming up to Russia where Vladimir Putin has began reintroducing Stalin era thinking to that country. Time and fading memories have made the horrors that Stalin inflicted on his people somehow palatable. The gulags, the purges, and the artificial famines that killed millions of Soviets seem to be a distant memory now and there is actually a bit of nostalgia for Stalin. Hence, Putin’s rise.

But the memory of these things, these atrocities against his own people and humanity, should never be relinquished.  If forgotten they are only a moment from becoming the present.

This is a pretty interesting video of Red Army Blues with a lot of great Soviet footage of that time which means that some of it is grisly and disturbing. Unfortunately, that is what much of our  history entails. It’s worth a listen and a view.

Have a great day


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StalinAh, it’s good to be back in my studio after spending three days racing through seven states to deliver new work to galleries in Virginia and North Carolina.  While it was good to spend a bit of time at the galleries, discussing the state of the art business at the moment, it’s always better to be here, focusing more on creation than on promotion and sales.

I was able to listen to a lot of music while driving as well as catch some interesting stories on public radio that gave me something to think about.  Yesterday, as I drove in the early morning rain of Virginia, I heard a story on NPR concerning the way Joseph Stalin is being viewed in present day Russia.  In a poll last year, Stalin was chosen by Russians, in a sort of American Idol style vote, as the third greatest Russian of all time.  Despite the many millions, yes, millions of Russian citizens who were put to death by Stalin, despite the political purges and gulags and Soviet policies that caused a type of artificial famine that killed far more citizens than any natural famine more than once, the current populace said that this Man of Steel was their guy.


In the story, a present day student compared Stalin favorably to the Adolph Hitler of the early 1930’s, in that both restored pride and self-confidence to their citizens in trying times.  He also cited Stalin’s part in defeating Hiltler’s Germany in WW II as another reason for his positive view of Stalin.

Other present day Russians have said that what Russia needs now is another Stalin.  Rootin’ Tootin’ Vlad Putin has started reintroducing Stalin to the Russian public, reinserting verses praising Stalin to the national anthem that were long ago taken out.

It gave me a bit of a chill.

This revisionist history takes place everywhere when the times become a bit more difficult.  The older population who lived through the Stalin era see the chaos of the current Russia and begin to romanticize for what they now remember as the stability of Stalin’s time.  I have to admit, there is a certain level of stability in under a Stalin-like dictatorship.  One doesn’t have a lot of choices or freedoms to clutter the mind.   Most decisions are out of your hands.  For many, this freedom from choice, when viewed through the distance of time, seems almost nostalgic.  Ah, the way we were.

The real question is, when there is this nostalgia for someone like Stalin, when the mindset of a large swath of the population begins to overlook the atrocities of a man like Stalin and the horror of those times, where is that country headed?

I don’t mean to sound like some McCarthy-era siren, wailing that the Russian are coming, the Russians are coming!  No duck-and-cover here.  I just am mystified by how the nationalism of a people is always morphing and how those in power can manipulate the past to fit the present to achieve their desire future.  I hope I don’t live long enough to see the German  people name Hitler as the greatest German ever…

Just something to think about.

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