Posts tagged Apples are From Kazakhstan

“I Write as I Please” 1935 book (Part IV)

If you look at the index of Walter Duranty’s book, it is chock full of names and places, five pages worth.  As a journalist Duranty knew to include as many people as possible which may have brought this book up on the charts of the New York Times bestseller list, if they kept track of such things back then.  People like to see their names in print whether in a newspaper article or in a book, so he knew that all who were “readers” would like to buy a copy of this book which was published so long ago.  Yet, there are many things that remain the same or history definitely repeats itself.  I’ll continue where I left off with what I think are interesting quotes:

p. 212 – Liatsis theory of Red Terror and warning and example [other references to who wrote the manual on terror and how to get people to do what the communist regime wanted them to do]

“His Majesty’s Opposition” – English phrase – W.D. learned to read between the lines of the Soviet Press. “Bewildering difference between Russian and non-Russian and Bolshevik and non-Bolshevik mentality.” [I have the same problem here in Astana, what is Kazakh and not Kazakh, what is post-Soviet and what is just human nature?]

In the spring of 1930, Walter Duranty went to Alma Ata where Trotsky was first exiled to do an interview.  So few references to Central Asia so to me this is interesting.  Christopher Robbins, in his book “Apples are from Kazakhstan” writes about Trotsky’s exile to Kazakhstan.

I like the following poem that Duranty quoted, it fits with living here in Kazakhstan, especially in the capital city of Astana:

p. 240

There was an owl who in an oak

The more he heard the less he spoke

The less he spoke the more he heard

Soldiers, imitate that wise bird

p. 247 – “The tempo of life by which the Bolsheviks /////[can’t read my writing] the rush of their progress, the haste of their desire to catch up and surpass the capitalist world in material achievement, has been too swift to allow any of them to pause awhile by the wayside, and think.”

p. 249 Three old enemies of newspaper:  time, space and selection

How to handle news in Russia – 1st rule – believe nothing that I hear, little of what I read and not at all of what I see

p. 278 – “I had no intention of being an apologist for the Stalin administration” [whether he intended or not, he was the mouthpiece that many people listened to, especially Governor Roosevelt from New York, who later opened up relations with U.S.S.R. in 1933 when he became President.]

(to be continued)

Leave a comment »

Icy Cold, Resolute Pine Trees and Kazakh Apples

PB100114Reading “Apples are from Kazakhstan” for the third time brings new insights into old thoughts and vice versa.  I liked the part that I read to my listening students today about the President of this great country of Kazakhstan, in his own words spoken to the author, Christopher Robbins.

The Communist Party was like an army in those days.  It was simply not done to disagree even slightly with your superiors.  We were all meant to be “soldiers of the Party” and soldiers had to obey orders. (p. 261)

The leader of this great land continued to reveal what it was like for him under the Communist Party system:

Years of exhausting hard work, with no solution at hand, build a slow-burning anger.  I saw all the flaws in the system.  Every year the numbers were faked, and every year everybody worked flat out to show 101 per cent. You dared not show only 99 per cent. That would have meant everybody would be kicked out of their positions. (p. 263)

Somehow I can relate to these two above quotes as an English teacher at a westernized university in Almaty but maybe my problem is that I have put in 110 percent.  Maybe I’m feeling the icy, cold reception to my ideas, my student-centered ideas. I’m misunderstood by my “superiors”  in a land that is supposedly hospitable and friendly to foreigners. 

I’m caught in a wedge now because I also have Kazakh students who are lazy and are turning in their final papers and wanting all sorts of breaks.  My response, “Sorry, this paper looks like a blah, blah paper,” or I’ll say, “sorry this is NOT your own words” or “This paper used personal pronouns, OR you are to use the other authors words but give them PROPER attribution!!!”

A lot of fakery going on, I’m afraid.  I’ll end with one last quote from “The Howling of Wolves” chapter from Apples are from Kazakhstan.

“The Soviet system was trapped in an enormous vicious circle.  Bureaucratic legerdemain made it appear that plans were fulfilled when the reality was the opposite.  Projects known to be doomed to failure were approved for political reasons, and when they inevitably collapsed the plans were quietly revised…in other words, the more inefficiently it worked, the better it seemed to be doing.” (p. 264)

Oh, just ONE more last quote which seems appropo, again the KZ president speaking of Soviet years gone by,

Whether you liked it or not, you had to follow the unwritten rules – you had to fawn on your superiors and offer hospitality…the only way to get investment was to be clever and resourceful, and in our system this led to degradation, crime and corruption. The system virtually demanded it. (p. 266)

How do you like THEM apples?

Leave a comment »

Re-reading “Apples are from KZ” a third time

Christopher Robbins certainly knew how to write a good book. I am re-reading his book which is also titled “The Land that Disappeared” but I prefer the one in my blog title above.  I rarely re-read books unless they are very good.  I don’t often watch the same movie more than once or twice. I just believe there are far too many books to read and movies to watch to double up and do it all again. 

Several days ago I just finished reading the New York Times bestseller book “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett which was recommended to me by a friend here in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  I need to discuss this book with her, there are many different layers that need to be sorted out.  For me, it was an emotional book, my friend had termed it “brain candy.” 

Back to Robbins book which makes me laugh because even though it was written several years ago, he nailed so much of what I see and experience every day.  He has a wry, candid way of getting his point across that I can totally agree with him page after page.  The following are examples of what I like about Robbins’ writing:

p. 34 Quote from a middle-aged Kazakh philosopher: “One of the things you have to credit the Soviet system with is education. It was very good, and if you were bright it helped you go all the way, even to Moscow University.  And even the small towns had good libraries.  I began to read the Russian classics, and grew to love and be greatly influenced by Chekhov.”

Over a week ago, the president of this great country of Kazakhstan after giving a speech aimed at KZ students, was asked by a student at another university in Almaty, what he read.  She was a journalist and curious about how she could improve herself.  He answered, Chekhov and Tolstoy.  He also went on to say what else he read but I was struck with how much the Russian authors had informed him in his leadership role of this country.

p. 37 “We Kazakhs have always been clear that it was not the Russians who were to blame for our plight – it was the State. Under the Soviets many Russians were sent here forcibly to work as slave labor in the Gulag.  They were victims, not oppressors.  And we Kazakhs knew that the same applied to all the other nationalities deported here – Chechens, Turks, Germans, Koreans. It was very hard for them – they had nothing and they faced terrible privation.  Perhaps that’s why the Kazakhs became the most tolerant people in the Soviet Union.”

I like the above quote made by the Kazakh philosopher in Robbins’ book.  That is why I love my job here in Almaty as a TEFL teacher and why I love my Kazakh, Korean, Russian and Ukrainian and all the other students in my classrooms.  I don’t see them as separate cultures, I see them as people.

This philosopher went on to say the following as quoted by Robbins:

p. 40 “And there has been a disastrous decline in the education system.  It began in the 1970s when 40 percent of students started failing their exams.  That was considered too many by Moscow so an order came from the top to make the students look good.  The quality of the teaching dropped off.”

Need I write any more about what I am witnessing today in our “westernized” university classroom?  Many of the good English teachers from the villages or towns throughout KZ have fortunately found better paying jobs outside of teaching.  The oil industry that keep Kazakhstan economically viable compared to all the other Central Asian nations, pays heftier salaries than in education.  The best paying teacher jobs for Kazakh citizens are found at my university compared to those other universities that are state run in our oil rich city of Almaty. 

Back to reading “Apples are from Kazakhstan.”

Comments (1) »

Kazakh Faces on Train from Astana to Almaty

When my husband came back on the SLOOWWW train from Astana last week he was in the same compartment as these three travellers.  Fortunately he brought a good book with him to read, “Apples are from Kazakhstan” by Christopher Robbins to help while away the hours.  The older gentleman was quite hungry and his eyes lit up when he saw what Ken brought with him from Cholpon whom I blogged about yesterday.  She had sent with Ken some traditional Kazakh snack and the older Kazakh man was ready to have at it. 

Sometimes this older Kazakh man would go into some kind of a memorized story and the two younger Kazakhs would respectfully show their attention to him even though it looked like he was a poor man.  A proud man of his family of 5-6 children he is really RICH because they all live in Kazakhstan.  He supported George Bush and was against the action that happened in Georgia in August.  He thinks Kazakhstan could be next to that kind of hostile treatment.  That’s what I can remember from what my husband told me about this Kazakh man.  His eyes look like he has seen much and shows that his heart has been hurt perhaps as much.  So many stories to tell about this country and its past, so little time.

Leave a comment »

People in the Astana area

The mosiac is from the Astana Vokzal (train station), and the oil painting portrait of Nicolai Ivanovich Vavilov is fromDry Lands Grain Farming Institute” named after agriculturalist Baraev, north east of Astana. We went by car with Murat, son of Kanat, a friend of Ken’s along the newly opened expressway.  Once we arrived to this place where it was once considered THEE place for the most prestigious of agriculturalists in the former Soviet Union, we toured the institute’s museum. About a month ago, I read to my listening students the sad story about Vavilov from Christopher Robbin’s book “Apples are from Kazakhstan.”  Vavilov was an important man due to his work and was highly promoted by the USSR but who later suffered much at the hands of Stalin when he contradicted his collectivization policies.

Much sadness observed in the ALZHIR area but we met these friendly, little girls who wanted to practice their English in the small town of Akmol.  Are they aware of the sad past as portrayed by the mural at the newly built ALZHIR museum?  Maybe they have distant relatives who came to be punished at ALZHIR during the 1930s and 1940s purges.  The final photo is one young man making a wish on top of the Baiterek tower overlooking Astana.  Maybe he is hoping for peace while outfitted in his military uniform.

Leave a comment »

Kazakh Students Thoughts on Stalin (Part II)

The following is a continuation of yesterday’s blog about my Kazakhstani students responding to the question about Stalin and Vavilov whose life and reputation as a great scientist were destroyed by Soviet policies in the name of collectivization in Kazakhstan

A. Y. – Personally, I do not believe in the effectiveness of system existed in USSR.  On my point of view, it’s only the people’s will that made socialism exist so long.  Maybe because of that I do not have positive attitude towards Joseph Stalin.  According to Christopher Robbins book there were millions of people who died, lots of prisons organized. And all of these facts were hidden from citizens.  As I’ve heard, the extract from “Apples are from Kazakhstan” I’m more persuaded in my opinion.  Yes, it’s a widespread thought that if there wouldn’t be Stalin’s politics in 1939-1945 USSR will not win Great Patriotic War.  But I disagree with that.  How can be admired such person, who killed intelligentsia (destroyed traditions, culture) who deported different nations without their wanting, who sent own citizens to Front of the fighting people?


L. K. – I know a bit about Joseph Stalin and when you ask older people in KZ, they all have different points of view about him.  Some older generation people praise him and say good things about him.  At the same time, there are many people who think that he was a despot, especially those whose close relatives suffered from his regime.  For instance, if their husband or father was killed, sent away to the prison or camps because they were “enemies of nation” as Stalin said and they were not guilty.  So many people died because of it, families had been destroyed.  Their wives were sent to a special place to live, children couldn’t study at universities.  During Stalin’s regime, people were afraid of everything.  They were afraid to say something freely about the regime or their life otherwise they would be punished severely.


M.T. – I think that Joseph Stalin was a very bad leader, because he did everything just for Russia, not USSRMoscow and in its only interests.  Also, he tried to erase the culture of nations, therefore, everyone spoke only Russian, learned Russian history and literature.  He didn’t let people who didn’t think the way he did to live in their motherland.  He tortured some of them worse than fascists. It is hard to think of what it could have been if he wasn’t a ruler.  But for us personally, it could be that Uyghurs had their own country, separate from China or they still would be a part of ChinaKyrgyzstan and people who died in plane crash would have lived.


K. S. I think of course if in Soviet Union was no Stalin life of all people was different.  Some people said that Stalin is a great man, but most people of course disagree.  In Soviet Union was many prisons where famous people were, x-scientists and others.  Vavilov was in prison too and he died there.  I think its stupid to try to do nomad nature, culture and people into agricultural.  From history we see that people can do nothing against nature and human nature.  Stalin was powerful and even despotic man.


N. U. – J. Stalin was one of the famous persons in twentieth century.  He controlled all over big land and huge population all over 30 years.  In that time in , Stalin had a great impact to people, that they always felt afraid and also they felt patriotism of community.  But today we have so many arguments about him, that the most starting hate him.  And the many reasons was the year of 1925-35, but when there was Second World War, people from Kazakhstan say that he was great person.  So, whatever person some to government, he will always have the enemy and people who loves him.  So, it is political system and it is the main rule.  Not all people will love government.

Leave a comment »

Kazakh Students Varied Thoughts on Stalin

After reading part of the first chapter “Apples are from Kazakhstan” by Christopher Robbins to my class, I quizzed my students on vocabulary words such as arable, detractors, diatribe, eradicate, nemesis, ostentatious, sacrosanct, protégé, etc.  Another part of the quiz I got responses to the question: What are your thoughts on Joseph Stalin and whether he was generally good for the citizens of Kazakhstan or bad.  If he had not been ruler for 30 years in the Soviet Union, how do you think you and your family’s life would be different now?


A. E. Joseph Stalin was such kind of man who was not interested in other people’s lives.  He was very selfish one.  Only what he said must be true.  The same was in the case of Vavilov.  Stalin just destroyed him.  Vavilov was very good agriculturist, he knew a lot about Kazakhstan, about Kazakh land, but what he knew didn’t make sense to Stalin.

By the way, I think that politics of Joseph Stalin wasn’t good for Kazakh people because he destroyed the culture of this nation.  As we all know, Kazakh have a very strong culture and destroying was very critical for Kazakh people.

And what about living conditions, if he [Stalin] had not been ruling for 30 years, in my point of view, the living conditions would be better.  Because the time of Stalin control stopped the spread of globalization in USSR, which is not very good for people as for economy of the country.

In conclusion, I want to say that life could be better.


R. A. – There are a lot of contradictable opinions about Joseph Stalin.  Some people would say that he was very cruel leader and that his regime killed too many innocent people.  But we the citizens of post-Soviet countries shouldn’t forget about Great Patriotic War and his contribution to victory of Soviet people over Fascist invaders.  Maybe, if he [Stalin] hadn’t such an enormous power, Soviet people wouldn’t be so united and wouldn’t have won the war.


A. I. In the totalitarian world, of course, he was the best as the ruler.  But he was like an Evil for the people.  He had an absolutely power in that regime and all Soviet people had to some kind of worship him.  Anyway everybody thought that they couldn’t survive without him.  He was like a God in USSR.


A. B: I think Joseph Stalin was brutal tyrant.  He had only military ideas in his mind and he would stop at nothing in order to reach his goal.  He was rather bad for KZ.  We would have a better life.


Z. S. My personal opinion about Stalin changed when I was 17.  Before that I always thought that he was a very strong, powerful and just leader, during whose ruling life in the USSR was controlled but calm, people were not afraid of robbery or murder, everyone could get a job and etc.  Only when I was 17 and I was in the U.S. and further when I came back and talked to many historians both at our university and other KZ universities, I found out the truth.  The fact that at those times life was calm and determined it was the consequences of all the horrible things he had done like collectivization, famine, repressions and many more things.  Only he himself killed so many people which only a war could do.

I understand older people still wish he was alive and we were living under communist regime, but this is only one side looking to issue, maybe because they haven’t seen another style of living and even if they did (current KZ, where everything such as wealth is in the hands of a few people), they did not like it.


A. T: Generally Stalin was not as perfect for KZ citizens, on the other hand, the policy which was provided was not so bad, I mean the policy of concentration citizens of cities or “auls” (villages).  It is not a secret that Kazakhs at the beginning of the century was without any education and towns and villages make the education possible.  But the ideas of the policy was “killed” by their realization.  Repressions killed a lot of Kazakh peoples, who can’t live in an urban area.  I think that without Soviet policy, it was a chance that KZ now could be like a Mongolia or Kyrgyzstan, fully nomadic or non developed or even developing country.  Soviet policy make a good base of developing for KZ now.


K. V. I think that Stalin was strictive man.  All those bad things that he did were done by thinking.  He killed many people that did not deserve death.  And without Stalin and his strong character USSR wouldn’t won the WWII.  As someone said in the class, when Stalin died, many people were crying, because they felt strength of Stalin, and when he gone they frightened, because they didn’t imagine life without “this cruel man.” There are many people who hate Stalin and they have their own reasons.


Y. K. – Joseph Stalin was not the best ruler of people, USSR, he made a lot of bad things, killed a lot of people, however, USSR won the World War II, and one of the main reason of that was that the ruler was Stalin, psychologists think that only he could win Hitler.  So if Stalin had not been a ruler, we might not sit in this class now.  Sure, after the war, it was really hard to rebirth the country, all economy production, and a lot of people died as victims, but who knows, if it was another ruler would it be better or not?

Stalin was very smart, but as we know, authority spoils everyone.  People loved him, they were really happy that they were ruled by him.  So I cannot say whether my life could be better or worse, it is simply could be no me and not my family now.


Leave a comment »

Hard Pressed and Perplexed in Kazakhstan

For the past month I have had my Kazakhstani students write out their stories as told by their grandparents or their “grand” grandparents. Look back on all my blog entries since August. 20 and you will read some inspiring tales of how people from a generation or two ago, from many nationalities, survived the worst of trials in Kazakhstan.  I will continue after today with more stories but first a word from me after completing five weeks of teaching my young charges. I am enjoying getting to know all my students through their writing samples. Perhaps my students feel as hard pressed as I do, but after reading all of their stories, we are getting an eternal perspective about their grandparents’ despair and terrible tribulations during Soviet times.


I feel great compassion for my Kazakh teaching colleagues and administrators who must feel very threatened by all the changes that continue to happen at our institution of higher learning.  Our place of employment has been in existence for 15 years and has expanded to nearly 5,000 students, our campus is on a former communist training ground.  Our school motto is “Education to Change Society.” Perhaps the assumption is that western education does a better job of educating or maybe Kazakh “society” has been so damaged by the former Soviet style of education that as a whole it would be better off with a western brand of education in order to fit in with the fast changing, globalized world. “Education to Change Society” has a provocative edge to it no matter which way you slice it.  


We are supposedly a western style university in Almaty so that Kazakh parents don’t have to ship their kids off to the West to get a higher education.  Apparently it is cheaper if the Kazakhstan government helps support (in reality, I believe we are disdained by the Ministry of Education in Astana) and Kazakh parents pay tuition of over $20,000 for a four year degree for their children.  However, a homegrown hybrid of a “westernized” university has developed and is our present reality thanks to the the many struggles of earlier teachers who have since moved on.  In the end, I believe you get what you pay for, because there is a high turnover rate of western educators.  We only have a skeletal administrative and teaching crew of westerners who are truly western in their mindset. I mean, western born and bred and educated. Otherwise, there is a plethora of other nationalities involved in trying to change the Kazakh society to fit into a box of one size fits all. (a Soviet holdover) This is where we all feel crushed, perplexed, and even struck down.


In many ways, the Soviet mentality still exists in some of those people who have their Candidate of Science degree from the old Soviet system of education but they happen to be in positions of power because they know Kazakh, Russian AND English.  These “educators” are comfortable with rules and become very rigid with their interpretation of the rules even if it defies all logic.  I understand that if one fears for their own job security, as a middle manager commonly does, you have no thoughts for what is for the ultimate good of the teachers or the students. In many instances these middle managers become overly emotional and thus exploit their supposed authority over teachers and students who are burdened with much work.  I’ve been in healthy teaching environments where the administrators are there to support and back up the teachers not the other way around with antagonism against good pedagogy.


Seems there are people in our multiple layers of management at our university who don’t have enough work to do, they create work by attending meaningless meetings.  Time wasters that are not efficient if they were to run according to an authentic business plan where “time is money.”  Our university is supposed to produce businessmen and women with a clear knowledge of western economies instead of rehearsing the failed central planning of the Soviet days.  A heavy handed, top down approach exists in all departments of our university, not just mine.  Yet what is perplexing is that grace abounds toward those Kazakh teachers who refuse to learn more about computer literacy skills even with each teacher having a brand new flat screen monitor and computer at their desk.  Their young students resent it when they are required to take computer courses but some of the older Kazakhstani teachers are frightened by the prospect of having to learn more about computers.


Currently I’m reading Christopher Robbins book Apples are From Kazakhstan and thoroughly enjoying it.  I’ll share with my Kazakhstani students about what the Soviet system of (Trofim Denisovich) Lysenko lies did to annihilate the brilliant and hardworking academician Nikolai Vavilov.  At the time, Lysenko was politically correct because it was Stalin’s wish to push the Kazakhs out of their nomadic way of living on the steppes and create farmland with state-owned “collective” farms.  The communist leaders in Moscow did not understand the highly intricate and sophisticated nomadic lifestyle of the Central Asians.  The evils of Lysenko’s lies overruled what Vavilov knew to be true of Kazakhstan’s soil.  Vavilov unfortunately died a broken man in a prison hospital in 1943 but fortunately his story will live on with many people reading Robbins book. I highly recommend this 2008 publication which sheds light on what Kazakhstan is all about now based on its tragic past.


How will westerners know what happened here on Kazakhstan’s land without the Kazakhstani students writing in English the stories of their grandparents?  In the meantime, I am holding on to the promise of hope from II Cor. 4:7-9:  “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.  We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…”

Comments (1) »