Posts tagged Cold War

What happened to Boris Nemtsov?

The news has been all abuzz about what happened to Boris Nemtsov when he was walking with his girlfriend near the Kremlin. I suppose after listening to his interviews that are on line, he kept saying that Putin and his thugs were robbers and thieves. I don’t expect you can believe you are protected by the laws of Moscow when the person in charge of ALL of Russia and beyond doesn’t like to have that repeated. There will be many more people who come in opposition to him as a result of this senseless murder.  Nemtsov was speaking the truth as he saw and understood it. He claimed that the last election was rigged and false numbers were used to show how much Putin was favored.  Not the case at all and yet Boris was NOT for revolutions like he witnessed of the Orange Revolution in Kyiv a decade ago.  No, he did not want to have anything bloody and crazy, he was all for a peaceful resistance.

People going to mourn his passing will go peacefully to the bridge he was on where he was gunned down. It is a busy street with the St. Basil’s cathedral in the background and the Kremlin nearby. I was able to see the video footage that was preserved from some building close by and see what apparently was a cleaning truck (what we would call a dump truck) pass Nemtsov and his partner and then you can see where there are not many cars behind after the shooter got a clear shot of Nemtsov from his vantage point of the truck.  If there were a way to show that on here, I would do it. I’m not so sure I can transfer that info.

Okay, now let’s see if this info will actually transfer: http://ukraineatwar.blogspot.com/2015/02/analyzing-cctv-footage-that-seemed-to.html

Anyway, enough of this about Nemtsov, he will be remembered…he felt sorry for Putin because he believes things will NOT go well with him once people find out that he is in it for life…12 years after the next election and then on and on.  The Russian people will wake up to this sooner, than later.  What does this have to do with Kazakhstan? I think the people are watching this very closely in Central Asia…if Putin had his way, he would have all of the countries back again under the umbrella of the former Soviet Union. Are we back to the Cold War again, maybe?

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Poem about “Sweet Violets” and “Spies Like Us”

Thought I’d take a little break from the dismal but interesting account I read by Walter Duranty’s  “I Write as I please.” Watched a “dated” but funny 1980s movie showing a younger Dan Akroyd and Chevy Chase in “Spies Like Us” at American Corner on Saturday night.  Cold War realities were no laughing matter back in those days but these two comedians made light of it and it was fun to hear the audience laugh at all the slapstick parts.  Nothing too indepth to talk about afterwards except I asked “What do Kazakhs laugh at?” “Who are famous Kazakh comedians?” and “What about the former USSR Space station like NASA?”

This humorous poem “Sweet Violets” is similar to the one I featured a week or so ago.  It comes from an era gone by, hat tip to my Mom for typing this out for me.  Difficult to believe in spring and violets when there is so much white snow outside.  I especially love it when we have heavy fog in the morning and ALL the trees are heavily frosted like they were on Friday in Astana.

Sweet Violets
There once was a farmer who took a young miss
In back of the barn where he gave her a –
Lecture on horses and chickens and eggs
And told her that she had such beautiful –
Manners that suited a girl of her charms,
A girl that he wanted to take in his –
Washing and ironing and then if she did
They could get married and raise lots of — 

CHORUS:  Sweet violets, sweeter than the roses
Covered all over from head to toe
Covered all over with sweet violets.

The girl told the farmer that he’d better stop
And she called her father and he called a –
Taxi and got there before very long
‘Cause someone was doing his little girl –
Right for a change and so that’s why he said
If you marry her, son, you’re better off –
Single ’cause its always been my belief
Marriage will bring a man nothing but–

Sweet violets …

The farmer decided he’d wed anyway
And started in planning for his wedding –
Suit which he purchased for only one buck
But then he found out he was just out of –
Money and so he got left in a lurch
Standing and waiting in front of the –
End of this story which just goes to show
All a girl wants from a man is his —

Sweet Violets …

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“A Cruel Wind Blows” (Part II)

Yesterday’s blog was about my impressions of a movie, produced in Canada, that I watched Wednesday morning with the international women’s group in Astana. Today’s photo was taken off the web from the URL below. It is of the nuclear bombed lake created in the Semipalatinsk area.   I would like to visit this northeastern area of Kazakhstan later some time. I know someone from the ladies group who HAS been to this radioactive place.  Wow!

Today I’ll not continue with my impressions of the film we watched but rather show some facts that I picked up off the web (along with the above photo) about the research done concerning this very sad era of communist rule over Kazakhstan. How many times in the 80 minutes that I watched did I shake my head in disbelief listening to interview after interview from the survivors from the Polygon area?  Too many. These Russian and Kazakh people would reveal truths from their perspective one after another. If enough westerners paid attention to this movie subtitled in English, they would know that communism was not about caring for the common man.  No, certainly not the common Kazakh in an out of the way place such as the Semipalatinsk area, not these Kazakhs didn’t count with the bigwigs in Moscow during the 70 year Soviet regime.

This documentary movie has a good title that should maybe instead read “A Cruel Wind Continues to Blow” because the radioactivity in this godforsaken area will harm generations to come.  Read on from this website:  http://new.csc.ca/news/default.asp?aID=1416

“To the unsuspecting eye, an endless landscape of beauty unfolds in all directions. The Steppe – as it’s known by the locals – is an 18,000 km prairie-like flatland, dotted with randomly occurring mountain ranges. Its history has been scarred by the detonations of 456 atomic bombs – 340 underground (borehole and tunnel shots) and 116 atmospheric (either air drop or tower shots) tests. The former Soviet Semipalatinsk Test Site, in northeast Kazakhstan, was the primary nuclear test site during the Cold War from 1949 through to 1989. (Kazakhstan is a country of 16 million, which borders on the Caspian Sea to the west, Russia to the north and China to the east, and gained its independence from Soviet rule in 1991.)

In 1947, the head of the U.S.S.R. atomic bomb project, Commissariat for Internal Affairs chief Lavrentiy Beria, falsely claimed that the area was “uninhabited.” Today the site – also known as the Semipalatinsk Polygon and latterly the National Nuclear Center of Kazakhstan – is under study by various scientific groups who all agree that there are many areas that are not only contaminated but are still radioactive. The question is, how “hot” is it, and is the test site still a toxic source that is strong enough to be harmful to the residents who both live on or near it?

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Although testing ended almost 20 years ago, there are many areas that remain “hot.” Such hot spots were craters created by the underground explosions just 18km northwest of the village of Sarjal. In the Degelen Mountain range, mountain tops destroyed by bombs that were placed deep inside them by way of tunnels that have since been backfilled. We also shot at ground zero, just 50 km west of Kurchatov where the first atomic bomb (Operation First Lightning) was exploded in 1949. This was an atmospheric explosion test site where more than 100 above-ground weapons tests took place. The site currently exhibits measurably high levels of radiation. Surprisingly there are no warning signs or fences to stop people or livestock from getting too close. In fact, sheep, cattle and horses can be found scattered around the Polygon grazing on the grasslands and drinking the water from the craters.

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“Why We Teach Overseas” series

What’s all this flap about a Russian spy ring caught in the U.S.?  I know some Kazakh teachers/administrators thought I was a “spy” when I was teaching in Almaty, perhaps some of my American friends think I am too.  I can attest that Cold War sentiments may die hard or take a long time to go away. I’ve witnessed or heard of some things up close and personal that makes one wonder how long this Cold War will go on. Okay, I admit it, I’m a “neo-con” as opposed to a “revisionist” for those of you historians out there who read this blog. But you knew that already if you have consistently read my daily writing rants for the past few years.

The next several days I will try to explain why my husband and I live overseas in a country, such as “Kazakhstan,” that seems difficult to pronounce.  Kazakhstan IS a land of mystery and undeniably creates more questions than answers. But I have a few answers for my dear blog readers as to WHY we are in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. A much earlier film series directed by Frank Capra titled “Why We Fight” was about WWII and might help explain MY blog title above.  Sometimes living in a foreign venue while trying to teach in English feels like we are “fighting” for a just cause.

When I first arrived in the Almaty airport on May 1, 1993, I quickly learned what a challenge it would be to train 32 American Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) to eventually be English teachers scattered throughout the huge country of Kazakhstan. At that time, I could only tell these young, impressionable PCVs to expect teaching to be “different” based solely on my two years teaching in China (1986-88). What did I know about Kazakhstan back in 1993 beyond reading Martha Brill Olcott’s classic titled “The Kazakhs” and various other exotic, travel articles?  Kazakhstan was a vast, unknown land back in those early days after the fall of the Soviet Union, (regrettably it still is unknown by many westerners.)

In 1993, we were the first Peace Corps group to enter Central Asia, an area that had been closed off for over 70 years to anything western except for the Russian and German influence that was still noticeably prevalent in those early days beyond perestroika. Ironically, our Peace Corps training site was the former Communist Party School for all of Kazakhstan.  Also, strangely enough this very same campus became a well-known western university in Almaty with a current student population of over 4,000 graduate and undergraduate students. Little did I know then that I would return to this same campus 15 years later in 2007, with my husband, to teach academic English courses in the Language Center.

After two years of teaching, I am now living and working in Astana, the ten year old capital of Kazakhstan, which had formerly been in Almaty.  Bottom-line, my years spent in Central Asia, I have learned to be flexible. The Kazakhs have necessarily made major changes economically from a planned economy, according to the dictates of Moscow, to that of a market economy ready to compete against the top players in the rest of the world. Kazakhstan has a real chance to succeed with their rich oil and mineral resources and do just that with the inauguration of the New University in Astana.

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K-19–Soviet Widowmaker Sub and Russian “Collage” Painting

Last night Ken and I watched a movie titled “K-19-Widowmaker” starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, released in 2002. K-19 was based on a true story which portrayed the grim realities of the Cold War in a Soviet nuclear submarine in the 1960s.  Impossible decisions were made by these two captains who were in conflict with each other.  Their decisions one way or the other, in the effort to save the crew, could have triggered the end of civilization as we know it. Ford was THEE Comrade Captain and ultimate bad guy while Neeson had been demoted from working with his own crew of 120 men, thus making him second in command under Ford.  In order to make this film, it cost over 100,000 million dollars. National Geographic had sunk their own money into this “documentary” to show support for something that had been kept secret among the members of the real Soviet navy crew once an investigation took place back in Moscow to find out who needed to be punished. Certainly things went awry, who could have anticipated this with such a proud and noble start at the beginning of their mission. Unfortunately, the filmmakers of this incredible movie only retrieved about two thirds of their investment in return from the box office and sales of the DVD.

Why are people not interested in movies related to the Cold War?  Is it because it is a confusing history or because there are too many versions of it from the U.S. side as well as the Soviet side?  In any case, it shows how loyalty, respect of command and allegiance to one’s country even if it means certain death, are values that run very deeply.  Not one American was portrayed in this movie except a U.S. Navy helicopter who came to the rescue of the K-19.  From start to finish the movie featured actors as Soviet navy men speaking English with Russian accents all the way up to the star actors, Ford and Neeson. But I don’t want to spoil this story for you, you will have to see it for yourself to see how closely this movie might align itself to politics in Kazakhstan right now.  I see some parallels from my vantage point of living in the seat of the government, Astana, the new capital of Kazakhstan.

Politics is a terribly murky topic to write about, when Ken and I went to Astana’s Independence Hall, we saw a LARGER than life mural on the third floor.  The artist painted in 19 men congratulating the president of this country who is striding in the center with a medal around his neck.  On the left side is former French president Mitterand, Bush, Blair, the Japanese president (forget his name) and others smiling and clapping.  On the right of the big mural, which is called a “collage” in Russian because it is not an actual event but a historical collection of the main characters is Yeltsin (clapping hands on far right), Putin (is NOT clapping), Lushenko, Bakayiev (deposed president of Kyrgyzstan), Yushenko (former president of Ukraine) and many more leaders from the former republics of the U.S.S.R.  If my readers want to help me out with naming the characters, that would be GREAT help!

[thanks to one of my blog readers, some of the mystery is solved about the other dignitaries in this collage: Junichiro Koizumi (name of the Japanese Prime-Minister); next to Bush is Berluskoni (Italy), Mikheil Saakashvili (Georgia) and Hu Jintao (China);

On the right: Can’t figure out the person behind Yeltsin, but then as you said Putin, behind him is Lukashenko (Belorus), Bakiyev (Kyrgyz Republic), behind him is, to me he looks like Gerhard Shroeder (Germany), Emomoli Rahmonov (Tajikistan), can’t tell for sure, think it’s Ahmet Necdet Sezer (Turkey,)  Lukashenko (Belorus), Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan), Yushenko, Robert Kocharyan (Armenia)]

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Quotes and a Joke from an American Optimistic Realist

I love a quote used by John Piper which I found on his Facebook status. Back in the mid-1980s I first heard about Kazakhstan when he talked about this Central Asian land.  Perhaps he knew about it from his German connection. Back then, nobody really knew this country existed during the Soviet Union’s Cold War period.  Many in the western world still do not know this land of about 16 million people live in a country the size of three Texas states put together. 

So I have to give credit to Dr. Piper for getting me here to Almaty indirectly when I first arrived in the summer of 1993.  Piper wrote,“If we are not hated by someone, we don’t know enough people, or we don’t speak enough truth.”  I KNOW I fall into the latter category, I’ve been speaking the truth as a realist during my time at this Western university in Almaty.  Another quote I like is: A pessimist sees the dark tunnel, an optimist sees the light at the end of the tunnel and a realist sees the train coming down the tracks.”  I also love Winston Churchill and what he stood for, here’s a quote attributed to him about optimism: “I am an optimist and it doesn’t seem hard to be anything else.”

Yes, I am optimistic about Kazakhstan’s future because I have been working with their youth for the past 2 ½ years.  I did not get re-hired by the hiring committee because I fell into the third category of this joke which my husband loves to tell.  Apparently I know too much, especially about Soviet teaching pedagogy. But I’ve been accused of being culturally insensitive. I’m sorry that my words have been misconstrued and twisted by the very people I came to help.  I know I am needed for what I know, but I am not wanted.  Common malady among many of us Westerners, “needed but not wanted.” Read several blogs back.

 The Communist Party (CPSU) membership committee was interviewing candidates.

 The first candidate arrives, sits in front of the commission, and is asked:

“How much is 2 + 2?”

The candidate hesitates and replies, “6”?

“Are you sure?”

“7?”

He is dismissed and discussed.  They vote him in after one of the committee says,

“I like him.  He is flexible.”

The second candidate arrives, sits in front of the commission and is asked:

“How much is 2+2?”

The candidate does not hesitate and immediately replies, “6!”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure, 2 + 2 is 6!”

The second candidate is dismissed and discussed.  The commission votes him in as a new member of the Party, after one of the commission members says,

“I like him, he has the courage of his convictions!”

The the third candidate arrives, sits in front of the commission and is asked:

“How much is 2+2?”

The candidate does not hesitate and immediately replies, “4!”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. What kind of stupid question is that.  2 + 2 is 4!”

The third candidate is dismissed and discussed.  The commission votes NOT to admit him in as a new member of the Party, after one of the commission members says,

“He knows too much!”

Pres. Kennedy is quoted as saying, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.”  Finally, one more quote by John Maxwell: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.”  I’ve tried to do that with my fellow teachers and I’ve tried to be a leader in the classroom full of students, whether they are Kazakh or Kazakhstani (Russian, Korean, Uighur, Tatar, German, or  mix of whatever else).  I have made enemies amongst some who do not want to see reality for what it is.  I still chuckle to myself for coming up with the quote that my Yale law school trained, work mate loved: “The truth will prevail, it may just take a little longer in Kazakhstan.”

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More Work Party Photos and Soviet Pedagogy

My first exposure to Soviet pedagogy was in a somewhat unlikely place when I taught English for two years in Harbin, China from 1986-1988.  As teachers and foreign experts, we all lived in a foreign guest compound far removed from the Chinese masses with about five or six other Soviet experts. Add to the mix a few Japanese guys learning how to be chefs, a woman from Ireland, a British man and some other Americans and we had a mini-United Nations. We all had more in common than not, living in the strange but mysterious land of China.

I forget a few of the Soviet peoples’ names but I DO remember there was Nick from Latvia, Isa from Azerbaijan, Larissa from Minsk, Belarus, a quiet guy (because he didn’t know much English) from Georgia, another physicist who didn’t believe in dreams, maybe one or two others.  Every day for noon lunch, my American teammates and I would sit together in the big dining room as foreign experts and talk about different things related to China, teaching and life outside of China.  That was the first time I realized there was an undercurrent of nationalism going on with each country represented from the U.S.S.R. Each Russian speaker was very proud of his own nation before the U.S.S.R. took over only sharing in Russian and the same educational background. Of course they were all Soviet citizens and even though we were still in the middle of the Cold War, we all got along.  Joking and eating together, going to banquets, dances and fashion shows when our university dictated when and where we were supposed to go.  I have fond memories of our foreign guest quarters with the mix of cultures.

Two events alerted me to the difference in teaching methodology of the Soviets compared to what I was trained in as an American teacher.  First, some friends of mine in the compound wanted to learn ballroom dancing from Nick, the physicist from Latvia. Nick was an excellent dancer and swept us all off our feet.  However, it was reported back to me that he was an absolute tyrant and drill master when the girls took lessons from him.  Sort of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, they would say, “What’s with Nick?”  I put that together with Larissa, the Russian teacher who also got very uppity about the peculiarities of her language.  Not sure if Belarussian was her first language, if that even exists. I’m guessing it does but that never came up.  They were Soviet citizens, their lingua franca was Russian.  In any case, Larrisa would take on this same persona of joyless, drill master when we asked her about some Russian phrases.

This made me realize almost twenty-five years ago that our western system of teaching was vastly different from that of the Soviets.  Teaching in China I was reacquainted with what I already knew from working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines about teacher-centered vs. student-centered. That’s a huge given that the Chinese approach to teaching is teacher-centered but I witnessed the Soviet system was the same, teacher-centered driven. 

What have I learned these past two years since teaching in Kazakhstan about the Soviet pedagogy? The following is what I picked up off of Johnson’s Russia List, a highly subscribed blog.  The following are paraphrased observations made by a Ukrainian, Vladimir Sirotin from the Johnson’s Russia List JRL 2009 – 219. from November 30, 2009.

The founding father of Soviet pedagogy in the Stalin and post-Stalin era was Anton Makarenko (1888-1939) a Ukrainian.  He had tried to eradicate a problem that had started in Ukraine a decade before with forced collectivization that separated families.  Many Ukrainian children lost their parents due to their refusal to comply with the dictates coming from Moscow. As a result, the parents often were either killed or sent off to Siberia.  Thus, children ran in packs like wild dogs without adult supervision and were known for crimes of theft and other misdemeanors in order to survive. Once caught, there was heavy handed discipline in orphanages and schools were a result to tame these wild urchins found in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. 

Before Makarenko’s seven volumes on how to discipline, there existed Domostroi, (means “Domestic Order) an old Russian book, dating back over 500 years, which served as a handbook on how to run a patriarchal household.  It emphasized strict hierarchy and laying down punishments for disobedience, including corporal punishment. 

(To be continued tomorrow)

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