Posts tagged communism

Looking for a particular rock

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My flower bed with begonias

I haven’t written on this blog for a week or so, I have either the Carnegie to work on or weeding the many gardens we have on the farm.  I’m not complaining and am grateful for the health and energy to do both.  When one sees vast improvement, that gives further motivation to keep going. The other day, however, I was working with several areas that we see out of kitchen window while doing dishes.  I asked my husband if he could tell the difference and he didn’t.  Oh well, *I* know that the quack grass that I had pulled several months ago was back covering over the cream colored bricks and it was also covering over the other bricks by the bird bath.  I wanted the big rocks to show that had been handled by my paternal grandpa, taken out of our rich, Red River Valley soil. I also have a couple of rocks from my mom’s side of the family that her dad, my grandpa would have handled and taken out of his field in North Dakota. The only thing is that they had to do yearly rock picking because there were rocks that kept emerging. Contrary to that, you have to go a LONG way on our fertile soil to find any kind of rock.

Speaking of rocks, several weeks ago I was using my power gloves to weed one of our vegetable gardens. My folks had come out to help. My dad does the spin trim around buildings or he goes out in the back woods and mows the tall grass down.  I DO remember when I was trying to yank my one left glove off, it was stuck and not moving.  I yanked some more and finally it gave way.  The funny thing is that I never looked to see why the glove wouldn’t give way. Instead, I kept working with pulling out the weeds or raking the ones I had already pulled or what my mom had pulled. I placed (rather threw down) my gloves on the lawn near the south edge of the garden. Later I picked them up again to do cutting of tall, nasty weeds south of one of our barns.  I was outside long past the time my folks went back into town. During these LONG summer nights, my usual time to come indoors is about 10:10 or 10:15 p.m.  The days are supposedly getting shorter, good thing, because that decreases my time to be out working!

I went to bed after a shower to get all the weed dust and dirt off of me.  At 3:15 a.m is when I reached down to my left hand to find that I was missing my diamond that Ken had given to me 23 years ago.  I went to the bathroom to see that only the four prongs were showing and at that moment realized that what my glove had been stuck on were one of the prongs. Thus, my diamond was somewhere in the vegetable garden perhaps covered up by snow peas, tomatoes, yellow beans or worse yet, in the grass nearby. At about 5:30 a.m. I went out with a flashlight to fruitlessly look around for any glint of diamond. I went back inside to write my first newspaper article that I had been struggling to write.  I had a kind of passion or empathy for the person I was trying to highlight due to my own loss.

When I had gotten back into bed I told my husband that I was missing my diamond. Maybe he was not fully awake but he said something to the effect that it was just a diamond and that it would get replaced.  I had that same feeling too…just a diamond that had been worth a LOT back when my husband had money to buy it.  Since I had been trying to write an article about an artist from Czechoslovakia who had been imprisoned for his rallying against communism, I compared my loss to his. For 3 1/2 years total he had been tortured, lost his dental practice, his health and almost his family of wife and two sons.  He got out soon after Prague Spring and ended up in New York jobless and then my hometown.  For almost as many years as he had been in prison, he lived in freedom and painted and painted for a livelihood.  So to compare my losing a diamond to the life he had gone through, that was my thought too, it was just a diamond.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t go out to weed and water my vegetable garden and look for that particular rock.  There are many rocks and broken pieces of glass in this particular place.  It could be that it was not even IN the glove at the time I struggled getting it off and that the prongs were there to resist.  No one had ever told me to get those prongs snug to the diamond but now I know to do that with the new diamond that my husband helped me pick out. I should be getting it any time in the next week or so.  It will have six prongs and I will wear it with pride.  I know I have a husband who loves me and my Mom and Dad do too.  They helped to pay for some of this particular rock.

Yes, lesson learned, I will have to take off this precious jewel whenever I am gardening because that is a lot of abuse it takes as I tug at the weeds that resolutely want to stay in my garden where they are NOT wanted.

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Flatlands of rich soil that my dad mows down

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“Journey for Freedom” from Czechoslovakia

I have been interested in what happened in the small country of Czechoslovakia, especially around the late 1960s.  According to my husband who knows such things, there was what was called the “Prague Spring,” This happened when Novotny, who was a Stalinist type ruler of communism, was replaced by Dubcek.  This next leader wanted to present to the Czech people “communism with a human face.” That happened in spring of 1968 where people, who had been living as a satellite nation under communism since 1948, were given fresh hope. However, by August 20, 1968, that is when the USSR invaded Prague and replaced Dubcek with another leader.  Many horrifying things happened during this time period to those living in Prague and elsewhere in the country of Czechoslovakia. I have had students, while teaching in Kyiv, Ukraine, write about what their grandparents and parents survived during that tumultuous time in 1968.

Talking to someone about the artist Antonin Boubin, who lived in my hometown from 1970-1974, they told me about a motivational speaker named Peter Vodenka who wrote a book titled “Journey for Freedom.” He planned with his wife for ten years to leave his homeland of Czechoslovakia to experience freedom in the U.S.  He did NOT even tell his parents or other close family members what they were planning to do. Then he left by way of another country with his wife and two young children. His escape was figured out and subsequently followed by police gunfire before he reached the safe zone inside a free border. I need to get this book. Though it is self published, by all reviews, it promises to be a riveting read. Peter first ended up in Beach, North Dakota working a menial job because he did not know English. However, he has progressed to being a motivational speaker and doing many other things while enjoying his American freedoms. I wonder if he ever met up with the Boubin family members?

While looking up ANY information I could about Antonin Boubin, I found this written by his granddaughter, daughter to his son Olda. She wrote the following about the persecution her family in Czechlozovakia had suffered from 1948-1969.  “Because of increased fear of the death of his family, my grandfather and his family eventually fled from their country. Grandfather and his oldest son (Tony) first travelled to Vienna. Then, using fake passports, my father and grandmother escaped on the last train to leave Czechoslovakia before the communists closed the borders to travel. My dad’s (Olda) last memory of his country of origin was incredible fear that they would be discovered. While on the train, a young boy spat at a Russian soldier. The train stopped and both the boy and his father were shot and killed.  Eventually in 1969, my dad and his family were sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Crookston, Minnesota where my grandfather Anton lived for a couple of years before his death in 1974. Unable to practice his dental profession, he made a meager living providing for his family by painting beautiful paintings from his memories of beautiful Czechoslovakia.”

Antonin Boubin, in order to make a living for his family, during the 3-4 years of his freedom in the U.S. did many paintings which are prized by their owners.  I have made a copy of one of his paintings, I hope to see many more in August when owners will get together to compare notes about what they knew of this great man.

colored poppies for paper

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Fenced in Wild Pigs in the U.S.

The following story is tragic if it becomes true.  I’m watching things become dismantled as fences are being put up…read on.

There was a chemistry professor in a large college that had some exchange students in the class. One day while the class was in the lab, the professor noticed one young man, an exchange student, who kept rubbing his back and stretching as if his back hurt.

The professor asked the young man what was the matter. The student told him he had a bullet lodged in his back. He had been shot while fighting communists in his native country who were trying to overthrow his country’s government and install a new communist regime.

In the midst of his story, he looked at the professor and asked a strange question.

He asked: “Do you know how to catch wild pigs?”

The professor thought it was a joke and asked for the punch line.

The young man said that it was no joke. “You catch wild pigs by finding a suitable place in the woods and putting corn on the ground. The pigs find it and begin to come every day to eat the free corn.

“When they are used to coming every day, you put a fence down one side of the place where they are used to coming. When they get used to the fence, they begin to eat the corn again and you put up another side of the fence. “They get used to that and start to eat again. You continue until you have all four sides of the fence up with a gate in the last side. “The pigs, which are used to the free corn, start to come through the gate to eat that free corn again. You then slam the gate on them and catch the whole herd. Suddenly the wild pigs have lost their freedom. They run around and around inside the fence, but they are caught. Soon they go back to eating the free corn. They are so used to it that they have forgotten how to forage in the woods for themselves, so they accept their captivity.”

The young man then told the professor that is exactly what he sees happening in America.

The government keeps pushing us toward Communism/Socialism and keeps spreading the free corn out in the form of programs such as supplemental income, tax credit for unearned income, tax exemptions, tobacco subsidies, dairy subsidies, payments not to plant crops (CRP), welfare, medicine, drugs, etc., while we continually lose our freedoms, just a little at a time.

One should always remember two truths:

There is no such thing as a free lunch, and you can never hire someone to provide a service for you cheaper than you can do it yourself.

If you see that all of this wonderful government “help” is a problem confronting the future of democracy in America, you might want to send this on to your friends.

If you think the free ride is essential to your way of life, then you will probably ignore this warning.

But, God help us all when the gate slams shut!

Quote for today: “The problems we face today are there because the people who work for a living are now outnumbered by those who vote for a living.” — Anonymous

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Sholpan’s 50 year old Soviet Postcards

woman on black lacquerThis past weekend I scanned at least 35 old Soviet postcards that are about 50 years old, some are older, both the picture side and writing on the back. Sholpan, my officemate and Russian teacher, trusted me with these relics from the past. This one is a painting of a woman you would find painted on a black lacquer, Palik box. What I find amazing is that few of these artists put their names next to their renderings. Usually artists from the West will put their last names on the canvas either on the bottom right or left of the painting. “All for one and one for all” was the mentality back in the Soviet days. No one was supposed to get credit for a job well done, you were just to do your job for the good of the communist cause without taking credit. Those artists with God-given skills were not to be recognized for their gifts but to just keep quietly painting. Of course, some of these paintings were replicas of other noted masters, copycats. The names of the artists I can decipher on the back of the postcards are Sergiva Hodoshnik, Demler, Lebediv and two Polish artists Monica Sheronski and Nehring. I wish I knew the history of some of these talented individuals and what it was like to paint during the Soviet Union times. Was there an Artists Union like there was a Writers Union? During the era of communism you probably had to be politically correct in what you drew or painted or else you were banished to oblivion (i.e. Siberia). Hmm…not much has changed for those who work hard and have talent and skills that are envied by others. The following is from a fairy tale called the “Golden Antelope” based out of India, I think. The other is a cute cartoon showing courting dragonflies.deer flightdragonflies

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Pope John Paul II’s legacy

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Don’t know what this building used to function as but it is in my neighborhood in Almaty. Perhaps an old church, maybe some prominent families cemetery plot? In any case, people continue living even after the mighty have fallen. We all need heroes and I just finished watching a superb movie titled Pope John Paul II, he was a hero to millions and died only four years ago. He was born in Poland in 1920 and saw much in his years on earth. The following is from the imdb.com (Internet Movie Database) website which gives a summary of this man’s life played by both Cary Elwes and then Jon Voight. Excellent acting, highly recommend this movie if you want to find out how Pope John Paul II helped fell communism.

Following the premature death of his mother, Karol Wojtyla is brought up by his father in the Polish city of Krakow during the first half of the 20th century. An outstanding student with a magnetic personality, he dreams of becoming an actor. When his homeland is invaded by the Nazis in 1939, he and his friends secretly oppose the systematic persecution of their Polish culture. But, with the death of his father and the lacerating solitude which accompanies this loss, Karol’s personal “resistance” takes on a new form and he decides to follow a priestly vocation. At the end of the war, Poland falls into the grip of Soviet totalitarianism. The newly ordained Karol is constantly surrounded by young people whom he teaches to safeguard and defend human dignity. He could be considered a serious threat to the regime, but the Communist authorities merely see him as an innocuous intellectual and even encourage his nomination for the position of bishop. Karol Wojtila is the youngest bishop in the history of Poland. When he is appointed Cardinal, Karol is more intransigent in the spiritual guidance of his homeland, becoming a real and proper thorn in the side of the Communist government. And the whole Catholic world begins to wonder who he is. On the death of Pope John Paul I in 1978, the cardinals of the Conclave decide that Woytjla is the right man to lead replace him. Thus Karol leaves his beloved Poland to become Pope John Paul II. His free, unconventional attitude alarms several prelates, but immediately wins the hearts of the people. In a age paralyzed by fear and ideology, the new Pope shows everybody again the overwhelming fascination of Christianity: this is the beginning of a deep change, which will affect the whole world and the Church itself, as a sort of “contagion”. He miraculously survives an attempt on his life in 1981, and not even this event curbs his mission. Thanks to his unshakable tenacity , Pope John Paul II helps to change the course of history: the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 decrees the collapse of Communism. But the Pope does not stop being the voice of Christ, even among the injustices of the capitalistic Western world, even among the provocations and challenges of modern times . The Great Jubilee of 2000 is the most moving evidence of his mission: 3 million young people in love with the Pope gather in Rome, bringing with them the whole world’s hopes. This world has learned to look to him, now old and shaky, as a ray of light in the heart of darkness.

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“Diary of a Soviet Schoolgirl” (Part IV)

Diary of a Soviet Schoolgirl, 1932-1937 by Nina Lugovskaya

 p. 130 Dec. 2, 1934 – Around eleven they announced that comrade Kirov, a member of the Politburo, had been killed in Leningrad . “O-oh, my God!” Evgeny exclaimed.  His voice was full of tears.  I felt a little ashamed that nothing inside me shuddered at this report.  On the contrary, I felt glad; that means there’s still a struggle going on, there are still organizations and real people.  Not everything is gobbling the slops of socialism.

p. 132 Dec. 11, 1934How could I refute their mindless, mechanical arguments: “If you’re not for the Bolsheviks, you’re against Soviet rule”; “this is all temporary, things will get better”? Were those five million deaths [of the famine as a result of collectivization] in the Ukraine temporary? What about the 69 people who were shot? [referring to those arrested and executed without a trial right after Kirov’s murder] Sixty-nine!! What government under what rule could pass such a sentence with such cold cruelty?  What nation would agree to all these outrages with such slavish meekness and obedience?  How I cursed my stupidity and inability to express myself.  How could I, with such strong weapons as the facts and the truth, not prove to my sisters the lie of the Bolshevik system? I must be extraordinarily inept.

p. 141 Dec. 30, 1934 – Many days have gone by since Nikolaev, a member of an underground terrorist group, murdered Kirov at the Smolny [Kirov’s murder was in fact organized by Stalin who saw in Kirov his main rival.  The murder also gave Stalin a pretext for unleashing his campaign against “enemies of the people.”]

Many lead articles in the papers have screamed about it, and many parrots and Soviet self-seekers, shaking their fists, have screamed over the heads of the workers: “Get the viper!” “Execute the traitor whose cowardly shot snatched from our ranks” and so on. And many so-called Soviet citizens, who have lost all sense of human dignity, have behaved like beasts and raised their hands in favor of execution.

Today they shot another fourteen “conspirators” and all for one Bolshevik life.  It made me think of the nineteenth century reign of Alexander II and his assassination of the People’s Will.  What a furor people raised over the execution of the six assassins.  Why is noone incensed now? Why is this now considered perfectly natural and normal?  Why is it that now no one will tell you straight out that the Bolsheviks are scoundrels? And what right do these Bolsheviks have to deal with the country and its people so cruelly and arbitrarily, to so brazenly proclaim outrageous laws in the name of the people, to lie and hide behind big words that have lost their meaning: “Socialism” and “communism.”

…what do they think abroad?  Can they really be saying there, too, “That how it should be?” Oh, no!  My God, when will this all change?  When will we be able to truly say that all power belongs to the people, that we have complete equality and freedom?  What we have not is not socialism, it’s the Inquisition!

P. 173 May 19, 1935 – Yesterday the huge eight-motor aeroplane Maksim Gorky – not only the pride and glory of the USSR , but the biggest plane in the world – crashed.  (As for its being the biggest, I don’t know anything for certain, and you can’t trust our newspapers.)  The Maksim Gorky took off accompanied by two biplanes, one of which was flying too close when it began looping loops.  The biplane hit the wing of the Maksim Gorky and damage it: the 65 meter behemoth came tumbling down, somersaulting, slashing the bright expanse and losing parts.  Of the beautifully built giant, there remained a gray and red metal heap and 47 mutilated bodies, which a minute before had been living, thinking, feeling people flying high over Moscow

It [Maksim Gorky] wasn’t built for a purpose, for transportation or for the military, but so that the Soviet Union could occupy one of the top places in the world, so that we could say, “Look what engineers we have! Look what giants we create!” We do so many senseless things for show: we do so much boasting. And because of that boasting, we suffer.”

 p. 194 Nov. 28, 1935 – Mama and I went to Butyrka [prison to which Nina’s father had been transferred from internal exile after his latest arrest]

 p. 199 Jan. 11, 1936 – I’ve been reading about Tolstoy and have again fallen under his influence.  I’ve always had a passion for self-improvement, and now I have the clarity of self-criticism, merciless self-revelation and frankness.  I find more and more in common with Tolstoy: his unfortunate looks, his early tendency to self-analysis; his pride and even his vanity; his endless searching for something and his restiveness.

p. 202 March 16, 1936 – I went to see Papa not long ago.  He has grown a beard and looks like a priest.  He’ll be leaving soon for Alma Ata [Nina’s father had been sentenced to three years of exile in Kazakhstan ].  I love him now. 

p. 209 Nov. 6, 1936 – It’s my opinion that a diary is an unnecessary and superfluous thing; it is of no use whatsoever and therefore a detriment.  A diary can’t develop one’s style and it’s no good to posterity.  So then what is it for?  Still, I do like to write about what’s inside me, to tell someone about it.

p. 211 Nov. 20, 1936 – Papa once said: “Don’t get into that ‘top-marks mire’” [to excel in a Soviet school one had to be not only bright but politically orthodox and active as well.  As a result, the students who got the best marks tended to be opportunists or people without convictions]

p. 211 Nov. 26, 1936 – We have a bad attitude towards the teachers; it’s something repressed and malicious.  We don’t have the new, good attitude—what they now call the “Soviet” attitude.  We all want to annoy them, to play dirty tricks and then refuse to say who did it rather than betray a friend (that is what earns our respect)

 

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“Turn-of-phrases” – Part II

Here is a continuation of Colin Thubron’s book “The Lost Heart of Asia.”  He certainly knows how to turn a phrase.

 

“Slowly, as we laboured east, the land heaved itself out of its sleep, tossing shallow ridges at the horizon.  Sun and wind had stripped all life from it.  We went through old Silk Road towns, leveled by Mongol invasion.  They had revived into a polluted industrial life: the bungaloid cotton centre of Chimkent, the grimy chemical plants of Dzhamboul.  Then evening came down with its gentleness over enormous wheat-fields, more like feats of nature than of men, and the westernmost ranges of the Tienshan reared from the skyline in cloudy snows and downland green with woods.” (p. 320)

 

“Yet from my balcony in Almaty there was no sign that I was in a city at all. I looked across parklands where the spires of a cathedral hoisted gold crosses against the mountains.  Its people numbered over a million – more than half of them Russian – but its grid of streets, mounting southward to the Tienshan foothills, ran half-empty through hosts of oaks and poplars.  Sometimes, so dense were these trees, I imagined I was walking along tarmac tracks through a forest.  Behind them the chunky Russian offices and flat-blocks spread anonymous for mile after mile.  The air blew up sharp and pure from the mountains.  It was like a suburb to a heart that was missing.

 

It was the Russians, of course, who had raised and nourished it.  All its institutes and monuments were theirs, from the fountained boulevard of Gorky Street (now renamed Silk Road Street) to the soulless hotels and war memorials.  But now the city belonged to nobody.  Communism, Marx and Lenin streets might be renamed after spectral khans who had ruled the steppes a century or two ago, and ministry facades be veneered with pseudo-Turkic motifs; but the Kazakh culture had no true urban expression.  Less than three generations ago virtually the whole nation was split into a haze of migratory villages.  Its early rulers were lost, most of them, even to saga; and its modern heroes had been selected by Soviet propaganda – secular poets and thinkers, whose statues adorned the boulevards unloved.  For decades the Kazakhs had been a minority in their own country.  And now this alien city had floated into their hands.  They were curiously unencumbered, even by Islam: a tabula rasa for the future to write upon. (p. 232)

 

“The Kazakhs seemed doomed to mimic their conquerors.  For days you might hunt here in vain for native artifacts.  Even the city’s origins were Russian, founded in 1853 as the wood-built garrison-town of Verny.  Squashed among stucco and concrete, a few timber survivors, carved with gables and filigreed eaves, evoked a homely, unceremonious place, like a frontier village. Even the gingerbread cathedral, tossing up spires and domes scaled like fantastical fish, inhabited its parkland with a florid innocence, as if a child were celebrating God…” (p. 327)

 

“Bards were the keepers of Kazakh culture.  They sang heroic sagas yet gave voice to common feelings.  Their music pervaded all events – the leaving and return to war or pasture – and conveyed an ancient morality.  But their mantle had fallen on nobody.  Music and literature paled under Soviet censorship, and I wondered – now that independence had dawned – what had become of the Kazakh drama, once the purveyor of Socialist Realism?” (p. 328)

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“Iron Rice Bowl” Policy and “Naglyi” Kazakh Students

I’m making a bold confession about myself before I post what the title implies. I used to be into temperament types and figuring out what other peoples’ and my students’ profiles were.  This website finds out, based on what you post on your blogs, what kind of personality you are.  Supposedly I am now a “Thinker.”  An INTP which is the opposite of what I have typically been labeled as according to Myers-Briggs or Kiersey Temperament Sorter. I have always thought of myself as an “I” or introvert but why I didn’t come out as my usual ISTJ, I don’t know. Check this out, see if you think this fits my blog personality, those of you who know who I really am:

 

The logical and analytical type. They are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

 

The reason I wrote the above is because I suppose I am perceived by some of my teaching colleagues in Kazakhstan as insensitive or prideful. I apologize to those who think that way, my blog personality is different from who I really am.  I surely hope to be a servant leader who is humble.  However, I will confess that I am impatient with some of my colleagues especially when it comes to not using their computers. (some do NOT know how to scroll up or down!!!)  All of us are blessed with fancy computers on our desks but some computers remain unused as if a fancy, big paperweight.  

 

This is the reason I think the Chinese communist concept of the “Iron Rice Bowl” comes into play here at our institution of “higher learning.”  It would seem that amongst all the Kazakhstani teachers who have been here for awhile, they do not feel the urgent need to learn how to use these computers, others are fearful of them.  Strangely or sadly enough, these same teachers are guaranteed their jobs semester after semester without any notion of being awarded or demoted based on what they have done to professionally improve themselves.  

 

When I taught in China, I learned about the Iron Rice Bowl concept where in factories or other places of remedial work, people didn’t have do their job.  Communism seems to breed this strange notion that if the workers were lazy, they would still be paid the same amount as the next person who did all the work.  What is so galling is that these same individuals in our university, not just my department, are habitual complainers but they don’t leave for other jobs elsewhere.  They have never been paid so well or enjoyed so many other perks at our “westernized” university.

 

Then you have our Naglyi students, a Russian term which means “impudent or brazen”.  These are the choice few who have been abroad and are aware that the Kazakhstani system of education lags far behind.  Their English skills may be better than their Kazakh teachers.  Also, they have computer skills because they are of the generation of “Digital Natives.”  These students have come to our “westernized” institution to learn more about the global economy and the world beyond.  These naglyi students are challenging their “Digital Immigrant” teachers where normally as typical Asian students, they would be respectful of their teachers.  

 

Our institution may reach an impasse soon, the Kazakh students and their parents will insist on better qualified teachers, those who have taken the computer courses and feel comfortable with using modern technology.  Those older, Kazakh teachers who are used to the “Iron Rice Bowl” policy will either have to retire or seek employment elsewhere if they refuse to keep up with the changing times. OR another scenario would be that our institutional standards that are supposedly based on western ones, will be so lowered with plagiarism and cheating, it will be no different from what is happening in the other institutions of higher learning in Kazakhstan.

 

Meanwhile, western professors who come as guests to Kazakhstan to teach in whatever their major discipline or speciality is, do not bother with tenure because there is always the “work permit” threat hanging over them. No work permit, no visa!  Just as in China, we as foreign teachers in the late 1980s were disposed of quickly, the old “chew you up and spit you out” phenomenon. We, as foreigners, are here to make ourselves redundant.  If we do our job well enough, we will be dispensed with before we want to go.  Some of us westerners are certainly not here for the money, as least I am not.  However, seeing that the Iron Rice Bowl works for those who live here continues to be a burr under the saddle.  There just is no way to monetarily compensate for the sacrifices we make as foreigners when we are away from family gatherings and our own traditional holidays back home.

 

My husband and I celebrated last Thursday’s American Thanksgiving festival, just the two of us at the Princess Chinese restaurant.  We ate out of ceramic rice bowls with a can of cranberry sauce sitting on the table to remind us that we were without our family members on this important holiday.  What will it be like when I am away from my family of sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces for Christmas? I hate to think of it.  I am thankful to be here in Kazakhstan for the students, naglyi or no.

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Danna’s Grandparents and Soviet Living Conditions

 Speaking about early times I’d like to say that my parents and grandparents always tell me their stories about that time. They teach us to be confident, support each other in any situation and always give us their useful advices. My parents always compare nowadays and Soviet living conditions, they try to show us life conditions which they live in and evaluate it. I had heard that the Soviet Union was dissolved in December 1991. My parents told me especially about that period a lot. They said that there was a lot of hardship at that time. Instead of helping each other, people thought only about their own fate. It was very hard not only for my parents, but also for all people.  Also, I know about communism through what I heard from my parents and grandparents. In the Brezhnev era life was easier because it was a calm time. But if you consider the period before Brezhnev, for example the Stalin and Lenin eras, it was harder for people due to mass repression.

In Soviet Union getting higher education was easier but living conditions were harder than now. I think when my parents were in my age, they had more privileges than I do. Living now is a struggle, you have to work hard to succeed. In their school years, my parents had no problem entering a university and gaining a profession with the base knowledge they acquired in school. But now, you must study hard at school and have private classes to get prepared for entrance exams to university.

They’ve told me that the situation in 1991 was very difficult. In order to buy food, they needed to stand in very long lines. At that time people had money, but there was nothing to buy. And now it’s the other way around. You can buy almost everything but you don’t have the money to do it. Everyday life has perhaps become better when we compare it to the perestroika years. At that time it was so difficult to get food and clothes for babies; you could only get them with coupons. But morally, it was better at the beginning.

It was the months the Soviet Union collapsed, the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.) was formed, and life as many people knew it was changed forever. I’d like to say that I’m proud of my parents and grandparents, so I want to make their lives much better than now.  

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One Day at a Time – Dr. Boris Kornfeld

Day 22 of 36 – May 25, 1976

“We had a three hour trip on the train to Vladimir from Moscow before that in the morning we had gone to a small village of Zagorsk to tour a monastery.  Father Paul gave us an exclusive tour of the museum of icons that they had collected from a ways back.  They had a few pieces of western art such as a piece by a student of Caravaggio and also a Rembrandt.  We had an opportunity to ask him questions and I wondered still what really ticked in his head.  Was he really called to this monastic life because of a deep conviction to serve God even though it’s frowned upon or was he politically involved in the state’s structure?  He seemed by his talk to have a love and belief in God but yet I wondered how much he really was influenced by the state.  It could only be an experience that they would only experience and never adequately tell what its like.  He felt that many younger people were getting involved and that there is a general upsurge toward getting back to the church.  All that can be seen here in Russia is baby buggies, miniskirts and hairy legs.”

Compare Father Paul who I described in my travel diary from 32 years ago with what I came across today about a Dr. Boris Kornfeld from the following link.

Boris Nicholayevich Kornfeld was a surgeon who worked in a hospital in a prison in the former Soviet Union. He was not on the staff of the prison; he was one of the prisoners, but his skill was so great that the Soviet authorities decided to put him to work in the prison hospital. We do not know what crime Dr. Kornfeld committed, but he became a political prisoner in the Russian gulag at Ekibastuz deep in Siberia in the early 1950s.

While in the gulag, Dr. Kornfeld met a Christian whose quiet faith and frequent reciting of the Lord’s Prayer attracted the doctor’s attention and interest. One day, while repairing a guard’s artery which had been cut in a knifing incident, Dr. Kornfeld seriously considered suturing the artery in such a way that the guard would slowly bleed to death a little while later. Then, appalled by the hatred and violence he saw in his own heart, he found himself repeating the words of the Christian prisoner, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Previously, Dr. Kornfeld had been a self-righteous Jew, like Saul, but gradually he came to see the sin in his own life, and his life was transformed by the grace of God. The Christian inmate who had witnessed to Dr. Kornfeld was transferred to another gulag shortly thereafter, and Dr. Kornfeld didn’t tell anyone about his new found faith for some time, but his life would never be the same. 

Shortly after he prayed that prayer asking God for His forgiveness, Dr. Kornfeld began to refuse to go along with some of the standard practices of the prison camp, and one day he even turned in an orderly who had stolen food from a dying patient. From that day on, he knew that his life was in danger.

One day, as the doctor was examining a patient who had been operated on for cancer of the intestines, Kornfeld began to describe to the patient what had happened to him. Once the tale began to spill out, Kornfeld could not stop. Well into the night, he told his whole story of coming to faith in Jesus Christ and the difference God made in his life. The young patient awoke early the next morning to the sound of running feet. For, you see, during the night, while the Dr. Kornfeld had slept, someone had crept up beside him and dealt eight blows to his head with a plasterer’s mallet, and Boris Kornfeld was dead. The orderlies carried the still, broken body of the doctor out of the hospital ward.

Dr. Kornfeld’s testimony did not die. The patient pondered the doctor’s last, impassioned words, and as a result, he, too, became a Christian. He survived that concentration camp, and he went on to tell the world what he learned there. The patient’s name was Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Solzhenitsyn went on to write many books that were smuggled out of the gulag and printed in the West, the first being published in 1973. Many scholars believe his writings were some of the first stirrings that marked the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union. Horror upon horror was revealed to a world that was shocked by the inhumanity of the Soviet system, which had murdered sixty-five million of its own people in the gulags. The great Russian author was quick to acknowledge that the problem lay not only in Communism. The problem lay in every human heart. Solzhenitsyn once wrote, “It was only there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between parties either – but right through every human heart – through all human hearts.”

The following is how Alexander Solzhenitsyn actually recorded this same incident in his The Gulag Archipelago (1973) book:

Following an operation, I am lying in the surgical ward of a camp hospital. I cannot move. I am hot and feverish, but nonetheless my thoughts do not dissolve into delirium, and I am grateful to Dr. Boris Nikolayevich Kornfeld, who is sitting beside my cot and talking to me all evening. The light has been turned out, so it will not hurt my eyes. There is no one else in the ward.

Fervently he tells me the long story of his conversion from Judaism to Christianity. I am astonished at the conviction of the new convert, at the ardor of his words.

We know each other very slightly, and he was not the one responsible for my treatment, but there was simply no one here with whom he could share his feelings. He was a gentle and well-mannered person. I could see nothing bad in him, nor did I know anything bad about him. However, I was on guard because Kornfeld had now been living for two months inside the hospital barracks, without going outside. He had shut himself up in here, at his place of work, and avoided moving around camp at all.

This meant that he was afraid of having his throat cut. In our camp it had recently become fashionable to cut the throats of stool pigeons. This has an effect. But who could guarantee that only stoolies were getting their throats cut? One prisoner had had his throat cut in a clear case of settling a sordid grudge. Therefore the self-imprisonment of Kornfeld in the hospital did not necessarily prove that he was a stool pigeon.

It is already late. The whole hospital is asleep. Kornfeld is finishing his story:

“And on the whole, do you know, I have become convinced that there is no punishment that comes to us in this life on earth which is undeserved. Superficially it can have nothing to do with what we are guilty of in actual fact, but if you go over your life with a fine-tooth comb and ponder it deeply, you will always be able to hunt down that transgression of yours for which you have now received this blow.”

I cannot see his face. Through the window come only the scattered reflections of the lights of the perimeter outside. The door from the corridor gleams in a yellow electrical glow. But there is such mystical knowledge in his voice that I shudder.

Those were the last words of Boris Kornfeld. Noiselessly he went into one of the nearby wards and there lay down to sleep. Everyone slept. There was no one with whom he could speak. I went off to sleep myself.

I was wakened in the morning by running about and tramping in the corridor; the orderlies were carrying Kornfeld’s body to the operating room. He had been dealt eight blows on the skull with a plasterer’s mallet while he slept. He died on the operating table, without regaining consciousness.

 

 

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