Posts tagged Kremlin

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:

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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Poems by Anna Ahmatova (Part I)

I found this Requiem translated from Anna Ahmatova’s writing and thought it appropriate to show the first part today. Tomorrow I will post the remainder.  Tough stuff, probably no different than what a trafficked victim experiences and feels like.

                        Not under foreign skies

                        Nor under foreign wings protected  –

                        I shared all this with my own people

                        There, where misfortune had abandoned us.



During the frightening years of the Yezhov terror, I

spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in

Leningrad. One day, somehow, someone ‘picked me out’.

On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,

her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in

her life heard my name. Jolted out of the torpor

characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear

(everyone whispered there) – ‘Could one ever describe

this?’ And I answered – ‘I can.’ It was then that

something like a smile slid across what had previously

been just a face.

[The 1st of April in the year 1957. Leningrad]


Mountains fall before this grief,

A mighty river stops its flow,

But prison doors stay firmly bolted

Shutting off the convict burrows

And an anguish close to death.

Fresh winds softly blow for someone,

Gentle sunsets warm them through; we don’t know this,

We are everywhere the same, listening

To the scrape and turn of hateful keys

And the heavy tread of marching soldiers.

Waking early, as if for early mass,

Walking through the capital run wild, gone to seed,

We’d meet – the dead, lifeless; the sun,

Lower every day; the Neva, mistier:

But hope still sings forever in the distance.

The verdict. Immediately a flood of tears,

Followed by a total isolation,

As if a beating heart is painfully ripped out, or,

Thumped, she lies there brutally laid out,

But she still manages to walk, hesitantly, alone.

Where are you, my unwilling friends,

Captives of my two satanic years?

What miracle do you see in a Siberian blizzard?

What shimmering mirage around the circle of the moon?

I send each one of you my salutation, and farewell.

[March 1940]



It happened like this when only the dead

Were smiling, glad of their release,

That Leningrad hung around its prisons

Like a worthless emblem, flapping its piece.

Shrill and sharp, the steam-whistles sang

Short songs of farewell

To the ranks of convicted, demented by suffering,

As they, in regiments, walked along –

Stars of death stood over us

As innocent Russia squirmed

Under the blood-spattered boots and tyres

Of the black marias.


You were taken away at dawn. I followed you

As one does when a corpse is being removed.

Children were crying in the darkened house.

A candle flared, illuminating the Mother of God. . .

The cold of an icon was on your lips, a death-cold sweat

On your brow – I will never forget this; I will gather


To wail with the wives of the murdered streltsy

Inconsolably, beneath the Kremlin towers.

[1935. Autumn. Moscow]


Silent flows the river Don

A yellow moon looks quietly on

Swanking about, with cap askew

It sees through the window a shadow of you

Gravely ill, all alone

The moon sees a woman lying at home

Her son is in jail, her husband is dead

Say a prayer for her instead.


It isn’t me, someone else is suffering. I couldn’t.

Not like this. Everything that has happened,

Cover it with a black cloth,

Then let the torches be removed. . .



Giggling, poking fun, everyone’s darling,

The carefree sinner of Tsarskoye Selo

If only you could have foreseen

What life would do with you –

That you would stand, parcel in hand,

Beneath the Crosses, three hundredth in line,

Burning the new year’s ice

With your hot tears.

Back and forth the prison poplar sways

With not a sound – how many innocent

Blameless lives are being taken away. . .



For seventeen months I have been screaming,

Calling you home.

I’ve thrown myself at the feet of butchers

For you, my son and my horror.

Everything has become muddled forever –

I can no longer distinguish

Who is an animal, who a person, and how long

The wait can be for an execution.

There are now only dusty flowers,

The chinking of the thurible,

Tracks from somewhere into nowhere

And, staring me in the face

And threatening me with swift annihilation,

An enormous star.



Weeks fly lightly by. Even so,

I cannot understand what has arisen,

How, my son, into your prison

White nights stare so brilliantly.

Now once more they burn,

Eyes that focus like a hawk,

And, upon your cross, the talk

Is again of death.

[1939. Spring]

(to be continued)

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“The Big Red Schoolhouse” (Part IV)

The last of a four part series that I have enjoyed showing my reading audience simply because all the writing was already done for me by Irving R. Levine who died at age 86 last year.  He was well known as an NBC news reporter but much earlier in his career he had been in Russia back in the 1950s.  He was suspected of being a spy yet he did his job well as a journalist, not an agent. I appreciate his words documented in the book “Main Street USSR” because it applies to my setting in Astana, Kazakhstan.  See what you think of this last installment, I welcome comments by those of you who are teaching or have taught in Central Asia before in whatever capacity.

“Specialized training at an institute is one of the few roads to success in Russia. There are few other steps by which a young man or woman can climb the economic and prestige ladder. Unlike capitalistic countries, a young man with natural acumen does not have an opportunity to start a business on a shoestring and build it by effort and talent to a large chain of stores. A boy just out of secondary school cannot count on being taken into his father’s successful enterprise because father in Russia owns no enterprise. Membership in the Communist Party, itself the main portal to success in Russia, is open largely to those who have some special talent or skill to offer the state. Thus the number of applicants each year for the Soviet version of college far exceeds the space available, and competition is keen.

There are other reasons, too, for the crash of applicants. Family financial standing plays no role in the decision to continue education. It is not a question of being able to afford it. Tuition now is free. Also, the fact that good marks and scholarship are encouraged from childhood contributes to stimulating interest in higher education among youngsters. The smart boy or girl is seldom the butt of teasing as a teacher’s pet. There is no aversion to “eggheads’* at any age in Russia. Unlike American schools, where the star athlete is likely to be campus hero, students in Soviet institutes have less diversion of this sort. There are teams, but no program of intensely competitive contests among schools with cheerleaders and pre-game bonfires. School, whether grade school, high school, or college, is intended for study, and the emphasis is on high marks in the classroom rather than on a high score on the football field. Even so, occasionally there is newspaper criticism of over-emphasis of sports in some schools.

There is, nonetheless, a perennial problem of rearing Soviet youngsters in the mold of discipline and devotion to Communist aspirations sought by Kremlin authorities. There are frequent cases of student  misconduct, teen-age indolence, and outright hooliganism. Out-of-school influences are usually blamed by the authorities. For example, it is in the home that youngsters are taught religion; this influence is so great that in some villages, despite classroom instruction in atheism, the entire student body stays away from school on minor religious holidays. The decision was made to keep youngsters in school more, under proper Communist influence, and away from the home, the church, and the street. Boarding schools were introduced in 1956, and the plan, as sufficient school space becomes available, is eventually to make boarding schools universal where youngsters will sleep, returning home only on Sundays.

The beginning was modest; 285 boarding schools were opened in 1956, and the number is growing slowly. At first, in order to evoke as little parental resentment as possible, pupils were taken from orphanages, from broken homes, and from poor parents with large families.

The preference given to former workers and soldiers is in itself intended to encourage a serious attitude in student bodies. Infringements of student discipline during the early days of de-Stalinization gave fresh impetus to the program of encouraging would-be students to go to work first. So did the leading roles played by students in the October events in Hungary and Poland in 1956. It was felt by the Kremlin leadership that a person who had served three years in an army unit or two years plowing dry Siberian soil would better appreciate the opportunity offered by education to improve his station in life and would more willingly bend to ideological discipline.

Cases of breach of discipline were many, but in terms of student exuberance in other countries, the transgressions of Soviet students might seem mild indeed. Yet, seen in the Soviet context, they might well give rise to alarm in the leadership. There were instances of previously docile lecture groups in dialectic materialism, for example, being disrupted by brash students plying the instructor with questions intended to undermine Communist theses. There was a report of a Komsomol group at a Moscow institute refusing to elect a chairman presented on a single-name slate by the group’s governing committee.

There was the case of an unpopular Komsomol chairman being suspended out of a fourteenth-story window of the Moscow University skyscraper by a rope around his waist. Elsewhere this might pass as normal spring-fever conduct; in Moscow it is scandalous. There were persistent reports of expulsions.

Branches of student discipline were recorded in the pages of Dawn of the East newspaper in Tbilisi. An article on March 24, 1956, shortly after street disorders in which students played a prominent role, re- ported:

“At many meetings and conferences they often tell of students showing a lack of discipline, often cutting classes. The figures from September 1 until December 31 show that 94,083 man hours have been skipped without any excuses, among them in Marxism-Leninism (2682 man hours), in dialectic materialism (2231 man hours), and in political economics (1665 man hours).

“Sometimes lectures are skipped by whole groups, who instead go for a collective review of a new movie, leaving the teacher to lecture to a virtually empty auditorium. Especially “organized’ in this way are groups in the West European language and literature faculties. Unfortunately their record is closely followed by students in the faculty of physics. In the history faculty, A. Mkheidze and M. Dzimestarhishveli were so rarely seen at lectures that their fellow students could not have recognized them. Almost half of the students cut seminars in dialectical materialism. It sometimes happens that only one or two students from an entire group are present, and once the whole fifth group of the fourth year of the philological faculty cut their seminars.”

The paper told of expulsion of students for violating public order. “Can it be tolerated,” asked Dawn of the East, “that in 1955, for instance, there were 176 cases registered of students breaking rules of socialist order, and the 41 students were detained by the militia for a total of two and a half months?

“Some old prejudices of the area are recreated and some young people, such as a student in the geographic-geological faculty, N. Moudiry, revived the old custom of a runaway marriage. He sneaked away with a girl student from the biological faculty.”

Other cases of misconduct cited were less in the virile mountaineer tradition of this Caucasus region but equally reprehensible to the authorities, such as the student who beat up a taxi driver after a drunken spree and then struck a policeman who arrested him.

There are quips about students who misbehave or do poorly in classes. A Russian friend shook her head disapprovingly as she told about a neighbor’s none-too-bright child who was getting bad marks. “Well,” she shrugged, “maybe he’ll be able to get a job in the weather bureau if nowhere else.”

This rather light-hearted attitude is not shared by Soviet officialdom. Every opportunity is taken in publications, speeches, and edicts to impress upon young people the need for a serious attitude in studies and also in free-time pursuits. This may partly explain why Soviet youngsters spend so many free hours poring over chessboards instead of chatting on the telephone. The Soviet attitude of earnestness, seen in recreation as well as in study, has its roots in the Soviet classroom.”

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“The Big Red Schoolhouse” (Part III)

What is with this spy swap thing, the Russia’s 10 for our four? Are these four really Americans? I’m not sure that is an even exchange, someone needs to brush up on their math skills.  Or are we working on diplomacy skills instead?  In any event this is all an education about what went on during the Cold War period and seems all very ludicrous to me.   I wonder what Irving R. Levine would say about this because he was suspected of being a spy but was not.  I’ve been accused of it as well, a “spy” could mean that you know more than you are supposedly to know about a certain country.  All very strange.

The following quoted material is from Irving R. Levine’s book published in 1959 titled “Main Street USSR.” This particular chapter about education has real meaning to me as a westerner in the capital city of Kazakhstan.  If my blog readers are involved in some way in education in Central Asia, what happened 50 years ago streaming from Moscow is still relevant today.  I’d be interested in your comments about your observations.  For now enjoy what Levine wrote in his chapter “The Big Red Schoolhouse.”

“Russia’s largest institution of higher learning is Moscow State University. It is more properly called “Moscow State University in the name of Mikhail Vasilievich Lomonosov,” in the Soviet fashion of appending the name of an honored individual. Lomonosov was a Russian scientist and writer who died in 1765, after writing a history of Russia, a Russian grammar, and reforming the Russian literary language. Old buildings of the university are situated on Manege Square across from one segment of the Kremlin’s wall. In 1953 a thirty-two-story skyscraper was completed on a fast-growing edge of the city, known as Lenin Hills. The broad base of the edifice rises eighteen stories and only then begins tapering toward the tower which is crowned, as are most of Moscow’s nine skyscrapers, with a huge hammer and sickle.

It is a splendid building with roomy classrooms, laboratories, a large auditorium, and elevators that rise faster than most manufactured in the U.S.S.R. This is probably one of the few universities in the world where a guard stands at the entrance and admits only persons presenting identification cards as students or members of the faculty, lie enrollment is nearly 18,000 students in 12 faculties and there is a staff of 2000 professors.

Somewhat less imposing and more typical is the Uzbek State University dedicated to Alisher Navoyi, the founder of Tadzhik literature. A low, gray stone building on a tree-lined boulevard in Samarkand houses the administration building and some classrooms, its entrance graced by two silver-painted statues of young men, one in civilian clothes and the other in aviator’s garb. Two other three-story buildings comprise the university’s property besides several small dormitories scattered elsewhere in this ancient central Asian city.

The university was founded in 1927, seven years after the area, now known as the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan, was incorporated in the U.S.S.R. This was a region of illiteracy under the despotic rule of the Emir of Bukhara, who kept more than one hundred wives and concubines, whose word was law, and who devised such excruciating systems for torture as a twenty-one-foot deep pit of scorpions and other insects native to this desert region. Victims were lowered into the pit and left there to endure a horrible death. Whatever more refined forms of oppression the Communists devised for those who resisted their rule in Central Asia, they also established universities, and more than a third of Uzbek state’s teachers are Russians even now.

There are four faculties. Physics and mathematics comprise one faculty. The philological faculty consists of departments of Uzbek, Tadzhik, and Russian literature and language as well as a foreign language department where English is taught. The third faculty is for biology and geography. Finally, there is a faculty of historical studies.

Day classes in these four faculties are attended by 7200 students. There are 1900 in night classes, and 3800 adults take courses at the university. Uzbeks and Tadzhiks, the native peoples of dark skin and oriental features in this vast region bordering on China, Afghanistan, and Iran, comprise 70 per cent of the student body. There are 28 nationalities attending the university. The Rector, an Uzbek, received me in his office, and with members of the faculty we sat at a red-baize-covered table placed at right angles to his desk. It was a typically furnished Soviet office with a portrait each of Lenin and Stalin on the wall across from a painting of the Tadzhik literary hero, Navoyi, seated cross-legged on a rug, dressed in a red native robe and a turban. Except for that touch it might well have been an office in Moscow rather than in Samarkand, one of the oldest cities of the world, the proud prize of conquest of Ghengis Khan and Alexander the Great and Tamerlane. The Rector a short, dark man in his fifties, spoke intently and devotedly of his university.

As in lower grades in Central Asian schools where there are separate schools for instruction in Russian, in Uzbek (a language of Turkish root), and in Tadzhik (of Persian origin), so there are classes in each faculty in each of the three languages.

The university has 36 laboratories, three scientific museums, a library of 600,000 volumes, and a teaching staff of 300. In the first thirty years of the university’s existence 5500 students have graduated. With pride, the Rector said that about 50 of these had gone on to achieve doctorates and professorships.

Now freshman classes consist of 450 students, but in the early years of the university there were only 60 admitted each year, which accounts for the relatively small number of graduates in more than a quarter of a century. Women comprise more than a third of the student body. In a recent freshman class of 450, women accounted for 148. An increasing number of applicants admitted each year are demobilized soldiers and young people who had worked for two years after completion of ten-year primary and secondary school. Of the freshman class of 450, 26 were discharged soldiers and 92 had worked for two years. Refresher courses are offered nights for workers who intend to apply for admission, and the armed forces have similar courses. The Rector was vague about the exact point handicap enjoyed in entrance exams by the preferred soldiers and workers. The impression was that it is rather flexible, and that every benefit of the doubt is given to former servicemen and workers, regardless of their entrance-exam marks, if It is felt that they can cope with the course of study.

“If a score of 20 points on the entrance exam is needed to enter the University,” explained the Rector, “a man who has worked for two years may enter with only 18 or 19 points. It varies with the competition and with the particular faculty as well as with the number and quality of applicants in any year.”

Students who maintain at least a three average receive an allowance from the state known as a “stipend.” The amount of the stipend varies with the students’ marks and increases with each year of a student’s course. Roughly it runs from 300 to 700 rubles ($30 to $70) a month.  An excellent (all fives) student in the freshman year would receive 360 rubles ($36) a month, and in Ms final year the student, maintaining his high marks, would get 700 rubles monthly. (In the case of a student whose parents’ income is less than 500 rubles or $50 a month he would receive a minimum stipend, even if his average was less than three. )

All books required for courses are available in the university library, but a student may wish to use part of his stipend to purchase his own. Books are reasonably priced and seldom more than 15 rubles ($1.50) a copy. Students who live at home usually use their stipends as spending money for clothes, movies, theater, newspapers, and occasional meals eaten out.

It’s possible for a thrifty student living at home actually to save something each month from his stipend. The 1400 students who live in the university’s three dormitories, or hostels as they are called, pay 15 rubles ($1.50) monthly for their crowded quarters.

The starting salary of a first year instructor is 2000 rubles ($200)a month and increases to 2500 rubles($250) by the fifth year. Two hundred and twenty members of the teaching, technical, and maintenance staff of the university are members of the school’s unit of the Communist Party, the largest Party unit in Samarkand. Eighty members of the unit are students, and 90 per cent of the rest of the student body are members of the Komsomol, the Young Communist League. The dominant role played by Russians in the control and management of the Central Asian Soviet Republics is reflected in the fact that one third of the members of the university’s Party unit are Russians.

Like other Soviet educational institutions, the Uzbek State University sets a rigorous course of study for its student body. Classes are held six days a week, six hours a day, for all faculties. Of this, two hours a week is spent in the study of Marxism-Leninism, ideological training in the principles of Communist doctrine.

There were 180 students studying English at Uzbek State when I was there in 1958. They were divided into ten groups five Uzbek-speaking groups and five Russian-speaking. Freshmen majoring in English spend half of the thirty-six hours per week of classes in English courses. After the freshman year the number of hours increases. Lea Rosett, a serene-faced Russian woman with graying brown hair pulled back in a bun, is head of the English department. She had never been abroad and has few opportunities to converse with English-speaking people. She was delighted with the opportunity to practice on me. She spoke slowly, as if to make absolutely sure that she used the proper tense of the verb, but her pronunciation was good and her vocabulary versatile. Mrs. Rosett had received her degree at the Leningrad Pedagogical Institute and had worked for two years in the 1930s as an Intourist guide, showing American and British tourists around the former Russian capital. When war broke out in 1941 she and her family were evacuated to Samarkand. Her husband is a professor in the university’s Mathematics Department. They have a twelve-year old son who attends a Russian language school and is already well advanced in English, says his mother.

It was obvious after a brief conversation with her, that this woman of wide cultural interests and tastes found life in provincial, backwater Samarkand drab and limited. She insisted that they were free to leave any time they wished, but whenever the question came up her husband was called in by the Rector and other university administrators and told how valued his services were in Samarkand and how badly he was needed. Mrs. Rosett explained that many honors and awards had been bestowed upon him, “and he feels a responsibility to remain here.” Members of the faculty are provided with small houses, better living conditions than they might find elsewhere, and this also serves as an inducement for remaining.

Three women, teachers on Mrs. Rosett’s staff, said that I was the first English-speaking person they had ever met and talked with. To compensate for the disadvantage in trying to teach a language they rarely heard spoken, the teachers hold a weekly conversation circle in order to practice English among themselves. The English Department has a speech laboratory with tape-recording machines to enable students to listen to themselves, but, lamented Mrs. Rosett, there was not a single copy of a large Webster’s dictionary in all of Samarkand.

Specialized training at an institute is one of the few roads to success in Russia. There are few other steps by which a young man or woman can climb the economic and prestige ladder. Unlike capitalistic countries, a young man with natural acumen does not have an opportunity to start a business on a shoestring and build it by effort and talent to a large chain of stores. A boy just out of secondary school cannot count on being taken into his father’s successful enterprise because father in Russia owns no enterprise. Membership in the Communist Party, itself the main portal to success in Russia, is open largely to those who have some special talent or skill to offer the state. Thus the number of applicants each year for the Soviet version of college far exceeds the space available, and competition is keen.

There are other reasons, too, for the crash of applicants. Family financial standing plays no role in the decision to continue education. It is not a question of being able to afford it. Tuition now is free. Also, the fact that good marks and scholarship are encouraged from childhood contributes to stimulating interest in higher education among youngsters. The smart boy or girl is seldom the butt of teasing as a teacher’s pet. There is no aversion to “eggheads’* at any age in Russia. Unlike American schools, where the star athlete is likely to be campus hero, students in Soviet institutes have less diversion of this sort. There are teams, but no program of intensely competitive contests among schools with cheerleaders and pre-game bonfires. School, whether grade school, high school, or college, is intended for study, and the emphasis is on high marks in the classroom rather than on a high score on the football field. Even so, occasionally there is newspaper criticism of over-emphasis of sports in some schools.”

(to be continued)

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“A Knock at the Door” 71 years ago

The following piece was written by a teaching colleague of mine, it was published in 2003 in the Almaty Herald.  Many of my teaching friends and colleagues have stories like this, Yuliya Chulkova is skilled in articulating her family story in writing. 


In memory of Seitkhanov Zainulla, a Scientific Adviser of Kazakhstan Education Minister, repressed in 1938.


Dedicated to all victims of Stalin’s repressions.


1938, International women’s day, a holiday.  Mother and Father have just come from the solemn meeting and the party at Narcompros (People Committee of Education).  They both worked there.  Mother’s blue-green silk stockinet dress on the hanger is still exhaling the perfume “The Kremlin.”  They have changed into home clothes and are discussing something at the teatable in the adjacent room.  Mother as usual know everything better, she is always like this. 


Father is different, he always takes little Nelya everywhere; to the toyshops and bookstalls and even to his business trips.  Nelya has already been to Moscow with him.  He left her at the children’s room for the night and morning, she was a kindergarten child, and found new friends there very quickly; and the toys were better than in Almaty; big green and red celluloid dolls, big green and red rubber balls and string net bags, big light wooden figures for building castles and all kinds of swings.


In the afternoon they visited Mausoleum where Lenin is sleeping.  People were very quiet and solemn there; they had to stand a long time in a long, long line.  It was interesting to watch people and things around.  The smartest were horses carrying light droshkies; they had black things from both sides, lest they should get frightened as Father said, and hats yellow and while protecting them against the sun.  In the kindergarten other children didn’t believe that.


Suddenly there was a knock at the door.  Everything and everybody got very quiet.  There was another knock.  “What’s up?”  It was becoming interesting.  In the nightgown, barefooted Nelya tiptoed to the door which was ajar, and saw two men polite and serious unsmiling saying something to Father, then one of them started looking for something on the bookshelves.  Batima, Nelya’s 13 year old aunt, kept staring at everything with enormous round eyes.  Mother was pale, and then she rushed to the bedroom almost knocking Nelya off her feet and reached for Father’s suitcase.


“Oh! Another business trip!” Nelya was quick, her traveling toys were ready tied together. Motehr did not pay attention to her.  Having pulled out all the drawers out of the drawing chest, she was picking out a shirt here and some underwear there; when she came to socks many of them needed darning, she couldn’t match them and sank on her heels sitting with her head lowered and tears swelled in her eyes and started dropping on her hands.  There was something wrong.


Nelya put her toys into the suitcase herself.  Father rushed into the room dressed, looked at the open suitcase, threw out Nelya’s toys without a word and then caught mom’s shoulders from behind and said that it’s a mistake, that it’s a gross error.  “They’ll set that right when they understand it.”


Then all the adults went out.  Batima turned off the light to see better everything in the yard.  And both Nelya and Batima watched with their noses pressed against the window glass: papa kissing mom, mom as white as her nightgown.  That was the last time Nelya saw her father.  She was in her fifth year.  Her father died in Stalin’s prison for nothing.


Twenty years later, she got married just on the Eighth of March and only then came to know why her mother had never liked the International Women’s Day holiday.


Re-typed from The Almaty Herald #34(391) August 21-27, 2003

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Maiya’s paper: Soviet Living Conditions

The echo of the past:

Destruction of Soviet memories.

I.  Introduction

Soviet Union. This country doesn’t exist anymore, and even though our generation was born while it still was one nation, we don’t know how it was like to live there. Only through the books, movies and the stories of our relatives we can draw a picture of those days. And, of course, now, when we finally do have freedom of speech, people started to find out all the bad sides of Soviet leaders, all the evil things they did and now try to wipe out everything that was left from those times. But I believe that despite all the bad moments we know in Soviet history, we should not try to erase it and not to destroy the monuments that remind of it.

II.  Our history – Memories of WWII

          Today, our teachers at school tell us all the truth about the policies of Soviet leaders, about all the problems people had in USSR – famine, injustice, repressions, the Great Patriotic war, “perestroika”, etc. Sometimes when you hear all of that, it seems that it was impossible to survive in those kinds of living conditions. Despite all of that, the generation of our grand parents somehow managed not only to survive and overcome all those tribulations with pride, but also to bring through the memories that are full of joy, happiness, love and passion. When we had a personal interview with Lydia Timofeevna, who was only 2 years old when the World War II has started, what was very surprising for many of us was that she is reminiscing that some of the fascists were nice to them and gave her candies, if they met her on the forests while she was looking for her dad there (2008). I mean, after all the fascists did to our nation, to remember moments like that is very rare and significant. And there are plenty of examples like that! However, the younger generations now tries to amend all the history like it never happened – they rewrite books, change the facts, and destroy the monuments of Soviet era that as Forest and Johnson (2002) noticed were “among the most potent sites for the construction of a Soviet national identity”(p. 524).


III.           Possible causes – living conditions of our parents. 

Along with all the difficulties that our parents had in their childhood there were many problems they had to overcome when the Soviet Union collapsed. Changing from one system to another was definitely not an easy task. As Klugman and Braithwaite (1998­) noticed in their research paper, “for many that transition has been marked by a dramatic increase in the scale of poverty and deprivation.” (p. 37).  The period of 90s was a hard time for them – no job, economic problems within the country… And they had to raise and feed us – their children – in those conditions. Men usually worked on two jobs or even more, and women had to work even when their children were very small. It was even estimated that over the last two generations, women in Soviet Russia reached the highest labor force participation role in the world (Ofer and Vinokur, 1985). As one lady told her life story:

“I started working at the factory in 1975 and I’ve given it, or to be more precise, I’ve given the foundry shop, my whole life and my health. I fell in love there and got married. No matter how we tried, we couldn’t get our own place to live. We had a tough time and he left. We were left alone. We’ve been living in a dormitory since 1984. There are ten families on our floor, and each of them has two kids. Imagine the hell we have in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the laundry room? Lord, how tired I am of living! I earn 250 rubles and the child support payments are paltry. Believe me, I don’t want to live anymore. But I feel sorry for my children-who needs them?! Our life is humiliating, poor and hungry.”


IV. Possible causes – stereotypes from Soviet times.

Also, because of the fact the Soviet Union was such a closed country – all the information coming in and out of it was controlled by the Kremlin – during the Cold War period many stereotypes were born and we still have to live with many of them nowadays. So, many people try to ruin everything that reminds them of Soviet Union because they do not want to live with those stereotypes. For many nations all over the world states like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and other CIS countries are still associated with USSR. And the youth of these countries doesn’t want to have anything in common with Soviets. But as Merridale (2003) noticed “recreating history was never likely to be a simple matter. It may be easy to agree on the destruction of a unitary past, but after that the contests start again, often in an atmosphere of anxious economic and political transition.” (p.13)


V. Conclusion

In conclusion, probably no one would not want to change our lifestyle to the one that Soviet nation had during the last century, because they had to go through so many difficulties and problems. We should appreciate all of that and treat them better than we do sometimes, we should listen to what they have to say, their personal stories and try to learn from them, because it is remarkable how they managed to stay kind and caring people after all they went through. More than that, we should not try to erase and wipe out all the evil from our history, because it will not help. If there are no monuments that remind us of that, it does not mean that nothing happened. Instead, we should remember of all the mistakes done and try not to repeat them all over again.



Forest, B. & Johnson, J. (2002). Unraveling the Threads of History: Soviet-era monuments and post-Soviet national identity in Moscow. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 92(3), 524-547.

Klugman, J. & Braithwaite, J. (1998). Poverty in Russia during the transition: An overview. The World Bank Research Observer, 13(1), 37-58.

Merridale, C. (2003). Redesigning history in contemporary Russia. Journal of Contemporary History, 38(1), 13-28.

Ofer, G. & Vinokur, A. (1985). Work and family roles of Soviet women: Historical trends and cross-section analysis. Journal of Labor Economics, 3(1), S328-S354.

Racioppi, L. & O’Sullivan, K. S. (1995). Organizing women before and after the fall: Women’s politics in the Soviet Union and Post- Soviet Russia. Signs, 20(4), 818-850.

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My Grandpa Survived Siberia’s GULAG for 15 Years

My Grandpa Survived Siberia’s GULAG 15 Years

By Laura J.


My granddad on my mother’s side was an amazing storyteller. He had a lot of interesting live stories that we heard with great interest. He had tremendous memory on names; he could remember them over the time of 30-40 years. Grandpa had a good sense of humor; it was always interesting to spend time with him. My granddaddy was the kindest man that I had ever seen. And what is more he didn’t try to expose this kindness openly, he just did good things quietly and silently.


My grandmamma was a very charismatic person. She was not of those who talk a lot, but when she began to talk every one else automatically, unwittingly lapsed into silence. She never reproached, never humiliated anybody, but raised the significance of people. Sometimes I think that she knew everything that I felt, thought about, like she could read my mind. Never did she make me feel myself miserable, unhappy. On the contrary, she cheered me up, inspired me to be better without words, one look from her was enough to feel it. My grandparents were totally unconflictive people. There was a true deep love between them. And they shared this love with us.  My grandpa outlived my grandma only on 48 days, he couldn’t live without her. They showed us a great example of love that lasted nearly 50 years.


Also I have grandpa from father’s side. He was legendary man. He studied at MGU and was an excellent student giving a huge hope. Unfortunately I have never seen him. He died 3 years before my birth, at the age of 83. He had a severe fate. At the dawn of his age he was sent to exile in to the most horrible gulag in Siberia, where he survived 15 years. My father told me that at that tormented place every one respected my granddad, because of his justice, erudition, wide reading and strength of will. Every day people next to him died, but he told to himself not to give up, repeating again and again: ‘”I will survive”. 


My Grandpa was sent to gulag as a nationalist (racist).  Well actually he was studying Moscow University, and once when he came to his native town in Kazakhstan he saw famine and poverty. After coming back to Moscow he went to Kremlin several times, in order to talk over this problem with Stalin. But there it was interpreted like nationalism, although my Grandfather was talking about Ukrainian people too (they had the same situation as Kazakhstan had). It was in 1937, the time of Stalin’s repressions, when every one who had any slightest kind of threat to the government was sent to exile.  My granddad in spite of everything survived. After that he taught a higher mathematics at university, and students called him “friend of people”, because he always stood up for ordinary people. On one of his classes he was given a letter where he read: “unguilty”. Tears welled up in his eyes. He was waiting for these words for many years being 15 agonizing years in gulag. All the time up to his death my grandfather was walking with papers on which he was solving difficult math problems.


I wish I knew him.






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