Posts tagged Russians

“One death is a tragedy…”

I believe it was Stalin (or was it Hitler) who is quoted as saying: “One death is a tragedy, a thousand deaths are merely a statistic.”  One can get hardened after being around so much death, I suppose Duranty had reached that point.  As I’ve posted earlier while focusing on Walter Duranty’s book “I Write as I Please” the past week, I’ve been reading John Noble’s book “I was a slave in Russia.”

This American survivor, who was trapped in Dresden at the end of WWII, saw MUCH death during his enslavement.  Naturally he tried to make sense of it and I thought I wouldn’t take any notes from this book because it is so dire but I am anyway.

p. 30 “I knew little about theoretical Marxism at that time, but in this attitude toward death I sensed the gulf that separated these MVD officers from the Christian civilization that man is an animal, no more.  To kill a man is no more significant than to kill a highly trained horse or a cow.  If the beast becomes unmanageable, it is killed.  If the man-beast becomes unmanageable, he is killed.”

p. 31 “In that joking [Red Army and Soviet guards about their political prisoners at Dresden] was summed up a startling different between these guards and the Nazi death squads about which those prisoners who had known both sometimes spoke.  The Nazis, they said, killed viciously, because they were convinced that the people being killed were actually their enemies.  The Russians killed because, almost literally, a number had been drawn from a hat, because some meaningless document in some meaningless proceedings had said to snuff out the candle. No ferocity attended the executions.  The reasons for the killings were as remote and irrelevant to the Russian guards as was the concept of death itself.  Their joking, then, was not forced.  When they patted a prisoner’s shoulder, the action came easily.  Life had to end for certain integers in the sate table of statistics. That’s all, comrade.  Nothing personal, comrade.”

Why do I bring up these quotes?  Because I believe as an educator here in Astana, we need to teach the Kazakh children to know logical fallacies from truth.  There also needs to be a rule of law and respecting of those laws in order for a civil society to flourish in our places of academia, especially here in Astana.  Students need to know that human life is important and that they are not part of the cogwheel that might be spinning uncontrollably at times. They need to be valued as individuals and not made to be a part of a conformist mold.

However, this group of people in Kazakhstan and also in Ukraine have gone through much brutality, which is what Duranty wrote about.  There was a manual written by an ardent communist about how to terrorize people and those under him followed it to the letter of the law.  The following what John Noble wrote is exactly what had been going on in Kazakhstan back in the 1920s and 1930s.  There is a reason why the Ukrainians call their dark period of “Holodomor” as Terror Famine in 1932-33.

“The very system of Communist arrests inevitably led to a system of torture that was as much mental as physical. Arrests were made to terrorize the citizens, in sweeping, indiscriminate raids.  Men were arrested as they walked the streets, as they dined or sat in the homes of friends.  They were arrested anywhere, anytime, without explanation.  Everyone in the city was kept poised on the edge of terror.  There was a plan to it all, and it was remarkably effective even beyond its terrorizing results.  When a load of prisoners newly yanked from home and street were thrown into cells, the first topic of speculation naturally was, “Why was I arrested?”

Tomorrow I will show much happier photos of Kazakh babies and students and my new office.  Things are actually looking UP for me!!!

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

Walter Duranty was a good observer of the Russian people, I would term him a Russophile.  Maybe he sold his soul to be able to be a New York Times correspondent in Moscow at the time when so much was happening so quickly.  I have taken many notes off of the electronic pdf version of “I Write as I Please.”  What is interesting to me are the pages that were missed in the scanning process such as:  p. 48, 77, 230, 242, 333. There may have been others, I’m just saying that the person who scanned this whole 1935 edition didn’t want some things known about Duranty.  The following are my very rough notes from what I read relating to the Russian mentality from Duranty’s perspective:

p. 118 explanation of rushing the process of nationalism wanting to hasten the communist millennium

political anarchy replaced by order and strong central authority But: economic self-sufficiency had vanished

p. 125 – Russians are a romantic folk whose innate sense of drama is stronger than their regard for truth.

p. 126 Potemkin villages

p. 144 – They were Russians, you see, whose racial quality is to live intensely in the present and dismiss doubts or fears or horrid memories with the easy insouciance of children – Nichevo which means:  what of it or no matter

p. 146 – In 1921 – Red Army soldiers in uniform back from fighting Moslem rebels in Central Asia or from “liquidating” Makno’s anarchist movement in Ukraine

Ch. 14 – Red Star – Report the facts as I saw them but to avoid quoting statements of Soviet spokesmen or newspaper, “we do not want to risk the New York Times a vehicle for Bolshevik propaganda”

p. 166 Stalin 1933 said to Walter Duranty – “You have done a good job in your reporting of USSR although you are not a Marxist.”

Walter said of himself “…I’m a reporter, not a humanitarian, and if a reporter can’t see the wood for trees, he can’t describe the wood.”

p. 169 – Wm. Bolitho had taught me [WD] to think for myself or merely that the facts of the last 2 years spoke louder for the Bolsheviks than words create impression that I was tinged with pink myself.

The Wobblies or I.W.W. were not so long in the ideological theory stuff as the Russians

Russians “most would sooner talk than work, or even eat.”

“When you come to know more you will understand the superiority of Marxists in two respects of immediate practicality.  They know what they want and why the want it and are determined to sell it by fairness or foul.

Lenin speech in autumn 1921 – “Kto Kavo” “who beats whom?”

Sent it “mulnia” lightening – where news sent triple urgent

p. 194 Catherine the Great  said one good harvest in Russia atoned for ten years of bad politics

p. 196 W.D. gives Kulak definition

p. 197 “Do you really think America will ever go communist?” W.D. refused to be sidetracked by moral issues or by abstract questions

Chapter – A Prophet with Honor

p. 202 – spring of 1922 – chasm between West and Soviet thinking – Polish Catholic priests were given capital punishment

p. 203 – “Who were these foreigners anyway who dared to tell Russians how to conduct their own affairs?” He [the main priest] has abused Russian hospitality if it is a bigger crime and he is a foreigner

West thinks “anyone accused is innocent until proven guilty” but in Eastern countries and in Russia, “the accused is guilty otherwise he would not be at trial.”  Anglo-Saxon race fights savagely against pre-determined by a preliminary inquiry, otherwise it is injustice

After priest was killed one Russian who worked with foreigners said, “Life of one man had robbed the Soviet of the fruits of 2 years of patient diplomacy.”

Buchkevich execution did more to retard American recognition of USSR for 10 years

(to be continued)

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Buddy Bear is “Bear”back

What is with this Buddy Bear exhibit? What does this have to do with Kazakhstan?  Well, I believe it has a LOT to do with this culturally rich country.  As many bears that are out on display, 125 close to the Baiterek tower, that’s how many different nationalities co-exist in this lightly populated country of 16 million people. This land is the size of 3 or 4 state of Texas and has an eastern border with China, a country that has over 1 billion Chinese.  There used to be many more Germans and Russians in Kazakhstan and there are also Uighurs, Tatars, Korean, Turks, Kyrgyz, Mongols, Turkmen, Uzbek, etc.  Where China has many more people and a great variety of different Chinese, Kazakhstan has fewer people but many nationalities.  With different cultures, you will have diverse languages and religions.

I believe Kazakhstan prides itself in being able to handle the steady mix of people groups.  I know when I lived in Almaty for two years I was surrounded by different nationalities and enjoyed it. But then again, I’m an ESL/EFL teacher, my job is to teach English to those people who want to learn it.  I’ve studied or tried to learn eight different languages and am a master of none.  The Kazakh people by law have a mandate to know three languages: Kazakh, Russian and English.  Will that work, can they do it?  As I’ve written before, it is a do or die proposition because another alternative could be Chinese.  If I were Kazakh or Kazakhstani, I would try to learn all three languages simultaneously too.  I’ve studied Chinese, I’ve written its calligraphy, I know just how difficult it is to speak in the four tones.  What is so very interesting to me is that among all the nationalities represented in Kazakhstan, China has a very low profile.  Enjoy my photos of more Buddy Bears, especially Vietnam’s quote: “Who doesn’t love, doesn’t live.”

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Talk with Anara about Kazakhstan (Part II)

I found out a little more about the December 16, 1986 demonstration that isn’t much talked about openly among the Kazakh people, just bits and pieces are shared amongst themselves. In any case, it was called a student uprising and many Kazakh people were imprisoned from 1986 until Nazarbayev became president of the new country in 1991. Those who were jailed were finally released after five years. If Russians, who lived in Almaty at that time, are asked about this event, they are somewhat dismissive about it. However, a memorial commemorating Kazakh independence is on Mir (Peace) Street, close to the five-star Ankara Hotel, in Almaty.

There was a movie originally titled Izgoi which means “Social Outcast” in Kazakh but the title was changed to “Running Target.” Most Kazakh people know about this film which was based on the 1986 Kazakh revolt against Moscow power and domination over Kazakhstan. Kunaev had been a Kazakh leader for many years. However, the communist leader who was meant to replace Kunaev in 1986 was Kalbin, who was a Russian. Kalbin had been sent down to Almaty from Moscow to rule over the Kazakhs with the hidden agenda to destroy any remnants of the Kazakh language and culture. Fortunately, Nazarbayev replaced this forbidding influence from the north and has been a leader representing Kazakhstan since 1997.

Anara’s father was an assistant to the famous movie director, Talgat Timenov. (He worked with Bonderchuk when they produced the movie “The Nomads” about 5-6 years ago.) Anara’s mother, Encar, knows the Kazakh actor who played the boy who had escaped from the Soviet police during the 1986 demonstration and had wandered around in the steppes. In this fictional account perhaps based on a true story, the boy was protected by a Russian woman acted by a famous Russian actress Nona Marzdukova until he was captured again and put in jail.

What was interesting to me is that Anara was only 10 years old when the 1986 demonstration happened, back then Stalin and Lenin were highly revered. Anara’s father knew better that these two early leaders of the Soviet Union were responsible for killing millions of people, not just in Kazakhstan, but throughout the former S.U. There was a huge disappointment for Anara to find out from her father that they, as school children, had been lied to for so long from their Moscow-approved history books. So strange for her to have this new knowledge that Stalin killed millions of people.

Anara wishes now that she had listened to her Kazakh father more. She grew up in a time when history was changing very quickly. She knows very well about Russian history and culture but admits she doesn’t know much about her own Kazakh history, as rich as it is. History continues to change in present day Kazakhstan, I want to know as much as I can about its past history. My Kazakh students and friends, like Anara, are my best informants.

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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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“Great Patriotic War” According to Whom?

Great Patriots

On a wall of our hallowed halls of academia in Almaty, Kazakhstan are photos which depict “patriots” who served on the Front of the “Great Patriotic War.”  We, as westeners, know it simply as World War II and did not buy into the coinage of these words promoted by Stalin’s propaganda machine.  The root word in Russian for “Fatherland” seems interchangeable with “father” and “patriot.”

What seems a paradox to me is that Kazakhs have a deep and abiding love for their forefathers.  To be a good Kazakh means you know your ancestral line seven generations back and can recite their names.  (I’ve met some Kazakhs who are proud to know the names going back 11 generations.)   Anyway, I’ve been recently reading journal articles concerning the deportation of nationalities into Kazakhstan, thanks to Stalin’s edict.  Better felt as a “deportation dumpground” because of the mixture of Korean, Ukrainian, German, Russian into the different tribes of Kazakhs. 

Currently over 100 nationalities are represented in Kazakhstan but decades ago some of these were people who were yanked out of their homeland and forcefully “deposited” in Kazakhstan.  Unfortunately, many did not survive travelling to the steppes of Kazakhstan but thanks to the bigheartedness of the Kazakhs, others did. 

I am waiting for a sequel to the book by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov which would help explain how his Kazakh family had everything taken from them but yet he fought for the Soviet Union’s “Fatherland.”  Miraculously, he survived the Great Patriotic War.  His book in English(translated from the Russian book “Sudba” = Destiny) only covers how he and his family survived the starvation period of the 1930s and up to his fighting and returning home after the war when he was about age 21. 

That’s about the age of tomorrow’s graduates who have led a very sheltered life compared to Shayakhmetov.  At our auspicious occasion of watching nearly 500 graduates cross the stage, I’ll see many different nationalities represented.  I’ll be imagining the stories these young people have in their families which sadly are being silenced with the passage of time. What is the destiny of these young people?  I hope there are more young patriots like Shayakhmetov who will rise up and write for the rest of world to read what happened under a tyrannical government such as the former Soviet Union.  Not a TRUE Fatherland for patriots, that’s for sure. 

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