Posts tagged Siberia

“The Way Back” or “The Long Walk” of 4,000 miles out of Siberia’s prison

Last night we watched “The Way Back” starring Ed Harris and a superb cast of actors (including one 16 year old girl). The movie is based on a true story of an original group of 7-8 men who walked away from an Siberian prison camp in 1941.  My husband, as a young boy, had read the book that was first published in 1955 titled “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom” written by Ronald Downing.  That alone clinched our decision to experience this epic journey through cold, mountain passes and thirsty, Mongolian deserts. My husband wanted to see how close the movie fit to his recollection of reading this book 45-50 years ago.

Interestingly enough, Ronald Downing had started his own quest in Tibet of the legendary abominable snowman. However, he instead started gathering information about a Polish man, Slavomir Rawicz, who had walked across eastern Siberia to the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, through China, Tibet and the Himalayans to finally gain his freedom in India. That was more compelling to write about than a snowman.

No doubt the film’s director Peter Weir had some parts of Downing’s book “Hollywood-ized”  However, the main meaning comes across in the special features after the movie.  That is, the inhumanity present in 100s of concentration camps throughout the Soviet Union is little known by people from the West.  I’m guessing for every 100 movies about Nazi atrocities in concentration camps, you have one movie about what Stalin did to his own people of the U.S.S.R. with the Siberian gulags. (That would also include Kazakhstan’s KARLAG system too)

The Soviet system was extremely brutal to their political prisoners who were imprisoned alongside REAL criminals of thieves and murderers.  There is one character, Valka, in this story who owned a knife, he called it “the wolf.” He also had tatooed on his chest the faces of Lenin and Stalin.  Though he believed in communism, he actually helped the other “politicals” survive in the wilds with the use of his knife. Yet he turned back once they got to the Trans-Siberian railway which they thought was the end of the Soviet Union and walking into freedom…sadly Mongolia had been taken over by USSR and so their trek to freedom continued.

The movie skipped over the Himalayans since the over two hour long movie had already shown its audience enough of the bitter cold of Siberia and reaching Lake Baikal and then the dry desert scenes. Also, I don’t think the actors or camera and production crews could fathom doing more marathon type survivalist living in the mountains.

The real hero of this story (played by Jim Sturgess) in both the movie and the book was Slavomir Rawicz, this Polish army officer who had been captured by the Red Army and accused of being a Nazi. His wife had been tortured to create a false testimony against him and Slavomir was summarily imprisoned by the Communists out to Siberia. He successfully trekked 4,000 miles after escaping from a Siberian prisoner of war camp. He survived the ordeal which lasted about a year because he knew how to live in the outdoors and survive on nature’s food and water.  He was accused by the Ed Harris character, known only as “Mr. Smith” of not being able to survive in the prisoner’s camp because he was too kind and helped other prisoners.  Perhaps his kindness and knowledge of how to survive is what eventually prevailed and got the two other men out alive with him.

Apparently, the older American, dubbed “Mr. Smith” had earlier watched his 17 year old son die at the mercy of communists then he was sent to the gulag and once “free” went on the Lhasa, Tibet. We don’t know if he survived once he parted ways with Slavomir and the others.  Also, I’m not sure if the movie ended accurately which showed how Slavomir had waited until Poland was free from the bonds of communist oppression to see his wife again after being separated for almost 50 years.  I would like to get a copy of the old book titled “The Long Walk” to read what my husband had read 50 years ago.  Such a remarkable story had a great impact on him.  The movie may have a profound impact on many other westerners as well.

Why don’t more people in the West know about the gulag system that happened throughout Russia and Kazakhstan?  Little is written because few people survived the cruel brutalities!  I would highly recommend watching this movie “The Way Back.”

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Double Punishment for being a Captive Soldier in WWII

I continue to learn new things from my advanced Speaking class, sad things about death and repressions. What irony there is in life but it often happened in the former Soviet union, double punishment for fighting as a soldier in a war and being caught as a prisoner. One of my student’s grandfather on her mother’s side was arrested by a German officer and put in a German concentration camp.  After the war, the Kazakh soldier was released and he returned to Kazakhstan only to be put in a Soviet gulag camp according to Stalin’s orders.  After Stalin died in 1953, he was released and lived only another 8-10 years, he died in the early 1960s.

Another student said that his grandfather on his mother’s side wasn’t imprisoned, he somehow avoided prison.  But he did not avoid the police station every night for several years.  He was asked over and over again the same questions and by 1953, he was convinced he hated communists.  I asked if he was beaten or tortured.  No, he just had to answer the questions correctly otherwise he would have ended up in a Siberian concentration camp.

Another instance in the same family was the grandfather was an officer for the NKVD.  After the Great Patriotic War there were a lot of gangs with guns in the Pavlodar region and he had to interrogate those who were causing much unrest in the area.  He would have been on the opposite side of the table as the other grandfather as he was the head of this police station.

Another Kazakh student of mine is from the Karaganda area and she doesn’t know much about her own grandparents.  [this is typical because there was a strict code of silence for all those in Karaganda and especially those who were finally released from the KARLAG once Stalin died]  She said that many intellectual people were sent to Kazakhstan from all over the USSR to the Karaganda region and they helped develop and build the architecture of that city.  Many Japanese, Russians and other nationalities brought enrichment to this area because of their expertise. The very skills that had drawn attention to themselves in a favorable climate, won them disfavor in the eyes of the ruling Moscow elite.

She did remember that her mother’s older brother had driven a tank during WWII and when he returned from the war he worked in a mechanical factory or plant.  When he was alive still she was very small.  She did say that what was a prison for political prisoners in Karabass is now a prison for hardened criminals.

Another interesting story came from a woman whose mother’s uncle was a tall Kazakh man with BLUE eyes.  He was somehow so unusual in his appearance that a German officer didn’t put him in prison but rather he stayed in his big house and helped built things around the house.  He was good with wood and made things for three years while living in Germany.  This Kazakh man spoke German very well but upon his return to Kazakhstan he was directly sent to Magadan in Siberia.  He stayed there ten years and when he returned to his native town he built a beautiful home.  He died at the age of 95-96. This student remembers that he was a vigorous, proud man who didn’t stoop but had good posture the last time she saw him at age 92.  He walked with a cane but had the regal look of a decorated officer, perhaps like the German officer who had spared him from prison camp while in Germany.

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“The Big Red Schoolhouse” (Part II)

The following part of a chapter is from Irving R. Levine’s book titled “Main Street USSR” published in 1959.  I believe some of the better books to read about the former Soviet Union are the ones written during the Cold War period.  Either first person accounts like what I quoted earlier from Esther Hautzig’s book “The Endless Steppe” or this other old book by Levine that I just found off the Internet. Read yesterday’s blog to find out more about this man who lived 86 fruitful years as a news journalist.  Levine took great attention to detail which was one of his more favorable skills.  However, as he reported facts as he saw them back in the 1950s in Russian school systems, he could just as well have been writing about what I have observed in the Kazakh system of education today.  See what you think:

“Admission to institutions of higher education is supposed to be strictly on the basis of merit. At the end of each school year entrance examinations are held at institutes (where a single specialty is taught) and at universities (which have a number of faculties). Those who receive the highest marks on these competitive examinations are supposed to be admitted. Some weight is given to a student’s school record, and points are given also for military service or for practical work. Young people are now encouraged by Communist authorities to go to work for two years upon graduation from compulsory seven-to-ten years of schooling, particularly at a Siberian or Central Asian construction site. A fair student with two years of work behind him on a new state farm in Siberia is likely to be admitted to an institute ahead of a youngster fresh out of school with very good marks.

There are enough cases of admission by bribery documented in the Soviet press to indicate that this is not an infrequent occurrence. Usually the guilty persons are named. On one occasion the youth newspaper,  Komsomolskaya Pravda, published an anonymous letter from a second- year student at an agricultural institute at Samarkand. “I’ve become a student,” he wrote, “only because my mother managed to scrape together 5000 rubles ($500) which she brought to the entrance board. I was against it from the outset. I don’t like agriculture. The way I was admitted was disgusting, and I am ashamed of myself. But anytime I bring it up my mother won’t listen. I don’t know what to do. Some of those who know how I entered the institute say that I am a lucky person to be studying and not to give my mother grief. When you have received a higher education, they say, you will like your specialty. I am not giving you my name. I don’t know a way out.”

When the newspaper sent a reporter to the agricultural institute, students claimed to know many cases of fellow students who gained admittance by bribes rather than by good marks. They saw nothing unusual in these cases and refused to betray their colleagues’ names.

A page-a-day calendar that adorns many Soviet desks took note of the fact that nepotism is sometimes involved in admission to schools. A car- toon shows a grotesquely fat young man talking to a girl:

“Galitchka” he says to her, “congratulate me. I’ve just been admitted to the Institute for Physical Culture.”

“But do you have the necessary qualifications?”

“Tremendous qualifications! My uncle is the Dean of Admissions.”

Five is the highest mark in Soviet schools. Five is excellent, four is good, three is satisfactory, two is poor, and one is very bad. Marks are entered periodically by the teacher in a small copybook retained by each pupil, rather than on a report card. These report books are taken home at least once a week to be signed by a parent who is supposed to take note of the child’s progress. Homework assignments are entered in the notebook so that the parent has a way of checking on whether the child is really doing the work assigned. If the teacher wants to see a parent to discuss a disciplinary problem, this request is written in the report book where the parent can see it when signing.

By Soviet standards teachers are well paid. A beginning salary of a sixth-grade teacher is 800 rubles ($80) per month. Academic work commands great respect. Among the most distinguished men in Russia are the members of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R., founded In 1725. It comes directly under the supervision of the Kremlin’s Council of Ministers in organizational charts. The Academy, consisting of the nation’s most outstanding men of science, supervises every branch of the nation’s scientific life. Its various branches deal with everything from finding new vaccines to building sputniks.

It was the sputniks that alerted the attention of the outside world to Soviet science and education. Respectful attention had been paid to the Soviet claim that more than 70,000 engineers were being graduated each year. This is compared to the U.S. annual crop of 30,000 engineers. But it could rightly be argued that many Soviet engineers were really less highly skilled technicians who do not deserve the status of engineer by American standards. Furthermore, a highly developed industrialized economy like America’s does not need as great an increment of scientific skill each year.

However, there is no arguing with the fact that the Soviet educational system produced scientists and engineers capable of launching a sputnik before the U.S.A. did, and then following It with sputniks of enormously greater size.

Delegations of American educators college presidents, professors, school administrators, teachers flocked to Russia to see what could be learned from the Soviet system. Many carried away words of praise. It was at this very juncture that devastating criticism, of the Soviet educational system was heard from no less an authority than NIkita Khrushchev. With the concurrence of his Party Presidium, Khrushchev issued a lengthy memorandum, in September 1958, recommending sweeping changes. The changes were to be brought about over a period of some years in each Soviet Republic by action of the Republics’ legislatures and Party organizations. The final shape of the Khrushchev plan would vary from area to area.

Khrushchev’s criticisms, however, applied to the entire country’s educational setup. Parental influence rather than ability, he said, was being widely used to get youngsters admitted to college. Most objectionable to Khrushchev, though, was that the Soviet educational system was preparing pupils for higher education rather than for life. Or to state it more specifically: Soviet schools were turning out graduates well qualified for higher education but not immediately qualified to take a job at a lathe or milling machine.

Unlike the educational system in most American cities, all Soviet pupils in the first ten years of school take the same courses. In the United States it is customary, by the eighth or ninth grades, to split up those students who intend to go to college (and give them college preparatory courses) and those who will go right to work (and give them commercial or trade courses) . Khrushchev, in typical Russian fashion, sought to swing the pendulum violently further than the American system and prepare everyone for work. After a transition period (during which some ten-year schools would be retained in order to maintain a flow of qualified students to colleges) , all schools would become seven- or eight-year schools. After decades of struggling to make ten years of schooling nationwide, Khrushchev was turning the clock back.

Under the Khrushchev system, during this abbreviated span of schooling a specified time would be spent each week at technical training. In the city this would be in factories; in the country the training would be in the fields. Opportunities for higher education would be available for those who have the energy and determination to go to night school to take correspondence courses.

The Khrushchev plan had been preceded by months of debate some of it in the pages of the press between the educators (who believe that an educated man can be taught any job in time) and the man-power experts (who need hands to run machines now in order to meet ambitious industrial targets set for them). The man-power advocates won. It was natural that they would with Khrushchev. Having worked from boyhood and achieved his position without significant formal education (and then only of a practical nature), Khrushchev had small patience for theoretical knowledge. Yet, by the revolutionary revision of the educational system, the perpetuation of the very class that made the sputniks possible is jeopardized.

The anti-intellectual nature of Khrushchev’s motivation was indicated in his memorandum. He complained that a “lordly-scornful, wrong attitude toward physical labor is to be found in some families.” Khrushchev complained that at Moscow colleges “children of workers and collective farmers comprise only 30 to 40 per cent of the student body. The rest are children of office employees, of the intelligentsia.”

In typical Soviet fashion, the first step was to be a slogan. Said Khrushchev: “The most important thing here is to issue a slogan and make this slogan sacred for all children entering school, that all children must pre- pare for useful work, for participation in building the Communist society.”

It is one thing, though, to issue a slogan and another to make it work.”

(to be continued)

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“Why we LOVE the U.S.” (Part IV)

My husband and I love our native land the U.S. of A. The saying “Distance makes the heart grow fonder” is every bit true the longer we live in Astana, Kazakhstan.  I have enjoyed reading a young girl’s account of surviving the steppes of Siberia.  When one lives through a winter in Astana, Kazakhstan you get a taste of what Siberian winters must be like.  I have no doubt that the conditions that deportees and others who were punished for made up crimes in the 1930s and 1940s experienced the rawness of it.  Fortunately we have heat and warm clothes, and food.  Although it is more expensive to ship things to the capital of Kazakhstan.

I’ve been using quotes from a book by Esther Hautzig, titled “The Endless Steppe.” Esther’s father plays an important part in her life throughout the book and I’m to the part where he has left to fight in the Front.  Imagine leaving Siberia to be closer to sure death in war.  Because he knew German they had wanted him but before they wanted him to be a spy in Siberia among his own people, the shreds who were left.  Here is the conversation with his family after he returned from being held by the NVKD.

p. 121 “They wanted me to be a spy…They wanted me to spy on all the Polish people in the village and report on their activities.”  What activities?” I asked. ‘What do you think we do besides try to keep body and soul together? Our activities? Are you mad?”

“You said that, Samuel?” Mother asked, horrified.

“I said that.  I told them that our activities are to feed our families, to keep warm, to keep from being caught in the storms outside.  I talked that way, Raya.  Me. I could hardly believe my own ears, that I had the courage to talk this way to secret police.  I still can’t believe that they didn’t shoot me, that I am here…”

We waited for him to continue. At last he said:  “I also cried.  Like a baby.  For the first time in years.  It was after all the threats–deportation, God knows what.  It was when they were bribing me.  Food.  A better house.  Cigerettes.  I put my head down on the table and and I begged them to stop.  No, I told them, I would not spy on my friends.  I told them they could shoot me…”

I put my arms around Father.  I was proud, very proud of my father.  And I was still very frightened for him.  Would they come back for Tata?”

Accidentally I read the last page of the book written by Esther Hautzig. (Since my 5th grade teacher Miss Nygaard told me to NEVER read the end, I never do) Esther’s father does return from the Front and they do leave Siberia and eventually they went to the U.S. Perhaps that is a whole other book that has not been written.  I hope you have enjoyed the snippets of this book I’ve quoted.  Once I’m finished with “The Endless Steppe,” I’ll send it to my 12 year old nephew, who LOVES to read books.  I can’t imagine him going through what this little 12 year old Esther went through in Siberia.  That’s why we LOVE the U.S., for now, we are protected from the evils that visited the former Soviet Union.  For now.

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“Why we LOVE the U.S.” (Part III)

I love my home country of U.S.A. because we have been granted many privileges and yet responsibility comes with those benefits as well. I am so glad I was not born in the former Soviet Union or did not grow up during a different era such as the 1930s and 1940s. No amount of airbrushing the true picture of the punishments visited upon innocent people will make me quiet on this topic. The number of deaths were in the MILLIONS , those who were exterminated as despicable people simply because they wanted to own their own land and house, no matter how small a patch they had.

As Americans, we still have the concept of “American Dream” where one can work as hard as you want and you will eventually be rewarded.  My great grandparents came from the Old Country following that dream. It may have taken them 5-6 weeks by ship over the Atlantic but they at least had hope of starting a new life.

Conversely, I’m reading Esther Hautzig true account of being snatched up with her parents and grandmother from Poland to be sent to Siberia in 1939. To read about another’s prolonged misery is humbling for me as an American.  Many people could have written the same story Esther wrote in 1968 in her book titled “The Endless Steppe: A Girl in Exile.”  She and her family were accused, by the Soviet government, as being capitalists, they owned too much.  Back in the 1930s and 1940s many Russians, Ukrainians, Germans, Estonians, Latvians, etc. were killed, sent to their premature deaths in Siberia and also in Kazakhstan.  (a whole ‘nother topic)

That is why the boxcar at ALZHIR just outside of Astana (look at yesterday’s blog) shows how confining it really was.  Imagine how many people were crammed into these cattle cars to take them to a frightening future.  Esther’s words give a hint to the painful confusion these ALZHIR women from all over the former Soviet Union suffered once they were separated from their children. (their husbands had already been taken away from them as “Enemies of the People.”)

p. 27 “I stayed below to take a look at our traveling companions, our fellow capitalists.  Possibly I imagined that by studying them I would uncover the secret of our own villainy, bring some sanity, however harsh, to this insanity.  What I saw only added to my bewilderment; peering out from behind one of my braids, I saw nothing more villainous than peasants – women in shawls, men in cotton jackets and trousers that resembled riding breeches.  I saw Polish peasants, not a rich capitalist among them; yanked from their land, they had toted their belongings in sacks, in shawls, in cardboard boxes.  I saw reflected in their stricken faces our mutual shock.  Later we learned of reports that more than a million Poles had been deported as “class enemies.”

As Esther’s family (mother, father and grandmother among the 40 in one boxcar) rode the six weeks from Poland to Siberia, Esther wrote this over 25 years later:

p. 33 “…freedom was an abstraction; food was real and I became ravenous.”

p. 36 “Going to the toilet and changing one’s clothes – rotating the few unlaundered clothes one had – were major undertakings.  The thought of a bath, a hair wash, and fresh clothes became an obsession.”

p. 37 “We had been traveling six weeks by my father’s count when the train stopped.  We were used to long waits and no one thought anything of it.  The train would move again; it always had.  I heard some commotion, and for some reason I thought that perhaps we had developed engine trouble, which would only prolong the journey.”

p. 38 “we had reached our destination. We were now in Rubtsovsk in the Altai Territory of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic of the great and mighty Soviet Union.  There were no cheers in that car.  Forty people gathered their belongings together, silently, in a near frenzy, as if there were some danger that the door would close again and leave them behind in that car.”

I am showing the names of those who died at ALZHIR, some went by the name of Miller, Freiberg or Freeman.  If you can figure out the Cyrillic, these listed names meant a human life that was extinguished. I’m glad they are memorialized in Kazakhstan.  I wonder if there is such a place in Siberia?

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“Why We LOVE the U.S.” – Happy Fourth of July!!!

My economist husband reads a great deal of different material on-line and he sent me the link below. He knew I would appreciate it. He does that often and I benefit while I, in turn, send him links that I know he is tracking with and he has MANY interests.

The other night I watched “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”  I believe this is a classic that should be viewed yearly, right around Fourth of July.  Frank Capra masterfully directed this B&W movie in 1939 starring Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart and other characters found in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It gives me a fresh perspective about our American democracy and just how fragile it really is.  For many who have lived in the former Soviet Union, they know what it is like to NOT have our cherished freedoms.

Read the following and if you are a westerner, especially an American – BE VERY THANKFUL FOR THE FREEDOMS YOU ENJOY!!!

Independence Day in Siberia

From a former Soviet Army truck driver, I learned the blessings of being an American.

By HILARY KRIEGER

My “there but for the grace of God” moment came on March 30, 2005. On that day, I found myself in the musty, bare apartment of 75-year-old Josef Katz, a former Soviet army truck driver who lived in the industrial wasteland of Achinsk, Siberia.

I had come to learn about the Jewish aid organization that provided him basic necessities each week, but what touched me most wasn’t his present poverty. It was the story he told me about his past, of the steps that carried him to a cramped and crumbling apartment with a vista limited to the concrete courtyard separating his warehouse of a building from the others just like it—and how it could have been my own family’s.

Like the many political prisoners who made Siberia synonymous with exile, Katz was born elsewhere. In his case, it was Ukraine, where he lived in a small town until World War II. Then, in 1944, he was packed onto a train, sent to a concentration camp and separated from his family. He managed to hang on until the next year when, at the age of 15, he was liberated by American soldiers.

Being just a boy, when the GIs—”angels” he called them—offered to take him to the United States, he thought only of finding his parents. So he turned down the soldiers’ offer. Half-starved and penniless, Katz could barely walk. Yet he made it back home, where he discovered that he alone from his family had survived.

There was a neighbor who recognized him and took him in. She spent a year nursing him back to health, and he in turn spent two years after that working to repay her. By then he was old enough to realize what he had lost by not going to America. But it was too late. He entered his mandatory military service in the Soviet army and was sent to a base in Siberia.

After his release Katz found work as a driver in Achinsk, where the grayness of the buildings, streets and perpetual slush penetrates the bones more deeply than the chill. It was in Achinsk that he, as he put it, “lived, worked and grew old.”

Katz’s decision was long made by the time I met him in his apartment five years ago. But that didn’t mean the wound of a life that might have been wasn’t fresh. When I asked him whether he regretted his choice, tears welled up.

“It was the biggest mistake I ever made,” he answered. “Many times I was crying in my heart that I missed that chance.”

My eyes weren’t dry, either. But I can’t claim it was solely compassion that moved me. It was also deep gratitude.

My own family lived in parts of Eastern Europe that later came under Soviet control. And they, too, were buffeted by historic forces of tragedy and opportunity.

The discrimination and hardship visited on Jews in the Czarist army caused my great-grandfather’s parents to have him smuggled out of Russia at the age of 14 before he could be conscripted. Against a backdrop of anti-Jewish pogroms, the prospect of building a better life convinced my great-great-grandmother to sell her home so that she, her husband and their 10 children could join the huddled masses reaching the New York shore in 1895.

Had they wavered, they and their offspring would also have grown up to face the ravages of World War II and—had any survived—a life of stifled hopes under Soviet Communism.

As their descendant, I would not have had the superlative public education where even as a student journalist I was able to test the bounds of free speech. I would not have gained the entrée and financial aid at Cornell, one of the country’s finest universities, that opened the door to the career of my choice. I would not have been able to worship freely as a Jew, to recite the Passover declaration loudly and publicly that “on this festival of freedom we pray that liberty will come to all.”

On Independence Day, I am acutely aware of the remarkable gifts I have been given because of decisions my forebears made, risks they took because of their conviction that America would receive and favor them. Because they were able to seize opportunity rather than let it slip away.

In a godforsaken apartment in Achinsk, I understood the blessings of being an American.

Ms. Krieger is the Washington bureau chief of the Jerusalem Post.



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Debunking Myths about me (Part II)

Myth#5 – The most painful lie used against me was when I was betrayed by someone I thought of and trusted as a friend.  She twisted a sentence that I wrote in a handout for an international TESOL conference paper that I delivered last March in Denver, Colorado.  She immediately flew into a rage that she did not agree with the term “dumping ground.” Here’s the errant sentence I wrote: “The Soviet Union from the North made Kazakhstan a “dumping ground” of other nationalities, making Kazakhs a minority in their own land.”  Why had I put “dumping ground” in quotations? Because there are plenty of journal articles, while doing a literature review, that use this phrase when referring to the number of nationalities (Korean, Ukrainian, Russian, etc.) who were thrown off the train in the middle of the steppes of Kazakhstan.  Thankfully, many Kazakh sympathized and helped those people who were dumped onto Kazakh soil to find food and shelter.  I believe the spirit of generosity and hospitality extended to strangers thrown off of trains during the perilous times of Stalin’s purges says something noble about the Kazakh people, doesn’t it?

In fact, when I went to ALZHIR, the memorial built by the president of this fine country, he was quoted as saying, “It is not Kazakhstan’s fault that it’s land was used as a “dumping ground” of many nationalities.”  Why can the president use this disputable phrase but I can’t? (ALZHIR is just outside of Astana, the new capital for Kazakhstan.  This place was where the wives whose husbands were considered “Enemies of the people” from all over the Soviet Union were sent as punishment. They were separated from their children and forced to do labor, some for 10 years if they lasted that long.) 

Logic went out the window in our heated discussion when my “friend” said that I thought her mother was garbage if I wrote that Kazakhstan was the Soviet Union’s “dumping ground” much the same as Siberia was used with its penal system. I never mentioned her mother, I was puzzled how that came up in our conversation when I thought we had been talking about Kazakhstan. But my supposed “friend” loves her mother and didn’t want her to be thought of as an imperialist Russian who came down from Moscow to Kazakhstan to tame the wild Kazakhs into submission.

I have much sympathy and compassion for this former teaching colleague woman who only has an older mother and one daughter.  We shared some very good times together but this is a very complex country to live in. Unfortunately she was born in Kazakhstan but she is not Kazakh herself, she is what is known as Kazakhstani.  Perhaps her main fear is that the nationalistic Kazakhs will rise up against the Kazakhstani who are of Russian ethnicity and kick them out as has been done in more nationalistic countries such as Estonia, Lithuania and other former Soviet countries. In actual truth, her mother was a history teacher and that is where the political rub comes in.  Even the president of this country found that the Moscow elites were changing Kazakhstan’s history in the history textbooks to fit the Soviet ideology and would obliterate any truth to what the Kazakhs had handed down orally for generations.

So from that little incident last spring, it was noised around with a change of wording that I thought Kazakhstan was a “garbage dump.”  Nothing could be further from the truth!!!  I see Kazakhstan as a very beautiful country with very beautiful people.  What saddens me is that there are Kazakh and Kazakhstani alike who are still so twisted up in their old communist dogma. They are NOT beautiful people but are soulless and still very much misled by untruths. In some cases, the older teachers and administrators have been communist party members longer than they have known the liberating air of democracy.  I have learned from this experience that the old habits of intimidation, fear and bullying die hard. 

What I found so perplexing was why would I, as an American citizen, prefer to stay and teach longer in Kazakhstan if I thought this country was a “garbage dump?” I certainly was not teaching at this institution of higher learning for the pay as many other foreigners are who draw large professor salaries.  Compared to other universities in Almaty, our institution is also the best paying job for any Kazakh or Kazakhstani teacher. There’s the irony because it would be much easier for me to go home and live in a culture that I know as my own and be paid twice as much as I was paid in Almaty.

8) to be continued 8)

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