Tag Archives: communist

Understanding today’s Russia

With President Obama in Moscow, America’s attention has been focused anew on its former cold war adversary. But nearly two decades after the fall of Communism, Russia remains an enigma to many Americans.

In an excellent example of explanatory journalism, Clifford J. Levy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist, offers a simple six-step guide to “decoding Russia.”

Mr. Levy’s broad ideas about modern Russia are quite perceptive and accurate (no earth-shattering revelations), and should be read by every American who wants to gain a better understanding of the new Russia.

They reflect a strong understanding of what makes Russia tick – an understanding no doubt fed by Mr. Levy’s command of Russian and his efforts to reach out to Russian readers and sources.

Through all of Mr. Levy’s points runs a common thread – to understand Russia today, one needs to have an accurate understanding of Russia’s past. As I’ve written about before, this includes an appreciation for the massive toll of World War II – the Great Patriotic War – on Russia, and Russia’s perception that it bore the brunt of the conflict.

Beyond World War II, it’s important to acknowledge that Russians have a mixed view of their past – and that for many, the Soviet system had favorable aspects, while the current capitalist system has its pluses and minuses as well.

For more on what you need to know to understand Russia, including a brief overview of Russia’s take on former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (TIME Magazine’s 2007 Person of the Year), check out Mr. Levy’s piece.

Have your own questions about Russia? Leave them in the comments or send me an email, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Irony, Russian Style

The Aurora

The Aurora

I was going to try to write something witty about revelations that a Russian billionaire threw a party last week on the cruiser Aurora, which famously fired a blank shell at the Winter Palace during the 1917 Bolshevik takeover, and is now a museum of Communist propaganda. But seriously, just read this article about the “Capitalist Orgy” from the St. Petersburg Times. I have nothing to add.

City Tour

We saw the old KGB headquarters in St. Petersburg today; or rather, we saw the FSB building. It’s called большой дом, The Big House, and from the windows you can see Siberia, our guide joked.

Speaking of law enforcement and such, we also passed by the Peter and Paul Fortress, a low hexagonal island defense against the Swedes that was never used in war. Instead, it held political prisoners to 1917. Only one person, the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, has ever escaped from the island, and he did it by getting transferred to a hospital.

Perhaps the coolest thing we glimpsed from the bus during our driving tour of the city was the cruiser Aurora. The Aurora, which survived the Russo-Japanese war, fired a blank at the Winter Palace at the start of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, and has therefore been immortalized for its role, however small, in bringing down the provisional government and carrying Lenin to power.

The ship has become a tourist trap of the highest degree. As we drove by, I noticed the row of stalls beside it hawking t-shirts and souvenirs to tourists. People posed for pictures sitting on the deck gun that fired the famous shot. The ship serves as a museum of Communist propaganda; across the river, however, stands the massive St. Petersburg Bank.

As we drove, we saw a few other interesting sites, like the St. Petersburg Mosque, built in the early 1900s, and a whole bunch of statues. The variety of statues here is pretty impressive, but it’s hard to keep them all straight (other than the Lenin statue in front of the Palace of Soviets. He’s pretty distinictive. I really want to take my picture in front of Lenin, but we’ve only driven by so far; we haven’t stopped.). Particularly impressive was The Bronze Horseman – a huge statue of Peter the Great on horseback.