Stilyagas and Airplanes

stilyaga-2.jpg       mozhaisky

 

Xenophobia is the fear of foreigners or outside culture. In post-war Russia, Xenophobia was very prevalent. The fear of outside influence was strong. It was so bad that there was a law passed restricting the marriage to a foreigner. Xenohpobia was cultural as well. Cultural xenpohobia was characterized by the mindset of Russian superiority over western culture. Western culture was seen as posion that infected the minds of everybody who came in contact with it. Eventually, the condemnation of western culture became mandatory. Two examples of Xenophobia in literature are “Stilyaga” by D. Belyaev and an excerpt from the Great Soviete Encyclopedia on Aviation.

Stilyaga

“Stilyaga” by Belyaev is about a bubbleheaded Russian teenager. After World War Two, there were many orphans in the Soviet Union looking for a sense of identity. The orphans along with children of the Soviet elite turned to western culture like American jazz and cinema for their identity. These people were known as “Stilyaga.”

In this piece, Stilyaga, the main character, is depicted as an overconfident bubbleheaded teenage boy with uncultural/ Western mannerisms who wore bright clothes in a variety of colors and fabrics. Stilyaga’s bright clothes and western mannerisms were described as absurd and weird by the narrator. Stilyaga’s grandiose nature, overconfidence, and lack of knowledge makes him look like a fool. For example, when talking about the dance Stilyaga made up, the narrator tells him that even Terpsichore would faint. Stilyaga responded to him saying that Terpsichore was a “chic” name and asked who she is. This evoked the sarcastic response from the narrator that Terpsichore was his wife, when Terpsichore is actually the Greek goddess of dance and chorus. Stilyaga is supposed to represent the absurdity of Western culture. His personality and characteristics depict western culture as an absurd, surface-level, unintelligent culture that Soviet culture is clearly superior to. It made Soviet parents fear the idea of Western culture turing their children into unintelligent social outcasts.

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The excerpt on Aviation from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia is another good example of xenophobia. Published at the end of the Stalinist era and at the height of the Cold War, the defensive tone of this article reveals the cultural idea of everything Russian being supreme. This piece is written to accentuate the credit of Russians in the study of aviation. For example, the encyclopedia talks about Leonardo DaVinci’s attempts to establish the theories of possibility of air flight, but then says that “the credit for the further development of his theoreticla ideas and their realization belong to the Russians.” Also, even though the encyclopedia entry mentions major breakthroughs in the study of aviation by sources other than Russians, they don’t go into detail. An example of this is when it mentions the Wright Brothers first successful manned flight of an airplane. This topic is talked about for only three and a half sentences, but then is followed by a large paragraph about two not as significant Russian scientists who founded the first school of aerodynamics. This source is a good example of xenophobia through the way that it talks so highly about the Russians.

Overall, both “Stilyaga” and the Aviation excerpt are great examples of cultural xenophobia in the Stalinist Post-war era of the Soviet Union. IT wouldn’t be until th emid to late 1950s when the Great Thaw takes place, which begins to eleviate some of xenophobia in the country.

 

Sources

Belyaev, D. “Stilyaga.” In Mass Culture in Soviet Russia. edited by James Von Geldern and Richard Sites, 450- 453. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995.

“Aviation: From the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.” In Mass Culture in Soviet Russia. edited by James Von Geldern and Richard Sites, 479-86. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995.

17 Moments

Love and Kerchiefs

 

World War Two, also known as the Great Patriotic War in the Soviet Union, was a war, even though defined by some of the most evil acts of mankind, was also a war fought out of love: love for one’s country and love for one’s family and significant other. When the war started, an editorial titled “The Enemy Will Be Destroyed” was published in the Leningrad Pravda. It stated, “the war has begun… It has been imposed on us by the bloodthirsty Fascist gang that dreams of world domination, that has enslaved and torments many nations whom they have stripped of their independence.” Many people rallied behind their country to stop the bloodthirsty fascists from stripping them of their freedom. Out of patriotism and the love of their motherland, the Soviet Union was able to gather many willing able-bodied men to fight in this war. Many men went off to war with the idea of their loved one wearing a kerchief waiting for them as they get back, but sadly, for many, that wasn’t the case.

Letyat_ZhuravliAs many men went off to war, the picture of a girl waiting back at home with a kerchief was a common theme of Soviet war propaganda.  As seen in the poster above, this idea gave men a face to fight for and made the war more personal. This imagery was used in songs like “My Beloved” and “The Blue Kerchief”. This imagery can also be seen in a later Soviet film “The Cranes are Flying” when Boris is leaving for war and there are many women saying goodbye to their husbands and boyfriends.

 

The image of a woman wearing a kerchief represented love and separation to the Soviet soldiers. In “My Beloved,” the author depicts his beloved girl waving her kerchief goodbye from the gate as he and his platoon march off. He writes about how he remembers the smile of his beloved girl to help his days pass by quickly and how he carries a picture of her in his pocket. Even though it is a short piece, it clearly depicts the image of a woman with her kerchief while also depicting the author’s feelings for his beloved.

An example of the kerchief representing the separation from loved ones is the song, “The Blue Kerchief.”  Written in 1940, it quickly became a hit and it was sung at the Front and in besieged cities. It reminded the soldiers at the front of their loved ones at home and it reminded the citizens in the cities under Nazi control of the soldiers who were fighting for them.

In this piece, the author depicts his loved one wearing a blue kerchief and it falling off as she is waving goodbye to him. He is constantly remembering that image and her blue kerchief and reminding himself that she promised to wait for him. He is also reminded that he and every other machine-gunner is fighting for their loved one wearing the blue kerchief.

Both of these pieces show how the kerchief represented not only love and separation, but also the hope of a loved one waiting for them. After a certain point in war, the desire to defend the motherland began to disappear among the soldiers and they began to cling to the only idea that they had left: to fight for their loved ones. They fought out of patriotism and love for their motherland, but they won by remembering their loved ones at home.

The sad reality is that not every soldier still had a loved one waiting at home when they returned. Many soldiers believed that once they got home, all would be the same again and everything would go back to normal, but for some that wasn’t the case. Due to the stressful conditions of wartime, some women didn’t wait for the men who loved them, like Veronika in “The Cranes Are Flying.”

Ultimately, for many Soviets during WWII, the kerchief symbolized love, separation, and hope for a better future. Many soldiers clung to the idea of their beloved waiting for them at home as they pushed through the war. Even though some went home to find themselves single, this idea got them through the war and ultimately, played a big part in their victory over Germany and the Nazis.

 

 

Other Sources:

Dolmatovsky, E. and M. Blanter. “My Beloved.” Mass Culture in Soviet Russia. pg. 333. Indiana University Press: Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1995.

“June 1941: The Enemy Will Be Destroyed.” The Russia Reader. pg. 493-96. Duke University Press: Durham and London, 2010.

Peterburgsky, Jerzy and Yakov Galitsky. “The Blue Kerchief.” Mass Culture in Soviet Russia. pg. 334-335. Indiana University Press: Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1995.

 

The Happy-Go-Lucky Era

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Listen to this first!

The March of the Happy-Go-Lucky Guys was a song that became a colossal hit in 1930s Russia. Its popularity tied to Grigory Aleksandrov’s musical film of a similar name, “Happy Go-Lucky-Guys”, it was a collaboration between a major Stalin-era lyricist, Vasily Lebedev-Kumach and Isaac Dunaevsky, who was seen as the King of Soviet Songwriters. These two men collaborated  multiple times to write the music for Aleksandrov’s plays.  This song promotes major themes of 1930s Russian culture such as the branding of heroes, scientific and technological triumphs, and the country’s triumph over “backwardness” while singing about the joys that singing brings to the world. The song also evokes a strong sense of nationalism and patriotism in every verse, persuading its audience that their culture and their homeland is worth the fight or struggle. Below, I have broken down the translation of each verse to show how the writers were successful in promoting these themes.

“Merry singing fills the heart with joy, It never will let you be sad. The countryside and villages love singing, big cities love singing too.”

This verse states that singing makes people happy and fills them with joy. This is how the writers first instill the upbeat attitude towards the new regime. One really important point to make about this verse is how it says that both cities and villages love to sing. During pre-revolution Russia, the villages and the cities were very different places with very different cultures and they never seemed to both be doing well. Very often, if the cities were booming, then it was because people left the villages to go find work and the villages were falling short. Or if the villages were thriving, it was because there was no work or food available in the cities and the workers flocked back to the villages, like after the Russian Civil War.  So by saying that both places love to sing, the writers are stating that both places are happy and thriving at the same time, which is a huge accomplishment of the socialist regime.

“A song helps us building and living, like a friend, it calls and leads us forth. And whoever goes through life singing, Will never fall behind. And Whoever goes through life singing, will never ever fall behind.”

This verse shows the country’s triumph over “backwardness”.  At the beginning of the Revolution, the country was behind the rest of Europe economically and culturally, and they were kind of backward. They began to catch up through the development of technology and the promotion of building cities and the working class. This verse not only suggests that singing and being happy helped them to build and develop, but will also continue to help them grow and will keep them from ever falling behind the rest of the world again.

“Stride forward, clan of Young Communists, Sing and joke, and make smiles bloom. We are taming space and time, we are the young masters of the earth.”

This is a call to the next generation to continue with the development of the new society. This verse is persuading the next generation to step up by telling them that by just being happy, singing and laughing and smiling, then they can do anyhting. They can take over the world. This evokes a sense of invincibility and power. The world is the young communist generation’s oyster.

“We’ll grasp, discover, and attain it all, the cold North Pole and the clear blue sky, When our country commands that we be heroes, then anyone can become a hero.”

This verse continues to persuade the next generation that they can do anything. This verse is promoting technological and scientific triumphs like going to the North pole, or making it into the sky.

It also promotes the idea that anybody can be a hero. In 1930s Soviet Russia, they were very big on the promotion of heroes. Heroes discovered things and contriubuted to society in a positive way. By saying that “our country commands that we be heroes, then anyone can be a hero.”, the writers are not only calling everybody to be heroes, but they are also implying the theme of selflessness for one’s country and for the socialist culture. This is very important because it is promoting the support of Russia’s government.

“We can sing and laugh like children, amid our constant struggle and toil, But that’s how we were born into the world, nowhere and never to relent!”

This verse admits that there is still constant struggle and toil present in the culture, but by continuing to laugh and sing, they will never relent. This verse continues to express the themes of selflessness and sacrifice for the socialist culture. They can push through the struggle and the toil of life by singing and they will never give up. Also, by comparing their joy to that of children, the writer is saying that even amoungst the hard times in life, they can still live care-free and naively like children.

“If our enemy decides to start a battle to take our living joy away from us, then we’ll strike up our song of battle and leap to defend our motherland.”

This verse ties together the themes of joy, nationalism, and sacrifice.  It expresses that the joy that they have is from the government/ their nation and it calls everybody to make the ultimate sacrifice for one’s country if an enemy were to attack. This verse is so important, because it’s implying that all of this joy from singing, child-like happiness, and the hope for an even more developed future all comes from the socialist regime. All of this is worth fighting for.

Peasant Utopia? Lies!

the travels of my brother alexeiThe short story ,“The Travels of My Brother Aleksei to the Land of Peasant Utopia” written by Aleksandr Chaianov is about a man named Aleksei Kremnev who works for the Soviet government in the early 1920s and he’s taken into the future to 1984 to see the peasant utopia that the Russian’s dreamed of. The main theme of this story is the change of thinking from bourgeois to socialist, which is a big part of Revolutionary culture.

Revolutionary Culture as depicted through this short story is very upsetting. Private businesses are gone. The people are trying to get rid of the family dynamic once and for all. Having negative feelings about socialism is wrong. The most upsetting thing of them all is that the peasant picture of the future is completely false.

1. Private Businesses are gone- In the beginning of the story, the main character Aleksei Kremnev is walking home late one night from a meeting and he’s walking down a street in Moscow that used to be thriving with private businesses and where the main character had so many amazing memories. For example, the author writes, “and for many long hours he had rooted, eyes burning with proselytic fervor, through the handwritten and printed treasures of Shibanov’s antiquarian bookstore- there, where now in the dim light of the streetlamp you could make out the short sign “Chief Administration of Paper Industry”.”

2. Abandoning the Family Dynamic- On his walk home, Aleksei’s thoughts are filled with phrases that he heard at the meeting about getting rid of family life once and for all. Thoughts like “By destroying the family hearth, we will deal the final blow to the bourgeois system!”, “Our decree, which forbids nourishment at home, casts the joyous poison of the bourgeois family out of our way of life and stabilizes the socialist principle until the end of all time.” or “Family comfort gives birth to proprietary desires; the joy of the small time property owner conceals the seeds of capitalism.” They believe that the family dynamic is a custom of the bourgeois and should no longer exist.

3. The idea of being unhappy with the socialist way of life is wrong- After he gets home, Aleksei is looking at his collection of books by his favorite authors, like William Morris, Edward Bellamy, St. Thomas Aquinas, Robert Blatchford, and Herzen, who he calls pioneering utopians and he’s asking them if they are satisfied with what he’s done. He’s talking to his books, because he isn’t satisfied with what he’s done as an old socialist himself and an important Soviet functionary who ran one of the departments in the World Council of National Economy. Chaianov writes of Kremnev’s feelings, “He felt a kind of unfocused regret for what was departing. Some cobweb of bourgeois psychology still darkened his socialist consciousness.” Aleksei felt that it was wrong to be unhappy with the Soviet society he was living in. He thought that is was just remnants left over from the brainwashed bourgeois society.

4. The utopia that Soviet socialists dreamed about and is depicted in this story is false. After questioning himself and his books, Aleksei lost consciousness and woke up in a Soviet Utopia in 1984. This utopia was bright and beautiful and the city of Moscow was filled with green and people and cars. Soviet Russia was thriving in agricultural engineering. Everybody was educated. He met a woman who could talk for hours about art. Russia was leading in technological advances. Everybody loved socialism.

Sadly, none of this came to fruition in 1984. People living in the 1920s Soviet Russia truly believed that this sort of utopia was really their future, but it wasn’t. This was an idea of the socialist school of thought. The idea that life was going to suck for a little bit, but one day in the future, everything will be perfect and there will be no more hardship.

Overall, these ideas of Soviet Socialist thought are saddening and inhumane. Taking away people’s freedom and right to own and run a bookstore; people’s right to enjoy a bookstore is wrong. The idea that a family- a husband and wife who have a home and raise kids, should be extinguished, is inhumane and is stripping away the most the simplest form of joy that exists: love. It isn’t wrong to be unhappy with one’s life either. That’s life. Finally, it just doesn’t make sense that all these people believe that getting rid of all these things will eventually lead them to live in a utopia. How can an utopia exist if the little things in life that bring people joy and give them a desire to live are stripped from them?