The Armenian Style

As we have discussed in previous classes, the Soviet Union was known for placing a specific emphasis on folk music and what they felt it had to offer. In the reading “National Identity, cultural policy and the Soviet Folk Ensemble”, we find that Armenia exemplifies a rather positive case of impacts of Soviet cultural policy as compared to the other cases we have analyzed in class.

I believe the development of a strong nationalism prior to Soviet rule without a doubt plays into its success in the early 20th century, considering that “music policy towards the satellite nations was either related to nationhood in some way or was not” (151). Also, the fact that ideas or basic institutions were changed very little from when Lenin first employed nationalities policies, lasting well into the 1930s under Stalins rule, has a lot to do with the success considering the time it took to organize folk music and instruments into that of something usable in a western framework. this of course references the most important idea in music policy, advancement.

Soviet Humor: By the People, For the Elites, and Censored by the Officialdom

After reading chapters 3 and 4 from “Beau Monde on Empire’s Edge” by Mayhill C. Fowler, it is easy for me to presume that we all saw the issue of Soviet censorship from a mile away. Although, with the idea of not having to entertain an audience of “normal” people and rather one in which supplies funding for the theater directly, it is not a wonder why the content of the performances was catered to them instead. However, Fowler points out, “according to Soviet ideology, shouldn’t all art be for everyone? After all, too much focus on securing the hard-won rubles from the lower-class audience members created art that was ostensibly ‘lower’ in the artistic hierarchy of the Russian Empire” (Fowler, 96). I feel this is an interesting concept and obviously counterintuitive to spreading culture when, in reality, only the elites enjoy the larger productions in Moscow.

Perhaps the real culture is to be found in that of the literature discussed between the comparisons of Ostap Vyshnia and Il’f -Petrov. Both were very famous and responsible for works that are still referenced as great sources of Soviet literature. Although Vyshnia struggled with the issue of making his work something for the masses to enjoy, he had no struggle in creating well praised Soviet entertainment. I believe that besides the modernized level of production, Soviet Ukrainian culture was most noteworthy for the simple fact that the Officialdom supported and promoted it in a way that we have yet to see so far. This idea is supported by Fowler’s statement that “Indeed the years of Ukrainization corresponded to years of artistic flourishing in Soviet Ukraine” (Fowler, 118).

Chust or Bust? When all else fails, sweep it under the Soviet carpet!

In chapter 4 of Veiled Empire, the author covers the reactions of not only the Uzbeks but the soviet writers who documented the episode. Interestingly, the public reports of how the Uzbeks and Soviets had clashed over the hujum and how they are drastically different compared to the statements made by the OGPU (soviet secret police). Many discrepancies are uncovered, particularly regarding what had happened following the arrest of the eight people involved in the death of a local police officer. What we find is ” a relatively unvarnished view of how the party’s ill-advised actions helped create the crowd that grew steadily in size and hostility, and ultimately provoked violent attacks on Soviet personnel and property” (Northrop, 146). This was interesting because I feel we have rarely heard of the Soviets admitting their mistakes or at least taking accountability for what followed. What didn’t surprise me was how the Soviets had made such reports secretly and then chose not to reconcile their errors. Instead, a secret police report shared how after the arrest of the eight protestors, a contingent investigation called for the naming of 127 participants in the violence of the episode.

Furthermore, Red army soldiers and mounted police arrived to enforce newly established rules, thus further unsettling the already angered Uzbek public (Northrop, 146-147). I feel that this instance of Soviet error is comparable to what followed in the example of the Kresy in the sense of how little information about the events was public and is accessible today without extensive research. In the Kresy, we saw the author having to travel there herself for information. Now we are witnessing the author having to uncover information in documents that were once coveted and made private. Another essential comparison is how the Soviet reports had always told their superiors of the success they were finding when the exact opposite was true, a trend we have talked about in previous classes.

Once Again Progress Turns to Kaput: Trends in Failure

After analyzing numerous attempts at which the Soviet Union has tried to specifically define distinct nationalities, Northrop immediately points to the dilemma they create for themselves instead. The Soviet Union had done so by first insulting the Uzbeks in terms of their capabilities of modernization, then forcing them to change their society specifically through their women (Northrop, 34).

Was the fact that Central Asia was always seen as timeless and unchanging the perfect set up for the Soviet Union to true and push for its assimilation in hopes of using its lasting condition as a prize form of national identity in which they could pursue in showcasing as they had done with the people of the Kresy or briefly with the Romani? In Northrop’s opinion, the answer is yes, and this was evident by how Russian writers had painted ethnographic pictures of Primitive Central Asians which may have helped to bolster Russia’s position among the enlightened nations (Northrop, 37). Furthermore, Northrop explains that Central Asia and its women provided Russia with a visible civilizing mission (Ibid). Once again we the Soviet Union intervening in a long-lived traditional way of life and snatching their self-proclaimed duty of changing it, all the while exuding masculine opinion and power in justifying doing so.

Another trend that can be seen is that the Russian writers (once the Bolsheviks took control in 1917) are that they had very little background knowledge of the peoples in which they were writing about, which in this case is unique with the Muslim faith and the fact that few of the Russian writers were aware of its significance. Regardless, many of the early Russians writers placed the Muslim faith at the root of the issues they encountered, or as Northrop wittingly alludes to Marx by saying that “barbaric” practices could be easily connected to Islam, the opiate of the Muslim people (Northrop, 40).

Gypsy Art and Its Cultural Rejection

After reading chapter 5 of Brigid O’Keeffe’s’ “New Soviet Gypsies: Nationality, Performance, and Selfhood in the Early Soviet Union”, I have raised some questions. Specifically, I question the overall thinking of Boris Schtienpress and how he made certain observations. For example, he focuses on gypsy women as a distinct ethnic emblem of the seeming threat posed to righteous and pure Bolshevik masculinity (O’Keeffe, 196). With his thoughts in mind, I ask what people had come to think of the male performers of the Romani arts? Furthermore, I ask what birthed such principles of misogyny rooted within Bolshevik thought? Were his critiques of the arts simply propaganda like statements regarding the values in which Bolsheviks expected women to adhere in the Soviet Union?

From Balytskyi to Leplevskyi

When reading the beginning of chapter 6 in “A Biography of No Place” by Kate Brown, the author talks about the change in power for the NKVD Chief position going from Balytskyi to Israel Leplevskyi. In this exchange, Brown mentions that Leplevskyi was exiled after spreading rumors that his boss’s success was due to his efforts (Brown, 156). Leplevskyi swore that he would return and did only to accuse Balytskyi and his bureau of inactivity in fighting the enemy. Leplevskyi went on to replace Balytskyi and conduct major efforts in the Great Purges from 1937 to 1939 (Brown, 158). This includes arresting just about anybody with a Polish connection, to which Leplevskyi had never questioned. He soon after asked to be able to arrest more people, knowing he couldn’t satisfy such a ludicrous request. my question is whether or not things would have been off if Pelevskyi had never replaced Balytskyi? Was the diligent tenor of terror better than that of a complacent man like Balytskyi?