The Baton and Sickle: Erasure of Hajibeyov

The case of the composer Hajibeyov from Azerbaidzhan is an interesting one, simply because of the fact that outside of his home country, where he is so deeply recognized, his name is all but unknown. Unspoken of in most books, lectures, and conferences about music, which are mostly produced in the Western world, this composer goes unrecognized for the additions he made to music throughout his lifetime. The author gives a number of reasons for this:

  • His death took place during the cooldown of Western interest in Soviet Music, which was right after World War Two
  • He was considered a one-hit-wonder due to the fact that his most popular music near his death was war marches and cantatas

An important mention in this paper, though, is that Hajibeyov personified the failure of Soviet music policy when it came to national identity and culture. Is this assertion valid? What kind of evidence supports or refutes this statement? And, what does this have to do with the things we’ve learned about Soviet nationalist policy in previous classes?

Fikret Amirov – Shur

Shur is a beautiful piece of music from Azerbaijan, that showcases the talent of orchestral musicians during this barely post-war time period. This song travels through different pieces, making it sound more of a symphony than a single piece. For example, the sound at the beginning of the song is very different than the sound at the 7-minute mark. This could be because the Soviet Union encouraged pieces to tell stories, which requires a longer amount of time. This music was different than what people would have typically been listening to in more Western countries. Why was this important to the Soviet Union, to have such different forms of music be accessible to the general public?

Carpets and Railroads

When the Soviet Union took power in Turkmenistan, they encouraged the Russification of many Turkish traditions. Central Asian groups were encouraged to abandon their epic-style poetry for short stories and novels and to adhere to European style symphonies and operas (some of which included traditional instruments). However, they were still encouraged to create their carpets – under a new set of expectations, such as putting Lenin on them. They were taken and hung up in museums, instead of being utilized as a tool that was considered “primitive”. Similarly, in the film Turksib, the Turkish people are shown as primitive farmhands and herders, a nomadic population of people with no real direction or loyalty to any state. When the Soviet Union comes to build the railroad, though, the Turkish people become hard workers for the Union, “taming” the land by building the railroad. In both situations, it seems that the Soviet Union believes they are “saving” the Turkish people from their nomadic and primitive lifestyle. 

Some important questions to note about the text/film: 

  1. Why were the Turkish people encouraged to create carpets, but not their traditional style music and poetry? 
  2. Could the carpets post Soviet takeover even be considered traditional when compared to those made before Soviet intervention? 
  3. In the film Turksib, the footage of the railroad is juxtaposed with footage of the desert, camels, sheep, and the dry steppe. Why do you think Turin chose to show this footage? 

Industrialization and the Kazakh people

When the Soviet Union attempted to push their ways on the Kasakh population, they struggled with the lack of work ethic and the general ability to do the jobs they forced them to do. Industrialization was not something that had occurred within Kazakhstan yet, and so the Soviet Union believed they were “saving” the Kasakh people from their “primitive ways”. However, this proved to be a struggle for the Soviet Union, who thought that the Kazakh people were being ungrateful. Why do you think that Soviet officials wanted to force these people, who for centuries were farmers and nomads, to be industrial workers when there was still a high demand for farmers? Would it not have been easier to use their skills to provide higher amounts of food for the Union?

The question of Nationality

In this reading, I found a lot of similarities between the Gypsies’ question of their national identity and the question of national identity in the Kresy. It seemed like both the Gypsies and the Ukrainian, Polish, and Germans in the Kresy were both comfortable to call themselves by their own labels until the Soviet government tried to force each group into a certain box for the census and resettlement. However, there were some differences within the decision to push the Gypsies into one group, that mirrored what happened to the Jewish population. What made the question of nationality for the Gypsies different from the ones of Ukrainian, Polish, or German identities?

Anti-Semitism vs Anti-Religion

In “Stalin’s Forgotten Zion”, there is quite a bit of discussion about the Russification of Jewish people in the J.A.R. By the late stages of the Soviet Union, there were barely any bits of Judaism left: no schools taught Yiddish, there were no celebrations of festivals or holidays, and even the way they dressed had been Russified. It was nearly a complete loss of culture. While it was not abnormal for the Soviet Union to be so against religion, the Jewish population was treated especially poorly by the government by forcing them into one area and dismantling their culture. Do you think that this erasure of Jewish culture was because the Soviet Union was so anti-religion? Or, do you think it could have been because of the historical anti-semitism seen throughout Europe since the early ages?

The Great Purges and Power Vacuums

The purges were a horrible period in the Soviet Union, which caused the deaths and exiling of thousands of people who were more than likely to be innocent of any “crime against the state” or espionage. However, many people were able to take advantage of this situation as well. A prime example would be Leplevsky, who spread rumors and half-truths about Balytyski that eventually got him exiled and killed. When Leplevsky came into power at the NKVD, he arrested all of Balytyskis leading deputies and replaced them with young workers who would follow him blindly (pg 157). Under his power, almost 20,000 people were arrested in connection to a “polish conspiracy”. Some of these people included top party leaders who had otherwise good names among the people.

Given what we know about the purges and how they worked, do you think that it was inevitable that people like Leplevsky would come into power and abuse the state of the Union?

Village Reactions to Deportation

It is clear in chapters 3-5 in Biography of No Place that deportation was a chaotic and poorly planned event. Not enough resources were given to the villagers who were moving, nor were enough resources given to the people moving them so that they could have a safe journey. In fact, in the chapter “A Diary of Deportation”, Zborovskii mentions that there were not enough wagons to carry the elderly and the children to the resettlement areas. Some placed did not even have enough paper for him to write on. However, this did not seem to affect some of the villager’s outlooks on deportation. In fact, some villagers were happy to be sent to these new areas.

“18 February 1935: In the [German] village of Negeim I called a meeting of the Young Communist League at 10:00 a.m. to get their participation in the campaign. They broke into four brigades. We informed the families concerned…about90% were happy to be going. For instance, Gustav Ryk said, “I am happy about the resettlement. It will be a lot better in the new place. They have good black earth there.”

Some villages, though, were upset or confused about why they were being deported. One townsperson said it was because they were trying to get rid of Polish and German residents. Others believed it to be a punishment for refusing to do collective farming. Why do you think that some villages were happy to move, while others weren’t? What could have convinced them that this was a good move?

Villagers and the Soviet Government

In the second chapter of “A Biography of No Place”, Kate Brown discusses the “threat” posed to the Soviet Union by villages and towns in the countryside. These threats include the lack of revolutionary attitudes from villagers. Brown states that this could be attributed to their ignorance of “borders, ethnicity, class, and political mood” that the Soviet Union was trying to impose upon them from hundreds of miles away. She goes on to say that these things barely existed in the daily lives of villagers who were still living their lives based on their own holidays, schedules, and religions. These “threats” caused Soviet leadership to take drastic measures, such as deportation, out on these people. Why were they so threatening to the Soviet government? What was the issue with people practicing their own culture, even though Lenin had stated in earlier speeches that they encouraged these practices?

Lenin on the National Question

In Lenin’s speech to the All-Russian Navy conference, he answers the question of whether or not there was a plan to create one full Soviet State or have many smaller regions with their own cultures creating the Soviet State. Lenin suggests that this is not something to be feared, as the “tsarist regime” had banned uses of certain native tongue and caused a lot of hatred among people.

“We are told that Russia will be divided, will split into separate republics. We should not be afraid of this. No matter how many separate republics are created we shall not be frightened by it. It is not the state frontiers that count with us but a union of toilers of all nations ready to fight the bourgeoisie of any nation.”

Lenin goes on to describe how this technique would be used to “conquer Finland”, which he describes as letting the Finnish people exist as themselves but as a single piece of the whole Soviet Union. Do you think this example convinced Soviet citizens that they were all a part of one collective union?