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Russia’s History Is Incomplete

Published: August 27, 2014 (Issue # 1826)




  • Photo: Elkin

August in Russia is a big month for anniversaries. Aug. 19, 1991, saw a conservative military coup in Moscow; its failure signaled the terminal phase of the fall of the Soviet Union. On Aug. 23, it will have been 75 years since Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop signed a non-aggression treaty in Moscow. Both these events have almost been forgotten. But studying them certainly wouldn’t be a waste of time for anyone trying to understand modern Russia.

When I was a student in the mid-’90s and interested in making some spending money, a German foundation gave me a job writing a bibliography of the most interesting articles from the Volga German Autonomous Region’s biggest publication.

This region existed in Soviet Russia from 1918 to 1941 and was populated by the descendants of German colonist farmers who had come to Russia as early as the 18th century. The region was abolished on Aug. 28, 1941 — yet another forgotten August date — two months after war broke out between the Soviet Union and Germany. Most ethnic Germans were subsequently deported from the Volga region.

In Germany, the history of the Volga Germans is remembered quite a bit better than in Russia, and because of that I spent some months immersed in the periodical archives of several Moscow libraries. Flipping through yellowed pages full of hard-to-read Gothic script, I got the chance to visit long-gone eras; perhaps the most interesting of them was the end of the 1930s.

The newspaper naturally covered events outside of Russia, including those tied to national socialism in Germany or, for example, the civil war in Spain. Day in and day out, Hitler’s government in Germany was presented to readers in the most caricatured fashion possible, but at the same time was discussed as a threat and potential enemy.

Until suddenly in 1939 everything changed. The anti-fascist caricatures and rhetoric disappeared, and the tone turned businesslike and proper. The swastika flag, which had until then been placed on maps to show readers the looming threat to Europe from fascism, now appeared in official photographs. Finally, on Aug. 24, 1939, the paper published a celebratory article on the signing in Moscow of a historic agreement between the Soviet and Nazi ministers of foreign affairs.

One of the most important moments of the perestroika era was when the secret additional protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact were made public. These secret additions assigned the Baltic states to the Soviet Union and divided up Poland into German and Soviet spheres of influence. These protocols were a real shock to a country that had been proclaiming itself the defeater of fascism since 1945.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Oct. 24


SPIBA’s ongoing “Breakfast with the Director” series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at “Sounds of the Universe,” a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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