The Sobering Truth

(1) Anti – Alcohol Campaign

The truth is, Russians can’t live without there alcohol. They like to drink….a lot. Every celebratory occasion in Russia calls for a drink but many would not even need a reason to drink besides that they enjoy it. Up until the start of the 1980s there were some anti-alcohol campaigns but never a real strong mission to stop binge-drinking and alcohol abuse. “In a speech in 1984, Chernenko finally focused national attention on the problems of alcohol abuse, encouraging more rigorous enforcement of existing legislation” (2). This speech was the first sign of a significant change in alcoholic policies throughout Russia. Let’s not forget that a large part of the Soviets revenue. In fact, “the state derived some 25.4 billion rubles in indirect taxes from the sale of alcoholic beverages which was more than were paid in income tax” (3).  There were studies done that alcohol abuse was linked to acts such as child abuse, suicide, divorce, and a rise in mortality rates. The image above, while it is very subtle, is powerful in conveying the message of the Anti – Alcohol campaign. I think many people could look at the poster and see themselves. It displays a common man who it probably working an average job that just got back home from work for dinner which i think many can relate to.

In 1985, Gorbachev succeeded Chernenko as General Secretary of the Communist Party. Immediately following this change Gorbachev initiated the Anti – Alcohol Campaign of 1985. Gorbachev wanted everyone to know that this was a very serious deal and he wouldn’t spare anyone. “One of the most visible manifestations of this, to foreigners, was that alcohol was banned at official functions, but also party officials and managers who drank heavily were to be dismissed, outlets were to be reduced radically, and many other actions were to be taken by, for example, trade unions and the media” (2). This reminds me of the current laws in place in the United States in regards to showing alcohol consumption in commercials which isn’t allowed. Another component to this anti-alcohol campaign was a 25% increase in the price of alcohol to drive down sales. There were also many cuts in production. Other smaller components included “banning drinking of alcohol at all workplaces, including formerly legal bars, such as those in higher education establishments; banning sales before 2 p.m.; restricting alcohol sales to off-licences; and banning sales on trains (including dining-cars) and similar establishments” (2).

The effort and execution of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign was definitely there. In fact, it was doing so good that it was its ultimate demise. “Several surveys indicated that about 10% of people had given up drinking and about a third were drinking less” (2). There was also a decrease in alcohol related accidents and production. In Gorbachev and the Soviet’s eyes this was fantastic and did everything it was intended too. Unfortunately, they didn’t account for how the negatives may outweigh the positives. “The figures published at that time for spending on alcohol from official outlets fell in 1985 by 5 billion roubles from that in 1984, but by 1986 it had fallen further, by 15.8 billion roubles and by 1987 by a further 16.3 billion” (2). The government could not continue this pattern of losing money. They needed people to drink to continue to fund the Soviet Union. There was also a rise in “in the production of moonshine (samogon) and, like Prohibition in the United States, an increase in organized crime” (3). Moonshiners were taking money that the government would normally be receiving. Just like with the United States that doesn’t sit right with government officials. It was hard to stop these moonshiners though. Between the moonshiners and the loss of revenue generated from alcohol related purchases the Soviet Union had to disband the campaign in 1988. The outlook of the campaign sought doom for the Soviets and they had to resort back to just letting people drink.





Prisoners of War and “de-Stalinization”

(1) GULAG Labor Camp

Last week, I discussed the return of soldiers back into the normalcy of everyday life in Russia. More specifically, the troubles they had to regain that normalcy that they lost by going into war. This week I was interested in exploring another avenue of people returning to society. That being prisoners of the Soviet Union throughout the war. The release of prisoners is one of the avenues that “destalinization” affected. During the war there was the Gulag which was a system of labor camps that ranged from about 1930 to 1955 ran by the Soviets. As you could imagine, the conditions were lackluster and they were forced to work up to 14 hours a day. At the end of the war many of the prisoners were able to go home. “The first post-Stalin action of this kind was the amnesty issued by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on March 27, 1953” (1). An amnesty was issued to most people. There were various stipulations to it such as “persons sentenced for up to five years, those convicted of economic and military crimes regardless of their terms of imprisonment, women with children under 10 years of age or who were pregnant, juveniles up to age 18, men over 55 years of age and women over 50 years of age, and convicts suffering from incurable diseases” (1). Anyone who didn’t fit under this umbrella did not qualify for a release. In total, 1.5 million prisoners were released were released. While you can view this as a nice act done by the Soviets, they were simply following tradition. The tradition states “amnesties were granted upon the death of a tsar or after war” (1).

(3) A map of the GULAG labor camps.

As you can tell from the image above, camps were everywhere. I found the first picture I included to be very interesting. It depicts a camp near the village of Bezymianka which manufactured airplane parts during the war. I believe it shows a very real and all encompassing look into the operation they were running. From the clothing to the structures in the back round it gives us a great image of the GULAG. Similar to veterans, prisoners were never able to be fully integrated into society.  Everything around them in there day to day life was just a constant reminder of the injustice that occurred. ” Survivors had seen the worst that life could offer, instilling some with an unquenchable courage and need to speak forthrightly” (1). Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a very influential reason that these injustices came to life through his writings. Many songs were written about these labor camps and in many ways labor camps made its way into popular culture. A language was even formed that “gave rebels a language of resistance that would guide them through the coming decades” known as blatnoi slang (1). Check out the video below for a great overview if you want to learn more!





(Youtube video)


The Veterans are Back in Town!!

(2) The Dembolized Soldier, by Vladimir Vasiliev (1949) / From Art under Socialist Realism, Soviet Painting 1930-1950, by Gleb Prokhorov 

We did it! After all these years we finally prevailed! It wasn’t easy and it caught us off guard but we were able to overcome the hardships on the front-line. We are all war heroes and are going to be treated as such when we finally are able to return home….. I imagine that is what was going through the minds of veterans that fought through The Great Patriotic War as they returned home instead, they “returned from their long campaign to homelessness and poverty, and perhaps most tragic, to a society that refused to talk about its wounds” (1). The Russian economy was already in a state of despair after the war. There simply wasn’t much left for veterans in terms of job availability. Out of 11 million veterans “the Soviet Army demobilized 8.5 million veterans over the next three years, starting with the oldest” (1).  The oldest didn’t have much left to give in the eyes of Russia. All they received for fighting for homeland was simply a pat on the back and thrown back into reality. Reality was Russia was a country with a poor economy thus resulting in unemployment hovering around 50% with little no opportunities to veterans. Most if not all of basic human survival needs weren’t even given to them. A vast majority didn’t even have housing available. They had to result to moving “into zemlianki, huts dug into the earth, which they might have remembered from the front” (1).

For those veterans who were still young and healthy they had some hope of starting there life over. In the years following the war “Women vastly outnumbered men in the postwar cohort, making healthy men a valuable commodity” (1). This resulted in an increase marriages and babies. For those veterans who weren’t in the best shape or old coming home from the war they struggled. “There was a shortage of prosthetic devices, a shortage of hospital beds, and shortage of time to listen to grieving men and women” (1). Veterans with psychological problems may have suffered the greatest because previously Russia did not have psychologists would could help them. This was all knew to them and Russia didn’t acknowledge psychological problems.

One of the most interesting things about all of this was the fact the Russian government was scared of the veterans to a degree. “Veterans represented a vast social resource for postwar reconstruction, but inspired fear from a government still subject to resentment, whose leaders remembered the example of the Decembrists, who had once used their status as heroes of the Napoleonic Wars to challenge the Romanov autocracy” (1). Out there on the battlefield everyone is your brother. If you aren’t fighting for yourself or your country, you are fighting for the person next to you so that at the end of the day you can go home safe and sound. This is a strong connection that will band any group of people together. I think Russia could have definitely helped there veterans out greatly but for this reason they wanted them to suffer to some degree so that they weren’t able to question there authority. Thus remaining at the mercy of the government.


The Party Don’t Start Until Russia Walks In


Russian Champagne (1914) / Wikimedia Commons

When you think of Russia and alcohol I would assume that most of you would automatically think vodka. What if I told you that you would be incorrect. “After the terrible famine that gripped Ukraine and southern Russia in the wake of collectivization, and only a few years before the terror and war scare sent society into a tailspin, citizens experienced a period of relative comfort and well-being” (1). This relative comfort and well-being turned the people of Russia to a drink they previously weren’t very much accustomed to. That being champagne. A country synonymous with vodka started there roots with champagne! Previously champagne was a drink for aristocrats and NEPmen. Collectivization and the Five Year Plan was a large factor in bringing not only champagne but other cherished foods to the market that during previously times of hardship weren’t as readily available!

Up until the mid-thirties there was no mass production of champagne due to technological factors until Anton Mikhailovich Frolov-Bagreev was able to change the fermentation process. This change led to a great increase in production from an “initial level of 300,000 bottles per year, production rose to 12,000,000 by 1942, the depths of the war” (1). Champagne making was established at the Crimean coast by Prince Lev Golitsyn before his death in 1915. The initial spark of champagne in Russia can be attributed to him. Due the ability to mass produce champagne it wouldn’t be uncommon to see taps of champagne in grocery stores. Individuals such as “Anastas Mikoian, People’s Commissar of the Food Industry, helped Frolov attain his dream of popularizing the drink after the war” (1). This was a great time for Russia, after all that has previously gone on there is no doubt why they wanted to indulge in a lot of champagne!

What I find the most interesting about all of this is how easily popular figures such as Anasras Mikoian could be to the common folk during the time. It made me think of celebrities now a days and how much influence they have over what people purchase. People such as The Kardashians are a great modern day example. You see them using certain make up or wearing certain brands and people go out and purchase them. It’s the same exact thing with Mikoian and Champagne. It just put back into perspective how much power influential figures have over society.




Meet “Nicholas the Bloody”

S.J. Duncan-Clark, History’s Greatest War: A Pictorial Narrative(U.S.: E.T. Townshend, 1919), 177.

This picture depicts Tsar Nicholas II surrounded by his family in 1919. Nicholas II had little to no knowledge on how to govern or how to deal with any foreign or domestic affairs. Often, Nicholas II would overlook the aspirations of his people and referred to them as senseless dreamers.  This combination of political ineptitude and stubbornness of his belief in aristocratic powers did not end well for the Russian people. I believe that Tsar Nicholas II had the greatest impact in the revolutions of February and October, 1917 due to the political crisis that came along with him being in powers which as a consequence took the Russian Empire from being one of the greatest great powers throughout the world to economic and military collapse.

When Tsar Nicholas II came into power it was a turning point for the history of Russia. A turning point in which fell the wrong direction. Nicholas II, otherwise known as Nicholas the Bloody, due to his involvement and oversight in Khodynka Tragedy, anti-Semitic pogroms, Bloody Sunday, the suppression of the 1905 Revolution, the execution of political opponents and responsibility for the Russo-Japanese War all contributed to the long term stresses of the war and revolutions. For the most part, I think that the February and October revolutions were inevitable but with proper leadership throughout Russia I think the outcome could have been greatly minimized instead of seeing some millions of Russians dying throughout his reign. Having a rather lack luster leadership can lead to great stresses, a lack of confidence by its people, and overall maliciousness towards political leadership.

Hardship after hardship occurred under the rule of Nicholas the Bloody that by February of 1917 the people of Russia have had enough. Riots broke out onto the break in St. Petersburg while Nicholas II was out of town in Mogilev. By this time the Duma had turned on him and prevented him from boarding a train back to his home to resume leadership. Shortly after, the Duma elected there own provisional committee and Nicholas had lost full control of the people he once reigned over. He had little to no choice but to relinquish his throne from the monarchy but by then countless damage had already begun and a snowball effect was occurring.


History of the Nilova Monastery

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. View of the Monastery from the Solarium, 1910. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-03973 (44)


The St. Nil Monastery has a beautiful yet tragic history which is what ultimately sparked my interest in this being my first blog post. The St. Nil Monastery was established in 1528 Stolobnyi Island in Lake Seliger in Tver’ Province. For reference, this is northwest of Moscow. In the 1600’s the members of the monastery began constructing what would be considered one of the largest and wealthiest monasteries in all of the Russian Empire. This photo was taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, best known for his work in brining color photography to the Russian empire. Like many of his pictures, this one depicts the St. Nil Monastery in all its beauty.

Whether it’s the gorgeous bridge that catches your eye, the dome roof tops, or the landscaping there is a lot going on in the picture that pleases the eye. Alas, not all good things last and you should never judge a book by its cover. In 1927 the monastery was closed by the Soviet regime and repurposed at times as a concentration camp and other times as an orphanage. You would never assume looking at a structure this beautiful that hateful acts of a concentration camp could ever occur here. In 1939, 4700 Polish prisoners of war were held captive here in what they knew it called as the “Otashkov Camp”. The reason this site was decided upon as being used for such purposes is its location to the front line of the war. It was also used as a military hospital. Later, it was used again as a place to house juvenile delinquents and then a place for the elderly. Needless to say, the monastery had a wide variety of purposes over a 100 year time span.

Between 1971 and 1990, the once St. Nil monastery, was attempted to become a tourist attraction. That ultimately failed after multiple attempts due to a lack of resources but further the hypocrisy of the situation. They were trying to sell this place to tourists as a place of beauty when so much ugliness has occurred on the same grounds. In 1990, the church and the grounds was finally returned to the Orthodox Church. Recovery efforts are slow but each year they are seeing progress. Today, you can cross the bridge and go visit the once beautiful monastery of St. Nil while soaking in the deep troubling history of what occurred on a place so pure.