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A Soviet-Jewish nightmare comes true on The Americans

March 27, 2014
The Americans Cold War spy show on FX

Well. That was gut-wrenching. I’m a little speechless. Our anti-hero protagonists just reached into my own personal life and gave it a shake. Or, more to the point, it’s like the KGB reached out and tapped my parents on the shoulders — really, every Russian that I knew as a child — and said “Here…

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Why I can’t stop watching The Americans

March 26, 2014
Poster for watching The Americans

Can we talk about The Americans? Let’s talk about The Americans. Because I can’t stop watching The Americans and meanwhile no one in my Russian-Jewish circles is talking about this show, and now they’ve got a storyline about Soviet-Jews and you should all start watching it. Even Gary Shteyngart is watching – it’s his favourite…

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Links Round-Up: Winter Olympics, Sochi-style

February 25, 2014

  A number of people have asked me in the last few weeks whether I have any national pride for Russia during these Olympics. Maybe it’s all the writing I’ve been doing the last few years, but I don’t think I’ve ever been asked before about cheering on another country. It’s never even occurred to…

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Operatsiya Y: A Soviet movie flashback. With kompot!

November 21, 2013
Operatsiya Y Soviet movie - Operation Y with Shurik

Park yourself at a dinner table of Russians, and inevitably, as the eating part winds down and the drinks are doing their thing, someone says “And the kompot?” And everyone else laughs uproariously and the kompot rarely, rarely ever appears. It’s a line from an old Soviet movie. And, since it’s a line from every…

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What we really mean when we copy Soviet constructivism from Alexander Rodchenko

October 18, 2013
Alexander Rodchenko and constructivism - famous 1925 poster

I was writing a post about how the internet is keeping the USSR alive – or at least, its “stuff,” like posters and old medals – but I got distracted by this poster, so instead you get to read about Alexander Rodchenko and constructivism. Question: Was this poster as familiar to its original, Soviet audience, as…

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Soviet Propaganda Porcelain: Inside the Imperial Porcelain Factory

July 18, 2013
Soviet Propaganda Porcelain - Lenin plate

While we were in St. Petersburg, we went on a private tour of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, and got to see some Soviet propaganda porcelain for the first time. I didn’t know such a thing even existed – I always thought propaganda was largely “limited” to media. That is, posters, movies, radio and TV. But…

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Wind of no change and KGB anniversaries

July 13, 2012

Last week, after my post on Hammer and Tickle, I looked up “Wind of Change”, which is featured in the documentary. For those of you not schooled in the nuances of hipness, this is one of those songs one never admits to have stuck in your head. Or to have looked up on YouTube. I…

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Soldiers, homecomings and YouTube surprises

July 11, 2012
Moscow World War 2 announcement - people listening in the streets

Found: Soldiers coming home to surprise their families and uploading it to YouTube. There is an endless reel of these videos, and you can watch them for hours without repeating the same clip. I thought I’d share a few with you, because when I discovered this little universe, it was just days after the anniversary…

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The Potemkin effect: Colour photos from Russia in the black-and-white days

February 12, 2012
Old colour photos from Russia - peasants harvesting in a field

There is a fantastic collection of old colour photos from Russia – Tsarist Russia, to be exact – taken between 1902 and 1912 on the Boston Globe site. Strictly speaking, they’re not colour photos – the photographer, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) – shot each image three times, using a red, green and then blue filter. He…

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Chernobyl, 25 years and counting

May 23, 2011
Graffiti in Chernobyl and Pripyat Exclusion Zone

I’m going through my Instapaper links, catching up on reading about many things, including Chernobyl. These two quotes so perfectly describe the tensions underlying Soviet society: the complete and utter indignity of daily existence, with its arbitrary cruelties and humiliations. But then there’s this strangely unquestioning loyalty, or perhaps just a sense of duty that…

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