Soviet Life

Russian bukvhar from 1970s

Russian Bukvar for beginners – How I almost didn’t learn Russian

I wrote a bit last time about one of my ‘immigrant identity crisis’ vignettes that I shared at the Limmud retreat. But it started with an assignment, to bring an artifact, or object, from home about our Russian-Jewish heritage. When you and your childhood home are separated by over 3,000km, digging up an acceptable artifact …

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Operatsiya Y Soviet movie - Operation Y with Shurik

Operatsiya Y: A Soviet movie flashback. With kompot!

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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Alexander Rodchenko and constructivism - famous 1925 poster

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

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 - Lenin plate

Soviet Propaganda Porcelain: Inside the Imperial Porcelain Factory

While we were in St. Petersburg, we went on a private tour of the Imperial Porcelain Factory (formerly the Lomonosov 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, …

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Vestiges of Empire – Tracking Lenin statues through Russia and Ukraine

I grew up in a country that is pathologically allergic to patriotism. I don’t think I need to tell you about the country I was born in and patriotism. Which, among other things, translated into a lot of statues and monuments. Broken Lenins and Stalins are part of our stock downfall-of-an-empire imagery, so I didn’t expect …

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An A-Z of Russian hospitality to Jews for Shimon Peres: The outtakes

You might have heard something about Israeli President Shimon Peres and the Jewish museum in Moscow? It’s just opened and Peres was among the important so-and-so’s in attendance. At some point in the proceedings, overcome with emotions dredged up from childhood, he opened his mouth and and the following came out: “My mother sang to me in …

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A joke to die for: Old communists telling Soviet jokes

Every time you tell a joke, a dictator gets a little weaker. If you grew up in any household of former eastern European emigres, then you’re probably familiar with the very particular form of Soviet black humour. There is no North American equivalent to the anekdot – aside from the jokes that periodically make the rounds …

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Old colour photos from Russia - Moscow street

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

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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