Post-Cold War Consumerism; Mary Elise Sarotte

Mary Elise Sarotte’s book, The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe, aptly depicts the status of West/East Germany and how it was the centerpiece for the recreation of Europe after the Cold War.  Sarotte begins the book by discussing five major changes that occurred in the summer of 1989 which opened up the Berlin Wall. 1) The failure of events like Tiananmen to transfer over to a European context; 2) the choice of the American government to remove itself from the issue; 3) East Germans taking on the status quo; 4) an increase in East German self-confidence; and 5) the impact of television at this pivotal moment.  I will not go into detail for each of these, as Sarotte does so in the book, however number 5 did provoke some questions from me.  For instance, how is a media snafu like one such as this not caught or fixed before being released to the public?  Is it possible that this fumble of information was intended?

To focus on a more relevant topic of which we have been discussing, in the second chapter of Sarotte’s book, she talks about consumer goods.  The lack of consumer goods in East Germany posed a large problem for stores in West Germany as refugees settled in the West.  Stores had a difficult time managing the extreme increase in demand resulting from new consumers entering the market.  East German citizens were fleeing not only from the poor living standards but more specifically the poor economic status that contributed to it.  They were experiencing a massive demand deficit in East Germany thanks to low wages and high priced goods.  Refugees placed a large stress on the economic system of the West which could have had unpredictable effects on reunification of Germany.

Unfulfilled Promises to Women

Wendy Z. Goldman’s article explained how the regime hid behind an elaborate mask which portrayed them as women’s rights activists, however in reality strived for a single-minded approach to production and progress.  The focus of Goldman’s article began with an analysis of Soviet legislature concerning beznadzornost, and how to solve the problem of homeless soviet children through the strengthening of the Socialist family.  It then shifted towards the effects of abortion and divorce on women and how the steps toward a more equal woman and man were taken under false pretense.  She concluded that the regime had successfully “brainwashed”, or convinced, the women of the Soviet Union that they had actually experienced a revolution or change in policy.

Women seemed to be affected by each law passed concerning the Soviet family, and whether it was in a good way or not did not concern the Soviet Union who were able to feed off of the good outcomes and ignore the unsatisfactory ones.  Even the legalization of adoption, meant to cope with the growing numbers of homeless children, indirectly changed a woman’s role in society.  As the implementation of adoption and its effects slowly abated, the regime placed a large piece of responsibility on the paternal figures and family, transferring it from state hands.  Women then had to take on a much larger part in responsibility for the children, as the men were needed for industrialization and collectivization.

The increase in family responsibility rested heavily on the women’s shoulders, as their social status transformed and they were coerced into labor.  Pregnancy leave and other legislation was passed which lessened the effects on women, however in a seemingly male dominant society, the regime was still able to convince its women that their lives had been made easier and they had experienced a surge in women’s rights.

Sputnik Generation and Gender Roles Regarding Interviews

The interviews of Natalia and Gennadii were similar in the way the interviewer approached each question, however also extremely different in terms of the answers provided by both interviewees.  Natalia and Gennadii, though they had different upbringings, were both citizens of the Soviet Union with relatively similar class status in a classless state.

Both Natalia and Gennadii recognized the type of family or social class that was drawn to their town and School No. 42.  Natalia stated that many of the school children had parents who were “of the party or a party official” and the questions asked of her seemed to be much more social and cultural related.  Gennadii’s interview on the other hand seemed extremely political, focusing mainly on questions such as “Can you tell me what you thought of Lenin and Stalin?” or his experience with and opinion on Afghanistan.

I can’t tell if Gennadii’s interview was so different from Natalia’s solely because of gender, however that is what it felt like.  Gennadii’s answers were relatively short compared to Natalia’s. He was also extremely careful with what he said concerning politics, for instance when asked about his views on Lenin he said: “You know, regarding Lenin, I probably can’t say.”  This could have either legitimately been a lack of conviction or it was retreat from a question that seemed too nosey.

These two chapters left me with a few questions regarding how journalists or novelists approached people from the Soviet Union and how they responded.  Did Soviet’s see these interviews as “digging” for information and took offense?  Was it simply the people interviewed for these chapters which made it seem restrictive? Would interviewers purposely take to males for political questions and leave cultural and social issues more to the females?

Sevastopol – Mythmakers

The extreme hubris of  municipal and naval officers created difficulties faced by party officials who tried to redefine the traditional Russian past of Sevastopol and conform it to a more acceptable past dictated by the central authority.  Professor Qualls argues that party members were unable to force conformity among the people of Sevastopol, at least in their traditions, and instead the city held fast to its roots to the motherland. His use of the word “mythmakers” to describe party official designated to re-invent Sevastopol’s past is absolutely applicable because they tried to do exactly that.  The main idea behind Soviet mythmakers was to create saint-like civilian heroes, who were saved by party intervention, for the people to rally behind.  Sevastopol’s municipal and naval officers however were instead able to draw on wartime heroes who were attached to a Russian past, which allowed the history of Sevastopol to retain its Russian qualities.  “Heroism, resistance, and self-sacrifice became synonymous with Sevastopol.” How were the people of Sevastopol able to escape their primordial ascription?  In my opinion, their reliance on a distinctly Russian past especially during a time of war, as to avoid complications with the Soviets, allowed them to do so.


Indirect Correspondence between Stalin and Churchill

Winston Churchill speaks extremely highly of the Ally powers in his speech discussing the Iron Curtain and his desire to unite the English speaking commonwealth with the United States.  Although his main goal appears to be a peaceful settlement with the Soviet Union and elimination of their “expansionist” policies, he focuses much more on global security and the strength of the United States and England.  For instance, he opens his speech with the phrase “The United States stands at this time at the pinnacle of world power.”  Churchill does so not as a warning or criticism, but rather offers praise and strategic help.  “You must feel not only a sense of duty done, but also you must feel anxiety lest you fall below the level of achievement.”  Churchill is not berating the United States for laying the foundation of the title of “World Police”, he is instead offering support.

Churchill’s speech is seen in a very poor light by Josef Stalin.  Stalin asserts that the British are only mimicking the same racial theory that Hitler brought to Germany.  Stalin claims that Churchill’s assumption of their desire to ensure the security of their future as a means of forceful expansion is inaccurate. Stalin is sure to mention the faith that he has in the people has no limitations and that they are much smarter than Churchill proclaims them to be. The two leaders have extremely different views on how each side of the Iron Curtain operated, and both believed the other to be incorrect. Stalin proclaims power to the people while Churchill broadcasted a message of national cooperative power regardless of the people’s wants.

Tsirk (1936), Soviets Avoid “Backwardness”

The film Tsirk (1936), though a skillfully crafted story, was without a doubt a propaganda vehicle for the Soviet Union.  The main character Mary appears to be an escapee of an apparently backwards society where she was chased out by an angry mob for having an interracial child. In order to escape from the mob, she jumped on a train where she met what appeared to be a circus actor who took her under his wing. They perform while traveling though the main focus is the Soviet Union.  While in the Soviet Union, specifically Moscow, Mary developed feelings for a young Soviet army man and refused to leave Moscow with the original man who saved her.  Mary’s “savior” tried to blackmail her into leaving by threatening to expose the child she had given birth too. Enlisting the help of a fellow circus actress, the woman chosen to replace Mary once she left, she avoids leaving Moscow on the train with her original “savior” and stays to perform the Soviet attempt at reaching the stratosphere.  Unfortunately her “savior” comes back to the circus and reveals to the massive crowd in attendance her interracial child. Rather than shun Mary, the crowd accepts her for who she is and mocks her “savior” for being racist.

Many instances of propaganda appeared throughout the film, however the strongest two that I saw were the industrial progress of the Soviets and surpassed backwardness. The culmination of the film arrived with the closing act, deemed the Soviet attempt at the stratosphere, which showcased the industrial capabilities of the Soviet Union. Using soviet technology and planning, they succeeded in reaching the stratosphere.  Besides the industrial strength of the Soviet Union, their progressive nature also appeared after Mary’s past was revealed. The soviets showed acceptance for Mary and her child and denounced the racist mindset of Mary’s “savior”.  This criticism of racism showed the Soviet’s great “forwardness”. However, we also know that there was a sizable anti-semitic movement in the country. The acceptance of other races, cultures, and ethnicities does not seem applicable to the Soviet Union at this time.

Is the One State Practical?

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We” is an iconic example of a dystopian society that is threatened by individuality.  The One State and its inhabitants were a supposed perfect population who had found happiness through conformity and rationality.  The citizens of the One State were kept under the watchful eye of the Benefactor as well as his secret police force, the Guardians.  In order to eliminate individuality, people were given numbers instead of names (D-503 and I-330), as well as a large sum of rules and regulations to abide by throughout their lives.  From dawn to dusk, and even into the night, the people of the One State were told when to wake, when to sleep, when to eat and when to take breaks.  Social interactions, even how to conduct one’s sex life, were all regulated by the Benefactor.  D-503 was the submissive One State citizen turned hesitant revolutionary and ultimately returned to mindless member of the One State, and although he was the main character of the novel, my interest lies in the Benefactor and his view of how society should function.

According to the Benefactor, the population before becoming the One State “wanted someone, anyone, to tell them once and for all what happiness [was].”  People wanted a paradise where there was no love, pity, or desire.  A society where everyone is healthy, works efficiently, and believes in the vision of the One State is required to make this a reality.  The ideology of the Benefactor is exceptionally clear and in my opinion would in theory work in a small scale system, however implementing a system like the One State on a large scale is impossible.  Love, pity, and desire are all fundamental pieces of human emotion that may be able to be controlled for a small few, however with a population as large as the One State, a system like that does not function.  When the quantity of people living together is that great, the same effect arises as did in the Russian Revolution of 1917.  The proximity of people to one another encourages the spreading of ideas, which is exactly what occurred in Zamyatin’s “We”.  After reading the novel, I was left with the question: after seeing countries fail to achieve perfect communist systems, on what scale would a system like the One State be a practical solution to human unhappiness and individuality?

Abdication and The Provisional Government

By 1917, the Russian war effort was categorized as a disaster.  Food shortages, terrible army living conditions, and trouble at home away from the front left the people of Russia desperately searching for a scapegoat.  The citizens found the perfect scapegoat in their Tsar Nikolai II. Once the Russian army began to crumble under German forces, Tsar Nikolai II was named commander in chief of the army, and began The Great Retreat. As Russian morale dissipated, Tsar Nikolai II stepped down and named his brother, Grand Duke Mikhail, the new Tsar.  In the article, “The Abdication of Nikolai II”, the explanation of his abdication was filled with glorified speech about their powerful nation and it’s heroic victory. The people of Russia were told it was time to “abdicate the Crown of the Russian state and lay down the Supreme Power.”  Unfortunately rather than take on a new form of government, a second Tsar, the brother of the former, was placed in power. With an “elected” legislative body, the Duma, at his side, there was an appearance of representation of the people. The Abdication was a call upon the nation to govern themselves through the representatives in the Duma. The people of Russia did not have as much of a say in the operations of their country as they believed.  The Tsar himself selected the representatives. The Duma was given a set of eight principles to follow, ranging from amnesty to military rights.  The closing sentence of “The First Provisional Government” is a strange ending to a declaration of trust, “[The Duma] has no intention whatsoever of taking advantage of the military situation to delay in any way the carrying through of the reforms and the measures outlined above.”  While the Duma declares it has no intention of halting the measures to replace the Tsar, it is clear that they are willing and able to use the military for whatever is necessary.  While setting up the Duma and filling it with representatives gave the people of Russia a sense of control, the elected body was a facade for the Tsar to hide behind.  By selecting a preferred cabinet, did the Tsar take away power from the population?