Sevastopol and the Soviet Union

The article, “Who Makes Local Memories?: The Case of Sevastopol after World War II” makes a distinct focus on the impact and significance of Sevastopol to the Soviet Union in the time following World War II. Qualls asserts the point that Sevastopol, simultaneously shed its identification with two countries at the same time, he explains how the city marginalized the Soviet Union and completely ignored Ukraine and refused to be apart of it, which was due to the goal of tying to highlight a deeper Russian history, but instead creating a localized mythology. Quall’s argues that through the emergence of mythmaking and by introducing military valor and extraordinary feats by civilians, military personnel were combining pre-Revolutionary and Soviet conceptions of heroism. With this, heroism, resistance and self-sacrifice became the face of the city and what it was most known for. The city became to be the “glory of the Russian soul’, and a “symbol of faithfulness” the lives that were lost during the war. Quall’s explains how Sevastopol focused only on becoming local and not national, further removing itself or “shedding” itself from its Soviet identification. He argues that local city planning changed the topography and toponyms of the city that put society back to pre-revolutionary heroism and guidebook authors who wrote for international audiences further scattered the myth of Sevastopol more broadly.

With the removal of Soviet identity, the article has me question how Sevastopol’s evolution really affected the Soviet Union in a negative way, if it seemed that the city was only raising the Soviet Union on a pedestal, representing its victories and its heroic features.

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.


Sevastopol and Local Identity

In “Who Makes Local Memories?: The Case of Sevastopol After World War II”, Qualls asserts that various conflicts, most notably the Crimean War, have shaped the construction of the identity of the city of Sevastopol and it’s people in relation to Russia. He cites the example of the Crimean War in which Lev Tolstoy, a journalist, wrote of the Russian character of the city and necessity of fighting for it as one would do for Russia. At this stage the Russian identity of the city was reinforced through examples of military valor in the Crimean War and the loyalty of those who defended it. As Qualls points out these national myths serve to reinforce the identification of the city and it’s residents with the nation. Simultaneously Russia is able to generate a sense of belonging amongst the citizens and legitimize it’s claim to the region as a national power. This process of creating national myths continues into the 1930s when the Soviet government adapts the narrative once again to redirect loyalty towards the Party through the use of myths which center around the “ideal Soviet citizen,” who serves as an example of the importance of the Party in daily life and of what can be accomplished through allegiance to the Party.

With the onset of World War Two the narrative changes from loyalty to the Party or military valor to that of duty to citizens, soldiers, and Sevastopol. It is interesting to note the adaptability of the sense of identity and it’s importance to the citizen’s identification with Russia rather than Ukraine. Furthermore Qualls analyzes the myth creation blending the World War Two narrative with that of the Russian past and the Crimean War. It would be interesting to see on an individual level from the citizens of Sevastopol, how long it took for them to internalize this new myth and sense of identification and if there was any resistance. Also in if this identification with Russia, rather than Ukraine, extended to all citizens or if it was more prevalent amongst certain age groups? In the latter part of his article, Qualls did a good job demonstrating how the Soviets supported this new myth with propaganda. The Soviets utilized new media formats, such as film, to reach a broader audience and reinforce the new narrative. Finally I found it interesting to read about connection of the reconstruction of the city to the sense of identity, specifically how Trautmann campaigned for the renaming of streets and city areas for local heroes rather than Party heroes.

Sevastopol & Local Legacy

Qualls’s discussion on instill a local legacy within Sevastopol in the post-World War II world seemed quite compelling, as it deviated from the narrative generally presented about cities within the Soviet Union.

Most cities and locales within the Soviet Union, it appears, followed a particular school of thought, which exalted Lenin and other important thinkers involved with the history of Communism, and integrating their own histories with the collective history of the USSR. In Sevastopol, however, local officials paid more attention to local heroes and history, highlighting the importance of Sevastopol throughout Russian history (not just the history of the Soviet Union).

My main question, I suppose, is why was this able to become successful within the context of the Soviet Union–I’m not quite sure I fully understand how Sevastopol successfully achieved its local legacy, essentially rejecting the (perceived) more important legacy of the USSR as a whole.


Professor Qualls’s article, “Who Makes Local Memories?  The case of Sevastopol after World War II” discussed who created memories of Sevastopol and how they were created after World War II. In his piece, Professor Qualls argued that despite central authorities attempts to paint Serastopals history in a certain way, it was the “municipal and naval officers” who chose to write the history of Serastopal in a “deeper Russian Historical” way, thus creating a “localized mythology.”  ((Professor Karl Qualls, “Who Makes Local Memories?: The Case of Sevastopol after World War II”  Carlisle: Dickinson College Faculty Publications, Paper 1, 2011. 3))  Citing important authors such as David Brandenberger, Karen Petrone, and Matthew P. Gallagher, Professor Qualls used his argument to show how local communities within the Soviet Union created their own mythical like images to advertise their cities.

One of the most interesting points that Professor Qualls brings up was his connection of the myths used with Sevastopal following World War II with the use of heroism in Soviet Propaganda during the 1930s.  He noted that “the military and local officials took the lead in crafting a myth of Soviet Sevastopol and its citizens as an extension of the great Russian defenders of the Motherland who sacrificed everything for a greater good.”  (Professor Karl Qualls, “Who Makes Local Memories?: The Case of Sevastopol after World War II”  Carlisle: Dickinson College Faculty Publications, Paper 1, 2011, 12)) Qualls noted here how the leaders Sevastopol took the methods of heroism in 1930s. He explained how the myths that were created had a heroism type feel to it so that the memory of Sevastopol would stand out.  I found Professor Qualls to be very effective in using 1930s Propaganda and its use of Heroism to discuss the memory of Sevastopol.  His comparison of two different periods split by World War II and his use of a variety of different scholars, showed how he was effective in writing about the memory of Sevastopol.


Review Articles

The review article “Gulag Historiography: An Introduction”, written by Wilson T. Bell, a former visiting professor at Dickinson College, attempts to explain what an actual Gulag is. Although the term was originally used as an acronym for Stalin’s labor camps, it currently is used to describe various forms of labor camps all over the world along with having numerous definitions. The second review article, written by Steven Maddox and has no title, compares two books: Preserving Petersburg: History, Memory, Nostalgia–a compilation of essays edited by Helena Goscilo and Stephen M. Norris– and From Ruins to Reconstruction: Urban Identity in Soviet Sevastopol after World War II, written by Dickinson College professor, Karl D. Qualls. This review article reviewed the two books on how they “discuss issues of urban identity, historic preservation, and persistence of local memories and cultures in St. Petersburg and Sevastopol” (Maddox 241).

Although both articles are review articles, they are very different types. Bell’s article reviewed the history of the word “gulag”, which called for the use of many different sources. About half of each page consisted of footnotes. It wasn’t focused on specific works, but rather the topic as a whole.

Maddox’s article goes into great depth on each of the books, while comparing and contrasting the two books. Maddox’s positive review had me intrigued and interested in reading the books he was reviewing. At the end of the review, I found it interesting how Maddox’s questions for the authors truly demonstrated how closely related the two books are to each other, and how there are avenues for greater exploration on the topics.

Overall, I found both reviews extremely well written and interesting. Although they were both different types of reviews, the common theme between the two is that they both easily explain their concepts and ideas to the reader.

Is it more effective to cover a topic using many different sources, or to focus the topic with just a few?

Urban development as a reflection of culture and politics

I found the reviewer’s last sentence, recommending the three books for those interested in issues of memory, history, and urban planning very interesting. Urban planning reflects both the values and dynamism of a society. Paris, for instance, along with many other European cities, remains fixated on the past; try building a skyscraper on the Champs-Élysées if you want a challenge. Other cities, like New York, promote their ostensibly forward-looking nature with hyper-modern architectural styles and a constant flow of major construction projects.

I believe cities should recognize the importance of change with regard to practical matters, including increasing populations, inadequate public services, and important cultural changes (e.g the dissolution of an old, popularly discredited order). I contend that, with urban planning as with history in general, we must not regret the past but question the future we choose.  Regarding this, I found the debate over Sevastopol particularly interesting, considering the conflict between “accommodation and agitation” and Moscow’s attempt to mythologize the city without paying attention to the actual needs of its citizens. It would appear that overconfidence in an assured victory posed as grave a danger to the Soviet Union as it did to Catholicism and Liberalism in the West. For all of his flaws, at least Chairman Mao understood that only revolutions within the revolution, fed by the blood and ingenuity of each successive generation, could keep the movement effective and relevant.

Reconstruction of Sevastopol: An Inevitable Disaster?

Reconstruction of Sevastopol, following the Nazi’s attack on this vital naval city, started the Soviet’s regime of rebuilding the country’s architecture and infrastructure. The Soviet Union created the Committee on Architectural Affairs; I think this is a testament to the State’s commitment to rebuild cities with the State’s ideal in mind. The Soviet Union wanted these new building to be dedicated to the great heroes such as Marx and Lenin. Streets and squares were renamed in an attempt to return to historical roots. As the article, “To Agitate and to Render Service: Replanning the Hero-City Sevastopol” says, “name changes suggested political shifts.”

A problem with housing emerged as the city of Sevastopol was rebuilt. Although promised adequate housing, overcrowded and infectious residences were overwhelming. The money of the State had gone to other projects and resources to fix these housing dilemmas were in short supply. People began taking matters into their own hands; workers began building housing illegally, without approval of the State. With poor, overcrowded housing came poor hygiene, causing a spike in disease. These health problems could not be fixed due to the lack of equipment such as x-ray to diagnose patients.

Could these health problems have been avoided or with overcrowded, non-regulated housing, was it inevitable?

Replanning Sevastopol

Students know of the widespread devastation that resulted from WWII, but most history lessons stop just short of how those countries, cities and towns picked up the pieces and rebuilt their homes. As this reading shows, it wasn’t an easy task. Sevastopol needed to be completely rebuilt–and not just the buildings, but social services as well. Infrastructure was close to nonexistent, public health services were failing the population and all the while, architects and city planners were attempting to “russify” the Ukrainian city with a city-wide face lift in the Russian style.



In typical Soviet Union fashion, the state wanted Sevastopol to be rebuilt in the Russian image. As Professor Qualls wrote in his article, “the perceived reversion to tradition meant a Russian ethnic identification wrapped in a Greek architectural façade, yet devoid of all hints of competing identifications.” When I read this, I was completely unfazed. Why of course the government would use this opportunity to impose Russian culture on  Sevastopol. It would be logical for the people of Sevastopol to want to rebuild their own heritage, commemorate their losses in their own fashion and construct a city of their own choosing–but this wasn’t an option under Soviet rule.

It was this “top-down” approach to reconstruction that most caught my attention in the article, but the health and safety conditions plaguing the city were of great importance as well. It took several years before disease began to decline, living conditions (such as apartments with adequate space so as not to spread disease) improved, health services (such as ambulances) were restored and the population began to rebound. Of course, the important thing is that the city did achieve this stability, but I’m sure that if compared to the reconstruction timelines of Western European nations, the case of Sevastopol look quite bad.