kottke.org posts about Russia
“1917. Free History” is a project that lets you relive the events of the 1917 Russian Revolution from letters, photos, videos, and texts written at the time.
The project consists entirely of primary sources. It includes not a trace of invention. All the texts used are taken from genuine documents written by historical figures: letters, memoirs, diaries and other documents of the period.
“1917. Free History” is a serial, but in the form of a social network. Every day, when you go onto the site, you will find out what happened exactly one hundred years ago: what various people were thinking about and what happened to each of them in this eventful year. You may not fast-forward into the future, but must follow events as they happen in real time.
“1917. Free History” is a way of bringing the past to life and bringing it closer to the present day. It is a way of understanding what the year 1917 was like for those who lived in Russia and in other countries. We have scoured archives and storerooms for texts, photographs and videos, many of which have never seen the light of day before.
For instance, 100 years ago today writer Maxim Gorky wrote:
The events currently unfolding appear grandiose, moving even, but the meaning behind them is not as profound and great as everyone takes it to be. I am trying to remain sceptical, although I am also moved to tears by the sights and songs of the soldiers marching to the State Duma. We can never go back, but we’ll not move much forward. A sparrow’s step maybe. A lot of blood will be spilt — more than has ever been spilt before.
Russian physiologist and Nobel Prize winner Ivan Pavlov wrote:
My assistant came in late today. He tried to explain that the revolution has halted all street transport. I believe that a revolution is no excuse for being late!
The image at the top of the page is Tsar Nicholas II with three of his daughters. Spoiler: he abdicates his throne tomorrow.
See also Who are you in 1917 Russia? (I ended up in the Democratic Right quadrant, just right of center.)
A building which cost $1.5 billion and was 20 years in the making was moved into position over the highly radioactive remains of the main reactor at Chernobyl this week. The time lapse video above shows how the building was inched into place.
The new structure, which is about 500 feet long, has a span of 800 feet and is 350 feet high, is designed to last at least a century and is intended to prevent any additional spewing of toxic material from the stricken reactor.
Even with the building in place, the surrounding zone of roughly 1000 square miles will remain uninhabitable.
A Siberian heatwave has led to permafrost thaws that have released long-dormant anthrax bacteria, resulting in the hospitalization of 13 people and the death of over 1500 reindeer.
Citing earlier work from 2007, they estimated anthrax spores remain viable in the permafrost for 105 years. Buried deeper, the bacteria may be able to hibernate for even longer. At the same time, where meteorological data were available they indicate temperatures in Yakutia are increasing.
“As a consequence of permafrost melting, the vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th centuries may come back,” the scientists warned, “especially near the cemeteries where the victims of these infections were buried.” Cattle grave sites should be monitored, they concluded, and “public health authorities should maintain permanent alertness.”
Another one of those delightful little climate change gotchas, like the near-death of the Great Barrier Reef.
Update: Eric Holthaus talked to some experts and climatologists and yes, pathogens released by warming are something we were warned about and we need to be concerned about it.
Romanovsky says the possibility that additional pathogens may be released from the permafrost, if that is indeed the source, makes it even more important to study this specific outbreak closely. Once in the water supply, in theory, a future pathogen could spread outside the local area, carried by people or by migrating birds or animals.
Though the current outbreak is happening during an unusual period of extreme warmth, Romanovsky says that, “if it gets warmer in the future, and it seems like it will, the thawing permafrost could be massive.” A further degradation of the permafrost would allow more opportunity for the emergence of sequestered microbes.
Arkady Bronnikov is an expert when it comes to translating the tattoos of criminals in Russia. To date, he’s collected over 20,000 tattoos, and he’s compiled a “jail slang” dictionary with over 10,000 terms.
The Siberian Times reports:
“Some general rules: crosses often depict the thief’s level of authority. Thiefs are the ones ruling in jails, not murderers.
“Tattoos with knives mean those jailed for hooliganism. Tattoos with beasts - lions, wolves, tigers - mean those jailed for violent robberies. Spiders and syringes indicate drug users.
“The church is another frequent symbol, the number of domes means the number of jail terms, just like rings. Often they have to add extra domes, even though they do not look right for the design.
“There is a lot of text in tattoos. For example, ‘Damn those who decided to improve a man with the help of jail’ or ‘Jail is not a school and prosecutor is not a teacher.’”
In the NYT Magazine, Adrian Chen reports on the hoaxes that often target American communities from a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia. Meet the trolls who work at The Agency.
The Columbian Chemicals hoax was not some simple prank by a bored sadist. It was a highly coordinated disinformation campaign, involving dozens of fake accounts that posted hundreds of tweets for hours, targeting a list of figures precisely chosen to generate maximum attention.
Since November, anti-government protests have been happening in Ukraine. A recent truce gave hope that the violence would end, but mistrust on both sides has resulted in the worst clashes yet. The photos from the main fighting in Kiev are unbelievable.
Why the protests? Think Progress published an explainer this morning, before the latest round of violence.
The protests began on November 22, after President Viktor Yanukovych reversed course and refused to sign political and trade agreements with the European Union that had been in the works for years after heavy pressure from Moscow to abandon the agreements. Despite a violent police crackdown, protesters vowed to continue blockading streets and occupying public buildings until their central demand is met: the current government, including Yanukovych, must go.
The treaties would have opened the European Union market to Ukrainian companies and could have boosted the Ukrainian GDP by more than six percent over ten years. The country is suffering through an economic depression and lower tariffs and expanded competition could have also lowered prices, “fueling an increase of household consumption of some 12 percent.” Ukraine would have also adopted 350 EU laws, codifying what many Ukrainians saw as a “commitment to European standards of governance and social justice.” To them, the treaty was a way of diminishing Russia’s long-time influence and reversing the trend of persistent economic corruption and sluggishness.
People waiting in line for food in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s:
The opening day line for the newest outpost of the Shake Shack in Moscow:
That’s nothing, though, compared to the line to get into the first McDonald’s in the Soviet Union, which opened in Moscow in 1990.
A year later in Moscow, an estimated 1.6 million people turned out to see Metallica in concert. Look at all those people:
For the sufficiently skilled front-end loader driver, doing a front wheelie with a 20-ton machine is a piece of cake.
Got this from Modern Farmer’s selection of “Jaw-Dropping Russian Tractor Videos”; the other one I liked from the list is this guy who souped up his tractor with a car engine and then does donuts in his field.
Many Russian cars are outfitted with dashboard cameras to protect drivers against insurance fraud. These cameras have caught all sorts of crazy happenings — car accidents, low-flying jets, insurance scam attempts, meteors, and plane crashes
— leading many to believe that Russia is a place where crazy shit pretty much happens constantly.
But Russia’s dash cams have also captured many more tender moments — people hopping out of their cars to help old ladies across the street, looking after little kids who wandered into the street, pushing cars out of snowbanks, etc.
I love the hell out of this video. Russia, you’re alright. (via devour)
Writing for the New Yorker, David Remnick covers the Bolshoi acid attack and the larger ills that afflict the historic ballet company.
At around eleven, Filin, feeling tired and eager to see his wife, steered the Mercedes into a parking lot outside his building and headed for his door. The snow was icy and thick. Filin was reaching for the security buzzer when he heard someone behind him call out his name. Then the voice said, “Tebye privet!” — literally, “Hello to you!,” but more abrupt and menacing, as though someone were relaying an ominous greeting from a third party.
Filin turned and saw a man in front of him. He was neither tall nor short. He wore a woolly hat and a scarf wrapped around his face. His right arm was crooked behind him, as if he were concealing something.
A gun, Filin thought, in that flash of confrontation: He’s holding a gun and I am dead. Bolt! But, before he could move, his attacker swung his arm out in front of him. In his hand was a glass jar filled with liquid, and he hurled its contents at Filin’s face. A security camera in the parking lot fixed the time at 23:07.
The liquid was sulfuric acid — the “oil of vitriol,” as medieval alchemists called it. Depending on the concentration, it can lay waste to human skin as quickly as in a horror movie. Scientists working with sulfuric acid wear protective goggles; even a small amount in the eyes can destroy the cornea and cause permanent blindness.
Filin was in agony. The burning was immediate and severe. His vision turned to black. He could feel the scalding of his face and scalp, the pain intensifying all the time.
Always good to read Remnick on Russia…he was The Washington Post’s Moscow correspondent for a few years in the late 1980s.
Crazy article from the Smithsonian about a Russian family that disappeared into the Siberian wilderness in 1936 and had no contact with other people for more than 40 years. In the process, they missed World War II, the Moon landing, and the start of the Cold War.
…beside a stream there was a dwelling. Blackened by time and rain, the hut was piled up on all sides with taiga rubbish-bark, poles, planks. If it hadn’t been for a window the size of my backpack pocket, it would have been hard to believe that people lived there. But they did, no doubt about it…. Our arrival had been noticed, as we could see.
The low door creaked, and the figure of a very old man emerged into the light of day, straight out of a fairy tale. Barefoot. Wearing a patched and repatched shirt made of sacking. He wore trousers of the same material, also in patches, and had an uncombed beard. His hair was disheveled. He looked frightened and was very attentive…. We had to say something, so I began: ‘Greetings, grandfather! We’ve come to visit!’
The old man did not reply immediately…. Finally, we heard a soft, uncertain voice: ‘Well, since you have traveled this far, you might as well come in.’
Super fascinating. This short documentary (in Russian) shows something of how the Lykov’s lived. (via @davidchang)
As we’ve previously discussed, many Russian vehicles are equipped with dashboard video cameras. The other day, one such dashcam caught a plane crash on video:
See also driving in Russia.
As we saw yesterday in this compilation, a lot of vehicular bad behavior is caught on camera. Marina Galperina explored why Russians get into so many traffic accidents and where all the video footage comes from.
Dash-cam footage is the only real way to substantiate your claims in the court of law. Forget witnesses. Hit and runs are very common and insurance companies notoriously specialize in denying claims. Two-way insurance coverage is very expensive and almost completely unavailable for vehicles over ten years old-the drivers can only get basic liability. Get into a minor or major accident and expect the other party to lie to the police or better yet, flee after rear-ending you. Since your insurance won’t pay unless the offender is found and sued, you’ll see dash-cam videos of post hit and run pursuits for plate numbers.
And sometimes drivers back up or bump their pre-dented car into yours. It used to be a mob thing, with the accident-staging specialists working in groups. After the “accident,” the offending driver — often an elderly lady — is confronted by a crowd of “witnesses,” psychologically pressured and intimidated to pay up cash on the spot. Since the Age of the Dash-cam, hustle has withered from a flourishing enterprise to a dying trade, mainly thriving in the provinces where dash-cams are less prevalent.
Here’s a video compilation of scam attempts foiled by cameras. (thx, andrew & sam)
This video is 13 minutes of traffic accidents in Russia and totally amazing.
Question #1: Why did I end up watching all 13 minutes of this video? A: Because it’s one literally unbelievable thing after another.
Question #2: Was that a jet? A: Yes! And a helicopter.
Question #3: Why does everyone in Russia record their drives? A: Because this sort of thing happens all the time?
Question #4: I didn’t know a powerline could flip a car over. A: Not a question, but yeah, WTF!?
Question #5: Have you ever seen so many tires fall off of cars before? A: No. No I haven’t.
A NY Times foreign correspondent formerly stationed in Russia tells the story of placing his three kids into an unusual school in Moscow where all the instruction is done in Russian.
My three children once were among the coddled offspring of Park Slope, Brooklyn. But when I became a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, my wife and I decided that we wanted to immerse them in life abroad. No international schools where the instruction is in English. Ours would go to a local one, with real Russians. When we told friends in Brooklyn of our plans, they tended to say things like, Wow, you’re so brave. But we knew what they were really thinking: What are you, crazy? It was bad enough that we were abandoning beloved Park Slope, with its brownstones and organic coffee bars, for a country still often seen in the American imagination as callous and forbidding. To throw our kids into a Russian school — that seemed like child abuse.
Be sure to watch the video.
Anna Skladmann takes photographs of the children of rich Russian families.
When I came to photograph Eva, she was at home with her two nannies, one British and one Russian. She had planned everything in advance: the dress she had chosen hung already perfectly ironed and pressed with matching tights and shoes carefully next to it. I felt that I had been hired by Eva to do this shoot rather than the other way around. She was experienced and knowledgeable as she showed me the rooms we were allowed to photograph. She placed herself carefully on the edge of a couch, stood in front of her favorite painting, and posed in her parents’ library. At the end of this photo session she was exhausted and lay down on the sofa. Finally I was able to take the only photograph that I had composed myself.
Russia is building eight floating nuclear power stations for deployment in the Arctic Ocean to support their efforts to drill for oil near the North Pole.
He says each power station, costing $400m, can supply electricity and heating for communities of up to 45,000 people and can stay on location for 12 years before needing to be serviced back in St Petersburg.
And while initially they will be positioned next to Arctic bases along the North coast, there are plans for floating nuclear power stations to be taken out to sea near large gas rigs.
“We can guarantee the safety of our units one hundred per cent, all risks are absolutely ruled out,” says Mr Zavyalov.
Yeah, what could possibly go wrong? (via @polarben)
A Russian man has come forward with his collection of CPUs, which could be the largest in the world. The collection consists of vintage Soviet CPUs, as well as several newer models. I’m a little out of my comfort zone with this one, and it’s completely possible this is a hoax. If so, it’s worth it just for the picture of the dude in a muscle shirt displaying his collection. Click through and tell me it’s not.
There are some tsarist Russia posters in the collection as well. (via do)
Nikolai Sutyagin decided to build himself a home befitting the owner of a lumber and construction company. This resident of Archanglesk, Russia, built a regular Izba, or wooden country dwelling, that was the standard two stories, because anything higher is considered a fire hazard by law. Once complete, he began to add to the roof bit by bit, using leftover lumber from his company. Eventually his home teetered at an unbelievable 12-15 stories, tall enough to view the White Sea from the top. Though Nikolai ran into some trouble with an embezzling employee and jail time for beating up said employee, he and his family are rumored to still dwell in the timber tower, which looks like something out of an Edward Gorey etching.
To sort out the uncultured, ill-tempered, and just plain ugly, Moscow clubs use a process called face control (or feis kontrol), a particularly picky version of the typical velvet rope system employed at clubs around the world.
Not that Pasha doesn’t take his role seriously. As he sees it, his job, or that of any face control expert, is necessary because Russia is filled with “people who have just made their first million and think they deserve to be in the club, that they should get everything they want.” This, of course, is a problem. “But in fact they’re just a bunch of miners and day laborers,” Pasha said. “They don’t have respect or culture.”
The color photography of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, who plied his trade in Russia in the early 1900s, is making the rounds online again. It’s always worth a look. Prokudin-Gorskii made color photographs using a clever filtering system years before color photography would be widely available. As a result, his work goes on the list of things that seem contemporary but really aren’t.
As Mike notes, I first linked to Prokudin-Gorskii’s work more than 8 years ago (!!).
Update: Clayton James Cubitt reminded me that Prokudin-Gorskii took a color portrait of Leo Tolstoy in 1908. (thx, clayton)
Synchonized jumping from bridges is a thing in Russia now.
It’s new fun in some Russian cities, to jump from the bridge with the rope in a big group, when there is no water under the bridge but raw firm ice, also they use to jump at that same moment when the train is going thru the bridge — just imagine what the machinist could think when he sees a bunch of people standing on the rails just before the moving train, so he probably starts slowing down and then all those people jump out of the bridge…
As a companion to an offline article about illegal logging, the New Yorker has a video that traces illegally cut wood in Russia to distribution and manufacturing centers in China and eventually a finished toilet seat is shipped to Wal-Mart in the US.
Chip Kidd’s copy of the New York Times reveals the truth behind Russia’s new President: Trickery. (via book design review)
Wonderful timelapse photos by Alexey Titarenko of “shadow” people in St. Petersburg just after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This one is stunning. (via heading east)
David Remnick on the current state of Russian politics and the head of the tiny anti-Putin movement, former chess champion Garry Kasparov.
In recent years, Putin has insured that nearly all power in Russia is Presidential. The legislature, the State Duma, is only marginally more independent than the Supreme Soviet was under Leonid Brezhnev. The governors of Russia’s more than eighty regions are no longer elected, as they were under Yeltsin; since a Presidential decree in 2004, they have all been appointed by the Kremlin. Putin even appoints the mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg. The federal television networks, by far the main instrument of news and information in Russia, are neo-Soviet in their absolute obeisance to Kremlin power.
There’s also an audio interview of Kasparov by Remnick.
Kremlin Inc. is from the New Yorker a few weeks ago, but it’s still very worth reading. The article details the current political situation in Russia and how in many ways, the press, business, and the political process are less free and open than under the Soviet regime. “‘I don’t know of a single case in the past six years when the Duma voted against any Presidential initiative,’ Vladimir Ryzhkov, one of the last liberal legislators willing to speak critically and publicly, told me. ‘I also don’t know of any case where the Duma adopted an initiative that came from the regions. One man makes all the rules in Russia now, and the Duma has become like a new Supreme Soviet.’”