Weekly interviews on Eurasian politics, history and society.
Weekly interviews on Eurasian politics, history and society.
Rebroadcast: The Kazakh Famine
Sarah Cameron is an Assistant Professor of Russia and Soviet Union history at the University of Maryland. She’s the author of The Hungry Steppe: Famine, Violence, and the Making of Soviet Kazakhstan published by Cornell University Press.
You can read a partial transcript of this interview here.
The Beastie Boys, “Sure Shot,” Ill Communication, 1994.
Russia’s Wily Man
In 2000, the Russian sociologist Yuri Levada penned an essay on what he labeled the “wily man.” He wrote that this new species of post-Soviet Russia “not only tolerates deception, but is willing to be deceived, and even requires self-deception for the sake of his own preservation.” This figure was clever and resourceful, and could adapt and even succeed by exploiting loopholes, cracks, and crevasses in the system.
Fast forward twenty years and, as Joshua Yaffa shows in his rich and novelistic tour of contemporary Russia, the wily man is in many respects the archetype the New Putinist Person. These are men and women who temper their ideals and compromise with the Russian state to extract all manner of benefits and privileges from those in power. To get a better sense of what this Russian “wily man” is and how its reflected in Russian life and what it means for Russia writ large, I turned to Josh for some insight.
Joshua Yaffa is a correspondent for the New Yorker in Moscow and a prize-winning journalist. He’s the author of Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin’s Russia published by Penguin Random House.
The Peechees, “Grease,” Cup of Glory 7″.
Soviet Judgment at Nuremberg
The Allies organized the Nuremberg Trials to hold the Nazis accountable for their crimes and to restore a sense of justice to a world devastated by violence. But a major piece of the Nuremberg story has often left out: the Soviet Union’s pivotal role in making the trials happen in the first place.
Indeed, Soviet jurists developed the legal framework that treated aggressive war as an international crime, giving the trials a legal basis. The Soviets war effort and the costs they endured gave them moral authority. However, in the end, little went as the Soviets had planned and Stalin’s efforts to steer the trials from afar backfired. So, what was the Soviet contribution to Nuremberg Trials, and how did they win the war but lose the peace?
Francine Hirsch is Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s the author of Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union. Her new book is Soviet Judgment at Nuremberg: A New History of the International Military Tribunal after World War II published by Oxford University Press.
Pete Seeger, “Last Train to Nuremberg.”
The Black Russian
In 1899, Frederick Bruce Thomas arrived in the Russian Empire after five years of working in some of Europe’s poshest restaurants and clubs. Thomas quickly found success in Moscow, where he became a nightclub owner and went on to bring some of the most popular jazz and vaudeville acts of the time. It was a new life. He was very successful and well-connected. He even took on a Russian name Fyodor Fyodorovich Tomas, and became a subject of the Russian empire. Thomas became Russian, and an incredibly rich one that that.
What makes Frederick Bruce Thomas’ story unique is that he was also a Black American. Born in 1872 to former slaves from Mississippi, Thomas’ journey was one of repeated self-transformation that led him out of the deep South to Chicago and New York City, and then throughout Europe to Russia. His blackness meant different things in each place. But it was in Russia that it seemed to matter less. So, who was Frederick Bruce Thomas and what does his life say about blackness, race and racism, and Imperial Russia in the early 20th century? What happened to him after he was forced to flee the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917? Here’s Vladimir Alexandrov with Thomas’ incredible story.
Vladimir Alexandrov is the B. E. Bensinger Professor Emeritus, Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University. He is the author of several books including Nabokov’s Otherworld and Limits to Interpretation: The Meanings of Anna Karenina. His most recent book is The Black Russian published by Grove Press.
James Brown, “I’m Black and I’m Proud,” 20 All Time Greatest Hits, 1999.
Censorship in Late Stalinist Classical Music
There are many aspects of the Soviet arts that I don’t understand. But one thing that vexes me is classical music. I get how the visual and textual arts take on Socialist Realist aesthetics—even though what Socialist Realism actually is hard to pin down. But what makes classical music Socialist Realist? And how is it subject to censorship like other art mediums? Also, what about ethnic sounding classical music? How are Soviet ethnic minority composers address the issue of “national in form, socialist in content” in classical music? Lots of questions and fewer answers.
Luckily, Leah Goldman lives in Pittsburgh and she sat down with me at my home to talk about her work on Soviet classical music, opera, and censorship in the late Stalin period. We also listen and she comments on the music too.
Leah Goldman is a Visiting Assistant Professor in European History at Washington & Jefferson College specializing in Soviet cultural history and music. She’s the author of several articles on Soviet classical music censorship and production. Her two most recent articles are “Nationally Informed: The Politics of National Minority Music during Late Stalinism,” published in the Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas and “Negotiating ‘Historical Truth’: Art, Authority, and Iurii Shaporin’s The Decembrists,” in Journal of Musicology.
Yuri Shaporin, “Scena, Arioso and Quartet: Your Words Inflame My Soul” The Decembrists.
Pogroms and Blood Libel in the Soviet Union
The history and memory of pogroms and blood libels were central to the Jewish experience in late Tsarist Russia. And 1917 Revolution and subsequent Jewish emancipation didn’t wash them away. Jews were victims of unprecedented violence during the Russian Civil War, and accusations of ritual murder persisted. This forced Jewish communities to ally with the Bolsheviks during the Civil War, and mostly remain so, even as official Soviet attention to antisemitism became increasingly ambivalent. How did this memory of blood libel accusations and pogroms shape the experience of Soviet Jews in the interwar period and after?
Elissa Bemporad is a Professor of History at the CUNY Graduate Center specializing the Jewish History and the Russian and Soviet history. She’s the author of Becoming Soviet Jews: The Bolshevik Experiment in Minsk, which won the National Jewish Book Award and of the Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History and with Joyce Warren, Women and Genocide: Survivors, Victims, Perpetrators. Her new book is Legacy of Blood: Jews, Pogroms, and Ritual Murder in the Lands of the Soviets published by Oxford University Press.
Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, “Language of Violence,” Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury, 1992.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Educational & Entertaining w/ Great Topics
I recently discovered this podcast and I’ve listened to several episodes already—the host chooses fascinating topics I've either read very little about, or never encountered at all (and I like to think I consume a lot of media on history)! Definitely recommend giving it a listen.
Best Historical Podcast Out There
Sean is a great interviewer and thorough with his own research and gathering info on his guest and their subjects. Its a good balance between the different eras of Russia (Muscovy, Imperial, Soviet, Modern, etc.) and he does well to examine areas that do not garner much attention, such as what objects and possessions Red Army soldiers carried on them. I have purchased several books based off his guests and have not been disappointed.
Excellent podcast on a fascinating subject. Particularly enjoy topics having to do with the Soviet Union and contemporary Russian society and politics. More podcasts on post-Soviet Russia would be great—anything to cut through the propaganda in the USA.