38 percent of Russians show poor understanding of history

No less an authority than Alexander Solzhenitsyn understood that a considerable dissimilarity existed between Russia and the West. He lived in both, saw the good and bad in both and believed both had something to offer mankind.

What he wouldn’t have understood is that a sizeable percentage of Russians hold former Soviet dictator and mass murderer Joseph Stalin in high regard.

Russians have picked Stalin as the greatest figure in history, beating out President Vladimir Putin and poet Alexander Pushkin, according to a poll released today.

The poll, conducted in April by the Levada Centre, asked Russians to pick the greatest individuals of all time.

Stalin came out on top with 38 percent, while Putin shared second place on 34 percent with Pushkin, Russia’s beloved national poet.

Stalin’s predecessor Vladimir Lenin, Tsar Peter the Great and first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, came next in the list, with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in last place at 6 percent.

The list includes included just three foreigners: Napoleon Bonaparte, Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton.

Stalin is believed responsible for the deaths of as many as 25 million individuals, some executed during his political purges and many more dying in the Gulag, the vast prison camp systems, or through mass starvation such as the Holodomor.

Stalin was a monster on par with Hitler and Mao, and the fact that more than one-third of Russians consider him the greatest figure in history points out either great deficiencies in the Russian educational system, a voluntary myopia among many Russians regarding their past, or a combination of the two.

(Top: A cemetery for victims of the one of Stalin’s gulags in Vorkuta, in Russia’s Far North.)

Mussolini’s bid to recreate empire had fateful results for Italy

March_on_Rome

Of the three most infamous dictators from World War II, Benito Mussolini definitely takes a backseat to his more merciless fellow despots, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

Mussolini, in fact, comes across like a bit of a buffoon, given his fateful decision to side with the Nazis, his nation’s performance during the conflict and his ultimate fate (captured trying to escape to Switzerland, executed by firing squad and then hung upside down in a town square where his body was pelted with stones by his fellow Italians).

Il Duce dreamed of recreating a Roman empire reminiscent of the great Caesars, to the point of enacting ancient laws totally out of step with the 20th century.

He went so far as to revive the Code of Diocletian, writes Rebecca West in her masterful 1941 work Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which recounts her travels through Yugoslavia in the late 1930s.

“(Mussolini) retrieved, whether from the half-comprehended talk of a clever comrade or by skimming a volume in the threepenny box outside the bookshop, the Code of Diocletian; and being either unaware or careless that Diocletian had perished of despair in his palace at Split, because he had failed to check the descent of ruin on the Roman earth, he enforced that Code on his country,” West writes. “This was a comical venture.”

She adds that Diocletian had “some excuse for seeking to stabilize by edict the institutions of an empire that had lasted for over a thousand years,” but it was idiotic for Mussolini “to attempt to fix the forms of a country that had been unified for less than a century and was deeply involved in a world economic system which was no older than the industrial revolution.”

Ultimately, Mussolini’s reign would be an even greater failure than Diocletian’s (284-305 AD).

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Russian billboard pays homage to Nazi bomber crew

motherland_billboard_WW2_mix

Those who adhere to the axiom that there’s no such thing as bad publicity will find at least one Russian politician who likely believes differently.

Sergei Gridnev, mayor of Ivanteyevka, outside Moscow, has apologized after billboards celebrating the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s World War II victory, set for May 9, appeared around town featuring a German air force crew.

Not surprising given that the Soviet Union bore the lion’s share of Hitler’s wrath between 1941-45, suffering at least 25 million dead, the image of a Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 bomber crew rather than that of Soviet soldiers didn’t sit particularly well with locals.

Area news portal Ivanteyevka Today has since owned up to the blunder, according to the BBC.

It commissioned 20 banners to mark the end of the conflict, but confessed to “negligence” in choosing the photo, which had the unfortunate tagline “They fought for the Motherland.”

Also not helping matters: The brutal Battle of Moscow, fought from October 1941 to January 1942 and an integral aspect of the Nazi assault on the Soviet Union, code named Operation Barbarossa, claimed 1.5 million lives.

Attempts to point out that the photo dated from 1940, the year before Germany invaded the Soviet Union, when the two nations were actually allies, did little to alleviate heartburn.

Gridnev says local people, war veterans and the whole of Russia can rest assured that “he’ll punish those responsible for the ‘appalling incident,” the state news agency Tass reported.

“The local branch of the pro-Putin All-Russia People’s Front says it spotted the billboard and demanded its removal, and 12 hours after it went up the offending image came right back down again,” according to the BBC.

On the bright side for Gridnev and everyone at Ivanteyevka Today, if this had happened when Stalin was in power, everyone involved with this gaffe would have already been tortured in Lubyanka Prison and then lined up and shot.

(Top: Billboard in Ivanteyevka, Russia, celebrating the upcoming 70th anniversary of Soviet victory over Nazi Germany with image of Nazi bomber crew and words “They fought for the Motherland.”

Happy New Year; the blessings of being alive in today’s world

German_soldiers_in_a_railroad_car_on_the_way_to_the_front_during_early_World_War_I,_taken_in_1914__Taken_from_greatwar_nl_site

To those crusaders of the keyboard who take the time to visit this site – whether by chance or on purpose (Hi, Mom!) – we here at the Cotton Boll Conspiracy would like to wish you a Happy New Year.

Regular readers – all six of you – may have noted this blog’s fascination with history. As much as today’s media would like us to stay glued to our television sets, Twitter feeds, and anything else through which they can pour out bad news or, more often, dress up mediocre news so that it looks really, really scary and thereby keeps us in a fear-induced trance, the world today is perhaps safer than it’s ever been.

No, it’s not perfectly safe and never will be. Anyone who expects that is a fool.

However, consider what was going on 100 years ago today, on Jan. 1, 1915:

Most of the world’s great powers were a few months into what would become one of the worst wars in history.

At this point a century ago, more than a million men had already died in what would eventually be known as World War I, and another 10 million or so would lose their lives before the fighting ended in November 1918.

However, even with the end of the Great War, other conflicts spurred by WWI would continue across Eastern Europe into the 1920s, costing millions more lives.

World War I also magnified one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history, the 1918 flu pandemic that claimed between 50 million and 100 million lives worldwide.

It sparked the Bolshevik Revolution, which led to the rise of Lenin and Stalin, and claimed tens of millions of more lives, not to mention decades of misery for hundreds of millions.

It led to the rise of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, the subsequent collapse of the League of Nations and the rise of the Axis Powers. That brought World War II, the Holocaust, atomic warfare, the deaths of somewhere between 60 million and 70 million individuals, and the onset of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain.

And those are just the high points.

We’d all do well to head to the local library once in a while, check out a roll of microfilm from a 70 or 100 years ago, and see what real crises looked like.

Are there problems today? Yes. Are they anywhere near what the world face 100 years ago? No, thank goodness.

So get out there and enjoy a wonderful 2015. And thanks for stopping by.

(Top: German soldiers on the way to the front in the late summer of 1914. Many of these men would be dead by Jan. 1, 1915, and few survived World War I.)

Pinocchio Nose’s reply to those who would let dead dictators be

One of the more intriguing aspects of blogging is the comments one receives. Most posts, at least on this blog, receive no more than a handful of replies, but they tend to be thoughtful, articulate and often complimentary, for which I’m appreciative.

There is of course, the occasional anti-Semitic rant, which seems to be nothing more than boilerplate rubbish sent out on a semi-regular basis to posts that, say, identify the Nazis for what they were: A genocidal regime led by a ruthless tyrant and an array of sycophants. These mindless rants are easy enough to identify and delete, however.

Sometimes, though, one gets a comment that is both odd and intriguing.

I recently received a comment on a story that I posted back in November 2011 regarding then-ongoing debate about what Spain should do regarding the resting place of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.

At the time, there was discussion about whether Franco’s body should be removed from Valle de los Caídos, or Valley of the Fallen, a sensitive historical site near Madrid, and reburied elsewhere.

The Valley of the Fallen is a Catholic basilica and memorial conceived to honor those who fell during the Spanish Civil War. It contains the remains of nearly 34,000 individuals.

Despite the fact that my post contained no commentary either way on whether Franco, who died in 1975, nearly 40 years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, should be buried among the victims of the brutal conflict, someone, albeit rather late, took umbrage with the fact that I deigned to touch on the controversy.

“Mind your own business and we shall mind ours; don’t poke your Pinocchio nose into everything,” they wrote, although I did take the liberty of cleaning up the comment to make it easier on the eyes. (The original can be seen in the comments section here.)

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How and why the Soviets controlled kitchens

communal kitchen soviet union

One never ceases to be staggered by the lengths to which the Soviet Union went to in order to oppress its citizenry.

In the decades following the 1917 Russian Revolution, among myriad other indignities heaped upon the Russian populace, Soviet leaders embarked upon a concerted effort to root out, of all things, individual kitchens.

Soviet authorities considered kitchens and private apartments a threat to the regime because they were places people could gather to talk about politics, according to National Public Radio.

The kitchen represented something bourgeois, said Alexander Genis, a Russian writer and radio journalist.

“Every family, as long as they have a kitchen, they have some part of their private life and private property,” he said.

The effort to eliminate private kitchens was facilitated by the rapid urbanization that took place in the Soviet Union following the end of World War I, due in no small part to Soviet policy, according to the blog Russian Tumble:

“The demand for industrial workers in the cities exploded with the forced industrialization of the Five-Year Plans, while simultaneously the pressures of forced collectivization of agriculture, and its attendant chaos, violence and famine, gave those living in the vastness that was rural Russia all to more reason to move to the city.”

In addition, the Soviet Union, with its state-managed economy, offered no incentive for providing adequate housing or the amenities of life.

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Remembering the notorious ‘Uranium Gulag’

Joachimsthal mine

One of the lesser-known aspects of the Soviet Gulag was the brutal slave labor camps located in the mountains of Czechoslovakia following World War II, where prisoners were exploited in order to provide uranium for the Soviets’ nascent atomic warfare program.

Shortly after the end of World War II, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin – recognizing the advantage the US had with its possession of atomic weaponry – sent the Red Army to capture one of the few areas then known to possess material that could be used in the construction of atomic bombs.

The Ore Mountains, which then marked the border between Czechoslovakia and Germany, first gained fame in the late 15th century as the site of a major silver discovery, with the Bohemian town of Joachimsthal taking on special significance as a source of the metal.

Also discovered around this time was pitchblende, a radioactive, uranium-rich ore, which early miners discarded as a waste byproduct.

Only at the beginning of the 20th century was it learned that pitchblende was a valuable commodity in and of itself. Within pitchblende, a variety of uraninite, Marie Curie discovered the element radium, and until the First World War Joachimsthal pitchblende was the only known source of radium in the world.

Also found within pitchblende is uranium. Like other elements, uranium occurs in slightly differing forms known as isotopes. The most common form of uranium is U-238, which makes up more than 99 percent of natural uranium found in the Earth’s crust.

However, another uranium isotope, U-235, while it is makes up less than 1 percent of the Earth’s uranium, is important because under certain conditions it can readily be split, yielding a tremendous amount of energy.

The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945 derived its explosive power from the nuclear fission of uranium-235.

In late 1945 Stalin pressured the Czechoslovak government to sign a confidential treaty that would give Moscow the rights to material from mine, according to Tom Zoellner’s outstanding 2009 work “Uranium.”

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