Reconsidering Russia Podcast: An Interview with Stephen F. Cohen

The Reconsidering Russia podcast has returned for a seventeenth installment featuring Dr. Stephen F. Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian History at New York University and Princeton University.

He is the author of numerous books on Russia and the former Soviet region, including the influential Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution and, most recently, War with Russia? on the current state of US-Russian relations. He is also the founder of the revived American Committee for East-West Accord.

In this interview, Professor Cohen reflects on US-Russian relations, his interest in Russian history, his friendships with Robert C. Tucker, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Anna Larina, his meeting with Svetlana Alliluyeva, and his (and his wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel‘s) long-time association with the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

Since I began my podcast in April 2015 at the University of Michigan, I have interviewed a diverse array of experts from Sergey Markedonov to Ellendea Proffer Teasley to Jack Matlock. Unfortunately, due to an increased workload over the next few years, I will no longer be updating this podcast on a regular basis. However, I thank both my guests and my listeners for many incredible experiences.

Reconsidering Russia Podcast: An Interview with Alexander Rabinowitch

You say you want a revolution? The fourteenth installment of the Reconsidering Russia podcast series features Dr. Alexander Rabinowitch, Professor Emeritus of Russian History at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Dr. Rabinowitch is best known for his three-part book series chronicling the history of the October Revolution, particularly his classic work The Bolsheviks Come to Power: The Revolution of 1917 in Petrograd. He is currently writing a fourth volume entitled The Bolsheviks Survive: Government and Crises in Civil War Petrograd, including new research from previously little-used Petersburg historical archives.

This interview includes discussions with Dr. Rabinowitch on the history and historiography of the Russian Revolution, the forthcoming centenary, his Russian émigré family background, the role of the Russian émigrés in the formation of Russian Studies in the US. and his meetings with Aleksandr Kerensky, Vladimir Nabokov, Irakli Tsereteli, and Boris Nicolaevsky.

Reconsidering Russia Podcast: An Interview with Volodymyr Ishchenko

The twelfth installment of the Reconsidering Russia podcast series features Volodymyr Ishchenko, Senior Lecturer at the Sociology Department at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute in Kiev, Ukraine.

In this interview, Dr. Ishchenko discusses Ukrainian politics. Topics include the privatization in Ukraine in the 1990s, the Orange Revolution, the Maidan, Crimea, the rise of the far-right, the fortunes of the Ukrainian Communist Party, the state of the Ukrainian left in general, the state of the Ukrainian economy, and the prospects for socialist democracy in Ukraine, Russia, and the former USSR.

Dr. Ishchenko is also the Deputy Director at the Center for Social and Labor Research in Ukraine and an editor at the Commons Journal and the magazine September.

Reconsidering Russia Podcast: An Interview with Vladimir Pozner

The eleventh installment of the Reconsidering Russia podcast series features celebrated journalist Vladimir Pozner.

In this wide-ranging interview, Mr. Pozner discusses his life and career. It encompasses discussions of Mr. Pozner’s parents’ activities in the French Resistance in World War II, the Pozner family’s emigration to the USSR, the Khrushchev Thaw, the reaction of Soviet society to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika, space bridges between American and Soviet societies, the Yeltsin years, the current state of US-Russian relations, and Russian society today.

This interview also includes lengthy discussions of Mr. Pozner’s prolific journalistic career of over 50 years, including his work presenting the “Soviet side” of the story on Ted Koppel’s Nightline and other programs, his partnership with Phil Donahue, his television career in contemporary Russia, and depictions of Russia in the American press today.

Reconsidering Russia Podcast: An Interview with Ellendea Proffer Teasley

The tenth installment of the Reconsidering Russia podcast series features Dr. Ellendea Proffer Teasley, author, translator, publisher of Russian literature, and co-founder of Ardis Publishers. She holds a PhD in Russian literature from Indiana University.

In this podcast, Dr. Proffer Teasley discusses her new book Brodsky Among Us (Academic Studies Press, 2017). The book was a bestseller in Russia and was just published in its original English language edition in April. She also discusses her late husband Carl Proffer, the founding of Ardis Publishers, the origin of the Ardis name, and her personal experiences with Russian literary giants Joseph Brodsky, Vladimir Nabokov, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Elena Bulgakova, and Lily Brik, among others.

Reconsidering Russia Podcast: An Interview with Paul Robinson

The ninth installment of the Reconsidering Russia podcast series features Dr. Paul Robinson, professor of Russian and military history at the University of Ottawa.

In this podcast, Dr. Robinson discusses US-Russian relations, Canadian-Russian relations, Boris Johnson, Aleksei Navalny, Russian conservatism, Russian Eurasianism, Russian Orientalism, avant-garde Soviet science fiction, and the origin of the name of his blog Irrussianality.

Dr. Robinson holds a DPhil in history from the University of Oxford and an MA in Russian and Eastern European Studies from the University of Toronto.

Reconsidering Russia Podcast: An Interview with Siranush Galstyan

The eighth installment of the Reconsidering Russia podcast series features Siranush Galstyan, lecturer at the Yerevan State Institute of Theatre and Cinema and the author of the book Cinema of Armenia (Mazda, 2016).

Our interview explores the cinema of Armenia, Georgia, and the Caucasus. We discuss early Soviet films about Yazidi romances and peoples’ revolutions in Iran, casting light on the importance of popular culture in the Soviet Union’s Near Eastern policy. We also discuss the work of Sergei Parajanov and Artavazd Peleshyan as well as the celebrated actor Frunzik Mkrtchyan of Mimino and other films.

Reconsidering Russia Podcast: An Interview with Fred Weir

The sixth and latest Reconsidering Russia podcast features Fred Weir, the Moscow Correspondent at The Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Weir holds an honors B.A. in European history from the University of Toronto and a teaching degree from the Ontario College of Education.

In this podcast, Mr. Weir and I discuss Russian politics and society, US-Russian relations, the centenary of the Russian Revolution, Nagorno-Karabakh, Ukraine, the American Rust Belt, and his experiences covering Russia as a journalist, living on an Israeli kibbutz, and working as a journeyman ironworker. Enjoy!

Charting the historical development of protest in Soviet and post-Soviet Armenia

Yerevan 1988

Yerevan 1988

While the recent Baghramyan Avenue protests in Armenia over electricity price hikes may have surprised many observers, they are arguably part of a broader tradition of civic activism in Soviet and post-Soviet Armenia.

How do the Baghramyan protests compare to other historical protests in Armenia? These latest demonstrations reportedly brought out as many as 30,000 people into the streets of Yerevan last week. This is a larger number compared to the 2013 post-election protests in Armenia, led by the pro-Western Raffi Hovannisian, which brought out at most 10,000 people into the streets. At the same time, the Baghramyan number is smaller than the 2008 post-election protests, led by Armenia’s former President Levon Ter-Petrosyan, which reportedly brought out about 50,000 to 100,000 people into the streets.

Of course, none of these protests compare to the sheer size and scale of those of the Karabakh Movement during perestroika, in which as many as one million men, women, and children went out to protest on the streets of Yerevan in February 1988. That is approximately one-third of Armenia’s entire population. Of course, the reasons and circumstances for such massive protests were quite exceptional (as was arguably the era in which they took place).  For Armenians, Nagorny Karabakh (or Artsakh) is an existential issue.

Below are figures showing the growth of the perestroika-era protests in Armenia, from September 1987 to February 1988. These figures are derived from data compiled by Mark R. Beissinger, a political scientist at Princeton and author of the book Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State (Cambridge University Press, 2002):

1987:
September: 200
October-December: 2,000-1,000

1988
:
January (early): 5,000
January (early-mid): 30,000
January (mid): 200,000
January (late): 500,000
February: 1,000,000

Five myths of the Soviet effort in World War II – debunked

Raising a flag over the Reichstag (Yevgeny Khaldei)

Raising a flag over the Reichstag (Yevgeny Khaldei).  This iconic wartime image has been compared to the famous Joe Rosenthal photograph of the US Marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima.

This Saturday (9 May) marked the 70th anniversary of World War II (or the Great Patriotic War) in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Yet, misconceptions of the Soviet involvement in the war and its legacy persist in the West. Here are five of them – debunked:

1. The Americans won World War II in Europe. While one can justifiably state that the Americans won World War II in the Pacific, in fact it is clear that the Soviet Union unambiguously won the war in Europe. The battles of Stalingrad, Kursk, Kiev, and other cities, as well as the sieges of Leningrad and Sevastopol, will be forever burned in the collective memory of the people of Russia and the former Soviet Union. The major Soviet sacrifice in the war can be best illustrated factually by the sheer statistics. At least 27 million Soviet citizens, or 14% of the USSR’s prewar population, died in the war, compared to less than 1% of the British prewar population and less than 0.5% of the American prewar population.  3 million Soviet soldiers from the war remain missing in action action to this day.

Noted Russia scholar Dr. Stephen F. Cohen of NYU and Princeton stated in a recent interview on the war that “when the Germans came in June 1941 and there was an emergency call-up, they called up the class that graduated that May-June from high [secondary] school. 18 year old boys. And sent ’em off to fight. Of every 100 high school boys who went off to fight in June 1941, only three came home… What that meant was, as life went on after the war, was that millions of Soviet women never had a husband, never married. And there was actually a name for them. They were called ‘Ivan’s widows.'”

2. The Soviet victory of World War II in Europe was a Russian victory alone. In fact, the victory of the Soviet Union was not a Russian victory alone. Even though Russians formed the highest number of military casualties (close to 70%), soldiers of other Soviet nationalities also sacrificed greatly for the victory. Ukrainians, Belarusians, Jews, Armenians, Georgians, Kazakhs, and others made major contributions to the war effort. Some of the greatest heroes of the war were non-Russians, such as Marshal Semyon Timoshenko and Marshal Ivan Bagramyan, who were Ukrainian and Armenian respectively.  Belarus, the Soviet republic that served as a major center for partisan activity during the war, proportionally suffered the greatest loss of life against the Nazi onslaught – over 25% of its prewar population. The Soviet soldiers who raised the Soviet flag over the Reichstag in the famous World War II image were from Daghestan (Abdulakhim Ismailov), Ukraine (Aleksey Kovalev), and Belarus (Leonid Gorychev) while the photographer, Yevgeny Khaldei, was a Jew from the Ukrainian Donbas.  To this day, Victory Day is a major holiday in all non-Baltic former Soviet republics.

3. The war is viewed very differently in Ukraine than in Russia. In reality, this only applies to those areas of Western Ukraine, annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939, where the Ukrainian nationalist movement was active and where the Red Army was seen as an “oppressor.” By contrast, throughout the rest of Ukraine, primarily in the Central and Southeastern parts, the war is remembered as a patriotic endeavor against the hated Nazi German invader. The war saw major figures emerge from these parts of Ukraine. They included not only Timoshenko, but also Marshal Rodion Malinovsky, Marshal of Armored Troops Pavel Rybalko, General Mikhail Kirponos, fighter ace and Chief Marshal of Aviation Ivan Kozhedub, and the sniper Major Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who was immortalized in song by the American folk singer Woody Guthrie. The different perceptions of the war in the different regions of Ukraine is perhaps best illustrated by Dr. Ivan Katchanovski of the University of Ottawa in his study on the subject.

4. The Americans liberated the prisoners of Auschwitz. While it is true that the Americans liberated the prisoners of Buchenwald, it was in fact the Soviet Red Army that liberated the prisoners of Auschwitz on 26 January 1945. Further, the Holocaust itself largely took place on the Eastern Front.

5. The orange-and-black St. George Ribbon sported by Russians and other former Soviet peoples on 9 May is a recent invention. In fact, the St. George Ribbon has a history dating all the way back to Tsarist times in the late 18th century. During World War II, the ribbon was later re-adopted by the Soviet military. The ribbon gained greater visibility and public significance in Russia under Putin, beginning in the mid-2000s as a symbol representing the war effort, part of a greater campaign focused on reviving Russian patriotism after the chaotic Yeltsin years.

Since the Ukraine conflict in 2014, the ribbon has become associated by the Ukrainian government and its supporters with the pro-Russian rebels of Donbas.  In response, the Ukrainian government has controversially adopted a new symbol to commemorate the war – the red-and-black poppy common in the UK, Canada, and the British Commonwealth. The poppy is favored by nationalists in the Ukrainian government because the red-and-black colors match those used on the flags of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) which collaborated with the Nazis during the war.  According to Ivan Katchanovski, the red-and-black colors “in turn were adopted from the Nazi blood and soil colors.” The move has consequently met with much controversy in Ukraine, especially among veterans of the Red Army and the pro-Soviet partisan movement.