From Sea to “Glorious” Sea

Lake Baikal is the world’s largest and oldest freshwater lake. It lies in the indentation where Asia is splitting apart from Siberia, the beginning formation of a new sea. Lake Baikal has had mixed emotions surrounding it- some believed in conservation, while others were simply concerned with the economic advances surround Baikal. Laws and regulations are now in place in regards to Lake Baikal because people realized it truly is a “pearl,” but that wasn’t always the case.

As we know, Stalin focused on industrialization, which took a toll on the environment during his reign. With factories and mills nearby, the pollution was too great for the Lake, but it didn’t matter much to Stalin because industrialization was “good.” After his reign ended, though, Brezhnev recognized that the economy can grow with industrialization, as long as it doesn’t affect the largest supply of freshwater in the world. So, he closed down the mills responsible for the pollution, and began to put a greater focus on the environment as a whole, not just surrounding Lake Baikal. While this came as an economic hardship in some areas, I believe it was ultimately beneficial for the Soviet Union (Freeze, 442).


This image portrays what environmental life was like during Stalin’s rule, and why it was so important to change the view of industrialization as it pertains to the environment. Stalin was destroying the very thing that was necessary for prosperity.

On a more local level, environmental protection became a very big deal in the 1970s-1980s. Cities invested millions of rubles for environmental protection, anything from planting greenery to control air pollution, to creating sewage-treatment plants in order to prohibit sewage spills. Environmentalists and scientists’ voices were finally heard during this time as well. Research surrounding the environment began to explode, and people consider environmentalists during this time in the Soviet Union to be pioneers. Not only that, but USSR Ministers of Construction and Metallurgy began to notice the need for “clean” building, and revitalized the way they when about their professions. This was part of yet another “five year plan” and thankfully, the focus was to build the very foundations of the Soviet Union rather than tear them down.

Freeze, Gregory. “Russia A History” 3rd Edition.



War On….. Alcohol?

“Soviet society revealed signs of acute stress. One was hyper-alcoholism” (Freeze, 444).

When we picture someone from Russia, I think many of us see a beer-bellied man with a 5 o’clock shadow, rosy cheeks, hazy eyes, and a half empty bottle of vodka next to him. At least that’s what I see. So I was curious to learn that the Soviet government had recognized society’s alcoholic tendencies and attempted to change them.


Economically, alcohol raised revenue, which wasn’t a bad thing. Alcohol sales jumped to 77% in the 70s, and consumption had doubled from 1955 to 1979 (Freeze, 444 and The Atlantic). However, it also raised infant mortality because babies were dying of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), and that was very bad. Even today, most cases of FAS come from babies born in the Balkans region of Europe. On top of that, people weren’t having many children, so the birth rate was lower than the death rate, and that sparked the government’s need to change something about the alcoholism throughout the state.

Similarly to the way we see anti-drug posters/campaigns here in the US, the Soviet government attempted to limit alcohol consumption by creating posters to show what a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Russian looks like. The picture below is one example, but you can find many more here.


Aside from the government, civilians saw the need for laws against alcoholism due to the harmful affect it had on society.  People pressed for anti-alcoholism laws to be made official and unified. Many of those were well-educated and wealthy citizens who made attempts to ‘cleanse’ Soviet society during the 1960s. Professor Gertsenzon called drunkenness “incompatible with socialist social relations” and talked about how drunkenness and alcoholism were poisoning the workplace and resident life of many Soviets. Business owners even thought to reduce alcoholism to embarrassment by giving out wages in something shaped like a bottle of Russian vodka.

{During the 80s in the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev will institute a “dry law” and other anti-alcohol campaigns, but we can talk about that when we get there!}

Alcoholism is still a major problem in Russia today despite all of the anti-alcohol campaign throughout the Soviet Union. More than 30% of all deaths in Russia were alcohol related in 2012. Here is a pdf from the World Health Organization from 2014 that does a good job of breaking the alcohol use and misuse in the Russian Federation.

Images: here and here

Freeze, Gregory. “Russia A History” 3rd Edition.

Rosie the {Russian} Riveter

One group that is often overlooked during wartime is women. Traditional values in Soviet  culture told women to stay at home to tend to the children, cook dinner, clean up, and take care of other household issues. However, during the 1940s while men were away at war, women played a very different role in Soviet life. Women became “married to the state,” sacrificing their personal lives in order to serve the state by going to work in factories and the industrial sector. The “traditional roles” women held in films, songs, and poems didn’t correlate to the actual roles women took on during the war.

“By the end of the summer of 1941, women comprised 70 per cent of the industrial labour force in Moscow” (Freeze, 386)

Women became the breadwinners of the family as their husbands were fighting the Germans and work was still needing to be done so the economy wouldn’t suffer as well. The agricultural sector was no different. Agriculture was “feminized” in other words, mainly run by women rather than the men who used to labor in the fields. The Red Army took over machines and horses in such grand number that women attempted to pull ploughs themselves (Freeze, 386). See here.

I find this interesting because this looks a lot like women’s roles in America during the early 1940s. Millions of American women went to work in jobs that were previously only held by men during World War II to “do her part” to help during the War.


Does she look familiar? Rosie the Riveter was the iconic picture of a working woman. As Soviet women left the home and took on industrial and agricultural jobs, women in America were doing the same, all to serve their respective states and help in any way they could. “In 1945, Soviet women workers outnumbered men workers.” (Red Papers) And that was just one sector. Women took over medical, agricultural, transportation, and construction fields and comprised a large part of each area. Likewise, “by 1945, nearly one out of every four married women worked outside of the home” (History).

After reading Love and Romance in War from Seventeen Moments, the only part that really stuck out to me was that Soviet women were portrayed as homemakers, but were actually hardworking women who deserved a little more credit than (I’m sure) they get!

Freeze, Gregory. “Russia A History” 3rd Edition.

Featured Image: here

The Purge: The Poison of Faith

During the late 1920s to early 1930s, a cultural revolution was transforming life for all classes and all professions. Stalin instituted social, religious, and political purges throughout Russia in order to preemptively suppress any insurgencies that may occur. Parties were experiencing inner conflicts, professions became polarized (which interrupted many careers), and even literature saw a bitter rivalry (Freeze, 356).

With a  refreshed hostility towards the church from the Kremlin came an attempted purge of the church’s influence on Russian life. During the cultural revolution, the masses turned much of their anger towards local clergy, which was encouraged by the Stalin regime. Many people considered the church, and faith in general, to be “poison” to the building up of socialism, or rather Stalinism (Geldern, Churches Closed, Seventeen Moments; Freeze, 341). Anti-religious campaigns were directed towards the Russian Orthodoxy, and believers were ridiculed, property was damaged then repurposed, and the clergy were persecuted (Library of Congress). Local police were brutal in enforcing these new changes to ensure full cooperation under Stalin (Geldern, Churches Closed, Seventeen Moments).

Church bells were a prominent part of Russian life, and Stalin sought to eliminate that role. In fact, church bell ringing was prohibited under Stalin’s reign. He ordered for the bells to be taken down, and melted to be used in the industrial field with hopes that it would help the economy and further industrialization. He also ordered local authorities to confiscate ‘sacred’ items made of gold to be processed and used for other, non-religious means. Stalin attempted to remove the comfort of religion in any way he could in order to increase his power and authority.


Image of the destruction of church bells for the rescue of metal; found here.

To further damage the church, Soviet attempts to remove people from religion looked like increasing labor productivity through an “uninterrupted work week,” or in other words, machines running constantly, drawing people away from church on Sundays (Geldern, Churches Closed, Seventeen Moments; Freeze, 337). Religious holidays were eliminated and even identifying oneself as a believer was often met with hardship.

The restructuring of the social sphere in terms of religion was a dynamic aspect of the cultural revolution. It affected thousands of churches and even more followers, and would eventually lead way into the Great Purges of 1936-1938.


Freeze, Gregory. “Russia A History” 3rd Edition.


The Kornilov Affair and the Rise of the Bolsheviks

After escaping from a Hungarian prisoner-of-war (POW) camp in 1916, General Lavr Kornilov came back to Russia and found that the army needed a restoration of discipline. Appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of the army by Prime Minister Kerensky, Kornilov was determined to achieve his political goals while increasing the army’s fighting capacity (Freeze, 287).


One of Kornilov’s political goals was to rid Russia of democracy, to which he responded with a march on the capital of the Russian Empire, Petrograd. His ulterior motives, however, were to take over the city, “destroy the soviet”, and appoint himself as the “Napoleonic strongman.” This attempted coup didn’t go over well, though, as Kornilov’s troops were stopped in their tracks by Red Guards, a transitional military force made up of activists in organized militias.

Not only was the Kornilov Affair cut short by militia, but also by railway workers. En route to Petrograd, Kornilov’s army was halted in their trains and were unable to make progress to the capital. This was an important event for industrial workers because this was their way of contributing to the government’s suppression of a threat without actually being a part of the militia. Soon after this attempted coup, Kornilov was arrested and his troops were disarmed. However, the internal legitimacy of Prime Minister Kerensky began to fade as his “new government” led to strike after strike. The Kornilov Affair weakened Kerensky’s authority, which facilitated a takeover of power by the Bolsheviks.

Industrial, factory, railway, etc. workers all began to cease production. This was their only way of contributing to the politics that affected their everyday lives, so the working class exploited every opportunity to throw a wrench in industrialization and production to make a statement to the government. The Bolsheviks saw this as a way to gain a “following”- a mobilization of ‘forces’ and control over a vast group of people. Despite rallying in favor of workers’ rights and telling the workers what they wanted to hear, the Bolsheviks would eventually undermine the workers’ wishes and use them as a means to gain power just in time for the October Revolution.

The Kornilov Affair was critical in weakening the authority of Kerensky, thus allowing the Bolsheviks to gain political power. Without an illegitimate (by the citizen’s standards) Prime Minister in control, the Bolsheviks would not have been able to strategize and exploit the situation as they did. The counter-revolution of October 1917 would have ended very differently if it weren’t for the rise of power by the Bolsheviks.

Russia A History, Gregory L. Freeze (287-291)

Assimilation At Its ‘Finest’

“Like Austria-Hungary, Russia was truly a multinational empire… at varying rates and intensity, minority discontent was steadily mounting, especially once Alexander III had made coerced assimilation, though unevenly applied, official policy” (Freeze, 256).

Forced (AKA coerced) assimilation: A process of cultural assimilation of religious or ethnic minority groups that is forced into an established and generally larger community.

Unfortunately, Jews were part of the ‘discontent’ group that was coerced into assimilation into Russian culture. Despite the push towards assimilation, Jews were looked down upon so much so, that they weren’t able to take actual steps towards assimilation. Marriages between Russian Orthodoxy and non-Christians were “entirely prohibited” (Doc. in Russian History). Mixed marriages were not considered legitimate, which put a strain on Jews attempting to become part of the “Russian” identity.


“Anti-Semitism rendered Jews an inassimilable ‘other'” (Gelvin, 41). Russian Jews had no rights, no home to call their own, and were undergoing ‘Russification,’ a process in which the Russian government attempted to dominate the political and cultural nature of minorities. Being a minority was tough enough in the early 20th Century Russia, but being a Jew meant you had no basic human rights.

To top things off, beginning in 1882, Jews had to live through anti-Jewish riots, otherwise known as pogroms. Pogroms were bloody instances of attacking, destructing, looting, murdering, and raping of Jews from Russian nationals. Despite these horrific relations, the Russian government turned a blind eye, or in some cases (such as the secret police) took part in the attack (Jewish Virtual Library). In addition, the Russian government passed legislation limiting Jewish rights to own and lease land. They were already sent to live in the Jewish Pale of Settlement, a region on the fringes of the Russian empire, and now had to face even stricter property rights (Gelvin, 40-41).


During the Revolution of 1905, the Jews continued to face adversity with another wave of pogroms, some of the bloodiest yet, and killing an estimated 2,000 Jews. Unfortunately, there was no group or government in place to protect the Jewish community living in Russia, and they weren’t any closer to gaining independence or recognition as a nationality.

Russia A History by Gregory L. Freeze

The Israel-Palestine Conflict by James L. Gelvin

The Revolution of 1905 and Russia’s Jews, Stefani Hoffman & Ezra Mendelsohn

Linking Lives

Construction along the Kama-Tobol Waterway in 1912. More specifically, this photo was taken downriver in Lalutorovsky (present-day Tyumen Oblast) by prominent Russian photographer, Prokudin-Gorskii, who specialized in a color photography process to accurately depict Russia in the early 20th Century. The town of Lalutorovsky developed gradually as it originated as a place of political exile, serving as a dividing territory between Siberia and the Urals. Since Lalutorovsky was bordering Siberia, it was far enough away from ‘civilization’ in order to send criminals, civilians involved in uprisings, and as a place of punishment to political figures.

The Kama-Tobol Waterway changed the town immensely. Development became rapid as the steamboat service stretched to Lalutorovsky. The Kama river is one of the most important and widely used rivers in Russia, and played a major role in linking the eastern part of Russia with Siberia and her neighboring regions. Once construction began on the Kama-Tobol Waterway, outcasts and jobless civilian men were given new opportunities to work and earn a living.

Along with the waterway connecting the Far East territory to the heart of Russia were railways. In 1912, part of the Trans-Siberian Railway reached Lalutorovsky from Tyumen, which furthered the exponential growth of the once dreary town. Construction began as industrialization of Russia was in full force and during the last months of the expected completion dates for the entire railway. Opening up routes from eastern Russia to Siberia allowed better access for industrialization, settlement, and exploration of the land.

During the early 1900s while Lalutorovsky was being established and expanding, the Russian Empire experienced great changes. Since the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, the nobility and the newly freed serfs experienced new opportunities and more responsibilities. Nicholas II encouraged the expansion of the railway system throughout Russia, which opened up thousands of factory jobs in the industrial sector of Russia.

The early 1900s proved to be an important time of increased communication and growth throughout the rest of the world as well. Radio signals, the Wright Brothers’ flight, and silent movies are just a few of the ways the world industrialized in this period.