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Solzhenitsyn Banned in Guantanamo?

August 25, 2013

This just in from Reprieve – a prisoner rights group in Britain:

The legal team for Shaker Aamer, a British resident who has been detained in Guantanamo without charge or trial for 11 years, attempted to deliver a copy of The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn during a recent visit. However, Mr Aamer has now told his lawyers that he never received the book. […]


Thou shall not read books about camps while in camps.

Mr Aamer’s lawyers, from human rights charity Reprieve, often bring him books during visits—he has previously described George Orwell’s1984 as one of his favourite reads. However, Guantanamo authorities have the ability to ban any book from the prison.

Wait, the same Solzhenitsyn whom the conservative right thinks is the greatest Russian who ever lived? I’m assuming it’s been awhile since the Gulag Archipelago was banned somewhere. Either the US authorities down there have an amazing sense of humor, no understanding of irony or this is all some big mix-up.

I wonder what Solzhenitsyn would think the current state of affairs in US:

A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny.

Ok – maybe I do see why they banned the book.


Our Friends: The Egyptian Military

August 15, 2013

Robert Gates in 2009 on the group of people creating a bloodbath in Cairo over the last few days:

“Our military has benefited from the interactions with the Egyptian armed forces – one of the most professional and capable in the region,” he said. “We are always looking for ways to expand these ties through education, training and exercises.”

Tell us more, Bob.

Changes to Third Rail (A Sleeping Factory)

July 26, 2013

It’s been a long hiatus to say the least. In the interests of coherency and organization, I’ve decided to split this blog into two. All Russian/Eastern European content will now appear on Motherland to Borderlands: Explorations in Russian and Ukrainian History. So if that’s your cup of tea please bookmark that blog and head over there. This blog will focus on politics, of the mostly domestic and radical leftist sort for the time being.

In the meantime, here’s “Sleeping Factory” by Spanish patiner Daniel Vázquez Díaz.


Soviet Ukraine and Bicycles

February 15, 2012

The never-ending dissertation research trip has certainly taken its toll on blogging over the last month. When the energy level picks up, so will the posts. In the meantime, here’s more fun with Soviets and bicycles after an afternoon at the library in Kyiv.

"Asking you on a tour!"

Nothing more romantic than a bike trip. Photo from Molod’ Ukrainy (The Youth of Ukraine).

"Chasing the leader"

Coverage of a race from the same paper.

A little training in Crimea – from Rabochania Gazeta.


Best Albums of 2011

January 29, 2012

Little late for a best of list, no? That’s the nice thing about having your own blog — you make your own deadlines. Now here was a year defined by albums I didn’t like. Kurt Vile? Pass. Weeknd? Nope. M83? Nah. Wye Oak, Real Estate…not so much. Adele? Please. I’m even more surprised I wasn’t taken by some of my favorites like Wilco and Okkervil River. The albums weren’t bad, but they weren’t great either. And I wish someone would politely ask My Morning Jacket to start making good country-rock albums again. Alas, here you have it:


1) Rural Alberta Advantage: Departing. From the opening lines, “Two lovers stuck in a sweet embrace” to the very last lines “maybe we might get back together, goodnight” I was mesmerized. Just the type of album I’ve been waiting for all year and I only found it last week. Actually, I did hear one track a month ago, but that was a mistake. This is an album you need to listen to in one sitting from beginning to end – preferably in a cold setting. The album has four key components: Tom Waitsian outlook sprinkled with Arcade Fire emotional integrity sung with a Jeff Mangum-like voice backed by some serious drumming. A chilly, touching album about embraces and what’s left in their wake. Key track: “Two Lovers.”
2) Antlers: Burst Apart. Dark, baroque, and hauntingly beautiful. Shades of Amnesiac. Quite a sophomore effort. Key track: “No Widows.”
3) Caitlin Rose: Own Side Now. Country’s new darling. Following her since her EP a few years back. Golden voice with plenty of attitude and song-writing skills to go along. Add Linda Ronstadt reference here. Key Track: “Own Side.”
4) Typhoon: A New Kind of House (EP). Did this guy just pick an EP as one of the best albums of the year? You’re damn right I did. Deal with it. Like with RAA’s Departing the EP works as one continuous thought — this one being a meditation on space and the idea of home. Bad-ass harmony to boot. Key Track: “The Honest Truth.” Also, watch this.
5) Bon Iver: Bon Iver. Guy who made awesome neo-folk album in cabin in the woods reinvents himself with his second album. Dreamy landscapes and plenty of lush vocals with a whole new sonic dimension and instrumentation you didn’t hear on the first effort.
6) Udo Lindenberg: MTV Unplugged: Live Aus Dem Hotel Atlantic. Yes, I just added a German album to my top 10. What can I say? I’ve got range. I admittedly knew nothing about Hamburg’s version of Bob Dylan until this year. The Unplugged set is a great introduction to the music with plenty of great guest appearances. And yes, it’s in German. Key track: “Cello feat. Clueso.”
7) Decemberists: The King is Dead. Erudite folk-rockers put out a solid sixth album. No epic Welsh poems or rock operas here — just good ‘ole country-folk tunes. Americana at its finest. Key track: “Don’t Carry it All.”
8) Beirut: The Rip Tide. Everybody’s favorite gypsy troubadour, who’s really just a white American middle-class guy, gets back to basics on his third album. Key track: “East Harlem”
9) Black Keys: El Camino.  You might as well just pencil the Black Keys into every top ten list I do from now until the end of eternity. Perfunctory at this point. Key track: “Nova Baby.”
10) Dan Mangan: Oh, Fortune. Canadian singer-songwriter’s third effort. Folksy ballads that are good for the soul with plenty of sweet orchestration to wash it down. Key track: “Jeopardy”

Honorable mentions:
Radiohead: King of Limbs. Just cause its Radiohead. Key tracks: “Codex.”
Middle Brother: Middle Brother. Alt-country superband – uneven, but enjoyable. Key Track: “Blue Eyes.”
Blind Pilot: We Are the Tide. Loved the first effort – this one is a little slick for my taste, but some strong tracks. Key track: “Get it Out.”
Papa: A Good Woman Is Hard To Find. Another great EP – what can I say. Key track: “Ain’t it So.”
Low: C’mon. Another good album from lo-fi royalty. Key track: “Nightingale.”
Alabama Shakes: Alabama Shakes. One last EP for good measure. A whole lot of soul going on here – can’t wait for the LP. Key track: “Hold On.”

Albums I honestly didn’t listen to yet that might end up on this list:
Iron and Wine: Kiss Each Other Clean
Bright Eyes: The People’s Key
Barton Hollow: The Civil Wars
William Tyler: Behold the Spirit
The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient
Other Lives: Tamer Animals

And it goes without saying that my favorite music every year is produced somewhere deep down in the lungs of my girlfriend. Listen to her sing here (and please pass on to all of your Opera house-owning friends)!

See Best of 2010 here.

The Return of the Peaceful Soviet Citizen

January 25, 2012

My interest piqued greatly while reading the following article on BBC’s website: “Russia row over Nazi massacre site in Rostov-on-Don.” In Rostov-on-Don, Russia a new plaque has been unveiled to commemorate the 27,000 people murdered at Zmiyevskaya Balka in 1942 by the Nazis. One might think that such commemoration should go off without a hitch in Russia (I mean it’s not Ukraine!), but that wasn’t the case. It turns out the plaque read: “peaceful citizens of Rostov-on-Don and Soviet prisoners-of-war”, despite the fact more than half of the victims were of Jewish origin and were killed as a part of the larger genocidal project we now call the Holocaust. As a result, the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC), among others, is not happy.

A Rovno report using the phrase: "peaceful Soviet citizens."

What the article does not elucidate is that this phraseology has very specific historical roots. The Extraordinary State Commission (known as ChGK) was created in 1942 to document the Nazi crimes in the Soviet Union. The commission produced millions of pages of evidence of what happened during the occupation over a two-three year period. Much of the material was used in various publications about the war for the next fifty years and parts were even utilized during the Nuremberg trial.

Another report from Rovno, but this one mentions that the Jews were singled out first and foremost by the Nazis.

In its various final products, ChGK is well-known for subsuming Jewish victims, who certainly had been singled out by the Nazis for unique extermination, into the ambiguous phrase: “peaceful Soviet citizens.” You will find this phrase ad nauseam in official ChGK documentation. You might ask: well weren’t they peaceful and also citizens of the Soviet Union; what’s the big deal? I’m sure many victims fit into both of those categories, but the phrase was consciously used by Soviet authorities to downplay, if not, outright ignore the Holocaust in Soviet publications. Some in the Kremlin felt it was dangerous to allot a special status of victimhood to the Jews, despite the fact everyone knew this was in fact true. The argument has been made they wanted to downplay Jewish victim status so as to not aggravate other ethnic groups and their sacrifices during the war, who might see the Soviets as being too sympathetic to the Jews.

In noting this tendency, some historians of Soviet and Jewish history, have therefore questioned the validity of ChGK as a research source and even some of my colleagues (the more hysterical among us) called it such things as a “tool of Stalinist falsification.”

Izvestia (Soviet newspaper) displaying a ChGK report in 1947.

While Jews and other victims were white-washed in final reports, publications (ChGK had a set of books), and newspaper articles, the commission’s holdings do discuss explicitly the Holocaust at great length for many places in Soviet Union. Local officials who were in charge of canvassing their own communities did not get instructions to ignore the Holocaust, therefore the picture presented in these local reports greatly differs from the later versions. Therefore, I believe, regardless of the final reports, the ChGK collection remains the single greatest resource we have on the Holocaust in the East. The collection of testimonies taken immediately after the war allow the historian to get incredibly close to ground zero of the occupation. It’s hard to imagine what our knowledge of the war in the East would look like without these documents. Read more…


January 16, 2012

This is what a revolutionary looks like:

(Photo Source)