Missiles, G20, and Protests

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I am back, once again now that I have a chance to write with some sufficient thoughts. Summer wrestling concluded in June, and I am taking an independent study in which my focus is on the Communist International (Comintern).

As I write, US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are meeting in-person today for the first time at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. The two will meet privately for a scheduled discussion lasting 35 minutes aside from the summit agenda. Follow the summit here on The Guardian.

The summit and private meeting comes hours after President Trump openly criticized Russia in a speech in Poland, in which he urged Russia to end its “destabilizing activities” in Ukraine, Syria, and beyond.

This speech comes days after North Korea tested a missile with a predicted range to garner classification as an intercontinental ballistic missile. The new ICBM enables North Korea to directly strike the western coast of Alaska, depending the size of the payload.

Of course, President Trump’s verbal rhetoric sounds different from his tone on social media where he has tended to be less authoritative, and even quite friendly of Russia and the Putin administrative. Likewise, Trump blasted China on Twitter following the North Korean missile test for its continued trade relationship. What does this mean for us? Well as Trump also said concerning the ongoing investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 US election, “Nobody knows.”

Protests in Hamburg going by names like “Welcome to Hell” and “Color the Red Zone” form the backdrop of the G20 Summit. The 10,000 protesters have generally been labeled as ‘Anti-Capitalists’, however environmentalist, anarchist, and anti-globalist elements exist in the protest as well. All factions find meaning of the G20 to spread their message through demonstration, although the demonstration has not been peaceful. Individuals are being injured, property is being destroyed, and planned G20 events are being altered.

Protests have been the norm of G20 Summits, however this year’s summit and protest in Hamburg is reminiscent of the 1923 German October uprising in Hamburg. There, German communists failed to topple the local government, but the uprising and its leader Ernst Thälmann became idolized among communists around the world for years afterwards. Stalin himself handpicked Thälmann to lead the German Communist Party, to which Thälmann became Stalin’s persona in the party because of his strict loyalty to the Soviet dictator. Is there a Thälmann within today’s Hamburg protests, and if so, who is it, and is there a Stalin somewhere in the world?

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Trump, Russia, and Cold War 2.0

I certainly hope blogging every eight months does not become the norm, and I intend it not to be as I have many thoughts developing in my mind. A few weeks ago, I received unfortunate news that I am two classes short of graduating with my MA History. I will take the two classes in summer, and graduate in fall. One class will be an independent study of Revolutionary Russia with one of my committee professors, Dr. Martin Blackwell. Between my current reading list and the independent study, I will have ample reading material, thoughts, and time to put my ideas online.

In my personal life, it has been a successful sports season. The football team I coach earned its first playoff berth in school history. The wrestling team qualified five wrestlers for the state tournament, and the lone senior of the five became the school’s second state placer. My wife and I are 12 days away from reaching our first anniversary as husband and wife. During our first year of marriage, we jointly adopted our first fur-child in February: a boxer-mix pup named Heidi.

Despite the slip with my credits, the present is bright and the future is brighter. In spite of this, I wish to see an improvement in American-Russian relations. However, the relations have regressed more than progressed since my last posting in July. One of the biggest news dramas over the course of the last five months is Russia’s supposed hacking into the DNC Website and Email servers prior to the election of President Donald Trump. Federal intelligence and security agencies investigated the hacking and Russia’s potential of sanctioning the actions to further their own interests. The FBI and DHS reported in December confirmation of Russian sponsored hacking, much to the chagrin of President Trump who not only dismissed the report but also seemed to dispel intelligence briefings during his campaign.

Along with continually downplaying Russian involvement in the November election, President Trump has also made quite a few wild accusations of his own during his first months in office. The most current one, with yet another Cold War theme, is suspicion of former President Barack Obama wiretapping and surveying President Trump during the months leading up to November’s election.

Talks of a Cold War II or Cold War 2.0 exist, and the state of affairs over the last few months further adds to that development.  As I mentioned in an older post about Ukrainian war veterans and Russian orphans, ‘cold’ wars generate winners and losers, veterans and casualties nonetheless. It would be wise for leaders on both sides of the globe to put their “nation’s interests first” in a manner that does not conflict with the basic interests of all humankind regardless of nationality.      Trump and Putin

Anniversaries and Pizza

It has been a number of weeks since my last post. I am happy to say that my wife and I have successfully moved and settle into our new home. For me, summer also ushers the start of the 2016-2017 high school football and wrestling campaigns via summer training. The pace is picking-up, but I have kept a careful eye on Russian affairs past and present:

  • Russia celebrated Victory Day  on May 9th. This is the anniversary of the Nazi Germany surrender to the allies in World War II. Summer is an active period in World War II and Soviet history as June 22nd is the anniversary of the launch of Operation Barbarossa, this year being the 75th Anniversary . Operation Barbarossa is a gloomier day for Russians in that it was the start of the Nazi offensive against the Soviet Union bringing the USSR into World War II on the allied side. Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that Barbarossa, and the entire Nazi onslaught for that matter, “could have been stopped”  had the world entertained Soviet decrees for regional collaboration and intervention in the 1930s.
  • Also on June 22nd, Congressional Representative from Georgia Doug Collins  hosted an open discussion over the Russian ban on orphan adoptions from Russia to America enacted since January 2013.
  • In the meantime this summer, the United States and Poland led the NATO training exercise Operation Anakonda 16. The transnational training session confirms trust amongst NATO members, especially East European members However, the maneuvers also cause grumbles between Russia and American-led NATO members. American Lt Gen. Ben Hodges shared with BBC News the seriousness of the ‘looming Russian threat’ of East Europe.
  • In some better news, I stumbled upon a story over the existence and purpose of Pizza Veterano – a pizzeria in Kiev, Ukraine owned and operated by Ukrainian war veterans. The pizzeria not only provides a public commodity nor just jobs for frequently disabled and/or disenfranchised veterans, but also provides employee-veterans a ‘safe space’ network to cope with loss, addiction, and ailments brought upon from war exposure and fatigue.

I noticed during the compilation of these accords that interrelate to one another. Although I am a bit mystified of Soviet efforts to deter Nazi expansion through international collaboration and I find Russia’s actions in Crimea and East Ukraine hauntingly comparable to German annexation and militarization of the Sudetenland, Austria, and Alsace-Lorraine,  President Putin poses a respectable effort to end saber-rattling amongst all sides and come to the dinner table to ensure peace in the Eurasian continent.

Military showmanship and politics cause unfortunate and unforeseen consequences at ground level that leaders never learn or only disclose to conveniently attain political aims (that means you, Rep. Collins). Although these nations may not officially at war, their hostilities create casualties- ask the Ukrainian war veterans at Pizza Veterano or Russian orphans seeking adoption.

And despite the historic struggle of military and political posturing, whether be 1930s Europe, the Cold War, or now, the common people manage to cope. The fact that government-led veteran affairs institutions  around the world are so incompetent that veterans are better-off receiving attention and treatment in a pizza shop is appalling. Why are our leaders creating scenarios that breed suffering and use humans as ammunition, shields, and targets, while the same institutions cannot accommodate the casualties afterwards?

Here we are, 75 years after World War II still glooming and celebrating the failure of peace and catastrophe of war, yet we find ourselves making the same mistakes and already creating this conflict’s first casualties.

Finals Eve, Haiti, and Nepal

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So, it has been many, very busy months since the last update. Here is a run-down on what’s been served on my platter:

  • Most importantly, I proposed to Caitlyn Ashley Kolesar on December 18th, 2015. We were married in Athens, Georgia on April 1st, 2016 and went on our honeymoon immediately after on a cruise to Belize, Honduras, and Mexico.
  • My new wife and I are on the verge of closing and moving into our new home this Friday May 20th. We are both very excited about the idea of owning and sharing house but I absolutely despise moving- so I have great anticipation for both good and bad reasons.
  • I am writing this post on the eve of spring finals at the high school where I teach. It has been an enjoyable year in which I have all intentions to return for years to come.
  • I consider this year’s wrestling season a success in my first year at Walnut Grove. This season, the team sent six wrestler to the state tournament in which one placed sixth. This was the most amount of Walnut Grove wrestlers qualify in a single year and the first year a Walnut Grove wrestler ever placed in state. This was undoubtedly a historic year for Walnut Grove wrestling- and we have room to improve for the future.
  • Lastly, I have decided to alter my degree plans slightly by opting out of writing a thesis and to take an exit exam instead. My work and personal loads were making it impossible for me to conduct any deep research and writing. The exam forces me to read a broad amount of books in my area of concentration, the Soviet Union and the Third World. The exam comprises of three essays over the writings, which I will complete in December 2016.

So that’s a quick run-down on my last seven months- I hope yours has been just as eventful.

My recent historical readings have surveyed over Socialist Mongolia, White Army General Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, Bolshevik Politician Nikolai Bukharin, and the complex Soviet-Cuban relationship.

One recent point of interest I’ve learned this month concerns humanitarian efforts in earthquake ravaged Nepal and poverty-stricken Haiti. Nepal has confused the international community by hardly utilizing some 4 billion dollars of fiscal aid. The Nepalese simply respond that they cannot eat, wear, and live in dollar bills- they need food, clothing, and shelter. On the contrary, the U.S. hoped to export a 500 metric ton surplus of peanuts to school children in Haiti- the poorest state in the western hemisphere and one of the poorest on Earth. American humanitarian groups respond with concern that first, the peanut export will economically harm small Haitian farmers, and second, once the peanut supply once it arrives in Haiti, corrupt Haitians will control and extort the peanuts for power and personal gain.

This small but painful example goes to show that every catastrophe requires due diligence of the international community, that there is no sure-cure to every problem, and every problem has its own relevant solution. If you want to help, do your research and understand the problem. That way, you not only assist in the improvement but also prevent further long-term pain and suffering.

Back to the Grind

As House of Cards character Frank Underwood once said to break the fourth wall, “Did you think I’d forgotten you? Perhaps you’d hoped I had.”

I am writing this over two months since I have arrived back in the United States from Russia. It was a very quick process of returning to St. Petersburg from the cruise, packing, enjoying one last day of Russia on Russian Navy Day, flying home, and literally sprinting to work without ever looking back.

The day after I landed in the US, I began orientation for my new teaching job. Orientation led to pre-planning, pre-planning led to the start of the new school year, the start of the school year ushers the 9-10 month long period that I like to call ‘The Grind.’

If I get a chance, I will wrap-up my experiences on the cruise and Russian Navy Day. The Baltic gave all it had to offer to visitors like me up to the very last second when I boarded the plane to Germany. The least I can do in return is share my experiences to encourage travel and dismantle stigmas and stereotypes.

The Grind keeps me away from the blog though. Fall is always my busiest time of year. I’ve had to acclimate to a new school with different rules and procedures, different students, and even a different schedule. All the while, I assist the football team as a 9th grade coach and I try what I can for the wrestling team- my true love sport to coach. Don’t forget about the monthly National Guard drills, daily French readings for my translation test, and efforts to write history papers for conferences and organizations.

That’s just the professional side. I do have a personal life family, friends, and a girlfriend. And though I wish I could give more time and devotion to those areas of my life, I give what I absolutely can and feel like I am not neglectful either.

Bear with me while I bear the brunt of the Grind. Football is coming to a close and I am adjusting well to the new job. I am finding more and more time to not only think, but also to write.

Russian LGBT, Presentation, and Finals

Monday July 20, 2015- After a long weekend of fun and happiness, it is time to put in two more days’ worth of generous work- not a problem. The majority of today was devoted towards creating a presentation for War and Revolution class. The presentation is over the role of Peter and Paul Fortress in the October Revolution. I intend on placing the whole PowerPoint with a written synapse once I have the chance, so I will not elaborate too much on the presentation now.

For Gender and Communism, we received an introduction and class from two men from Russia’s LGBT community. This was the most eye-opening and remarkable experience of the day, and one of the most during my stay in Russia. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court announcing the recent case over gay marriage and the immediate acceptance amongst the states, Russian demonizes homosexuality to a very high extent. This should really be of no surprise as the Soviet Union vilified homosexuality throughout most of its existence. After the fall and chaotic early democratic years, homosexuality became a prime target of President Vladimir Putin with assistance from the bureaucracy, lower levels of governance, and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The presenters briefly explained this history, basically summarized into homosexuals have never benefited from fair and equal treatment, but the ridicule they receive today is worse than it has been in the past. Moreover, there is great concern that tide of homophobia that has swept Russia this decade will produce an entire generation of heavily homophobic Russians. Even though this was a similar characteristic of the U.S. just a few years ago and the U.S. changed opinion very quickly, that does not necessarily mean Russia can and will do the same.

Throughout the course of my stay in Russia, I have sought after and embraced similarities between Russia and the U.S. I am happy to say that I have found similarities, and that I was able to build relationships with native Russians using those similarities. However, the best way to identify and explain the differences between the two countries and their societies is through homosexuality.

Not only is Russian society more religious, and thus more conservative, than American society, Eastern Orthodoxy is heavily the most practiced religion in Russia compared to religious kaleidoscope of American religious affiliation. I use “affiliation” because even though most Americans identify with a religion, many are anecdotally as religious as Russians.

This gives the Eastern Orthodox Church much more political and social power than that of any religious institution in the U.S. Russian political leaders, as orthodox practitioners, go out of their way to make sure their religious beliefs manifest themselves in law. Not to say that this does not occur in the U.S., because it does, American politicians our motivated for votes and reelections; where the American mentality goes, so to do the politicians follow. Even the best effective tactic of the staunchest homophobic American politicians today is to avoid the homosexual question altogether, or risk losing the entire liberal and significant moderate populations of voters. Russia does not have this problem where 80% of voters are against gay marriage and other LGBT embracing policies.

The reason for the belief differences and why Americans trend social issues, like class, race, and sexuality, is simply cultural. America is the land of optimism and happy endings. Likewise, America does not react well to local and national tragedies. Americans become much more sympathetic towards homosexuals when they hear news of young teenagers who commit suicide due to homophobic motivated bullying. Americans find these tyrannical, cowardly circumstances repulsive in the land of the free and home of the brave. Russia, on the other hand, is culturally unsympathetic to this. Russians are culturally much more pessimistic, and I think they have good reason to be considering their long history of political, economic, and social instability and chaos. Local and national tragedies are relatively normal to Russia compared to the U.S., and that is not going to suddenly change. Although Russians are materialistically trendy like the United States, they have embraced facets like the Eastern Orthodox Church and strong, centralized government for centuries. For that reason, I do not think it is likely Russia will generate a rapid shift in political and social perspective towards homosexuals like the U.S., unfortunately.

Alliance for Straight and LGBT Equality (Russia)

Alliance for Straight and LGBT Equality (Russia)

Tuesday July 21, 2015- Test Day! Today was simple- two tests and a presentation. I intend to provide my presentation separately from this blog. I consider the presentation a success as I feel like I provided a detailed summary of a lesser known locus of history, and then brought forth philosophical tid-bits and points of wisdom to make the history come to life and meaningful. This has always been my goal as a historian and educator. I really do not like the cliché “winners write the history books.” The line between “winners” and “losers” is very ambiguous when studied at a deeper level, especially in a field than spans time and space and where every historical event is linked like a chain to another. And even when though of “winners” and “losers”, the losers still typically have a history that becomes forgotten and winners sometimes have histories that are manipulated. For these reasons, it is never a bad idea to restudy and reanalyze histories we think of as accepted and conclusive. Always be skeptical and always ask questions. Every day, we disprove what we once thought of the past and we rediscover what was once forgotten.

This is the true art, value, and meaning of history, not rudimentary memorization of names, dates, events, and facts. These skills are just byproducts of the field, haters.

Both tests included a multiple choice portion. This is the first I have encountered this as a student since around 2010. I can see how this form of testing historical knowledge is difficult if one is not truly immersed into the history. Simply listening to lectures and studying notes would not have prepared me for these tests. I needed the field trips and the conversations with my peers and instructors. This was enlightening for me as an educator as I imagine this is the case to a greater extreme for the teenagers I teach whom take multiple choice high stake tests as much as we eat food and breathe air- very often. This is one of the greatest lessons I learned while in Russia; I have learned better, more effective instruction methods for my future students.

The War and Revolution test included a portion where I had to identify major landmarks through photographs and write a few facts about those landmarks. For Gender and Communism, there was a small essay portion over arguing when feminism “lost” in the Soviet Union. This came easier to me because of the ability to subjectively explain rather than recite from memory a multiple choice test demands.

Overall, I did fine- not that I was ever worried. I earned A’s on both tests and feel safe in believing I earned A’s in both classes. More importantly, I learned a great deal of information I would never have been able to do from home. New knowledge and experiences far outweigh the grades, and I am deeply thankful and blessed for the opportunity. I give my best wishes to my class instructors and their futures, and it is a privilege to receive a taste of authentic Russian education.

Speaking of taste, the rest of the night was devoted to last minute sightseeing, eating, and packing for the Baltic Sea cruise to Finland, Sweden, and Estonia. For dinner, I killed off all of my remaining groceries- another sign that the end of this marvelous trip is near. As before, it will take me quite a while to blog cruise and journey home due to the high rate of activity and low internet accessibility.

Birthday Weekend!!

Birthday Weekend: July 17 – July 19, 2015

Sorry it’s been a while since posting, but it has been a long few days with my birthday weekend first and then finals following immediately afterwards.

My birthday weekend started on Friday the 19th on a planned excursion to the excursion town of Pushkin, named after renowned Russian poet Alexander Pushkin in his honor as it was where he attained most of his education. Also located in Pushkin is Catherine’s Palace, yet another Romanov palace built for Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great, not Catherine II. To keep it short, the palace is another remarkable sight reminiscent to the wealth and power of the Romanov dynasty with precious metals and pieces of art inside, outside, and all around the palace complex. During the siege of Leningrad, the Nazis took possession of Catherine’s Palace where they used it to quarter soldiers and looted the building of its bounty.  As the Nazis fled during the Soviet counteroffensive, the Nazis stole the palace’s famed Amber Room and then attempted to destroy the palace altogether. Astonishingly, the Soviet, and later Russian Federation, governments have reconstructed the palace. Much of what is seen today is not original but remodeled. However, the Amber Room is still missing with some reports saying that it was destroyed during World War II. However, this has not dissuaded treasure hunters and enthusiasts from searching for the room, which continues on today.

Outside walls of Catherine's Palace

Outside walls of Catherine’s Palace

Painting of the damage Catherine's Palace sustained during World War II

Painting of the damage Catherine’s Palace sustained during World War II

Later that night, we went on a Neva River canal tour at night. While on the boat in the Neva, the clock struck 12:00 and July 18th, my birthday, officially began. It was a bit entertaining to receive a boisterous happy birthday song on my peers. But more importantly were the sights seen on the tour, including the illuminated Peter and Paul Fortress and Winter Palace/Hermitage. We also watched the bascule bridges that cross the Neva being drawn upwards to allow larger shipping vessels to access the river, which I have not seen before on the trip but wanted to check off on my to-do list.

Bridge over the Neva being drawn

Bridge over the Neva being drawn

We headed straight towards St. Isaac’s Cathedral after the canal tour to go watch the sunrise over St. Petersburg. It was about 3:00 in the morning after climbing the cathedral’s spiral staircase and reaching the top.  By that time, some of the sun’s dawning light brightened St. Petersburg to easily identify significant features like the Peter and Paul Cathedral, the Winter Palace and palace square, the Admiralty, the Church on Spilled Blood, and the Kazan Cathedral visible. At right around 4:10, the sun broke over the eastern horizon. What a sight it was and a satisfying way to celebrate my birthday. After left shortly after sunrise to catch a cup of coffee before the metro reopened at around 5:30.

Eastern sun rising over St. Petersburg

Eastern sun rising over St. Petersburg

After arriving to the dormitories to take a little nap, a group of us went ice skating. I’ve told the group before that I played hockey and would like to go skating, so we included it into the birthday festivities. St. Petersburg is home of recent Gagarin Cup champions SKA St. Petersburg, so it was near impossible to avoid reminders about hockey. I was a bit nervous because the group talked me up about how much better I will skate compared to them, but I haven’t been on skates since November and rental skates in the U.S. makes any advanced skater appear new. Fortunately, the rental skates were legit hockey skates, and were very new I might add, but the blades were a little duller than I prefer. After a few warm-up laps, I adapted to the skates and ice, and had no problems like falling or blisters.

We capped off the night by sharing a group dinner of traditional Russian foods and going for drinks afterwards.

The birthday fun continued into the next day. First and foremost, it was Sunday the 19th and most of us slept-in very late to recover from the past two days. The day was reserved for going on individual excursions or working on homework and presentations, which is what I did. Later in the evening, the group went out to a planned trip to banya– a Russian sauna/spa. At the banya facility, there was a Turkic steam room and a Finnish sauna room. The Russian banya was the main room, and the most memorable. First and foremost, the room was HOT (about 200 degrees Fahrenheit)! I really do not think I’ve ever been hotter. We immediately started sweating once the banya room’s door was closed and heat built up. At first, I did not think I could make it all the way through. What kept me from quitting was I didn’t want to be the first, and possibly only, person to quit and appear weak. After a while, and trying to sit lower where the air was slightly cooler, I adjusted. Next, though, came the beaters. The banya experience includes laying supine in the banya room to literally be lightly beaten with branches and leaves from birch and/or oak trees to help blood circulation and provide the skin with nutrients. Two chiseled Russians took turns on our group two at a time, and again, I was nervous because I was barely making it through the heat and the beating looked and sounded rough. After going through it though, the beating wasn’t too bad. The beating felt even hotter because the leaves are soaked in hot water before hitting the skin. The last part of the banya experience is to jump into a cold bath immediately after a thorough beating. During the winter, Russians will jump into a ice-cold lake or stream or even roll around in snow. Although it may not sound appealing, the cold dunk was very relieving. After sweating out all the toxins I accumulated during the trip and weekend and the increased blood circulation, I was feeling pretty good after my banya experience. Although I am doubtful, I hope there is something like this back home in Georgia.

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One point I would like to mention is I anticipate to have three or so more posts to publish. However, today I depart on the Baltic Sea cruise, which I will have my computer with me to keep writing. However, I am uncertain of my internet access. It may not be until Sunday the 26th that I will have a chance to update.

Slow Few Days

Monday July 13, 2015- Today was a simple day with a visit to the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.  Nicholas II contracted the museum’s construction in 1895 in tribute to his father, Alexander III. The museum features mostly visual art like portraits, murals, and sculptures.  I enjoyed this field trip because of how our instructor used the museum to teach about Soviet art in relation to gender.  She simple gave us a packet that contained charts and questions asking use to compare and contrast artists and art selections.  I really feel like this is the best form of instruction- allow students themselves to investigate, research, and formulate this own answers with a provided guideline like the packet.  I hate that school administrators and politicians ask teachers to come-up with “creative” and effective strategies, yet they proctor trivial standardized tests, cut funding, frown upon field trips, and do not subsidize high costs of American museums.  Fine arts are not my most enjoyable subject, yet I was able to conduct my own research and analysis and learn from that experience more so than from a lecture and a PowerPoint.  I give my Gender and Communism instructor a big kudos, and I hope this is a lesson learned that I can apply in my own classroom.

The rest of the day was devoted to studying for a quiz later into the night in Russian numbers, writing a paper due tomorrow, and then going out to eat.  The quiz wasn’t a problem. In Russia, teachers give number grades scaled 1 through 5 with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest, sort of like the American ‘A’ through ‘F’ scale.  The big difference is the difference between a 1, 2, 3, etc. are all equal unlike in the U.S. where a 0-59 warrants a ‘F’ (60 point spread) while a ‘D’ is a 60-69 (10 point spread).  This debate is common amongst educators in the U.S. When I first heard it, I sided with the traditional American style.  Over the course of time though, I have shifted my beliefs and now I think the American style is a bit asinine as it does not provide an accurate description of student learning and tends to punish students more than rewards.

We concluded the night with dinner at a nearby pizza joint. Pizza is probably one my most favorite food, so I had to try Russian pizza to get a comparison to American pizza.  I was not disappointed.  I got an awesome pizza with peperoni, ham, bacon, and a fried egg right in the middle of the pie.  Russia knows pizza, and I am not sorry for trying something readily available in the states.

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Tuesday July 14, 2015- Today was another class day, and specifically the next to last class day of the program.  The good thing about classes today is they both dealt into areas I am very familiar with. War and Revolution focused on the February and October Revolutions of 1917.  Gender and Communism focused on gender in the Soviet Union during the Khrushchev years.  I tool less notes today than I have any other day, and sat back and listened more than actually writing.  In hindsight, this seems complacent, and complacency is typically harmful.  So I am hopeful that not taking the notes doesn’t come back to haunt me.  I listened and paid attention, and took notes on the unfamiliar information.  So I believe I will be fine at this point.

Today was a rather uneventful day, somewhat typical for class days.  The other part of the day was devoted to shopping at the large grocery store. I have not been ever since the first day arriving in St. Petersburg, mainly because it is far away when there is a smaller grocery store closer by.  Group mates were on their way and asked if anyone was interested in going.  I needed to grocery shop anyways and liked the company.  Unlike last time, the store was not as overwhelming because adaptation to the culture, having a better idea of where specific groceries are at, and the ability to read better.  Overall, no problems at the grocery store.  I feel like I have adapted well.  I am able to communicate basic things like ordering food.  Given more time, I think I could start living here comfortably on my own.

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Wednesday July 15, 2015- We went on a field trip to the main campus of St. Petersburg Polytechnic University for the War and Revolution class.  The relation SPPU has with War and Revolution is that its students and alumni participated in wars and revolutions since it opened to students in 1902.  I find this remarkable because it parallels with the experience of my alma mater, the University of North Georgia (commonly known as North Georgia College).  The two institutes were founded during similar times with similar intentions when NGC was founded in 1873 as an agricultural college.  Although Georgia and United States never went through same traumatic events like the world wars, Russian Revolution, Civil War, and the siege, North Georgia College has given many of its sons and daughters to American wars starting with World War I due to its ROTC program and emphasis on military training.  North Georgia possessed military organizations since its founding and prior to having an official ROTC program in 1916.  As a result North Georgia classifies as a senior military college per Title 10 of the United States Code and was later designated the military college of Georgia.

Contrary to misconception, the “MIT of Russia” possesses a humanities department that makes up about 8% of the student population.  Specifically, there is an organization of students that conducts WWII reenactments, goes on WWII archeological digs, and collects information in order to reconnect with alumni that immigrated and find and identify remains of students and alumni that fought in WWII.  The club operates in its own makeshift museum on campus complete with documents, uniforms, archeological finds, and even incapacitated weapons.  This was the most remarkable experience of the day.  Not only was I impressed with their skills and talent, but I was also impressed with their motivation and the mission of trying to solve mysteries of their missing, fallen, and unknown classmates.  They even talked about using international students like us to help them achieve these goals.  This is something I am interested in doing, and I wished I learned about it sooner.  I think it would have been a good thesis idea that was also practical and meaningful.

Another field trip we went on today on our own discretion was to the retired Soviet icebreaker Krasin.  The ship holds a long history of honorably serving the Soviet navy, mainly in rescue missions that have saved non-Soviet citizens.  Countries that have directly benefit from Krasin’s service include (in no particular order): United States, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, and Iceland.  Today, the ship is restored to operational capacity but serves as a museum.  Unfortunately, I do not know much more because our group was just barely late for the tour although we were allowed to go aboard on deck.  The Soviet Cold War submarine C-189 was viewable while visiting the Krasin.  I hope to have a chance of visiting the submarine, along with eating at a nearby joint that we ate at for dinner tonight.  I tried their take of beef stroganoff, and was not disappointed again.

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Thursday July 16, 2015- Today was the last day of classes before finals on Tuesday.  It was a pretty simple day, and not very noteworthy.  War and Revolution discussed the Russian Civil War and the Siege of Leningrad in the Great Patriotic War, and Gender and Communism surveyed the role of gender and sexuality from the Brezhnev era to the present.  After class, the group got together to prepare gifts for our instructors and the staff that work at IMOP like security and cleaning personnel.  We were supposed to bring gifts that represent ourselves individually, and I brought three nice UNG keychains and three UNG Corps of Cadet Boar’s Head Brigade patches.  The rest of the afternoon was devoted to wrapping-up some assignments, updating this blog, and working on a presentation for War and Revolution to be given Tuesday as part of the final.  I chose to stay-in because it is going to be a long, event filled weekend, so I need to finish work before I go off to play.

Let’s Go To Moscow!

Author’s Disclaimer: This post is very long compared to my past posts. I felt it to be simpler to just put everything into one post rather than break it into parts. It’s less navigating and clicking for you, and less pages and editing for me. Feel free to take breaks; just remember where you left off and come back to visit.

Friday July 10, 2015- Time to go to Moscow! I went to bed at about 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning for a 5:00 wake-up, intending on sleeping during the four hour train ride from St. Petersburg to Moscow. No major bumps in the road occurred; I woke-up on time, left for the train station on time, and I went right to sleep once the train started rolling. The only discrepancy is I thought the train was a bullet train that went like 300 MPH, but it wasn’t. The train was rather advanced, and its interior was reminiscent of an upscale airplane. Nonetheless, it got the job done of keeping me asleep the entire train ride.

Once I woke-up, I was in Moscow. Right from the arrival, Moscow seemed like an entirely different place than St. Petersburg. There were a lot more people, which was also more diverse in race and ethnicity, and a lot more vehicle traffic. There were more buildings which were much taller, and also a lot more construction. Most of all, the Soviet past still manifests itself much more in Moscow than St. Petersburg, especially through architecture. Everywhere one looks, they find a ghost of Soviet past like a monument, architectural style, street names, or a star or sickle and hammer etched in walls and ceilings.

One of many Soviet-era Moscow metro statues

One of many Soviet-era Moscow metro statues

One of the two big events today was a short bus tour of the city prior to checking into the hotel. The highlight of the bus tour was driving by Red Square, the Kremlin, and St. Basil’s Cathedral. This area is one I’ve dreamed of visiting since I was a boy. This entire trip is nearly worth it just to visit this one site. We drove past it today, and will visit it tomorrow. Another feature of the tour was a stop at a Novodevichy Cemetery, the cemetery for many important and influential people in Russian history. This is important to me because we saw the grave for Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. His grave was rather interesting containing a scramble of shapes colored black or white, the artist’s elaboration of Khrushchev’s good and bad qualities.

Grave of Nikita Khrushchev

Grave of Nikita Khrushchev

After checking into the hotel and eating lunch, most of the group went to a souvenir plaza not far from the hotel. Another characteristic of Moscow is it seems like more Russians know how to speak in English, which was very apparent from the bartering shopkeepers. It was difficult to look around because any time one of us stopped to look at something, the shopkeeper immediately began trying to sell the item by haggling prices and make deals. This was problematic because most of us, me included, just wanted to look but not buy since we would have opportunities later in the weekend. Most of us cracked and bought something, myself included again. One girl in our group said that even though she was happy with her purchase, she felt rushed and pressured to buy. I bought two 5-piece matryoshka dolls, one a UGA football set and a 1972 Soviet hockey team set. I was most interested in the UGA set, finding it surprising to find in Moscow. The shopkeeper had other popular college and sports team dolls. I asked him about how he knows about the teams, and he said that he has contact in the US and uses the internet to make dolls more marketable to tourists. He claimed the UGA set was his only one of the kind on hand, and I was concerned that one of my groupmates would get it if I didn’t. He gave me a “deal” of both dolls for 2000 rubles total, or about $40. There were tons of stuff I liked and I also need to pick-up a few gifts for my friends and family, so I look forward to going back soon.

One of the many available commodities at the souvenier market in Moscow

One of the many available commodities at the souvenir market in Moscow

The second big event today was the Moscow Circus. The circus was alright; not as good as ‘Swan Lake’ and the Cossack Folk Show, but still something to do to end the day productively. One of the biggest factors was unlike ‘Swan Lake’ and the Cossack Folk Show, my seats for the circus were not that great and inhibited me from enjoying the circus as much as others. My view was constantly blocked by a pillar, one of the spotlights, and people traffic moving back and forth from their seats. The circus primarily used acrobatics and animals. The acrobatics were enjoyable, but not comparable to acts I have seen before like Cirque de Soleil. I was also discouraged about the use of animals. I do not know what it is, but seeing exotic animals like lions, tigers, and chimpanzees take orders from a human from their voice or a touch of a stick does not compare to seeing the animals closer to their natural living like in the zoo or in the wild. I have no idea how the animals were trained and how they are maintained show to show. But I would rather pay money to see the same animals living in their natural habit and not performing tricks, rather than worry about safety and well-being of the animals in captivity used as entertainment.

Saturday July 11, 2015- Today is the day I most anticipated- Red Square. The phrases Red Square and The Kremlin work interchangeably in reference to the literal capital of Russia, like using ‘The White House’, ‘The Oval Office’, ‘Washington’, etc. in an American sense. Specifically though, the Kremlin was initially a fort settled along the Moscow River in 1495. It was actually very common during the formation of Slavic city-states to build kremlins in which many exist to this day. The Kremlin today houses the Grand Kremlin Palace where Soviet leadership in the past and Russian presidents of the present live and work.

Likewise, Red Square refers to a communal space shared by the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral, the State Museum of Russian History, and the open area in between the buildings. Contrary to belief, the name Red Square bears no reference to the Soviet Union or Communist Party, and the name is actually much older. The Russian word for ‘red’ sounds similar to the word for ‘beautiful’ because Russians have historically seen red as the most beautiful color of all. When I’ve talked to Russians that have spoken in English, some have incorrectly used the word “red” when meaning to say “beautiful” because of the relationship between the two words in Russian. Russians have used the phrase Red Square to refer to describe the beautiful space where they exchanged commerce, governed laws, protected citizens, and practiced religion. It also helped that deep red colored bricks formed the outer, physical appearance of most building located in and around Red Square. The Soviet Union merely adopted the heavy usage of “red” in its verbiage and art.

View of the Kremlin wall facing Red Square

View of the Kremlin wall facing Red Square

Speaking of the Soviet Union, the first stop on Red Square was Lenin’s Mausoleum. For those that do not know, the Soviet Union has preserved and displayed Vladimir Lenin’s body since his death in 1924. The line to the mausoleum was anxiously long. The path through the mausoleum followed a labyrinth of stairs through dimmed lighting. But once in the main room, his body appeared in a glass case laminated by a rose tinted lamp from above. The his revolution is in the past and the country he founded may no longer exist, but his body still remains under constant maintenance, guard, and marveled attraction over 91 years later. The gift keeps on giving when on the way out of Lenin’s Mausoleum, one follows a row of the graves of many prominent Russian leaders and heroes. Two of particular interest were Leonid Brezhnev and Josef Stalin. I feel satisfied that I have seen the graves of all deceased Soviet leaders during this one excursion to Moscow. The history that I love to study and teach really came alive at the sight of Lenin’s and Stalin’s resting places.

Lenin's Mausoleum

Lenin’s Mausoleum

The Man of Steel himself- Josef Stalin

The Man of Steel himself- Josef Stalin

Next on the menu was St. Basil’s Cathedral. The cathedral is one of the most recognizable buildings on earth if not by name then by association with Moscow and/or Russia. The cathedral served orthodox purposes since its construction in 1561. Starting in 1928, the cathedral operated as museum to the decree of the Soviet Union, which it continues to do today. The inside of the cathedral contains many of the same features as other cathedrals and churches I’ve visited thus far. However St. Basil’s cathedral is relatively unaltered and walking through its halls and chambers is like taking a walk through feudal history.

The iconic St. Basil's Cathedral

The iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral

After the Kremlin tour, the group split into a party that went to Victory Park and another, which included me, to the State Historical Museum. I really wish I could have gone to Victory Park, but I felt I would get more benefit out of the museum. The museum was constructed in 1883 and contains exhibits that surveys the Russian landscape from ancient humanoids to the late 19th century. I really enjoyed this museum because I have been immersed in Russian history from 1700 to the present ever since arriving two weeks ago. The museum helped cover Russian history before 1700, especially mentioning ancient nomads and early settlers, pre-Christianity, and Mongol occupation.

Nighttime fell on Moscow once the museum tour concluded. This was remarkable first because I have been acclimated to the White Nights of St. Petersburg, and Moscow produced darker nights in comparison to St. Petersburg’s due to its more southern latitude further away from the Arctic Circle. The second remarkable aspect of Moscow’s night was the white Christmas-like lights that illuminated the buildings that composed Red Square. It was reminiscent of Christmas in July, but better than Georgia at this time of year. I had illuminated buildings and stars, cooler weather, and Christmas dream come true.

Illuminated State Historical Museum

Illuminated State Historical Museum

Sunday July 12, 2015- The majority of our last stay in Moscow was spent at the settlement of Kolomenskoye. The origin of Kolomenskoye dates back to at least the 14th century as a village on top of a steep hill overseeing the Moscow River. The village became a favorite spot for the royal family and still bears original and replica buildings dedicated to the tsars that considered Kolomenskoye one of many homes.

Landmarks we visited at Kolomenskoye include:

-Replica of the Wooden Palace: A recreation of the palace constructed for Tsar Alexi I in which his successors like Peter the Great and Elizabeth I grew-up.
-Church of John the Baptist in Dyakovo: An original church constructed in 1547 by the architect of St. Basil’s Cathedral Postnik Yakovlev.
-Church of the Ascension: A tall, white church built in 1532 more characteristic to Russian, not Byzantine tradition.
-Church of St. George: A church still in religious use which was having service when we visited Kolomenskoye.
-Church of Our Lady of Kazan: Another original church that serves as a place of worship and tourist attraction. I couldn’t go in because I was wearing shorts.

Wooden Palace

Wooden Palace

Church of the Ascension

Church of the Ascension

Church of Our Lady of Kazan

Church of Our Lady of Kazan

In between the Kolomenskoye excursion and train ride back to St. Petersburg, we spent a few hours shopping in the same souvenir market as Friday. I went into the market with an idea of what I already wanted. I saw a few recognizable shopkeepers who fortunately remembered me. They also welcomed and appreciated my consistent patronage. Just out of my curiosity to learn about Russians, I tried to make some small talk with the shopkeepers I bought from. Unlike Friday when the shopkeepers redirected back to their goods to make a sell, the shopkeepers talked much more this time around. We talked about personal experiences; where were these people from, what have they done in the past, what do they do when they’re not running their souvenir shops? Maybe they were just giving me the tourist experience, but I think they were genuine. I think they valued my loyalty to visit their shops and curiosity to hear their stories, and the reciprocated with telling me at least something which is better than nothing at all. I can remember the face and story of the prior owner when I look at each of my purchased items. Many stories, handshakes, and hugs were ultimately shared today.

A few treasures of my Moscow souvenir collection

A few treasures of my Moscow souvenir collection

After shopping, it was da svidaniya Moscow. Like this entire experience, the excursion to Moscow went by quick and seemed too short. However, I am looking forward to going back to St. Petersburg. I like Moscow, but I like St. Petersburg more in comparison. This is against my preconceived notions going into the trip when I was looking more forward to Moscow than I was St. Petersburg. But either way, they were both meaningful and memorable experiences I will take back with me when I go home in two, very short weeks.

Best Day Ever!

Wednesday July 8, 2015- Today was another wonderful day in St. Petersburg, Russia. I do not recall a single bad day yet as we approach half-way into this trip.

The first event for today was a visit to the State Museum of Political History of Russia. The building itself, known as the Kshesinskaya Mansion, is an important landmark as it was the site of Vladimir Lenin’s “balcony speech” once he returned to Russia from exile in April 1917, and served as a main cell for the Bolshevik Party. The site soon fell to the Provisional Government during the disastrous July Days, but the Bolsheviks reacquired the mansion during the October Revolution. From then on, the Communist Party and Soviet Union utilized the building for several purposes, but became the State Museum of the Great October Socialist Revolution in 1954. Once the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the museum changed its name to what it bears today and began adding artifacts prior and after the Soviet era chronicling Russia’s tsarist past and democratic present.

Lenin's Balcony at the State Museum of Political History of Russia

Lenin’s Balcony at the State Museum of Political History of Russia

In a brief summary, the museum was a paradise for me. Nowhere else in the world at any point of my life have I been exposed to such an array of Soviet history, relics, and artifacts. I did not want to leave, and I want to go back. I’ve dreamed about working at similar locations in the United States like the Cold War Museum in Warrenton, Virginia, but the Museum of Political History is heaven in comparison. It was most fascinating to find displays of historical phenomenon I’ve studied and written about in the past. Many things about the USSR that seem novel in the United States when I write about them are commonly displayed as if it is common knowledge in Russia. I was also impressed with the objectivity and lack of bias in the museum. This museum helped me achieve what I intended to do while visiting Russia: learn Soviet history from the perspective of Russian’s themselves.

I can give a detailed explanation of what I specifically saw and remember upon request. I can literally spend pages on my favorite/memorable pieces, let alone the entire exhibit.

Memorabilia from Khrushchev's

Memorabilia from Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech,” one of my favorite exhibits

After visiting the museum and a nearby park, our group ate dinner at a Georgian restaurant. I had authentic lamb and beef kebab. Perhaps most enjoyable was the interaction with a Georgia employee. He held the door on our way into the restaurant and asked, “Where are you from?” A few of us replied, “The United States” and then “Georgia.” The Georgia worker grinned and said, “Ahh, Atlanta!” We were quite taken aback as this was the first time a native specifically referenced our homeland. In politeness I replied, “Where are you from?” We were a greeted with a joyful “Georgia, Georgia!” from the worker. It was a great feeling find common ground with another person originally from half way around the world, even if it is simply through the names of our homes.

Today was overall a great day for interaction and dialogue with Russians. I spoke quite a bit with the Russian tutor that escorted our group to the Political History Museum. We questioned and answered back and forth on many topics, and it was obvious he was just interested in understanding Americans as I was towards Russians. We met a few college-aged Russian women at the Cossack Folk Show later tonight, and it was an even more casual conversation. Many of us shared contact information and hope to hang out if we can find the time.

One common thing the tutor and the Cossack conversations was they all asked early in the conversation about American stereotypes towards Russians or if whether Americans hate Russians. I’m not too entirely surprised, Russia seems to take a defensive stance whether it’s perspective of World War II to modern politics. But I did find those questions troubling because of the nature of the questions themselves, and unfortunate answers I provided. I do not believe Americans wantonly hate Russians, however Americans do a very good job of making Russians appear bad in our pop culture. In movies and video games, Russians are typically made out to be criminals or villains. What was once Cold War inspiration has turned into victorious nostalgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and phobia of a still powerful Russia. I beg the same question now as I do when teaching the origins of the Cold War: Can we really blame Russia for being proactively defensive, especially towards Americans, considering offenses unleashed upon them throughout history? I’ll leave that one for you to answer… I have a blog to write.

We ended the evening with the mentioned Cossack Folk Show. If you have been reading, you may know that fine arts really isn’t my deal. I met my match; the Cossack show was absolutely phenomenal. There was not a dull moment, and the audience was always on the edge of its seats. The skilled performers danced, singed, and played music the Cossack way. You will not find any other show like it in the world unless it is a touring show. The Cossacks were also very interpersonal, willing to pose with visitors for pictures before the show and during the intermission, as well as bringing audience members to the stage to dance along.

Cossack Folk Show

Cossack Folk Show

This was perhaps my best day in Russia.

Thursday July 9, 2015- Today was another class day, so a productive day but not a whole lot to report. The War and Revolution class focuses on the radicalization of the Russian Intelligentsia, development of revolutionary tendencies in Russia, and the 1905-1907 Revolution. I learned more specific information on themes I am already familiar with, and it has altered how I think of those points in history- most notably the 1905-1907 Revolution. According to Russian perspective, the two years after the 1905 Revolution played just as crucial roles as Bloody Sunday in 1905, thus why it is more known as the 1905-1907 Revolution.

Gender and Communism surveyed Soviet art and its interpretation of gender from 1917 to the end of World War II. The most significant event occurred during this class during a break. Myself and another student talked to the instructor about yesterday’s awesomeness and our interaction with Russians. We quickly moved onto the topic of stereotypes and how the Russians were quick to ask about it, and then we bluntly asked the instructor as an academic about Russian stereotypes of Americans. I was expecting the typical Americans are loud/rude or Americans are fat response, but what she said hurt a little worse. “Russians think Americans are stupid,” she replied. I think what hurt most is my admittance that I think she is correct. She is correct of the stereotype because of how Russians talk and teach us, often asking questions that undermined our group’s intelligence because their belief Americans are stupid. She is also correct in that the majority of Americans are stupid. With no comparative discourse, I think the United States possesses a lot weaknesses that need addressing.

The end of the night concluded with the birthday celebration for one of our group mates at a Mexican restaurant in Russia. I had a regular beef burrito meal, and it was outstanding. I’ve definitely had worse back in the U.S., and this plate rivaled my favorites. Today is also my Dad’s 48th birthday. I am beyond blessed for the 25 years of fatherhood he has provided me, including helping make this trip possible and supporting me through viewing my Facebook pictures and reading my blog. As one contestant on Jerry Springer Show eloquently said in the past, “My dad is the greatest man to walk this Earth since Jesus Christ himself.” Thanks, Dad, and happy birthday.