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They wrote of the great cities of Europe as intimately familiar, through their representation in literature and painting, but at the same time miraculously unknown. The Soviet love affair with the West was bound to end in disappointment. Once Russians were free to travel, even to emigrate and live in Paris for good if they could afford it, Paris was no longer a dream. That is one of the paradoxes of the situation she describes.
The love affair with Western culture did not, as might first have appeared, involve a repudiation of Sovietness. On the contrary, to love Western culture was a token of Soviet culturedness kulturnost , something to be expected of every educated and cultivated Soviet citizen. As any visiting foreigner who was ever quizzed about the novels of Walter Scott or Theodore Dreiser and found wanting will attest, Soviet citizens often thought they knew more than Western natives about Western culture or at least the canonical Soviet version , and loved it better — and they were right. There were Russians who liked capitalism, but these were not the cultured Russians — the Soviet intelligentsia, broadly construed — that Gilburd is writing about.
ISBN 10: 078797112X
A disclaimer is in order here: in the s, Gilburd studied with me as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, where she now teaches Soviet history. The underlying nostalgia is for whatever it was in Soviet society that made culture including, but not only, Western culture so important and fostered such strong collective emotions about it. If only they had done a bit of reading in capitalist marketing theory and grasped the idea of the scarcity principle.
What if, instead of making Western culture a scarce commodity — and therefore all the more desirable — they had done the same for Soviet socialism? How attractive socialism might have become if properly rationed and restricted, accessible only to the most worthy, an exotic intermittent presence in Soviet life whose hidden riches were only to be glimpsed. The works of Marx and Lenin could have been stored only in the spetskhran the restricted section of libraries , released only to those with a high level of ideological purity.
Socialist realist paintings could have been locked away in the basement of the Tretyakov Gallery, with Cubists and Abstract Expressionists on constant display. It was a missed opportunity for Soviet propagandists, remedied only after the collapse of the Soviet Union made them obsolete superseded by Western-style advertising and PR people and paved the way for Soviet nostalgia. For me, it opened up a new world of Russian culture. I learned the language and, just as important, became lifelong friends with a family from Leningrad. Fitzpatrick writes that the KGB set up surveillance on locals who established questionably close ties with foreigners during the festival, but that was not my experience.
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My monthly correspondence with Leningrad throughout the communist period, and my annual visits from onwards, were never interfered with. As a year-old girl, I was part of the British cultural delegation that travelled by train to Moscow. The train was packed with musicians, singers, artists, actors, writers and dancers.
The journey took four days and we kept ourselves amused with badinage and impromptu jazz and folk sessions.go here
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We had a taste of the welcome ahead after we crossed the border from West to East Germany, and travelled on through Poland. Each time the train stopped, there were brass bands, and excited crowds greeted us with fresh fruit and packages of food.
For the first three days we sat and slept on slatted wooden benches, but when we arrived at the Soviet frontier to board the train to Moscow, we were astonished to find luxurious cabins with full-sized bunk beds, complete with crisp white sheets and a proper pillow, and a box of fresh food on each bed. On our arrival in Moscow we were carried on lorries through streets lined with cheering crowds. We responded equally passionately with the same phrase — in Russian, of course.