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Polarization in Poland: A Warning From Europe - The Atlantic

If you believe, as my old friends now believe, that Poland will be better off if it is ruled by people who deserve to rule—because they loudly proclaim a certain kind of patriotism, because they are loyal to the party leader, or because they are, echoing the words of Kaczyński himself, a “better sort of Pole”—then a one-party state is actually more fair than a competitive democracy. Why should different parties be allowed to compete on an even playing field if only one of them has the moral right to form the government? Why should businesses be allowed to compete in a free market if only some of them are loyal to the party and therefore deserving of wealth?

Polarization in Poland: A Warning From Europe - The Atlantic

Lenin’s one-party state was based on different values. It overthrew the aristocratic order. But it did not put a competitive model in place. The Bolshevik one-party state was not merely undemocratic; it was also anticompetitive and antimeritocratic. Places in universities, civil-service jobs, and roles in government and industry did not go to the most industrious or the most capable. Instead, they went to the most loyal. People advanced because they were willing to conform to the rules of party membership. Though those rules were different at different times, they were consistent in certain ways. They usually excluded the former ruling elite and their children, as well as suspicious ethnic groups. They favored the children of the working class. Above all, they favored people who loudly professed belief in the creed, who attended party meetings, who participated in public displays of enthusiasm. Unlike an ordinary oligarchy, the one-party state allows for upward mobility: True believers can advance. As Hannah Arendt wrote back in the 1940s, the worst kind of one-party state “invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”

Polarization in Poland: A Warning From Europe - The Atlantic

Unlike Marxism, the Leninist one-party state is not a philosophy. It is a mechanism for holding power. It works because it clearly defines who gets to be the elite—the political elite, the cultural elite, the financial elite. In monarchies such as prerevolutionary France and Russia, the right to rule was granted to the aristocracy, which defined itself by rigid codes of breeding and etiquette. In modern Western democracies, the right to rule is granted, at least in theory, by different forms of competition: campaigning and voting, meritocratic tests that determine access to higher education and the civil service, free markets. Old-fashioned social hierarchies are usually part of the mix, but in modern Britain, America, Germany, France, and until recently Poland, we have assumed that competition is the most just and efficient way to distribute power. The best-run businesses should make the most money. The most appealing and competent politicians should rule. The contests between them should take place on an even playing field, to ensure a fair outcome.

The Communist Cookbook Responsible for Prague’s Slow Culinary Comeback - Gastro Obscura

Cooks that wanted to deviate from these recipes had to get approval from the Ministry of Health, a request that could take years to go through. Most people opted for the easier route, which is how thousands of nearly identical menus came to be established across the country. Paired with limited ingredient diversity, the nation suffered a creative drought: It wasn’t just that all the same dishes were served, but the dishes were prepared exactly the same way, resulting in identical versions of dishes, too. Each bite was calculated as a means of productivity, and dining for pleasure was considered extravagant. “Special” meals were no longer considered, and the scope of Czech cuisine shrunk. Yet as NYU Prague sociologist Vanda Thorne points out, people were eating outside the home more than ever before. Children ate at school cafeterias, and parents dined at work cantinas. Since prices were controlled and salaries were largely uniform, everyone could afford restaurants. “Meals at home were often prepared from prefabricated components as there was a noticeable lack of fresh produce,” Thorne says. Though homemade meals weren’t as strictly regulated by the state, there was still little opportunity for originality there.

The Communist Cookbook Responsible for Prague’s Slow Culinary Comeback - Gastro Obscura

When communists came to power in 1948, citizens were hopeful they could return to a life containing more prewar luxuries. Though the quality of food improved, life under socialist ideas still proved restrictive. Twenty years later, when liberalization started to gain traction, the party saw a need for even stricter control. In an effort to consolidate power, they purged reformist officials from the government and established a range of restrictions on everyday activities. Eating was no exception. The state Restaurants and Cafeterias company soon issued a national cookbook entitled Receptury teplých pokrmu, or Recipes for Warm Meals. Dubbed “normovacka,” or “the book of standards,” it dictated what cooks in the country could serve in 845 recipes. Ladislav Pravaan, curator of the Gastronomie Muzeum of Prague, explains that the book even specified sources and serving styles for everything from sauces to side dishes.

The Hidden History of Trump’s First Trip to Moscow - POLITICO Magazine

As Trump tells it, the idea for his first trip to Moscow came after he found himself seated next to the Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin. This was in autumn 1986; the event was a luncheon held by Leonard Lauder, the businessman son of Estée Lauder. Dubinin’s daughter Natalia “had read about Trump Tower and knew all about it,” Trump said in his 1987 bestseller, The Art of the Deal. Trump continued: “One thing led to another, and now I’m talking about building a large luxury hotel, across the street from the Kremlin, in partnership with the Soviet government.” Trump’s chatty version of events is incomplete. According to Natalia Dubinina, the actual story involved a more determined effort by the Soviet government to seek out Trump. In February 1985 Kryuchkov complained again about “the lack of appreciable results of recruitment against the Americans in most Residencies.” The ambassador arrived in New York in March 1986. His original job was Soviet ambassador to the U.N.; his daughter Dubinina was already living in the city with her family, and she was part of the Soviet U.N. delegation. Dubinin wouldn’t have answered to the KGB. And his role wasn’t formally an intelligence one. But he would have had close contacts with the power apparatus in Moscow. He enjoyed greater trust than other, lesser ambassadors. Dubinina said she picked up her father at the airport. It was his first time in New York City. She took him on a tour. The first building they saw was Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, she told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. Dubinin was so excited he decided to go inside to meet the building’s owner. They got into the elevator. At the top, Dubinina said, they met Trump. The ambassador—“fluent in English and a brilliant master of negotiations”—charmed the busy Trump, telling him: “The first thing I saw in the city is your tower!” Dubinina said: “Trump melted at once. He is an emotional person, somewhat impulsive. He needs recognition. And, of course, when he gets it he likes it. My father’s visit worked on him [Trump] like honey to a bee.” This encounter happened six months before the Estée Lauder lunch. In Dubinina’s account she admits her father was trying to hook Trump. The man from Moscow wasn’t a wide-eyed rube but a veteran diplomat who served in France and Spain, and translated for Nikita Khrushchev when he met with Charles de Gaulle at the Elysée Palace in Paris. He had seen plenty of impressive buildings. Weeks after his first Trump meeting, Dubinin was named Soviet ambassador to Washington.

100 years after the October revolution, the neo-Bolsheviks come from the right - The Washington Post

His extremism was precisely what persuaded the German government, then at war with Russia, to help Lenin carry out his plans. “We must now definitely try to create the utmost chaos in Russia,” one German official advised. “We must secretly do all that we can to aggravate the differences between the moderate and the extreme parties . . . since we are interested in the victory of the latter.” The kaiser personally approved of the idea; his generals hoped it would lead the Russian state to collapse and withdraw from the war. And so the German government promised Lenin funding, put him and 30 other Bolsheviks — among them his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya , as well as his mistress, Inessa Armand — onto a train, and sent them to revolutionary Petrograd.

Red Famine by Anne Applebaum — enemies of the people

Red Famine balances erudite analysis of political processes at the top with fluent storytelling about their impact on ordinary people. But the most interesting section comes towards the end of the book, when Applebaum deals with the question of whether the term “genocide” applies to the famine. She draws a distinction between Lemkin’s original definition — a process aimed at the destruction of national groups — and its subsequent rendition in international law after the second world war, when it became more narrowly defined as the elimination of ethnic groups. At the drafting stage of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Applebaum shows how the USSR lobbied to ensure the definition was associated with the race theories of Nazi-fascism, rather than its own attempts to liquidate national political groups in Ukraine and elsewhere. Applebaum accepts that the Holodomor does not meet the UN criteria for genocide. But she is right to say that it fits perfectly within Lemkin’s original definition. Readers of this compelling book will surely agree with her.

My Friend, Stalin’s Daughter - The New Yorker

The following year, Svetlana, too, fell in love with a thirty-eight-year-old man, a Jewish filmmaker and journalist named Aleksei Kapler. The romance began in the late fall of 1942, during the Nazi invasion of Russia. Kapler and Svetlana met at a film screening; the next time they saw each other, they danced the foxtrot and he asked her why she seemed sad. It was, she said, the tenth anniversary of her mother’s death. Kapler gave Svetlana a banned translation of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and his annotated copy of “Russian Poetry of the Twentieth Century.” They watched the Disney movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” together.

Stalin the poet

Yet what remains both specific and peculiar was Stalin’s personal preoccupation with the fate of the poets under his thumb. His own youthful poetry and publishing success in Georgia remained a source of pride to him throughout his barbarising progress across the 20th century. Was some unspeakable jealousy at work in his 1934 phone call to Pasternak in which he reproached Pasternak for not pleading Mandelstam’s case directly with him? “If I were a poet and a poet friend of mine were in trouble, I would do anything to help him,” he said. When Pasternak defended himself, Stalin interrupted, “But he’s a genius, he’s a genius, isn’t he?” To which Pasternak replied, “But that’s not the point.” “Then what is?” asked Stalin. Pasternak proposed a meeting to talk. “What about?” asked Stalin. “Life and death,” Pasternak said and Stalin hung up.

Any story a plot

As the mantra of the secret police – “Give us a man and we’ll make a case” – was well known, normal communication between people ceased to be possible. No one knew to whom they spoke or what construction would be placed upon even the most innocuous conversation. Any form of social interaction as previously understood was now impossible.

To edit or to translate in the USSR

When a printer’s error in an edition of Charles de Coster’s German fable The Legend of Thyl Ulenspiegel and Lamme Goedzak credited Mandelstam as “translator” rather than “editor”, a carefully constructed uproar ensued, in which he was viciously denounced in the press. He vehemently denied the accusation of attempting to grab undue credit but the state-sponsored campaign was well organised and so the doors to any further opportunities for publication were now, conveniently, shut. It was only the direct intervention of the poetry-loving Nikolai Bukharin, Stalin’s ally in the defeat of Trotsky, that brought the matter to a close.

“It gets people killed”: Osip Mandelstam and the perils of writing poetry under Stalin

Nadezhda Mandelstam – the poet’s wife and invaluable support throughout his, and their, many years of persecution and exile – wrote in her powerful memoir of both the poet and the era, Hope Against Hope, about the many instances when, confronted with the desperation of their situation, they had asked each other if this was the moment when they, too, could no longer bear to go forward. The final occasion was to be the last night they spent in their Moscow apartment before being banished, without means of providing for themselves, to a succession of rural towns situated beyond a hundred-kilometre perimeter of all major cities. She awoke to find Mandelstam standing at the open window. “Isn’t it time?” he said. “Let’s do it while we’re still together.” “Not yet,” she replied. Mandelstam didn’t argue but she later reflected, “If we had been able to foresee all the alternatives, we would not have missed that last chance of a ‘normal’ death offered by the open window of our apartment in Furmanov Street.” Opting, in that moment, for a little more life changed nothing and Mandelstam soon found himself being moved inexorably towards Stalin’s endgame in the camps.

The Popularity of Putin and What It Means for America | History | Smithsonian

If you oppose Putin, you might not go to prison as you did in the old days, but the tax police will come, there will be an investigation, you might end up in jail for so-called economic crimes, since most people are dealing in an underground economy, so everybody is vulnerable. Certainly historians I know who have tried to challenge what Putin says—and continue to openly discuss what was good or bad in the past--are not getting government grants. And those are now the only grants you can get since Western grants have been halted by Putin. There are all sorts of ways to repress people and their ability to work and think freely.

Soviet system for predicting nuclear war had lots of complex inputs with an arbitrary threshold

His worries about a surprise attack were amplified by “one peculiar mode of intelligence analysis,” a KGB computer model to measure perceived changes­ in the “correlation of ­forces” between the super­powers, according to the review. The computer went online in 1979 to warn Soviet leaders when “deterioration of Soviet power might tempt a US first strike,” the review says. The computer was at the heart of the ­VRYAN system, according to the review, and thousands of pieces of security and economic data were fed into the machine. The computer model assigned a fixed value of 100 to the United States, and Soviet leaders felt they would be safe from a nuclear first strike as long as they were at least at 60 percent of the United States, and ideally at 70 percent. Reports were sent to the ruling Politburo once a month.

Inside the Secret World of Russia's Cold War Mapmakers | WIRED

Soviets loved maps

They had mapped nearly the entire world at three scales. The most detailed of these three sets of maps, at a scale of 1:200,000, consisted of regional maps. A single sheet might cover the New York metropolitan area, for example. […]They mapped all of Europe, nearly all of Asia, as well as large parts of North America and northern Africa at 1:100,000 and 1:50,000 scales, which show even more features and fine-grained topography. Another series of still more zoomed-in maps, at 1:25,000 scale, covers all of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, as well as hundreds or perhaps thousands of foreign cities. At this scale, city streets and individual buildings are visible. […] The Soviets produced hundreds of remarkably detailed 1:10,000 maps of foreign cities, mostly in Europe, and they may have mapped the entire USSR at this scale[…] All in all, Watt estimated that the Soviet military produced more than 1.1 million different maps.

Stalin pauses

In December 1941 Churchill sent his foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, to Moscow. The German advance forces had stopped short of Moscow but gunfire could even be heard beyond the Kremlin wall. Stalin said to Eden: “Hitler’s problem was that he does not know where to stop.” Eden: “Does anyone?” Stalin: “I do.” Those two words were not entirely devoid of truth. In November 1944 Churchill came to see De Gaulle in Paris. De Gaulle berated the Americans for letting Russia take over all of Eastern Europe. Churchill said, yes, Russia is now a hungry wolf. “But after the meal comes the digestion period.”* Russia would not be able to digest most of Eastern Europe. And so it was to be.

Glasnost sneaks into view

"We need to expand openness in the work of party, Soviet, government, and civil organizations," Gorbachev told an emergency meeting of the Party's Central Committee. One mandatory Lenin reference later, he continued, "the better informed people are, the more consciously they'll act, and the more actively they'll support the Party, its plans, and goals."
Overall, the MiG-29 was/is not the 10 foot tall monster that was postulated during the Cold War. It's a good airplane, just not much of a fighter when compared to the West's 4th-generation fighters.

The happy and the sad

Two former schoolmates met in the street. "Where do you work?" "I am a school teacher. And what about you?" "I work for the KGB." "Oh, and what are you doing at the KGB?" "We unearth those who are dissatisfied." "You mean, there are also some who are satisfied?" "Those who are satisfied are dealt with by the Division for the Fight Against the Embezzlements of the Socialist Property."

Biggest data

In a collective farm, a pig gave birth to three piglets. The Party committee was convened and decided that to report about only three piglets would make a bad impression in the district Party committee. So, they reported that five piglets were born in the farm. The district Party committee reported to the Region Party committee that seven piglets were born in the collective farm. In their report to the Ministry of Agriculture, the Region Party committee advised that the socialist obligation to increase the number of pigs by twelve, has been successfully fulfilled. To please comrade Brezhnev, the Ministry reported that twenty piglets were born, ahead of the planned date. "Very good," comrade Brezhnev said. "Three piglets you'll give to the workers of Leningrad. Three you'll give to the heroic city of Moscow. Five you'll put aside for exports. Five you'll send to the starving African children. The rest you store as a strategic food reserve. Nobody shall touch it!"

The 7 paradoxes of the socialist state

Seven paradoxes of the socialist state: Nobody works, but the plan is always fulfilled. The plan is fulfilled, but the shelves in the stores are empty. The shelves are empty, but nobody starves; nobody starves, but everybody is unhappy; everybody is unhappy, but nobody complains; nobody complains, but the jails are full.

When feedback isn't a loop

When Brezhnev visited the USA, the American president asked him, "Mister Brezhnev, what is your hobby?" "I collect anecdotes the people tell about me." "And how big is your collection?" "As of yesterday, the tenth camp was almost full."

Who will judge the comics?

A judge walks out of the courtroom, laughing loudly. A colleague asks, "What is it you laugh about?" "Ah, I just heard an excellent anecdote," the judge says, sweeping tears of laughter. "An anecdote? Tell me!" "Are you crazy? I just sentenced a man to ten years for that anecdote."

Managing expectations

To alleviate the perennial shortages of butter, The Politburo of the Communist Party ordered the Soviet scientists to develop a technology for converting shit into butter, and to complete this project on or before the anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. After six months of work, the Politburo demanded an interim progress report. The scientists reported that they had achieved a 50% success. The party requested elaboration. The reply from the Academy of Sciences explained, "One can already spread it, but not yet eat it."