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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."

Songs of sanity

An inspecting commission came to a lunatics asylum. To greet them, a choir of the patients sang a song from a popular movie that says "Oh, how good it is to live in the Soviet land!" The commission noticed that one of the men did not sing. "Why are you not singing?" "I'm not crazy, I'm a nurse's aide here."

Writing about the null state

Two brothers, John, and Bob, who lived in America and were members of the communist party, decided to emigrate to the USSR. Even though they didn't believe the American media's negative reports on the conditions in the USSR, they decided to exercise caution. First, only John would go to Russia to test the waters. If, contrary to the media reports, the living conditions would be found good, and the reports about persecutions by the KGB false, than John would write a letter to Bob using black ink whose color would signify that the letter is to be taken at face value. If, though, the situation in the USSR happened to be bad, and John would be afraid of writing the truth, he would use red ink thus indicating that whatever he says in the letter must not be believed. In three months John sent his first report. It was in black ink and read, "Dear brother Bob! I'm so happy here! It's a beautiful country, I enjoy complete freedom, and high standard of living. All the capitalist press wrote was lies. Everything is readily available! There is only one small thing of which there's shortage, namely red ink."

Recycling

A woman walking in the street is carrying a bag full of rolls of toilet paper. A passer-by opens his mouth, "Hey, mother, where did you buy it?" "Buy? Are you crazy? Where could I buy it nowadays? They are five years old. I am taking them back from the cleaners."

Over-engineering a watch

A Polish tourist comes back home after visiting the USSR. He carries two very large and heavy suitcases. On his wrist is a new Soviet-made watch. He tells the customs man: "This is a new Soviet watch. It's a wonder unknown in the capitalist countries. You see, it shows time, the rate of your pulse beats, the phases of the Moon, the weather in Warsaw, Moscow, and New York, and more and more!" "Yes, it's a wonder," the customs man agrees. "And what is it you have in these big suitcases?" "Oh, it's just the batteries for that watch."