Blame it on the A-A-A-Alcohol

Jamie Fox took some advice from the 1980’s Soviet Government  in his song Blame It (On the Alcohol) when he says:

Blame it on the vodka
Blame it on the henny
Blame it on the blue top
Got you feeling dizzy
Blame it on the a a a a a alcohol

The Soviet government in the late 70’s to 80’s attempted to cut back on alcohol consumption in order to reduce, “high rates of child-abuse, suicide, divorce, absenteeism, accidents on the job, and contributing to a rise in mortality rates,” by limiting the production of alcohol and stigmatising the overconsumption of alcohol.

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev campaigned against alcohol abuse by, “limiting the kinds of shops permitted to sell alcohol, closing many vodka distilleries and destroying vineyards in the wine-producing republics of Moldavia, Armenia and Georgia, and banning the sale of alcohol in restaurants before two o’clock in the afternoon.”

Vodka Brings With It” Poster

In 1979 Vladimir Vysotskii wrote a song about his suffering from long-term alcohol abuse, which was not unusual for a middle age Soviet man.  His song was aptly entitled the “Anti-Alcohol Song

But with the government crackdown on all things alcohol, the Soviet people turned to homebrews. This was particularly difficult to regulate because this ‘moonshine’-like alcohol was being made in the comfort of Soviet households. A. Sidorov writes of the Government’s frustration with this dilemma in his article in The Current Digest entitled, Alcohol is Society’s Enemy: A Villian With No Stigma. Sidorov states, “the province internal affairs administration informed me that in the past four years, almost 3,500 illegal distillers have been discovered. But the police are far from happy with the situation… Why not? Because it is not publicized and publicly condemned. Of the 30 home brewers that were uncovered in Pachelma District during the first half of 1984, only one was brought before a comrades’ court, while the rest got off with a fine and a bit of a scare….A strange logic is at work here: Homemade liquor, when discovered in the kitchen of its maker, is grounds for criminal prosecution, yet homebrew on the table for celebrations with family and friends is considered quite normal?! “

-Yet like most Soviet policies from the 80’s, this too, came to an end.

By 1987, the campaign was officially abandoned because of an increase in organized crime, alcohol poisonings from extreme substances, homebrewing, and a sharp decrease in state revenue from alcohol sales, leading to the printing of more money and subsequent inflation.


Anti-Alcohol Song (1979)

Anti-Alcohol Campaign Images

Anti-Alcohol Campaign Images

“Surely you can’t be serious” ” I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley.”

All Airplane! jokes aside, the first round-trip flight from New York to Moscow was a huge step forward for US/ Soviet foreign relations.

Aeroflot and Pan Am were symbols of Soviet and American airline strongholds respectively. Both had previously operated exclusively for their country of origin, so the partnership between the two marked a remarkable change in the country’s foreign relations following the Stalin Era. “the two airlines had been Cold War rivals since the 1950s competing for routes and influence in developing countries of the newly decolonized world, but starting in 1968, they were transformed into business partners.”

The Soviet Tupolev-104: The first commercial jet in the world.

The emergence of this partnership signalled a detente in relations not just between Soviet and US leaders, but also the citizens who were running the airlines, “unlike the hotline that was designed to avert crises and little else, the air route encouraged a normalization of relations, which was the essence of détente. In the case of Aeroflot and Pan Am, such normalization took place not only at the diplomatic level, where the air route was negotiated, but was enacted by Soviet and American citizens who flew over the Iron Curtain as tourists, businessmen, and members of cultural and educational exchanges.”

Here is an example of a “short newsreel celebrating the new Tupolev-114, an enormous 4-engine turbo-prop passenger aircraft that Khrushchev himself took to the United States for his tour of the country in 1959. The newsreel shows the plane’s arrival in New York for the occasion of the Soviet Exhibition in that same year.

This video, featured on 17 Moments, highlights Pan Am’s trips to Europe as well as the advancement of their newest aircraft, the Jet Clipper.

Pan Am and Aeroflot’s competitive partnership ended when the Soviet empire collapsed in December 1991, but not as might have been expected. That same month, the Pan Am empire also collapsed, after years of being unable to adapt to a rapidly changing airline industry that underwent deregulation. In contrast, Aeroflot re-emerged from the Soviet Union’s demise and the end of the Cold War as a decidedly leaner and commercially driven airline that competes today for passengers both domestically and on the world stage.”


Aeroflot and Pan Am

Aeroflot and Pan Am Images

The Jet Age is Here! Flying on a Pan Am Clipper (1958)

Aeroflot TU-114 Newsreel (1959)





Zhukov and the Rise of the Generals

Image source: Pavel Korin: Marshal Zhukov (1949)
Source: Tarakhanov, Aleksei and Sergei Kavtaradze: Architecture of the Stalin Era. New York: Rizzoli. 1992.

Stalin had a major problem on his hands: Germany was attacking from the west, and Stalin had purged or demoted most of his competent Generals. Fueled by fear of succession, Stalin attempted to rid the Soviet Union of any general that posed a threat to his power, but it left the country vulnerable to a calculated attack by Hitler.
Realising that his military could not function properly and efficiently without comparable leadership, the decision was made to put the honor back in USSR military leadership. Generals were adorned with gold ropes and medals on their uniforms and promoted to higher ranks than during the purges. This helped to bolster morale and pride in the Soviet military during the trying battles of World War II.  “In gratitude for the hope they offered during the dark early days of war, these military leaders were honored in plays, movies, biographies and even hagiographies. Military orders of great prestige were founded in their honor. With gold braid on their shoulders, and new military orders on their breasts, officers recovered so much prestige as to form a separate caste.”

Image Source

The above-linked image portrays generals adorned in medals, trampling Nazi flags and in front of Russian symbols like the profiles of both Lenin and Stalin. The picture is an image of propaganda, glorifying the power of the military generals.

This audio clip is from Genreal Zhukov’s address to the victory parade in 1945. “Marshal Zhukov gave the address at a victory parade held in Moscow’s Red Square on June 24, 1945. Representatives from all battle fronts took part. The victors threw banners captured from Hitler’s army at the base of Lenin’s Mausoleum”

Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Epaulets for the Red Army. January 6, 1943

Original Source: Vedomosti, No. 2 (10 January 1943).

The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR decrees:

1. To comply with the petition of the People’s Commissar of Defense and introduce, in place of the existing (insignia), new insignia of rank–epaulets for Red Army personnel.

2. To approve the models and description of the insignias of rank of Red Army personnel.

3. To authorize the People’s Commissariat of Defense of the USSR to fix the date of change to the new insignia and introduce the necessary changes in the uniform of Red Army personnel.

Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Union of Socialist Republics, Kalinin
Secretary of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Union of Socialist Republics, Gorkin


J. Meisel and E. S. Kozera, eds., Materials for the Study of the Soviet System (Ann Arbor: G. Wahr Pub. Co., 1953), pp. 372-373.

Epaulettes Back on Uniforms

Life in the USSR الحياة في روسيا

Statue of Lenin in Front of a Crowd of Muslim People in 1925

It’s no secret that Russia is surrounded by diverse cultures. To its West there is Europe, to its East there is Asia, and to its South, there is Central Asia and the Middle East- what was formerly the great Ottoman Empire. The Soviet Union comprised of many smaller, predominantly Muslim countries on its southern border. I am minoring in Russian and Middle Eastern Studies so I found the topic of Muslims in Russia very intriguing. In this post, I examine the integration and consolidation of Muslim citizens into The Soviet Union following the 1917 Revolution.


Image Source

Prior to the Soviet Union, Russia already controlled much of Central Asia throughout the 1700-1800s. Muslims in and around Russia had been persecuted and treated unfairly because of their religion. They did not fit into the Russian Orthodox Christian mould that was customary of Russian citizens after hundreds of years of Czar- Church partnership in Autocratic Russia. The Russian empire and the Ottoman Empire had historically been at odds over power and territory, so there was yet another reason for the cruel treatment of Muslims in Czarist Russian territory.

Before the 1917 Revolution, “Small indigenous elites, influenced by developments in the Ottoman empire as well as among fellow Turkic-speaking Tatars and Azerbaijanis within the Russian Empire, initiated reformist movements around the ideals of pan-Islam and pan-Turkism. Jadidism, a secular movement advocating educational and social reform, also emerged among the more radically inclined intelligentsia.”

Image Source

After World War I, conditions deteriorated in Russo-Central Asia, and the Muslim people resented the Czar along with their forced draft into WWI. The Bolsheviks saw in this an opportunity, thus bringing about the olive branch called the “Appeal to the Moslems of Russian and the East” by the Bolsheviks to the Muslim people following 1917. The Bolsheviks knew they would need the people of Central Asia to help suppress the counterrevolutionary White Army. The Bolsheviks promised the Muslim people that if they helped to suppress the White Army, the Muslims would be granted freedom of religion and self-determination: an appealing prize for a subjugated people.

Appeal to the Moslems of Russia and the East

Council of People’s Commissars Appeal to the Moslems of Russia and the East. December 7, 1917

In the face of these great events, we turn to you, toiling and disinherited Moslems of Russia and the East.

Moslems of Russia, Tartars of the Volga and the Crimea, Kirghiz, and Sarts of Siberia and Turkestan, Turks and Tartars of Transcaucasia, Chechens and Mountaineers of the Caucasus–all those whose mosques and chapels have been destroyed, whose beliefs and customs have been trampled under foot by the tsars and oppressors of Russia!

Henceforth your beliefs and customs, your national and cultural institutions, are free and inviolable. Build your national life freely and unhindered. You have a right to do so. Know that your rights, as well as the rights of all peoples of Russia, are protected by the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies.

Comrades! Brothers!

Firmly and decisively let us strive for an honorable, democratic peace.

On our banners we proclaim the liberation of oppressed peoples of the world.

Moslems of Russia!

Moslems of the East!

We await your sympathy and support in this cause of building a new world.”

Unfortunately for the people of Central Asia, their assistance to the Bolsheviks in the civil war did not lead to autonomy as promised because the Soviet Union still needed their land, resources, and men. “Their intention to set up a unified state of all Turkic peoples was thwarted by Moscow which instead established an autonomous Turkestan republic within the RSFSR and, after their conquest in 1920, two loosely affiliated “people’s republics” — Bukhara and Khorezm. In September 1920, a Congress of the Toiling Peoples of the East, which met in Baku and was attended by such leading Bolshevik and Comintern officials as Grigorii Zinoviev and Karl Radek (as well as the American Communist John Reed), endorsed the call among Muslim delegates for a jihad against the European colonialist and imperialist powers.”

More information regarding the Muslim East in the later part of the 1920’s can be found here.


Izvestiia, No. 232, 7 December 1917, pp. 1-2.

The Muslim East


Bloody Sunday: Massacre to Manifesto

Bloody Sunday: Massacre to Manifesto

20th century Russia was full of bloodshed. Between the World Wars, revolutions, and purges brought on by Stalin, millions of Russian lives were lost. Though civil unrest in Russia had been simmering for hundreds of years, the grievances of the working class came to a boiling point at the turn of the 20th Century. Enter the year 1905, and the infamous Bloody Sunday.

Czar Nicholas II lead an oppressive regime, turning most working citizens to find solace in labor unions. More information on the tumultuous rule of Czar Nicholas before the year 1905 can be found here. Peaceful protesters took to the street outside Czar Nicholas II winter palace in St. Petersburg to discuss their grievances. The Russian working class felt under-represented, but largely still entrusted their Czar to look out for their best interest. When they tried to approach the palace, the police opened fire on the crowd killing over 100 protestors.

Not surprisingly, subsequent protests erupted throughout the major cities of Russia, leading Nicholas to issue the October Manifesto. The Manifesto was a precursor to the Russian Constitution that would follow in later years. The manifesto stated three main points:

  1. “Fundamental civil freedoms will be granted to the population, including real personal inviolability, freedom of conscience, speech, assembly and association.
  2. Participation in the Duma will be granted to those classes of the population which are at present deprived of voting powers, insofar as is possible in the short period before the convocation of the Duma, and this will lead to the development of a universal franchise. There will be no delay to the Duma elect already been organised.
  3. It is established as an unshakeable rule that no law can come into force without its approval by the State Duma and representatives of the people will be given the opportunity to take a real part in the supervision of the legality of government bodies.

We call on all true sons of Russia to remember the homeland, to help put a stop to this unprecedented unrest and, together with this, to devote all their strength to the restoration of peace to their native land” (Polnoe sobranie zakonov Rossiiskoi Imperii).


A copy of the October Manifesto, Image Source

The Octoctober Manifesto could be viewed by people looking back at Russian History as too little of an effort, too late by Nicholas II to soothe the unrest in his country, because, as we know, 1918 did not end well for him and his family.



From Shackles to Sanctity


From its authoritative beginning to its revolutionary end, The Romanov Dynasty was synonymous with exile and death. The above photograph, taken by Sergei Gorskii in 1910, is of the iron shackles that bound Boyar Mikhail Nikitick Romanov during his 1601 exile in Nyrob. It was Tsar Boris Godunov who sentenced Mikhail to his fate during the Time of Troubles, where Mikhail would die one year later inside of a pit.

Mikhail never lived to see the start of the longstanding Romanov legacy which would begin with his relative, best known as Tsar Michael I of Russia: the first Romanov tsar. When the Romanov Dynasty began in 1613, Michael I had The Church of Epiphany and The Church of Saint Nicolas built in Nyrob to commemorate the life and suffering of Mikhail Romanov. His shackles were symbolically placed atop a pedestal in the Church of Epiphany- it was almost as if the exiled Mikhail was made saintly by the ruling Romanov. 

This image is a vivid example of the use of the church by the Romanovs, in order to show absolute power and reverence. The Russian Orthodox church was a powerful tool used to shape the minds of the Russian people to see their rulers as more than human, in a class all their own, and answerable only to God.

Perhaps this is one prominent reason for the total lack of religion allowed in the communist regime that overtook the last of the Romanovs in the early 1900s.