Posts Tagged ‘Mother Russia’
Joseph Stalin,the great killing machine, according to Alexander Yakovlev, the Soviet aircraft designer could be charming when he wanted to.’ but when he became angry they (his eyes) looked daggers, and tiny red spots appeared among the pock marks on his face.’ He recalls how Stalin after berating a senior executive would say, ‘I see you like the quiet life. In that case you would be best off in a cemetery. That is the only place you can find tranquility. The corpses will not argue with you or make any demands upon you.’ Stalin knew his power, and he could play a cat and mouse game with others. It did not matter how the exalted and lowly he was, both his colleagues and party workers knew how vulnerable they were before him. Stalin made them squirm or even sweat when he indulged in jests that sounded innocuous at surface.
‘Why are your eyes so shifty today?’ he would at random ask some party worker he had known for years. ‘Why do you turn away? Why don’t you look me straight in the face?’ More often than not the hapless worker would be arrested later that day. In the Iztvestia newspaper offices boards used to hang up with names of heads of departments but the practice soon stopped. It was not worth making as the messenger girl explained to Ilya Ehrenberg,’here today, gone tomorrow.’
The midnight knocks and mysterious disappearances were extensive that alarmed even Isaak Babel, the author of Red Cavalry and he told the poet thus,’ Today a man talks frankly only with his wife,- at night with the blanket pulled over his head!’ Among the intelligentsia no one was sure what tomorrow would bring.
Many of Ehrenberg’s acquaintances kept a small suitcase with two changes of warm underwear permanently in readiness.
When Budu Mdivani, the former Premier of Georgia (whose part Lenin had sided against Stalin long way back) was falsely accused of conspiring against Beria and Yeshov, knew Stalin too well. When asked to confess in order to be spared of execution he said,’I have known Stalin for thirty years. Stalin won’t rest until he has butchered all of us,beginning with the unweaned baby, and ending with the blind great- grand mother!’ So he did all his comrades of old among whom was Abel Yenukidze, his closest personal friend and best man at his marriage with Nadhezda Alliluyeva. His fault? He interceded for Kamenev and Zinoviev, and also for introducing Zoya Nikitina into Kremlin and later she was suspected of trying to poison Stalin. It didn’t take much either for comrades or ordinary man on the street to be arrested and shot.
The great killing machine didn’t grind to a halt because of a Great Patriotic War or after.
Only his death put a stop to the reign of terror. When his death became known the people didn’t know whether to cry or sigh in relief. The emotional battering under which the whole Soviet Russia lived from day to day from night to morning had sapped all their inner resources to respond normally.
(ack:Stalin: the history of a dictator by H. Montgomery Hyde.)
Ballad of a Soldier is a feel-good film, which dwells at length into the nobility of Mother Russia: she had so many children she could spare for the Great Patriotic War. Of course there were gulags too. The film is however concerned for soldiers barely out of their teens. Our hero is Alyosha Skvortsov (Vladimir Ivashov) is one such. His is the story of sacrifice. Ballad of a Soldier is all about giving an identifiable face and context to one who ends up as an unknown soldier.
Filmed in 1958 and released the following year, is a product of the post-Stalin Soviet era. It stands as dynamic proof that an apolitical film could be made despite of an oppressive regime had its grip thoroughly on the minds and bodies of the people.
The story of the film is an odyssey. An elderly, melancholy woman walks along a bleak landscape and stops. She is the mother of a Russian hero whose remains are buried in a distant land, identified only as an unknown Russian soldier. It has been two years since she has seen him and she knows everything about him till he was sent to the front. The flashback follows.
Our hero is Alyosha Skvortsov (Vladimir Ivashov), assigned an humdrum job of a field observer, manning a radio device from a solitary foxhole. But with such intrepid advance of the Germans he is frantically reporting to his unit two tanks bearing directly down upon him. He holds his position until it becomes clear that the lead tank intends to run over his position. So what does he do? He turns and fires on the lead tank with his rifle. One good turn deserves another. Is it not? So he knocks out both tanks and becomes a hero!
His unit commander would like to recommend him for military decoration. But Alyosha wishes to return home to see his mother and help her fix a leaky roof. The commanding officer allows him six days leave – two days travel each way and two days to complete the repair.
Such a journey is a journey in hope as with the soviet style of hope, to co-mingle with those of several others of various ethnic hues and scars of service for the motherland. Then of course he Alyosha has to bribe a soldier in order to hitch a ride on a freight train. He meets another stowaway- a beautiful dark-haired young woman.
She is Shura (Zhanna Prokhorenko), who claims to be traveling to meet her boyfriend. Soon enough they recognize they are cut of the same cloth in hope and goodness. Despite several disruptions they catch up with one another and they know they are made for each other.
But duty demands their ultimate sacrifice. He has barely reached home hugged his mother before he is back to the front again.
The story is well-paced, rolling along inexorably like the rhythm of the wheels of the trains.
Directed by Grigori Chukhrai
Produced by M. Chernova
Written by Valentin Yezhov
Starring Vladimir Ivashov
Music by Mikhail Ziv
Cinematography Vladimir Nikolayev
Editing by Mariya Timofeyeva
Running time 88 min.
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If the works of any man could make his biographer write in exasperation as thus: “All the while I was writing the biography I had to fight off a revulsion that kept rising within me,” we know it has to be that of Fyodor Dosteovsky. Leo Tolstoy was in full agreement with Nicholas Strakhov, who was the biographer. Such classics as The Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and Brothers Karamazov have passed into our treasury of literature as supreme examples of this Russian genius.
Tolstoy, a great author himself, ridiculed Dostoevsky’s exaggeration, his implausibility, inchoate style, his grammatical errors, and his mania for peopling his imaginary universe with epileptics, alcoholics and paranoiacs. Tolstoy never did experience such ups and downs and sordidness as he did. Dosteovsky was sick in himself, who thought of himself noble and happy and yet lacked courage to see any further than himself. To quote his biographer again,” He was vicious, envious, depraved and spent his life in a state of emotional upheaval and exasperation that would have made him appear ridiculous had he not been so malicious and so intelligent.”
Where Mozart rose above the immediate circumstances over his disappointments and misery the Russian writer sank under, into lower depths. How much more sickening one can get than his boasting about his encounters with little girls and not having any repugnance over them? Once Turgeniev, the author of Fathers and Sons bristled at his confession and asked rather angrily why he was telling him that. “ I just wanted to show how I despise you,”was his answer. He rearranged his life, however scabrous or demeaning it might have been, into works something that still have universal appeal.
Our life is real, transient reality to be precise, while such works as that of Dostoevsky or Kafka fall within the realm of supra-reality that we can accept as self-evident. Can we explain why life must overload a sensitive child with the violent death of his father however brute he may have been, and all other attendant distresses as in the case of Dostoevsky? For that matter can one reasonably explain why a bright child of three suddenly fall victim to cancer? Or a child, an apple of the eye of its parents, before their eyes fall a victim of hit and run case? Try to explain it in a way its parents can understand then perhaps we may be able to stand in judgment of his life as he lived apart from his works.