Add news
March 2010
April 2010
May 2010June 2010July 2010
August 2010
September 2010October 2010
November 2010
December 2010
January 2011
February 2011March 2011April 2011May 2011June 2011July 2011August 2011September 2011October 2011November 2011December 2011January 2012February 2012March 2012April 2012May 2012June 2012July 2012August 2012September 2012October 2012November 2012December 2012January 2013February 2013March 2013April 2013May 2013June 2013July 2013August 2013September 2013October 2013November 2013December 2013January 2014February 2014March 2014April 2014May 2014June 2014July 2014August 2014September 2014October 2014November 2014December 2014January 2015February 2015March 2015April 2015May 2015June 2015July 2015August 2015September 2015October 2015November 2015December 2015January 2016February 2016March 2016April 2016May 2016June 2016July 2016August 2016September 2016October 2016November 2016December 2016January 2017February 2017March 2017April 2017May 2017June 2017July 2017August 2017September 2017October 2017November 2017December 2017January 2018February 2018March 2018April 2018May 2018June 2018July 2018August 2018September 2018October 2018November 2018December 2018January 2019February 2019March 2019April 2019May 2019June 2019July 2019August 2019September 2019October 2019November 2019December 2019January 2020February 2020March 2020April 2020May 2020June 2020July 2020August 2020September 2020October 2020November 2020December 2020January 2021February 2021March 2021April 2021May 2021
12345678910111213141516
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
News Every Day |

The Unruly Masses: Andrei Konchalovsky’s Cautionary Tale

THE NOVOCHERKASSK MASSACRE began to vanish as soon as it happened. On June 2, 1962, workers holding Lenin portraits marched to the Communist Party headquarters to protest price hikes on meat and dairy products, which had combined with wage cuts to feed growing anger in the factory town near southwest Russia’s Don River. By the end of the day, 26 people had been shot dead and 87 others wounded. Fire trucks hosed down the town’s central square to remove the bloodstains from the pavement, which was then coated with fresh asphalt. Soviet media stayed silent about the day’s events, gunshot wounds were kept out of medical records, and witnesses signed non-disclosure agreements. The dead were buried in unmarked graves scattered across the surrounding region. Seven people were subsequently executed for their involvement in the demonstration, and over 100 more were sent to prison.

The story largely remained a secret until the late 1980s, when the relaxation of censorship during Gorbachev’s glasnost led to the mass exhumation of skeletons from the country’s past. But in the following decades, it has remained little known or discussed. Andrei Konchalovsky’s 2020 film Dear Comrades, which was shortlisted for best foreign film at this year’s Academy Awards, is the first cinematic depiction of the tragedy. The movie has garnered rave reviews from critics, including The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane, who praised it as a “beautiful and damning […] act of remembrance.” Dear Comrades is in fact a rather more curious creation: an anti-protest protest film, which resurrects the repressed past with the aim of calling for law and order.

Konchalovsky, 83, is the son of Sergei Mikhalkov, a famous author of children’s books who wrote the lyrics to the Soviet (now Russian) anthem, and the older brother of Nikita Mikhalkov, an actor, director, and conservative nationalist whose 75th birthday Vladimir Putin honored with a champagne toast on state television. While his brother has sunk into cartoonish conspiracy theories and xenophobic calls to love the motherland, Konchalovsky maintains a more restrained public image and positive reputation abroad. His wife Iulia Vysotskaya, the star of Dear Comrades as well as two of the director’s other recent films (including a Michelangelo biopic co-produced in Italy), is also the host of a popular TV cooking show. Her signature dishes include risotto made with buckwheat — a Euro-Slavic fusion suggestive of how the couple has successfully combined its status in the Russian establishment with globe-trotting cosmopolitanism.

In an early scene in Dear Comrades, Vysotskaya is shown acquiring buckwheat — along with fresh sardines, chocolate-glazed sweet cheese, Hungarian liqueur, and other delicacies — in the back room of a shop, as part of a special allotment supplied to Communist Party officials. Her character, Liudmila, a member of the local party committee, has just slipped out of the bed of her married lover to secure food before long lines form due to the impending price hikes. When the woman serving her expresses fear of famine, Liudmila scolds her with a reminder that hunger is impossible in the Soviet Union. It’s easier to love Big Brother on a full stomach, and so she does, attending a committee meeting that declares workers fully support the price increases. Whether this is really true appears irrelevant — until rocks start flying through the window.

Raising prices on basic necessities had already produced moments of critical instability in the socialist bloc, including strikes in East Germany in 1953 that were put down by Soviet tanks. Initially, protestors in Novocherkassk seemed to be gaining the upper hand: they succeeded in blocking the train tracks and storming the police station. One participant later recalled that they were emulating what they had seen in Soviet films about worker uprisings. These included, most famously, Sergei Eisenstein’s Strike (1925), in which tsarist henchmen on horseback throw a baby to its death. One of the finest sequences in Konchalovsky’s film is his rendering of the massacre, which stands in restrained contrast to Eisenstein’s relentless close-ups of brutal whips and crying innocents. When the guns start firing, Liudmila is sitting on a shady bench. She bolts across the town square and helps drag a wounded woman into a hair salon. The interior is eerily tranquil as the radio plays, muffling the sound of shots and screams outside.

The film is less concerned with the fate of those in the square than the inner conflicts of those who fled it. Dear Comrades joins a cultural tradition of examining state violence from the perspective of the true believer. While the strike is still in full swing, Liudmila declares that the instigators should be shot. When she realizes that her teenage daughter hasn’t come home, however, she fears that she may have been killed, and frantically tries to find her. Her story is similar to Sofia Petrovna, Lidia Chukovskaya’s novel of the late ’30s about the Stalinist purges. Like Liudmila, the protagonist is a party loyalist who expresses approval when supposed traitors are arrested, then strives to maintain her faith when her only child disappears. Admitting that the system is rotten would mean the collapse of everything these women know to be true. “If not communism, then what can we believe in?” Liudmila asks in desperation, saying that the people would have to “blow it all up […] and start over again.”

Tales of communist conviction tested by terror have typically been crafted by the thoroughly disillusioned. Chukovskaya, whose husband was executed in 1938, joined members of the literary intelligentsia, including her friend Anna Akhmatova, in voicing moral opposition to Soviet rule. Arthur Koestler left Germany’s Communist Party before writing Darkness at Noon (1940), his novel inspired by the arrest and tortured confessions of the Old Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin. Konchalovsky lived through the shock of the post-Soviet years, and he extracts different lessons from the past. For Russia, the moment of blowing it up and starting over came in the ’90s — an era that many associate with precariousness, poverty, and international humiliation, and in contrast to which Vladimir Putin has staked his legitimacy. Konchalovsky said in an interview with BBC Russia that, though he had welcomed the end of Soviet power, he then saw how “things didn’t work out as expected […] [and] Putin had to unite the state so that it didn’t collapse completely.”

The Novocherkassk shooting took place during Sergei Khrushchev’s Thaw, when the party condemned mass terror and many young people expressed fresh enthusiasm for building a communist society. Konchalovsky has described the idealistic student daughter of the main character as a version of his former self, who suffered from the “illusions and hopes” of youth. The now older and wiser director adopts the perspective of Liudmila, who longs for the collective struggle and clear binaries of Stalin’s day. She declares that prices never rose under the dictator and that, if he were alive, communism would have been achieved long ago. Her fealty is justified by her heroic sacrifice as a veteran: on her apartment wall, a portrait of Stalin hangs near a photograph of herself (and her dead husband) in army uniform. “On the front it was clear who was one of ours, and who was the enemy,” she recalls.

In a bitter moment, Liudmila and a KGB officer who tries to help her sing the march from the 1947 movie Spring: “Comrade, comrade! At work and at war, selflessly defend your fatherland!” The song’s lyrics, like those of the Soviet anthem (which originally included praise of Stalin), were written by Konchalovsky’s father. The motif of the people united under Stalin merges with the memory of the Don Cossacks, whose resistance to the Bolsheviks is praised by Liudmila’s father. In the conservative Russian nationalist imagination, the Cossacks symbolize the defiant spirit of the long-suffering people (narod). When the strikes start, the old man retrieves his icons from storage and dons his pre-revolutionary military uniform. Though Liudmila chides him, they are essentially on the same side: Orthodox symbols and pre-revolutionary military regalia were mobilized by Stalin’s regime during the fight against the Nazis.

With such details, the film establishes its own binary of “ours” — Stalin, the army, and the Russian people, fighters for national salvation and heirs to a glorious past — versus “the enemy,” composed of Khrushchev, the security services, and assorted bureaucrats, associated with disorienting ambiguity and petty self-interest. In doing so, it takes pains to protect the army’s reputation: although it was an army general who gave the order to shoot (according to historian Tatiana Bocharova, who wrote a book about the massacre), Dear Comrades absolves the military of responsibility.

The film premiered in Russia in fall 2020 amid mass protests in Belarus against President Alexander Lukashenko, the former state farm manager who has ruled the country since 1994. Lukashenko has countered dissent by arresting and torturing protestors, unknown numbers of whom have died in police custody. Several Russian critics noted in passing the resemblance between the subject of Dear Comrades and current events in Belarus. Yet Konchalovsky’s remarks following the film’s release have made clear that he is on the side of centralized authority. “Any destruction leads immediately to chaos, and this is evident with the Soviet Union — how it was destroyed and what came of it,” he said in the BBC interview. “Now we see this chaos in Ukraine” following the Orange Revolution.

In this light, Dear Comrades appears as a cautionary tale about the dangers posed by unruly masses, compatible with the Russian state’s condemnation of uprisings in its former satellites. But it can also be read as a warning of what happens when an out-of-touch elite forgets to feed the people. In the Eastern bloc, events like Novocherkassk drove the socialist leadership’s efforts to forestall popular unrest by improving living conditions and consumption, with outward shows of support expected in exchange for a decent quality of life. A similar paternalist pact drove Putin’s claim to rule in the early 2000s — and while oil prices were booming and the middle class expanded, it worked.

In recent years, declining real wages have been coupled with austerity measures, including the raising of the pension age, while elites keep the bulk of the country’s wealth offshore. Protests spread across the country this winter in support of the jailed anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, whose YouTube exposé of “Putin’s Palace” catalyzed popular discontent over economic hardship, political stagnation, and oligarchic excess. The demonstrations have found particular support among young Russians who were not shaped by the disappointments of previous eras and are willing to organize online and in the streets. They won’t find much inspiration in Konchalovsky’s film, which warns that their protests come at too high a price.

¤

Joy Neumeyer is a historian of Russia and Eastern Europe and current Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, where she is completing a book about death in late Soviet culture.

The post The Unruly Masses: Andrei Konchalovsky’s Cautionary Tale appeared first on Los Angeles Review of Books.





Read also

On horseback and in helicopter, Bolsonaro rallies base

NYC Pride Bans Police Officers From Participating in Pride Parades Until At Least 2025

BREAKING: Ndidi, Iheanacho make records as Leicester win FA Cup





News, articles, comments, with a minute-by-minute update, now on Today24.pro



Today24.pro — latest news 24/7. You can add your news instantly now — here
News Every Day

Get Programming help from GotoAssignmentHelp’s Top Rated Assignment experts