Soviet Sports

The 1980 Olympics, held in Moscow, were embraced with much national joy, but also international discontent. After doing well in the previous Olympics, the Soviets repaired and built new training facilities and stadiums to prepare their athletes and show their world their pride and skill through sports.



 Soviet athletes are filled with desire to honorably continue this victorious relay race and to score new successes at home, in Moscow. All the conditions for this exist. The steadily growing ranks of athletes are an inexhaustible source for stocking national collectives with young talent. The material and technical base of sports is improving and expanding. [1]

But in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan (visit Max’s post to learn more about this):

This event began a brutal, decade-long attempt by Moscow to subdue the Afghan civil war and maintain a friendly and socialist government on its border. It was a watershed event of the Cold War, marking the only time the Soviet Union invaded a country outside the Eastern Bloc—a strategic decision met by nearly worldwide condemnation. [2]

Many of the allied powers, including the United States, did not approve of the Soviet’s actions and President Jimmy Carter stated that if the Soviets did not pull out, the United States would boycott the summer Olympics. Many nations showed similar disapproval by also excluding themselves from the games:

Twenty-nine national Olympic committees have refused to participate-but in the vast majority of cases the refusals have not been for political reasons, as opponents of the Olympic Games are trying to make out. Of this number, only 19 have officially informed the Organizing Committee of their nonparticipation, and we know that, in view of the demands of athletes and the public at large, some of them intend to review their decisions. [3]

But the Soviets continued to prepare by cleaning up and paving new streets, building hotels, and even an airport. They produced propaganda to counterbalance the negative attention in the West. In turn, over 5 million people came to the Moscow Olympics, greeted by Misha, the inflatable bear mascot for the games that was released into the sky at the closing ceremony. 

Interestingly, the next Olympics were held in the United States which provided a good opportunity for the Soviets to get payback .  The Current Digest had many articles about Russia’s stance on the 1984 Olympics held in L.A.. America was criticized for having highly polluted cities, how bad the transportation was, and the inadequacy of the training facilities, probably all out of spite.



[1] “EVXpress – Editorial) -TWOARD THE OLYMPICS – The Current Digest of the Russian Press, 1977 , No. 31, Vol. 29.” EVXpress – Log In to Browse Databases. Accessed April 23, 2017.

[2] “Milestones: 1977â1980.” Office of the Historian. Accessed April 23, 2017.

[3] “EVXpress – Editorial) -TWOARD THE OLYMPICS – The Current Digest of the Russian Press, 1977 , No. 31, Vol. 29.” EVXpress – Log In to Browse Databases. Accessed April 23, 2017.

Persecution in Russia

Jewish persecution is most typically associated with the Holocaust, but Soviets were brutally victimized as well. The Nazi party wished to push eastward in order to fulfill their dream of Lebensraum, or living space, and forced millions into labor and POW camps in the process. “German treatment of Soviet POWs differed dramatically from German policy towards POWs from Britain and the United States, countries the Nazis regarded as racial equals to the Germans.” [1] Germans invaded Russia, Belarus, Ukrainians, and Baltic states in their pursuit to wipe out communism and Judaism.


At left, a column of Soviet prisoners of war, under German guard, marches away from the front. Place uncertain, July 1, 1941.

— Archiwum Dokumentocji Mechanizney

“German military and police authorities intended to wage a war of annihilation against the Communist state as well as against the Jews of the Soviet Union, whom they characterized as forming the “racial basis” for the Soviet state.” [2] To the Nazis, the Slavic population was subhuman and their treatment towards them reflected this belief. Conditions in soviet camps were so terrible that in 1941, 5,000 prisoners died each day [3] due to disease and hunger.


Soviet prisoners of war pause for rations during forced labor at the narrow-gauge railroad station. Mlawa, Poland, about 1943.

— Instytut Pamieci Narodowej


The war against Jews in the East, also called the Holocaust by Bullets, killed groups in their own villages through mass shootings “between 1941 and 1944, Nazi SS and German police forces, German military units, and locally recruited collaborators killed more than 2 million Jews residing in the Soviet Union (borders of 1941) in mass shooting operations.” [4] These executions were carried out in public settings, even in front of other villagers, and afterwards, the Nazis would simply move on to the next village. Even after Soviet victories in 1943, Jews were still trapped in German-controlled ghettos. Soviets reached Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka in mid-1944 and also liberated camps in the Baltics and Poland in the beginning of 1945. [5]


[1] “Nazi Persecution of Soviet Prisoners of War.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed March 16, 2017.

[2] “The German Army and the Racial Nature of the War Against the Soviet Union.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed March 19, 2017.

[3] “The Treatment of Soviet POWs: Starvation, Disease, and Shootings, June 1941–January 1942.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed March 19, 2017.

[4] “Online Exhibition — United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed March 19, 2017.

[5] “Liberation of Nazi Camps.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed March 18, 2017.

Cult of Personality: Stalin versus Hitler

In Chapter 11 of Russia a History, Freeze compares Stalin and the Nazi’s rise to power. This was a compelling observation to me so I looked into “The Cult of Personality” in Seventeen Moments which describes this as “a situation in which a public figure (such as a political leader) is deliberately presented to the people of a country as a great person who should be admired and loved.” [1]

Stalin 1

Beloved Stalin-People’s Happiness! portrays Stalin as a respectable, well-liked leader. When Russians put their trust in Stalin, they remain happy and united. “The idealized figure of Stalin represented in mass culture also spoke to a perceived need for vigorous leadership in Soviet society. Thus Stalin often appeared in a magnetic aura of charisma that went far beyond his political role, leaving many of the Soviet citizens lucky enough to meet him mesmerized.” [2]

hitler 1

Hitler was similarly able to gather the masses and was also well known as a powerful, charismatic head of state. “Fascism typically evolves in countries that have experienced overwhelming crisis and victimization with the desire for communal purification and a strong, charismatic leader who manifests the group’s destiny.” [3] Like Stalin, Nazi propaganda focused on centralized leadership and national unity.

Stalin also manipulated his public image by having books rewritten to depict him more favorably and had cities named after him. Like in Nazi Germany, the Communist party attempted to portray their leader as God-like and capable of saving the nation. Both groups exploited ‘enemies of the state’ by use of propaganda mediums such as film, radio, newspaper, posters, and art. While Nazi Germany used the failure of the Weimar Republic to gather support, Stalin glorified the Communist Revolution to bring together socialist patronage.

Interestingly, both groups also focused propaganda on children. The Hitler Youth program and Stalin concentrated on the belief that their parties and future stability depended on the education of each nation’s children.

stalin 2

What other connections do you make between Stalinism and Nazism? Why would this later be ironic? What similarities do you see in their propaganda techniques? What are other similarities in these regimes? Is it a coincidence both men rose to power in the 1930s?

hitler 2



[1] “Cult Of Personality | Definition of Cult Of Personality by Merriam-Webster.” Dictionary and Thesaurus | Merriam-Webster. Accessed March 12, 2017.

[2] “Cult of Personality.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. Accessed March 12, 2017.

[3] Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York: Vintage Books), 219.

All posters are from Google Images


Stalinism and Religion

One of the most fascinating components of the ‘building of Stalinism’ is action taken against religion, especially the Russian Orthodox Church. Although the First-Five-Year Plan particularity focused on collective agriculture and industrialization, the attack on religion was physically and mentally schematized. Churches were not only destroyed by the thousands, but propaganda also declared religion poisonous.

Particularly ferocious was the attack on church property, which saw ancient churches converted into warehouses, and sacred objects melted down for their metals. Church bells were the object of special attention, since the state claimed the metal for the great industrialization project. (Seventeen Moments, Closed Church Subject Essay)

The state also went as far as to alter people’s daily schedules so much that they would not even have time to attend church. “Introduced in 1929, the nepreryvka was meant to increase productivity by keeping machines in operation throughout the year, and to wean workers away from Sundays and religious holidays as days of rest” (Seventeen Moments, Closed Church Subject Essay). To me this is shocking because of the historical importance of church in Russia. The baptism of Vladimir the Great in 988 introduced Christianity to Russia and was a uniting force that provided a sense of unity, so in the course of just a few decades, Stalin went after a defining characteristic of Russian society that had been in place for almost 1,000 years. Similarly, to the view of the peasantry, the church was a barrier to building communism (Freeze, 347).

Another characteristic that stood out to me was the second decree of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR, Religious Organizations in April of 1929 that stated “Religious associations of believers of all rites shall be registered as religious societies or as groups of believers” (Seventeen Moments, Closed Church texts, Law on Organizing Religion. This reminded me of similar Anti-Semitism policy the Nazis took against the Jews in the Aryanization project, and it surprises me how unknown this is, considering how closely they occurred to each other. The following picture also comes from Seventeen Moments, captured in 1928, and is titled “The Godless Ones.” This was taken at an anti-religious demonstration in Moscow. Notice the swastika . . . What else stands out in this photo?



Hangry Russians: The Importance of Food Instability

Effect of War

  • Limited military training = disorganized, undisciplined army
  • Mobilization of industry = hindrance on production
  • “inflation and food shortages = dissatisfaction” (Freeze, 273)
  • Unstable government = anxious lower/middle classes


“Increasingly, the state lost the capacity of requisition of food, fuel, and manpower, reflecting the decline in its moral authority” (Freeze, 272).

The cost of war quickly lessened Nicholas II’s grip on power. Lack of resources angered soldiers and peoples and led to protests in Petrograd (February Revolution). The demonstrators, who over powered the police, took over arsenals (274), and ignited fires in the city. The city’s government and police faded away, and Nicholas relinquished he and his son’s power. When his brother did not try to take control of the throne, there was an immediate grapple for power between the Duma and the Soviets.

Image result for february revolution russia

In March, instead of following its liberal promises, the new Provisional Government took a socialist approach to address food shortage issues. They monopolized grain prices which “effectively declared all grain to be property of the state” (Freeze, 279). Among other issues with the ‘Kornilov Affair’ (which Katelin talks about in her blog), the government failed to ameliorate agricultural dilemmas. By October the Bolsheviks used the governments weakness and insatiably to its advantage.

Food Supplies Under the Provisional Government draws a picture of how serious food shortages were

Here is a telegram from Cherepovets: “Shipments of bread are being plundered by peasants of Novgorod and Olonetsk guberniias … Soldiers escorting the transports cannot stop the peasants. Please take immediate measures to save the bread.” Here is a telegram from Rybinsk: “This is the second time that our barge has been stopped … by armed peasants who plundered some 120,000 poods of flour. The soldiers who were sent after them refused to bring it back … Under such conditions there can be no certainty that we shall emerge successfully from the crisis in which we find ourselves …

Overall, food shortages and agrarian issues were a major component and conflict among Russians which influenced their distrust of the government and its ability to look after the people. Social issues like this were especially persuasive forces behind protests and riots during 1917.



“Food Supplies Under the Provisional Government.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. Accessed February 5, 2017.


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Yeah, (divine) Right!

Religion was used as a uniting factor between the Tsar and the Russian principalities in the formation of the Russian state and for centuries following. “The East Roman conception of the derivation of power from God, and its relationship with ecclesiastical authority” (Madariaga, 12) became essential to Russian leadership. It represented a religious relationship with politics and the ability to rule indisputably. The concept of divine right was a defining characteristic of leadership which recognized that the Tsar’s power came from God. The Tsar also took on the responsibility of religious welfare and salvation of his people which he could use to justify his actions and declare his legitimacy. Although religion had been a strong symbol for Russian unity, continuation, legitimization, and political reconciliation, it seems that by the 20th century, this was not enough to constitute the government’s mistreatment of Russian peoples. The reason I believe this is because of the October Manifesto.

Image result for russian orthodox icons

After Bloody Sunday in January and the unrest of September, Nicolas II finally resolved to a more politically peaceful answer, rather than the typical shootings or blatant neglect, but to me he was grasping at straws. He may have used the phrase “We, Nicholas II, By the Grace of God” to remind the people of his right to rule, but to my ear, it sounded more like a plea for compromise. The document also seems to be pretending to care about the people’s needs “The well-being of the Russian Sovereign is inseparable from the well-being of the nation, and the nation’s sorrow is his sorrow. The disturbances that have taken place may cause grave tension in the nation and may threaten the integrity and unity of Our state.”

Image result for russian orthodox and the tsar

Although the Manifesto was a step towards political flexibility and social compromise, it “failed to put an immediate end to the revolution” (Freeze, 255). The attitude of the nation may have simmered down, but rebellions would soon return, and the Tsar’s ‘absolute’ power had defiantly taken a hit. In my opinion, the language of the Manifesto hints at anxiety from the state, but what do you think? Did the Tsar feel threatened? How seriously do you think the government took rebellions from its own people? Historically, the Tsar was unquestionable. Do you think this belief had changed by 1905 or was religious symbolism still reason enough to obey indubitably?


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Madariaga, Isabel de. Ivan the Terrible: First Tsar of Russia. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2006.
“Manifesto of October 17th, 1905 – Documents in Russian History.” Seton Hall University Academic Server. Accessed January 28, 2017.,_1905.

Chains and Change

The selected photograph displays the actual bindings used on Mikhail Nikitich Romanov, the uncle of Tsar Mikhail Romanov. Mikhail was elected into power in 1613 and was the first of the Romanov line. He became a symbol of unity and political strength after a period in Russia known as the “Time of Troubles” in which the country experienced political instability, famine, and foreign invasion. I was drawn to this picture because like in the early 1600’s, late 19th century Russia was facing internal disorder that would lead to a major shift in power. Similarly, the Great Reforms of Russia illuminated the weakness of the government, lack of industrialization, and frailty of their economy that transformed the balance of power, this time to the people. The podium dedicated to Mikhail Nikitich Romanov represents a time of Russian instability, but other meanings may appear as we see how Russia converts from the Romanov dynasty to the Soviet Union. shackles

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