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Lions, Tigers and Stalin...Oh My!

wizard-of-oz-original1

Sometimes I feel like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Do you know the film? A sweet girl gets swept up from her Kansas farm in a cyclone and dumped in the mysterious and magical world of Oz. There she meets Glinda the good witch. She tells Dorothy to "follow the yellow brick road" to the powerful wizard of Oz who will help her get back home. So Dorothy begins the long trek down the road, meeting some damaged friends along the way. A scarecrow with no brains, a tin man with no heart and a lion with no courage. They lock arms and start the journey to Emerald City, with the hope the wizard can answer their questions, fulfill their desires and make them whole again. Along the way, they encounter flying monkeys, evil witches, scary trees and a host of other disasters. At one point, Dorothy becomes so fearful of what's ahead of them that she shouts "lions, tigers and bears, oh my!"

I equate LiveJournal to the yellow brick road. Last March after my first Russian post I got caught up in an international cyclone and dumped here. Like Dorothy, I immediately encountered people with no brains and no heart; however, I can't say many users lack courage. Conversely, some use this platform to roar quite loudly. Cloaked in the anonymity of the Internet, the most feeble and ignorant humans suddenly become courageous, vocal and omniscient. Some readers took the form of Glinda, taking me by the hand and virtually guiding me down the colorful path known as the Russian blogosphere. Why am I still here? I don't know honestly. Perhaps I'm also in search of some magical wizard, someone who can put everything in focus for me, make me understand all the complexities and intricacies of Russian history, culture and mentality.


Recently in my Top Post I posed an innocent question to a reader. Who was the best leader of your nation? His answer was "Stalin or Putin." The response shocked me and generated an interesting mini-discussion in the comments. Why Stalin and Putin? In his words:

"Stalin took an uneducated peasant country and left an industrialized country with heavy industry, nuclear bombs, strong science and ready for the space program. And in between we won a war with the strongest army in Europe. Sometimes he was unreasonably cruel and even paranoid but in most cases he was fairly reasonable...."

"Putin also has done a lot. First he quickly finished the war with Chechen rebels which Yeltsin could not win. Next, he jailed Khodorkovsky and after that other oligarchs started to pay much more taxes to the budget. Next, he consolidated power taking it from local governers who behaved like barons at that time. Next he invested more money to science and military technology. Russia has started to restore its military and space power. Its not declining anymore. Everything is being actively renovated and new wonderful things are being developed. And all that was done not at the expense of ordinary people (unlike Stalin)...Russia is not a poor country anymore."

Of course, others took offense at these statements, calling Stalin an executioner, a disgrace to Russia, etc. Putin was pegged a criminal, thief and egomaniac. The variance in opinion fascinating! The patriots and Russophobes all gathered in an American girl's blog to discuss weighty topics and history. I'm honored! So now I'll open the topic to everyone. Who was the most magical wizard in your history and why? My initial question was limited to leaders during Soviet and modern times, but let's open it up to all eras. Which leader contributed most to the stability of the nation, to the well being of citizens and overall good of the nation? Answers, perceptions and historical interpretations of readers are always very educational for me. Discuss if you wish...

P.S.: Today Forbes released its list of the world's most powerful people. Putin tops the list at number one, Obama number two. Proud day for Russia? :)

Comments

( 153 comments — Leave a comment )
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siberian_cat
Oct. 31st, 2013 02:54 am (UTC)
The Oz stories were well-known in the Soviet Union via the The Wizard of the Emerald City cycle by Volkov. Of course, the original stories have also been translated and published.

Retelling famous books was quite acceptable these days; another example is Buratino by Alexei Tolstoy, loosely based on Pinocchio.
peacetraveler22
Oct. 31st, 2013 02:59 am (UTC)
Thanks, I know about Volkov's translation but it's my understanding he changed the story in the Russian version. Main character has a different name. I think I also read that they encounter a cannibal on their way to the wizard. :)
(no subject) - janelight - Oct. 31st, 2013 09:09 am (UTC) - Expand
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siberian_cat
Oct. 31st, 2013 03:38 am (UTC)
What about the Russian rulers -- I am reluctant to single out "the greatest one". Most of them contributed to progress of Russia, no one of them was a particularly nice person. :) I would mention Alexander II who liberated the serfs and initiated a number of democratic reforms.

Of the modern rulers, I am somewhat sympathetic to Gorbachov. At least he pulled us out of the Afghan mess, stopped the nuclear madness, quitted gracefully, and never served or endorsed Yeltsin, whom I despise wholeheartedly.
peacetraveler22
Oct. 31st, 2013 02:17 pm (UTC)
Gorbachev/Reagan. They're a dynamic political duo from my generation. I remember their relationship very well. Also Clinton/Yeltsin, sitting in bars doing vodka shots and going to jazz clubs. Sad that relations between Obama and Putin are so cold and strained. A huge step backwards in international relations and cooperation.
sergechel
Oct. 31st, 2013 03:51 am (UTC)
Being called most powerful is not the same as being the best leader.
peacetraveler22
Oct. 31st, 2013 02:12 pm (UTC)
On this point I agree! Obama's approval rating is at an all time low. Unless something drastically changes, he will end his presidency on a very sour note.
fesma94
Oct. 31st, 2013 04:04 am (UTC)
fesma94
Oct. 31st, 2013 04:06 am (UTC)
А! You mean leaders of Russia? ) So.....Alexander II , IMHO )
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 31st, 2013 02:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
mybathroom
Oct. 31st, 2013 04:44 am (UTC)
It's a funny thing. My first books in English were about Dorothy. These books (I have read eight or nine of them) led me to English language :)
peacetraveler22
Oct. 31st, 2013 02:19 pm (UTC)
I loved this story and film as a child. I used to pretend to be Dorothy, wearing my hair in braids and living in some fantasy world. My dad used to have a basket on his bicycle and we would go for bike rides when I was a young child. I remember putting a black dog in the basket and calling him Toto. :)
asharky
Oct. 31st, 2013 04:46 am (UTC)
Russian never lived so well as now. This is a fact.
mujlan01
Oct. 31st, 2013 05:36 am (UTC)
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Re: А как вам такой лозунг: - asharky - Oct. 31st, 2013 07:58 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: А как вам такой лозунг: - asharky - Oct. 31st, 2013 10:31 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: А как вам такой лозунг: - asharky - Oct. 31st, 2013 10:43 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: А как вам такой лозунг: - asharky - Oct. 31st, 2013 05:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: А как вам такой лозунг: - asharky - Oct. 31st, 2013 10:30 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: А как вам такой лозунг: - asharky - Oct. 31st, 2013 10:47 am (UTC) - Expand
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barabaan
Oct. 31st, 2013 05:06 am (UTC)
We are like Irish people, we are always ready to fight, just give us some reason ;-)
peacetraveler22
Oct. 31st, 2013 02:29 pm (UTC)
Yes, aggressive nation in many ways.
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andrey_kaminsky
Oct. 31st, 2013 06:31 am (UTC)
Каждый считает себя очень умным и я не исключение
The state has a great opportunity to influence the children whose minds are not fully grown. Children attend school and, in the school, the state puts so much shit into their skulls, that man can't get rid of it all his life.
Russian children read in textbooks that the conquest of Siberia was the greatest boon to the people of Siberia, not slavery. American children are accustomed to think that the terrible genocide of Indians was not genocide but something else. So the state convinces people that state is not unavoidable evil, like the autumn mud, but it is a beautiful temple.
The slavery is the essence of Russia. State enslave other peoples by hands of russians and enslave russians by washing their brains. Russia had no leaders worthy of admiration, because a decent person would have to stop all this crap.
But this is my land. Some might say that the people here are weird and rude. But Christ was preaching among such people, not in the houses of the nobility :)
The most incompetent leader was Nicholas II, he blew the power, wealth and life, and his wife was fucking with illiterate rascal Rasputin :)
peacetraveler22
Oct. 31st, 2013 02:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Каждый считает себя очень умным и я не исключение
You are a very interesting Russian. You calmly note that slavery is the essence of Russia, even now. You believe there are no leaders worthy of admiration, that the majority of your society is brainwashed, etc. Yet you are still a patriot. I find this fascinating. I would not be a patriot of America if I felt I was enslaved here.
the_most_human
Oct. 31st, 2013 06:37 am (UTC)
Sick nation.
Failed state.
peacetraveler22
Oct. 31st, 2013 02:33 pm (UTC)
"Sick nation," in many ways I agree. But there are good people everywhere, some places you just have to search harder to find them.
vitsky
Oct. 31st, 2013 06:49 am (UTC)
I think, Sviatoslav was the best. ;)
See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sviatoslav_I_of_Kiev

ps. And who of american presidents do you like most?

Edited at 2013-10-31 11:44 am (UTC)
vitsky
Oct. 31st, 2013 12:04 pm (UTC)
pps. By the way, russian tsar Ivan IV Grozny in most english text is translated as Ivan the Terrible. Although more correct translation will be Ivan the Stormy. Feel the difference. I think it's an example of "dark PR" against russian history.

Ivan IV was not so bad guy, I think. At least, not worse than many other european monarchs of that time. I saw a table of comparence, how many people were killed by them, and Ivan IV looks like a real humanist, in comparence with others.
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 31st, 2013 02:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
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janelight
Oct. 31st, 2013 09:07 am (UTC)
I do not think this is what we should be proud of...
dysto
Oct. 31st, 2013 09:20 am (UTC)
You are a lawer, aren't you? It is very important to provide exact and explicit definitions.
Modern Russian Federation is not Soviet Union. Soviet Union was not Russian Empire. People with Soviet Union identity and the russian nationalists hate each other.
Stalin was not russian. He spoke russian a bit better than Condoleezza Rice. He was atheist and ordered to demolish main cathedral of Russian Ortodox Church in Moscow. A few years ago russian troops fighted against georgians in the Stalin's native town.
The New World and especially the US looks very rational, at least on Google maps: smooth borders of the states, right angle street crossings :) Maybe you believe ethnic and religion has no concern to citizenship.
My grandmother spent all her life in a single town but she used to be a citizen of five countries.
The Old World is a maze ;)
qi_tronic
Oct. 31st, 2013 09:35 am (UTC)
"smooth borders of the states, right angle street crossings" ... square minds? :))
Too rational, yeah...

(no subject) - dysto - Oct. 31st, 2013 10:10 am (UTC) - Expand
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(Deleted comment)
peacetraveler22
Oct. 31st, 2013 02:47 pm (UTC)
His bare-chested photos, manly activities, and strange adventures put his face on U.S. websites quite often. So, I guess you could say he's made Americans more aware of Russia and its nature. Riding horses along the water, shooting in the wilderness, etc. :)
(Deleted comment)
qi_tronic
Oct. 31st, 2013 09:55 am (UTC)
Too much for Obama :))

If we expand the search to the whole Russian history then probably Peter the Great.
He returned Russia to the foreground of the World politics, completely changing the country's face.
If not him Russia would probably be as today's Iran - only starting it's way out of the 3rd world.

peacetraveler22
Oct. 31st, 2013 02:44 pm (UTC)
The Iranian leader is in DC this week, causing all kinds of chaos with traffics and protests!
(no subject) - qi_tronic - Oct. 31st, 2013 03:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
pasha1980
Oct. 31st, 2013 10:46 am (UTC)
:) Something must be wrong with that list of the world's most powerful people. What criteria did they apply to select "powerful people"? What's their definition of power? Putin and Obama are complete antipodes: Putin is a control-freak with an exorbitant ego whose rule is based on coercion, whereas Obama has a big heart and his rule is based on consent. Obama represents the wealthiest and most advanced country on the face of the Earth, whereas Putin represents a poor miserable country whose GDP is smaller than the GDP of the state of California. The only way in which Putin may be more powerful than Obama is in terms of personal wealth - his moral corruption, unrestrained political power and position of unaccountability are very conducive to the accumulation of personal wealth. Aha, there's the answer - unrestrained political power.

One of the many problems with contemporary Russia is that unlike Germany it has never acknowledged its guilt for the crimes of communism. Both nazi Germany and communist Russia committed heinous crimes against humanity, but Germany apologized for its mistakes and went on, whereas Russia has got stuck in its repulsive criminal past and Putin has been making attempts at legitimizing that past because if the recognition of the monstrosity of Stalin's era hits the fan, it may deliver a deadly blow to the very national identity of the Russians. The identity of any nation requires a grand narrative, and for the Russians that grand narrative is their victory in WW2. Stalin is a very big part of that narrative. Soviet historians put a lot of efforts into refining that narrative, so when school history books were being written, all the criminal episodes were omitted, and all the glorious episodes were brought to the fore. As a result, the overwhelming majority of Russians have only vague ideas of Stalin's purges, gulags, the military occupation of Eastern and Central Europe in the wake of WW2 and until the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the desperate rebellions against the Soviet military occupation in the Prague spring of 1968, in Budapest in 1956, the self-immolation of students in Prague, etc. - all of these "undesirable" occurences have been omitted from school history books.

If you are interested in learning more about the Stalin era, I respectfully recommend that you read The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn. It's very difficult to read it because what he describes in that book - undoubtedly the darkest sides of human nature - can shatter the reader's faith in humanity, but this is the real history of Russia. If you choose to read it, then "Buckle your seatbelt, Dorothy, because Kansas is going bye-bye..."

Edited at 2013-10-31 01:47 pm (UTC)
peacetraveler22
Oct. 31st, 2013 02:55 pm (UTC)
Oh, such doom and gloom! You've painted a very rosy picture of Obama, but in fact his administration is in a bit of shambles right now. I agree he has a big heart and most people easily relate to him as a "cool dude" and family man, but he expands the scope of government control with his policies. Corporations, such as big banks, hate him for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and tighter regulations, many hate his universal healthcare plan, etc. He's deemed a socialist in many political circles. But I voted for him because the Republicans have no good candidates and I'm socially liberal. I can't stand the antiquated social policies of right wing Republicans and this is why they constantly lose elections. Americans are more open-minded now and overly conservative thinking on social issues (e.g. gays, women's roles in workplace and society, etc.) will never win an election. Such ideas may still be attractive in Bible belt States, but it's not the moral majority of America.

"Buckle your seatbelt, Dorothy, because Kansas is going bye-bye.." :) This is how I feel every time I visit Russia! Thanks for the book selection. I will ask for a Stalin era book for Christmas.
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