soviet union

Over the course of six weeks during the height of the Cold War, almost three million Soviets visited an exhibition that celebrated America. American kitchens, American art, American cars, and most especially American capitalism. The American National Exhibition in Moscow was a full-court press to convince the Soviet people of American superiority.

Who would have thought that it is the hard power driven Vladimir Putin who would demonstrate to the world the use of the whole spectrum of power tools in the 21st century. He learned from his past mistakes, picked up our debate on soft/smart power, and, by the time he decided to invade Ukraine, he knew exactly how to wield the whole set of his tools.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin once described writers as “the engineers of the human soul.”  “The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks,” he claimed. Stalin clearly believed that literature was a powerful political tool—and he was willing to execute writers whose works were deemed traitorous to the Soviet Union.

As the Minsk History Museum in Belarus holds an exhibition celebrating the USSR, we look back at some of the best Soviet poster art.

In a country with little or no place to gather for the free expression of ideas and no place to talk politics without fear of repression, these new kitchens made it possible for friends to gather privately in one place.  These "dissident kitchens" took the place of uncensored lecture halls, unofficial art exhibitions, clubs, bars and dating services.

Halfway through an otherwise coherent conversation with a Georgian lawyer last week—the topics included judges, the court system, the police—I was startled by a comment he made about his country’s former government, led by ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili. “They were LGBT,” he said, conspiratorially.   

The U.N. General Assembly voted 100 to 11 with 58 abstentions to call the mid-March referendum in Crimea illegal, to support Ukraine sovereignty and independence, and to reject Russia's use of force to alter its borders. 

Forget comparisons with 1914, or to Munich in 1938. Forget the war that tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s and remember, instead, Schleswig-Holstein. A century and a half ago, it was the Crimea of its day,  a piece of disputed territory that caused international turmoil and confusion.