JACS Keynote Address: Tariq Ali, “The Broken Ladder: The Global Left Fifty Years After 1968”

Throughout the fall semester, REEEC held a series of events to commemorate and understand the Russian Revolution of 1917. At a talk given by Tariq Ali on March 29 as a part of the Joint Area Studies Symposium, titled “The Broken Ladder: The Global Left Fifty Years After 1968,” Ali offered his interpretation of another momentous year.

Ali began by contextualizing the historical moment of 1968 within its wider scope. The arc towards 1968, he theorized, began in 1965, when the United States military faced a series of defeats in Vietnam against the Viet Cong. This military defeat led to a cascading wave of upheavals—including massive protests against the U.S. military by former GIs—up until the removal of U.S. troops from Vietnam in 1975. These waves of upheavals led to a transformative shift in political consciousness and culture, and allowed political-cultural movements like socialism and feminism to gain ascendancy.

It was these trends that led to 1968, a year that was marked by “school students confronting power articulations.” But, Ali noted, as the memory of events ossifies, moments that were important in the contemporary situation often fade to the background of historical memory. Today, 1968 (and the global 1960s as a whole) are largely remembered under the familiar motif of ‘sex, drugs, and rock and roll.’ Meanwhile, what Ali argues was the most successful victory of 1968—a three month-long general strike in Pakistan in favor of a return to democratic practices—is largely forgotten.

The general strike in Pakistan was successful, Ali argued, because those who participated were willing to risk everything, including their own lives. “Once people lose their fear of death, they can accomplish miracles,” said Ali. The movement was also structured around concrete needs of people—“food, shelter, and clothing for all” was a popular slogan—and the rhetoric focused on how capitalism was not working for the average Pakistani. For all of these reasons, Ali called the Pakistani General Strike the last attempt to mimic the Russian and Chinese “old style” revolutions. And, indeed, it did largely accomplish its goal, as Ayub Khan was forced to cede power because of the strike.

However, elsewhere in the world, the “old style” revolution was becoming less and less tenable. In Portugal, where a domestic revolt overthrew the dictatorship and crumpled the Portuguese Empire from within, the rigidity and inflexibility of the Communist Party led to its quick marginalization. After the Communist Party of Portugal was sidelined, non-radical organizations quickly used the language and rhetoric of revolution to support their own goals.

It was at this point that Ali shifted the focus of his talk, and moved from discussing the events of 1986 to discussing how the legacy can inform our current actions. There is, he noted, a crisis in current revolutionary movements. Even a criticism frequently leveled against old-style revolutionaries—that they are dinosaurs—is inaccurate, because at least dinosaurs are popular. Meanwhile, the dual movements of neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism have become dominant. The event of September 11 gave neo-conservatives their chance to impose their view on the world, and neo-liberalism and late stage capitalism have gained footholds in places like China.

There needs to be another movement to combat the hegemony of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism, Ali argued. Marxism is largely dead. Social democracy (as practiced by politicians like Jeremy Corbyn of the British Labour Party) is a particularly vibrant movement in the contemporary political scene, and its practitioners have been among the only leaders willing to fight the seemingly never-ending war machine. Whatever emerges to fight the status quo, be it social democracy or something else, will have to be flexible, adaptable, and powerful. But what it is, exactly, remains to be seen. In the closing words of Tariq Ali’s address: “Something has gone very wrong in this world. What no one know is what the answers are.”

Deirdre Ruscitti Harshman recently completed her PhD in the Department of History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and will be a Post Doctoral Fellow at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow in the fall. She is the Book Review Editor and Editorial Board member of The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review. Her research interests focus on modern Russian history, urban studies, and everyday life.

Film Screening: “The Wood Floaters” (“Platagony”)

REEEC recently hosted the first US screening of director Kirill Makarenkov’s feature length documentary Platagony, or The Wood Floaters. The film follows the work of men and women employed in transporting lumber from Russia’s northern forests to processing plants in industrialized areas hundreds of miles away. The trees are cut during the winter months, bundled and bound together with chains, steel rope, and bolts, and then, when Spring finally comes and begins to cut through the river ice, these bundles of felled trees are floated down the still icy river by the platagony.

As Makarenkov explained in his opening remarks, this is very old work, it is difficult and dangerous but platagony have been doing this very job in more or less the same way since before the revolution. Watching the film, you do get a sense that the work the platagony do and the world they inhabit belong to another era. In fact, by the time the film was released, the slow, brutal work of the platagony had been replaced by more modern methods. Makarenkov actually unintentionally followed the platagony on their last trip down the river in 2008, making his documentation of this traditional form of labor all the more important as it fades into history.

The film is presented in three parts organized more or less chronologically with the flow of the work. Part 1, “Wood cutters,” shows the loggers in the remote, frozen Kostroma forest. Although the film is described as depicting a man’s world there is actually a single woman working alongside the men, cutting limbs from trees, smoking and drinking tea in a little wooden shack, and telling stories about the cold. Part 2, “Wood floaters,” shows the preparations for transporting the lumber as the men gather along the frozen river and then take their boats out into the ice to break it up. Most of the film’s dialogue takes place in this section as the men repair their boats, trade and barter with each other, attend a prayer service, and tell stories to each other around campfires while they wait for the real action to begin; but there are long stretches of silence as well. When one of the boats gets stuck in the ice a particularly weathered old man starts telling rambling stories about beavers flooding pastures in nearby towns, and about traveling to African when he was in the navy, and why it is better to be cold than hot. Then, suddenly the boat is free and they are moving down the river again and the camera shifts back to long shots of the barren riverbank. When they rejoin the others to wait for the rest of the ice to melt you get the sense that weeks pass with little to no activity. One man gets an accordion and they add singing and dancing to the repertoire of smoking, drinking, and telling stories. Finally, in part 3, “Rafting,” the long wait is over and we see the bundled logs floating down the river as the riverbank slowly turns green and becomes more populated.

Each of these sections is introduced with intertitles that are shot to look like early silent films with poor lighting and a shaky camera. The little dialogue we get from the men working and telling stories is supplemented by explanatory intertitles but no voiceovers are used and very little extradiegetic music is available to help set the tone or control the pace. The camera work sometimes focuses our attention up close on the workers’ hands, the gears of the motors they repair, or the industrial materials that bind the raw logs together. At other times beautiful shots of the icy river, the surrounding forests, or the desolate, muddy riverbanks take us out of the intimate, quiet spaces inhabited by these men to their incredible surroundings as the camera slowly zooms out or is pulled up to a long overhead shot. This creates a very intimate and personal portrait of the platagony and their work. They are not portrayed as ideological symbols or state propaganda—they are treated as human subjects laboring in a world that is harsh but beautiful, whose work is both interesting because of its novelty and tradition while also being incredibly outmoded and lonely. These men wait around, joke with each other, prepare food and repair their equipment like workers rather than heroes.

The film ends rather abruptly as 20 of the original 36 bundles of rafted trees are brought into the processing center. With the beautiful camera work, the aesthetic of an old soviet-style documentary, and the unusual subject matter, the film is compelling and well crafted, although you do start to feel the burden of all the waiting and isolation since Makarenkov intentionally does very little to alleviate the boredom of waiting nearly 2 hours to watch bundles of logs float down a remote Russian river.

Meagan Smith is a PhD candidate in Comparative and World Literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on the representation of border walls in twentieth and twenty-first century dystopian fiction from the US, Russia, and Mexico. 

New Directions Lecture: The Devil and the Authoritarian State: Humanitarianism in the Republic of Georgia: Dr. Elizabeth Cullen Dunn

On April 12, 2018, Elizabeth Dunn, a political anthropologist and professor in the Geography department at the University of Indiana Bloomington, delivered a lecture that has far reaching implications, not only for the field of international development, but for any endeavor which seeks to understand the nature of authoritarianism and rightest tendencies throughout the world.  Dunn is quick to point out that authoritarianism is not only rising in states considered relatively new to democracy, but also in states considered to have strong roots in liberal democracy, like the U.S. and U.K., for example.  When asked for causes of rising rightest tendencies, Dunn responds that the confluence of the information revolution (the impact of which she likens to the industrial revolution) combined with financial insecurity throughout the EU and U.S. is partly responsible.  International humanitarianism, as the title suggests, can inadvertently give rise to authoritarianism in the wake of conflicts because of the ways aid is delivered and distributed without regard for the specificity of different post conflict zones.

The talk focused on the Republic of Georgia, a country still grappling with its Soviet legacy and to a greater extent its realization of a liberal democracy, and having to define a modern Georgian political identity that is both part of, and apart from Europe.  Dunn frames her talk around the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Georgia in the aftermath of the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008, and the response of the international humanitarian apparatus in handling the crisis.

The current aid climate is project based and comes in very large cash allotments directly to state governments.  The funds are eventually circulated to local non-governmental organizations that carry out projects mandated by the international humanitarian community.  This system leads to aid funds left behind with each entity that handles it, and not with IDPs.  Humanitarian aid projects are often treated similarly to the fall out after a natural disaster, as Dunn noted.  The aid arrives quickly and with such magnitude but then leaves in much the same way.  For example, international aid funds provided electricity to IDP camps until (without warning from the Georgian government) meters were installed in the winter, and the electricity was cut off to families, except to those few that could afford to pay.  The degree of inefficiency and lack of strategic planning for IDPs brings into sharp relief the misappropriation of some international aid by the Georgian government at the time.

In the first year following the war, $1 billion was funneled into Georgia and much of that aid went to capacity building.  Under President Saakashvili’s direction, capacity building meant a restructuring and shoring up of the state security apparatus, as well as excising political competition.  Under the guise of an anti-corruption campaign, the security service maintained an unwelcome presence in the IDP camps, surveilling any potential sources of political discontent.  This eventually led to paranoia throughout the camps, not only in relation to the state but also amongst IDPs themselves.  As the blanket of aid began to thin over the next year, this paranoia compounded competition among IDPs for who the next beneficiaries of aid would be.  Moreover, the war had exacerbated Saakashvili’s brand of populism and thwarted the direction of his policies towards authoritarianism and away from his centrist platform of the Rose Revolution.  All the while, the Georgian state’s ability to provide for IDPs was compromised by the frailty of its institutions.

Kate Butterworth works at the University Library as a Library Specialist in Slavic Cataloging.  Her primary research interests include ethnic identity and conflict in the Republic of Georgia and the South Caucasus.

REPOST: The war in Ukraine is more devastating than you know

This article originally appeared in The Washington Post on April 9th, 2018. It is co-authored by Cynthia Buckley (Sociology, REEEC affiliate), Ralph Clem, Jarod Fox (Research Assistant at Illinois) and Erik Herron.

A Ukrainian fighter stands in a building damaged by shelling in Avdiivka, Ukraine, on Feb. 4, 2017. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

The fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region is entering its fifth year. More than 10,000 people have been killed in this persistent conflict; 2,800 were civilians. Nearly two million people have been internally displaced or put at risk if they remain in their homes.

Today, the Donbas war is among the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with frequent attacks occurring from both sides across the oblasts (provinces) of Donetsk and Luhansk. Before the war, this compact, heavily urbanized and industrialized region held nearly 15 percent of Ukraine’s population (6.6 million) and generated 16 percent of its gross domestic product.

Now it’s a war zone. And our research has documented that, as its hospitals and medical facilities are destroyed — perhaps even targeted — its citizens are being deprived of basic health-care services, echoing Syria’s similar if larger crisis.

So what happened in Ukraine?

Let’s review quickly how that happened.

In 2014, Ukraine was divided between those who wanted to affiliate with Russia and those who leaned toward Europe and NATO. In Kiev, in what was called the Maidan Revolution, the pro-Europe faction overthrew the kleptocratic and Russian-leaning Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Reactions in the Donbas, a region bordering Russia and composed of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, varied. Separatist forces, abetted by Russia, began fighting the Ukrainian military, soon fortified by backup from Russian army units. That fighting has damaged the Donbas’s basic infrastructure, particularly hospitals and clinics — making it hard for the government to deliver core services such as health care.

How we did our research

Combatants often attack hospitals. In Syria, human rights organizations and the U.N. Security Council have denounced these attacks as violationsof international law. Fewer observers have noticed the attacks on Ukraine’s hospitals, even though the World Health Organization (WHO) documented 33 such attacks from 2014 through 2016.

As part of a larger study, we compiled an inventory of the 247 registered hospitals and clinics in the Donbas. We then examined U.N. reports, investigations by nongovernmental organizations, central news reports in Ukraine and Russia, and Donetsk and Luhansk newspapers for evidence of health-care infrastructure damage from 2014 through 2017. We geo-located all specific reports of damage, eliminating duplicates.

We found that one-third of all Donbas medical facilities had been damaged

Our resulting geospatial database reveals patterns of “bricks and mortar” damage to the health-care system, as you can see below.

Adjusting for multiple hits, we found that 82 medical facilities — one-third of all those in the Donbas — had reported damage. That’s far more than those reported by WHO.

However, the bricks-and-mortar damage doesn’t show casualties among medical personnel or the loss of vehicles. Nor does it show how local civilians suffered severe damage to their housing and access to heat, electricity and clean water. Many of the residents who’ve stayed must now risk a great deal to reach even basic health care.

Is this a surprise? Are health-care facilities deliberately attacked?

There are no safe places in a major war

The Donbas conflict is often described as “hybrid warfare,” something akin to Russia’s seizure of Crimea with “little green men.” This is a serious mischaracterization.

Yes, at first it was a skirmish between Ukrainian security forces and local separatist militias, bolstered by Russian mercenaries. But by late 2014, the fighting involved large numbers of troops including Russian army regulars, outfitted with armor and artillery.

Most of the health-care damage happened during the heaviest fighting, before February 2015. Since then, damage has been limited to breaks in the cease-fire agreements. Health infrastructure is damaged when it’s located near the heaviest fighting. Away from the front, we found little harm to medical facilities.

Mapping our data illustrates that attacks on health-care facilities are concentrated in the city of Donetsk and its environs; along the cease-fire line, where the front stabilized after February 2015; and around the city of Sloviansk, which was occupied by separatist forces but later retaken by Ukrainian troops. Along the coast of the Sea of Azov, advances by Russian troops and separatists resulted in a cluster of attacks near Mariupol. Northern Luhansk Oblast and western Donetsk Oblast saw little heavy fighting, and therefore little damage.

Were hospitals targets?

Many health-care facilities in the Donbas were destroyed. Was this deliberate — or was it collateral damage? We looked at what types of weapons were used, for some clues.

In the Syrian civil war, heavy aerial bombardment destroyed a vast amount of infrastructure. By contrast, the Donbas fighting has used conventional artillery, heavy mortars and rockets such as the notorious Grad (“Hail”) system. Such indirect-fire weapons are not accurate enough to target specific buildings. Those using them often can’t see the target — so to destroy a particular target building, such weapons would succeed only when used in sufficient numbers, and would leave behind a great deal of collateral damage.

Some medical locations might have been attacked by shorter-range, direct-fire weapons such as tanks, antitank missiles or rocket-propelled grenades. Examining both witness accounts and the blast patterns in photos of derelict health-care facilities, we find that the damage appears to be what we would expect from artillery rounds or rockets.

It looks more like hospitals and clinics have been collateral damage than targets

When military targets are attacked and are fighting back, it’s hard to conclude which side damaged the surrounding civilian infrastructure. Reliable reports document that both sides have quartered troops in or fired from hospitals, blurring the line between combatant and noncombatant.

In other conflicts, forensic examination of fragments or unexploded ordnance helps identify the type of munitions used to attack hospitals — making it easier to conclude which side attacked which target. But in the Donbas war, both sides mostly use the same weaponry, making it difficult to deduce which side attacked the health-care facilities.

Were attacks on health-care facilities deliberate? Our preliminary examination suggests that they haven’t been targeted. They appear to have suffered collateral damage, and have been hit by both sides. To draw conclusions about responsibility, one would need to employ the sophisticated open-source data and methods used to analyze the Syrian war damage.

No matter who is responsible, the fighting has damaged not just health-care services, but other civilian infrastructure such as housing, schools and election facilities — while killing, terrifying and displacing civilians. If Ukraine can’t deliver essential services, the war has undermined the legitimacy of the state and made it harder to reach a reconciliation if and when the conflict ends.

Cynthia Buckley is professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Ralph Clem is emeritus professor of geography at Florida International University.

Jarod Fox is a research assistant at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Erik Herron is professor of political science at West Virginia University.

Congratulations to our graduating students and Summer 2018 FLAS Fellows!

Congratulations to the following REEES students, who are graduating this May.

· Christina Filipovich (REEES major, Political Science minor)
· Danielle Lindblad (REEES major)
· Ilya Vorobyev (REEES major)

Also, congratulations to our Summer FLAS fellows listed below. Safe travels!

Grad Students
· Justin Balcor, Musicology (Georgian)
· Melissa Bialecki, Musicology (Russian)
· Rebecca Clendenen, Political Science (Turkish)
· Stefan Djordjevic, History (Czech)
· Jacob Goldsmith, Slavic (Russian)
· LeiAnna Hamel, Slavic (Yiddish)
· Zainab Hermes, Linguistics (Turkish)
· Sydney Lazarus, REEEC (Russian)
· Kathryn Quinn O’Dowd, Sociology (Czech)
· Danielle Sekel, Musicology (Bulgarian)
· Jesse Wesso, REEEC (Russian)

· Jamie Hendrickson, REEEC (Russian)
· Kari Schwink, Linguistics (Russian)
· Buyandelger Tsentsengarid, Global Studies (Russian)

Noontime Scholars Lecture: Alexander Erokhin, “Transformations of literary biographies and reputations in today’s Russia: Victor Pelevin, Zakhar Prilepin, Alexander Prokhanov, Lyudmila Ulitskaya”

On February 13th, 2018, Dr. Alexander Erokhin gave a lecture entitled “Transformations of literary biographies and reputations in today’s Russia: Victor Pelevin, Zakhar Prilepin, Alexander Prokhanov, Lyudmila Ulitskaya.” Dr. Erokhin is a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the University of Illinois and Director of the Department of Publishing and Book Science at the Institute of Social Communications at Udmurt State University.

Dr. Erokhin’s talk detailed the characteristics of contemporary Russian fiction writers and the conditions under which they write. As he explained, on one hand, contemporary writers  in Russia enjoy unprecedented freedom of expression, though, one the other hand, writers are deprived of any high status, as the government does not consider literature a main concern of the state.

Dr. Erokhin focused on four very successful contemporary Russian authors: Victor Pelevin, Zakhar Prilepin, Alexander Prokhanov, and Lyudmila Ulitskaya. These authors all publish in print (rather than online), are highly awarded, have stable print runs, and are popular abroad. As Dr. Erokhin explained, he chose these authors for their range of readers (high brow to low brow) and also their political and aesthetic divergences. For example, Ulitskaya is a consistent supporter of democratic values, which she believes are articulated in Russia through the intelligentsia. However, Prokhanov and Prilepin are explicitly nationalistic and anti-Western. As Dr. Erokhin argued, these divergences have been illuminated by the Crimea crisis. He also argued that these discrepancies not only reflect the writers’ beliefs, but they also influence the aesthetic components of their work (i.e. mimetic vs non-mimetic). Dr. Erokhin identified Prilepin and Ulitskaya as representation of a realistic style. Conversely, Pelevin’s style reflects the disintegration of society and the individual mind after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Prokhanov’s style is eclectic, representing a mix of realism, naturalism, and postmodern means of expression. However, as Dr. Erokhin explained, all of the authors are similar in their attitude to the literary and cultural traditions of Russia. In fact, they all stress that they belong to the traditions of both contemporary Russian literature and the literature of Soviet Russia.

Alexander Prokhanov. Image source.

Dr. Erokhin delved deeper into each author’s biographies and the specifics of their asthetics. He began with Prokhanov, who began his career in the late 1960s as a traditional Soviet author — that is, a socialist realist. Though his mentors (including Trifnov) were representatives of urban prose, Prokhanov combines urban prose with the lyrical traits of village. However, since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, his writing has moved mostly to military issues (i.e. his 1982 novel The Tree in the Center of Kabul). After Perestroika, he became one of the opponents of the liberal reformists, Boris Yeltsin and his team. According to Erokhin, Prokhanov amalgamates parts of realism with naturalism; he switches between themes of decay and resurrection in his novels; and his protagonists often search for the blissful feeling of peace and quiet, which usually ends in disillusionment. According to Prokhanov, today’s world is fundamentally corrupted, politically and spiritually.

Lyumila Ulitskaya. Image source.

Ulitskaya also represents an older generation of Russian writers with Soviet roots. She entered the field of writing rather late (1980s) because of her Jewish and dissident background. Since the early ’90s, she has been popular among both the liberal intelligentsia and a broader audience, both in Russian and abroad. Her stories trace the lives of Russian Jewish intellectuals emigres and their family chronicles. According to Dr. Erokhin, in her eyes, it is only the intelligentsia who are able to name the past and the present of Russian history, ethically and aesthetically. Unlike Prokhanov’s bombastic portrayal of Russia’s national heritage and glory, Ulitskaya focuses on everyday life and ordinary events, and her languages expresses the importance of the mundane and quotidian existence.

Viktor Pelevin. Image source.

Dr. Erokhin then turned to Pelevin. Similar to Ulitskaya, Pelevin has antagonistic views towards the Soviet regime, however his critical attitude is grounded in different sources, such as Eastern mysticism and science fiction. He began writing in the early 1990s with great success, winning numerous awards, and is now considered one of the best contemporary authors. However, his later works of the 2010s have been met with disapproval. According to Dr. Erokhin, Pelevin attempts to move away from popular fiction into the realm of the “high brow” literature by transforming literary fiction into a transhuman, automatized discourse — in his texts, literature is becoming nonhuman. In his works, contemporary intellectual practices are corrupted and incantation of classics, such as Tolstoy, becomes a sort of laughter. Despite this, Pelevin is hesitant to comment on contemporary politics and the neorealistic movement of writing, rather he continues to show a ironic attitude towards these issues.

Zakhar Prilepin. Image source.

According to Dr. Erokhin, Prilepin is the only author that is exposed to the more diffuse, non-traditional strategies of literary production, such as online and offline community building, as well as rap music. He is effective in promoting his role as one of the radical, artistic, political leaders of Russian writers. He uses his involvement in the Eastern Ukrainian crisis, as well as his connections to adviser’s of Putin in order to promote himself as such. Like Prokhanov, he believes the best way to overcome Russia’s misfortunes is to return to healthy instincts in order to teach the nation to distinguish between good and evil in politics and ideology. For example, in his 2014 novel Ob his protagonist repeats this the thought that only senses survive, while ideas breakdown. According to Dr. Erokhin, in both Prilepin and Prokhanov’s work, one has to deal with the naturalization of phobias by means of realistic poetics.

In his lecture, Dr. Erokhin also singled out tendencies of Russian contemporary writers, basing his argument on the four writers detailed above. First, he noted the tendency to return to universal, political, ideological, and historical issues of classical Russian literature (beginning in the 19th century), called “metaphysical resurgence” or a “spiritual revival” by some critics.  Second is the tendency to search for new literary heroes, specifically those who are able to be socially, spiritually, and politically active. According to Dr. Erokhin, there is also the tendency to interpret social and historical reality of Russian history through the lens of communities (i.e. labor camp prisoners, the Orthodox church, etc.). Third, is the prominence of aesthetic discussions that reassess the relations between fiction and reality. Fourth, is the tendency to attempt to normalize Soviet period — in fact, as Dr. Erokhin explained, without this, the spiritual resurgence of Russian literature would be incomplete. Last is the tendency to attempt to consolidate Russian speaking culture and literary world around a set of national values and a notion of a consistent history.

Dr. Erokhin ended with a word on the Russian book market and its relation to contemporary literary discussions. According to him, the market for translations is stable, giving Russians an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with the best books abroad. However, world literature in Russia is mainly supported by commercial authors and popular fiction– that is, science fiction, detective novels, and such. Dr. Erokhin suggests that this causes a loss of contact between Russian writers and world literature, and jeopardizes the continuity of Russian literature.

Nadia Hoppe is a PhD student in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. Her research interests include 20th and 21st century literature, gender studies, and critical theory. Her dissertation traces the use of toilets in Soviet literature, art, and film.

“From Russia With Love” and Sousa’s Unexpected Tour Adventures in St. Petersburg: On Display Now at the Sousa Archives

On display now at the Sousa Archives is an exhibit entitled “Sousa and Tsar Nicholas II’s Birthday: An Unexpected Tour Adventure.” This exhibit is centered around John Philip Sousa’s 1903 tour to Europe, particularly the Sousa Band’s Russian debut in the imperial capital of St. Petersburg.

Presented are the various adventures (or rather, misadventures) experienced by Sousa and his band throughout their sojourn in Russia. Large crowds were anticipated for the performances; however, as evidenced by a review in the Peterburgskii listok, only the first few rows of each performance were filled due to the beginning of Russia’s summer vacation season. The mishaps continue as Sousa laments the far superior advertising of his self-proclaimed rival, Суза; of course, he eventually learns that this is simply the transliteration of his own surname.

“Thou Charming Bird” Collage by Mary Peterson Zundo, ca. 1995. Image source.

Sousa also reflects upon the reception of the Sousa Band’s rendition of the Imperial Russian National Anthem. Upon request by the Secretary of the Prefect of the City, Sousa agreed to repeat the anthem on the condition that the audience’s applause continued—a total of four encores ensued.

The exhibit further displays photographs, political cartoons, and personal mementos from the trip to offer a complete view of Russian perceptions of America and Sousa’s music during the early twentieth century.

Also on display at the Sousa Archives is “From Russia with Love:” John Garvey’s Russian Folk Orchestra, which details the history of the University of Illinois’ own Russian Folk Orchestra, which was founded in the 1970s by the late professor emeritus of jazz, John Garvey. This exhibit offers visitors a background into Russian folk music traditions, particularly traditions concerning folk orchestras, or ensembles modeled on western European symphonic practices but made up of traditional instruments. The exhibit displays the University’s collection of instruments, including the domra, balalaika, zhaleika, and gusli. Included in the exhibit are also collections of scores, photographs, and recordings of performances by the University of Illinois Russian Folk Orchestra. This exhibit is part of a series of events this academic year pertaining to the “1917: Ten Days that Shook the World/Ten Days that Shake the Campus” initiative.

Sousa and Tsar Nicholas II’s Birthday: An Unexpected Tour Adventure will be on display through August 6, 2018, while you may view the “From Russia with Love:” John Garvey’s Russian Folk Orchestra exhibit through September 3, 2018. For additional information, please see the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music’s website.

Danielle Sekel is a graduate student in the Department of Musicology. Her research interests include Balkan musics which employ musical influences originating among Balkan minority populations.