How not to offend millions of people.

In things I can’t believe I’m typing this morning …

A reminder: the hammer and sickle/the Soviet Union represents evil.

After a “cutesy” episode of Australian Story on the ABC, in which a bunch of Anglo Australians waved a communist flag around and did a “retro kitsch” tribute to Stalinist Russia, in which modern-day Russia was discussed as if it – and Putin memes = cute …

The hammer and sickle flag is illegal in much of the former USSR, right alongside the swastika. It’s illegal because it represents the genocides of the Ukrainian and Kazakh people, the total ethnic cleansing of the native people of Crimea, the deportation of the people of western Ukraine (including everyone in my family’s villages) to Siberian gulags, the deportation of tens of thousands of people from the Baltics, too.

It’s illegal because it represents Russian colonialism and the suppression or elimination of other racial and ethnic groups’ languages and cultures. Because it represents a century of mass murder and horror.

It is now an ideology Putin is using in his invasions of Georgia (which began in 2008, and is ongoing) and Ukraine (started in 2014, and ongoing).

I can’t believe this is something I have to explain, but – to my own horror – Australian author after Australian author shared the story yesterday, all with a comment to the effect of “look at this happy, good news story!”.

To wave that flag around without a care in the world is hurtful and harmful to the non-Russian people of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This is something we just went through with My Kitchen Rules, when they pulled their “cutesy Stalin and Putin” retro communist ad.

Do better, people. There’s no excuse to not know that Soviet Russia was as evil and genocidal as Nazi Germany was.

Happy Birthday to an Icon

Today is Oksana Chusovitina’s birthday. She is now forty-three.

In a world where female athletes rarely get the attention they deserve, I want to mention this seven-time Olympic gymnastics star who also happens to be the mother of an adult son.

Chusovitina was:

* Born in the Soviet Union (Uzbekistan), and is quite possibly the last active Soviet-trained athlete in the world.

* She won her first World Championship titles for the USSR in *1991*, and Olympic gold the next year competing for the CIS.

* Surviving the breakup of the Soviet Union with her career intact (when many others lost funding and coaches), she competed for Uzbekistan at the 1996 Olympics, got married in 1997, and had a son in 1999.

* Immediately after having her child, she competed at the 2000 Olympics. And we’re talking gymnastics here: the hardest sport in the world.

* She won World silver in 2001, and then became World Champion again in 2003 – twelve years after her first win.

* Chusovitina’s son had major medical issues, and the family moved to Germany to access treatment.

* While competing for Germany, Chusovitina won Olympic silver in 2008 – sixteen years after winning her first Olympic medal.

* Since then, she has continued to compete, and compete, even though she is now forty-three and in such a physically demanding sport. She has also worked as a coach.

* She was supposed to retire after the 2012 Olympic vault final (where only the top eight gymnasts qualify – and she made it), but she turned up again at the 2016 Games.

Every gymnnastics generation has their “It Girl” the media goes crazy about when the Olympics come around, but if we’re talking about the greatest ever, my vote goes to Oksana.

On this day: the death of a prima ballerina

In Times Gone By...

Maya_Plisetskaya_-_1974Plisetskaya performing in Carmen (1974)

As Carmen in 1974.

Soviet ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, one of only a handful of dancers in history to hold the title of Prima Ballerina Assoluta, died on the 2nd of May, 2015.

Born into a prominent family of Lithuanian Jews, Plisetskaya completed her ballet training in Moscow, first performing at the Bolshoi Theatre at the age of eleven.

Maya Plisetskaya Grand Jete Ballet Vintage

Despite being one of the most respected dancers in history, she was treated badly by the anti-Semitic Russian authorities. For her first sixteen years of her career she was banned from leaving the country.

Her father was executed during the Stalinist purges, and her mother, a famous Lithuanian film actress, spent several years in a gulag in Kazakhstan.

Maya Plisetskaya Ballet Vintage

Plisetskaya followed in the footsteps of another great Soviet ballerina: Galina Ulanova, and took over her position as the Bolshoi’s star dancer upon Ulanova’s retirement. Plisetskaya was a member of the…

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Six Days in Leningrad by Paullina Simons

Six Days in Leningrad by Paullina Simons

The journey that inspired The Bronze Horseman.

From the author of the celebrated, internationally bestselling Bronze Horseman saga comes a glimpse into the private life of its much loved author, and the real story behind the epic novels. Only a few chapters into writing her first story set in Russia, her mother country, Paullina Simons travelled to Leningrad (now St Petersburg) with her beloved Papa. What began as a research trip turned into six days that forever changed her life, the course of her family, and the novel that became The Bronze Horseman.. After a quarter-century away from her native land, Paullina and her father found a world trapped in yesteryear, with crumbling stucco buildings, entire families living in seven-square-meter communal apartments, and barren fields bombed so badly that nothing would grow there even fifty years later. And yet there were the spectacular white nights, the warm hospitality of family friends and, of course, the pelmeni and caviar. At times poignant, at times inspiring and funny, this is both a fascinating glimpse into the inspiration behind the epic saga, and a touching story of a family’s history, a father and a daughter, and the fate of a nation.

Six Days in Leningrad by Paullina Simons

Pretty much everyone in the world seems to have at least heard of Paullina Simons’ book The Bronze Horseman, which tells the love story of two young people caught up in the Siege of Leningrad during the Second World War.

Six Days in Leningrad is a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the author’s trip to Russia prior to writing the book. It is interesting in its own right, offering a peek into the disastrous experiment that was the Soviet Union and what it was like to live inside it.

Leningrad, now back to its original name, Saint Petersburg, is an amazing, gorgeous place (as long as you avoid the Soviet-era parts!), and a city I have visited more than once. The contrast between the glamour of Russia’s most impressive city and the mess communism created and left behind is extreme, and illustrated wonderfully both in this book and in The Bronze Horseman.

Recommended for fans of the other book as well as anyone interested in the darkest part of the history of Russia.

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

 

Books and Anniversaries

It’s probably weird to do a wrap-up of the week on a Thursday night, but I am.

#1 Yesterday was the anniversary of my paternal grandfather’s death, and today was the anniversary of my maternal grandfather’s death.

The cemetery in Queanbeyan

Today – in honour of my mother’s father – we went to the pub he used to drink at in Queanbeyan, and had a bottle of sparkling wine (hey, it was a good excuse!). The Royal has been completely refurbished just recently, so it’s nothing like it was when he used to drink there.

He was from Ukraine, and after fighting the Russians, fighting the Nazis, being captured by the Nazis, escaping the Nazis… he somehow ended up in Australia.

We also took some flowers to his grave. The cemetery is in a pretty spectacular setting near the New South Wales/Australian Capital Territory border, but with the weird weather today (windy, cloudy, sunny, hot, still, cooler) it didn’t look so great. It is also filled with kangaroos!

The cloudy NSW/ACT border, through our dirty windscreen!

#2 I’ve been working my way through a range of review books, including these two:

Last Call by Jennifer Schmidt

While on vacation, a night out turns into a drunken haze, and Novalee Jensen wakes up hung over, confused, and… married? Fleeing Nevada,  Novalee returns home to Montana to hide out, dreading the moment when  her husband will show up to take her hard-earned business. But two years later just when Novalee thinks her secret is safe, guess who walks  through her door? Now, face-to-face with the man she left in a hotel  room two years ago, Novalee discovers the difficult part isn’t having to explain her actions that night, or the questions that arise about the  sexy stranger’s arrival, it’s keeping her hands off her husband. And  what’s Novalee to do when the hardest part turns out not to be  confronting her past, but facing a possible future without her  soon-to-be ex-husband?

Multi-millionaire Dean Philips wakes up in a Las Vegas hotel room to  find the pretty blonde he married the night before gone. The piece of  paper he possesses proves she served her purpose, and guilt ridden over  his actions, Dean begins a battle with his father for a fight for his  grandfather’s fortune. When Dean is ordered to have his wife appear in  court, he finds himself in a small town in Montana, looking for the  woman who ran off two years ago. Caught up in secrets and lies of his  own, he has to find a way to persuade her to come back to Vegas with him without having her find out that she’s the missing puzzle piece to  everything he’s been fighting for. But when Dean decides to mix a little pleasure with business, he suddenly finds himself in unfamiliar  territory that could cost him everything.

Embracing You, Embracing Me by Michelle Bellon

It’s the 1990s. 16-year-old Roshell McRady dances her way through High  School, never quite admitting that she’s ashamed of her trailer park  family home.

She listens to Madonna while wondering why girls her age swap BFFs about as often as some boys change their dirty socks; she empties enough hairspray until her bangs are feathered and vertical  like a lethal weapon; and she agonises over how to convince Gabriel  Harrison, the new Mystery Guy in town, to invite her to the prom – a  night which threatens to turn into a disaster.

But then life takes a dramatic turn for Roshell, and her life changes forever.

A love story emerges from the anguish of Roshell’s life, and when she  leaves school and finds work at a casino, things don’t get any less  complicated for her – until one night a powerful dream marks out the  exact path that she must take.

#3 Yesterday I randomly bought a 1960s sewing book from the days of the USSR. I have no plans to make Soviet fashions, but I saw it online, and decided I needed to buy it!

I have heaps of things from the former-USSR, as not only is half my family from there, but I have also made a number of trips to Russia, Ukraine and the Baltics in recent years. I guess my collection just wouldn’t be complete without a sewing book!