06 May 2010

May shorts

Olga Dolgina Memorial Fund

Olga Dolgina was "a typical example of St Petersburg’s intelligentsia; civilized and heedful," according to an unattributed quote in the obituary published in the British Quaker periodical The Friend back in February. Olga was a valued faculty member of the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia in St Petersburg, specializing in the teaching of English. She served Friends in St Petersburg, throughout the Baltic region, and the Russian-speaking Quaker movement everywhere by bringing together her professional abilities and her spiritual concern for the sake of communication and community-building. In Moscow Meeting, we're continuing to use her warm and sensitive translation of Thomas Kelly's A Testament of Devotion for our after-meeting seminars.

Olga died on December 11 of complications from a tragic accident. Later that month, I posted Peter Dyson's account of her memorial meeting. In that post, I promised to report on the translation fund being set up in her memory.

The fund is now active. Contributions can be made to the Olga Dolgina Memorial Fund through the channels you might already be using to contribute to Friends House Moscow. (To get details on how to contribute from your country, see this site or check with me; be sure to specify the Olga Dolgina Memorial Fund when contributing.)

For this first year of its operation, the selection and translation activities of the fund are under the care of a small working group consisting of Patricia Cockrell (Friends House British Committee), Peter Dyson (Dom Druzei/Friends House Moscow Staff), Bronwyn Harwood (Friends House Moscow International Board) and Helen Rowlands (Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in the UK). Translations will appear first in the quakers.ru online library, and may later be printed based on the level of interest shown in their online versions. Financial donations go into a reserve fund administered by the Treasurer of Friends House Moscow (British Committee) and distributed through the staff of Dom Druzei/Friends House Moscow. The staff will also provide editorial oversight of the online publication process.

Our lively library
Our Paustovsky Central Library recently hosted Russian actress Alla Budnitskaya, who celebrates fifty years as a screen actress this year. Since 1957 she's been in 57 movies. She's also a television presenter and author. In her presentation here on April 24, "The Life I Made for Myself," she urged us all never to give up the capacity to believe.

Along with these photos from her presentation and autograph-signing, I'm adding some photos of a remarkable "Magic Strings" macrame exhibit that the library was hosting at the time of her visit. The last photo is of the macrame artist, Vyacheslav Lakutin.

Victory Day
We are a few days away from Victory Day, May 9, and the reminders are all around us. Flags adorn buses; everywhere we see posters proclaiming "Victory Day 1945-2010"; television stations broadcast station IDs with Victory Day themes. One of the most digified of these spots was on TNT (not a network known for dignity!)--showing a couple of veterans and the single word Спасибо (thank you).

Today, Judy and I were having a late breakfast at McDonald's in Noginsk just after blood tests on mandatory empty stomachs. A grandmotherly McDonald's employee came up to me with a request: "You have a kind face. Where are you from? Wouldn't you please sign our guest book? Could you leave us a Victory Day greeting from you and your country?" What was I to do? Looking around at the others in the restaurant, I wrote something along the lines of the following: "I am delighted to greet those who might read this, especially the employees of this restaurant, with Victory Day congratulations. The hard-won lessons of war and peace must never be forgotten, but this depends on good communication between the generations. I hope this pleasant restaurant can be a place where various generations meet."

As part of my attempts to understand the role of Victory Day in Russian civic culture, I've just finished reading a book I can highly recommend to you, Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945 by Catherine Merridale. There is absolutely no glorification of war in this book, and there is not much big-picture analysis of politics and strategy (though the book links to such studies through footnotes and bibliography). Instead, the book focuses on the reality of foot soldiers' experiences. By searching through official archives, conducting interviews with veterans, and reading diaries and letters, the author merges two important kinds of information: first, logistical statistics, showing how underequipped and under-supplied the Soviet military was on June 22, 1941, the date of the Nazi invasion; and how that situation was dramatically overcome. Second: as much as we're likely to find out about the culture of front-line troops--how they regarded and met death, how they scrounged and plundered to make up for lack of supplies, how they felt about political overseers (and how the political overseers felt about their jobs!), their songs, jokes, religion, superstitions, and feelings about the Soviet government and the enemy.

Merridale conveys deep respect for her subjects, but she also does her best to cover the areas they don't want to talk about (and that went resolutely unrecorded at the time)--corruption, atrocities, the soldiers whose job it was to shoot anyone retreating, and perhaps most touchingly, the unacknowledged reality of psychic trauma and mental illness. She also takes a critical look at the political use of war-rooted patriotism in the years following World War II.

As the narrator says in the television series I'm watching now, The Unknown War, broadcast every year on local cable TV, the Nazi invasion was Russia's closest brush to date with national mortality. The country did survive, but 27 million of its people did not. Soviet wartime experiences included battles with mind-boggling losses--at times 100,000 or more killed or captured in a few short hours. Significant proportions of the USSR's industrial and commercial infrastructure and housing stock were simply destroyed. Inter-regional and interethnic tensions were horribly exacerbated as the Soviet government dealt ruthlessly with soldiers who surrendered, civilians who cooperated with occupiers, minorities suspected of anti-Bolshevik sympathies, and nationalists in the territories annexed during the brief, bizarre period of Soviet-German alliance preceding the invasion.

Given this awesome scale of national loss and sacrifice, it's remarkable that ordinary Russians seem to me to have a balanced and rather calm form of patriotism (all the banners and ads and controversies about Stalin's portraits notwithstanding). But they're understandably irritated when Americans and other foreigners demonstrate a complete ignorance of how Soviet losses in World War II dwarfed those of the other Allies, and of the decisive role of the consequent victories in the defeat of Hitler.

As a Friend, I do my best to support our testimony against all war and all preparations for war. But we have no testimony against being aware of the real world, where, century after century, real people keep finding ways to kill and be killed in horrible spurts of organized violence. Part of "being aware" is learning how memories of those events continue to shape worldviews, influence cross-cultural relationships, and complicate intergenerational communication. I can't help asking: how should such a communal experience of raw evil affect our presentation of our peaceable Gospel?

Righteous links:

Solar backpacks and briefcases with a Quaker connection--Retha McCutchen, former head of Friends United Meeting's staff.

Russians and Americans handle political sex scandals somewhat differently.

Aaron David Miller writes about what he calls "the false religion" of Mideast peace. "America is Israel's best friend and must continue to be. Shared values are at the core of the relationship, and our intimacy with Israel gives us leverage and credibility in peacemaking when we use it correctly. But this special relationship with the Israelis, which can serve U.S. interests, has become an exclusive one that does not. We've lost the capacity to be independent of Israel, to be honest with it when it does things we don't like, to impose accountability, and to adopt positions in a negotiation that might depart from Israel's. It's tough to be a credible mediator with such handicaps." I had a bit of a problem with the so-called "shared values"--are "equal justice," "due process" and the "rule of law" applied equally to Palestinians?

"Federal justice dismisses suit over order to remove headscarf in court." The whole subject reminds me of early Friends' struggle over "hat honor." And as long as we're checking JURIST/Paper Chase, "Lawsuits challenge Arizona immigration law."

More on immigration: "Is this the best way we can raise our good orchards?"

Samuel Escobar, "Mission Fields on the Move." "Paul's list of greetings in Romans 16 allows us to imagine at least five house churches in Rome. We find names such as Mary (v. 6), Andronicus and Junia (v. 7), and Herodion (v. 11), all evidently Jewish. Other names such as Phoebe (v. 1), Narcissus (v. 11), Ampliatus (v. 8), and Urbanus (v. 9) have Gentile origins. Big cities are melting pots where different races and cultures meet; sometimes the meeting is traumatic. Racism does not target only some people and cultures. All of us are ethnocentric, and the acceptance of 'the other,' the one who is different, is not always easy. Social and economic crises bring out racism's ugly ghosts, as we see in some European, Asian, and African cities today. The reluctance to accept those who are different also affects Christians; we see the problem throughout 20 centuries of church history. In both the writings of Paul and the Book of Acts, we see that the encounter of cultures and races caused many problems in the early church."

"Why Christians Shouldn't Boycott Craigslist."

"In Support of Open Membership." Michael Bell asks, "Does requiring agreement with a statement of faith lead to increased fragmentation within the body of Christ?"

"In Pursuit of Silence: How Noise Really Is Killing Us." Thanks to Kathy Torvik for the reference.

USA-based nonprofits: Have you filed Form 990?

For Russian-language readers, one final Victory Day item: portrait of a remarkable veteran, Yuri Sagalovich.

More from Doug MacLeod:


Anonymous said...

i LOOOVE that string artist!!! those are just delightful, and i'm sure they are sassier in person when you can see the whole 3-D effect of them!

Johan Maurer said...

You're right! I tried getting a sort of side view of some of them, but the pictures didn't work out well enough to keep. The exhibit is still up; I should go back.