Hey there and welcome to the BigAppleSchool podcast. My name is Sam.
And today we’re asking what’s the craic about 20th century in Russian history. Wow! So we’re gonna look about whether or not we are history lovers, what we have watched or read and learned about history in Russia at that times.
Any documentaries we have enjoyed or books we’ve learned from. The main events there, the main characters there. Any phrase that maybe… There’s a phrase that history is written by the victors – we’ll discuss that.
There is a recent TV show Chernobyl, which people have enjoyed – we can discuss that a little bit. And what we think was the most significant event of the 20th century in Russia. So, let’s begin. How are you feeling?
Good, good. Are you ready to talk about history?
Are you excited to learn what’s the craic about history?
Yes, I do. Well I can’t say that I’m a history lover, just I can say I’m interested in history and maybe I got interested in history when I was at school because, well, we had a wonderful teacher, history teacher. And she told us interesting stories about different historic events. And they were interesting and exciting.
Many students in my class they got interested in history.
An inspirational teacher.
Although I never learned about Russian history, I had a really inspirational history teacher. Very, I don’t know, he… He talked about the gory details or chopping heads off or things from the UK history and things like that that little boys just lap up, they just love it.
He was very… very good speaker let’s say. He spoke very well and he communicated very well, and made it very very interesting, even stuff that maybe wouldn’t necessarily have been interesting. Yeah, I guess you had the same situation.
And even today do you spend some time with history?
Yes, if I have free time, I can read something about history, or maybe watch some documentaries, some films. Well, the problem is that I don’t have enough free time, but anyway, I didn’t lose my interest in history.
It’s still there, burning inside you.
Great. How do you choose to learn about history? So, when you do have a chance, do you prefer a book, or do you like watching a documentary? Or all of those things? A film… I mean, there are some Hollywood films and stuff that may not be completely accurate, let’s say.
Yes, I agree. If we talk about Hollywood films, I don’t think they’re 100% accurate, but the most important point in those films is to show a great picture, scenery, something like that.
Yes, yes. That’s why they become popular.
…..freeedooooom! Brave heart!
It’s for me… I used to read lots of books, but now I just find some time to watch documentaries.
Yeah, and you enjoy those. For me, I like history, and don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it. But I don’t spend a lot of my free time with it, I mean, I have kind of moods. History moods.
And I watch science fiction, but most of the time I spend maybe with science fiction, TV shows or something.
But I will read history books, I will watch some documentaries. You’re the same?
You’re not completely dedicated, devoted to history?
Okay. What is your favorite documentary or book about history? And why?
Oh, well, I would say that my favorite – I have two favorite documentaries about World war II. The first one is a British film called ‘World War II in color’, and the second one is the Russian film, which is called ‘Soviet Storm. The Eastern front’, I don’t remember the exact name, but something like this.
And well, why are they interesting for me? Because if we talk about the 20th century history, I think that this period of time is the most interesting for me, and maybe not only for me, but for other people in our country. Not only in Russia, but in former Soviet countries.
A lot of stuff happened. A lot of tragedies happened. So, as an adult, I started to read about Russian history and 20th century history, and specifically about the revolution in and around 1917, and World War II. And for me, my favorite piece of history by far is the book called ‘Stalingrad’ written by Antony Beevor.
Who I think is a British guy, I think. But it’s… He collected meticulously all the kind of information from generals and leaders in the war, and even maybe lesser known people. And he collected it all. Have you ever read it?
No, I haven’t read it, but I‘ve watched a movie. Maybe, I may be mistaken, but maybe that book was taken as a basis for the movie which is called “Stalingrad”.
I don’t know. But I would say there are a few different books, sorry, a few different films. And a few different books! But I don’t know.
There are Russian books also.
Right. Cause it was such a huge and it was a turning point in the war. I guess it’s become a very very popular thing to recreate in some way, but I don’t know if it was made into film, because it’s very har to say for sure.
But really realistic what he wrote. It’s very realistic and personal look at Stalingrad and how it affected individual people.
Yes, I agree with you, because, well, for many people it’s more important to see the life of individuals, not the politics or maybe some general picture. So many people want to know what people, what those people felt, what they did, so..
Cause he gets facts and he says what all of the armies were doing, and the maneuvers. But he also talks about personal lives and how people were affected and what people did.
It’s written like a novel actually. And it reads kinda like a novel, even though it was true life, I mean, he’s based it all… Taken it all, not based, but taken it all from facts, from records.
So he must’ve worked very very hard to recreate it, and honestly, it’s one of my top books, easily one of my top books. So, what important events happened in Russian 20th century? And we’ve talked about a couple already.
Yes. Well, I think besides World War II I can talk about the Revolution, the 1917 revolution. Well because it was a turning point not only maybe in the Russian history, but in the history of the whole world.
And because this event influenced all other countries, especially in Europe, and well in the Middle East, in Asia. Well, and maybe one more event is the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, because it also affected people’s life, again, not only in Russia, but in other countries that were included in the Soviet Union.
Right. And even today, I guess…
Yes, still people talk a lot about it, so.
And I’ve heard.. I haven’t read much about the period after and during the collapse of the Soviet Union, but I’ve heard that it was a very difficult time for people.
Yes, it was a very difficult time, especially the 1990s, the first decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I remember, I was a teenager at that time, and our family had some problems and difficulties too with, well, with work for my parents. With money, some financial issues, but still we survived.
Yeah, people just kinda survived that time.
Right. And was it… Do you think it was more… it was worse maybe than the World War II for families? Or not nearly as bad?
Well I think any of those events were different from each other, and I can’t say something was better or maybe something was worse.
Well I guess maybe that was a bad question, because a lot more people died in World War II.
Were Lenin and Stalin good men? We like to be controversial. It’s great to be controversial.
Yes, it’s a controversial point, and still people argue a lot about these two personalities, Lenin, Stalin. I don’t think that we can divide things like when something is black and white, good or bad, because well, we can say that they did something good for this country.
Of course something was bad, and, well, it depends. For example, for me, well it seems for me that these people had more positive influence on our country, on our country’s history, but still – if you talk to different people, they will have different opinions.
Yeah, and even today there are people who would support…
There’s still much controversy, yes.
Yeah, because… I guess if you ask someone from the West, especially if you asked about Stalin, they’ll say ‘Oh no! He was a really bad mad’.
Yes, because of oppressions, something like that.
He sent a lot of people to Gulags, and he oppressed the people and killed lots of… murdered people.
Yeah. And on the other hand, again, some people think that he was good, because, well, when he was ruling the country, let’s say, he had the country under war, and that the period of recovery was quite fast. I mean, of course, people had to sacrifice a lot, but anyway the country achieved its goal. Still, in terms of development.
Could we say that he was good for the country but not the individuals?
Yeah, maybe we can say that, yes.
Because there a lot of people who suffered because of him, but generally the country improved.
And was he a true patriot do you think? Was he interested in Russia or was he really interested in proving himself, if you get my…
It’s a difficult question, but well, I think that he was a patriot, because anyway, we could see the people who lived at that time, could see the results. I mean, again, if we connect it with the second World War, the Great Patriotic war as we call this period, I mean 1941 to 1945.
Well, still the most important achievement was that the people, the country won that war. And so, we gained our independence, I mean, we could protect it anyway.
Do you think it was directly because of him?
Of course not 100% because of him, but still…
He kinda took credit, didn’t he? If I’m not mistaken, he’s like ‘yeah, I’m the best’.
Well, I think anyway it depends on a person in terms of person’s leadership. And I think he was quite a good leader, why not?
But some will argue that so many millions died.
And he just kept throwing people at the German guns, and at the German lines. I mean, maybe they could’ve won the war and won much better if it weren’t for him. He killed a lot of top military leaders before World War II, he just sent them off and had them executed.
Yeah, it was a sad period in our history. Before the war, I mean the 1930s, but still I think anyway that I just can’t imagine if something could have been different, because well this period of time was so crucial for our history.
And well, it’s difficult to think that things might have happened just in a different way.
With another strategy it might’ve not worked any better. And Lenin – I maybe know a little bit less about Lenin , but I mean, what did he achieve for Russia? What good did he achieve? He was a promoter and instigator in the revolution.
Yes, and again, if we talk about the country, of course the first period was very difficult, because after the revolution we had that Civil war, that was devastating for the whole country. But well, many people, especially people who grew up during the soviet times, they know that Lenin was…
He tried to promote socialistic ideas and, well, the country saw some great changes in terms of like, you know, there were some reforms in education, culture, economics. He was the first to introduce some favorable conditions for working class, because people worked…
And then after his death, but I think it’s connected with him in the late 20s and then in the 1930s there was a cultural revolution. We know that before the revolution lots of people in Russia, in the Russian Empire, were…
well, they were illiterate, they couldn’t write or read, but well, it was the help of that reforms. The levels of people’s literacy raised.
He really helped to improve the level of living.
Of living, yes. Of course there were some mistakes like in everything, but still. And again you an see that he is a very controversial figure in our history too.
Maybe less so than Stalin I would argue. Cause I don’t know if you can directly ride into a lot of crimes as such. I mean, executions as Stalin can be. Maybe he’s a little bit less controversial.
Yes, yes, I agree, of course.
How do you feel about the phrase ‘History is written by the victors’? Do you think it’s a real thing?
I can say that I agree with this phrase, because it’s very difficult to be objective, and as any social science, history cannot be 100% objective. And I think Winston Churchill was right when he said this.
Oh, you even know who said it, I don’t. I just thought of it – I knew it came from somewhere. Okay.
Because well, we can see the for example during the Soviet times the history of that period that was before the Soviet union was explained or given in one way, but then after the collapse of the Soviet union historians and scientists discovered maybe some new things about history, and they said ‘no it was different, it wasn’t like that’.
Yeah, some new facts maybe from different perspective, but still.
I don’t think it’s only about Russian history. I think it’s also in any, well, in any history of any country.
Every country, yeah. I think every country maybe painted a looser picture than in reality.
I think it is a true thing. But can we, with that in mind, can we really trust history? Can we say that it’s a fact? Cause many people will say ‘it’s history, therefore it’s fact’. Can we really trust it?
No, we can’t really trust it.
Yes, because anyway, even if some people say that it’s a fact and you should believe that, and others try to argue, they always find some, well, maybe different facts to oppose this idea. So it’s quite arguable.
Could we argue that Americans didn’t go to the moon? Could we argue with that?
It’s another question! Very controversial.
I believe it. I don’t see why not to believe it. But yeah.
I also believe it, but you know, some people don’t. Well I think basically it’s because of political controversy between the…
The funny thing it was the first man on the moon, but it wasn’t a representative, he wasn’t representing the whole world. Not exactly, cause he’d put an American flag, didn’t he. So, controversial, yeah.
Have you watched the… Not a documentary, but it’s a TV show, not a documentary, more recent one, just called Chernobyl?
No, I haven’t seen this, but recently I’ve read a lot of reviews and like all of them are different. Some people say it’s good, some people say that it’s not true, it’s just fiction.
And well, of course not all of the things that were pictured there can be said that they are fiction. But still some people believe it’s just a movie.
Is it dramatization? And you said already that, I mean, for example, I watched the king’s speech, and it was really a dramatization. I mean the time frame and everything is wrong. That king had a problem with this speech, but it wasn’t really as bad and as dramatic.
At least not as dramatic as the film makes it sound. I have watched this documentary. Are you going to watch it?
Yes, because after reading those reviews, well, I think I should watch it.
Honestly, I really really enjoyed it. I mean, HBO created it. And they’ve just finished their Game of Thrones stuff, and it ended, I think it’s safe to say, disappointingly for most people. Maybe even worse than disappointingly for most people.
But they’ve got this new thing for people to go to, to kind of console themselves after disappointment. And they go to Chernobyl and honestly, it’s a miniseries, there are only 5 parts to it, and I guess about an hour long if I remember correctly. Someone will correct me if I’m wrong.
And they feel really realistic, and having lived in Russia, I mean, it looks a lot like Russia, although it’s Ukraine of course in Soviet Union. But it does feel realistic. I liked, and maybe this is just me, I’ve always enjoyed hearing…
There were a lot of British and European actors and they used their own accents. And I know that’s not.. And I know someone will argue – they’re supposed to be Russian people or Ukrainian people.
But I liked to hear a person’s natural accent, so I enjoyed it from that point of view, from the production and the choice to use their own accents – I enjoyed it. And I thought it very interesting, compelling, and scary as well.
Would you recommend this film?
Absolutely, I’d recommend it. But there are elements… And even you can watch little clips at the end of each episode and they do say, and I think it’s the director and some of the actors, they say that just remember that this is not quite accurate.
And they actually point out that there are some dramatizations, if you like. Because they use, for example, to represent a huge amount of scientists that got involved, they got one woman. But they hold up their hands
and they say ‘we did this because it was much more simple, simpler to do that, than to, you know, have 200, 300 actors’, that wouldn’t be so dramatic if they did that.
There were a couple of other things – helicopter crashed, but it the TV show they implied that it or they showed that it happened very shortly after the reactor blew up, but in reality it was months after.
Yes, we know that the explosion happened in April, but that crash was in October.
I think what it has done, definitely for me, and maybe for other people – it’s got us thinking and watching documentaries and learning more about Chernobyl, because what I didn’t know was that there was a huge risk that it could affect all of Europe much worse than what it did.
I mean, it could’ve made parts of Belarus and Ukraine, or maybe the entire countries unlivable, even today. So it could’ve been much much worse. Which is… I had no idea about that. Of course I knew about Chernobyl, but I had no idea how serious it could’ve been, had it got out more out of control.
I think so. It’s… I mean there are elements where it’s just made too simplified if you like, but it is worth watching I think. And it is compelling. Do you think that films and… Well we kinda talked about that, right – do they tell a true story? And we say no.
Listen, if you think that – I’m sorry. It’s not true. As I say it’s a dramatization and if they didn’t dramatize, I think people wouldn’t want to watch them.
Yeah. I absolutely agree with you, because anyway they try to attract some people, just to get them interested, and well, to do that they use some special effects, and, as you say, they dramatize.
Because they try to maybe affect or maybe influence your feelings first of all.
Yeah. I mean, you weren’t there, so you don’t have like fear or happiness or anything, buy they try, like any TV program, they try to affect that with music, with suspense. And I think that even documentaries that are presenting facts would do so in a way to try and build drama. You know what I mean.
Yes, yes. They create the elements of fiction, and again, to attract more people. Unfortunately.
Sorry, guys, it’s all lies. Nothing’s true. Of course we’re not saying that all history is wrong or incorrect. What do you think was the most significant event? We’ve talked about the revolution, World War II, Great Patriotic War.
We’ve talked about Chernobyl, we’ve talked about the 90s with the problems financially. What do you think, out of all the events of the 20th century in Russia…
Well, maybe, the 1917 revolution, because if that didn’t happen, maybe our life could have been different, completely different. We don’t know, maybe the monarchy could still exist.
Yeah. Something like that.
Do you think any of them are still alive today? I mean, the descendants of them?
Well, as far as I know there are some descendants, but mostly they live in Europe and the United states. Not in Russia.
Okay. Do they live like kings and queens?
And should they be reinstated? Should they be brought back? I never planned to ask that, but… Would you like it? I mean, it’s a huge question, but you personally – would you like that?
You mean if I would like something like monarchy? No.
It’s not for… It’s for another time. It was…
It’s a philosophical question.
It’s all in the past. So, the revolution was the main, maybe the main turning point.
Because, well, that event also influenced other events in history that happened later.
And what about Rasputin? Was he a good guy?
Well, some people, again, some people say he was good, some people disagree. But the only thing we know is that he had a great influence on the family, I mean…
Do you think he affected the revolution? He kinda directly or indirectly caused it?
People at the time, at least some of them, didn’t like him and the fact that he was…
Yeah. It’s scary – he was poisoned, and shot, and thrown into the Neva.
There are still ideas that he was alive when he was thrown into the river, and some people say…. There’s a myth that he was still alive after.. But I guess not.
After his death people just tried to make up some things.
Some legends, yeah. He didn’t wanna die I guess, but maybe not that bad. He wasn’t some kind of supernatural creature. Do you think that the events of the 20th century still affect, or what events, should I ask… What events from the 20th century still affect life in Russia today?
Well… First of all, again, I can say it one more time, but it’s the war, the world war II. Anyway we have lots of memories about this event, and I can say that that event – it influenced every family in the former soviet union.
pretty much every family lost someone, didn’t they? Someone’s grandfather or mother, or grandmother or whatever. They were killed. Or affected.
That’s why nowadays, well, many people in our country give greater importance to this event, especially when.. well, maybe you know that the way we celebrate the victory day on May the 9th, you can see all these…
Yeah, right. And also maybe the second event that still affects our life is the collapse of the soviet union, because it was difficult. Well of course nowadays it’s much better, I mean the life is much better, but still, we still feel some…
It’s still quite early in time.
And it’s a transition I guess from this such a strong system to now, a kind of democracy.
The transition period is quite slow, and, well, difficult too. I just remember one Chinese saying, well, maybe I can paraphrase it, but it sounds like ‘The worst time you can live in is the period on the period of reforms’.
More so in the soviet times, socialist or whatever. Okay, guys, that was the craic about 20th century in Russian history. I hope that you learned something. We told you how we view and read or learn a little bit about history when we have the time and interest.
And how that we don’t believe everything we hear or read. But we talked also about Lenin and Stalin – it’s not really a black and white issue that they were evil or good, but there were elements maybe of both in their lives, whether intentionally or not.
We talked about Chernobyl and the new TV show, which I recommend, if you’re interested in anything like that. And we talked about the most significant and still affecting events from the 20th century. So that was the craic about 20th century Russian history.