The 7(+3) deadly sins of writing Russia books

Seal of Outdatedness: This post, while still funny, no longer reflects my standards for writing and argumentation. Enjoy your 2016 time capsule! – 15 May 2020

I have been meaning to write this post for a long time, practically since the beginning of 2014. In this particularly long-winded opinion piece, I will address ten common tropes or memes employed by writers and publishers when dealing with modern Russia that probably should not be used. Some are borne of cultural stereotypes left over from the Cold War. Others are borne of mainstream thinking about contemporary Russia. All of them annoy me, and you might find some of them annoying too. So without further ado, here are the 7(+3) Deadly Sins of writing Russia books.

#1: Using faux-cyrillic.


Both writers and publishers are guilty of this. While using faux-cyrillic may have the benefit of instant recognition (show anyone that ‘backwards r’ and they will instantly recognize a book about Russia), some of us (160 million+ of us) can actually read Russian. At best, it can make your book look cheesy; at worst, it can make your book look completely unreadable.

#2: Coloring everything red and yellow


What? You mean to tell me you thought Russia was still flying the red-and-yellow flag of the USSR? Writers/publishers, do you watch the news? Surely you hae seen the red, white, and blue Russian flag being held by a demonstrator; in an infographic; or on display behind Putin as he gives a speech? You could at least Google the flag before designing the book cover.

#3: Whitewashing the 90s/Gorby/Yeltsin


A popular meme of mainstream thinking about Russia is that the 1980s and 1990s were bright periods in Russia’s history because of the “great progress toward democracy” made during those decades. Perhaps they were bright periods for the entrepreneurial class, but take a look at the effects of “democratic” reforms and shock therapy on the average Russian and you will likely get a different picture. The 90s in Russia, like transitional periods in general, were rough. And Boris Yeltsin remains one of the most unpopular Russian leaders of all time–more unpopular than Stalin and Lenin.

#4: Putin fixation


The fixation on and demonization of Russian president Vladimir Putin has reached fever pitch since 2014, it seems. In both articles and books, it’s all Putin, Putin, Putin. Putin is jailing his opponents and weaponizing…everything, really. Putin is eyeing up the Baltics. Putin is the richest man in Europe. Putin is sleeping with this Olympic gymnast, showing off his muscles in that photo-op, fending off impending overthrow by his own ministers. Putin’s a thuggish kleptocratic KGB communazi czar, etc. There is a long line of pundits, analysts, and even academics who “personalize” Russian domestic and foreign policymaking. They assert that everything happens in Russia because of Putin’s whims and mood: he is the world’s greatest micromanager, sitting in the Kremlin interfering with every aspect of the daily lives of his 145 million slaves citizens.

I think I know who truly is in the thrall of the “personality cult”.

Unfortunately for those trying to capitalize on the “Big Bad Vlad” meme, it may be more “Russia’s Putin” than “Putin’s Russia”. The aforementioned rumors are not worth addressing precisely because they are just rumors, backed by little concrete evidence. While presidential power in Russia is substantial, Putin is constrained by the bureaucracy and must moderate between different group interests within the government. And while it is fair to call power in Russia personalized, Putin did not come up with the idea to annex the Crimea, crack down on opposition or create the National Guard over his bowl of breakfast kasha one morning.

Other Putin memes:

  • Comparing Putin with Hitler. I should probably give you fair warning that argumentum ad hitlerum is a logical fallacy and makes one’s argument incredibly weak. If you are going to do a hatchet job, do it properly. But attacking the person, rather than his policies or actions, does not make your argument a sound one. Has Putin conducted ethnic cleansing and killed six million of his own people? Is he trying to invade other countries to claim more land for Russia? Is he really a bonafide fascist dictator? If there is even a shadow of reasonable doubt, then you probably should not be using the Putler analogy.
  • Comparing Putin with Stalin. Ditto, only with Stalin-y characteristics.
  • Conversely, treating Putin as if he is the best thing to ever happen to Russia. He is not. Every statesman has strengths and serious flaws.
  • Shirtless Putin photos. Enough is enough. That iconic photo of shirtless Putin on horseback was part of a single photo set taken on a single trip to Tuva in 2007. It never happened again. Yet it captivated us in the West and since then it has been hard to think of any other visual depiction of the Russian leader. Or perhaps we just imagined that Putin is regulary presented as shirtless with a rifle on horseback to the Russian public, and then started to believe our own nonsense. Either way, unless you are writing specifically about Putin’s role as a celebrity or cultural icon – or even better, about the PR stunts themselves – better leave the pec pics out of your book.

In conclusion, do not buy into the Putin craze. There are more factors shaping Russia than just the personality of Putin, and they deserve to be written about too.

#5: Putting hammer and sickle everywhere


This is totally fine if you are writing about the USSR. But my guess is, you are not.

Fun fact: That book on the far right takes place in the modern day!

#6: Starting history at the fall of the Soviet Union

This tells me you are likely stuck in a Cold War mentality and are bringing nothing new to the table for discussion. Do not do this unless you’re writing a history book.

#7: Klyukva never dies

This is fine if you are writing specifically about Russian culture, or if the particular cultural symbol appears in the actual text. Maybe an excuse can be made for using one or two items. But I should not see the entire klyukva kollection of bears, vodka, ushankas, red stars, hammer-and-sickles, matryoshkas, propaganda font, snow, Stalin and St. Basil’s Cathedral crammed onto one cover. A quick look at the title or description of your book should be enough to tell your readers that you are dealing with Russia. There is really no need to rely on these familiar symbols to sell a good book. It is okay to get creative with your book cover!

#8: The cowed Russian sheeple


One trend in Russia writing which bothers me – and has only seemed to become more commonplace after the start of the Ukraine crisis – is the portrayal of all the people living in Russia (who have not left the country with the young, hip, skilled creative class) as being zombified by state propaganda, too cowed and oppressed by the state to think independently. If only that propaganda were to be overcome and the people given democratic choice, the thinking goes, they would instantly reject Putin and all he represents. If only they knew. But until the Russian people stop trying to avoid long-term responsibility for their own lives, all we Westerners can expect from them is slavish support for their government’s imperial actions, even while the country’s being pillaged, isolated, declining, etc.

Not only is this view of an entire nation condescending, but it also has little basis in reality. One poll suggests only around one third of Russians trust the media. Any Russian with access to a computer or smartphone has the ability to access Western points of view like the BBC, Reuters, and CNN if they really want to. Civil society, though perhaps not as developed or prominent as in Western countries, does exist and make progress.  And for the first time since the collapse of the USSR, government policies reflect the attitudes and opinions of the conservative majority rather than a Westernizing, neo-liberal elite. State-society relations in Russia cannot be simplified to “One nation, under Putin, divided, in search of liberty and justice“. Perhaps if some authors relied upon more than the usual liberal, cosmopolitan, anglophone or anti-regime sources for their information, they would see that.

Remember, Russians are NOT lemmings, although some lemmings are Russian.

#9: Naming your chapters Crimea river, Georgia on my mind, From Russia with Love, etc.

Using these, or variations of them, as your title or chapter titles will likely not tell your readers anything about the book’s content. On the other hand, it might tell your readers that you do not know much about Russia or the FSU so you have borrow Western cultural references that have little to nothing to do with Russia or the FSU. The James Bond title, while indeed having to do with Russia, is so trite and overused that you should probably leave it alone.

#10: Not researching or checking your facts

This is especially pertinent if your name is Masha Gessen, Ed Lucas, Luke Harding, or Garry Kasparov, but even if you are not one of those people, you should make sure to do your research for your book. Try not to rely on rehashed claims. The more in-depth the research and diverse the sources are, the better. Do not think that only ignorant people will read your book…or that your readers are not armed with an internet connection and Google.

It is not easy to write about Russia, and many good writers have committed these sins at one time or another. I have committed #4 myself. But I think that it’s about time to put a stop to all these mistakes if we want to have any meaningful debate about Russia. What about you?

25 thoughts on “The 7(+3) deadly sins of writing Russia books

  1. The “president/PM = country” pattern, to imply that a non-allied country is non-democratic, has been an especially common one, almost like an MLA style requirement for professional journalism. It’s useful though as an instant calling card showing how constrained authors (or their editors) are by ideological requirements. For a while you could see pieces about Russia which don’t mention the name of the country even once. This pattern peaked at what I feel is around 80-90%, around beginning of 2015, though I noticed it’s It’s actually going down noticably in popularity since the beginning of this year, with journalists starting to use the word Russia once again. Actually a little funny once you get over it and think about how weird it is to avoid a word you don’t like.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a really good one I forgot to add. “President=country” seems to be used especially with the countries run by leaders who are later demonized and even overthrown. Coincidence?
      I’m glad to hear that it may have lost popularity in Russia reporting, though.


  2. #1: Using faux-cyrillic.


    For me – this is hand down №1 Mortal Sin of all those writing about Russia. I mean – I can’t read the crap they write with it. Okay, their “Я” means “R”, and “И” means “Т” – but what about their “Д” other letters!? What this is supposed to mean:

    #2: Coloring everything red and yellow

    And BLACK! Otherwise, how would we possibly show that those Russkis are the bad guys who want to attack us? Even snow can’t be white – dirty grey as the bare minimum. But ideally – blood soaked.

    #3: Whitewashing the 90s/Gorby/Yeltsin


    1, 2, 3. 4a>

    “• Shirtless Putin photos.”

    …Or perhaps we just created the myth that shirtless Putin with a rifle on horseback is how he’s regularly presented to the Russian public, and then started to believe our own nonsense.

    The curious case of Chelsea Handler (author of the “Are you there, vodka? It’s me, Chelsea”) and her cosplay of Putin in October 2014 comes to mind. This is just… sad.

    #7: Klyukva never dies

    Oh, where should I begin?

    #8: The cowed Russian sheeple

    Actually, non-Russia born authors have more tact and do not suggest that Russians are genetically defected bydlo, that should be deprived of all rights and liberties while the power in This Country would be captured by the vanguard party of the kreakreliat and the 6th Fleet. I also can’t remember non-Russia born authors suggesting dismembering of Russian state and the installment of “external control” over its territory for the duration of the “transitional period” (which would be 100% as described by Pelevin – “Из Ниоткуда в Никуда” (c))

    “#9: Naming your chapters Crimea river, Georgia on my mind, From Russia with Love, etc.”

    Ah, c’mon, J.T.! “Crimea river” is the best trolling material – still works against the svidomites and pro-Ukrainians on-line! Probably, the best line sine 1940 telegram from Stalin to Trotsky “I want to pick up your mind”


    1. Yaay more links!
      1) It’s (?)tsizt d(?)idi sodlitioi tdik syazshch…DUH!
      2) I’ve actually never seen the black snow. I’ve seen the bloody snow on some edgy expat crime novels and the grey snow on Applebaum books. And there’s a Black Wind White Snow
      Truly, Russia has lost something great. Is #RussiaThatWeHaveLost in any way related to that liberal-oppo social media campaign about “great times from the 90s”, or is it something you made up?
      shirtless putin photos) I remember that Handler thing. The funniest/stupidest thing about that was that when her photo was taken down for partial nudity, Handler’s response was something along the lines of “oh come on. Everyone knows I have a better body than Putin.” Oh, how impressive. A 30-something y/o woman comparing herself to a 50-something y/o man. By politician standards though, shirtless Putin was pretty fit. And that is all I have to say.
      BTW, did you screw up on your coding here?
      7) I’ve actually watched Exporting Raymond before. It was…cringeworthy. 86 mins of Rosenthal cracking KGB jokes, mocking his Russian co-workers and being a general “ugly American”.
      8) Not even Lucas, Harding or Brzezinski?
      9) Maybe an excuse can be made for using “Crimea river” in comments. But I don’t think it belongs in books or articles by professional journalists.


      1. First of all – me bad, big screw up in coding. Sorry, J.T.

        1) I only now realized that this actually means “Soviet-Asian Coalition. Tank Crew, ’46”

        7) Sadly, I saw it too. Mr. Rosenthal’s firm believe that he could be poisoned with a polonium while in Russia because he was American was very… telling. Btw – Russian version is just… ugh. Not like we still have a lot of good TV series – in 2000s there was this massive wave of “adaptations” most of which sucked. Early ones became popular because of the novelty, but later on most of them were abandoned. “Воронины” despite all odds remain on the Air. Why is beyond me.

        8) Brzezinski is a borderline case – both due to his bio and writings, but, IIRC, he wasn’t as batshit Russophobic as any Russia born Russophobe. Harding and Lukas are kids compared to the general roster of talented authors employed by the Ekho of Moscow. At least, I can’t remember The Economist claiming (no – insisting!) that for the betterment of mankind there must be a dismemberment of Russian Federation along the ethnic lines.


        1. 1) I realized that too. But I’ll never forgive it.
          7) There’s a Russian version? You mean, the producers actually thought Russians would enjoy it as well? On the polonium bit – actually (maybe I shouldn’t be sharing this) my parents still tell me to check my tea for isotopes once I eventually come over. Not sure if they’re joking or not. Why the FSB would bother to knock off a random Russian-speaking black girl who likes to keep to herself continues to evade me, but my parents were born during the Cold War and I guess took what happened to Litvinenko as the new norm.
          Also, who is watching “Воронины”? The episodes that were on the “Exporting Raymond” DVD were nothing special.
          8) Well, if Russia-born Russophobes are bad, who do you think is the worst among them?


          1. “There’s a Russian version?”

            Sad, but true. There were also utter failures aka “Russian adaptations” of “How I met Your Mother” (not even a full season), “Grace on Fire”, “Homeland” (!), “House, M.D.” (!!) and others which should not be mentioned. So far, only 3 (three) of such adaptations proved to be if not “popular” but long lived – “Voronini”, Russian version of “Married with Children” and our adaptation of “The Nanny”. “Nasha Russia” is so specific and far from the original (d’uh!) that it has virtually nothing in common with the “Little Britain”. I mean – can you imagine a poor crystal clear honest road cop as a comedic material?

            “Why the FSB would bother to…”

            Wrong line of thoughts, citizen! Obviously, Motherland Listens and watches all people.

            “Well, if Russia-born Russophobes are bad, who do you think is the worst among them?”

            I present to you the latest version (upd. in April 2016) of the Liberal quotebook. Quotes and links. A modern age Bestiary, so to speak. Novodvoraskaya was one of the most rabid, but now she is not with us – she went to the Land of Eternal Democracy. From the still living ones:

            – Icon of Yeltsenism Alfred Koch (now in emigration), who during the latest symposium of Khodorkovsky’s “Open Russia” said clear and loud that Russia needs external rule by the West;

            – Living proof that some gingers indeed have no soul Anatoliy Chubais (now the head of the state owned RosNano), who numerous times confessed that he hates communism, Soviet power and Russian people;

            – Our worst chance in fight against intelligent machines Gary Kimovich Kasparov (now in self-imposed “exile”) – nuff said;

            – Our real-life unintentional parody on Paris Hilton – Ksenia Sobchak (still self centered socialite and “journalist” in This Country) a curious case when being stupid and vulgar is not so bad in comparison;

            – Evgenia Albatz (Ekho of Moscow’s regular and the chief editor of “The New Times”) plus Yulia “Oscilloscope’s arrow” Latynian (democratic journalist honored by Condoleezza Rice, who likes Pinochet, Lee Kwan Yew and CIA interrogation methods) both see nothing wrong in partitioning of Russia;

            – Maria Alexandrovna Gessen – again, in “exile” due to her own paranoia.

            That’s the worst among them. These are the people who both in past and present called for invasion, occupation and dismemberment of Russia, who despises Russian people with racist single-mindedness and who (surprise-surprise!) still lives and continues to openly voice their “opinions” with little real worry about their future and lives. Even the fact that some of them now live in the Civilized West failed to rub any civility into them. Julia Ioffe and Leonid Bershdidsky do everything possible and impossible to show how they physically despise Russia and Russians – and you can’t call them recent arrivals.


            1. Funny, but I thought Ksenia Sobchak had moved to Ukraine and taken up a position on Ukrainian TV. Is she back in Russia now? What connection does she have to politics besides being Anatolii Sobchak’s daughter?
              It’s really sad that some of these people are hailed as “the greatest Russia journalists/experts” in my country. As if having a Russian surname grants some sort of golden legitimacy to what is otherwise a very biased and destructive “expert” opinion.
              By the way, I’ve overheard rumors that my university’s chess club and/or Slavic Studies department is trying to invite Garry Kasparov to come speak. I PRAY THAT HE WON’T AGREE.


              1. “Funny, but I thought Ksenia Sobchak had moved to Ukraine and taken up a position on Ukrainian TV. Is she back in Russia now? What connection does she have to politics besides being Anatolii Sobchak’s daughter?”

                Nah, she was only visiting. Besides – her fanbase in firmly in Russia. As for having any connection to politics – well, she slept with Ilya Yashin for some time and supported Bolotnaya protests in 2011-12 because it was “fashionable”. But then she found out tht you can be Russophobic glamouros grrrl with valuable opinion on about everything and huge following in social networks without loser Yashin and attending protests.

                The bloody and soul-crushing regime in Russia is so bloody and soul-crushing that no one actually prevented her from participating in the dubbing of Pixar’s “Inside Out”. She voiced Disgust. “Coincidence? I don’t think so!” (c)

                Besides – she is pregnant these days. Everyone is trying to guess who the father is. I’m awaiting the usual accusations of the “long reaching arm of the Kremlin” ™.

                P.S. And because I screwed up with the link to the “Calendar with the White Generals” – here it is.


              2. ‘Besides – she is pregnant these days. Everyone is trying to guess who the father is. I’m awaiting the usual accusations of the “long reaching arm of the Kremlin” ™. ‘
                Ah yes – because Putin is now weaponizing pregnancies to take out his domestic opponents too. I’m sure it will all be explained in the extended edition of Marc Bennetts’ book ‘I’m Going to Ruin Their Lives: Inside Putin’s War on Russia’s Opposition’.



              Although he is so insane that he is not worst, but rather best of them in a perverse way.


              1. Skotnik is so… enchantingly, fascinatingly insane that even some liberasts are beginning to consider him as an agent provocatuer and Putin’s double agent, sent to discredit them. OTOH – I mentioned only those with at least some recognition in the West and whose potential to inflict harm is real.

                Sotnik belongs to the same category of marginals as Rustem Adagamov (had to ran away to Kiev from the totalitarian Mordor, because the Regime does not approve paedophilia) or Pavel Shekhtman (whose parody account in Twitter is less insane then the original) – who also decided to embrace the generous bosom of the Free Ukraine.

                Sotnik’s recent post, about June 22 1941, clearly shows that the patient in question actively wishes a thorny crown of shahid for himself, clearly hoping that some people will finally send him to the Land of Eteranal Democracy.


      2. And now – a little bit more on #3.

        3) Russia That We Have Lost (“Россия Которую Мы Потеряли”, aka РКМП) is genuinely Russian trope that covers lots of epochs and time periods. Your own attitude to the phenomenon (and the willingness to spend literally hundreds of hours on-line arguing it with strangers) is heavily based on yet another Russian Trope (and, ah, “Special Olympics” discipline in the Net) – “How We Should Set Up Russia?” (“Как Нам Обустроить Россию?”, aka КНОР)m named after the book with the same name by Solzhenitsin.

        At first it began absolutely serious in Perestroika with the massive nostalgia and shameless adoration about Russian Empire becoming a fad in among the inteligentzia which saw itself as a true heirs to the educated, polite, beautiful (and rich!) nobles and White Army officers.

        I know that. Even my family wasn’t spared. As a result I have on my bookshelves ЖЗЛ series bios of Kolchak, Kappel, Denikin, Wrangel and (suddenly) Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna, mother of Nicholas II plus assorted books on the White Movement. Oh, and this calendar, which is completely anachronistic in its pretense to portray “White Generals” – Skobelev died in 1882, long before this whole thing.

        Note – all bought not by me!

        Naturally, this fad continued in the 90s. But with the beginning of Putin’s reign and the rolling back of “freedoms” of the 90s, naturally, a new wave of nostalgia was bound to appear as well. Remember the latest review on Irrusionality – “The Invention of Russia”, with such handshakable lines like “As a drama student in Moscow at the time [of the collapse of communism], I remember that feeling of hope. It was one of the happiest periods of my life.” And there are other people like him, thanks to him the expression “Russia That We Have Lost” now is not taken seriously by anyone – only as satire. There is a direct link between crying for the czarist Russia with its “waltzes of Shubert and crunch of the French bread” (note: according to the last Imperial Russia census the nobility constituted only 1.5% of population, the rest of which had trouble finding any bread, not just posh French one) with what artistic intelligentsia, opposition’s, ha-ha, “leaders” and various foreign proponents of Yeltsin/Gorbachev say about that time?

        Also – doesn’t it remind you anything, J.T., this blind worship of “superior, rich, other people owning minority”, which had its Lost Cause, trampled mercilessly by the Yankee carpetbaggers Bloody Bolsheviks?

        [should I even mention that Gone with the Wind (book, not the movie) were/are huge with that crowd?]

        These days there is a process of “cultural appropriation” of this particular brand from those who are nostalgic for the 90s. You can understand them – it was hip, edgy and “dissident” to like Russian Empire (and even Russian Orthodox Church) in later period Soviet Union and early Russia, but now when the state itself is “appropriating” this trope for its own uses, no shy and conscientious intelligent can really continue the “mainstream” movement. Besides, a lot of so-called Russian liberals just can’t really support a state which didn’t allow their ancestors to live beyond the Pale of Settlement – all pretenses to like the aristocrats and czars notwithstanding. Meanwhile, a good number of them were somebody important in the 90s – some were even in the government. But most of all they remember how they were “not ashamed to be Russians” (c) while travelling abroad (not that a lot of Russians in the 90s could afford this…). And now – how can they look in the honest Western eyes while they visit this or that Citadel of Freedom and Culture, and not turn red with shame?


        Paradoxically, but this discussion directly ties in with the “eternal question” propagated in the Free and Independent Media, that Putinism = Fascism (see comparisons to Hitler that they like so much).

        Fascism (and Nazism as its particular and especially vile, “higher” form) is, ultimately, based on several core premises. One of the primary ones – appeal to some historical period of the country’s past as the Golden Age and promise bring it back. In “vanilla” example of Italian fascism Mussolini appealed to the Glory of the Roman Empire. Not to the past in general not to medieval period and not even to the time of Kingdom of Italy just after the reunification. German Nazi’s talked about building the Thousand Years Reich, in vein of channeling 2 previous “Reichs” – early one of Charlemagne HRE and Kaiser’s Empire. Not the ramshackle HRE of the 30-year war and not even the kingdom of Prussia. All dissenting voices saying that these time periods were not ideal at all were silenced completely.

        The thing is – I can’t imagine this happening in Russia – or in the USA. We are still so fractured about our own past, we still re-fight the Civil War – this time in the RuNet and, to a lesser degree, in the field of history research and media. We, Russians, can’t agree on a single period which we could possibly place on a pedestal any of them and claim “Look! This is the Golden Age – and we must work to bring it back!”. There is no consensus among the proponents of the “Back to USSR” approach, because 70 years of its history included both so different leaders of the country and highly polarizing events. The same goes to the proponents of RTWHL – it’s good to troll them asking, which particular monarch was the best one for Russia and whose reign we must try to emulate now? I guarantee, that in the end you can make them tear themselves apart and ending up arguing that the calling of Varangians in 862 was the biggest mistake causing all catastrophes in country’s history.

        The truth is – Russian Federation is at the same time very young and very old country. We are most definitely not Imperial Russia or the USSR. And we have trouble finding out what we are or what should we become. Official attempts to “make peace with the past” carried out by the government result in nothing but a collective facepalm. Putin’s remark earlier this year that “Lenin placed an atomic bomb beneath Russian state with his national policy” (c) is as valid as accusing Rurik of the same thing, because it was under him, first prince of Rus, when two of his lieutenants decided to become “separatists” and ended up capturing and holding Kiev till their untimely death.

        Speaking about the USA (although, I acknowledge, that this is not my place to do that and I might very well be incapable of understanding the things as not being an “insider”) – while quite a number of people appear to support the slogan “Make America Great Britain Again!” I doubt they really understand the message behind. I’m also sure that even Trump doesn’t understand it. Primarily because it won’t ever appear to them in their lives to single any out any time period as the “Golden Age” and strive to recreate it to become Great Again. No one thinks about this possibility even as in theory. And even if they should – who is to say that 1970s were somehow superior to the time of the Great Generation – or the Revolutionary period?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You forgot to mention that this whole meme “Russia that we’ve lost” is coming from the title of documentary from 90s by Govorukhin. Documentary was naturally about pre-revolutionary Russia.


          1. There’s a lot of stuff that I didn’t mention, because:

            a) That would make the post even longer.
            b) Have to do with rather obscure for a foreigner Russia-specific details. E.g. – life and artistic legacy of Igor Tal’kov, who, IMHO, did all the heavy lifting in popularizing this particular trope among the easily impressive masses of artistic intelligentsia and kreakls.

            I also didn’t mention that the earliest semi-sympathetic portrayals of this trope could be found in post-War Soviet films about the Civil War, like “The adjutant of his Excellency”, the White part of “There were two comrades…” (one word – Vysotski) or even the second film about the “Elusive Avengers”. I could have reached even more back in time and mention Bulgakov’s “White Guard” (which bloody ghoul Stalin actually enjoyed to watch in the theatre) and the whole swathe of the emigrant literature which even before Perestroika found its way back to the USSR.

            Govorukhin’s film served as an icing on the top and the highest moment of this whole fad. Then it would become a mainstream with state-funded movies about Gallant Gentlemen Officers and Inhuman Violent Bolsheviks becoming a new norm.


            1. I would disagree about soviet movies. They were generally respectful of other side and no more than that. “Paradise on Earth that bolsheviks destroyed” is a later invention and Govorukhin documentary was an embodiment of this trend.

              And last scene of Vysotsky in “Two Comrades”! This and the last walk of Belmondo in “Professional” are two most tragically beautiful scenes in cinematograph. Jeez, need to re-watch it.


              1. Soviet movies introduced the White Army and Imperial aesthetics. I mean – compare this to this. And don’t dismiss the insidiousness of even such minor factor. A lot of neo-Nazis began as collectors of the Wermacht paraphernalia, or claimed that they just “liked the Hugo Boss uniform”, or they claimed to like the architecture, etc, etc.

                Movies for the most part didn’t show the Whites at their worst – not as alcoholics, cocaine’s addicts, brutal sadists who, while claiming to fight for the United and Undivided Holy Rus, in fact were nothing more than proxies of the foreign powers. There were no honest portrayal of real-life maniacs like baron von Unghern or Bulak-Bukhlakovicz – because it was impossible in the Soviet cinematography to produce graphic scenes of violence and rapine. Even the “Quiet flows the Don river” adaptation (which is still better than the recent remake) left behind the scenes a lot of “politically incorrect” material.

                So, what was the picture, the final product that “thinking and deeply feeling” intelligentsia got in the end? Something tear-jerking like this scene from the “Elusive Avengers” or that scene in the adaptation of Bulgakov’s ”Flight/Бег”. From simply not demonizing them (that was reserved for the portrayal of the Nazis) there was a step to pitying and from there people began feeling sympathy to them. Govorukhin had to deal with already prepared auditory which expected exactly what he delivered. All of that, plus the time when it was produced with rabid anti-Sovietism still in the air and nearly universal acceptance of anything that was against the Soviet Union as objectively “good”.


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