All the Lies We Cannot See: Operation Infektion and HIV/AIDS in the Soviet Union

now no one is safe from aida
This Life cover ran in July 1985 after movie star Rock Hudson died of AIDS. Link

In the early 1980s, the HIV/AIDS virus emerged and spread with quick and deadly force. Throughout the decade and into the 1990s, those infected (often part of socially-ostracized groups) fought for their lives in the face a seemingly indifferent government, a willfully-blind public, and slow-moving pharmaceutical companies. However, in the midst of the chaos caused by this disease, the USSR’s Communist Party and the KGB saw a perfect opportunity to stir up international trouble.

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Before the West was Cool: Soviet Hipsters in the 1950s

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Still from Stilyagi (2008). The main character, Mels, is watched with confusion and disgust by his neighbors. Screenshot by me through Kanopy.

I first discovered the stilyagi of the fifties when I saw a movie on Kanopy called Hipsters (2008)Set in 1955 Moscow, the film follows a Komsomol member who falls in love with one these stilyagi. A term for nonconformist, Western-oriented youths, the word stilyagi carried a highly negative connotation in Soviet society.

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Innocence Lost: The Great Patriotic War in “Ivan’s Childhood”

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Screencap from Ivan’s Childhood. Source: IMDb

Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1962 debut film, Ivan’s Childhood (available on Kanopy), follows a 12 year old boy serving as a scout in the Soviet military during World War II. Although it was made a couple decades after the war, this film not only portrays the mental and physical destruction wrought by the war, but also raises fascinating questions about Soviet military life.

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Stalin’s Favorite Movie: Soviet Film in the 1930’s


Volga-Volga Poster. Source

The period from 1924 to 1930 is often called “The Golden Age of Soviet Cinema.” During this time, Soviet filmmakers made breakthroughs in visual effects and editing styles. At the same time, they rejected the bourgeoisie trend in Western films of psychologizing characters and focusing on individuals. Instead, Soviet directors often focused on people in groups and used character types.1

Several great films emerged from this tradition. In 1924, Lev Kuleshov’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks satirized the attitude of Western countries toward Bolshevik Russia. In 1925, Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, widely praised by both modern critics and its contemporaries, utilized Eisenstein’s idea of “dialectical montage.” In 1929, Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, crowned best documentary film of all time by Sight and Sound, featured astounding visual effects and editing in its depiction of Soviet life. The next decade, however, saw a significant change in the style of Soviet film.

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“The life of the motherland is in your hands!” – The Kornilov Affair

General Lavr Kornilov, 1917. Image: Seventeen Moments in Soviet History

In the same text as contains this post’s title, General Lavr Kornilov wrote “People of Russia! Our great motherland is dying. The hour of her death is near.”The country he loved and had fought for much of his life, he believed, was in shambles. A man of law and order, by the time he led his attempted coup, Kornilov believed only a strong authoritarian figure could bring peace and discipline to the state.

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The Divine Penitentiary: Solovetskii Monastery’s Solemn History

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“View of the Solovetskii Monastery from the Inn. Solovetskii Islands.” Link to photo

This photograph, taken by Russian photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii in 1915, depicts the Solovetskii (also spelled Solovetsky) Monastery. Located in the Solovetsky archipelago (Solovki), the monastery harbors major Russian historical significance.

The first major expansion of the monastery occurred under the guidance of monk Philip Kolychev. From 1547  to 1566, Kolychev carried a series of construction projects and infrastructure improvements that solidified the monastery’s place as a fantastic feat of architecture. However, Kolychev’s political dissidence led to his execution at the hands of Ivan the Terrible – a fate which foreshadowed the monastery’s grim future.1

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