Sunday, February 6, 2011

THE SOVIET UNION DID HAVE A GOD (guest blog by Katia Raina)

A few weeks ago, I introduced you to Katia Raina via this blog post. I promised she'd be guest blogging monthly about growing up in communist Russia.  Today, the two of us are making good on that promise. Are you ready for a thought provoking story?

Here's Katia!

I thought I’d start this series of posts from the beginning: the founding of the Soviet Union.

Since the age of seven when we officially started school, we were fed the following STORY:

The oppressive tsar Nicholas II ruled Russia most unfairly, depriving peasants and workers of rights and fortunes. The people tried to revolt, but the cruel tsar had repeatedly squashed each protest, until October 1917 – when under the leadership of the Great Comrade Lenin, his Communist Party and the Bolsheviks, a bunch of marines and soldiers stormed the Winter Palace in Petrograd (formerly known as St. Petersburg – later to be known as Leningrad).

The sailors and soldiers took the tsar and his family into custody, overthrew the monarchy and created a new society in Russia – one of fairness and equality, where the working class became the ruling class, and the rich, the noble and the bourgeoisie were banished.

As we advanced through the grades, we learned more: that before Lenin’s Soviets took power, there existed a provisional government headed by the Mensheviks (from the word: “minority, as opposed to Bolsheviks, “majority.” The Mensheviks were painted in history lessons as morally weak and traitors to the true spirit of the Revolution, even though (a) the revolution of 1917 was actually successfully carried out under their leadership, not the Bolsheviks’ and b) the “minority” Mensheviks actually outnumbered the so-called Bolshevik majority.)

As some of you might have heard, we (supposedly) didn’t have religion in the Soviet Union. The moment our little feet stepped across the thresholds of our clean, well-lit primary schools, we were taught this: our great motherland had no need for God. After all, we were building our own paradise on earth, comrades!

In fact, looking back at it now – we did have gods in the Soviet Union. Our most important one was a man with a goat-like triangular beard, named Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

He ruled new Russia – the U.S.S.R. – from 1917 until his death in 1924.

By the time I started school sixty years later, Lenin was everywhere.

His name was the name of every city’s busiest thoroughfare.

His granite monument stood in the middle of children’s parks and busy squares.

His portrait hung on the wall of EVERY classroom – right above the blackboard. 
This LIFE magazine photo taken at a Young Pioneer camp in Soviet Russia shows a
display of "Big Shots". Lenin is second from far right.  
His words – or words attributed to him – greeted the passerby from posters attached to public buildings.

He was the hero of pictures books my bookcase was stuffed with. Books about little Lenin showed him growing up, dealing with everyday situations, children’s problems. One could suggest Lenin was Russia’s Arthur or Franklin Turtle – but I call him god because unlike those characters in popular children’s books, little Lenin was PERFECT. He never seemed to saver much in making choices, and yet his choices always turned out to be right.

Katia with books
There were books about grown-up Lenin, older Lenin, the wise Grandpa Lenin, we called him. They were legends about a man who seemed so modest and plain on the outside – always depicted as working at his desk, wearing simple pants and jackets and maybe a tie.
And yet, he was more than a simple man – he was wisdom, and perfection and triumph personified, he was our Soviet god.

 I remember as a very young child looking up at his portrait on the wall during class, and asking, in the privacy of my own mind, “Grandpa Lenin, what should I do? Am I being good enough?” “Is this a good choice I am making?”

Next month – I want to blog about the other side of this god-like, mysterious aura the lovely “Grandpa Lenin” and some of our other Communist leaders carried. Next month, I want to talk about the memories of fear our communist “gods” have inspired.

Wow! Katia, that is so powerful. Thanks for dropping by and sharing your personal history with us. I feel how big Lenin felt to you and how small you felt in comparison!  I'm especially interested since my work in progress take place in a communist country.  I can't wait for you to return!

BTW, Dear Reader  Here's a glimpse into some Soviet classrooms.

And if you sneak over to Katia's blog you'll find that's she's giving away a few of my books.  What are you waiting for?


  1. Hi Joyce,

    We share a Katia connection. She was my roommate at a NJ SCBWI retreat a few years ago. Fascinating blog post!

  2. Shannon, you've met her? Lucky you! She's giving away a copy of Best Friends Forever and Healing Water over at my blog. Maybe you can enter the contest and encourage others to also.

  3. I followed a link on Katia's blog....

    I find this fascinating. When I was in elementary and middle school in the 80's, I had several classmates who were (or their parents were) Russian immigrants. I enjoyed listening to their life stories and I was glad that they made it to our melting pot.

    Perhaps I'll also meet Katia one day.

  4. Medeia, thanks for dropping by. We are really lucky to live with diversity. And the internet is connecting people who never would have met.I love that!

  5. I was married once to an immigrant from the former Soviet Union and actually visited his family in Leningrad right before the fall of the USSR. I first met Katia I think at the Jewish Children's Writers & Illustrators Conference. Katia, this post is fantastic - thanks for sharing it with us!

  6. Barbara, you do get around!! I love how you embrace life!

  7. Thank you guys so much for reading! Shannon -- I still remember that retreat -- we had fun, didn't we? And Medeia -- and Joyce -- I am sure at some point we WILL meet for real. The kidlit world is surprisingly small, I'm discovering!

  8. my family traveled through the ussr in 1963 by covered wagon with horses. we were the only americans to do so. check us out on facebook. "the last wagon west".