Guests: Fenggang Yang and Kung Lap Yan on Christianity, worship, and religious persecution in China.
Ed Pulford and Soren Urbansky on the cross-cultural and diverse past and present of the Russian Far East.
It all started with a letter to Stalin in 1935. And when a Kremlin clerk opened it, there was a piece of shit inside.
Was the turd an insult? A way of saying to Stalin, “You’re a shit. Here’s some shit”?
But I ended Part One of a Gift for Stalin on a different note: that the turd addressed to Stalin was no slight at all. It was, in fact, a gift.
A little brown present for Comrade Stalin.
It’s Sunday, October 13, 1935, and someone, we don’t know who mails a letter from the outskirts of Moscow. It’s addressed: “Kremlin. To Comrade Stalin.” It arrives a few days later. And when Comrade Sentaretskya, one of the secretaries sorting Stalin’s mail, got to this letter, she had no reason to worry . . . . that is until she opened it.
It’s Sunday, October 13, 1935, and someone, we don’t know, who mails a letter. It’s addressed: “Kremlin. To Comrade Stalin.”
Now, there was nothing odd about people writing Stalin. They wrote to him a lot.
So, when Comrade Sentaretskaya, one of the secretaries sorting Stalin’s mail, got to this letter, she had no reason to worry . . . . that is until she opened it.
Just what was in this letter?
Find out March 31 when The Eurasian Knot debuts with A Gift to Stalin, two episodes about a letter mailed to the Soviet dictator and what it might have meant in the Soviet Union. Available wherever you get your podcasts.
Teddy Goes to the USSR explored American tourism, KGB surveillance, consumerism, race, and daily life through Teddy Roe’s trip to the USSR. And many of Teddy’s observations were inevitably informed by the Cold War and American tropes. So, what to make of Teddy’s journey and what it says about Soviet life? In this final episode, TGU host Sean Guillory and historian Leah Goldman highlight key moments in the series to tease out the contradictions and reflect on America’s and the Soviet Union’s entangled relationship.
American tourists expected few chances to meet Soviet people. You’d only see what Soviet officials wanted to show you. Touring the USSR, many assumed, was nothing more than a front row seat at a big show. And real Soviet life was hidden under layers upon layers of propaganda. So, if you wanted to see the truth of Soviet life—avoid officials and seek out “regular people.” Teddy wanted to seek out “regular” Soviet people. And he had a few chances to visit people’s homes. What did Teddy discover about “regular Soviet life and people” as a result? And what did it say about the Soviet system as a lived experience?
Teddy had few “official” meetings in the USSR. A factory here. A collective farm there. Maybe a school or two. And there was one question Teddy’s hosts always asked: “Why are you still lynching Blacks?” American racism was a global issue during the Cold War. And pointing to it was a strike at America’s Achilles heel. Soviet media devoted a lot of time to the Civil Rights Movement. And Teddy arrived in the USSR just when Martin Luther King was assassinated. So, just what was this Soviet concern for American Blacks? Was it merely a whataboutism, a way to deflect American criticism of Soviet life? Or was there something more to it?
Like many Americans, Teddy judged the USSR through a consumer lens. What could Soviets buy? How much? And what was up with those long lines and shortages? Teddy wasn’t very impressed. Yet, the “standard of living race” was a front in the Cold War like any other. And Soviet communism was losing. But things were never so simple. By the late 1960s, Soviet people were consuming more than ever. They were becoming consumers just like in the West. So, what was it like to shop in the USSR? And was buying stuff part of the Soviet dream?
Teddy assumed the KGB would monitor his travels around the Soviet Union. In Kiev, Teddy discovers that someone went through his luggage. And half-century later he learns his suspicions were correct. The KGB wrote a report on him, complete with excerpts from his diary. What was in this report? What did the KGB hope to learn from Teddy? And what was this vast network for keeping tabs on tourists anyway?
Teddy Roe took an extraordinary trip to the USSR in 1968. For three months, he travelled from one end of the USSR to the other. Most Americans at the time believed the USSR was their greatest enemy. Teddy was among tens of thousands who toured the Soviet Union. Why did Americans want to travel there? Why did the Soviets want them to come? What just what was the tourist experience like?