A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith

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Photographer Jason Eskenazi from the USA visited Russia in 1991 for the first time, it was on the eve of the August putsh, and since then he has returned to post-Soviet countries many times. The result – some exhibitions and a book “Wonderland: A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith”. His photographs are rather popular in the west. Jason says that USSR is a gloomy utopian nightmare . He believes that it’s a tragedy that people of the ruined empire, who are not ready for a new life, who don’t see their place in future,  feel nostalgic about the communistic past.

Sailors, Kostroma, Russia, 2000

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Maternity hospital, Azerbaijan, 1999

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Shutilovo village, Russia, 1999

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Haymaking, Mari-El, Russia, 1999

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Moscow hotel, 1998

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“Swan Lake” ballet, Moscow, 2003

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Jewish New Year, Uman, Ukraine, 1997

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Georgia, 1997

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Moscow, 1998

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The Caspian Sea, Baku, Azerbaijan, 1997

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Chechnya, 1996

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Moscow, Russia, 1993

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Shutilovo village, Russia, 2003

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Heroin drug-addicts, Russia, 2003

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Meeting of the millennium in Red Square, Moscow

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Stuffed dogs-cosmonauts Belka and Strelka, Memorial Museum of Astronautics, Moscow

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Cemetery,  Lithuania, 2000

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Circus in Grozny, Chechnya, 2000

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Georgia, 1997

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Near Kirov, Russia, 2000

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42 thoughts on “A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith”

    • The pic is a bit unclear – do the schoolgirls in Lithuania still wear the Soviet-style ribbons and school uniforms? Or are they simply twins wearing the same dress?

    • yes, its a hill of cross, not a cemetery, and nobody wear soviet uniforms in Lithuania, i think is just the same outfit, and well… a little out of fashion in lithuania.

  1. I was irritated by the Anglo-Saxon pompous pundits who think that they can better themselves Russian know what they need in this life. If the Soviet Union was a nightmare then surely he wants to say that the U.S. is a paradise on earth. Depression, sadness, frustration is easy to find and you dear representatives of the West.

  2. Russia may have its problems, we all have them, no one is perfect. But Russia has a lot of things going for it in the 21 Century, Lots of room to grow, an educated population, willingness to do the hard thing when needed. The only people that can do it are the Russians themselves. Freedom and Liberty has its price, its a price worth paying. The social experiment known as the Soviet Union was well what it was, The country and its people moved on, its going to take a few generations to right the ship, but it will get done with time. If anything they have come a long way, your best days have not even come yet.

    • George I agree with you totally disagree what you call a social experiment was a landmark leap forward for my country. The country whose population at the beginning of the century was almost illiterate in the mid-century, launched into space the first satellite, the first person (if you’ve forgotten his name Gagarin), has created one of the best education systems (with the free coffee).

      • I completely agree. I was in Ukraine in 1994 and returned to Russia in 1999, and I have yet to meet someone who thinks that the USSR was a bad thing for everyone, not including the Baltics, which consider themselves involuntarily occupied. Of course they hate it. But most others, even the other CIS and NIS which are not slavic, long for the stability, security.

        Yes, they were poor. They might have looked sad to this photographer. But in the US we paint on a smile, and despite all the bling, huge swathes of our population are on anti-depressants. Why, if affluence makes life better, are we so unhappy?

        He did not capture the beautiful hearts of the Russian people, of the former Soviet brotherhood, which though it is fading, in some respects still persists. I remember how kind so many Russians were to me because they thought I was a Tajik girl. “One of ours.” In America, my home country, the ask where I am from. But in Russia, even a Tajik girl can be at home.

        This guy just sees what he wants. He does not see that capitalism is dead–we only have capital left, but the state and the corporations are a monolithic figure that controls as much if not more than the USSR ever controlled.

        And they give us so much less. 🙁

      • I would both agree and disagree with you. The good and bad of communism in the USSR is sort of a matter of perspective of when in it’s history you were living. Communism under Gorbachev or Khrushchev was relatively good as compared to communism under Stalin. It may very well have improved the USSR, but at a terrible human cost. Had it not had such a terrible human cost, our perspective may have been different. Then again, in the West the individual good is seen as far more valuable than the collective good, and we tend not to believe that sacrificing even one individual on the altar of progress is a good thing. In the end though, it could have been done better, with more respect for the rights and needs of the individual rather than the single minded vision of the leadership. After all, that was part of the original promise of communism before it deteriorated into the dictatorship that it became.

        • I saw the circus in Ekaterinburg Russia.The building looked like a cement circus tent.A live band performed the music and me and the pretty Ruska and her daughter I was with was right below the band.There are no drinking fountains in Ekaterinburg,only bottled water.Water could be purchased carbonated or still (no bubbles).Russians love carbonated water.During the winter the circus performers icescate with bears.

  3. These are consistent with a worldview in which looks (it believes) from a higher level of development.
    Russia would have become and underdeveloped western satellite/colony if it had not established it’s independence.
    Of course it was worth it.
    The disintegration visible in the pictures is happening now in eastern europe from the same attack of neoliberal disease.
    Will we see pictures of it and groan about how foolish they were too?

  4. Black and white. Artsy. No any good.
    What’s behind this? ‘Ooh, let’s make some sad pictures about that unlucky folks in that so-called gloomy utopian nightmare.’
    Bad propaganda, nothing else – that’s my opinion.

  5. If the Soviet Union was a Utopian nightmare, the United States is a capitalist and free market nightmare. If you come from a country that refuses individuals treatment at hospitals because they do not have the financial resources, you do not have the right to make negative comments against another country.

    • In 2006 there were 46.5 million americans (17.9%) without any form of health insurance (not even Medicaid). That’s way more people than the entire Canadian population (31M).

    • I’d assume since you are on this site that you know what socialism is, so I guess I don’t need to state it, but here it is: Canada is not a socialist country.

  6. Some of the most breathtaking pictures I have ever seen over the years,good or bad,have been from russia.I think the entire culture is facinating.

  7. The stark honesty of these pictures is wonderful. ‘Georgia 1997’ shows the child is not too happy with seeing the animal’s head, although her face is only partially visible. ‘Near Kirov, Russia 2000’ is somewhat disturbing. All these photos are top class.

  8. Lets fight each other lets destroy the Islamist barbarians like we did the Nazis and save the world from islamic terror like the muslims did in Stavropol yesterday .

  9. The Soviet Union was a country that could manage to send rockets into space, but couldn’t provide decent housing for it’s people, a country that had the largest army in the world, but could only provide the most rudimentary day-to-day consumer goods for it’s people – and what was available – in the end not much anymore – was mostly of poor quality, a country where everyone went to school, but where in the end scientific progress was more than 10 to 20 years behind the West, a country that had to prevent it’s citizens from visiting foreign countries in fear of those same citizens not returning to their beloved motherland, a country that preached equality and created a party nomenclatura that had privileges going far and beyond the priviliges of the wealthy in the West, a country that suppressed freedom of speech and therefore had to build a huge security apparatus to find out what the ordinary people were really thinking, a country that before the revolution was the biggest exporter of food and decades later had to sell all it’s oil and gold to be able to feed it’s people, a country extremely rich in all sorts of commodities where the people, after decades of selfproclaimed social progress, were living in far worser conditions than the poorest people in poor Western countries like Portugal or Greece, a country that was so strong that one attempt to restore the country – druing the eighties – resulted in it’s complete social, economical and political collapse. Really a social utopia.
    Before the revolution, Russia was developping itself into an industrial power. One can only wonder how much further Russia would have been now -and with much less loss of life – hadn’t it been for 70 years of communism.

    • As for swearing, I was wrong. I appreciate all the positive that it was in tsarist Russia, but the system as it existed was doomed (stubbornness Nicholas 2 and reluctance to change anything that gave her no chance). Tell me how you think, if all was well, why people went to the revolution (good government is not overthrown)? Accommodation which has been built in the Soviet Union in line with our conditions and (do not deny his design was horrible but its main purpose served). Concerning the conditions for the citizens of what you mean, the Soviet Union gave its citizens a good free medical, security, industry provided assortment although fewer than in the West but of acceptable quality (in my country house so far is a TV and a refrigerator that to 30 years). As for the party leadership to you I agree it is riddled with corruption and sought to further develop the country, but the government is only human and it was enough to change for the better. I think the Soviet Union was not a criminal and flawed system. By the way communism in the Soviet Union was not, it is an unattainable ideal )))). The maximum that the USSR has reached a developed socialism.

  10. Outstanding photography. It’s a shame that politics must be brought into a conversation about these photos. Truth be told, if one were to use black and white film in the USA, things would look just as dreary. Sure, we have no bombed out ruins like in Chechnya, but we do have Detriot.

  11. Soviet Union had it’s good points and education was one of them. People in the West were fed propaganda, just like the Russians were, and are. You really have to compare the USSR with what went before in Russia. The wealth of Imperial Russia was controlled by 2 percent of the population. Go to the Armory at the Kremlin and see the horse blanket with 10,000 pearls! That, is just one exhibit of wealth so incredible I have never seen anything like it. The rare gem collection at the Smithsonian is NOTHING, compared to the Romonov jewels. So, the Russians went from one extreme to the other. Although Soviet Union spread the wealth a little, all distribution of goods was centered and controlled by Moscow black market. Even when the country did produce something good, it would be swept away by black market. This was one reason for the troublesome lack of consumer goods in Soviet Union. It just seems to me that whatever type of polical system Russia has, it’s screwed up. Not to say it is ALL bad, but it could be much better.

  12. I agree with “are you kidding”, USA and Russia have a dangerous and common foe that has killed thousands of our citizens within our respective borders. USA, UK and USSR joined together once in a military understanding that destroyed the threat of Hitler’s fascism. This alliance created the strongest military machine the world has ever known.

    Let us put some REAL whoop ass on the terrorists.

  13. Good pictures! I love the one with the old man´s bold haha

    Btw, i found this blog yesterday and i have to say that is very interesting, congratulations! 😀

  14. Everybody sees what they want to see. Every time I visit Russia I see things completely opposite – expensive cars, tons of restaurants, people dressed to kill, new modern buildings… I have yet to meet one person who misses old USSR, younger generation either don’t know or don’t remember it at all.


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