Posts Tagged ‘Chernobyl’

From C. 1989: Pravda International on Launch of Greenpeace Rock Album in Soviet Union

October 18, 2017

Pravda International, with pic of Yeltsyn before he became president. This seems to have been before the drunkenness took hold. It also doesn’t show his uncritical adulation of capitalism, which destroyed the Soviet economy and caused massive unemployment and poverty.

Way back in the 1980s when I was at College, I used to buy Pravda International occasionally. It was, very roughly, an English language version of the Russian Communist party newspaper, but with articles also drawn from the other Russian newspapers and magazines Izvestia, Argumenty I Fakty, Moscow News, as well as by the English editions own staff. Like many magazines over the years, it seems to have folded due to lack of interest. I tried to buy it from my local newsagent, but found out that it was unavailable. The two big magazine distributors had divided Bristol up between them, and one of them wouldn’t carry it. So guess which half of Bristol I was in.

I nevertheless kept hold of some of them, as they were records of an exciting, historic time. This was when Glaznost and Perestroika were in full swing, the Soviet Union was being democratised according to Gorbachev’s belief that democracy and Communism could be combined to produce a new, vigorous, prosperous Soviet Union. The Soviets were opening their borders and allowing western media into the country. The Cold War was thawing rapidly, and right across the Communist bloc censorship was being lifted. The Soviet people were making their voices heard, and books, plays, poetry and art that had previously been banned were now being published and publicly discussed. Stalin and his minions stood, thanks to dissident Marxist historians like Roy and Zhores Medvedev, openly condemned as monstrous mass murderers. And the families, friends and loved ones of his victims organised to demand memorials to the millions he had murdered. And instead of hatred, distrust and the looming threat of nuclear holocaust, for a few years it looked like the peoples of the West and East would live as friends and co-workers. The missiles were being decommissioned, the silos filled in. Across the world it seemed that our peoples would never again have to fear the threat of nuclear attack, or invasion from across the other side of the Iron Curtain.

And I also dug out the old copy of Pravda International out of a sense of mischief. RT UK and America have been under attack recently, accused of spreading Russian propaganda and interfering with our politics. What this means is that the Russian-owned news agency has actually done some good journalism, and uncovered the poverty, misery and despair caused by corporatist late capitalism and the gutting of the British and American welfare state and working class organisations. It’s what our own, domestic news networks should be reporting on, but instead they’ve been turned into part of the same corporate system, publishing nothing but mainstream propaganda for the corporatist elite and their puppets and shills in the political parties. I wanted to dig it out to show that the Russians have always had a media presence in the West, and there was a time when it also really frightened some capitalist interests. Although flicking through that issue of the magazine, many of the stories were about western businesses, including British firms, securing contracts to work with Soviet enterprises, as the economy opened up.

Russia, like everywhere else, is also suffering from environmental damage and climate change. Simon Reeve, in his recent TV journey across Russia from the Far East to St. Petersburg, stopped in Siberia to show the terrifying changes that are occurring in the Russian north. The permafrost is melting causing the remaining rock and soil to subside. This has created vast craters in the tundra. One Russian environmental scientist took Reeve to see one of these. It was staggering, the size of the vast Arizona meterorite crater in the US. It was as if a piece of land the size of a city had been scooped out of the Arctic.

These climatic changes are threatening the stability of many of the cities the Russians built up in the north. They’re also a further threat to all humanity, as they release methane, a greenhouse gas far more powerful than Carbon Dioxide. About 25 times more powerful. This threatens to create runaway global warming beyond the tipping point, to the point where the survival or human civilisation, if not the human species itself, is very much under threat.

Looking through this old issue of Pravda International, it was therefore particularly interesting to find an article by their staffer, Jennie Walsh, reporting the launch of a rock album by Greenpeace, released by the Soviet recording company Melodiya, to raise awareness of environmental issues.
The article, ‘Breakthrough for the Environment’, reads

The ecological pressure group Greenpeace has long highlighted the international potential of the environmental movement. The recent release of their rock compilation album, Breakthrough marks an important step forward for the campaign, and for Western music.

Two years ago Greenpeace chairman David McTaggart approached Ian Flookes of the Wasted Talent Artists Agency with a view to putting on a concert of Western bands in the Soviet Union in order to generate roubles for a Soviet-based Greenpeace campaign. Political problems prevented this at the time, but in the changing climate of perestroika the plans were restarted last year, though a compilation record was considered more appropriate.

‘After what happened at Chernobyl, I think the Soviet authorities have become extremely environment-conscious and their approach to Greenpeace and to the project has been one of great support’, Flookes told Pravda International.

With the full cooperation of the Soviet state record company Melodiya, who were granted independent status last year, Breakthrough is the first major release of contemporary Western rock music in the USSR.

It is the first time that Melodiya has been able to do a ‘normal’ promotion campaign, with many of the artists (who all gave their services free of charge) present at the Moscow launch in March. There was an incredible reception. One record store queue was over 7,000 people, which is quite phenomenal – even by Soviet standards!

The purpose behind Breakthrough, however, must not be forgotten amid such hysteria. Kate Karam of Greenpeace emphasised that in releasing the album, they wanted to educate as much as to entertain. Despite perestroika, it is still difficult to put out independent information in the USSR, and the album provided a vehicle for the distribution of a booklet highlighting the work of Greenpeace and the environmental problems of the USSR.

The profits from the record sales will be shared between Greenpeace and the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity, one of the first independent, non-governmental organisations to be founded in the Soviet Union.

The money will be spent only on projects within the USSR. This is a major indication of the political changes that have taken place. Greenpeace is quite a radical organisation by any standards, and to have some of the top soviet scientists and public servants (including Velikov, vice-president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences) support them through the Foundation, has been vital to the project. It is also an important challenge – a challenge to get programmes started in the USSR while maintaining the traditional Greenpeace principle of direct action.

Several environmental projects have now been formally agreed. Greenpeace will use some of the funds from the record to organise an East-West exchange programme in cooperation with the Soviet Academy of Sciences, for children to study environmental problems. Projects in the pipeline include work with the International Foundation to establish a central clearing house for information on atmospheric pollution problems and trying to involve the Soviet Union in the campaign to stop the industrial pollution of the Baltic Sea.

‘We don’t want to impose our Western standards about the environment on the Soviet Union,’ explains Karam. ‘I think that’s a danger with many of the Western organisations taking advantage of the new political climate there. Greenpeace is going to Russia to learn about their specific problems, because it is wrong to develop homogeneous attitudes about the environment. We need to study and talk to people before we launch into setting up offices and membership drives. Getting educational materials out in Russia is a big enough challenge right now without going straight into direct action projects.’

The popularisation of ‘green politics’ in the West may be little more than rhetoric on the part of its leaders, but it has encouraged the critical eye to fall on eastern Europe with regard to its environmental record. The socialist system may have failed the environment as much as the capitalist, but the big difference is the West has had 10 years lead time with environmentalists pushing legislation through. ‘I think the question is now how bad the USSR’s record is, but what is going to happen over the next 10 years – not in the past 50. I don’t think its fair to criticise.’

Now that the Soviet authorities have made active moves to encourage environmental concern, particularly by creating a Ministry for the Environment, Greenpeace are keen to see whether other east European countries follow suit.

Breakthrough is to be released in all the east European countries as well as in the UK, USA, India, Australia and Japan, emphasising the international aspect of the green movement.

The release of the album worldwide, under the title Rainbow Warriors, will probably be slightly more of a gamble than it has been in the Soviet Union. Compassion fatigue in the West, however, might be overcome by the quality of the record.

There probably hasn’t been an album released yet, which features so many top musicians – U2, Simple Minds, The Eurythmics, Bryan Ferry, Peter Gabriel and Sting to name a few. There are 26 tracks, all of which have recently been hits. For many, the album will probably have an intrinsic value just for this reason. The fact that it supports Greenpeace will be a bonus.

In the three weeks since the album was released in the USSR over 10,000 copies have been received on the forms that were enclosed in the information booklets.

The worldwide launch is on May 22nd and if it sells for reasons other than its musical content, its educational and mobilising potential could be as effective as the fundraising.

Now, unfortunately, we have had Russian hackers releasing scientific data in an attempt to discredit climate change and global warming, while Trump is also trying to stifle climate science, including the virtual closure of America’s Environmental protection Agency. He and the rest of the Republican party are determined that only the paid propagandists for the Koch brothers will be heard.

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From the Director of 47 Ronin: The Gift Short SF Film

January 15, 2014

With the samurai fantasy epic, 47 Ronin about to hit the big screens here in Britain, I found this fascinating short film by its director, Carl Erik Rinsch. The Gift is set in a future Russia, inhabited by animal and humanoid robots, and patrolled by sinister and murderous robotic cops. A mysterious man travels through Moscow with a gift-wrapped package, containing something so precious people are willing to kill and die for it.

I found it on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jeve1kJCBlc.

Rinsch himself is American, and the film itself was shown about four years ago in 2010 as part of the Philiips Parallel Lines film festival. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating little film, which certainly makes me wish for a few more, full-length SF films set in Russia. Russia has a long tradition of excellent SF literature, of which the best known in the West is probably the work of the Strugatski brothers. Their novel, Stalker, was turned into a film of the same name by the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky had earlier produced Solaris, based on the classic SF novel of the same name by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. Tarkovsky, however, cut out most of the books special effects sequences, leaving the film as a long discussion on evil and human responsibilities by the characters as they roam a devastated, post-industrial landscape in search of something.

It’s very different from the book, where the weird, devastated environment of the Zone is given a rather fuller description. In the book the area has been cordoned off following a mysterious incident, the crash of an alien spacecraft. The area is now a death-trap in which normal, physical laws no longer apply. There can be sudden, massive increases in gravity, which can crush the unwitting traveller. The Zone is also populated by hostile dummies, the zombie remnants of humans caught, killed, and twisted into something not quite dead by the power of the strange forces that created and pervade the Zone.

The book’s hero is rather different too. In both the book and the film he’s an outlaw, venturing into the forbidden environment of the Zone in order to bring back valuable alien artefacts for money in order to support himself and his family. His journeys into the Zone have worked a terrible effect on him. Over time the Stalkers suffer genetic damage due to their exposure to the Zone and its bizarre forces. The Stalker of the novel in his career makes too many journeys into the Zone, with the result that his daughter is mutated. The film, however, makes the character much less morally ambiguous. In the book the character is at times quite ruthless, fully prepared to sacrifice his unwitting fellow travellers to the Zone and its deadly forces in order to get what he wants. Instead of the film’s elevated questioning of the nature of morality in the face of catastrophe, the book has a much darker tone, more Western cyberpunk with its similar amoral, outlaw heroes and noir-ish visions of a decaying or wrecked future.

Steven Soderbergh remade Solaris a few years ago, with George Clooney in the lead role. It was shorter than the Tarkovsky version, but made a few minor changes. There were sex scenes, which certainly weren’t present in Tarkovsky’s presence, one of the characters, the physicist Snow, was changed from a White man to a Black woman. In most other respects, however, the film was almost exactly the same, with some scenes almost shot-for-shot identical to the original. I’d like to see someone remake Stalker, but keeping closer to the source novel and showing some of the terrible wonders and dangers of the Zone.

The Strugatski brothers are only two of the many brilliant SF writers from Russia and eastern Europe. One or two of their other works were also filmed under Soviet rule, including In The Dust of their Stars, in which heroic Russian space travellers try to lead a rebellion against the oppressive rule of a planet’s feudal tyrant. Another Soviet SF film, though one which wasn’t written by them, is Planet of Storms, about a expedition to Venus. More recent Russian SF/ Fantasy films have been Daywatch and Nightwatch, about a secret society protecting humanity from supernatural evil. Seeing The Gift and with its setting in Russia reminded me just how great Russian, and eastern Science Fiction generally could be. It’s at times markedly different from Western SF. Under Communism, it was often written as a parable, in which the authors made coded comments and observations about the state of Soviet society, which they couldn’t express directly in realist fiction.

Stalker, with its depiction of wrecked landscape rendered deadly through a technological accident, became particularly relevant after the Chernobyl disaster. A few years ago a computer game was released, whose creators were Russian, and which mixed elements of Stalker with that of Chernobyl and its similar, horrifically polluted zone. Although it was entertainment, it also had a more serious purpose as it was partly intended to promote ecological awareness about the dangers of the devastating effects of such human activities on the natural world. The Russian film industry suffered catastrophically after the collapse of Communism, as it couldn’t compete with the big budget films from Hollywood, like The Terminator. The success of the Day- and Nightwatch films has proved that Russian film-makers can still produce great SF/ Fantasy films in a global market, so hopefully there will be a few more SF and Fantasy films coming from Russia and eastern Europe. And that will be no bad thing at all.

This is the trailer of Tarkovsky’s 1979 film of Stalker from Youtube:

Here’s an extract from Planet of Storms, also from Youtube :