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A screen shot of Ukrainian peasants from "The Harvesters' Song," a British Pathé news clip that was made in 1935
The recent announcement by the 20th-century newsreel maker British Pathé that it was uploading thousands of hours of its digitized footage to YouTube sparked a flurry of excitement among history buffs who were eager to delve into its unique collection of films covering major events of the past.

History, as they say, begets the present. Given Ukraine's place at the forefront of current world affairs, we decided to troll through British Pathé's vast film archive to see what clips there are from the East European country's past, which might shed some light on the situation that it finds itself in today:

1) The Harvesters' Song (1935)

There doesn't yet seem to be any Pathé footage available of Ukraine's Holodomor, the man-made famine orchestrated by the Soviet government, which killed millions of people in 1932-33.

This clip from a couple of years later paints a more idealized portrait of conditions in the "granary of Europe." It also mentions in passing the importance of "the Ukraine" to Moscow as well as its separatist leanings, both of which still seem eerily relevant today.


2) A Crimean Collective Farm (1939)

Here's another rose-tinted portrait of Soviet life from Crimea in 1939, portraying the modern methods and rewarding labor of collective farming.

It's interesting to note that the narrator refers to the region as "Tatar country." Although Moscow used the ethnic Russian inhabitants of Crimea as grounds for its annexation in March, no mention was made of the fact that the peninsula's indigenous Tatar population was deported en masse to Central Asia in 1944.


3) The Liberation Of Kyiv (1944)

As one of the epicenters of World War II, Ukraine arguably suffered more than most other countries during the conflict.

It's not surprising therefore that much of the rhetoric emanating from both the pro-Russian and Ukraine-unity sides in the current crisis often uses WWII as a frame of reference.

This compelling clip of the liberation of Kyiv from fascist Germany in 1944 helps illustrate why the harrowing events of that era still rouse such strong emotions more than seven decades later.


4) The Chornobyl Nuclear Disaster (1986)

One of the most traumatic events of Ukraine's postwar history is the Chornobyl nuclear meltdown.

This Pathé roundup of the devastating atomic accident in 1986 provides a decent precis of the disaster and the equally catastrophic response of the Soviet authorities.


5) The Orange Revolution (2004)

The roots of the Euromaidan can be traced back to the Orange Revolution nearly a decade earlier.

This clip shows Pathé covering all the bases in its report on the mass protests following a hotly disputed presidential election in 2004, which eventually swept reformist candidate Viktor Yushchenko to power ahead of pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych in a repeat election.

The video's narrator rather optimistically describes these events as the birth of "another movement for democracy in Eastern Europe."

Political infighting, however, helped ensure that the Orange Revolution quickly ran out of steam, and Viktor Yanukovych eventually became president anyway when he succeeded Yushchenko in 2010.

His ouster following widespread protests over perceived corruption and abuse of power earlier this year is what precipitated the current crisis and brought us to the present impasse between east and west Ukraine.
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-- Coilin O'Connor
Austrian singer Conchita Wurst personifies what Russia hates about Europe -- except for the beard.
BuzzFeed has reported about Russians shaving their facial hair to protest bearded Austrian singer Conchita Wurst's Eurovision win.

Now, gay activists are fighting back, officially applying for permission to hold "the Conchita Wurst March of Bearded Women And Men" in Moscow. The activists plan the march on May 27, the 21st anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexual relations in Russia.

Beards have always been political in Russia. In the late 17th century, Peter the Great ordered his courtiers to shave and introduced a tax on beards, as part of his efforts to modernize Russia. It didn't go down particularly well, with much popular outcry.

But rather than being an example of the effete and decadent West (we have, after all, reached peak beard), the beard has had a long, proud tradition throughout Russian history, seen as a sign of masculinity and Orthodox piety.

Before Peter the Great, men could be fined for damaging another man's beard and "people judged a Russian man’s power and strength based on the thickness and tidiness of his beard. There was no worse insult than spitting in the beard."

In this handy infographic here on the evolution of the Russian beard, the author says that under Peter the Great "shaving off beards went counter to the traditional Orthodox understanding of masculine beauty and an image worthy of a man."

After the "puffy wigs" and "side whiskers" phase, Soviet communism's approach to facial hair was more austere. As this blogger points out:
Just when you thought the bare-chin cultural hegemony would never be challenged, along came Pushkin with his wild sideburns. The subsequent flowering of beards peaked in the age of Great Reforms, "the greatest of which was the liberation from serfdom of bearded ploughmen." Then the pendulum swung back again, ushering in a beardless Bolshevik regime and a new model of historical progress: "from Marx’s beard to Stalin’s mustache, and further to Khrushchev’s smooth pumpkin-like head," which appeared on the horizon as the apotheosis of Peter’s dream of total facial hairlessness.

Or less generously:
Then, the soviets came at power. Lenin didn’t wear beard, but a goatee and a moustache. After him, comes a mustached Stalin, and then a bald Krushchev, a shaggy Brezhnev, two toxic old men, Andropov and Chernenko, and then, a Gorbachev with a forehead burned by the sun. Not to mention the last three presidents: not a single hair thread see on their chin or under their nose.

Anyway, here is a little reminder of the sheer greatness of Russian beards (in reverse order of greatness):

6. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

According to his son, his beard helped create his image as a "embittered, angry prophet."

5. Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov

A nuclear physicist, he was known as the father of the Soviet atomic bomb. He was also dubbed "the beard" after he said he would not shave his beard until the program succeeded.

4. Fyodor Dostoevsky

"Whereas Dostoevsky’s beard is at once wispy and gregarious, his drooping moustache is resolute."

3. Leo Tolstoy

A beard described by the "Daily Telegraph" as "as long as War and Peace."

2. Vladimir Lenin

Modern, sculptured, a break from the past. A beard that promised a brighter future. And here's Lenin without a beard.

1. Rasputin

"There lived a certain man in Russia long ago
He was big and strong, in his eyes a flaming glow
Most people looked at him with terror and with fear
But to Moscow chicks he was such a lovely dear."

-- Luke Allnutt

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About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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