The colour of Russian history – Red Guards

So, who were the Red Guards, anyway?

Red Guards (Красная Гвардия) were groups of armed workers formed in the time of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Very quickly they became the violent strike force of the Bolsheviks.

They were created by the leaders of the Bolsheviks as “bouncers” or so-called security for meetings at factories and plants.  Their job at first was to maintain security for meetings of the revolutionary Factory and Plant Committees and Bolshevik party cells. It didn’t take long for party leaders to give them the duty of disruption of groups which didn’t agree with the Bolshevik agenda.

During that period other militarized groups were formed, such as “people’s militia” (народная милиция), created by the Russian Provisional Government which the Bolshevik’s eventually toppled, “groups of self-defence” (отряды самообороны), “committees of public security” (комитеты общественной безопасности), and the “workers’ squads” (рабочие дружины).

"Long Live the Workers and Peasant Red Army - Loyal Guard of the Soviet Borders!"
"Long Live the Workers and Peasant Red Army - Loyal Guard of the Soviet Borders!"

At the time of the October Revolution it is estimated that the Russian Red Guards numbered over 200,000 personnel, mostly males. Enlistment was voluntary, but required recommendations from local workers committees called “Soviets” (Soviet in Russian means “committee”), Bolshevik party units or other public organizations aligned with the Bolsheviks.

The military training of workers was often performed while workers were on duty at factories and plants, making it possible for the Bolsheviks to recruit and train an army while the trainees remained on the payroll of their private employers.

Over time after the Bolsheviks gained power these were gradually merged into the Red Guards and the enlarged organization became the base for the formation of what would become known as the Red Army.

Leon Trotsky, real name Lev Davidovich Bronstein, founder of the Red Army.
Leon Trotsky, real name Lev Davidovich Bronstein, founder of the Red Army.

At first these organizations were very nonuniform in terms of chain of command, rank, and subordination. The Bolsheviks soon found that this type of loose organization was ineffective when combating larger, organized forces of the White Army. When the Bolsheviks ousted the Provisional Government and created the Red Army, the Red Guard units had become the Army Reserve and the base for the formation of regular military detachments.

The Red Army (Рабоче-Крестьянская Красная Армия means “Workers’–Peasants’ Red Army” or RKKA) was the Bolshevik government’s revolutionary militia beginning in the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the USSR. In 1946, after the Second World War, it was renamed as the Soviet Army (Советская Армия).

Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov
Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov

Footnote: Red Army founder Leon Trotsky, murdered in Mexico while in exile from Josef Stalin’s regime, was never formally rehabilitated by the Soviet government, despite the Glasnost-era rehabilitation of most other Old Bolsheviks killed during the Great Purges. In 1987, under President Gorbachev, Trotsky was referred to as “a hero and martyr.” His son, Sergei Sedov, killed in 1937, was rehabilitated in 1988. Nonetheless, beginning in 1989, Trotsky’s books which had been forbidden were finally published in the Soviet Union.

Trotsky’s family remains committed to Communist ideals. Trotsky’s great-granddaughter, Nora Volkow, is currently head of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.


Everything seems RED in Russia

At least it can seem that way. A few weeks ago my wife and I happened to be at the “Red Guards” Metro station in Moscow, yet another reminder that the world’s largest and busiest (no, New York’s subway is but child’s play compared to the Moscow Metro) public transportation system holds meaning in every brick, steel rail and strand of electric wire.

The Красная Гвардия (Red Guards) were the beginning of the Soviet Red Army as the Tsar’s troops were being demobilized, a volunteer army of mostly thugs, which began the proud tradition of the Red Army.

One of my jobs is to teach Western readers and viewers how to understand Russian language and culture. My Russian friends still find it hard to believe that most folks in places like the USA, Canada and the UK actually believe that the massive gray block square fronting the Kremlin is “red.”

But they do, I insist. We could blame language I guess. The words for “red” and “beautiful” (красный, красивый) are virtually the same. But it would burst way too many bubbles across the fruited plains of Kansas if the secret got out that “Red Square” is really “Beautiful Square” to Russians.

Ah, I see that you’ve getting it already. So…the RED guards were really the “beautiful guards” which led to the formation of the glorious “beautiful Army.” Now we’re making progress! 

In a country so obsessed with victory over Германия (Germany) in 1945, there is almost nothing “red” about the “beautiful” Army that saved the Russians from Hitler’s clutches.

Well, not so fast. There is a “red” of great distinction–the blood that flowed from 22 million Soviet souls who perished in 4 short years. That terrible human loss, more deaths than all the Allies combined, is memorialized as the fountains flow red at night in Moscow’s “Victory Park.”

Victory fountains A

Tomorrow I’ll write more on those Red Guards and the Metro station, which honours their memory.

For now, I’m in the mood to stroll down Moscow’s busy Kutuzovsky Avenue and see those red fountains once more. Of some things, one should never tire.

Victory fountains A 2

Corruption — a good thing when it’s “official”

With one major newspaper headline screaming that official corruption, while still growing, is no longer a hindrance, the rest of us should apparently understand that according to the new government line, corruption is now good for the economy.

When President, Vladimir Putin promised a reduction in the growth and practice of official corruption. He failed. Corruption mushroomed into one of Russia’s “growth industries” under a Putin administration.

Taking the reigns just over a year ago, President Dmitry Medvedev, with Prime Minister Putin vowing steadfast support, promised that fighting government corruption would be a top priority.

Mr. Medvedev is failing, too.

 ruble assortment

So what are we to think about corruption in Russia? President Medvedev last year said that it was a cancer, a killer of the Russian private sector.

The Russian government now loves corruption. Openly. In fact in the latest annual finding from the Department of Economic Security, Ministry of Internal Affairs, the official government line is that corruption is good for Russia and is helping fuel an economic recovery!

Don’t get us wrong, bribery at all levels is up, and as payoffs and kickbacks are a cash economy not reported as taxable income, one would expect the government to be concerned about the growth of corruption.


Don’t worry — be happy. It’s all good, at least thats the word from the government. To quote the headline from the Russian Gazetta newspaper, “envelopes are thicker.” The average business bribe according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs MIA amounts to 927 thousand rubles,” – said the head office major general of militia Alexander Nazarov who met with managers of public organizations, anti-corruption focus.

So now public watchdog groups are being warned to stand down. This is big business and the only big business allowed in Russia is big business related to the government.

An average bribe of almost a million rubles is a lot of money for someone. In US dollars that is $32,348.24. As non-taxable income you can be assured that none of that that money makes it’s way into the treasury. So much for funding social responsibilities like pensions for the elderly and medical care for the young. A year ago President Medvedev was crying about how government corruption was slowing down building projects for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Today there is no drumbeat of calls to rid the country of official corruption. It seems that corruption and bribes are a good thing. So the next time you hear someone complaining about it, tell that individual to sit down and shut up.

Dmitry and Vladimir are doing okay it would seem. Isn’t that enough?

Last fruits of the season

Eating naturally is really easy in Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Moldova and most of the other former Soviet Republics. A lot of the credit it due to a proud culinary culture but some of it is also due to the lean Soviet years when the economy just didn’t work and one had to be creative to eat well.

One of the berries that Russians love is the клюквa (cranberry). These bright red hard berries and be made into квас (квас клюквенный), baked into breads and muffins, cooked as ingredients of other dishes, or often take centre stage in the dessert known as kissel.

cranberries in jars small

The prices are in Russian Rubles so use this converter calculator to find out what the amounts are in your own currency:

Carry them in a bag, carefully. The stain is very difficult to remove from clothing.

During the fruit season, a nice fruit selection can make an excellent gift when you are a guest. Naturally flowers and chocolates are important for first time visits, but after you know someone, a stop at the fruit market for some fresh berries will delight any Mama or Babushka.

cranberries in bowl 

Cranberry Kvas recipe
Wash berries carefully, set in a saucepan and pour boiling water over them. Boil until berries break up. Separate pieces from the juice. Take 1 cup of cranberry juice and mix with yeast to dissolve it. Add sugar and a cup with dissolved yeast to the rest of cranberry juice. Set aside for several days until bubbles appear. After bubbles appear, stir the juice and then pour kvas into bottles and store in a cool place few days before drinking.

cranberry kvas

Cranberries are loaded with vitamins and a great source of nutrition to help combat winter colds, flu and fever.

cranberry topping

The Millionaire Fair going Bankrupt?

Millionaire fair banner

It’s the famous Миллионер Фэйр, you know, the Millionaire Fair…that extravagant gathering of the most wealthy and beautiful from around the world. When the Миллионер Фэйр (Millionaire Fair) came on the circuit in 2002 the economy was on a very different track and Russia was sitting confidently on the government’s multi billion Reserve Fund.

These days the Reserve Fund is supposedly gone. Apparently so is the Millionaire Fair. Today in a Moscow Court the Dutch company which owns and operates the grand show filed for bankruptcy protection under Russian law. The Dutch media giant, Gijrath Media Group B. V., says that losses stemming from the  2008 show and the June 2009 preliminary show in Moscow have sapped the company of all operating capital and the show is no longer able to fund operations.

Millionaire Fair earrings

It is unclear at this writing if the courts will allow the 2009 main show scheduled for late October to continue. The petition for bankruptcy is asking the Court to forgive almost 5 billion rubles of debt.

In its brief history, the Millionaire Fair became a symbol of the exorbitant oil wealth generated for key Russian businessmen and government officials.

Millionaire fair flowers

From luxury cars to vacation homes to diamonds and fashion shows, the Millionare Fair always glittered. This summer’s June preliminary fair was perhaps a sign of things to come. The Wall Street Journal described the opening as “a kind of traveling flea market for billionaires, with free vodka.”

These days, the Millionaire Fair doesn’t look so flush. With yachts being offered at two-for-one discounts, and there still weren’t any takers, crowds were thin and a lot of the attendees were journalists, a sure sign of a financial crisis.

Millionaire fair volvo

Russia has hosted the Millionaire Fair three times since it’s inception.

Its time to Едим Дома! (Eat at home!)

She is the Julia Childs of Russia, a popular chef, author and television personality. Meet Юлия Высоцкая (Julia Vysotskaya), pronounced “Yulia,” the attractive and personable lady who has transformed the popularity of Russian cuisine.

Eat at home YuliaFrom a blogsite that attracts thousands of daily visitors to TV shows, books public appearances and DVD series, Julia is Russia’s best-known hostess.

Her Едим Дома! (Eat at Home!) has encouraged an entire new generation of Russian and Ukrainian home chefs in their efforts to entertain at home.

Unlike Western culture where it is fashionable to invite special friends to a restaurant for a meal, the highest form of flattery is to be invited to dine in a Russian home where a meal is a show of honour for special guests. It is in this world, inside the Russian home, where Юлия Высоцкая has made the most impact. Young Russian housewives have rediscovered the art of Russian cooking and entertaining through Julia’s daily blog postings, TV shows, book, magazine articles and DVDs.

Russia chefs are asked, do you love your home? Do you love the warmEat at home child aroma of cooking as you happily wait for guests to arrive? The show “Let’s Eat at Home!” is exactly about this. Do you remember the first time you cooked something for your nearest and dearest, and then, worried and excited at the same time, you asked them: “so, what do you think? Do you really like it?”

Julia’s TV show on Russian television is quite a lively and attractive production. “Let’s Eat at Home!” is anything but a bored looking cook evenly chopping vegetables. “I’m not a cook, I just love to cook” says the presenter of the show Julia Vysotskaya. And that’s very true.

Julia Vysotskaya cooks at home, because she loves her home. She cooks for friends, because she loves her friends. And she cooks, because she loves cooking. And what’s more she generously shares all this with her Russian audience.

Eat at home lemonsSo at 09:30 on weekday mornings Russian Television NTV presents Едим Дома! (Eat at Home!) and the audience numbers in the hundreds of thousands across Eastern Europe. The blogsite features thousands of recipes and photos submitted by avid Russian cooks from all over the region.

Now Julia is producing a new DVD series on healthy breakfasts. As Russia faces an invasion of Western junk food from the West, Julia is committed to helping Russian homes maintain the healthy style breakfasts which have nourished Russians for generations.

Visit on the web here:

Some Moscow decisions hard to digest

It’s grown into an institution. Across from the once proud “Hotel Soviet” has been a Moscow hotspot for barbuqued meats. In Russian such food is called шашлык, “shashlik.”

But soon “correct speech” will shut down one of Moscow’s most popular, the АнтиСоветская шашлычная. You see, that is Russian for “Anti-Soviet Shashlik house.”

One would think that Moscow authorities could understand that the name is a play on words, a throw back to older days. Its been around for years too, in fact it began during the Soviet period!

Here, behind closed doors came the frequent самиздат (dissident). In this little place young Russians called into question Soviet authority and Soviet intellectuals had lunch or dinner with young Soviet movie directors. The placed is packed with history. Diners boldly signed their names to the walls knowing that agents of the KGB circulated among the tables.

Anti Soviet cafe 2

But according to Russian authorities the name “Anti-Soviet” has caused angst among some of the veterans groups who fought in the Great Patriotric War (Westerners call it World War II). So the Moscow mayor’s office has served notice that the restaurant must close. Don’t want to rile the old vets now, do we?

But is it really about complaints from elderly veterans, or is something else afoot? Maybe it can be moved to another location. No way, that is not the point. It has a bad name, “anti-Soviet” so an example must be made.

Never mind that thousands of happy paying customers have enjoyed the food. That the restaurant has been a good employer and paid it’s taxes, provided a good product and good service to the public means nothing. The fact that it has been a good employer and offered secure jobs during a time of economic downturn is apparently pointless.

It has the wrong name. Incorrect speech is apparently all that matters. The “Anti-Soviet Shashlik House” must go. This was a place where the intellectual opposition dared to gather, in a pointed manner knowing that KGB agents monitored who came and went.

So how could an establishment survive the Soviet period, but be closed for “correct speech” reasons two decades after the fall of Communism?

Before it goes, enjoy the experience at least once. Be a rebel! Show your final respects to a fun, and soon outlawed, Moscow eatery, the АнтиСоветская шашлычная.

Anti Soviet cafe 1

Общественное питание, Ресторан  (catering, restaurant)
Метро: Динамо, Белорусская (between Metro stations Dinamo & Belorusskaya)
Адрес:Москва, Ленинградский пр-т, 23 (23 Leningradskaya Prospect, Moscow)

Telephone: 7(495)250-0660