Voices from Russia

Sunday, 6 November 2011

A Fun Soviet Place

Evening at Lake Manzherok

Mikhail Karnaev



In 1966, a Soviet-Mongolian youth friendship festival took place on the banks of Lake Manzherok in Russia’s Altai Republic. This might not seem like much to you, but for the then-insular Soviet Union, it was a big thing, indeed. So big, in fact, that they commissioned a nifty pop tune for the occasion. The song in question was entitled, somewhat unimaginatively, Manzherok, and was sung by French-born Soviet star Edita Piekha. The catchy chorus went “Friendship is Manzherok, Faithfulness is Manzherok, the place we meet!” There was even a video made to accompany the song… a kind of Soviet surf-rock thing… featuring Piekha and her band leaping around happily in a snowy forest and playing peek-a-boo behind trees. Looking at the clip today, it’s hard to reconcile it with the common image of the pre-perestroika Soviet Union as a gravely-serious place where discussions of Marxism and Leninism were about as exciting as it got. Why, Piekha and her backing group even seem to be enjoying themselves!


Here’s a video of Piekha’s song Manzherok


I couldn’t dig up much info on the actual festival, but I like to imagine Soviet and Mongolian youths grooving away the nights to the track on the banks of the tranquil Lake Manzherok. This may be wistful thinking on my behalf, however. As far as I can tell, Piekha recorded the song after the festival of friendship. Piekha, who still performs today at the age of 74, was born to Polish parents in a mining village near Paris in 1937. After her father’s death, she moved to Poland with her mother and step-father before heading to Leningrad to study in 1955. It was in the Soviet Union that she found fame. Sergei, a security guard at a hotel overlooking Lake Manzherok, told me when I visited the area earlier this year, “She was quite a looker in her day. She made our little village famous, too”, breaking into a snippet of Piekha’s hit. Famous wasn’t probably the right word… back in Moscow, no one had heard of the place, and not many people I asked were familiar with the song. Which is a pity on both counts… it’s a storming tune and Manzherok really does live up to Piekha’s words of praise.


Another slice of the Sov ‘60s with Piekha (a People’s Artist of the USSR)…


I’d been travelling around the region for a couple of weeks by the time I got to Manzherok, and while most people had been friendly enough, the Manzherokniki were by far the most affable folk I’d come across. After Sergei had finished his rendition of Piekha’s tribute to his home village, I took the ski-lift up to the highest viewing platform on Mount Sinyukha overlooking the lake. It was off-season, and there wasn’t really anyone about apart from ski-lift operator Oleg, who greeted me with a cheery “Hello!” as I jumped off the ski-lift. His ability to determine the nationality of new arrivals to his domain high above the Siberian countryside impressed me. “No, no, that’s how I greet everyone”, he said. It was a pretty boring job up there in the summer… or relaxed, depending on how you looked at it. Oleg seemed content enough with his lot though, even if he was pleased to have a visitor. “Wanna dress up as a Mongolian warrior?” he asked me, pointing at an outfit on the floor of his cabin. “Tourists love it”. I declined. He added, “We usually have an eagle up here as well, but not today”. Oleg, it turned out, was also a volunteer fire-fighter, tackling the wildfires that devastate Siberian forests with alarming frequency. He told me, “Look over there. It’s only May and we’ve already seen a blaze”. I followed Oleg’s finger and made out a black stain… the charred remains of trees… set against the lush green. He said, “That was just a few weeks ago, and they’ll be more. You can bet on it. There’s a team of us, and we try to get to the fires before they can spread too much, but it’s hard work. In the Soviet era, things were better organised. They’d send out whole factories to tackle blazes. There’s none of that, of course, now. I just can’t stand by and see our countryside destroyed, and if the authorities can’t sort it out…”

I said goodbye to Oleg and set off back down the mountain. When I reached the bottom, it was already getting dark. I looked around for a taxi but there was no one around. I asked a local where I could find someone to drive me back to my accommodation. “I’ll take you, it’s no trouble, he said, smiling”. That kind of thing is par for course in friendly Manzherok. Visit, if you can. Say Marc sent you.

11 August 2011

Marс Bennetts

Deeper than Oil



Editor’s Note:

The USSR wasn’t only soldiers goose-stepping on Red Square. Ordinary people didn’t have it easy, but it wasn’t as bad as in the Laissez Faire tsarist days, either. People lived and loved, argued and made up, and agonised over and fought with their kids… like people everywhere. Today, Russians want the USSR back in one form or another… and you should reflect on why they want that. They’ve had a healthy dose of Western “democracy” and “capitalism”, and they’ve found both to be empty and specious lies (worse than the worst of communism ever was).

They want that changed… “They lied to us about communism, but they told us the truth about capitalism”. Today, we see the USA sunk in greed, selfishness, “consumerism”, and materialism. Ponder this… most communists are believers… most American “conservatives” call themselves “Christians”. One of these things is NOT like the other! One is Christ-like… the other is a diabolic imposture. Which one do YOU want? Do you want “Christ the First Communist” or “Christ the Leader of the Affluent Elect?” It IS up to you…


A note to Orthodox people: Paffhausen, Lyonyo, Jillions, Alfeyev, Potapov, Webster, and Dreher all support the extreme rightwing. His Holiness and his faction support Social Justice and most priests cooperate with the communists. You can have one or the other. None dare call it TREASON. Choose well… your eternal destiny DOES depend on it.



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