Russian Hipsters

The Russian Club hosted a Russian film showing Tuesday, March 6 in Kaufman Hall with small attendance but a great feature film. Stilyagi, the word for Hipsters in Russian, was released in 2008 and is a funny musical drama, sort of the equivalent of a “Russian Hairspray.” The setting is 1950s Moscow in an era of Soviet repression, a time in which the young, main characters of the film, boldly dressing teenagers, struggled to publicly express themselves as they wanted. The score features many hits from 1980s and 1990s Russian rock bands. The film was well received and has even been remade into a concert that has toured Europe.

The movie opens with a young Communist group, known as Komsomol, raiding a club of partying Stilyagi and cutting up their brightly-colored skirts and ties. To the Komsomol, the Stilyagi are considered “enemies of society,” since they stray from the orderly, drab, and predictable styles and behavior. The main Stilyaga girl, Polly, lures away a Komsomol guy, Mels, to push him into a pond, then promptly invite him to hang with her raucous group. Mels is convinced he is love and decides to change himself into a Stilyaga so that she will love him in return. He finds a textile dealer that secretly makes hipster clothing to update his wardrobe, gels up his hair, and makes a pair of platform shoes. His change makes his brother angry while those in his apartment complex speechlessly ignore him or shout at him that they don’t want to be seen with such a character.

Mels finds Bob, another Stilyaga, cornering him and pressuring Bob to teach him to dance properly. Wary that it’s a trap, Bob finally shows him the boogie, until Bob’s parents come home and scold Bob for associating with someone that could be tricking him. Mels is finding his way into the crowd and dances that night at a VIP rock and roll concert.  After several embarrassments with trying to talk with Polly, and a clash with his old group of friends, astonished at his betrayal, he is advised to take up saxophone to impress his love. This earns him his first real kiss from Polly.

The leader of the Stilyagi, who is leaving to work in the USA, gives new leadership to Mels. Mels accepts this position and gives up membership of the Komsomol by officially resigning his badge. Mels’ attention grows, but the Stilyagi realize that as they are growing up, they need to conform somewhat in order to be successful in society. Polly admits that she has become pregnant from a one-night stand with an African American, but Mels is hopeful that he can raise the child as his own. The Stilyagi settle down and act less rambunctiously and the new baby, John, is accepted into the family. The Stilyagi all move on with their own lives, but still uphold Stilyagi values of self-expression and fun. The final song brings back memories of other Soviet nonconformist subcultures, such as punks and rockers, but says that it is important to stand up for personal values.


Italy’s Coffee Culture

I love coffee. So much so, that one of my younger sisters bought me Christmas gifts this last year entirely themed around the beverage – she even made an espresso scarf. Yet, I am ashamed to say that, until recently, I was oblivious to the serious coffee culture associated with Italy, a country I have been intrigued by since I was a little girl and will have the opportunity to visit this summer. Thankfully, I have been made aware of this connection before I travel and did a little research on my favorite drink.

Although coffee did not originate in Italy, its introduction presented the country with a new culture it closely follows today. Therefore, the menu in Italian cafes is much simpler than the highly modified – and sugary – selection at Starbucks. The CEO of Starbucks was, in fact, inspired to create the chain on a trip to Milan, but completely Americanized the product for a sweeter palette. Apparently, tourists are the ones to sit and linger at cafe tables, sipping coffee while reading or working. Italians tend to drink their coffee at the bar, fast and on-the-go and, therefore, not as hot. Also, because coffee is a fast happening, the drink sizes tend to not be as large as they are in America. Espresso shots of only a few sips, followed by a cleansing glass of water, are the most common way to caffeinate. Cappuccinos, espresso shots with warm milk, are never ordered after noon (so glad I learned that custom now). Americanos aren’t a thing (unless you lose a bet) and caffe correttos have a shot of liquor.

Further, family-centric situations, such as mealtimes, are a well-known association with Italy. This is why Italians typically have a primary, local cafe that they go to regularly. The customers, baristas, and fellow coffee-drinkers become familiar with each others’ faces and, thus, the surrounding neighborhood becomes like an extended family and a type a familiarity is attached with a specific cafe. I can’t wait to experience this coffee culture for myself!



Estonians for Trump

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, many ties remain, both in culture and location, between Russia and the Baltic States: Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Namely, the language is still very prevalent in these small countries that remain wary of Russia’s power. Because of Russia’s great influence on border countries such as Estonia, citizens there are aware of the effects that Russian and American relations have upon them. Because it is election year in the United States, Estonians have opinions on the American candidates; ultimately, who we elect affects the entire world.

Social studies students in a high school in Narva, Estonia, a Russian border city, are pro-Trump and anti-Hillary. To them, Trump is looking to create a friendship between the U.S. and Russia, while Hillary is only looking for a war, in which Estonia “would be in the way” for. In a contrasting light, Baltic politicians feel as though Putin is someone to be “resisted, not appeased,” as Trump says he is looking to do.

Overall, the European reaction to Trump’s election is as mixed there as it is in our own country. Many see an imminent change coming that is potentially for the better, especially in the case of Russian relations. Others are worried about Trump’s sometimes rash and blunt comments and characteristics. The biggest overall concern from this social studies class and the teacher is Trump’s unpredictability.



Right-Wing Rise in Europe

After the 8-year presidential term of Democrat Barack Obama, America has elected a Republican as the upcoming leader. In light of this and increasing globalization, it is interesting to consider the political trends of other parts of the world. In many parts of Europe, Republican political affiliation is similarly on the rise. According to a New York Times post, this may be attributed to a slow economy, sentiments toward the migrant crisis, and disillusionment with the EU.

In Germany in 2013, the first right-wing party since WWII appeared but narrowly missed earning seats in Parliament. Throughout the European migrant crisis, Germany has been known to be one of the most open and welcoming country to immigrants. However, association with the party shot up to 12% earlier this year, after the New Year’s Eve assaults in Cologne. Now, the party’s leader is calling for an armed border, reduction of mosques, and prohibition to Islam in the country.

Although only 21% of Austria’s National Council seats are held by members of the Freedom Party, the party’s campaign leader narrowly lost majority vote in the May election. The party centers on limiting rights for immigrants and putting “Austria first,” especially on the job market.

In Hungary, the third largest party is far-right, known as Jobbik, and led by Gabor Vona. Its goals are to talk more openly about controversial topics, spend more money to support Hungarians abroad, reduce immigration, and criminalize homosexuality. Graphs of these various countries’ increasing right-wing affiliation trends can be seen in the original article.



Russian Club

Russian Club is all about learning about the culture of Russia and not limited to those taking Russian. This semester, we held a War and Peace event in which all 10 hours of the film were shown. There were several in attendance that did not have any experience with the language and appreciated the subtitles. As someone who does have experience with the language and culture, I find it really interesting to talk with those without it so I can see through both an experienced lens, as well as an inexperienced one. Looking forward, I think Russian Club needs to look into hosting one or two more events per semester so that we can boost participation and attendance. Although I think that those in Russian language classes are aware of Russian Club, I believe its existence on campus needs to be more prominent so new members can become involved and educated.


War and Peace

This semester the Russian Club hosted a three night event in Kaufman Hall airing the entire film series of War and Peace, originally written by Leo Tolstoy. We watched the 1996-1967 series version, directed by Sergei Bondarchuk. Of course, this version was spoken in Russian and French with English subtitles and just over 7 hours long, hence the 3 night event. Prior to this event, I read the entire War and Peace, translated into English, for the Tolstoy class.

For those unfamiliar with War and Peace, it is a juxtaposition of history and narrative, difficult to name as a novel or text in a specific genre, published starting in 1865. It is broken into four volumes and two epilogues, and further broken into chapters. It is told with the focus of characters belonging to five noble, important Russian families. At the surface level, it tells the history of the French invasion of Russia, the effects on Russian society by Napoleon’s power, and society’s inner dramatic workings during this time. Upon deeper examination, there are many critical points for the reader to interpret.

Most noticeably, Tolstoy implements an aspect of dualism throughout the entire text. Obviously, from the title, there is a clash and consideration of the contrast between war and peace. Initially, readers imagine war to be on the front and peace to be in the drawing room. However, many men find inner peace, their calling, or the meaning of life while in marching ranks and more havoc is wreaked in their lives while at the mercy of gossip circles and charming women back at home. There is an aspect of dualism in the two styles the book is presented in: history and narrative. Some parts of history and narrative are blended together. For example, Napoleon was a genuine historical figure that now receives a personal, narrative side in War and Peace. The descriptions of balls and society life that seem like an intriguing fairytale are simultaneously a record of peoples’ lifestyles of this era. However, for most of the text, narrative sections and historical sections are simply fragmented and placed alongside one another with no smooth transition, almost the same way they would have been in real life: war goes on while the people at home continue living. A third element of dualism involves the pairing up of different characters, much like a “character foil” we all know so well. The actions, views, and emotions of the best friends Pierre Bezukhov, the illegimate son of a count that inherits all, becomes rich, struggles with understanding his own moral code, and falls in love with a girl that is as decisive as she likes to change her mind, and Andrei Bolkonsky, an independent military man that is burnt out from his arrogance, stuck in a rut, nearly dies multiple times, falls in love with the same woman as Pierre, and finally discovers his meaning of life, are comparable for the purposes of religious value and moral value comparisons. Through all of the characters actions and responses, values and emotions, ups and downs, weaknesses and growths, Tolstoy urges the reader to consider many deep importances of life while also bringing to light a humanistic side of the history of this period.

The movie itself felt very different than the text. Many scenes were strange, in comparison to the movies today and the way that I imagined the scenes in my head. They were prolonged for minutes at a time with little to no speech with focus on one or two characters’ facial expressions. Parts of the screen would be blurred out, like a vignette, in order to draw watchers’ attention to a certain focus. I think that this was the equivalent to Tolstoy’s lengthy descriptions of a particular character’s feelings and imagery in a certain scene and simply translated to screen in a way I was unfamiliar with.


Italian Jousting and OU Football

During OU’s Italy week, which included informational events about our study abroad center in Arezzo, biscotti talks, a pasta making class, Italian ice, and a reenactment of a joust tournament, I attended the session comparing Italian jousting and OU football and found it fascinating! First of all, I honestly knew very little of jousting going in to the event, and thought knights ran AT each other with the lances. Second of all, I have only just last year learned how football even works, so I thought it would be interesting to compare the two sports and learn more about each.

Jousting is just as crucial of a cultural and social aspect in Arezzo as football is in Norman. People buy tickets, wear the colors of their favorite rider, cheer like crazy, and form a wild attachment to the outcome of the tournament. In modern times, riders charge towards a target and points are awarded according to where the lance hits the target. Today’s jousting tournaments are a lot less violent than they used to be and more about remembering a tradition and maintaining cultural and social unity than aggression and battle. The jousting tournaments in Italy, especially in Arezzo, are a big deal and highly recommended.

Here is the joust we watched!


What Trump and Putin have in common

Russians are very interested in the American election every year, but this year in particular. Why? Donald Trump. This year is exceptionally newsworthy for politics because a real estate tycoon/businessman/TV-star is running for the Republican nomination – and this once seemed like a joke to everyone. Yet, he is now the presumptive nominee.

This is sometimes talked about with certain concerns here at home. However, in Russia it could mean more positive things, especially for their economy. Trump and Putin are said to have several thing in common like their directness, tendency to make deals to suit interests, confidence, divergence from the mainstream, and country pride. As Trump said soon after announcing his campaign, he would have a better relationship with Putin than Obama does because of these characteristics. It is important to consider political candidates’ foreign policies, especially with the current superpowers, like Russia.

Here are the articles I referenced:


Russian Club

It’s my dream that more people fall in love with the Russian language and culture as I have. The OU Russian Department is so small and I think more people need to give what seems to be a difficult language a better chance! This year, we did not have enough involvement to get Dobro Slovo, the Russian Honor Society, started up here, and I can’t wait until next year when we hopefully have more involvement to do so. The things you can do with Russian are really so much fun. My favorite things we do with Russian are watching news clips and TV dramas in Russian that give insights to life and culture in Slavic language-speaking countries. I think at the start of next year, we need to work harder to recruit more members so that we can have even more exciting events!


Indonesia and the UN

On Thursday, April 22nd the UN symposium was held in Zarrow Hall, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. I attended the afternoon lecture about Indonesia, formerly known as the East Indies, presented by Purdue University’s Jennifer Foray.

A lot of pivotal moments in history happen due to behind-the-scenes work from people or committees that are less recognized. Foray pointed out that such a turning point was the raising of the Indonesian flag outside the United Nations headquarters in New York on September 28, 1950. Up until 1949, Indonesia was the “crown of the Dutch empire,” and had yet to partake in the long, complicated process of decolonization. While much attention and grandeur is brought about from the image of Indonesian’s rising flag, it is fascinating to understand the preceding struggle to gain power on an unequal playing field. Foray’s emphasis was on how the United Nations and several key delegation members were essential in the decolonization of Indonesia and subsequent colonized entities.

During WWII, Dutch officials that usually lived in and controlled the East Indies were in London. In their absence, Indonesian nationalists formed a government and declared themselves to be independent. Neither the Netherlands, nor the UN, recognized their sovereignty. Concurrently in the United States, and American Jeanne Mintz worked in the Dutch propaganda office in New York, studying Indonesia. She soon left her employment with the Dutch, worked on a book, and self-taught further about the East Indies. She was a key player to the delegation ultimately allowing Indonesia to fight for independence because she knew the inner workings of Dutch power and was well-versed about Indonesia. Although Indonesia was given “observer” status to the UN in 1947 and discussion was started about their independence, larger powers decided the situation did not threaten them and the case was closed. However, in 1949, it was brought to attention that the Netherlands consistently violated a ceasefire agreement in Indonesia and countries at the UN table recognized that the situation was reminiscent of colonial war. Indonesian delegates made their way to New York, and under lead by Ambassador Sutan Sjahrir, eventually discussed their situation and were granted independence. Indonesia was the first country emerging from colonial rule to be allowed to sit at the UN table and present their case. Later, more countries would follow Indonesia’s lead.

There were several insights I gained from this presentation that astounded me, revolving around the subtle moves by the large, imperials powers to enforce control in the UN relationships. First of all, I did not know that countries recently under different ruling or still not considered sovereign nations were only part of the UN as trial members and were not given seats at the UN table. A few of these countries included India, Belarus, and the Philippines. This was like the large powers were allowing new countries to observe, but not participate in, international dealings officially. Secondly, these imperial powers stuck together. In large decisions that determined the power allocated to other, smaller entities, many of the imperial powers sided with one another and made it harder for small nations to have a say. Lastly, I found out that the large countries often resorted to petty measures to keep control. For example, when the Indonesian nationalist delegates arrived in New York, they were not allowed to literally speak their opinions, even though they were present at the Security Council meeting. Instead, it was suggested that they write down what they had to say or communicate through a single delegate from another, recognized country. All in all, large countries took advantage of smaller nations by utilizing their size or power to make UN contributions unequal between countries.

I learned that there is often a complicated backstory to any historical event that is less recognized or considered behind-the-scenes but leads to many other consequences in international dealings and relationships. Many people may know that Indonesia was officially part of the UN in 1949 and held a flag-raising ceremony on September 28, 1950. Many may even know that the Indonesian Revolution took place from 1947-1949 in the absence of Dutch officials because of WWII. However, it is generally unknown how complex of a process decolonization really was and the essential roles played by Jeanne Mintz and Sutan Sjahrir. The acceptance of not-yet-sovereign Indonesia at the UN table was the first time such an event happened and the foundation for other nations in similar situations.