Dear Readers:

Welcome to Awful Avalanche, I hope you will read and enjoy my posts!

Sincerely yours,


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RT America Announces New Ark Initiative

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Dear Readers:


For those who are not familiar with the history of America’s national anthem: When author Francis Scott Key railed about “slaves”, he wasn’t being metaphorical. He meant literal African slaves, who had the gall to fight on England’s side, once they had been promised their freedom. Well, we can’t let that happen, can we? One must wash out, with blood, their foul footstep’s pollution. Oh wait! We shouldn’t talk about such unpleasant things, because that makes us sound too woke.

So, I saw this editorial in RT America this morning. See, it is not an over-reach at all. The RT editors are only depicting themselves as the literal “ark” that will save Western Civilization through the coming Dark Age. Them plus loyal commenters such as “Nebula” who applauds: “RT is a beacon of free speech. Freedom of speech is the biggest enemy to the enemy of mankind, the khazarian Jews!”

Never fear, stalwart Nebula! RT America shall be the shining beacon that stands for all the good ideals of Western Civilization, standing tall and fighting back, even as the Khazarian Zio-Jews, woke transgender freaks, ebony-skinned arsonists, and other like-minded Apes take over our planet: “RT plans to help disseminate the unfiltered ideas of key thinkers through a series of independent projects, including multimedia programs, lectures and interviews, broadcast and theatrical films and shows, and published work.”

As the Dark Ages encroach, RT America will be there to help the forces of Light.

Sounds great! We will get to read all the suppressed voices, all in one portal! And it’s not like RT has a political slant… oh wait, they do!

While RT has no set political bias, those who stand against postmodernist trends, moral relativism, and endless revisionism in Western educational institutions are under the greatest threat of extinction in an increasingly intolerant environment. Often deprived of many key pathways to economic self-sufficiency in the Western media ecosystem, these voices will receive the greatest support.

RT’s initiative is in line with a broader revival of Eastern Europe as a center of intellectual thought, designed to preserve the achievements of the Enlightenment and prevent the continent from falling into a new Dark Age of cultural decline and irrelevance.

Who even knew that Eastern Europe is a center of intellectual thought? What you talkin’ ’bout, man? Poland?

Let’s Make America Great Again! (We got too pussified…)

Okay, so it has not been a secret even to the most simple-minded blastocyst on this planet, that RT America decided, a long time ago, to throw in their lot with the American “traditional” right-wing Republican types. Trumpites, or whatever. Who are maybe not as grotesquely sinister as the Democratic Party, but still rather nauseating in their own right. Perhaps Russian President Putin and his handmaiden, Margarita Simonyan, are under the impression that the Trumpites, with their more orthodox (small “o”) views on gender, gays, and blacks, etc. will come to Russia’s ideological defense once the American Military Industrial Complex decides it’s time for Barbarossa 2.0. Highly dubious, in my view. I personally think they will be cheering on the war just as rabidly as the Liberals, but I hope I don’t get to be proved right, one way or another. Meanwhile, I personally suspect that Margarita and her minions actually have no clue what America is all about. They know literally nothing about America and its inner workings. Its caste and class systems. Its insidious taboos. To these Russian Liberals, America is just a lost Shangri-La. Lost, but they want to bring it back, as they imagined it, in their youth. A center of White European Civilization. An ark of freedom and democracy. That shining city on the hill!

Woke Warriors are stealing America away from these sweet patriotic children.

Take, for example, this earlier Chef-d’œuvre from last week’s Thanksgiving Holiday. Take it. Please. As soon as I saw this rather subtle piece of propaganda, I knew that I wanted to take it apart, molecule by molecule. For starters, note the illustrating image, so filled with pathos: Three little white children ecstatic in their childish hopes and dreams [well, to be honest, the middle child, a boy, could be black, probably not, but it’s hard to say] … Draping themselves in the American flag and pointing up at the sun as if to say: “There is our shining future on the horizon! Now, if only somebody doesn’t steal it from us…”

Here is the conflict: These three adorable children will walk into school and be brainwashed by accurate historical accounts barefaced lies about their glorious nation’s inglorious past.

Please note how laconic and subtle is this propaganda piece. The actual story was told with the photograph. The words are just bare utterances, left to the reader to decode. The writer simply quotes The Public Schools Director, and it is super-clear to the reader that this is all bullshit, because how can a normal person even say such things with a straight face:

Thanksgiving is a day that can be difficult for many to celebrate as we reflect on the history of the holiday and the horrors inflicted on our indigenous populations,” DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said in an email sent to the families of students on November 18.

He added that, for those who did choose to celebrate, the equity team was sharing suggestions “for how you can consider decolonizing your Thanksgiving.” 

Stupid right? Except that it’s all true. The colonists did steal the land, and they did bring in captives from Africa, doomed to multi-generational slavery. But in case the reader is wondering, “What is so wrong about acknowledging this?” the writer of the propaganda piece ends with a tweet that tells you how you are actually supposed to respond in your gut:

Looking for another reason to escape the public education propaganda camps, here it is,” the former chaplain of the Idaho Senate, Bryan Fischer, wrote on Twitter, commenting on the article that had brought Ferebee’s email to the attention of the wider public.

So, a chaplain to a state Senate tells you that this is all B.S. and you should oppose this “revisionist” curriculum in the schools. Comparing it to, say, Chinese propaganda camps. And implying that the broader public will rise up against this monstrous infringements of their rights. This is a staple trick of a propaganda piece, by the way. To feign neutrality but end with a quote of the person who represents your actual point of view.

Mourn the America that was lost to the Apes…

Clearly RT America wants you to take the side of the Senate Chaplain, who insists that American history should be taught as it used to be, pre-post-modernism, namely, by gently whitewashing all those unpleasant stains such as slavery and genocide. Because that’s not what America is really all about. It’s about the freedom and the liberty, and the democracy, and showing the world how to do everything right. Right?

Commenter GrandeRonde gets it:

“I think it should be pretty clear to everyone by now……… this type of BS is meant to destroy our society and culture. They are trying do devalue and destroy our history. This country’s history is what it is….. good and bad…. and it’s “OURS”. Friggin’ commies…we don’t want you here.”

Simonyan agrees. She don’t want friggin’ commies in America either. She wants America to be the America of her girlhood dreams. When everybody was rich and white and free.

In conclusion: I don’t quite understand why the Russian government has decided to throw in its lot with the Trumpers and the Nebulas and the GrandeRondes of this world. Pushing traditional American values and American exceptionalism? What’s in it for Russia? The Russian government would do better, in my humble opinion, to side with the de-constructionists, the post-modernists, and the Critical Race Theorists. Who stress the slavery and the genocide and all that jazz. RT America could push that ideology instead, under the rubric: “Who the hell are you to lecture us about democracy?” Instead, Simonyan and her minions make Russia ideologically vulnerable to American pretensions, by accepting the basic postulates of American Exceptionalism. Have they really thought this through, in other words?

Oh well. I reckon it’s hopeless to rail against RT’s new editorial premise. Which only makes official that which was already visibly in place. Realistically, this ark of Western civilization has already set sail and there is no chance of returning it to port. Not with all those hungry animals aboard.

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Valieva Conquers Sochi In Figure Skating Grand-Prix

Dear Readers:

The International Skating Union (ISU) Grand-Prix series completed its Russia stage in Sochi this past weekend. If you follow international figure skating and are just interested in the bare results of the competition, then you can read just about anything online, for example this informational piece from Reuters. I chose to read this piece by Alexei Smirnov, and was quite taken with his approach. Smirnov is not just reporting on sporting events, he has set out to create a literary style. I like his breezy, gossipy way of writing; it’s actually the style I myself try to employ at times (with varying results); except that Smirnov thinks he is writing Moby Dick and so tries to throw in some airy tricks and literary devices; one of which devices (which doesn’t work at all!) is trying to tie together this interesting sporting story with the theme of Black Friday. Egads, I almost dropped the Lede here: this ghastly American commercial holiday has penetrated into Russia, just like everything American eventually does. First Halloween, now Black Friday. What will be next? The 4th of July?

Black Friday and Ladies Figure Skating do not make for a normal metaphor.

So, November 26 (2 days ago) was Black Friday in the U.S. And by sheer coincidence that was the day when some very talented young ladies competed for the Prize Cup in Sochi. (Ignoring all the other matches, the men, the pairs, the dancers, just focusing on the individual ladies here.)

Despite some gaffes and overreaches, I consider Smirnov’s piece worthy of a literary review and even literary translation, on its own merits. And recalling, from my fuzzy brain, lessons I absorbed from some of those college classes on the art and theory of literary criticism. Unfortunately, his piece is quite long, and I don’t have time to work my way through the whole thing. I will have to satisfy myself (and my loyal readers) by translating just a few rather good paragraphs from the first part of it. Watch for his use of the following literary devices: The theme of Black Friday (which doesn’t work at all, IMHO, but then maybe I am just biased against everything American). The contrast between tropical weather outdoors and ice skating on a frozen rink (valid, but slightly banal). The idea of having to win and catch a plane that is already departing from the tarmac…

But first, just to set the stage, [SPOILER ALERT!] let us start at the end, by giving away the ending, here are the first 5 placements of this Sochi competition:

  1. In first place, Kamila Valieva from Russia, with 272.71 points
  2. In second place, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva from Russia, with 229.23 points
  3. In third place, Maya Khromykh from Russia, with 219.69 points
  4. In fourth place, Mariah Bell from the U.S., with 210.35 points
  5. In fifth place, Loena Hendrickx from Belgium, with 203.69 points

A Heavenly Delight

Smirnov: In past years the Russian stage of the Grand-Prix, aka the Rostelecom Cup, used to be held exclusively in Moscow. But time time around the organizers (in conjunction with certain changes made to many of the capital’s ice rinks to make them more hockey-friendly), decided to move the games to subtropical Sochi.

A November Sochi met some of the best figure skaters in the whole world with its traditional fall collection: 20+ degrees [Centigrade] on the street, beaches emptied of the summer crowd but still hosting wandering vendors selling baked corn on the cob; and the Olympic “Iceberg” rink, backdropped by the snowy peaks of the Caucasian Mountains, emerald-green ponds and joyful palm trees.

The Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia

This lovely opportunity on November 26-27 to zoom around tropical trees on the peak of an iceberg, while soaking in the rays of Sochi’s tender sun — such fortune befell to Russia’s ladies Maya Khromykh, Kamila Valieva and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva.

All three of these Russian ladies, prior to the concluding stage of the Grand Prix, had a very good chance of breaking through to the series final, which will take place in Osaka, Japan December 9-12. [yalensis: Shcherbakova and Kostornaya already have assured slots in the final.]

[Due to the scoring system and previous points accrued], Kamila only needed to take fourth place; but Maya and Liza needed to get on the pedestal [1-3 places, in other words]. They also needed to prevent the Belgian girl Loena from rising any higher than third place.


Friday, 26 November, was a Black Friday indeed, first of all for the Belgian girl, and secondly for our own Maya. Hendrickx was not able to land her triple flip (she just popped it into a single), while Khromykh blew her jump combination, falling on the very first element, which was supposed to be a triple Lutz. The two girls tumbled into 5th and 6th places, from which, if they were to ever get to the Osaka Tournament, well, it would only be as members of the audience.

[yalensis: Smirnov is misusing the “Black Friday” metaphor here. In American terms, it’s not “black” in the sense of being dark or depressing; it’s “black” in terms of merchants putting their ledgers back into the black ink by increasing revenues. But whatever…]

Kamila: The definition of perfection.

It fell upon Valieva and Tuktamysheva to raise the spirits of the Russian fans who had filled the stadium. And whereas Elizaveta, having just recovered from the flu, skated at her usual high level, heroically managing all her jump elements (including a triple Axel) and earning a respectable 80.10 points; well then, Kamila, presenting herself to the public in her new lavender dress, gave a performance that could only be described as the very definition of perfection.

Bursting, on Black Friday, into this trading hub of international figure skating, this pupil of [legendary coach] Eteri Tutberidze, managed to complete a total coup: For her magically inspiring program, set to the music of Kirill Richter, in which she cleanly completed a triple Axel, triple Flip, and combination triple Lutz-Toeloop, Kamilla received a record 87.42 points.

Thanks to this insane result (if she had been competing against men, she still would have come in third!), this young Russian girl captured a world record in Ladies Figure Skating, for most points ever accrued in sum of short and long programs.


Maya Khromykh: Four Revolutions Around the Moon

On Saturday the Belgian girl Loena Hendrickx opened the round of long [freestyle] programs. Her performance, just like the day before, did not reveal anything new: the figure skater performed her first two jumps with some errors [and point deductions]. The chances of Hendrickx’s appearance at the Grand-Prix finals began to recede and dissipate in the mists of Sochi, just as the evening moon hides itself behind the peak of the Akhun Mountain.

Mariah Bell performed slightly better than the Belgian, having accrued 140.98 points in her long program. But in the end, this was not enough to get the American girl up onto the Sochi pedestal.

The first Russian to step onto the Sochi ice, just as the moon had finally concealed herself behind the horizon, was Maya Khromykh. To the strains of the Argentinian tango, Maya attempted, at the last minute, to get herself onboard that “Grand-Prix Special Flight to Osaka”, which was already on the tarmac and whose departure was already being announced.

Maya: Even if I have to crawl all the way to Osaka..

What Maya needed to do on this Saturday, was to forget about the disaster which had happened to her on Black Friday. She needed to clench her fists and show the world the maximum to which she is capable. Under no circumstances can she let slip this unique opportunity to compete in the Grand-Prix finale.

And, as her very first jump sequences, this Russian girl fearlessly completed two quadruple toeloops, the first one an Ultra-C [highest level of difficulty] in combination with a solid double; the second [quad] with a slight deduction for the landing.

With such a powerful start, Khromykh immediately removed any doubt as to who will be joining the company of Anna Shcherbakova and Alyona Kostornaya, who are already aboard the plane flying off to Osaka.

Moreover, after such a heroic start, with four rotations around the Moon, in the course of which Maya playfully waved to her disappointed Belgian rival, the 15-year-old Russian girl flawlessly completed the remaining part of her program, receiving from the judges a delicious 154.97 points, and thus coming in second overall for the long program. And thus did this young debutante, who only this season graduated to Adult status [he means from Junior to Senior level], and notwithstanding a very strong competition, succeed in pulling off a true upset in ladies figure skating. Just one year ago, nobody would have believed that she would have mastered Ultra-C jumps, and yet this season Maya Khromykh has been crushing her biggest competitors in international competitions. Carrying a Silver medal from the Turin Grand-Prix Stage and a Bronze from Sochi, Maya has, practically without any preparation or expectation, burst into the group of the 6 best (Ladies) figure skaters in the world. Congratulations!

yalensis: There is much more in this story, but I have to leave off now. I hope you have enjoyed Smirnov’s writing and my translation of it. Congratulations to all those super-talented figure skaters, they work so hard for their sport and it is truly inspiring to watch them.


Posted in Figure Skating, Sports | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Breaking News: Putin Fires Prison-Torture Chief

Dear Readers:

You will recall my previous post on the Russian prison-torture scandal. Now there is some good news: We learn that Russian President Putin just yesterday (November 25) has fired the head of the ФСИН  (Federal Service for Carrying Out Punishments), who was responsible for the daily workings of the Labor Colonies. That man, a former FSB type, went by the marvelous Russian name of Alexander Kalashnikov. His replacement is a steely-eyed man named Arkady Gostev, who formerly held the post of Deputy Directory of Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Arkady Gostev: Has to clean up.
Alexander Kalashnikov: Made a mess of things.

Gostev began his police career back in 1981, in Moscow, as an ordinary beat cop. Besides being a cop, he is a motorcycle hobbyist. In his spare time he fixes up and sells old Soviet motorcycles. This hobby has brought him additional wealth beyond his paycheck. His tax returns from 2018 show him to be the wealthiest cop in all of Russia. Either because of his prosperity, or perhaps in spite of it, Gostev is thought to be the right man to head up the clean-up effort in the labor colonies. He will help the government investigate the awful things that happened there when Mr. Kalashnikov was in charge. Human-rights activists are happy to see somebody being held accountable; angd hope that the new regime will end the ghastly tortures of prisoners, which the old managers apparently felt was normal practice. We are talking mainly about the Saratov region colonies, where, if you recall, a whistleblower was able to provide iron-clad proof of torture and sexual abuses of prisoners. These “rapes with a broomstick” kind of horror were video-taped by sadistic guards and uploaded to the colonies computer network. The whistleblower hacked the files and published them. The first instinct of the government, as always happens in such cases, was to find and punish the whistleblower. But the publication of the tapes found a “great resonance” in Russian society, according to reporter Petr Nikolaev.

Which shows, by the way, that Russian society still contains many healthy elements. If a similar whistleblowing had happened in America, for example, most of the American public would have cheered on the torturers, or turned the whole thing into a big joke.

Fortunately, President Putin is intelligent enough to recognize that somebody other than the whistleblower had to be held accountable; and apparently Kalashnikov is the logical person to fall on his sword, since the buck ultimately stopped with him. [I apologize for so many mixed metaphors]. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I saw an earlier news story [sorry, I can’t find the link] by which the charges have been dropped against the whistleblower; so he could actually return to Russia if he wanted to (he’s been hiding out in Germany).

Can the Whistleblower come out of hiding now?

Meanwhile, the Upper Chamber of the Russian Parliament has launched an investigation of the whole messy thing, and plan to increase the punishment for police officials who commit such dastardly deeds against helpless prisoners. Hence, expect to see more cops behind bars. Hopefully. The Prosecutor General will charge such men with rape under Statute #132 of the codex. Already 35 cases are underway, and the investigation continues.

There is more news, and a shuffling of the deck chairs. I almost dropped the lede: The ФСИН itself will be transferred from the jurisdiction of the FSB, and will now report to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Human Rights activist Marina Litvinovich cheers this move: “This decision to replace Kalashnikov with Gostev is a rather strong signal and inspires a certain optimism. In essence, one needs to rebuild the entire system of punitive justice, from scratch.” But other human-rights activists quoted in the piece are still pessimistic. They point out that Kalashnikov did not personally oversee the tortures, and may not have even known about them. Just replacing him with somebody else, be it the FSB or Internal Affairs, is not real change, in their view. But for now, nobody seems to have a better idea.

One thing one can be sure of [I aver, as a cynic] is that the new chief of the colonies will keep a much tighter control over their computer network. Under the overall rubric, “Something bad happens in Vegas, something stays in Vegas.”

Posted in True Crime | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Breaking News: Ukrainian Drones Attack Donetsk Town

Dear Readers:

I saw this piece, this event happened earlier this morning (November 25) in Donetsk. The reporter is Rafael Fakhrutdinov.

Yasinovataya region, in the context of DPR territory

The town in question is called Yasinovataya, which is located in the center of the Donetsk Peoples Republic. Founded in 1872 as a railroad hub, this is a busy little city currently boasting a population of some 37,000 souls. All of whom the Ukrainian army has apparently vowed to terrorize, in this case with little flying grenades. Imagine just being an ordinary person walking out of your house one morning to go to work, or go shopping, and a drone flies over your head and explodes a grenade!

So, first off, it seems like we are not talking about the fancy Turkish Bayraktar drones purchased by the Ukrainian army. Instead, the drones in question appear to be the hobbyist type that anybody could buy in a Walmart, for example. The article refers to them as “quadrocopters”. So, some enterprising hobbyists in the Ukrainian army apparently equipped three of these toys with grenades and flew them over the rebel town. Two of the grenades failed to explode; the third one exploded. Fortunately, nobody was hurt; but somebody’s automobile was destroyed. One can only hope that person’s car insurance covers that kind of damage.

The information is coming to us from a war-weary Alexander Khodakovsky, who is a military official in the DPR government and who commands the Vostok Brigade of the Separatist forces. Khodakovsky: “Yasinovataya was attacked by three quadrocopters, each one of which exploded a grenade that had been built by hand and customized for this purpose. These are not official (sanctioned) weapons.

Alexander Khodakovsky

Unfortunately, we don’t have an effective method to protect the population against such drone attacks carried out by the Ukrainian army. They are using this small autopiloted aviation, which is invisible to our radar. You can only tell these things are coming when you hear them, or if you are able to detect the control signal. Our specialists in radio-electronic surveillance can sometimes detect the signal, and then they try to seize control over these drones. But this doesn’t work very often, which is why the Ukrainian Armed Forces feel themselves to operate with impunity.”

The only weak point in the quadrocopter, its Achilles heel, is the fact that it cannot stay in the air longer than 40 minutes. And that’s when it’s not bearing a weight. When it’s bearing a weight, it’s air time is much shorter. For this reason, they are not able to fly very far from the Ukrainian front line.

“We are not able to evacuate all the populated areas near the front lines, therefore we are left with only passive methods of trying to warn the civilian population,” Khodakovsky continues his rather frank tirade. In this particular case, the drones were sent flying over a thickly populated residential area. Which fits into the well-known genre by which the Ukrainian army, knowing they cannot take the town back, simply amuse themselves by making life as miserable as possible for ordinary people living there.

Khodakovsky concludes: “We did not receive any official communications from the Ukrainian army. Well, we don’t usually anyhow. For the course of the past 7 years they just attack us on a regular basis, this is our way of life now.”

Posted in Breaking News, Military and War | Tagged , | Leave a comment

TV Series Review: La Casa de Papel – Part II

Dear Readers:

I probably should have preceded Part I of my review with the words SPOILERS ALERTS!

It may be too late for some innocent readers who learned a few crucial plot secrets before watching the show. I am thinking this review should probably be for people who have already watched it and are reading to review what they already know.

The Politics Of Casa: Criminals vs Revolutionaries

Anyhow, like I said before, even though I am also a fan, my main focus as a political blogger, is on the political/ideological components of this series. And you have to hand it to the producers and writers, maybe it’s because they are Spaniards, but they take themselves and their story completely seriously as a political phenomenon. Now, there is a long tradition, dating back to Robin Hood or even earlier, which confuses criminals with revolutionaries. Well, to be sure, there is a logical connection. By the very act of being a revolutionary, one pits oneself against society, and sometimes one even has to go underground. Which may entail dealing with the criminal underworld or even becoming an outlaw oneself. There is also the issue or raising money for the cause. This is the reason why even intellectual revolutionaries like the Bolsheviks sometimes had dealings with unsavory elements, and even allowed some of their members, like Djugashvili, to rob banks and trains.

Returning to the politics of “La Casa”, let us take these talented writers at their word. We shall list the “political” components of the plot-line, in no particular order; and also remembering that the show depicts the majority of the Spanish public as coming out into the streets to demonstrate for the robbers and against the government, as befits a hot-blooded Latin nation:

The Professor targets the Euro.
  • By hijacking the Spanish Mint and printing their own money, the gang will help to destabilize the Euro and, by extension, the European Union itself. To be sure, they keep most of the money for themselves. Although, later, to cause a distraction, they do give some of the loot back to the Spanish people by tossing it out of a blimp while flying over Madrid.
  • By hijacking the Bank of Spain and stealing all the gold, the gang will help to destabilize the Spanish government and economy. Which is a revolutionary act.
  • While robbing the Bank of Spain, the gang also “liberates” important government documents (sealed in a lockbox) which implicate the government in extradition-torture programs conducted by the American CIA.
  • In Heist #1 we watch El Profesor and Berlin singing Bella Ciao, the theme song of the Italian Resistance and now the signature tune of “La Casa”. In Heist #2 we are treated to Guantanamera, which serves the same purpose, of whipping up the audience with left-wing sentimentality.
  • In listing the Professor’s international assets; in the first part of my review, I forgot to mention that he commands a loyal team of Serbian fighters. They do a lot of his dirty work, but some of them (like Marseilles) also have specialized more cerebral skills. Depicting Serbs as the “good guys” (sort of) is radical and goes against the mainstream narrative, so this can also be considered a political statement, in the overall context.
Since the days of Robin Hood, people have confused criminals with revolutionaries.
  • Heist #2 quickly turns into an out-and-out war. “We are at war,” the Professor states. War against the fascist police state. But it was the police who started it: The police are so out of control they bring in an elite army commando group to blow the f*cking roof off the bank. In the process destroying a museum loaded up with priceless pantings and other artifacts. I am told this “Gold Museum” within the Bank of Spain is a real thing, and an actual UNESCO site. But the government has no compunction, they don’t care about priceless art nor human life.
  • Not to mention that Heist #2 is undertaken with the main purpose of freeing a gang member, Rio, from a CIA “black site”, where he is being tortured mercilessly. Such renditions are technically illegal under Spanish law, and the gang performs a public service when they advertise this fact to the world.
  • On the “woker” side of the equation: This show may not please more conservative fans, as it ticks off a whole slew of woke checklist items, namely: The importance of strong female characters, both within the robber gang as also with the police. Chicks with guns, in other words. There are no fewer than 3 male homosexual characters (all gang members, namely Oslo, Helsinki, and Palermo); plus one transgender character, Manila (male to female), her role in the gang is to pretend to be a hostage and keep tabs on what the hostages are up to.
  • Also on the woke side of the equation, and here one must note that the Spanish intelligentsia and artistic class can be among the wokest of the woke, probably because they had to endure so many decades of Francoism; but in Heist #2 the writers explicitly lecture one of the bad guys César Gandía, not just for being an assassin, but for being a brutal racist, homophobe and trans-phobe as well. Gandía despises gang member Nairobi for the fact that she is half-Arab; and he also mocks the homosexual and transgender characters. Gandía is meant to portray every bad prejudice of Spanish bad guys and right-wingers.
  • The writers also stress that most of the protagonists are just ordinary working people: miners, welders, etc. So, it’s “the people” vs “the man”, although not presented quite that simplistically. The combination of proletariat, lumpen-proletariat, conscious revolutionary and criminal, is reminiscent of the works of another great left-wing intellectual, namely Bertolt Brecht!
Palermo: A tough-guy misogynist who is also gay.

And so we see that the writers definitely have a political agenda. That’s okay. Their agenda definitely resounds with a large part of European public opinion; but even if it didn’t, one can enjoy a well-told story and well-drawn characters even if one disagrees with the politics of the writers.

Also, the writers may be “woke”, but they are not simplistic. All of the characters have complexity, they are not walking-talking stereotypes. Palermo, for example, who takes over routine operations of the gang after Berlin’s death [SPOILER ALERT!] shares Berlin’s hatred of women, but not Berlin’s heterosexuality. Palermo is fortunate in a way, being homosexual, because he never has to actually deal with women. Pity the poor misogynist Berlin, who hates women, but still has to deal with them if he wants to have sex. “It’s that 1% mitochondria that makes me like women,” he confesses to Palermo. In flashbacks we see that: For five years Palermo was openly in love with, and courting, Berlin; following him around the world like a puppy. Berlin even admitted he wished he was gay, because he and Palermo would have made the perfect couple, both brutal tough guys, but also possessing many criminal skills. The Spanish Bank Heist was actually Berlin’s pet project. He and Palermo worked together, as platonic friends, for five years planning this heist. But when The Professor rejected their scheme as unrealistic, Berlin had to send his friend Palermo away, the latter sobbing with unrequited love and lust while Berlin marries a mysterious Russian art thief named Tatiana. It is only after Berlin’s death [SPOILER ALERT], that The Professor resurrects the Bank-heist plan. Broken-hearted at the death of his older brother, he decides he must complete this project as an homage to the latter.

“We Are At War”


While Heist #1 at the Mint was a relatively gentlemanly affair, Heist #2 pulls out all the stops. The writers outdid themselves with cranking up the tension, and the danger, to unbearable levels.

In a spectacular scene, Bogota enters the flooded chamber where the gold ingots are stored.

The writers also had to create a new strong female antagonist against the Professor. His former antagonist, Inspector Raquel Murillo was a formidable opponent initially, but eventually fell in love with the Professor and joined the gang. That really took all the ginger out of her, so they needed a new female baddie.

Enter Inspector Alicia Sierra, possibly the meanest woman in the galaxy. She is the person who renditioned Rio and tortured him mercilessly. Even though bulgingly 9-months pregnant, she is still physically strong enough to knock the Professor down when he tries one of his judo moves on her. A ruthless bitch, Alicia even shoots him in the foot so he can’t run away from her. Back in Heist #1 we had watched the Professor easily disarm and incapacitate Raquel when she made a similar move on him. But Alicia is so strong, she is able to incapacitate, not only the Professor but two other male members of his gang (Marseilles and Benjamin). Before you know it, they are all duck-taped and helpless inside their lair, while Alicia has to try to figure out what to do with them. (See, it’s complicated, she can’t just turn them in, she herself is on the lam because her boss threw her under the bus and put out a warrant against her… long story…)

In the most exciting and emotional scene of the series so far, Alicia suddenly goes into labor. Just as she is hectoring her trussed-up prisoners, her water suddenly breaks. [At this point in the show I turn to my girlfriend on the couch and trumpet: “I told you so!” See, I had been predicting, from the moment they introduced this pregnant character, that the Professor will end up delivering her baby. I was right.]

Alicia captures the Professor in his lair, then goes into labor.

And sure enough! Even I, who had seen this plot point coming a mile away, had not predicted that Alicia’s baby would present as a breech. She is such a tough woman, she is going to deliver the kid herself: She drags a mattress over, lies down, spreads her legs, patches together a selfie on a stick so she can deliver her own baby. But even she doesn’t realize…

“That’s not the baby’s head…” the trussed-up Professor tells her. I can’t believe how bold the writers were to lead up to this thrilling plot point, so we get to see the Professor finally freed from his bonds so that he can hand-deliver his arch-enemy’s baby. Apparently the baby is in pike position with its bottom trying to come out first. After carefully washing his hands and donning gloves, the Professor inserts his hands right up into Alicia’s vagina, they are staring at each other eye to eye, he grasps the baby’s head and turns it down into a pike-somersault, then pulls it out head-first. The baby cries. The baby is fine. Everybody gasps with joy. Friends of mine who are medical experts tell me this is not exactly an accurate depiction of a manual breech-birth. But who cares? The Professor is so smart, such a superman, he knows everything and he can do anything!

After that act of mercy, people may wonder whether or not Alicia has been tamed, like the shrew she is, or whether she will join the Professor’s gang. (Highly dubious.) The Professor starts to treat her like a hostage now. He has already taken away her gun, now he orders his henchperson to go to the store and buy a bunch of baby supplies, like a crib, diapers, etc. So he clearly expects Alicia to be staying with them in the lair for the duration of the heist. As a hostage.

Personally, I don’t trust Alicia one bit. Even though she showed a sign of affection, touching the Professor’s shoulder in sympathy when they hear on the news that Tokyo has been killed [SPOILER ALERT!], I also noticed that Alicia snuck into the bathroom and managed to secrete a pair of clippers; no doubt she will be make her move and try to cut the gang’s communications, probably at the same time while breastfeeding her newborn. That’s just the kind of woman she is.

And this is where we must leave off, my friends. There are five more episodes left, but Netflix won’t give them to us until December 5, so we have to wait until then to find out what happens. It better be a “happy” ending, otherwise I shall be quite cross.

Sincerely yours, yalensis

Posted in Popular Culture | Tagged | 2 Comments

TV Series Review: La Casa de Papel – Part I

Dear Readers: My excuse for writing this review is to pretend that I am a serious intellectual analyzing a political and cultural phenemenon. In reality, I’m just a dopey fan who loves this particular TV show, despite my better judgement! This series can be found on American Netflix under the title “Money Heist“. It is dubbed into many languages, but I prefer to watch it in the original Spanish, with the subtitles turned on. The Spanish title, “La Casa de Papel” means “House of Paper”. Which refers to the Spanish government Mint, which prints currency in the form of Euros. In the first Heist of this series, our lovable criminal gang invades the mint, seizes the printing presses, and proceeds to print enough money to make them all rich. (At least, the survivors of the various shoot-outs.) Then, in Heist #2, a rebuilt gang goes after the Bank of Spain and steals all of the nation’s gold. All in the name of La Resistance, of course.

The core ideology: Bank Robbers vs the capitalist/fascist system.

What is most interesting about this show is that it originated just as a silly television series (and not even all that popular) in Spain, but, at a certain point, caught on exponentially, became an international phenomenon and took on a new life as the voice of all those peoples oppressed by European neo-fascism. The story and characters are said to express the “deep soul” of the entire Spanish-speaking world, as well as the broader “Latin” civilizational arc, encompassing Spain, Portugal, Latin America, and even the broader “Latinate” culture of Mediterranean nations such as Italy, Greece, and the South of France. I am also told that the series in wildly popular in India, a completely different culture and civilizational space. If you look up some of the youtube clips of certain scenes and read the comments underneath, you will find people who are completely obsessed with this show. People who say this show was the only thing that got them through the covid quarantine.

Well, what can you do, it turns out that well-written characters and an ingenious story line have universal appeal. Although we non-Latins may not completely “get” the core values and signals. For example, I personally love this show and the fantastic personalities (which is why I decided to write this review), but I cannot say that I approve of its Anarchist political message. Nor do I approve of bank robbers or art thiefs, I must say (tsk tsk). I mean, these beloved heroes are basically a criminal gang, not social revolutionaries. No? But who cares! The story is the thing, and this one is a corker, for sure.

Bella Ciao

If I am not mistaken, the production of this series spanned some five years, including a break for covid. When Netflix purchased the content, they chopped it up into several seasons and sub-seasons, which makes it confusing to review. For the sake of simplicity I am going to pretend that there are only two seasons, corresponding to the two main story arcs; which I will call Heist #1 and Heist #2.

In Heist #1, which is directed against the Spanish Mint, we watch our anti-hero, code-named “The Professor” (El Profesor) recruit 8 robbers, each a specialist in some vital skill. His first recruit, Tokyo (played by actress Úrsula Corberó) is a spectacularly attractive 30-something who can shoot and crawl through tunnels and also narrates the action of the series.

Úrsula Corberó

El Profesor (played by actor Álvaro Morte) is a nerdy freak who has planned this heist down to the last possible detail. Even before his robbers enter the mint and take hostages, El Profesor (aka Sergio) knows that the police will assign as hostage negotiator Inspector Raquel Murillo (played by actress Itziar Ituño). He background researches her in order to figure out her weak spots. He learns that she is an abused spouse (her ex-husband, a forensics tech with the police, used to beat her). In the first few episodes, we the audience enjoy his flirting with Raquel over the phone, using a disguised voice. What Raquel doesn’t know at first is that the leader of the gang she is pursuing, is not even inside the mint with the other robbers: He is running the operation from a nearby warehouse, while his second-in-command, Berlin, directs the operation from inside the mint, The writers set up a brilliant conflict when Sergio has an “accidental” meeting with Raquel in a nearby coffee shop. The lonely and vulnerable Raquel is quite taken with this sensitive stranger; he is attentive to her needs and seems almost able to read her mind. They start dating. He is manipulating her, of course, but somewhere along the way they end up falling mutually in love. El Profesor is sort of a 40-year-old virgin, and this is his first real love as well. Raquel doesn’t know who he really is, just that she is attracted to him. This is excellent plotting for a future confrontation.

Cop and Robber: An unlikely love story

Meanwhile, as the season progresses, we learn more about the back-stories of these excellent characters. To me, the most interesting character is El Profesor himself. His personality is a series of paradoxes: He is, to be sure, a criminal mastermind and there can be no doubt he is a sociopath; at the same time he is wracked by nerves, shy, extremely timid, and a basically kind-hearted, even gentle individual. But wait! This nerd may be timid, but don’t underestimate him: he has some ninja-type karate skills and can take down an armed man much larger than himself. He even boasts a kind of Vulcan “neck-pinch” which can disable a formidable opponent.

The writers have created a fascinating back-story for Sergio which explains both his criminality and his anarchistic ideology. See, once upon a time there was a Spanish widower who was just trying to raise his two sons, Andrés (played by actor Pedro Alonso) and Sergio. Sergio, the younger of the two, was sickly (had some unspecified disease) and spent most of his childhood in hospitals. Desperate to send him to America for proper treatment, the father turned to a life of crime and became a bank robber. At least, that’s the official story. Once we get into Heist #2 and start to meet more and more of the gang which the two sons inherited, it seems pretty clear that Dear Old Dad had built the start of an organization which the sons, Sergio especially, turned into an international crime ring. Over the years they have recruited the greatest specialists on the planet, always oncall for the next heist. All he has to do is lift up the phone and Sergio can get help from any number of expert Pakistani computer hackers, Asturian miners who know how to tunnel through any kind of rock; safe-crackers; counterfeiters such as the sweet and beautiful Nairobi; not to mention Bogota, the greatest metal welder on the planet.

Sadly, Papa was shot and killed outside a bank he was trying to rob. As in any superhero’s origin story, young Sergio vowed to avenge his Dad. He became “The Resistance”. When he turned 18 he went underground, refused to register his identity to the Spanish government, dropped off the radar, and proceeded, for the next 20 years, to plan the greatest heist of all time. He explains to his followers that this heist was originally his father’s idea, and that actually carrying out this plan will be his homage.

Berlin: A lovable rogue.

It’s only towards the end of Heist #1 that we, the audience, learn an important secret: Sergio’s older brother Andrés is one and the same as the odious code-named Berlin, a violent and misogynistic art thief, whom Sergio places in charge of the robbers working inside the Mint and controlling the hostages. Much to the dismay of the two female members of the team, Tokio and Nairobi. The writers of the show initially drew Berlin as a villain, and were quite surprised when this character became popular with the audience. Why? Well, he is an obnoxious pig, for sure, and even a rapist; but he is also handsome, funny and charming; and most of all, he is played by a brilliant actor who can make you like this character despite yourself.

Once we learn the secret that the two men are brothers, then a lot of things fall into place. And then the writers have the chutzpah to tell us that this criminal family is driven, above all, by left-wing political motives. We learn that their dad used to make them sing an Italian protest song called Bella Ciao which sings of a dying Resistance fighter, a partisan, and a beautiful woman:

Una mattina mi son svegliato
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Una mattina mi son svegliato
Eo ho trovato l’invasor

O partigiano porta mi via
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
O partigiano porta mi via
Che mi sento di morir


In a moment of fraternal bonding, in an iconic scene, the two brothers clutch each other affectionately as they dance around the room singing this song. According to a Netflix documentary (“The making of…”) Spanish (and Italian) audiences were so thrilled with this scene, that the song went to the top of the charts. Everybody started singing Bella Ciao. People were very taken with the poignant (very Robin Hood kind of) idea that robbing the Spanish Mint while wearing red jumpsuits and Dali masks is an act of political resistance almost equal to joining the partisans against Mussolini. Cynical Marxists can only shake their heads and intone something like, “Those Spanish anarchists…. sheesh!” It’s still a great scene, though, from a purely dramatic and artistic point of view.

[to be continued]

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Russia Introduces Covid Vaccine Passports

Dear Readers:

Today I review this piece from Komsomolskaya Pravda, the author is Elena Odintsova. The Russian Parliament is in the process of passing some rather strict measures designed to mitigate the Covid pandemic. In essence, this legislation amounts to the introduction of a Covid Passport. Citizens and residents of the Russian Federation will be expected to carry proof (in the form of a QR code on their smartphones) of covid vaccination. Otherwise they will not be allowed to travel on trains or airplanes. People who refuse will not be prevented from shopping for food in grocery stores, or medicines in pharmacies. (Which shows the government’s merciful side.) Once passed, this law will be in effect until June 1, 2022.

The State Duma admits these measures are “drastic” but say they are necessary due to the escalating covid crisis in Russia. The details of these measures were explained to the public on Friday (November 12) in a briefing done by Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova and Transport Minister Vitaly Saveliev. In summary, there are two main legislative proposals:

Types Of Proof Accepted

The first proposal concerns how the public visits cultural events and other types of mass gatherings; also places where people dine and shop. In order to be allowed to participate in such events, the person must possess either:

  • A QR-code proving their vaccination status; or
  • A document confirming they have actually lived through a coronavirus infection [and thus have the antibodies inside their bodies]; or
  • A medical waiver from the vaccination

There is a transitional period between now and February 1, 2022 before these measures will come into effect. If a person does not have any of the three things mentioned above, they can also show a negative PCR-test result. After February 1, however, only people with medical waivers can also show a negative PCR. As PM Golikova explained, this transitional period is put into place to give people time to get vaccinated, if they have not done so already; and to get their papers in order.

Transport Minister Saveliev explains the new restrictions.
Golikova: You have until February 1 to get your papers in order.

With these basic regulations in place, it will be left to the regional authorities to refine and implement the rules about the QR-codes and so on. Full exceptions will be made for grocery stores and pharmacies, so that even covid-disobedient people can still obtain the products they need for basic survival.

The second proposal concerns the implementation of QR-codes in planes and trains. Transport within a given urban area (I think they mean, like buses and subways) will not be affected; we are only talking about inter-city and international transport.

Passengers will be required to show:

  • Either a QR-code attesting to their covid vaccination; or
  • A medical waiver from vaccination;
  • Or proof they already had the virus infection and lived to tell the tale

Passengers in these circumstances will be asked to show their documentation while buying a ticket; and will also have to show it before being seated (in the plane or train).

It will be possible to substitute proof of a negative PCR-test during an interim period whose ending date has not yet been decided. Negative PCR-test results are currently being demanded of foreign citizens who travel through Russian space on planes or trains.

A Single Piece of Paper

Golikova also announced that the government will attempt to simply the paperwork by introducing a single “Vaccine Certificate” for each citizen, issued by the Ministry of Health. This new “Vaccine Passport” is projected to be implemented in March of 2022. Until then people will have to rely on the older, more complicated, paperwork.

The good news is that the government itself will put all of this paperwork together in an automated portal which will be maintained automatically. The citizen will not have to do anything: The moment they get a shot, for example, the information will be automatically added to their portal account.

Mishustin: can be expected to set up an efficient vaccination portal.

[yalensis comment: Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin is famous for his ability to use computers and technology to streamline governmental processes such as tax collection, etc. This is one of the reasons why he got the job as PM. He is very good at this, so one can expect the Russian government public health portal to be vastly superior to, for example, the American CDC portal, which manages the covid vaccination status of American residents.]

What to do about Russian citizens who live in remote areas or have not been registered for governmental services, or who don’t have Smartphones? Don’t worry: the government thought this whole thiing through. These people will be able to order their own QR-code in one of the so-called Multi-Functional Centers of their town or region. [These places were set up as part of a series of administrative reforms 2005-2010. They provide a convenient location for residents and also businesses to have all their officials documents prepared in one single place, and to apply for governmental and municipal services.]

If you don’t have a Smartphone, you can still apply for a QR-code at the Multi-Functional Center.

None of the above applies to children or teenagers. In Russia, only 18-years and older have to get the vaccine.

Transport Minister Saveliev: “We are already starting to work with aviation and railway companies. We are working out the details how, most quickly and efficiently, to verify passenger’s medical documentation without impacting their rhythm or logistics. We don’t want to have to detain anybody as they board the flight. I don’t foresee a lot of hassles. Of course, every airplane company has its own system of security, it’s just a question of adding in the government’s medical requirement; and that’s what we are trying to figure out now.”

Deputy PM Golikova: “We are hopeful that we can reach our goal of collective immunity. The metric we are aiming for is 80% of the adult population. Although I would like to emphasize that those countries which already have implemented mass vaccination of their population, have raised that bar to 90-95%, in order to combat the spread of this epidemic.”

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Was Stalin A Good War Chief? – Part V

Dear Readers:

Today concluding my review of Diunov’s piece. Where we left off, before a little sidebar about the unfortunate General Pavlov, Diunov was ripping into Stalin for being basically AWOL and having a nervous breakdown during the first couple of days of the invasion. This sparked some lively debate among my most loyal readers, who doubt Diunov’s truthiness. Commenter Svolochenko cited an English-language source (“The Dictators”), by British historian Richard Overy. Overy in turn, in a footnote, cites a Russian compilation of war archives put together by operatives of the KGB/FSB. Here is what Pavlo wrote in the comment section of my previous post:

Colonel Yampolsky compiled a collection of all the wartime NKVD documents.

The evidence now shows Stalin urgently at work. For the first week of the German attack he cursed and bullied his colleagues and the army generals, but he was very much in charge, if not quite in command of the situation. His office log shows a ceaseless round of visitors and consulations: twenty-nine entries on 22 June from 5:45 in the morning, when news of the German attack broke, to 4:45 in the afternoon; the following day meetings began at 3:00 in the morning until almost 2:00 the following morning; meetings and interviews until 11:30 or 12:00 at night for the next three days.43. Stalin’s haggard and tense appearance was not the result of nervous collapse but of desperate frantic overwork. On Sunday 29 June he went to his dacha on the outskirts of Moscow, and stayed there until Monday writing speech to the Soviet people, and drafting two important directives on the Soviet war effort. By July 1 he was back in the Kremlin as chairman of a new State Defence Committee, set up by law the day before, and two days later he broadcast to the population that the Soviet state had ‘come to death grips with its most vicious and perfidious enemy’; it was not ‘an ordinary war’ but a war to be waged to the death.

43. V.P. Yampolsky(ed.) Organs of State Security of the USSR in the Great Patriotic War, (Moscow, 2000), vol ii, pp 98-104

An extract from The Dictators by Richard Overy, with the supporting reference.

Following this lead, I did some online research and found the Yampolsky source alluded to, here is an FSB site whence these massive volumes of NKVD archives (edited by Yampolsky) can be downloaded by historians. I downloaded Volume 2 and quickly skimmed through it. (It’s just an image-scan, not text-scanned, so is not text-searchable, nor is one able to copy/paste text from it; one is forced to read or skim the whole thing.) I am forced to say, these archives are collected in rather shoddy fashion, there is no rhyme or reason to the page numbering scheme, neither the document numbers nor the page numbers match the table of contents, nor the index; and everything appears to be in random order. Quite frustrating. Here is the link to Volume II wherein support for that Overy passage should be, but honestly I can’t find it.

The closest thing I could find to Overy’s reference to Stalin’s work logs is this paragraph, from the Editors Introduction, here is my translation from the Russian:

How did historian Overy get his hands on Stalin’s diary?

From the point of view of the nation’s leadership, a constant attention was paid to the Organs of State Security. As was noted in the journals kept by Stalin’s regular secretaries from June 21 – 28 of 1941, L.P. Beria was invited to meet with Stalin 15 times; and Merkulov 5 times. The total time which Stalin allocated, in the first week (of the war) to leadership of the NKVD and KGB, constituted 32.5 hours.

So, that’s all I could find there, it doesn’t even match Pavlo’s quote from Overy, but historian Overy seems to know what he is talking about and quotes dates and times from Stalin’s actual office work logs. In which case Stalin’s diary shows him a busy beaver from the very first minutes of the invasion, conducting endless meetings and getting very little sleep. In which case Diunov, who claims that Stalin secluded himself for the first couple of days and basically had a nervous breakdown, is either misinformed or just taking a cheap shot at the Great Leader.

Personally, I tend to believe Overy’s account over Diunov’s. Stalin doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to me who would just give up and pack it in, at the first setback. I mean, the guy was always kind of a maniacal bundle of energy, no? And even if he did have a couple of bad days — well, everyone is allowed to have a bad day, and he very quickly bucked himself up, no?

Regardless, I consider this to be a minor point, so let us continue with Diunov’s analysis:

Cruel And Unusual Decrees

Diunov: Stalin’s cruel nature continued to affect the course of military operations. In Order #428 (November 17, 1941) he demanded that all populated areas in the enemy rear, for a distance of 40-60 kilometers from the front and a width of 20-30 kilometers to the right and left of the roads, should be destroyed and burnt to the ground. This tactic of “scorched earth”, conducted on Soviet territory, meant hunger and death for Soviet citizens.

Earlier, on 21 September 1941, in a Directive issued by the Commander-in-Chief, it was stated that the Germans are are sending out old men and children to convince Red Army soldiers to surrender. In response to this, the troops were ordered to gun down such peaceful civilians, if they were to encounter them in such a context.

On July 28, 1942 the infamous Order #227 was issued, signed personally by Stalin himself. Once again he forbade any retreat or withdrawal and ordered the formation of “blocking” units, whose job was to function from the rear and shoot their own soldiers, if any tried to retreat. With particular hypocrisy, Stalin alluded to the practice of the Wehrmacht, which had allegedly implemented similar measures. However, Hitler’s famous “Stop-Order” from December 16, 1941 did not actually contain such barbaric notions, it simply remarked on the impermissibility of retreat […] Even in the Nazi Third Reich the notion of shooting one’s own soldiers, was unthinkable. And yet it became a reality in the USSR. And this shows Stalin’s biggest deficiency as a war leader, which even Marshal Zhukov remarked upon: Namely, he was completely indifferent to [personnel] losses.

Marshal Zhukov: Stalin didn’t care one fig about conserving forces.

During the years of war Stalin continued to distrust his military leaders. His cadre policies were chaotic and inconsistent. The first two years of the war, Commanders of armies and fronts were switched around rapidly; a fact that hindered the generals from really getting to know the situation at the particular front for which they were responsible.

This game of cadre leapfrog was the natural result of Stalin’s lack of understanding what actually happens at the front; and this always led to a mistake typical of managerial thinking: the opinion that if you switch out the leadership team, then the problems go away, and the situation will magically improve.

The situation started to get more stable only when the Red Army started to win. Moreover, despite holding all the threads of management in his own hands, Stalin refused to ever visit the front lines, preferring to receive his information via regular reports delivered by members of the General Staff.

Offense vs Defense

yalensis: In the next section, Diunov lays out his own ideas about how the war should have been conducted, especially during the first couple of years. I am not in a position to judge here, but I think he is conflating the pre-war Tukhachevsky-Uborevich doctrine of “Offensive War” which specifically meant crossing over and waging integrated warfare on enemy soil; versus Stalin’s more primitive conception of “Always attack, never pull back.” These are not really the same thing, in my opinion. Diunov believes that a primary task of an army commander consists of conserving his own troops, to the extent possible while pursuing the overall strategic goals and mission; and I can’t see how anybody would disagree with that. If you treat your soldiers like expendable cannon fodder all the time, then you are going to end up wasting a lot of fodder.

Diunov: Stalin was categorically a proponent of the “Offensive Strategy”. Any withdrawal, even [a tactical] one designed to extract some benefit, he regarded at best as unworthy of an officer, and at worst, as a punishable crime.

General Rokossovsky led the 16th Army during the Vyazma operation

These ideas had found their way into the Main Doctrine of 1939 and accounted for the [persistent] demands, in 1941-42, to attack, at a time when the only way to save the country and army, was to build a solid defense and wear Germany out [through attrition]. However, starting in 1943, after the situation at the front changed in favor of the USSR, Stalin’s Doctrine of Attack started to be perceived as indisputable. This fascination with always attacking led to huge losses, for example during the Rzhevsk-Vyazma operation, which continued from January 1942 through March of 1943 and cost the Red Army almost 800,000 men.

Therefore it was not for nothing that Marshal Zhukov wrote in his memoirs: “Was J.V. Stalin, in reality, an astounding military thinker? Of course not.” Zhukov remarked that Stalin was very poorly able to work his way through military issues, but on the other hand, this bureaucrat loved to assign deadlines for the completion of tasks, often not even taking an interest in how these tasks were to be performed.

Did Stalin have any good points as a military leader? Of course. A man without any talent whatsoever would never have been able to govern the Soviet Union and win the war. But his [indisputable] talents were not of the military flavor.

Stalin’s Good Points

Under Stalin’s leadership the USSR became a world power.

Foremost, Stalin well understood the essence of contemporary warfare as the combination of various types of modern weaponry. In his capacity as economic leader, he did quite a lot to promote the effective work of Soviet military industry, and the achievement of superiority in weaponry. Stalin also well understood the value of reserves and always demanded of his military leaders that they prepare and concentrate reserve units so that, at the decisive moment of battle, the army would not be left without reinforcements; and would be able to introduce into the battle ever-fresh troops; in order to strengthen success during a time of attack, or to liquidate threats during a time of defensive operations.

In conclusion, Stalin was quite a good mobilizer and leader, qualities which allowed him to direct the entire military potential of the USSR for the victory in war; albeit, unfortunately, employing very cruel methods.

Stalin also showed himself to be a master of diplomacy. He was quite successful at negotiating with our allies on the main issues of military and political collaboration. Stalin’s efforts on the international stage led to the post-war emergence of the USSR as one of the great powers.


Posted in Military and War, Russian History | Tagged | 17 Comments

Was Stalin A Good War Chief? – Part IV

Dear Readers:

Before continuing with my review of Diunov’s piece, I want to take a quick sidebar to skim through the biography of General Pavlov, the officer who was blamed for the Soviet Union’s initial defeats in the Great Patriotic War. Diunov just barely mentioned Pavlov who, I believe, deserves a bit more attention, so here is my summary of his Russian wiki:

Dmitry Grigorievich Pavlov was born in 1897 in the Kostroma region of the Russian Empire, located on the confluence of the Volga and Kostroma Rivers. Pavlov was born into a peasant family. He had 4 years of primary education at a church-run school, but was able to continue his studies at a regular school and also taking evening classes. In 1914, when war broke out, he volunteered for the Russian Imperial Army and served at the front as an infantryman. Was promoted to the rank of Under-Officer. In 1916 he was wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans. As a POW he was assigned to work in the mines for Germany. He was released only in January of 1919. Returning home, he worked on the farm with his father until eventually he was drafted into the Red Army.

Dmitry Pavlov as a young Russian officer.

Pavlov showed promise as a Red Army officer and was sent to military school in 1920 to further his skills. He was eventually put in command of a Cossack cavalry Division. He fought on both the Western and Southern fronts during the Civil War. Joined the Communist Party in 1919.

In 1922 Pavlov graduated from military school in Omsk. Continued to command both infantry and cavalry divisions. In 1923 he fought in Turkestan against various warlords. In 1928 he graduated from the Frunze Military Academy, the most elite military academy in the Soviet Union, only the best officers could even get into it. Fought in Manchuria in 1929. Continued a series of promotions and educational opportunities. In 1931 became the commander of a mechanized regiment in the city of Gomel (Belorussia). The Brigade under his command was considered one of the best mechanized units in the Red Army and particularly distinguished itself during the Great Kiev War Games in 1935. As a reward for his excellence, Pavlov was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1936.

From 1936-37 Pavlov served abroad in Spain, as a military advisor to the Spanish Republican Government. Under the pseudonym “Pablo”, he commanded a tank brigade of Soviet “volunteers” which distinguished itself in several battles against the Franco forces.

Later he grew a little brush moustache, as was in style back then.

Returning from Spain back to Russia, Pavlov was in charge of tank production for the Red Army. He was also inducted into the Main Military Council of the Red Army in 1938. Played a major role in the development of armored tank units. Fought in the Soviet-Finnish War, his main job being to inspect the use of tanks. He headed a group that was assigned to break through the Mannerheim Line but they unfortunately did not succeed in this goal. After which Pavlov was reassigned (June 1940) to command the troops of the Belorussian Military Okrug. The very place that was fated to fall first to the Germans.

Expecting the German invasion, as did all the Soviet commanders, and recalling his duels with German tanks on Spanish soil, Pavlov led the effort to develop the T-34 tanks. These monsters had diesel motors, anti-shell armor, and cannons capable of piercing enemy tank armor.

On February 21, 1938 Pavlov sent a report to Narkom of Defense Voroshilov, suggesting the following improvements:

  • Leave the T-26 tanks to accompany the infantry
  • Re-equip the T-28 and T-35 tanks with 76mm cannon
  • Build a brand new heavy tank for assault

Pavlov’s suggestions were accepted by Voroshilov.

Next comes more technical tank discussion which tank geeks will love. To the extent I understand what they are talking about, it has to do with Pavlov’s ideas about replacing tank corps with more integrated formations. Marshal Tukhachevsky (who had already been shot by this time) was a huge proponent of all-tank corps. Even though they killed Tukh and called him a wrecker, they had still implemented his ideas in Poland in 1939 (that part of Poland which was incorporated into the USSR as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). Pavlov was opposed to this idea of all-tank corps and proposed they be dissolved. He didn’t want to get rid of tanks — far from it — he just thought they needed to be integrated with other types of units. In this proposal, he was supported, among others, by Deputy Narkom Boris Shaposhnikov, who was in charge of the Red Army formations in Poland.

To replace these tank corps Pavlov proposed a whole series of changes, while also converting 15 of the best Red Army rifle divisions into motorized units. Pavlov had worked out a detailed plan for the use of tank brigades and motorized divisions. His ideas were later vindicated and showed their effectiveness in the course of the war, especially in 1944. The star of the show was the T-34.

Unfortunately, Pavlov did not live to see the success of his ideas and plans. At the time of the German attack, he commanded the Western Front. The Red Army suffered a crushing defeat on 28 June 1941, when Minsk fell to the Nazis. Practically all the front-line armies simply ceased to exist, that’s how bad it was. There was some bad intel: The Germans focused their main blow in the direction Minsk – Brest. The Red Army was more focused on the Kiev line, and had insufficient anti-tank artillery on the Brest line. And nobody could have predicted that the 29th Rifle Corps would offer virtually no resistance to the Germans. The enemy quickly crossed into the Minsk rear via Lithuania. When Minsk fell, so did the entire line of fortications along the former Western border of the USSR, as well as the former border between Lithuania and the USSR. It was a complete disaster.

Pavlov and Timoshenko in 1940

On June 30, Pavlov was relieved of his command and summoned back to Moscow. He had meetings with Zhukov and Molotov. (The latter who was performing Stalin’s job at the time, since Stalin much too busy filling his calendar with Beria.) Pavlov must have convinced Zhukov/Molotov of something and talked his way out of a jam, because he was allowed to return to the front on July 2. But with a demotion down to the title of Deputy Commander of the Western Front. With Voroshilov himself taking the role of Commander of the Western Front. Two days later, on July 4, Pavlov was arrested and brought back to Moscow. [Whereas Voroshilov was allowed to get away with everything and keep both his job and his head.] Once he was under confinement, Pavlov was accused, not so much of incompetence, as actual treason. Of participating in an anti-Soviet military conspiracy, betraying the Motherland, and harming the military might of the Red Army. Along with his deputies, Pavlov was prosecuted under Statute #58. He was accused of crimes allegedly committed by him on June 22, even though, on that very day, he was working alongside Marshals Shaposhnikov, Kulik, and Voroshilov. Yet those other three got away with everything, whereas Pavlov took all the blame. He and his three assistants were sentenced to death and shot by firing squad. The order was signed by Stalin himself. The good news is that the final charges against them removed the language about “treason” and “betrayal”, and just charged them with negligence.

Nikita Khruschev, near the start of WWII

Sixteen years later, in July of 1957, the Supreme Court of the USSR rehabilitated Pavlov and overturned his conviction, allegedly based on new “evidence”. His honors, awards, and title of Hero of the Soviet Union were returned to him postumously.

In his memoirs, Nikita Khruchshev revealed, in a sort of classic of the genre “Damning with faint praise“, why he had agreed to rehabilitate Pavlov despite the fact that he felt like Pavlov more or less deserved his punishment:

“I agreed to this because, in the final analysis, it was not Pavlov who was guilty, but rather Stalin. Pavlov was completely unsuitable for this position, I saw with my own eyes how unprepared he was, when I first took his acquaintance. I mentioned this to Stalin, but instead of drawing the correct conclusion and replacing him with a more suitable individual at this post, he promoted him. I personally consider that the post of Commander of the Western (Belorussian) Military Okrug requires more than does the post of commanding armored tanks divisions.”

After this detour into a fascinating biography, we next return to Diunov’s analysis:

[to be continued]

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Was Stalin A Good War Chief? – Part III

Корейки не было. Вместо него на великого комбинатора смотрела потрясающая харя со стеклянными водолазными очами и резиновым хоботом, в конце которого болтался жестяной цилиндр цвета хаки. Остап так удивился, что даже подпрыгнул. [….]

— Товарищ! Вы отравлены!

— Кто отравлен? — закричал Остап, вырываясь. — Пустите!

— Товарищ, вы отравлены газом, — радостно повторил санитар. — Вы попали в отравленную зону! Видите, газовая бомба.


— Кроме того, товарищ, вы ранены осколком в руку. Не сердитесь, товарищ! Будьте сознательны. Вы же знаете, что идут маневры. Сейчас мы вас перевяжем и отнесем в газоубежище. [….]

К Остапу подбежала комсомолка с красным крестом на перед­нике. Она вытащила из брезентовой сумки бинты и вату и, хмуря брови, чтобы не рассмеяться, обмотала руку великого комбинатора поверх рукава. Закончив акт милосердия, девушка все-таки засмеялась и убежала к следующему раненому, ­который покорно отдал ей свою ногу. Остапа потащили к ­носилкам.

(Koreiko was gone. In his place there stood, gazing upon the Great Combinator, a terrifying visage with scuba goggle eyes and a rubber elephant’s trunk, at the end of which dangled a tin cylinder the color of khaki. Ostap was so asotnished that he even gave a little leap into the air. “Comrade! You have been poisoned!” “Who has been poisoned?” Ostap screamed. “Let me go!” “Comrade, you have been poisoned with gas,” the MedTech repeated joyfully. “You have entered into the poison zone. See, over there, that gas bomb.” […] “Besides which, Comrade, you have also been wounded in the hand by shrapnel. Don’t be angry, Comrade! Be conscientioius. You should have knowon that we were conducting drills. Now we have to bind your wounds and takes you off to Poison Gas Shelter #34.” A Komsomol girl wearing a red cross on her apron, ran up to Ostap. She pulled out of her tarpaulin bag bandages and gauze and, screwing up her face so as not to laugh, she bandaged the hand of the Great Combinator just above his sleeves. Completing this act of mercy, the young girl giggled all the same and ran off to help the next wounded man, who obediently offered her his foot. Ostap was carried away on a stretcher.)

[Humorous scene from Ilf/Petrov, The Little Golden Calf, in which Ostap Bender finds himself swept up in a poison-gas drill while on the hunt for his nemesis, Koreiko. The scene is funny, but also demonstrates how Communist Party and Soviet people were conscientious about conducting appropriate safety drills, as the war approached.]

Dear Readers:

We just finished discussing the pre-war Soviet military doctrine of “Offensive War”, also called “Waging war deep into the enemy’s rear”. Worked out over the course of years and refined by elaborate war games, this was the official doctrine of the Red Army. According to this doctrine, the Red Army would quickly repulse any intrusion across Soviet borders, and then swiftly proceed into enemy territory to finish the war, employing a kaleidoscope of coordinated components: Infantry, cavalry, tanks and air support.

Returning to Diunov’s analysis: This strategy was codified in the field manual of 1939: “The Workers and Peasants Red Army will itself become the most offensive of all the offensive armies. We will conduct the war in an offensive manner, having as our most decisive goal the complete crushing of the enemy on his own territory.”

Along with this, as we saw illustrated in that awesome Soviet propaganda movie, If War Comes Tomorrow, the Red Army threatened to completely overturn the societies of any nation bold enough to attack the Soviet Union: “The Red Army will enter the territory of the attacking enemy as a liberating force for the oppressed and humiliated masses. An important goal of the Red Army is to attract to the side of the proletarian revolution the broad masses of the army of the enemy and the population dwelling in the theater of military actions.” In other words, Red Army men, from the highest command to the lowly soldier, were indoctrinated with the completely absurd notion, that the moment the Red Army crossed the border [into enemy territory], the oppressed masses will rise up against capitalism.

This photo shows Polish partisan units working alongside Red Army, providing assistance to Warsaw Uprising.

[yalensis: Well, it wasn’t as completely absurd as Diunov seems to think. I mean, the way it panned out in reality, there were some communist elements of the population, particularly in Poland and Czeschoslovakia, who greeted the Red Army as liberators. But Diunov, blinded by his own anti-communist dogma, cannot fathom that an ordinary working person might welcome some perks of a socialist life, even when delivered by such a cynical beast as Stalin.]

Where this notion came from, is unknown. The only possible thing which could explain the appearance of such a doctrine — is the fanatical dogmatism of the Soviet leadership, which was unwilling to depart from Marxist ideological dogmas, however absurd they might be.

[yalensis: I have a different theory. The Stalin faction, with its doctrine of “Socialism in One Country”, had long ago departed from Marxist dogmas principles. The very last thing in the world that Stalin ever wanted to see was a bona fide proletarian revolution in a neighboring country. For the same reason he did everything in his power to squelch a possible communist revolution in Spain, instead sheep-herding the Spanish proletariat into the Republican party: Stalin feared that a real revolution, possibly led by a charistmatic national leader, might come to undermine his own status as Great and Fantastical Leader of the World Proletariat.

No. My theory is this: Stalin and his clique did not believe for one second that the populations stuck in the theater of war, would uprise against capitalism. But they did believe they could use this bogeyman to scare their potential enemies. In other words: “If you attack us, you will be overthrown by your own enslaved masses.” And this is actually an effective deterrence, given the slave owners perennial fear of a slave revolt from within.]

Stalin’s Nervous Breakdown

Diunov: In the first days of the war, it was very confusing trying to learn what was happening at the front, and hard to know what to expect from the Germans. But when Minsk fell, on June 28, it became clear that the situation at the front was catastrophic. Stalin was in such a state of shock that he simply fell apart. For two full days he recused himself from leading a nation which had gotten used to letting the First Secretary of the Communist Party decide literally all issues. Logs (journals) of Stalin’s appointment schedule, which had scrupulously fixated every hour of his day for many years, show that: On June 29 and June 30 the leader did not speak with anyone, had no visitors, and did not make any decisions. On June 30 Soviet officials of a lesser calibre gathered at Molotov’s office to try to figure out what to do. Molotov, who was the Number #2 man in the government, after Stalin, informed them that the leader of the nation was in a state of complete prostration and incapable of making any decisions.

[yalensis: Military men say that all the carefully-laid plans for a war go up in smoke on the very first day the actual shooting starts. Note how much reality differed from what we saw in that movie. In which a decisive Stalin and Voroshilov get their butts out there on the Kremlin Wall and speak forcefully and manfully to the nation on the very first day of the invasion.

On the other hand: Speaking as devil’s advocate, maybe Stalin had a logical reason for not receiving visitors those two days. Maybe he and Voroshilov were hunkered down in his office pouring over maps and coming up with a clever plan?]

Diunov: This crisis of leadership was overcome only after a delegation consisting of the highest governmental and Party leadership, on the evening of that same day, went to see Stalin. They demanded that he return to his office, assume leadership, and form a State Committee of Defense. This would be a new organ of government, combining all the powers that existed in the USSR.

One should also note that it took Stalin quite a long time before he addressed the Soviet people. He even delegated the first war speech to Molotov, and it was Molotov who informed the people that they were at war. [yalensis: Stalin reminds me of one of the I.T. managers at my workplace. He is such a coward he always sends his second-in-command lackey to deliver bad news to upper management. Good news he delivers himself, it goes without saying…] It was only on July 3, after the creation of the State Committee of Defense, which he headed, that Stalin decided to address the people. Resorting to blatant lies, he declared [in his speech]: “The best divisions of the enemy, and the best units of their aviation, have already been smashed and found for themselves graves on the field of battle.”

I Get The Praise, Somebody Else Takes The Blame

Stalin was determined to not assume for himself any responsibility for the defeats at the front. The retreat of the Soviet troops during the first days of the war were blamed on General Dmitry Grigorievich Pavlov, who commanded the Western Front. Pavlov was arrested and shot. Other generals were similarly punished, accused of “defeatism”. The decree blaming Pavlov for the castrophe of the summer of 1941, was signed by Stalin.

General Pavlov: Blamed for the defeats.

Soviet commanders were accused, by Stalin and his circle, of “not taking any initiative”, a trait that was also commented upon by the German foe. Which is highly ironic, given the repressions and purges of the army just prior to the war. Seeing so many of their comrades arrested and shot, taught officers and generals the lesson that showing any kind of free thought or initiative, would land them in jail or the firing squad.

Stalin’s basic instinct was to solve any problem using force and fear. [yalensis: This is true. Stalin was a hammer, and every problem was a nail!] This propensity showed itself again on August 16, 1941, when he signed Order #270. This order contradicted every known rule for the conduct of war. Soldiers who surrendered to become POWs were declared to be traitors of the Motherland and were subjected to execution by firing squad. Troops were told to keep on fighting to their last drop of blood, never withdrawing from any held position. [yalensis: Marshal Kutuzov would have been shocked by that rule!] This gesture of desperation led to the formation of Terror politics: Those soldiers who surrendered were threatened with death, and their completely innocent families — with imprisonment. Moreover, Order #270 led to a dire situation at the front: The weakest units surrendered all the same, in the face of the enemy onslaught; whereas the strongest units did indeed fight to the bitter end, obeying the Order and never withdrawing; and hence finding themselves surrounded. This led to excessive and completely unjustified losses.

Stalin’s cruelty continued to negatively affect the course of the military actions…

[to be continued]

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