The Great Dictator

A note from the Siskel Center said:

After a remarkable twenty-year tenure, Gene Siskel Film Center Executive Director Jean de St. Aubin will resign in February. Join us in celebrating Jean’s impact and leadership, as we toast to her next chapter and celebrate her love of the movies with one of her favorite films, THE GREAT DICTATOR (this title, by the way, is in no way a reflection on Jean’s own leadership style!). Film followed by a post-screening reception with champagne, pretzels (her fave), and more. All ticket proceeds benefit the Film Center.

To be completely honest, I was more interested in the movie than in the reception :). I never saw the whole movie, not to mention on a big screen! Amazing! I knew about this movie, the plot, and when it was filmed, but even the excerpts I saw do not give enough impression of how awesome it is! It is hard to believe that it was filmed in 1940 when the US was’t even at was with Germany.

A Book I Am Excited About

I am finishing the Berlin Dairy by Willian Shirer. What an amazing book! I can’t believe I knew nothing about it until I saw a recommendation from a friend. William Shirer was a CBS broadcaster who worked in Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1941. He wrote several books about the history of WWII and the history of Nazism, and now I want to read them all! 

I think that it is a combination of two factors that make this book so amazing: first, he was an outstanding journalist with an extraordinary analytical mind who knew both how to get access to information and how to interpret it. And second – that it is an actual diary, so the readers follow events in “real-time.” When he wrote something in his journal, he did not know what would happen next or the implications of the events he had just recorded. It’s something like: I can’t believe Molotov and Ribbentrop are meeting! How can they negotiate when Russia is the most fierce critic of Nazism. How is it possible that they could reach any agreement?! They did?! 

It turned out there were lots of historical facts I didn’t know. Take the Winter War – I thought I knew everything as much as I could, visiting Finland several times a year. Still, I had no idea that it started with the air raid shelling Helsinki – I thought that all the war events happened at the frontline. 

This book has way too many parallels with the current war in Ukraine, like when the author explains how Germans have “no morals.” A German is lamenting about “bad Finns who fight against Russians, and why they are doing such a horrible thing as resisting? When Shirer says that Finns are fighting for their independence and asks won’t the Germans do the same if they were invaded, the response it: but that’s different! Russians are our friends!

Or when he cites a conversation with a German waitress about the British air raids: why are they bombarding us? – Well, because you are bombarding London! – But we only shell military objects, and they through bombs on our civilian objects? – Why do you think that Germans only bombard military objects? – That’s what our newspapers say!

Sounds familiar, right?! Way too familiar!

I almost finished this book, and I have three other books in queue, but I am urged to drop them all and read all the rest of the books by Willian Shirer(which will definitely take a while!)

All I Want For Christmas…

I am getting more and more disappointed in Russian society. I can’t believe I am saying this. I always used to say that the country has potential and healthy forces. Whenever others told me that nothing good would ever come out of Russia, I would always argue and remind others how much society has changed in 1991/92. I still have a lot of newspaper clippings from that time. I remember how we were hungry but hopeful and open to new ideas. I remember how in 1996, none of us, recent arrivals to the US, planned to stay here forever. We talked about going back and bringing back with us all the knowledge, all the new ways of doing things that we learned. I thought … well, does it matter what I thought back then?! 

I am shocked to find an imperial mindset in many people I thought were completely normal, intelligent, and understanding. The most frustrating thing is that these people do not understand that they have this problem. The level of entitlement is skyrocketing. I am horrified that I never paid enough attention to that and never noticed the level of this ignorance in the people surrounding me. 

Last weekend, Anna and I talked a lot about that. (This recording of Chervona Kalina I posted a couple of days ago was made during our conversation – there was a lot of singing). For many years, I told Anna that most of the Russian political opposition is not that much better than Putin and that being against Putin is not enough to be a decent person. Now she said she realized that. The opposition is continuous frustration and disappointment. Why do they feel OK behaving like a Big Brother when they come to other countries? Why do they believe that opposing Putin entitles them to some special treatment? Anna told me that at the beginning of the war, she thought that although Ukrainians are wholly entitled to say as harsh words about Russians as they want, they are indeed too harsh. But now, she says, she has concluded that the Ukrainians were right from the beginning. And that’s how I feel, as well. 

I can’t believe that even now, many people who once again seemed to be completely normal complain about the inability to travel to Europe as if it’s the worst thing in the world. There are a few of my very long-time friends who are not like this, but so few!

As for us, we feel the weight of collective guilt, and it’s more than just a word for me. There were many facts that I chose to ignore, not pay attention to, and not analyze. I have already said multiple times that I am not sure where I would be if I didn’t immigrate. I was thinking about myself thirty years ago, and I can’t be certain I would be on the right side of history. That’s why the blame is on me, and I can’t imagine people going around with their holiday activities without Ukraine in the background. 

I know that all I want for Christmas is a victory for Ukraine. Not peace, but victory. 

Gotheborg: the Swedish Ship

Gotheborg, a replica of the 18th-century ship, stayed in the Helsinki Southen Harbor for Midsummer. Will almost missed the opportunity to visit it because I didn’t check the schedule in advance, but we still made it – just two hours before her departure to Stockholm.

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The Military Museum and The Prison Museum

There are two more museums in Hameenlinna, which are situated on the Hame Castle grounds: the Military museum, which is dedicated to the history of everything war-related in Finland, and the Prison museum, which is located in the building that served as a prison until 1993. Both of these museums are very educational, and I want to come there one more time, to learn more about Finnish history. When we were there, it was a sort of information overflow. I know that I can look up most of the topics which are covered by the museum exhibits, but it’s different.

Below are just some photos, to give an idea of the museums’ collections (and the Military museum has a huge outdoor exhibit, which was close to impossible to attend in the midday with +86 F.

The view of the Hame Castle from the Military museum
I was shocked to learn that using artillery against people was considered a sin!
The Prison museum
Solitary confinement
Force-feeding chair
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Hameelinna – Part 2

They say that the castle has been built for 700 years and it is still in process since the current restoration work is considered to be a continuation of the building of the castle. We spent a lot of time, exploring different rooms; unfortunately, there were no English tours offered the day we were there, so we often could not map the rooms to their website descriptions.

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Vilnius Museum of Occupation

We had a list of museums we thought we wanted to visit on Saturday (our flight out was at 6-30 PM, so we had most of the day). The Museum of Occupation was something new on the list of Vilnius museums, and I saw that it was very popular. Since this museum was the furthest from our hotel, we decided to start there and see how much time we had left for other museums. 

But that museum impressed us so much that after spending 2.5 hours there, we realized we could not go anywhere else, so we spent the rest of that day walking along the streets of Old Town and talking about what we saw. 

There is no other museum like this in any of the former Soviet Republics, and I think that if such museums were open in all the Russian cities, maybe, maybe… maybe things would look differently today.

The museum is located in a former Lithuanian KGB building, and the KGB internal prison is still preserved in the basement. Exhibits on the first and second floors present the history of Lithuania’s fight for freedom from 1940 to 1991. 

After leaving the museum, Boris said: I am trying to figure out which parts we didn’t know. We knew most of the facts, but in some cases, we were not aware of the magnitude of the events, and in some, we simply never gave it enough thought, which I am now ashamed of. 

I knew about deportations in 1941, right before the start of the war, but I didn’t know that there were multiple waves of deportations after the war. The number of displaced people might not look so big until you think about the total population of Lithuania and realize that it was more than 10% of the total population.

We knew about the Forest Brothers, but I had no idea that they kept fighting until 1953! I didn’t know how well they were organized, how much support did they have in the country, and I didn’t know about their multiple unsuccessful attempts to get some support from the West. 

Knowing these facts, there is no wonder to see such overwhelming support for Ukraine everywhere in Lithuania! 

The exhibit explains how “a quiet resistance” rolled out after the Forest Brothers were defeated. And once again, it made me think about the time I visited Lithuania when I was a teen and a young adult. I am ashamed of myself now that I think about how we were coming there, the occupants, and how we were oblivious that we were seen as occupants. Also, I know many Russians who moved to Lithuania after the war and after the mass deportations, and they were completely ignorant about their role in the occupation. 

The part of the museum that talks about the labor camps was somewhat less impressive because I knew a lot about them. But the KGB prison left a completely grave impression, even though, theoretically, we knew how the suspects and the prisoners were treated. 

And one of the most impressive parts of the exhibit was the room where they presented the complete organizational chart of the Lithuanian KGB organization, with names and photographs! That’s where I thought – we should have had this for each KGB organization on the territory of the former Soviet Union! Then, maybe… 

I am not sure whether the pictures can add much, but I tried to make them informative. As for the prison, the most horrifying thing is that it is real, and not only real but also very recent.

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Vilnius Toy Museum

OMG, what a wonderful museum! It was just a block away from our hotel, but we didn’t notice it first because the entrance is hidden behind the heavy gates, and you need to press a buzzer, and they actually ask who are you and whether you really want to enter!

One museum with hand sanitizer everywhere :). Some old toys are behind the glass, but there are copies available for play, and you can touch and try pretty much everything. There were so many families, and kids were having the time of their lives!

And I want to mention, that Boris liked playing with lots of these toys 🙂

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Trakai

I think that it has been at least forty years since I visited Trakai, and all these years I wanted to do it again. Boris was there more recently but he was also surprised by the changes. When we entered the castle, he even said – but that’s a different castle! The castle was the same, it’s just that there was a lot of reconstruction work done in the past years.

Here is the information about Trakai Castle, and I will just say that it is beautiful, even when the weather is not so good :).

I didn’t remember from the first time I visited that there was and still is a large Karaim and Tatar population, our guide told us how they were invited/resettled by Grand Duke Vytautas, and that their culture is still preserved. Since by that time we were already on the road for a while, we started our visit to Trakai with lunch at a Karaim restaurant.

Lunch in Karaim restaurant on the lake – kibinai, traditional Karaites food
Ginger tea
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