Friday, February 8, 2019

Soviets Censored Pictures of Ordinary People Just as Much as Those of Leaders and Texts

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 7 – Everyone familiar with the history of the USSR knows that one of the most unfortunate features of that country was the censorship Soviet officials imposed on written texts that the regime didn’t approve of and on photographs of leaders, which had to be photoshopped as officials fell from favor.

            But far fewer know or at least reflect on the fact that many photographers took pictures of quite ordinary people that the authorities found offensive and refused to allow to be published, pictures that showed the Soviet system in an unflattering way sometimes even more directly and powerfully than any article or book.

            Now, Russian blogger Maksim Mirovich has assembled 24 such pictures taken by Soviet-era photographers Vladimir Vorobyov and Vladimir Sokolayev, who specialized in capturing the ordinary lives of ordinary Soviet workers and peasants, the people whose interests Moscow always claimed to be defending and promoting (

                Many of these pictures were apparently taken by the photographers “’for themselves’” with not intention or expectation that they could ever be published, Mironich says. But it is certainly the case that “the majority of these snapshots would have been prohibited in the USSR because they show life itself rather than the prettified picture of existence the Soviets wanted.

            The pictures themselves need little description: they should be viewed as a window into a reality that has mercifully passed away however much some in the Kremlin may want to bring it back.  Among the two dozen Mironich offers are ones showing popular indifference to the regime, an absence of basic sanitation, shortages, and alcoholism.

            But they also show something else, and that should be remembered to by anyone looking at these pictures: the people living under the Soviet system were remarkably resilient and inventive. They may not have been able to change the system, but they could ignore its agitation and they were skilled at coping with the restrictions and shortages the system imposed on them.

            Indeed, it may be that the Soviet authorities were more afraid to have those qualities put on public view than they were to have pictures showing shortages and other problems not only because they might be picked up by “voices” from the West but also because they could give more Soviet citizens ideas on how to resist. 

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