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Regular version of the site

70 Years on: Remembering Victory in WWII — A View of Post-war Life in the Soviet Union

In the year that marks the 70th anniversary of victory in the Second World War, we talk to Kristy Ironside, who received her BA and MA from the University of Toronto before going on to complete her PhD at the University of Chicago, and who is currently researching life in the Soviet Union in the post-war years. Kristy Ironside’s work examines what the War meant to ordinary people, how their lives changed — and how Soviet society coped with the aftermath.

— You joined The International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences as a researcher last year. How did your cooperation with HSE start? 

— I applied for a postdoctoral position and was fortunate enough to get it. I was attracted by the possibility to collaborate with well-known Russian historians working on the Second World War and Soviet history, in general, and by the opportunity to be near my archives in Moscow, as I revise my dissertation to turn it into a monograph.

— 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II. What are your plans and goals as a researcher at the Center for this year? 

— Although I've researched and written about the war years, for my book, I focus more on the post-1945 period and the social and economic consequences of the war for ordinary citizens' living standards and the evolution of the communist project in the Soviet Union. Aside from collecting more archival materials and revising my existing dissertation materials for the book, I am also working on a side project about the bachelor tax, which was created by Khrushchev in 1941 to encourage people to have more children and replace the war dead. It was very unpopular because the consequences of the war made it difficult for citizens to have three children, the number below which one paid the tax. I am finishing up the archival research for this article at the Russian State Economic Archive in 2015.

I really like Moscow as a city: it's cosmopolitan, there are lots of things to see and do in your spare time. You feel very linked into an international network of scholarship here.

— What do you think young people know and feel about the World War II? 

— I think younger people know less about the everyday difficulties of the war years as time goes on. Both my parents were born during the war, not in Russia but in Scotland, and they remember rationing as children.

— You've devoted quite a lot of time to researching Soviet history. Your PhD thesis was 'The Value of a Ruble: A Social History of Money in Postwar Soviet Russia, 1945-1964'. What was the main trigger that sparked your interest in Soviet history? Who were your teachers and mentors?

— I simply found Soviet history fascinating as an undergraduate. I have no family or other connection to Russian history. I suppose it was simple exposure: I went to the University of Toronto as for my BA and for my MA, where I was able to work with leading Soviet scholars, especially with Lynne Viola. For my PhD, I attended the University of Chicago, where I worked with Sheila Fitzpatrick, one of the leading Soviet historians, especially for social history. I was one of her last students before she retired. 

— How is living and working in Moscow for an international expert? What's difficult and what is more positive?

— I really like Moscow as a city: it's cosmopolitan, there are lots of things to see and do in your spare time, and for me, as a Soviet historian, it's crucial to have access to Russian archives and libraries. The process of working through archival files is very slow, so having a year here is very helpful for my research. Sometimes I find the size and crowdedness of Moscow frustrating, but I feel the same way when I'm in New York. One really encouraging thing is the level of internationalization you feel at HSE: since September, we've had several well-known scholars come to give presentations. You feel very linked into an international network of scholarship here.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News Service 

See also:

Advice from Above: Sociologists Have Assessed the Impact that Priests Have on How Their Parishioners Vote

Political preferences of at least 21% of Orthodox voters in Russia may be influenced by the clergy and their fellow believers. Based on an online survey of 2,735 respondents, HSE University sociologists Kirill Sorvin and Maksim Bogachev concluded that religion has a considerable impact on people’s political choices. The scholars assume that the share of those who vote ‘in an Orthodox way’ may be higher: many respondents were under 34, and young people are a minority among Orthodox believers in Russia.

Fear of Violence: Why It Haunts Women in Big Cities

The greatest fear of young women living in big cities is that of sexual violence. It is not necessarily based on the actual crime rate in the city but often instilled by family and society. As a result, women tend to carefully pre-plan their behaviour and movements in 'suspicious' places based on safety concerns. HSE researchers interviewed a group of young women about certain aspects of their fears and strategies they use to deal with it.

Beyond Normal: How Society Judges Large Families

Couples with three or more children often feel that others judge or refuse to understand them. Their decision to have many children seems to annoy their extended family, neighbours, colleagues, health professionals and government bureaucrats. Very often, other large families are the only one who offer them support. Based on findings from in-depth interviews, HSE researchers describe the effect that social interactions can have on fertility.

Underground Capitalist in Soviet Russia

Nikolai Pavlenko, a shadow entrepreneur and creator of a successful business in Stalin’s USSR, was executed by firing squad in 1955. Running a successful commercial enterprise right under the dictator’s nose in a strictly planned economy was a striking but not so uncommon case in the Soviet Union at the time, according to HSE professor Oleg Khlevniuk who made a number of unexpected findings having studied newly accessible archival documents. Below, IQ.HSE offers a summary of what his study reveals.

From Chains to Art Therapy: The Evolution of Mental Health Care

Mental health disorders are among the leading worldwide causes of disease and long-term disability. This issue has a long and painful history of gradual de-stigmatization of patients, coinciding with humanization of therapeutic approaches. What are the current trends in Russia regarding this issue and in what ways is it similar to and different from Western countries? IQ.HSE provides an overview of this problem based on research carried out by Svetlana Kolpakova.

Trapped by a Flexible Schedule: The Pain and Price of Freelance Work

A flexible schedule is one of the main advantages of freelance work. But don’t rejoice in your freedom just yet: self-employment often disrupts the balance between life and work and takes up more time than traditional office work. HSE University researchers Denis Strebkov and Andrey Shevchuk investigated the downsides of independent work.

Inherited Altruism: How the Family Supports the Culture of Volunteering

The main channel for transmitting the value of volunteerism in Russia is from parents to children, HSE University researchers have found. Younger generations in families begin helping others as they grow up, following the example set by their elders.

Introduction to Daurian Gothic: What It Is and How It Has Emerged in Transbaikalia

Medieval horror, vampires, sorcerers, mysterious monks and the rising dead, alongside real historical figures and stories about the Russian Civil War wrapped in the aura of mysticism – this is perhaps the shortest formula for Daurian Gothic. Alexei Mikhalev, Doctor of Political Science, discusses this phenomenon and its evolution.

Personality at Work

The way one thinks, feels and acts in certain circumstances can determine career opportunities in terms of employment and pay. For the first time in Russia, Ksenia Rozhkova has examined the effect of personality characteristics on employment.

Russian and French Scholars Present Research on Soviet History at Graduate Seminar

The International Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and its Consequences at HSE University held a Graduate Student Seminar in Soviet History together with Sciences Po (France) on June 17 – 18, 2019. HSE News Service spoke with participants and instructors of the seminar, which examinedthe impact of WWII on the Soviet Union and surrounding regions, as well as aspects of the Soviet system from Stalin up to the 1980s.