Bureaucracy Strikes Again

Posted: September 29, 2016 in Uncategorized
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Dear readers, in case you were wondering, I am not dead. I’ve just been busy with research and a wave of additional bureaucratic hurdles to overcome. Until I receive my multi-entry visa and have my passport returned to me, I will be unable to work out of The State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) or register for any others that I want to use. Currently all I have on me is a copy of my passport and a note that says my passport it as the Federal Migration Service. When I tried to show this to the woman at the ID office at GARF upon returning from Ulyanovsk, she refused to give me my ID until I get my passport back. Thus, for the next two and a half weeks I’m confined to working that the Military Archive (RGVA), where I received my year long ID on my first day.

GARF's new sign. At least I think it's new?

GARF’s new sign. At least I think it’s new?

Being confined to RGVA isn’t actually the complete end of the world. I have more than enough files to order and work with there, I was just hoping to rotate between archives while undergoing the three day wait for new files. So far, though, I’ve been plenty busy pretty much everyday working through my 5 file limit. I’ve gotten some really dense and worthwhile materials that have taken an entire day to read through and transcribe (more on this later). I also spend a good deal of time reading through the finding aids to determine which other files to order.

For those of you who are interested in a day in the life in RGVA, keep reading here. For those of you who don’t care about archival minutiae, jump down two more paragraphs to read about a trip to see Dead Lenin again. Unlike my compatriots who work in American archives, or even some European ones, nothing at RGVA is digitized, so there isn’t any computer searching or ordering of the archive holdings. Upon entering the archive, you go to the reading room window and request a book that was published about a decade ago. This book lists the main heading for each collection in the archive, known as the fond (фонд). This can be as vague as the name of an institution, or it can be a short summary of what types of documents are grouped together. After writing down a list of interesting fonds, I then have to go to the reading room window and request a folder with the descriptions of the two levels of subfolders for the fond called the opis’ (опись), which conveniently is also the same word for the first level of subfolder.. For example, I work with fond 1P in RGVA, the Main Department for the Affairs of POWs and Internees of the NKVD-MVD of the USSR (1945-1951), which is abbreviated as the GUPVI. 1P has a number of opisi with letters to discuss different aspects within the GUPVI. Opis’ A of Fond 1P discusses the organizational structure of the GUPVI, and there are at least 23 different files for Opis A (cited as 1a, 2a, etc.). I have to order a opis’ guide for each of the opisi within Fond 1P to see the headings of the actual folders, or dela (дела). I order individual dela, a maximum of five at a time, and receive those to read actual papers. A dela can range anywhere from three or four sheets of paper to many hundreds of pages. So when I read and cite a document, it will be something like f. 1P, op. 9a, d. 14, ll. 24-25, meaning Fond 1P, opis 9a, folder 14, pages 24-25. To order the file, I have to fill out a paper request form, known as a trebovaniye (требование) in which I have to list the fond, opis, and dela that I want to receive. On this form, I need to give a brief description or name of the fond. Also, for a reason that I don’t quite understand, instead of saying delo on the form, it is instead written as edinitsa khraneniya( единица хранения), which roughly translates to storage unit. What is generally unknown when ordering the files is whether I will be given the originals or a copy on microfilm. So recently, when I ordered five files, I was only given four because four were on microfilm and I was told that I had to order the paper file again on a separate sheet. Also, if ordering from different fonds or opisi, I have to use different request forms.

My archival adventures continued with the microfilm readers in RGVA. Jumping back a second, I should mention that I am not allowed to photograph any of the archival materials. I have to take notes for everything. My only other option is to pay for photocopies, which is its own can of worms. I have to take a form to a bank to do this, and then wait roughly a month to receive my photocopies. Prices fluctuate, but they archive copies can cost anywhere from $1.00 to $2.50 per page. There is also generally a limit to how many pages can be copied from any one archive, for example 300 pages. I have also heard stories of having these copies confiscated at the airport when leaving Russia, so if I do get copies, I then have to photograph them with my phone or camera before leaving. So that brings me to the story of the microfilm reader. The readers in the archives are fairly old. They do not have the ability to print or scan. They are also quite crude and don’t much allow for zooming in or out. Finally, there are no spindles in RGVA. I literally get a roll of film and that’s it. I feed it through the machine, but I have to roll and unroll as well as advance and rewind the film solely with my fingers. There is no such thing as a takeup reel to quickly advance or rewind the film. I have the feeling that this probably isn’t good for the preservation of the documents, but whatever. My consolation was that recently I found some really good documents, including ones about the POW camp near Ulyanovsk and its involvement with the ZIS, later UAZ, factory as well as the existence of a Mercedes officers’ limousine at one of the Moscow camps. I may not be doing a dissertation about Mercedes, UAZiki, and Soviet cars in general as I had hoped when starting grad school, but I’m doing my best to work my true interests into my research project as much as possible.

Enough with the archives. Let’s move on to the fun stuff. Besides the usual festivities in the dormitory with my fellow North Americans and friends from Western Europe, I’ve gone on a few adventures around having my soul crushed by the archives. I went with a few friends to Red Square for them to see Lenin’s Mausoleum. If you know me, you know I hate dead people after a traumatizing experience in a Danish Viking/bog mummy museum in my youth. I gathered my courage to see dead Lenin in 2011 with my Fulbright compatriots, but that was necessary for me to see Yuri Gagarin’s monument in the Kremlin Necropolis. Back then, we were not allowed to enter the Necropolis or Mausoleum with bags, cameras, or cell phones.

A photo from within the Necropolis. So Mosocw, much Red Square.

A photo from within the Necropolis.

I volunteered to go to Red Square with my neighbors as it was a Tuesday morning and RGVA does not open until 12:00 on Tuesdays. I said that I would gladly wait with their items while they toured the Mausoleum. Apparently, though, the rules have changed. People now just need to go through a metal detector and show the contents of their bags to enter. One still cannot talk, have ones hands in one’s pockets, or take photographs while inside the Mausoleum itself, but outside it is fine to take photography. Thus, I unfortunately saw what remains of Lenin, if that’s even him (a debate I had with the two Canadians), for a second time before getting to see the graves of the most famous Soviets including Stalin, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and Dzerzhinsky as well as Gagarin.

Gagarin's grave in the Kremlin Wall.

Gagarin’s grave in the Kremlin Wall.

The other highlight of recent times was last weekend. On Saturday morning I woke up and headed off to the Sparrow Hills metro stop and went to the Druzhba Gym, which clearly was built for the 1980 Olympics. The gym was the venue for the Russian Open, an international Taekwondo tournament. I was invited by my trainer form Ulyanovsk to come and watch a few of the kids from Club Tiger compete as well as to try to find a gym where I can train in Moscow. Natalia Vladimirovna put me in touch with a Georgian man, who said I can train with him. I had fun hanging out with the kids from Tiger and watching the events, as well as talking with Natalia Vladimirovna. She invited me on a vacation to Sochi with her family, as well as to the vacation camp near Ulyanovsk, as well as to visit her and either stay for a week or a month in her home (Russian hospitality is insane).

Russia Open Taekwondo Tournament

Russian Open Taekwondo Tournament

We also did a cool trick. On the bottom level of the gym, there were rooms set up for people to warm up before their fights. I didn’t have an ID, but Dasha came with hers, and told me to wear it. We were able to sneak past the guard, and I got to sit in the warm up room for a while. There was also an impressive demonstration of a large group of Korean children who were training and showing off their training patterns.

This week so far has been a mixture of business as usual at RGVA as well as some other bureaucratic missions. I was supposed to meet with one vice-rector on Monday, which was pushed to Tuesday, which then got rescheduled to Wednesday. Upon finally meeting her, the meeting took a completely unexpected course. I though I was going to be asked how I can help out at the university in terms of working with the Russian-American Center. Instead of the meeting being about exploitation, the vice-rector asked about my dissertation topic. I told her, and she asked if I knew one very important book in my field. I said I did, and she told me that the author is a very good friend of hers who will be in Moscow on Monday, so I’ve got a meeting set up with him. She also loaned me her copy of the book so that I can reread it to prepare for our meeting together.

I also managed, with the help of a German friend who gave me the tip, to register for the Russian State Library, formerly known as the Lenin Library, or colloquially as the Leninka. I was worried that I would be unable to do so because of my passport copy, but Yulia told me that I can register for the Leninka at the Jewish Museum and Center for Tolerance, which is conveniently located a few blocks away from our dorm. The woman there did not even ask to see my passport copy when I attempted to show it to her. Instead, I filled in a form, had a photo taken, and then was handed a reading card for the Leninka that’s good for five years. The whole process probably took no more than ten minutes, and after we spent almost three years going through the fantastic exhibits at the museum, which is super new and highly interactive. There were some fun things that were powered by XBOX Ones, which was interesting for me to see. Prior to that, Yulia also introduced me to a great cafeteria not far from the Metro stop, which is super affordable. I went very Soviet/Russian with my dinner choice of “herring under a fur coat,” borsch, plov, and kvas (aka carbonated bread drink).

I regret nothing.

I regret nothing.

And with that I’m going to eat dinner and rest up before heading back to RGVA in the morning.

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