Posts Tagged ‘RGVA’

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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The rest of this past week has been filled with more bureaucratic nightmares. On Wednesday morning I returned to the international office at 11:00 AM to get my student ID and create the letters of invitation for the various archives. Unfortunately, the student ID was not ready as it hadn’t either been stamped or signed (or both?). Irina, the woman who works in the international office, then proceeded to draw up my archive letters from a list that I gave her. She made sure to double check the names of all of the archives, as they sometimes change, and sternly told me that it is now called the Russian State Library, and has been called such for a number of years, despite the fact that everyone colloquially still refers to it as the Lenin Library, or Leninka for short. Irina printed off my letters and led me down the hall to some office at the opposite end of the building, where someone would sign and stamp the letters. Not surprisingly, that person was not in her office and it was unknown when she would return for the day. Thus, Irina told me to come back the following morning to get my finalized letters and student ID.

Thankfully both my student ID and letters were indeed ready Thursday morning at 11:00, so I immediately set off for the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF), which also is the same reading room for the Russian State Archive of Economics (RGAE). Registering for these was once again an ordeal. First, I had to go to the pass office to get a temporary pass to get past security and into the reading room. To do this, I had to show my passport and letter of affiliation. Next, I took my temporary pass and passport to the police officer near the stairwell and was allowed up to the second floor to register. I went to the GARF window and saw that the same two people I dealt with two years ago are still there. There is an older woman of about 50 who scares me and a man of about 35, who is always very helpful. Thankfully I mostly spoke with the man. Registration for GARF is now completely on the computer. I filled out a standard form with information such as my university affiliation, research topic, and location of registration and residence in Moscow. This took an annoyingly long time as I had to type everything in Russian, and I don’t actually know the real Cyrillic keyboard. I stupidly learned the phonetic one, which causes massive issues in times like these where I’m forced to hunt and peck for the letters that I need.

After filling out the electronic registration, I went back to the GARF desk to get a pin number for the computer system. GARF has now transitioned to requesting documents electronically. I had to have the guy from the desk show me how to use this new system. However, not everything has been input into the system. I wanted to order some folders that I had seen two years ago, but only about half of them showed up. We then had a very interesting exchange in which he asked where I had found those numbers, to which I responded that I had read the folders there two years ago. He then shrugged, said they were probably partially secret, and then told me that I would have to order them on the old paper form. I also had to initial the print out of the electronically requested documents.

I then took my temporary pass from the GARF window to the RGAE window to register there. Once again, I basically filled out the same form on the computer. I was then given another pin code. Both GARF an RGAE will create long term passes that I can use to enter the archives. The woman at RGAE reminded me that I need to specify also at GARF that I will use my laptop in the archives, and there will be something like that written on my passes, which should be ready to get from the pass office on Monday. Unfortunately, the passes for GARF and RGAE are only good for calendar years, meaning that I will have to completely re-register with new letters of support from the university in January. Joy.

Just a sample of everything that I have to carry with me: passport, student ID, dorm pass, dorm registration, RGVA registration, and metro card.

Just a sample of everything that I have to carry with me: passport, student ID, dorm pass, dorm registration, RGVA registration, and metro card.

As I finished registering at GARF and RGAE early enough, I headed off to another part of the city to register at the Russian State Military Archive (RGVA). The travel itself is slightly complicated by the fact that the Frunzenskaya Metro stop, the one for GARF, is closed for renovations. Thus, to get to that archive, I take the circle line from my stop, Novoslobodskaya, to Park Kultury, where I would normally switch to the red line. Now I exit at Park Kultury and take a free bus to the Frunzenskaya stop. Thankfully these replacement buses seem to run almost as frequently as the metro itself. So leaving GARF, I took the bus back to Park Kultury and switched to the green line to go to the penultimate northern stop, Vodnii Stadion, for RGVA.

Registering at RGVA was its own series of ups and downs. For example, the pass office immediately generated a card for me that is good for an entire year, or until September 2017. The last time that I worked in the archive, I had to meet with the director and get his permission to research there. This time, that step was avoided and I was able to go directly to the reading room to register. Unlike GARF, the registration at RGVA is still done on paper. Additionally, I handed a blank sheet of printer paper as was told to copy a  form letter to the director to ask for permission to use my laptop in the reading room. After spending some time with the finding aide, I was given a series of opis guides in order to determine which folders to request. Annoyingly, at RGVA, I can only request five folders at a time. They also told me that my folders wouldn’t be ready until Wednesday, unlike GARF which said Monday. I foresee this as being a bit of a problem as the majority of the documents I need to research are in RGVA, so the limits and long waiting period might cause some issues and frustrations.

While leaving the archive, I had to return a mysterious call from a number that had called me twice while I was registering in GARF. I called the number and asked who called me, because I didn’t recognize the number, but the person on the other ended wanted to know who I was. I said I was Susan and it turned out to be Irina calling about the payment for the multi-entry visa. She told me that I should give the receipt to the visa office. I responded that I tried to give it to them on Monday, but that they told me to wait until I return from Ulyanovsk. Irina said that she heard otherwise, and that I was to hand in the receipt. I said that I would do it the next morning, when I went to pick up my Moscow registration from the passport office. Irina said that that was acceptable, and I headed back to the university to relax in the dormitory. While walking near the university campus, I was surprised on the street by Irina, who once again told me to hand in the visa receipt. I told her that it was 5:10, and that I was unlikely to find anyone in that office by that time of the evening, and that I would first have to get the receipt from my room. I told her again that I would hand it in Friday morning. She apologized and said she forgot and that that would be okay.

Friday morning I headed to the visa office at 11AM to get my registration. There was a man in the office who I hadn’t met before. He searched through the registrations and said that mine wasn’t ready yet, and to return at 2:00. We then had a quick discussion about the payment receipt for the multi-entry visa. I told him that I was originally told to hand it in when I return from Ulyanovsk, but that I was called the day before and asked to hand it in. He said that I shouldn’t have been called and to keep the receipt in a safe place because I should hand in the receipt with my photos, application for the multi-entry visa, and passport when I return. With that I left and returned again at 2:00 to finally acquire my Moscow registration.

Not everything here is a bureaucratic nightmare, though. I’ve managed to have some fun around my waiting. Without the ability to go to the archives as planned on Wednesday, I decided to do something for myself and headed off to Moscow’s celebrated Novodevichy Cemetery, where the likes of Yetlsin, Prokofiev, Gogol, and Mayakovsky are buried, among others. In Soviet times, this was the most important place to be buried after the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. While I made sure to see some of these important graves (some for the second time as I had been here in the winter of 2009/2010 on a Lafayette interim trip), the real purpose for my excursion was to visit my great-great-uncle’s grave. He, Ilya Selvinsky, was an important Soviet poet. I did not realize until a few days ago that he was buried in Novodevichy Cemetery. When I get back from Ulyanovsk, I will call his daughter Tatiana again, my grandmother’s cousin, and see if she is willing to meet with me.

The grave of Ilya Selvinsky in Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetry.

The grave of Ilya Selvinsky in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetry.

I’ve also begun to have some fun with the other foreigners in the dormitory. On Tuesday night I got back to the dormitory after strolling around the banks of the Moskva River with a friend named Masha. Earlier in the day I was in a bad mood because I had purchased two packages of salami, which were stolen from the communal fridge. I somewhat ranted about it on Facebook, and due to the goodness of social media, my downstairs Canadian neighbor informed me that she found a package of salami in her kitchen that did not belong to her or her neighbors. Thus, I was reunited with half of my food. Then, Friday night, I had a fun moment of cultural connections with the two Canadians on the eight floor. They said that it looked like there were bullet holes in the wall. Being an American, I should be able to tell them if they were indeed bullet holes.

I mean, it does look like someone fired at shotgun at this wall.

I mean, it does look like someone fired at shotgun at this wall.

I also noticed the frightening lack of fire safety on their floor. The end of my floor has some terrible chute/fire escape device. Their floor has a diagram for using some sort of block and pulley to repel off of the building in case of a fire. However, there was no sign of the block or pulley anywhere on the floor, though the anchor points are visible on the outside of the building.

The diagram shows what to do, but there is no explanation or indication anywhere on the floor if the tools to do this exist.

The diagram shows what to do, but there is no explanation or indication anywhere on the floor if the tools to do this exist.

 

The past week and a half has been filled with a nice balance of work and having fun. Due to how long it takes to process document requests, I spend about three days a week in the archives. In my free time, I’ve been exploring Moscow, making new friends, and catching up with old ones. Last Tuesday I grabbed a drink with a former member of my Fulbright cohort on Red Square. He’s also a graduate student of Soviet history. We traded stories about our programs and the perils of GARF.

I found an UAZ 469 at Red Square. Ulyanovsk for the win!

I found an UAZ 469 at Red Square. Ulyanovsk for the win!

Saturday was a pretty busy day for me. My neighbor and I met up with my friend Emily from Alaska. Emily and I did a German language immersion program together in Bonn in 2010. We bonded over our mutual love of Russia and watched a ton of Germany World Cup games. She’s been spending her summer in Vladimir on a Russian language program. We decided to meet up and explore a few places in Moscow together. We got our obligatory tourist photos on Red Square. To Emily’s dismay, Lenin’s Mausoleum was closed, despite the sign saying that it should have been open when we were there. I was rather happy that it was closed. Due to a traumatizing childhood experience with bog mummies in a Danish Viking museum, I have a huge dislike of viewing any sort of dead bodies/remains (ask my friends about how I get really unnerved around the Egyptian exhibit at the Met).

Doing the tourist thing at Red Square.

Doing the tourist thing at Red Square.

From Red Square, we headed off to the World War II museum at Victory Park. The museum was filled with all sorts of great exhibits, dioramas, and art relating to WWII.

The inside of the Great Patriotic War Museum at Victory Park.

The inside of the Great Patriotic War Museum at Victory Park.

It also contained a slightly uncomfortable amount of Stalin souvenirs. Being the Soviet history buff, I excitedly poured over all of the exhibits and gave mini lectures about various battles, weapons, and vehicles. Matanja and Emily said they truly appreciated some of the info that I gave them. I told them they should email my adviser and tell her that I have some actual knowledge of Soviet history.

You too could own a Stalin action figure for only 6,500 rubles.

You too could own a Stalin action figure for only 6,500 rubles.

After the war museum we headed to one of my favorite places in Moscow, the Izmailovo tourist market. The market is still as packed and exciting as I remembered. My friends found souvenirs that they needed for their family members. While they left in good moods, I left with my spirit crushed. I had excitedly been talking about the shawarma stand near the entrance of the market only to find that it had recently been demolished. After the market, Emily had to head back to the train station and my neighbor and I returned to our humble dormitory.

The look of pure sadness upon discovering the demolished remains of my favorite shawarma place.

The look of pure sadness upon discovering the demolished remains of my favorite shawarma place.

This week itself has been relatively uneventful. On Monday, I registered at the military archive (RGVA) without much hassle. The people there are all very nice. I ordered my documents and was told that they would be ready on Thursday. I also learned that the military archive is closed for a summer holiday from July 1-14. This will present a slight issue as I have discovered through further research here that the information I’m looking for is probably contained within the military archive. Oh well, there’s always future research trips. The military archive has an interesting calendar at the front of the reading room. For the month of June there’s a quote that says “A future without terrorism, terrorism without a future.” I wish I could take a photo, but it’s forbidden in the archive.

I wound up inside a very old metro car. Dear Metro-North, the Russians keeps their old train cars in running order, why can't you?

I wound up inside a very old metro car. Dear Metro-North, the Russians keeps their old train cars in running order, why can’t you?

Outside of the archives I’ve spent the week watching a lot of World Cup games with my neighbor either on my computer or at a café. On Monday night we met up with my Jordanian friend Anas who goes to RUDN (Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia).

RUDN.

RUDN.

One of the cafés at RUDN has great falafel and hummus, so we grabbed dinner there. After eating, Anas gave us a campus tour, which I enjoyed due to the Cold War history of the university. It was formerly known as the Patrice Lamumba University and gave free education, or highly subsidized education, to people coming from the Third World in an attempt to cultivate Soviet values around the world. Today it’s one of Russia’s best universities, though the makeup of the student body has changed. After our tour we watched the Netherlands beat Chile at the outdoor café.

The Netherlands beating Chile.

The Netherlands beating Chile.