Nikolaus Katzer (Hg.), Sandra Budy (Hg.), Alexandra Köhring (Hg.), Manfred Zeller (Hg.)
Euphoria and Exhaustion
Modern Sport in Soviet Culture and Society
Die Perfektionierung des menschlichen Körpers und seiner Leistungsfähigkeit im Sport war in der Sowjetunion Programm. Die Beiträge zeigen, wie der Sport inszeniert, medial aufbereitet und popularisiert wurde. Deutlich wird die Ambivalenz des Sowjetsports zwischen Disziplinierung und Emanzipation, Kontrolle und Abweichung sowie staatstragender Instrumentalisierung und subkultureller Aneignung.
Nikolaus Katzer ist Professor für Osteuropäische Geschichte an der Helmut-Schmidt- Universität Hamburg und Direktor des Deutschen Historischen Instituts Moskau.
mehr zum Autor
Sandra Budy ist Mitarbeiterin im DFGProjekt "Gesellschafts- und Kulturgeschichte der Körperkultur und des Sports in der Sowjetunion".
mehr zum Autor
Alexandra Köhring ist Mitarbeiterin im DFGProjekt "Gesellschafts- und Kulturgeschichte der Körperkultur und des Sports in der Sowjetunion".
mehr zum Autor
Manfred Zeller ist Mitarbeiter im DFGProjekt "Gesellschafts- und Kulturgeschichte der Körperkultur und des Sports in der Sowjetunion".
mehr zum Autor
Sites and Media: Introduction
In October 1920, at the Third All–Union Congress of the Russian Young
Communist League, the role that sport and physical culture should play in
the newly established Soviet state was enshrined in an official declaration:
“The physical culture of the younger generation is an essential element in the
overall system of communist upbringing of young people, aimed at creating
harmoniously developed human beings, creative citizens of communist
More pragmatically, the declaration continued to outline two practical
goals that the development of sport should work towards: (1) preparing
young people for work; and (2) preparing them for military defence of Soviet
power. Just over two decades later, as men and women from through-out
the Soviet Union exchanged their sports outfits for military garb and
marched, sometimes straight from sports parades, to the military front to
defend the nation from Nazi invasion, few citizens were in any doubt regarding
the officially approved associations between sport, labor and military
training. As one military leader argued in an article published in the journal
Fizkul’tura i sport in 1941, the conflict would provide both the culmination
and ultimate testing ground for this policy. Yet, it should be noted, this
idealistic vision of the value of sport for society was one that was not necessarily
shared by all participants in and spectators of, sport.
The widespread notion that the growth of sport in the Soviet Union
might simply be read as little more than a means by which the state coerced
the masses to serve its needs, has proven to be a pervasive one, especially during the Cold War period. Here, Soviet successes in international sport, most
notably at the Olympic Games, served further to shape Western interpretations
of the Soviet state’s official attitudes towards sport as a social practice.
However, as many of the essays in this section reveal, the transformations
that Russian and Soviet sport underwent, particularly during the period
from the late Tsarist era up to the Second World War, were in fact far more
diverse, complex and nuanced than the model of the great Soviet sports machine
might suggest. Indeed, as many historians of Soviet sport have shown
in recent years, sport during this period might best be regarded, perhaps appropriately
enough, as a contested arena, rather than simply as one of totalitarian
command. For whilst the authorities, as the notional producers of
sport, may well have aspired to promote sporting activities for the objectives
proposed above, the public at large, frequently consumed sport in a manner
that did not necessarily fulfil these aspirations. Thus, whilst the authorities
valued sport as a means, variously to strengthen the organism and develop
specific and pragmatic physical skills and regarded sports spectatorship as a
means to educate and enhance a notion of collectivity, for the public, sporting
activity could equally serve as a vehicle for personal physical expression
and competition for competition’s sake, whilst spectatorship frequently
manifested itself in the form of a fan culture where team loyalty was based on
a desire to celebrate heroes or be part of a smaller, more exclusive counterculture.
Put more simply, whilst the state promoted sport as a social duty, it
could equally be engaged with as a personal and pleasurable distraction and
even a form of passive resistance.
Inevitably, many of the key debates about sport were conducted amongst
high ranking officials and members of state–sanctioned sports organizations.
However, these debates also filtered out into a broader public arena, not least
in the pages of the national and sports press, thus generating a widespread
public discourse on sport. Thus, to gain a broader understanding of what
sport may have signified to the public at large, a wider set of research resources
needs to be examined. Visual culture, in its broadest sense, provides
one such set of resources. Each of the essays in this section recognizes and
highlights the ambiguous nature of sport. More importantly, they cast light
on the various ways in which visual representation, whether in the form of
photographs (both public and private), architectural plans, paintings and
sculpture, contributed to this wider discourse concerning the potential of
sport to be an agent of transformation within society as a whole.
Beginning in the pre-revolutionary era, Ekaterina Emeliantseva examines
the social topography of sport in St. Petersburg during the latter period
of Tsarist rule. By analyzing contemporary photographs of the physical
spaces inhabited by the burgeoning sports clubs and organizations—from
the elitist exclusivity of the St. Petersburg Rowing Club to the one ruble spectator
spaces of the city’s hippodromes—Emeliantseva reveals how these visual
representations of key sports sites contributed towards, or resisted, the
kind of social interaction and intermingling that was an integral aspect of the
urbanization and industrialization of the imperial capital at the turn of the
century and thus played a vital role in the construction of a new social geography.
Sandra Budy’s analysis of photographs of sport in the popular and specialist
press and in public exhibitions during the 1920s and 1930s usefully
charts the ways in which changing political agendas can be traced in the
shifting emphases of sports photography and photojournalism. Whether focusing
on the athlete in action, portraits of individual sporting heroes or the
anonymous collective of sportsmen and women at the infamous sports parades
of the Stalin era, these images amply articulate and negotiate the shifting
debates and concerns of the early Soviet period.
Adopting a different starting position, Alexandra Köhring’s essay offers a
detailed account of the various manifestations of the project for the
planned, but never completed, International Red Stadium. By comparing
and contrasting the concepts and ideological underpinnings of the numerous
proposals put forward by architects and social theoreticians throughout
the 1920s, Köhring highlights the diverging notions of both sports participation
and spectatorship for the new Soviet regime and how these tensions
informed architectural ambitions. As she argues, the disparate proposals
“implied different hierarchies in the interaction of body and space” and suggest
radically different notions of how sport and the physical and metaphorical
spaces it occupies might best serve a public that itself was regarded as
undergoing a process of transformation into new citizens.
Burcu Dogramaci’s contribution to this section shifts attention away
from the Soviet Union to the new Turkish Republic established under Kemal
Atatürk during the 1920s. As Dogromaci argues, the promotion of sport
within the new state signified “a political and social paradigm shift” placing
a strong emphasis on youth, body culture and an affinity with Western modernity. Here, the influence of western figures, including the German sports
administrator Carl Diem and the Italian stadium architect Paolo Vietti–Violi
helped to establish this new culture whilst the powerful photographs of
the Austrian, Othmar Pferschy, later to become an official state photographer
for Kemalist Turkey, reinforced this new emphasis by providing a modern
vision of the sporting body as a metaphor for Turkish independence.
For Bettina Jungen, the intersections between the Foucaultian concept of
discipline and the practices of sport and dance are explored in the representation
of such concepts in the medium of sculpture. Here a celebration of the
physical control and “effortless execution” of the body in motion is linked to
both the educational and transformational capacities of dance as a ‘sportive’
activity. Focusing on key sculptural works by Vera Mukhina and Elena Ianson–
Manizer, Jungen demonstrates how, during the 1930s, the energy and
strength of sport was aligned to the grace and beauty of dance to provide a
broad role model for Soviet citizens, one based on metaphorical notions of
control and discipline.
Finally, Christina Kiaer’s enlightening analysis of the personal photographs
of swimmer Liudmilla Sergeevna Vtorova, alongside the paintings
produced by the officially approved Soviet artist Aleksandr Deineka, for
whom she posed, provides a fascinating dialogue between two distinct forms
of cultural production. As Kiaer argues, Vtorova’s snapshots emphasize an
intimacy and personal motivation that might be read as far more revealing of
lived experience than the visual documents produced within more state–
sanctioned practices. Yet, as Kiaer also establishes, Vtorova’s private photographs
simultaneously draw upon the ideological imperatives and visual conventions
for the representation of sport during the Stalinist 1930s, thus
making these images a rich and highly valuable source for historians.