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Russian Journal Revisited
February 6, 2018
by Thomas Dworzak
"In 1947, just as the Iron Curtain fell across Europe, John Steinbeck, the American writer, and Robert Capa, renowned war photographer, made a six-week journey through Stalin's Russia. The following year they published A Russian Journal a book that painted a sympathetic portrait of ordinary Soviets. Seventy years on Julius Strauss, a former long-serving war correspondent, and Thomas Dworzak, the president of Magnum Photos, retraced their footsteps.

At first blush the world they flew into in a sleek new Aeroflot jet bore little resemblance to Stalin's Soviet Union. But soon, Strauss and Dworzak realised that the parallels with the early Cold War were more poignant than they imagined. Russia was in the grips of vigorous militarism and strident nationalism and seeking to re-establish spheres of dominance abroad. Shiny new museums glorified the Soviet past with multi-media displays and smart military parades showcased reconstituted Tsarist-era regiments. Officials railed against what they see as the West's effete liberal values and its perfidy and aggression. Meanwhile Ukraine and Georgia were struggling to fight off Moscow's unwanted advances and steer their countries westwards.

Following in Steinbeck and Capa's footsteps, Strauss and Dworzak found themselves in a patchwork of new states, hopscotching across a jagged frontline where the writ of the Kremlin and the West met. And as Strauss and Dworzak moved from Russia to the frontlines in Ukraine to the frozen conflicts of Georgia they realised that the glitzy and outwardly confident Moscow of today hid darker truths. Only on one thing do both pro and anti-Russian officials in the region agree. A new war was already underway - a struggle that pitted Putin's Kremlin, the Russian Orthodox Church and the revamped Red Army against those who believe in Nato, the European ideal, and western liberal values." (Julius Strauss)

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