Academic journal article Kritika

Tourism Soviet-Style

Academic journal article Kritika

Tourism Soviet-Style

Article excerpt

Diane P. Koenker, Club Red: Vacation Travel and the Soviet Dream, x + 307 pp., illus. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013. ISBN-13 978-0801451539. $39.95.

"Everyone must visit Sochi, if only once in their lives." Many readers will surely recognize this famous line from Vladimir Men'shov's 1980 Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears (Moskva slezam ne verit), perhaps less for its importance in the movie than for its cultural resonance in the late Soviet period. The statement was recognized as a truism of Soviet life, as Diane Koenker shows in her engaging new study of Soviet tourism and leisure. How did it come to be the case that, for most Soviet citizens, a trip to Sochi or another such vacation hotspot was both a desired and an expected reward from the state? Club Red sets out to answer this question, among others, in a full-scale study of the phenomenon of the Soviet vacation, from its somewhat chaotic origins in the 1920s to its enshrinement in late Soviet culture as the ultimate marker of the socialist "good life." In chronological fashion Koenker details the ways in which the early, ideologically driven practices of "proletarian tourism" and medicalized rest cures evolved into full-fledged institutions of leisure similar to their capitalist counterparts. In so doing, her study engages with a number of larger critical issues surrounding the study of Soviet experience: What were the myths and realities of the socialist good life? How did consumerism shape Soviet society, even if its existence was not acknowledged? What paradoxes did the phenomenon of the state-sponsored vacation embody, and what do these reveal about the interaction between the state and its citizens?

Koenker draws from several scholarly approaches to consider these questions, including the theorization of tourism, socialist consumerism, and Soviet institution building; and she approaches her topic with a sharp awareness of the often paradoxical nature of Soviet experience, as elucidated by Alexei Yurchak in his recent study of the late Soviet period and the social experience of glasnost'. (1) In a state where official ideology was based on a glorification of work and labor, the realm of leisure was sure to be understood in complex, even ambivalent, terms. As Koenker shows, important conceptual tensions shaped the practices of state-sponsored travel and vacation from the outset. She skillfully reveals how these tensions played out over seven decades to create specific social institutions of late socialism. In this respect, Club Red is both a success story that details the growth of a bona fide socialist consumer enterprise that became a beloved fixture of Soviet life and a telling document of the many ways in which the state never proved able to deliver on that promise of a trip to Sochi for all.

Club Red provides a useful historical overview of the importance of vacation and rest to the Soviet project from early on, as evident from the 1922 labor code that established workers' right to an annual vacation--the first such document in the world to do so. The "right to rest" was enshrined in the 1936 Soviet constitution 12 years before it would become a key provision in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These provisions reflect the fact that the establishment of a good life for all citizens was a central tenet of the Soviet project, albeit one traditionally less studied. Leisure, specifically vacation, was a core component of this good life. As we can see from Club Red, however, the questions of what this leisure should consist of, how it should be delivered to the population, and to whom it should be accessible, were matters of no small importance or controversy, especially in the 1920s and 1930s. The state's answers to these questions were in part shaped by an early ideological and administrative divide between turizm, or physically active travel, and rest (otdykh). These twin pillars of the Soviet vacation were viewed as separate, even competing, activities well into the 1960s and 1970s, though both had at their core the paradoxical principle of purposeful relaxation. …

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