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Diaries from North Korea
Pyongyang
By Luca Faccio
30 Aug 2015

[FULL NATURAL SOUND VERSION AVAILABLE WITH ENGLISH SCRIPT UPON REQUEST]

My first visit to North Korea was in 2005, when the regime was still ruled by Kim Jong Il.
The country had not yet admitted to possessing nuclear weapons, but I found it strange that Western media showed such disinterest towards this isolationist state: why were they ignoring a country that still ran concentration camps?

In the summer of 2006 the DPRK announced that North Korea had built its first atomic bomb and suddenly Western media became aware of the fact that this country could possibly pose a global threat.
In my documentary, made in three stages between 2012 and 2015, I examine North Korea under the new leader Kim Jong Un. Even if his leadership appears no different to that of his predecessor -- continued purges, executions and the strict control of every citizen -- at an economic level, small but significant changes are visible. With increasing trade, the government is being forced to build bridges and to allow its merchants a possibility of economic development. This, in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Modern supermarkets, gambling halls, skyscrapers sprouting like mushrooms, lively streets with countless taxis, Mickey Mouse on TV... these are all signs of an economy that, albeit hesitantly, is moving towards a capitalist system: the capital Pyongyang is going through an historically unique period of growth. In an attempt to rid itself of the old soviet-style greyness, the city is changing from the bottom up to give itself a new image, quite as though Pyongyang had understood that it too has arrived in the 21st century.

This silent revolution, due in part to the female population which has discovered Western products, also promotes cultural exchange. One example of this development is the concert last summer by the rock group ''Laibach'', which marked a truly historic event, considering that Western music is banned in North Korea. Possession of foreign CDs and DVDs is also strictly punished by the regime which sees them as a corrupting poison for North Korean society.

Between the "Juche" ideology and National Socialism: there are concentration camps for actual and suspected regime opponents; convinced of the superiority of the Korean race, citizens are forbidden to have friendly relations with foreigners. I have encountered this reality, but over time I was also able to build small but significant friendships in North Korea. Through these I discovered true humanity in people living under this monstrous Stalinist system.

Dreams revolve not only around freedom, but also around a hope of reunification with their southern brother. This is not a forbidden subject in Pyongyang. During an interview with a student, she made it abundantly clear that every Korean was obliged to strive for reunion.

This dream, though, constantly clashes with reality, as I realized when visiting the Panmunjom border in March 2013: on the one side we saw South Korean military exercises, on the other continuous provocations by North Korea. Which is why, after all, this is considered the most dangerous border in the world.

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Then and Now: Postcards from the Sovi...
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

"Then and Now: Postcards from the Soviet Union" addresses the end of the Cold War and current resurgence of Russian geopolitical assertion in Ukraine and elsewhere. This series of historical photographs juxtaposes idealized, Soviet era postcards and visuals with real world photographs shot over the course of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing post-Soviet era. This juxtaposition is meant to demonstrate the links and the contrasts between national narratives propagated by the Soviet system and how those narratives have been affected by or manifested in contemporary reality.


Shot over the last 26 years in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Poland, these unique photos offer an intimate historical perspective of Soviet and Eastern European geopolitics as the region takes on new forms and conflicts in Ukraine and elsewhere. 

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Hello from the Exhibition”; mid-1950s postcard, Exhibition of National Economic Achievements, Soviet era Moscow.

Lower: Opened to private enterprise in 1992, the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements building complex rapidly transformed into a place of rampant uncontrolled commercialism amidst its former Soviet pomp. Moscow, Russia.

Image Correlation: These series of buildings have been utilized both during the communist era and during the more recent introduction of a Western commercial market after the end of the Soviet period. The symbology inherent in the sculptures have become representative hallmarks for the iconic Soviet period of Socialist realism, introduced by Stalin in 1934 then adapted by allied Communist parties worldwide.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Central Moscow, Kremlin foreground; 1960s impression

Lower: Moscow Red Square at night, 2005.

Image Correlation: More of a romantic notion regarding one of the major cities of the world, the iconic buildings of Red Square in Moscow implies a sense of duration through the centuries as political eras fluctuate more readily across recent decades.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Postcard: In memory of WWII.

Lower: Statue: In memory of WWII. Warsaw, Poland, 1992.

Image Correlation: These two photos resemble a counterpoint of recent history. A scarce Soviet postcard, released 10 years after WWII depicts a melancholic image of a distant, but ongoing battle, while a permanent abstract soldier statue in the Praga district of Warsaw, Poland offers a stern and dark reminder of history.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: 1949 Soviet rally; 1962 postcard, “With Holiday Congratulations Comrade!”

Lower: World War Two veterans commemorate Victory Day inTbilisi, Georgia, 9 May 2011.

Image Correlation: Passing the memory of victory in the Great Patriotic War across generations. Pride and valor have compelled millions to revere their national identities through the memorialization of the Great Patriotic war. Despite the fact that the war was fought in the name of the Soviet Union, the people's of the now independent former Soviet republics still celebrate the war's victory as their own.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Soviet Great Patriotic War Congratulations to Victory; "From Moscow to Berlin,1945 To Victory Day!"

Lower: Tribute to executed escapees from former East Germany during Berlin Wall 15 year Anniversary; Berlin, Germany, 2004

Image Correlation: One side's victory is another's oppression.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Stalin era building, May 1 International Worker's Day holiday congratulations; Moscow, 1953

Lower: Western advertising is introduced to Russia. A Cadbury's fruit and nut chocolate billboard in front of the same 1940s, Stalin era building; Moscow, 1995.

Image Correlation: The irony of history. The pictured building, which was constructed during the height of Joseph Stalin's rule, was used to project an image of a powerful communist utopia. Decades later, communism collapsed, only to make way for the very kind of capitalism it was said to be resisting.

Today, Russia is a major force in the globalization process. This has forced difficult choices amongst European Union countries, particularly Germany, in respect to the series of sanctions levied since the stand off between the two countries over the war in Ukraine.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Forward to Communism” with the communist party program in hand, Moscow, Casualty of capitalism.

Lower: A Soviet era pensioner struggles during the economic shock period of the 1990s with the abrupt introduction of Western consumerism overtaking communist central planning of the prior 70 years. The McDonalds sign reads " Taste of the Season"; Moscow, 1995.

Image Correlation: Two distinct economic systems prevailing in the same exact location, though years apart. This dichotomy amplified a social collision for certain segments of the population, particularly in the years immediately after the collapse of the Soviet system. As there was no guidebook provided for people accustomed to government subsidies, having to suddenly rely on individual economic incentive for many became overwhelming.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: May 1 Congratulations for International Workers Day; (Socialist Worker's Holiday) 1958

Lower: Soviet era and recently introduced Western values collide with Stalin in a tailor shop alongside a gambling and striptease casino, Gori, Georgia, 2009.

Image Correlation: Social values fluctuated greatly with end of the Soviet era. The idea of a communist utopia, free of inequality, greed and exploitation, was turned on its head with the rapid infusion of Western consumer culture and economic chaos that followed the collapse Soviet Union.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Soviet MiG-15, “The Jet that Shocked the West” 1950

Lower: Saakashvili Era Military Parade in Tbilisi, Georgia. During his 7 year rule (2004-2011), the pro-Western president showcased Georgia as the fastest growing post-Soviet democracy. Tbilisi, Georgia, 2007.

Image Correlation: The use of military might by both Eastern and Western oriented leaderships to project their ideological and political formidability. Despite existing in different eras, and under different ideological and political circumstances, the essential public relations strategy remains the same between the Soviet Union and capitalist independent Georgia.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Boys fantasizing about their future war stories, 1961.

Lower: A young boy’s military dreams; Tbilisi, Georgia, 2007.

For the young male, the fantasy for the glory days of war without yet having had the experience appears in several cultures worldwide. Here it is represented with Soviet era illustrations and through the eyes of a child at a Georgian military parade.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Glory to the Soviet Armed Forces; Moscow, 1968

Lower: All leaders become future history; the Putin era is not over; Tbilisi, Georgia, 2013.

Image Correlation: How Russian history from the early 21st century will be perceived in the distant future. Putin's administration is said to be heavily influenced by the Soviet past. The question then remains, what influence will Putin have on future Russian leaderships?

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Late Soviet period, Gorbachev political pin reads-"Perestroika, Glasnost"; or "restructuring and "public openness", 1988.

Russian military elite attending banquet in the Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia. Gagra, Abkhazia, 2005.

Image Correlation: Symbols from the late Soviet period above, coincide with a seeming perpetuation of the Soviet era in the breakaway region of Abkhazia, on the northwest coast of Georgia years later. Abkhazia was the second territory annexed by Russia after the 2008 war and has cultivated close ties against the rancor of the Georgian authorities.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: 50 years of the USSR Armed Forces, 1967

Lower: Former Russian base until 2001; Vasiani, Georgia, 2003.

Image Correlation: An extended generation of prevailing missile diplomacy between East and West is illustrated through a Soviet period magazine and 1960s postcard. While below, remnants from the Cold War remained until the withdrawal of Russian bases from Georgia started in 2005.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: End of WWII 1945, Victory Day (Soviet Perspective).

Lower: Protesters gather in front of Stalin's birthplace. Georgian signage reads "Down with capitalism, give factories to working people, give jobs"; Gori, Georgia, 2011.

Image Correlation: A postcard and black & white photo celebrating Stalin provides a perspective regarding the Soviet WWII victory, while the image below shows present day demonstration by protesters in front of his boyhood home; now a museum.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Glory to Soviet Soldiers, Moscow, 1966

Lower: A Russian bunker with a Georgian weapon in the foreground. At the border of Russian-occupied South Ossetia. Dvani, Georgia, 2011.

Image Correlation: A Mid-1960s Soviet military parade in Red Square offers an idealized image projecting a feeling of camaraderie and unity while, decades later, two former Soviet peoples turn their guns on each other as Russian and Georgian forces face off over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: 1917 October Revolution commemoration postcard and a newspaper clipping describing the Gorbachev-Bush/Baker-Shevardnadze meeting at the Helsinki Summit in September 1990

Lower: Russian checkpoint, South Ossetia-Georgia border, 2005.

Image Correlation: The fluid, ironic nature of history as former allies become enemies and old antagonisms reappear in different forms. The upper images represent two pivotal eras in Soviet history: the October revolution, which created the Soviet Union, and the 1990 US-USSR talks, which help set the groundwork for the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Pictured in the newspaper clipping is Eduard Shevardnadze, foreign minister under Mikhail Gorbachev and later the president of post-Soviet Georgia. Years later, the close history shared between Georgians and Russians would be tested as Russia and Georgia faced off over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Three years after the lower photo was taken, war broke out over the contested region. The Russia-Georgia conflict was one of a series of clear illustrations of the reemergence of US-Russia geopolitical tensions, as the United States supported Georgia in the 5-day conflict.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Glory to the armed forces, 1975 and 40 Years USSR (rear); 1957

Lower: Billboard reads “Putin Our President”; Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, 2006.

Image Correlation: An iteration of history (upper) reflects the vestiges of a former empire, which have since reappeared in modern times with emblems of a reinvigorated Russian nation (lower).

This billboard appears in South Ossetia, a territory recognized by the Western international community as part of Georgia. However, Russia has openly supported the independence of the territory and even went to war to maintain it in August 2005. Since then there have been rumors of a full Russian annexation of the region.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Ukraine, October Glory (1917 Revolution) – 1963

Lower: Citizen registering to vote in Ukraine with passport document. May ,2014.

Image Correlation: The patriotism once encouraged by the Soviet system reemerges in the form patriotism for one's independent, former-Soviet state. The pictured elections followed months of protest and upheaval in Ukraine, which led to the ousting of a pro-Moscow leadership and the eventually election of a pro-Western administration opposed to Moscow.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Original WWII era Soviet Map approaching Kiev; 1952 card -“For Peace”.

Lower: Central Kiev protests, 2005

Image Correlation: The concept of peace and optimism through the eras. In different contexts, times, and manifestations, the hope for peace prevails.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Global Provocation; October Glory (Ukrainian) 1980.

Lower: Georgia aspires to join NATO; Tbilisi, 2007.

Image Correlation: Metaphorically, Putin provokes Obama alongside an orange and black St. George ribbon associated with Soviet WWII war veterans, which has since been adopted by pro-Russia separatists as a symbol of military valor in eastern Ukraine.

The 1980s Ukrainian postcard represents the idea of "friendship between nations". That idea was tested by Georgia and Ukraine's bid to join NATO and the resulting tensions with Russia, represented in the lower photo.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: War Is Over? - Glory to the Great October, 1965

Lower: Property owners cut off by Russia's expansion of South Ossetia's borders into Georgia proper. The expansion happened during the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. South Ossetia ABL (Administrative Boundary Line), 2013.

Image Correlation: A 1980s newspaper featuring images of the highest ranking Soviet awards; Order of Lenin, Order of October Revolution, Red Banner of Labor displays next to the headline, War is Over? Below, razor wire demarcates property as a result of a military campaign to further annex deeper into Georgian territory as unstable borders and unresolved Russia-Georgia policy issues continue into present times.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: No Tolerance for Weaponry, “Peace”; 1961

Lower: European Union-Georgian-Russian-South Ossetian negotiations in no-man's-land between Georgian-Russian annexed borders; Ergneti, Georgia, 2011.

Image correlation: An early 1960s call for peace through arms reduction on a Soviet postcard (upper) amplifies the irony of an intractable situation over 50 years later. “Peace” negotiators take place in the lower photo while the unresolved aftermath of the Georgian-Russian war of 2008 perpetuates unstable on-the-ground conditions.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: Postcard-Glory Soviet Armed Forces, 1965, document-the Commemorative Medal-50 years Liberation of Ukraine; Crimea Map; 1955.

Soviet Era Tribute; Samegrelo, Georgia, 2000

Image Correlation: Elements of the current Ukraine conflict have historic attributes stemming from decades earlier, as the justification for each side’s present directives find their justification in different interpretations of a shared history. The now gone Soviet era mural (lower) found in a remote region of Georgia attests to the permeation that the former empire once attained. The historic precedent, which can remain invisible, runs deep in the collective psyche and becomes the fulcrum for determining which alliance a region moves towards; sustaining relations with Russia or moving towards the Western driven market.

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Postcards from the Soviet Union
Moscow, Russia
By Steve Weinberg
16 Apr 2015

Upper: A New? Cold War (German) Putin-Merkel standoff, 2015.

Lower: Brezhnev statue with original period artefacts relocated to an outlying park after collapse of the Soviet Union; Moscow, Russia, 1995.

Image Correlation: Poignant news dispatches describing incessant military escalations between Russian and Ukrainian forces have inadvertently upset the post-Cold War international order amongst American, European Union and Russian governments. History is currently being choreographed towards an open-ended denouement while Putin and Merkel seem to spar amidst strands of artifacts from the Berlin Wall and a monument to honor Soviet "hero-pilots." Could the frozen Moscow park during winter imply a reoccurring cold war scenario upon the world once again?

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Worshiping China's Mao Zedong at his ...
Shaoshan, China
By Nicola Zolin
24 Dec 2014

As leadership in the Chinese Communist Party continues to broaden and sharpen its crackdown on liberal thought and criticism of the Maoist system under President Xi Jinping; veneration of the country's historical leader, Mao Zedong, has taken an even more central role in Chinese cultural politics.

A recent New York Times article by Chris Buckley and Andrew Jacobs cites the traditionalist politics of Mr. Xi, saying that under his administration Maoist ideologues have ben emboldened, especially by "internal party decrees that have declared open season on Chinese academics, artists and party cadres seen as insufficiently red." These "ideologues," though the role of these former party cadres and leftist intellectuals is circumscribed, are now re-working Marxist philosophy and Maoist ideology to reverse the changes brought about in China by globalization and free-market economics. They have become the party's "party’s eager ideological inquisitors," Buckley and Jacobs write.

The Times cites Zhang Hongliang, a prominent neo-Maoist, saying, “It’s a golden period to be a leftist in China. Xi Jinping has ushered in a fundamental change to the status quo, shattering the sky.”

As seen in this photo essay for Transterra Media, across China, a renewal of traditional Maoist values has been accompanied by increased interest among the youth and the young professional class in observing and celebrating the life of their dear leader.


Every year, while half of the world celebrates Christmas, in the small village of Shaoshan in Hunan province people celebrate the birthday of Mao Zedong, born the 26th of December 1893. This year is Mao's 121st birthday.

The celebrations start on the evening before, when people form a procession to bring their offerings to the statue of Mao at the center of the city, and buy fireworks to set off throughout the night. Mao’s elder devotees travel from all over China to pay respects to their historical leader, and mix up with the youngest generations from the city near Shaoshan, who were born and raised listening to legendary stories about Mao Zedong from elders.

The celebration unfolds in a climate of jubilee, deep respect and general joy. But while the fascination for Mao is fading amongst the most educated youth in the biggest cities, who enjoy the material benefit of the deregulated market economy, in Shaoshan, even the youngest demonstrate their deep love and admiration for a leader that has no equal in China. For them, Mao is an icon, unquestionable and undebatable, surrounded by an aura of magic and the divine. Indeed in Shaoshan, people worship him as a God.

They pray, bow in front of his statue and ask him for spiritual and material benefit. Ironically, Mao’s is now revered in a cultish manner filled with superstitions, while Mao devoted most of his life to freeing his people from tradition and cults to focus on the construction of a pragmatic and equal China.

To many youngsters, the real character of Mao and his political role is nowadays blurred and thus they find themselves celebrating what has become a tradition, that disconnects itself from its real origins year by year. Meanwhile, the resurgent trend highlights a cultural shift back to the left under President Xi Jinping.

For many inhabitants of Shaoshan, the anniversary is a great opportunity to fill hotels and sell fireworks and an incredible range of souvenirs. For some companies, it is an opportunity to advertise themselves, while offering a journey to Shaoshan to their employees: a journey that serves to emphasize a Maoist ethic for workers who must deal with the day to day pressure of producing for global markets.

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New Economy Changing the Face of Chin...
Guangdong
By Phil Behan
11 Nov 2014

Over the past 7 to 10 years Chinese society has undergone rapid transformation socially, economically and politically. The face of this change is best seen in China’s youth. They are the people who are moving China forward. Many youth find themselves caught between tradition and modernity as they try to find their sense of identity and place in an ever changing society. 

Some of the changes in Chinese society can be seen in the weddings and marriage customs of young Chinese newlyweds. Zheng Ying met her husband through a mutual friend and they now live together in their new home in Guangzhou. Old Chinese traditions often saw newly married couples move directly into the groom's home, but now, with China's economic growth, couples are becoming wealthier and more independent and many are buying their own homes and abandoning old traditions.

Modern Chinese wedding ceremonies often infuse Western style opulence alongside ancient Chinese traditions. With a massive surge in the disposable income available to Chinese citizens, no expense is spared in making the ceremonies as lavish as possible. In a country where image and stature are of great importance, the typical Chinese family is spending great amounts of money on their child's wedding.

These photos explore the rapid cultural and economic changes taking place in China through the wedding ceremonies of young Chinese couples. 

FULL ARTICLE AVAILABLE ON REQUEST

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