For more than 20 years, Steven Weinberg has extensively photographed the historic transition of emerging market economies in Central Europe and the former Soviet states as a retrospective commentary on the developments that have helped reshape a new era in world history. The photographer’s work has been featured in solo exhibitions at Columbia University, and the U.S. Embassy-Tbilisi, Georgia. Selected as a "Legend Behind the Lens" photographer for Nikon, Weinberg’s photos also comprise a CNN private collection, were recently published by National Geographic on Romania, EUMM-European Union Monitoring Mission-Georgia, OSCE-Vienna and are represented worldwide by Getty Images.
"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.
Germany and particularly the city of Berlin celebrates the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall on 09 November next month, also marking the passage of the first generation which has experienced a post-Soviet world since the post-war years of the mid-twentieth century. An acute reminder of this situation occurred recently during earlier October celebrations in Leipzig, which is now a thriving city in former East Germany. It was here that initial protests in late 1989 helped accelerate the demise of the then totalitarian government and an ultimate opening of the Berlin Wall just weeks later.
Now it is often possible to meet "Wende Kinder," or children-currently young adults- from the turning point or changing times; those born from 1989 and immediately afterwards with no personal memory of the Berlin Wall or Soviet-directed period before that. It is a cultural phenomenon that arises as history becomes respective to its living members who can reflect on collective circumstance. It also becomes an indicator as to how the passage of time can and will affect all of us, now living through the early 21st century together, towards the future's future. Paralleling this historic period compels the comparison towards current events and Russian resurgence onto the global stage of attempted hegemony 25 years later, and urges the premise to question if history repeats through adjusted phases.
As a result of German reunification over two decades later, initial promises have predominantly not been met for a thriving eastern Germany due to disparity in employment opportunities which led to large population migrations to the more prosperous West. Additionally, contrasts in national character between both East and West have contributed to each region retaining their unique identities. Essentially, due to the extended simultaneous reign of the two differing German cultures, fundamental differences still outweigh the similarities. Yet, according to an Interior Ministry Report on German Unity released in 2013, despite the national contrasts, eastern Germany is improving in several ways and remains attractive for its returning inhabitants, signaling an appeal towards their origins despite persistent yet slowly improving economic inequalities.
It remains questionable if the social experiment to reunify Germany has become a reasonable success as a consensus about political assurances made a quarter of a century earlier have so far not been able to be fully achieved. A nostalgic movement has also arisen in several locations, longing for the "Ostalgie" of former times while also enhancing a merchandising appeal for the German tourism industry. The prevailing mood within Berlin and beyond during November's historic occasion will underscore the actual and speculative factors driving the world's fourth largest economy, while reflecting on whether or not the bridge between the East and West might ever occur.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Former US Secretary James Baker was the honored guest for a signature ceremony featuring a Berlin Wall section which included esteemed colleagues from this historic period.
Berlin Wall with still patrolled though no longer enforced death strip one month after opening; immediately seen from outside Western border looking into Eastern sector, early December 1989.
Evident replacement of consumer tastes appears in humorous advertisement depicting post-Soviet era passage towards assimilated Western values.
A collision of time periods and cultures arose within former East Berlin in summer 1990 during a short transition between not yet dismantled sections of the Berlin Wall positioned near newly introduced Western advertisement billboards. German reunification would occur on 3 October later that year.
As Western product placement enveloped a formerly unapproachable part of the world soon after the opening of the Berlin Wall and subsequent reunification of Germany, contrasts arose as one social structure overtook another. A young family is pressed against the dynamics of a disappearing social safety net as the seeming attraction of consumerism with uncertain economic variables coincide. Certainly at the onset, the psychological need for incentive to thrive became a formidable challenge within the context of an entire country that had not previously engaged that system. Twenty five years later, eastern Germany has still not recovered from the promises of Western unification.
Rapid construction on a grand scale appeared rampant throughout the new Berlin during the 1990s period, depicted here with the rise of the new Reichstag German parliament during summer of 1998.
Former East-West Berlin Wall border demarcation, These identifiers are all that remain throughout the city besides certain remnants remaining as tributary reminders of an extraordinary history within the country within a relatively short period.
Time seemed to stop in former East Germany before the opening of the Berlin Wall occurred which abruptly opened the borders to the Western world of commerce. The impenetrable barriers between then Soviet central command ideologies against free market values extended between 1961-1989 when the wall was unexpectedly erected on 13 August 1961 then modified over a 28 year period until its final breach on 9 November 1989.
Weekly Monday night protests throughout late 1989 in Leipzig became infamous across former East Germany as a specter that the communist government had only weeks remaining before the Berlin Wall would ultimately open on 9 November. Leipzig held several 25th anniversary commemoration events during October 2014.
Tile mural of propagandized East German Socialist benefits remained in East Berlin before Western consumerism values supplanted the new implemented direction.
Dismantled sections of the Berlin Wall during pre-reunification summer of 1990; former East Berlin, Germany.
The Brandenburg Gate had an historic opening on 23 December 1989 ending 28 years of barbed wire seclusion positioned between the main borders of East and West Germany. Today it is a thriving international symbol and meeting point.
Berlin Wall, East Berlin, 1983; six years before its historic dismantling.
GDR (German Democratic Republic) 40 year anniversary symbol with period postcards and news clipping of the era. Berlin Wall will open one month after this anniversary passes marking the end of the country's existence.
Lignite coal miner in central GDR; once considered the most polluted region in Eastern Europe, Bitterfeld, Germany today has become a region for solar energy development plus tourism; December 1989.
In southeast Germany, Gorlitz borders Poland and in 1990 remained untouched and forgotten both during the war and for decades since, providing an eerie impression of the country's neglected infrastructure. Today it is fully modernized and renovated.