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The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! Wait A Second – They’re Here!

February 2, 2019

Russian scarves, exhibited at the Global Village Museum in Ft. Collins starting February 1, 2019 for several months

An exhibit of Russian cultural items, many of them exquisite handicraft items – along with a series of lectures – opened last night at the Global Village Museum, Colorado’s only international inter-cultural museum, in Ft. Collins. Nancy and I traveled up to Ft. Collins to be their opening night.

What a pleasant, educationally rich surprise.

Tastefully done the collection was gathered from the Russian Community living (mostly) in northern Colorado who donated what were obviously their finest pieces, mementos of the rich culture from which they immigrated, most of them since the collapse of the USSR in December, 1991.

The collection includes traditional holiday peasant clothing, pottery, a lovely series of “podstakanniks” – the metal Russian tea glass holders in which tea is served on Russian trains – tapestries and the like. All in all the collection is a wealth of precious personal items offered for public viewing informing the Colorado public that a Russian community in the state does exist.

There were also a few World War II mementos, several posters celebrating the end of the May 9th end of the war in Europe in which the Soviet Union played such a key role in defeating Nazism – and paid such painful price, the accepted figure of the Soviet casualties being somewhere around 27 million. At a time when U.S.-Russian relations are in a historic free-fall these days, in some ways even worse than U.S.-Soviet relations during the Cold War – it was a pleasure to see this kind of people-to-people tasteful cultural exchange to cut through all the increasingly shrill and bipartisan rhetoric.

As this was opening night, a number of people from that community were present to answer questions. According to government statistics, between 1986 – when Gorbachev’s failed “perestroika” had just begun – through 2016 some 322,500 Russian-speaking people immigrated legally to the United States. How many of them wound up in Colorado I could not determine from a Google search but Natalia, one of the Russian receptionists at the exhibit I spoke with, mentioned “a couple of hundred” in northern Colorado alone. Russians in Colorado congregate to maintain connections twice a year in late April, early May and again in October, at picnics. Natalia mentioned that they have a website Russians-Colorado, but I couldn’t find it.

This particular Russian community in Colorado appears separate from two others: the long-standing community of Volga-Russian-Germans who immigrated throughout the Midwest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the Russian Jewish Community that is based mostly in Denver, concentrated more or less in southeast Denver near George Washington High School. I wonder if the these different strands  of Russian culture in Colorado are connected or if they simply have gone their separate ways. The Volga Russian-Germans were, along with Mexican (and later Japanese) immigrants the labor force for Colorado’s sugar beet industry, one of the state’s dynamos for agricultural development in the early 20th centuries. (1)

Beyond the exhibit itself, the other pleasant surprise was the Global Village Museum of Arts and Cultures

The musical instrument room a the Global Village Museum

itself, from a cross cultural perspective, a genuine Colorado jewel. As with the Russian exhibit, all items in it are donated by people from northern Colorado. Several rooms are a part of a “Peace Corps” collection – items return Peace Corps volunteers have collected from all over the Third World, an interesting collection that included two rooms of musical instruments from the world over.

Maybe the museum should next consider doing an exhibit of Venezuelan or Iranian cultural items sometime soon, or better yet, a retrospective on Afghan, Iraqi or Syrian culture destroyed by U.S. bombing, a kind of nostalgic view of what was rich cultural traditions mauled by drone assassinations and phosphorus bombs. It’s always nice to see the cultural heritage of the peoples whose countries the U.S. military is bullying and bombing…in the name of freedom and democracy of course.

 

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1. Colorado State University hosts the largest archive in the country of Volga Russian-German artifacts and documents. Northern Colorado is heavily populated with people whose ancestors first worked the sugar beet farms. One of the lectures as a part of this exhibit will focus on “Germans From Russia” at the end of the month, on February 27 at 5 pm.

 

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