Monday, February 09, 2015

"Red Army": the story of the Soviet Union's hockey team, and how it might have helped the 1991 collapse


Did sports, specifically pro hockey, help accelerate the collapse of the Soviet Union through the latter part of 1991? Remember, the “Commonwealth of Independent States” really came to nothing.
  
That’s the impression left, on me at least, by the new documentary “Red Army”, by Gabe Polsky, which traces the history of the USSR’s “Red Army” hockey team and its players (most notably Slava Fetisov) from the 1970’s onto the present day. This is the antithesis of the "Red Dawn" movies.  
   
Sports, both individual and team, were big politics in the Soviet era, as an ideological vehicle to show that communism “works”.  The film presents an analogy to chess, where the Soviets dominated the world (apart from Bobby Fischer) at least into the 1980s.  Anatoly Karpov speaks in the film (but today’s anti-Putin dissident Garry Kasparov does not (see Books blog, Sept. 27, 2007).  There is one scene where chess pieces are placed on a model hockey rink and moves are played, as if hockey strategy were similar to chess.  Sometimes you should shoot for the goal rather than pass.
  
The lifestyles of the players were regimented.  That paralleled the lives of the people in the USSR, who were unable to compete with the West economically. 
  
In time. Soviet hockey had to deal with the possibility that players could defect when in the US, or would try to get contracts with US or Canadian teams (n the NHL, National Hockey League).  In time, the Soviets allowed this in some circumstances, but players had to turn over most of their earnings (although even this decreased in time) to the State. 
  
The film quickly shows the rebellion against Gorbachev in August 1991, and his resignation on Christmas Day, 1991.  It also shows some of present day life in Russia, where people actually have trouble making it in a market economy.  But it doesn’t really get into Putin’s neo-authoritarianism. 
Ronald Reagan (“John Loves Mary”) appears once, to say that not all movie stories have happy endings. 

The official site, from Sony Classics, is here.  Again, Sony is venturing into films exposing totalitarian states.  The Washington Times will very much approve.  The film is brief, at 75 minutes.  Sports Illustrated has a detailed review and history here
   
I wonder at these tweets from “Chess Quotes”, some of them rather heterosexist, but a lot of repeated calls for abandoning capitalism and “exploitation” or ordinary workers.  But you can’t do that without setting up a totalitarian state.

I saw the film at the AMC Shirlington late Sunday afternoon before a small audience. Wikipedia attribution link of the Moscow White House under Creative Commons Share-Alike unported, owned by “www-kremlin-ru”.  Wikipedia also has another picture (of less certain licensing) of the Taman Shelling of the White House in October 1993 (link ). 

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