- Euphoria and Exhaustion: Modern Sport in Soviet Culture and Society by Nikolas Katzer
Euphoria and Exhaustion is an edited volume that seeks to cast a critical eye on the origins, triumphs, and failures of the sports system unique to the Soviet Union. This effort represents a contrast from the sort of research conducted in post-Soviet Russia, where aggrandizement of its sporting past without delving into the idiosyncratic nature seems to be the order of the day, particularly with the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi on the horizon.
In an attempt to fill the gap in the historiography, the book is shaped in three parts. The first section is “Sites and Media,” and the second is titled “Milieus and Memory,” with “Gender and Science” as the final section. Since there are sixteen chapters in the collection, a detailed analysis of each would prove too exhaustive. Instead, this appraisal highlights a chapter from each section.
In “Sites and Media,” Alexandra Kohring’s “Exploring the Power of the Curve: Projects for an International Red Stadium in 1920s Moscow” is a thorough examination of the [End Page 180] plans for a mega-sport complex in the Soviet capital. Red Stadium, it was believed, would be the crown jewel for the 1928 Spartakiad—an Eastern bloc sport festival that both complimented and opposed the more mainstream Olympic games. Kohring’s chronicle shows that the process of designing and building the facility was fraught with competing ideas and ideologies—from the selection of the right architect and design to assuaging critics like Arkady Khalampiev who believed that Muscovites were better served with open space and were not in dire need of a structure largely meant to serve spectators more than participants. Ultimately, the stadium was never built, and Kohring’s analysis leaves little wonder why.
In “Milieus and Memory,” Volodymyr Ginda’s “Beyond the Death Match: Sport under German Occupation between Repression and Integration, 1941–1944” is among the best articles in the collection. Ginda peels away some of the myth and propaganda that has surrounded the notorious football (soccer) game for decades and provides the reader with a more nuanced and balanced picture of sport in Nazi-occupied Ukraine. The author explores the socio-cultural uses of athletics for both the occupiers and the occupied, as well as the organizational and funding aspects so vital to the continuation of sport in any environment, particularly one as complicated as an occupied territory. Ginda also argues that the sporting experience in occupied Ukraine was not monolithic. Ukraine was regionally divided by the occupying Axis powers, and this division led to disparate practices. For example, Germans only provided significant funds for the maintenance of sports facilities (e.g., stadiums and gyms) to the Ukrainian districts over which they ruled. In Transnistria, however, the governing Rumanians provided financial support for practically all aspects of sport.
The final section is the smallest in terms of the number of articles, yet remains very important. As stated in Irina Bykhovskaya’s introduction, “An examination of the reality and representation of women’s status can reveal much about the socio-cultural conditions of any epoch” (p. 247). Anke Hilbrenner’s “Soviet Women in Sports in the Brezhnev Years: The Female Body and Soviet Modernism” delves into the concept of zhenstvennost (femininity) and how it was not only an artificial ideal but also highly constructed to merge old-fashioned traits of femininity with the new technology of the time. While the article paints a vivid picture of the female life under Brezhnev and the inherent contradictions, it at times left sport on the sideline in favor of a more generic Soviet Union women’s history.
While the edited collection represents an important contribution to our understanding of sport and physical culture in the Soviet Union, it is not without its flaws. Despite Soviet proclivity for hockey, it received scant attention in this book. As well, more focus could have been directed to sports the Soviet Union found distasteful enough to discourage or even ban. There...