The Potemkin Village Dilemma
This chapter provides an archivally based account of the “sites of communism” or Soviet model institutions and the methods used to display them to foreign visitors in the USSR in the interwar period. Although a resurgence of rumors about “Potemkin villages” was widespread starting in the 1920s, these model sites were more than façades set up for foreign eyes: they played a major role for domestic audiences and became an important feature of Stalinist culture. The chapter provides an in-depth exploration of the methods of “cultural show” (kul'tpokaz)—the methods of teaching foreigners to see the kernel of the bright future in the present and blame problems on the legacies of the past. Watershed moments in the development of these methods were the 1927 Congress of Friends that brought one thousand delegates to Moscow and the remarkable 1927–28 Soviet tour of the American writer Theodore Dreiser.
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