A symbol of victory: Soviet T-34 tank on static display
Born into a culturally aware multi-ethnic family and neighborhood, I grew up in an environment where many words from different languages became part of the language in my household. Among them: tea was called "chai" (Russian) and the word understand was substituted with "kapish" (Italian). "Chochkas" (Yiddish) refers to fun and relatively inexpensive souvenirs and articles. I've a number of Russia related chochkas.
The Russian side of my family has roots in the Imperial Russian Army and United States Marine Corps. This background influenced the kind of toys I received as a child. Solido is probably the best maker of die-cast metal military vehicles. My family maintains a nice collection of these pieces. The T-34 replica is my most prized possession from that group. The real McKoysky is still revered by many Russians to this day for its legendary reliability on the battlefield, helping the Red Army crush Hitler's Wehrmacht.
The leisurely fashion side of me enjoys the "throwback" look of what sports teams wore from years ago. I've a CSKA (Central Sports Club of the Army) Moscow Red Army jersey. This jersey features a hammer and sickle in a red star. As an anti-Communist, this is a somewhat problematic sight for me. My decision to periodically wear the vintage CSKA jersey is in recognition of the great hockey team that wore it.
Admiration for some aspects of the Soviet legacy shouldn't be confused with overall approval of that period in Russian history. On this matter, perhaps there's a misunderstanding. Contrary to what some suggest, my own encounters with Russians and non-Russians who lived under Stalin's rule reveal mostly negative attitudes towards the Soviet dictator. The younger generation in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) not old enough to have experienced this period clearly doesn't seek lifestyles conforming to any Stalinist or neo-Stalinist Brezhnev ideal. Hence, there's no popular yearning in Russia for turning back the clock to the USSR.
Taking pride in the World War II heroism of the Red Army isn't by definition a rubber stamp of support for Stalin. The fact that I like the melody of the second composed Soviet anthem (readopted by post Soviet Russia with different words) doesn't contradict my anti-Communist stance. On this point, many of my fellow anti-Communist, non-Russian North Americans feel the same. When Wayne Gretzky became owner of the National Hockey League Phoenix Coyotes, the colors and uniform pattern of that team were changed to resemble the on-ice wardrobe of the legendary Soviet national team (ESPN announcers have referred to the Coyotes uniform as the "back to the future CCCP look"). Gretzky doesn't impress me as a Soviet nostalgic freak. Rather, Gretzky is an avid admirer of the kind of quality ice hockey that was played in the USSR.
I'm politically more comfortable with some of my other chochka attire. CafÃ© Press has numerous chochkas for just about any taste. Buyers should beware that the logos on CafÃ© Press attire are screen printed. These apparel items should be placed on a hangar and not folded, with a dry cleaner plastic wrap put over the article.
Russian Empire baseball shirt
My favorite CafÃ© Press apparel includes a Russian Empire baseball sweat shirt and a Cyrillic-scripted "Russia" shirt. The Russian Empire baseball sweat shirt displays a version of the Russian two headed eagle, as it appeared in the 19th and early 20th century. My wearing this attire isn't due to any support for contemporary Russia invading any territory outside its present borders. For me, it's simply an expression of great cultural pride in a period when Russia saw many progressive achievements. Of course I'm also aware of Russia's shortcomings, which were often force-fed into me by a few ideological professors of leftist persuasion.
On my rear car window, I have two Cafe Press stickers. One says "Russia" in Cyrillic white, blue and red lettering, with the other sporting a version of the Russian Empire flag.
The Russian Legacy website offers a wide range of Russian chochkas. From this source, I've a Russian Empire T-shirt with an artistically colorful version of the two headed eagle (like the CafÃ© Press attire, the Russian Legacy T-shirt is screen printed and should be handled delicately). This particular Russian two headed eagle includes coats of arms representing the provinces of the Russian Empire.
The Russian two-headed eagle crest
Post-Soviet Russia adopted as its state symbol one of many versions of the Russian two headed eagle. The two headed eagle is an appropriate emblem for Russia. It originated with the Constantinople (present day Istanbul) based Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire. In the 4th century A.D., the Roman Empire was split into two units. The Western Roman empire maintained the single headed eagle as its symbol. Byzantium adopted the two headed eagle. A number of historians conclude that the two headed eagle was developed to reflect how the Eastern Roman Empire geo-strategically perceived itself as spanning the east and west (this applies to Russia as well). During this period, the Christian Church diverged into two different major movements, with Rome becoming the base for Catholicism and Constantinople the base of Eastern Orthodoxy.
After Rome and Constantinople, Moscow has often been described as The Third Rome. In the Middle Ages Russia became the most powerful of the predominately Orthodox Christian states. It's no coincidence that the largely Orthodox Christian inhabited East European states of Serbia, Montenegro, Russia and Albania utilize the two headed eagle as their national symbol, while a number of central European states (like Poland, Austria and Germany) have a single head eagle as their respective emblems (as an aside, the late Kosovar Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova noted that Albania's 20% Orthodox Christian minority is the result of massive coerced conversion of the Albanian population to Islam by the Turks) .
I conclude this essay by noting the numerous visual expressions of ethnic identity among the many national groups comprising an American nation that's frequently referred to as a "melting pot." My expressed Russophilic sympathies complement this spirit. This sentiment shouldn't be second guessed since America and Russia have a prolonged history of cooperation.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst whose commentary has appeared in Eurasian Home, Johnson's Russia List, Intelligent.Ru, The Moscow Times, New York Times and Newsday.