The enduring myth of the Potemkin village. It began with Catherine The Great,s boat ride down the Dnieper in 1787, to celebrate her triumphal tour of the Crimea and the new and greater Russia. The Empress showed off the wonders of this expansive realm and they were many indeed. But were they real or fake? Only Potemkin knew for sure and he never said…
…Although she made no further or no more detailed reply to Potemkin’s enemies and her memoirs were incomplete at the time of her death, Catherine’s one comment seems conclusive, particularly when considered with de Ligne’s indignant denials of willful sham and eagle-eyed Comte de Segur’s outspoken admiration for Potemkin’s achievements,. What Potemkin lacked in military prowess he compensated as production and entertainment manager. There had been skillful stage effects and clever window dressing, but these were all in keeping with Catherine and Potemkin’s inordinate love of ostentation.
While Potemkin’s detractors were busy perpetuating the myth of the cardboard villages, nonetheless they could not deny that they had indeed founded Kherson and Sevastopol; built their harbors and the Black Sea fleet; colonized the southern provinces with the Tatars, Kalmucks, Georgians, Serbs, Albanians, and Jews- each having their own regiment. Hospitals, schools, banking houses, textile mills, roads, and canals could not be explained away as illusory infrastructure. And Potemkin’s severest critics could find no fault with the choice food, the luxurious lodgings, and the dazzling boat ride down the Dnieper. Even the weather held. There was sunshine every day…
(see link at end)…Although the Soviets never resolved the Potemkin village dilemma, their methods of “cultural show” first designed for foreigners, insofar as it was genetically intertwined with socialist realism, should be seen as far more than a mere deception of foreign visitors: they had a profound impact on the Soviet Union itself. Socialist Realism was not only codified in 1934 as the doctrine guiding literature and the arts under Stalinism but, seen in the broadest sense, for decades became the dominant mode of presenting Soviet reality to the Soviets themselves. In other words, Socialist Realism can be understood not only as an aesthetic doctrine but as a core cultural and ideological orientation in the Stalin period, a mode of depicting reality as filled with the promise of showcases.
…There was hardly a single model shown to outsiders that did not have its own important role for insiders. It was as if Potemkin’s decorated villages had been promulgated on a mass scale to inspire Russian peasants throughout the land. Katerin Clark has called the naming of a “canonical model” to function as a beacon for all lesser examples of the phenomenon a “defining” tendency in Stalinist culture that, she says, was already present in the early 1930s. In my view, this date needs to be pushed back nearly a decade. The promotion of the exceptional miniature—from communes to all sorts of sites and institutions designated as leaders—started off as the key part of early Soviet cultural show, directed at foreign visitors, and moved in ever-more centralized and hierarchical form to the very center of Stalinist culture, the very building blocks of which were imagined and tangible showcases.
However, in the original myth, Potemkin villages were not merely façades for foreign visitors but first and foremost the means to fool Catherine the Great; they can thus be interpreted as a form of self-deception. There were Soviet practices that did recall that original sense. The “Potemkin methods” witnessed by at least one Western journalist of preparing the mise en scène for particularly important visitors such as Bernard Shaw in 1931—cleaning up buildings, evacuating the unsightly sick and homeless children—are also strikingly similar to the preparations made for the visits of top Soviet leaders in the regions, most famously later in Soviet history. Read More:http://www.histoire.ens.fr/IMG/file/Coeure/David-Fox%20Potemkin%20villages.pdf