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PubhD #31: Russian Heavy Metal Music, The Roman Empire and Trees, Education in Cuba

27 September 16 words: Gav Squires
Time for three local researchers to decamp to PubhD at The Vat & Fiddle to talk about their work  

First up we have Dawn who is researching Russian heavy metal music in the 1980s.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, heavy metal evolved from rock music. As culture dribbled into Russia through the iron curtain, a black market developed. So in the late 1970s, Russian heavy metal started to develop, although it wasn't really seen as being distinct from rock music until around 2000. In Russia, rock developed without capitalist pressures and so is very different to western rock. In Russia, there was a "tape culture", where bands would give out their music on cassette so that other people could make copies of it. This continues to today where everything is online and there are hardly any CDs at all in Russia.

In 1985, the band Aria released Megalomania, which is considered to be the first Russian heavy metal album. It featured 8 tracks, including an instrumental (the title track) and all of the lyrics were written by two Russian poets. The titles of the tracks give away a little of what the songs are about:

This is Fate/This is Rock

Bullfighter

Volunteer

Tusks of Black Cliffs

Megalomania

Life for Free

Dreams

America is Behind

(the Russian word for rock and fate are the same, hence the first track having two titles)

America is Behind is about someone looking at pictures of where they can visit. Life is Free is about the unfairness of money - it's a dig at the privileged elite. Meanwhile, Tusks of Black Cliffs is about a man who climbs a mountain to tell the gods that he doesn't need them and who then dies in an avalanche. We even get to hear a bit of This is Fate/This is Rock (slightly against PubhD's Luddite "no technology" rules) While it features lyrics such as "suicide isn't really war", the music doesn't really match the downbeat lyrics.

Key learning: Aria have an English language song but it's apparently awful

Next we have Andrew, whose research is on the Roman Empire and trees.

Specifically, he's looking at the third period of government in ancient Rome and how trees were used as part of a Triumph. A Triumph was a military procession through Rome to celebrate a victory and was a hangover from the days when Romulus was the first king of Rome. In the Empire, everything that was done was built on things that had been done in the Republic. The victorious general would process in a horse-drawn chariot with captured slaves, art and enemy leaders, who were executed on the steps of the Senate house.

Generals were always bringing new things to show off the lands that they had subjugated and each one tried to outdo the general who had been honoured before. Lucullus had subdued what is now Turkey, whose king was famous for his gardens. As part of his plunder, he returned to Rome with a cherry tree. Ten years later Pompey defeated Turkey and he returned with an ebony tree, the most valuable tree that he can find - a demonstration of his ultimate triumph. Even though they failed to successfully plant the ebony tree in Rome, it still started a tradition of displaying tress of conquered nations (compare this with Kew Gardens in London displaying many plants from the British empire)

Trees can be indelibly linked with a place, for example the English oak and the Norwegian pine. It also plays into the importance that Romans placed on plants. For example, their highest military honour was the grass crown. This was only given in extraordinary circumstances such as saving a besieged city or rescuing an army from doom. For example, Fabius Maximus was awarded it for "defeating" Hannibal. It was awarded by soldiers to their general and the only award that was given upward through the chain of command in this way. All of this can be traced back to the deep symbolism of Germanic traditions. If they were defeated, they would give plants to their conquerors. This was surrendering their burial places, signifying a complete and total surrender.

Key learning: only 10 grass crowns were awarded in Roman history

Finally, we have Rosi, researching education in Cuba.

In Cuba the ideology exists to create a certain kind of citizen - it is an absolutely brilliant brainwashing indoctrination. Education was seen as so important after the revolution in 1959. Even Che Guevara said that they wanted to make "Cuba one big school". There is a strong belief in education, in Cuban culture and free education was important as part of the legitimacy of the revolution.

In the 1960s, following the revolution, the standard of living greatly improved for the working classes. In the 1970s and 1980s, things became a lot more Soviet and there was less mobilisation. In order to ensure that kids were still learning about socialism, a new subject was proposed - civic education. The government claimed, "we're constructing a new society". Then, in 1989 just as all of the text books were ready, the end of history happened. Foreign trade dropped 85% and those new text books no longer made sense as their ideals are far removed from reality. There is an upturn in social inequality and people are barely getting by. Work ceases to have as much meaning. Many are disengaged from the political process and start to be critical of their own generation.

So, in the 2000s, a new offer was made to young people. At this time, there were a lot of protests going on. So, the government trained tens of thousands to be teachers and social workers, jobs that contained lots of responsibility. In return, they were given places at university. In 10 years, 700,000 went to university through this scheme. While doing this, work was really good at building citizenship roles, there was still a big gap between the ideology and the reality.

Key learning: Satre said, "if the United States didn’t exist, the Cuban revolution would perhaps invent it"

PubhD returns to The Vat & Fiddle on Wednesday 19  October at 7.30pm with talks on History and Medicine (and a third talk to be announced)

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