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Red Empire:

Prisoners of the Past


1 hour

Monday April 25th at 9.30am EST/ NZ

Also available on Foxtel Download and AUSTAR AnyWhere from April 25th to May 1st

This program deals with the last years of the Soviet Union. It assumes a good degree of background knowledge of events in USSR and the world in the 1960s to 1980s.

The continuing failure of the Five Year Plans and the inability of Soviet leadership to solve the subsequent economic problems are set as the context for the unraveling of the “Red Empire”.
Students of USSR history will find this a useful and provocative analysis of the last years of the Soviet Empire. The program could also be used as a contextual background to the career of Mikael Gorbachev.

Denis Mootz

This is the data collection stage of the activity.

The detailed questioning is designed to ensure that students decode the visual and aural materials presented to them in the video.

The video programs can be stopped at the end of each section. This will allow students to share and discuss answers.

Note the countries that made up the “Red Empire”

What happened at Novocherkassk in June 1962?

Why was Leonid Tolstoletov confused by the demonstration?

Act 1.
What caused the demonstration at the Novocherkassk train factory?

What did the workers want?

Note details of the demonstration.

Why were the half empty bottles of vodka and half eaten sausage?

Why did the soldiers shoot on the demonstrators? Result?

Note how the authorities responded to the massacre. Result?

Why was Khrushchev not secure as leader of USSR?

Note the details of the “Virgin Lands’ scheme. Result?

How did Khrushchev attempt to solve his budget problems? Result?

Note details of the relationship between Khrushchev and Castro.

What foreign events embarrassed Khrushchev and USSR? Result?

What ‘charges’ were brought against Khrushchev?

Note how the returning cosmonauts were greeted?
Who had replaced Khrushchev?

What was the ‘platform’ of the new leadership group?

Who was the new General Secretary of the Communist Party? Significance?

Why were writers targeted by the regime? Result?

Note the experience of Andrei Sinyavsky.

Note the mention of provisions of the ‘constitution’ of USSR.

Note the December 1965 demonstration. Result?

What were writers accused of in the trials? Result?

Why did Brezhnev ‘talk’ to Alexander Dubcek and the Czechoslovakian communists?

Why was there ‘tension’ on the border with Czechoslovakia?

What were the Red Army told of what was happening in Czechoslovakia? Result?

What happened to those who demonstrated against the invasion of Czechoslovakia?

Note the fate of the editors of the Chronicle of Current Events. Result?

Note how the Chronicle gathered information and operated.

Act 2.
Note details of the KGB.

Note details of Yuri Andropov.

Note Victor Krasin’s experience. Result?

Note the experience of Eduard Kuznetsov. Result?

Note the change in KGB policy. Result?

Note the experience of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Note details of the Baikal Amur Mainline (BAM) railway project. Significance?
Who were the Kommsomol?

Note the problems encountered in this project. Result?

What was the purpose of this project? Consequences?

Act 3.
Why did the growth of the cotton bring corruption? Result?

Why did Brezhnev visit Uzbekistan on numerous occasions?

How did the Uzbeks meet Soviet production targets?

What other impact did cotton farming have in Uzbekistan?

Why were factory and farm workers and bosses put under such pressure? Result?

Why were medals handed out by the authorities?

Why did a ‘black economy’ grow in Russia?

Why did the USSR ‘crack down’ in Georgia? Result?

Why was Georgia a problem for USSR? Result?

Why was there protest in Georgia in the late 1970s? Result?

Why did Moscow back down on this issue in Georgia? Significance?

Act 4.
Note details of the Moscow Olympics.

Why were the games ‘boycotted’ by some?

Why were the people of the USSR not aware of Brezhnev’s failing health?

Who succeeded Brezhnev?

Why wasn’t Agriculture Minister Mikhail Gorbachev considered?

Why did Andropov introduce ‘perestroika’?

Why did he target ‘grocery shops’? Result?

Why was the Chronicle of Current Events forced to shutdown?

Who succeeded Andropov?

Who succeeded Konstantin Chernenko?

Why did the world begin to change?

Useful, interesting, challenging, books, sources and websites will provide materials to supplement and complement the History presented in the video program.

The data collected here should be used in the notemaking below.

Some useful Internet sites:
Nikita Khrushchev:

Dr Fidel Castro:

Cuban Missile Crisis:
Leonid Brezhnev:
1936 USSR Constitution:



Czeckoslovakian “Uprising”:

Yuri Andropov:
War in Afghanistan:

Five Year Plans:

Eduard Shevardnadze:

Konstantin Chernenko:



Mikhail Gorbachev:


This is the collation stage of the activity. Students need to organise the field of information and begin to explore its context.
Directions and /or Inquiry questions are provided for notemaking / summary exercises that will follow the viewing of the video.

The materials / data for the summaries have been collected above.
The activity could be done in teams, groups, or by individuals, or as a class with teacher direction.

  1. Draw up a timeline / chronological chart of the events described and discussed in this program.

  1. Note details of the Five Year Plans.

  1. Note details and policies of Nikita Khrushchev.

  1. Note details and policies of Leonid Brezhnev.

  1. Note details and policies of the KGB.

  1. Note details and policies of Yuri Andropov.

  1. Note details and policies of Konstantin Chernenko.

  1. Note details of the Afghan war.

  1. Note details of the suppression of ‘dissidents’ in USSR.

  1. Note details and policies of Mikhail Gorbachev.

Key issues and inquiry questions that have been raised by the video are addressed at this stage for discussion and research.

  1. How did the government of USSR encourage economic growth?

  1. Why was ‘freedom of speech’ denied to citizens of USSR?

Questions of reliability and validity of the perspectives, evidence and sources presented in the video program need to be considered, tested and researched.

  1. Why was ‘corruption’ such a problem in USSR economy?

  1. How successful was the KGB in suppressing ‘dissidents’?


The key issues and inquiry questions are potential topics for debate, essay writing, reports, historical recount and explanation.

  1. Write a REPORT on the Five Year Plans.

  1. Prepare notes (both sides) for a DEBATE of the proposition that

The ‘fall’ of the USSR was inevitable once the ‘old guard’ had passed away.

  1. Explain the failure of USSR economy in the 1980s.

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