VDNKh as World's Fair
Thank you for a fascinating presentation, Liya. Your intro describes VDNKh as a kind of 'World's Fair' - and the site's resemblance to Chicago 1893, in particular, is striking. Could you tell us a little more about Stalin's conception of the National Exhibition, its aims and its intended audience. Given the paranoid character of the Soviet state in the mid-1930s, it seems unlikely that many international visitors would have actually seen it? Or is that not the case? How was VDNKh presented to the non-Soviet world? Primarily in photographs?
Thanks for your question! There was less international visitation of the exhibition under Stalin, but in the Khrushchev years it was actively promoted abroad.
When it was visited during the Stalin-era, it was very controlled, and the aim was to have good press about the "harmonious" Soviet state broadcast abroad. VDNKh was mostly aimed at domestic tourists and aimed to show the socialist "world" within one country. Stalin's goal was to show that the entire country was working towards the same goals, of communism, and that despite ethnic or geographical differences they all supported the central state. Getting this message out was important to him in the pre-war years where there was high suspicion and paranoia of different populations. VDNKh was opened in 1939, which was after the Soviet Pavilion at the 1937 World's Fair in Paris, and did expand a lot of the new VDNKh displays off of the international reaction to their display.
Under the "Khrushchev Thaw", international visitation skyrocketed, and there was opportunities for cultural exchanges that hadn't existed under Stalin in all facets of culture and tourism. Even then Vice-President Nixon visited VDNKh on a trip to Moscow. Of course, in these years the park was re-organized towards a industry angle, and there was less displays of nationalities. Nevertheless, visitors were able to tour the pavilions and learn about the economic diversity of the Soviet Union.