Kuril Islands (S3.06)

S03E06 Kuril Islands Audio

In this episode we’ll be talking about the Kuril Islands. This island chain is located in the Northern Pacific, and stretches between northern Japan and Kamchatka, Russia. The 56 islands extend for more than 750 miles across the ocean, and they total 10,500 square kilometers (4,000 square miles) of territory altogether, making their entire landmass roughly the same size as Lebanon or the island of Puerto Rico. The islands today have a population of roughly 20,000, and are controlled by Russia. However, the islands were previously administered by Japan  from the 18th century up until WWII, and have been subject to a land dispute ever since. Japan claims the southernmost islands as their ‘Northern Territories,’ and the conflict over them has led Moscow and Tokyo to avoid signing the peace treaty that would have formally ended the Second World War.

Your hosts, as always, are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly in Hong Kong, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 in the UK, and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Switzerland . (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle @thatthomasfella)

Flag of the Sakhalin Oblast, where the Kuril Islands are officially administered by Russia  Map showing Kuril Island chain between Hokkaido in Japan and Kamchatka in Russia. The sea of Okhotsk and the island of Sakhalin to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east

Here are a few things you may want to read/watch more about:

Joe was recently in Honshu and Hokkaido and took some photos, including from a Jomon-era archaeological site, and the the Museum of Northern Peoples in Hakodate, which listeners might find interesting. Well worth a visit if you’re ever in the neighbourhood

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Music from these islands and the neighbouring territories, some of which you heard, can be found at the following sources:

A massive thanks to all of our patrons on Patreon who are supporting season 3. If you’d like to join them and see what rewards are available for supporters, and get a peek behind the curtain check out www.patreon.com/80dayspodcast. We really appreciate the support and input!

Finally, here is a picture of some of the postcards sent from Hokkaido to our Neil Armstrong-tier patrons on Patreon – they truly are out of this world!

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Birobidzhan, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (S2.10)

Birobidzhan Audio Link

In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’ll be discussing the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (JAO), a somewhat independent region in the Russian Far East wedged between Siberia and Northern China. Its capital is the city of Birobidzhan, and with 75,000 inhabitants it is by far the most populated part of the region. For that reason, the name Birobidzhan is often used to refer to the whole area.

Officially founded in 1934 as an attempt to create a Jewish state within Russian borders, the territory was the world’s first attempt at a Jewish national homeland in modern times, and today is Russia’s only autonomous oblast. Aside from Israel, it is the world’s only officially Jewish territory. As of the 2010 Census, JAO’s population was 176,558 people, or 0.1% of the total population of Russia. Judaism is practiced by only 0.2% of the population of the JAO.

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This special episode was commissioned by one our very generous Kickstarter backers, Ian Prince from New York (who does terrible things with food on Instagram). Your hosts are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly in Hong Kong, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 in the UK, and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Switzerland. (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)

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The somewhat familiar-looking flag of Birobidzhan

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Some sources and further reading for this episode;

  • Masha Gessen’s Where The Jews Aren’t was the basis for this commissioned episode, you can find it on Amazon here, or listen to the author talk about it on NPR’s Fresh Air here
  • We also relied heavily on this excellent multimedia gallery from Swarthmore College, entitled Stalin’s Forgotten Zion.
  • An interview from People’s World with Masha Gessen provides some solid background on the region.
  • We mentioned the RT profile of Birobidzhan in this episode, you can find that here on YouTube.
  • The New York Times profiled Birobidzhan back in 2012. It’s worth a read.
  • The book Jews and Jewish Life in Russia and the Soviet Union by Yaacov Ro’i has some interesting info on the JAO and wider context surrounding Jewish communities in Russia.
  • If you’re interesting in learning more about Stalin in particular, you can check out our episode from earlier this season on Georgia, birthplace of “Joe Steel”.
  • Michigan State University has a good article on the history of the region, as well as some visual essays here.

Thanks to Louise Ireson, John Killeen, Simon Greene for your support on Kickstarter. Thanks too to Rabbi Eliyahu Riss in Birobidzhan for interviewing with us.

We also need to thank our sponsor for the season Hairy Baby, who in addition to making the funniest Irish-themed t-shirts, have also produced the official 80 Days shirt for our supporters. Find it by clicking here. You can get 10% off anything on www.hairybaby.com by using our promo code “80DAYS”.

This will be the final episode for this season, but never fear, we’ll be back with more obscure goodness soon. We’re extremely grateful to everyone who’s supported us over the past year and a bit of podcasting, and if you want to hear more stay subscribed to the feed and keep an eye on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

We’ll see you soon!

Georgia (S2.07)

S02E07 Georgia Audio

In this episode of 80 Days: an exploration podcast we’ll be talking about Georgia. Not the US state, but the country in the south caucasus, known to its inhabitants as “Sakartvelo”. This former Soviet Republic is nestled between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, and is home to around 3.7 Million people with a history dating back thousands of years. Throughout its history, Georgia has been subject to numerous larger powers, including the Mongols, the Ottoman Empire, and dynasties of Persia (Iran) and the Soviet Union. As the Iron Curtain fell, Georgia declared its independence and has operated as a modern Republic ever since. It’s neighbour to the North, Russia, however, has ensured that Georgia’s hold over independence has never been as secure as most Georgians would like. Ethnic conflicts and economic turmoil beset the country throughout the 1990s, culminating in the brief Russo-Georgian war of 2008, from which tensions still remain to this day.  

Your hosts are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly in Hong Kong, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 in the UK, and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Switzerland . (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)

Map of Georgia, indicating disputed areas

Here are a few things you may want to read/watch more about:

The stunning mountain fortress of Vardzia today (Wikimedia Commons)

Most of the music in this episode were examples of Georgian polyphonic singing, a very important style of music, being the oldest polyphonic music in the world (singled out by UNESCO as a vital aspect of cultural heritage).Some examples are:

  • “Chakrulo”, which was one of 27 musical compositions included on the Voyager Golden Records that were sent into space on Voyager 2 on 20 August 1977.
  • Here’s another example in the “Georgia and the Great Caucasus” documentary

Georgian folk dancing is also a wonderful tradition, here are a few videos of that:

Finally, we promised to include the video of the insane baptism rituals available in the Georgian Orthodox Church, so from EuroNews, here it is:

A massive thanks to the inimitable Gary O’Daly and Jeffrey Dokar, two of the backers of our recent Kickstarter Campaign – thank you for making Season 2 possible. Big thanks also to Mariam Kalandarshvili for talking to us and helping us understand (and pronounce) some elements of Georgian history; we now know that the capital is T’bee-lee-see! Thanks too to our sponsor Hairy Baby, who in addition to making the funniest Irish-themed t-shirts, have also produced the official 80 Days shirt for our supporters. Find it by clicking here. You can get 10% off anything on www.hairybaby.com by using our promo code “80DAYS”.

Lapland or “Sápmi” (Christmas Special)

Christmas Special: Lapland audio

For the festive season, 80 Days brings you a Christmas special on the most appropriate place we could think of, complete with reindeer and Santa Claus: Lapland, or – as the native Sami people prefer to call it – Sápmi. This is a large region of Fennoscandanavia, north of the Arctic Circle, with its territory spanning parts of Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia (see map). This episode will touch on all areas of Lapland, but will focus primarily on the Finnish and Norwegian sides. The area is named for the indigenous people (and their specific language grouping), who have sparsely inhabited the region for several thousand years. 

In Lapland, winter lasts from early October to early May, with temperatures well below freezing throughout the region and up to 60 cm or 23 inches of snow during midwinter. However, in summer the sun does not set on the region for several weeks at a time.  Population has declined quite significantly since 1990, and the region is now home to approximately 180,000 people. Residents are spread across a total area of just over 100,000 square kilometers, or 38,000 square miles, and there are as many reindeer here as there are people. Your hosts are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach, in Hong Kong, the UK and Switzerland, respectively. (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)

File:Corrected Sapmi in Europe.PNGFile:Sami flag.svg

Some things you might like to know more about:

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  • A lot has been written about Lapland’s most famous resident and how he came to be here. Most of it is mysterious and people make some wild guesses (often not true), but here, in no particular order, are a few resources that might be useful about Santa Claus and his village near Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland. Who is St. Nicholas (about his early years in Myra); Andrea McDonald’s account of visitingHistory of Santa Claus (on the-north-pole.com), Santa Claus and His Works (New York Times piece describing the contributions of artist Thomas Nast to the image of Santa’s snowy abode); Head to Finnish Lapland… (a 2009 article in the Independent, including descriptions of Santa’s village); Checking Out Santa’s Workshop in Lapland (a 1988 article in the LA Times describing visiting Santa in Rovaniemi). For the more cynical, a stuffy article on postmodernism and Finnish tourism policy can be found here (for all the Scrooges out there!).
  • You can often watch people visiting Santa live (or look back at earlier recordings) at this website, which is wonderfully magic

We hope you have a happy Christmas and a wonderful new year and that you are looking forward to joining us for Season 2 in the coming months. As always, please get in touch if you are enjoying what you are hearing or have anything to share with us!

 

Find out about our Christmas Kickstarter campaign by clicking here. With your help we can make Season 2 even better than Season 1!
(https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/80dayspodcast/80-days-podcast-season-2)