How Not to Network a Nation. The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet

(Ben Green) #1

128 Chapter 4

witch of eastern European folklore), this forest served as a curiously natu-
ralistic cradle for Lebedev’s MESM, which was then the emblem of the new
Soviet religion of rational scientific progress. In the center of an opening in
the woods stands St. Panteleimon’s Cathedral (Panteleimonivs’kii sobor), a
high point of Russian revival ecclesiastical architecture since its construc-
tion in 1905 to 1912 (figures 4.5 and 4.6).
Nearby stands a two-story brick building that tells a story of a compli-
cated intersection of faith, madness, murder, and science. Initially built as a
dormitory for Eastern Orthodox priests, the building was looted during the
1917 Russian revolution and converted into a psychiatric hospital. In 1941,
the Nazis murdered its patients and established it as a military hospital. In
1948, the badly damaged building was transferred to Lebedev’s work on the
newest icon of Soviet atheism—that triumph of human rationality and cre-
ativity that was the automated computer. Six thousand vacuum tubes and
two years of astonishing effort later, Lebedev’s team turned on the monster
calculating machine in 1950. A sense of collaborative, dedicated work ethic
lingered in the decades thereafter, and a sense of local autonomy that was
away from the watchful eyes of Moscow pervaded the area of Feofania.
Researchers who received housing nearby rarely chose to leave, even when
offered more prestigious positions. Informal play and even troublemak-
ing abounded. To the priests’ chagrin today, engineers sometimes tested

Figure 4.5
St. Panteleimon’s cathedral and monastery (left), which housed the MESM.

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