Saturday, November 19, 2005

Old Believers: Far and away

Old Believers: religious community that broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century to protest patriarch Nikon's (more Byzantine-minded) reforms. Today they live in isolated communities throughout Alaska and Russia.

I've always been fascinated by how isolated Old Believer's communities have been. I remember reading a few years ago that an Old Believer settlement in Siberia was only discovered in the '60s after a Soviet helicopter pilot inadvertently flew over their clearing in the woods. Even today, these religious communities prefer to be left alone, as this one reporter can attest:

I felt at ease in the company of my fellow outcasts, who seemed to accept my ‘Western’ attire, my ‘modernised’ Russian language, my shaven beard-less face, even my camera (the Old Believers are notoriously camera-shy). There was only one thing about me that they could not come to grips with: smoking.

"In Voznesenka, they would attack you with an axe, if they saw you with a cigarette in your mouth," Iona told me with a grimace of disapproval on his face. I made a mental note never to come close to the village of Voznesenka, which had a reputation of being even more reclusive and more conservative than Nikolaevsk.

A great many live in Russia's Altai mountains bordering Mongolia, locating there to avoid past state persecution (pics included). Another account of their life in Alaska. Kudos to their sacrifice and devotion.

Update: The Clone Fact blogs on meeting Old Believers and smallpox in Siberia

Catherine's Necklace- not lunch money

Looks like Catherine the Great's necklace just sold for $1.5 million- "the most important historical neckalce Sothebys has sold in 30 years" reportedly. The necklace includes a 10.5 ounce pearl.

Update: DiamondVue has more on specs and background

Like her predecessor Elizabeth- "who was a woman of exceeding beauty, she loved dancing, jewelry and expensive dresses", Catherine the Great was no slouch. She helped instigate the Hermitage and introduced opera into Russia (stating with a decree that “Russian Theater should be not merely for comedies and tragedies, but also for operas", perhaps the impetus for St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre to open shortly afterward).

Recently, her statue has been returned to Moscow (having been spirited away in the '50s "for safety"). This may be the same statue pictured above.

BTW, whereas Putin used to have Peter the Great's portrait hanging in his KGB office, perhaps its not surprising that Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel has a framed picture of German-born Catherine the Great on her desk ("an example of a strong woman.")

Friday, November 18, 2005

Battle of Kulikovo

625 years since the Battle of Kulikovo, where the Russians finally repelled the Mongols back to the east. How the Russians came about the battle and won. Also: a stamp and coins comemmorating the event, , and the battle scheme, and local musuem website

Not surprisingly, earlier this year Tatar officials let it be known they had no use for celebrating the battle. Even revisionist history maybe employed to temper ethnic tensions in this case.

Before the battle, grand prince of Vladimir and Moscow Dmitry Donskoy (shown charging above), famously noted that “If we win , we shall save ourselves. If we die , we shall all take a common death, a prince and an ordinary warrior alike.”

How the battle location looks today.

Who New? Peter the Great's biggest fan

Looks like Putin maybe a fan of Peter the Great, of all people.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Children's Books of the Early Soviet Era

My wife used to be a Children's librarian - and learned to speak Russian in Kaliningrad. I think she would find Children's Books of the Early Soviet Era kinda cool.

Gorbachev's Dacha in the Crimea

A tour of Yelagin Palace in St. Petersburg, the Imperial Summer Palace of the Russian Tsars. Given how cold it is in St. Petersburg most of the year, I would have taken the Crimea. After all, they have beautiful weather and dachas- for instance, the dacha Gorbachev vacationed at during the 1991 coup

Stalin's paranoia

If I were a Russian, perhaps I would take my summer vacation in the Valdai Hills (near Novgorod). While researching Valdai's famous bells, I came across a small but telling sample of Stalin's paranoia (scroll down). In 1940, Stalin was angry that he had gone to a retreat in Valdai that was on a Peninsula- near the Finnish front.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Russian Coinage

Several pics and a brief history on how Russian coins were struck during the latter part of Alexander II's reign.

Criticism of Zhukov

Interestingly enough, the Atlantic recently revealed that Victor Suvorov has a book (I Take My Words Back- not yet translated) critical of Zhukov and the Red Army that is #1 on Moscow's reading list. Suvorov, author of Inside the Red Army has another book, Shadow of Victory also critical Zhukov (most notably citing his art looting of Nazi Germany -train loads full). And, given the Russian troop's reputation for raping and pillaging in World War II, I'm sure there is plenty more to be critical about.

Every reformer has a trusted ally.

Last night, reading about Alexander II's man Prime Minister Peter Stolypin (perhaps the only man to blunt the Czar's reactionary attitudes before being killed in 1911), I wondered how many reformist Russian leaders have had a trusted adviser/reformer that has threatened to resign (as Stolypin did) when reactionary forces begin to gain the day?

I remember when Edvard Shevardnaze resigned- warning Gorbachev (December, 1990) that he would regret allowing rightist forces to gain the upper hand (and he was).

More recently, Alexander Voloshin, Putin's Chief of Staff, trusted adviser and Yeltsin holdover, resigned over the Khodorkovsky affair (and perhaps Putin's growing reliance on (conservative) ex-security members for his staff- or siloviki-as well). However, to Putin's credit, he appointed Dmitry Medvedev, a St. Petersburg reformer, to become Chief-of-Staff- and is currently rumored as Putin's hand-picked successor.

Finally, I reviewed the Khrushchev era to find out that Marshall Zhukov (pictured above) was a trusted adviser as well- one whose popularity induced jealosy from both Khrushchev and Brezhnev. A real military hero, Zhukov tempted fate by prancing ceremoniously on a horse to wide applause during a 1945 Victory Day parade- Stalin was not pleased (demoted, not killed).

Zhukov supported Khrushchev against his enemies- Beria and Molotov- and bravely denounced
neo-Stalinists within the Party at the time. But his popular appeal was too much a threat to Khruschev- and he was expelled from his Central Committee Chair. Incidentally, I was surprised to find A MUSEUM dedicated to him (though I should not- I get the impression that state museums are everywhere in the Soviet Union).

How does Zhukov (for those that remember) fare today. Moscow News reports that a survey in 2001 by the Russian Civil Service Academy shows the following approval ratings:

32.9% Joseph Stalin
90.2% Peter the Great
39.9% Vladimir Lenin
80.8% Georgy Zhukov

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Life of Tsar Alexander II, in some ways Russia's Lincoln, continues to generate interest in Moscow. Edward Radzinsky, a playwright and recent author of Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar, recently spoke about his book at a packed (1500-seat) Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. His appearance was recorded and replayed on TV for several days.

Tsar Alexander II ushered in many historical reforms for the Russian state. Most notably, he reenergized the economy by abolishing serfdom, introduced universal military training, created local councils (zemstvos) , and redirected foreign policy away from expansionism. However, he faced many assassination attempts and in April 1881, after safely escaping a bomb thrown at his carriage, was mortally wounded after attending to injuries suffered by his security detail by a previous bomb. Ironically, Alexander's assassins ruined any chance for deliberation on a liberal constitution, for which Alexander II was studiously attempting to deliver.

In June of this year, a monument to Alexander II was dedicated in Moscow near the cathedral of Christ the Savior. This article disparages Putin's negative reaction to the event, explaining how his repressive policies compare quite unfavorably with Alexander II (and Yeltsins as well). Very interesting. Of course, I learned in my graduate studies that repression in Russian history tends to zigzag- yes thats the term.

Perhaps the reason the Alexander's statue was dedicated has to do with the immediate return of Felix Dzerzhinsky's statue (despotic founder, KGB) to Moscow (among the first statues to be pulled down when the Soviet Union collapsed). Moscow Mayor Luzhkov can be credited with this kindly gesture. An interview with the Alfred Kokh, funding & idea originator for this statue explaining how why Alexander's statue is important today.

Life in 1900 St.Petersburg

A photographic travelogue of 1900 St.Petersburg gives a much better feel for historians than dry text. In the picture at right, carriages await customers strolling in the Summer Garden. In the distance is a small chapel commemorating the attempted assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1866.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Jews in Russia

An excellent site with pics on the History of Jews in Russia. Russia and other post-Soviet countries still remain particularly vulnerable to anti-semitism.

The Palace of the Soviets

Unrealized Moscow details unfinished architectural plans from the thirties to the fifties. These fascinating pictures look as if they're stage project drawings for a sci-fi fantasy set. Of course, many were simply unworkable monuments to Stalin's ego. In fits and starts, work continued on them with the expectation that they would eventually be completed (Ceauscescu completed once such building, a People's Palace in Bucharest that remains mostly vacant) . Concept drawing for The Palace of the Soviets (noted in the previous post) is illustrated at right.

Kudos to the above site, especially well-designed as a slide show with a minimalist feel.

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