Friday, December 23, 2005

Samara: Home to Stalin's Bunker

Samara, known as Kuybyshev during Soviet times, is a 1+ million cityon the Volga about 600 miles southeast of Russia. And yes, Stalin's bunker was situated in Samara- indeed, the city was the country's secondary capital from 1941-43. Because the city was involved in aerospace manufacturing (including space flight), it was a 'closed city' during the cold war. (more on the bunker).

The twin city of St. Louis seems fitting. The site reveals,
Russia's get-ahead Volga region of Samara is seeking to secure itself a
glittering future as a center for Western capital, by setting up its own gold
reserves to underpin foreign investment. Samara's liberal governor Konstantin
Titov says the ambitious food-for-gold plan could help secure the region, sited
1,000 kilometers (some 620 miles) from Moscow, its place as a favored home for
overseas funds.

A worthwhile site, The Jews of Samara, notes that
The city of Samara was founded in 1568 in order to defend the southeastern
borders of the Russian state from Nogay and Crimean Tatars...(and)
Samara served as shelter for the participants in the peasant revolts of
Stepan Razin (c.1630-1671) and Yemelyan Pugachev (c.1742-1775).

Until they were relocated in 1941, many German Catholics had settled in the Samara region (among elsewhere on the Volga as well).

Strangely enough, Bulgarians produced the Samara region's flag

On the negative side, TB and hepatitis B/D appear to be problems as well as contract-style killings in the automobile industry. And the city appears not to be growing in population anymore.

photos and more photos of the city

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Tver: An unexceptional city

Yes, it serves me right for picking a Russian city (Tver) at random to explore.
However some interesting tidbits here and there:

As good a site as you will find for Tver (located between Moscow and St.Petersburg - though closer to the former). The site reveals that...
The image of modern Tver with its present, clear, and rational layout is a
unique example of 18th century architecture and city planning. Commissioned by
Catherine the Great, the renowned Italian architect Rostrelli incorporated many
of his ideas for the construction of St. Petersburg to rebuild Tver after a
disastrous fire in 1763 that destroyed many of the old buildings in the city.
Classical 1700s and early 1800s town houses and public buildings are typical of
modern Tver, especially along the downtown waterfront.

Why is it that the best websites on Russia are those advertising Russian brides?
The inside scoop is rather unflattering, as well as this. Of course, every country has these cities (even in Michigan). Pushkin's statue and other views.

I wonder if having Buffalo as its twin city means anything.

Much more intersting is who Tver was named after- Mikhail Yaroslavich (St. Michael of Tver) who had to explain his martial actions (against a competitor) to rulers from the Golden Horde. A glimpse of the Hordes power.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Kazan: Capital of Tatarstan, Russia

Kazan, a million plus city in western Tatarstan, a region that is perhaps 2/3rds Muslim (map).

The history of Kazan from Kazan State University - or you can simply view this timeline.

As in much of Russia, Kazan's architecture tells history quite well

A Washington Post article on relations between Tatars and Russians in Kazan:
We spent part of the day walking around Kazan -- which means "cauldron" in
Tatar -- asking people on the street what they thought. One thing we heard
repeatedly was that "mixed marriages" abound here, apparently more so than in
other ethnic enclaves. About half of the Tatars we stopped reported being
married to Russians, and vice versa. "How can you hate Tatars when your own
children are half-Tatar?" one woman asked me.

However, in the same article a local historian gives another answer:
There have been many governments here over the centuries," she said. "The
Bulgars, the Golden Horde, the Kazan Khanate. There was always a certain amount
of tolerance to other religions. Under the Kazan Khanate, no churches were ever
destroyed. So we have a history of tolerance here."
The she added another comment, about the Chechens themselves: "People from the Caucasus are different. Our blood doesn't run as hot as theirs."

However, Islam's importance seems to be slowing reemerging- perhaps because a very large mosque (pics) has recently been built within the city's kremlin walls- a replica of the one destroyed by Ivan the Terrible in 1552 (who failed in forcibly converting the Tatars). How the battle over Kazan proceded.

So, is fighting over religious symbols a sign of growing tension?

An Interfax report on a controversial book (A Modern History of the Islamic Community in Russia ) Orthodox believers want acknowledged .

A Christian evangelical's perspective from the '90s.

Hmm. 1 million people in Kazan, 2 million in the Tatarstan region. Thats about twice as large as Grand Rapids, Michigan and its county.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

New Guestbook

New Guestbook is at left

Stalin's Super Warriors

The Scotsman reports the whaked news of the day(year?):

Moscow archives show that in the mid-1920s Russia's top animal breeding
scientist, Ilya Ivanov, was ordered to turn his skills from horse and animal
work to the quest for a super-warrior.

According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: "I want a new
invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the
quality of food they eat."

Monday, December 19, 2005

Russian History News

  • Restoring the Kremlin to pre-revolutionary status means getting rid of Stalin's concrete structures using water jets.

  • Author Catherine Merrindale has collected stories of Red Army fighters in the Great Patriotic War for her book Ivan's war: The red army 1939-1945- a review.

Six Russian organizations have addressed the local parliament of the Far
Northern Taymyr Autonomous District asking it to return the name of the last
Russian tsar, Nicholas II, to the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago that was renamed
in Soviet times, RIA Novosti reported.
  • Per TimesOnline, Mikhail Bugakov's The Master and the Margarita is eagerly anticipated on Russian television tonight:

The Master and Margarita, which revolves around a visit by the Devil to
Moscow, is not only one of Russia’s best-loved literary works, it is also
shrouded in superstition. Some believe that the work has been cursed ever since
Bulgakov, a former doctor and journalist, completed it on his deathbed in 1940.

It was instantly banned — not least because the character of the Devil,
who is called Woland, was apparently inspired by the Soviet leader Josef

  • However, several mishaps delayed the movie's making- delays encouraging superstitous belief.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Trinity-Sergius Lavra Monastery

“To understand Russia”, wrote Philosopher Pavel Florensky, “one must understand the Lavra; to fathom the Lavra one must take a close look at its founder”.

That would be St. Sergius of Radonezh(patron saint of Russia).

A view of the monastery and its history from a NewTimes article:
I look at the hole in the southern door of the Trinity Cathedral: it was made on November 8, 1608 by a Polish cannon-ball. The yawning hole in the dark metal surface takes the visitor back to the Time of Trouble and the sixteen months of that cruel siege the Trinity-Sergius Lavra endured. Indeed, every time I see it I can hardly look away: the mark of time seems to so significantly and quaintly bring together the two centuries, remote as they are from each other.

However, wikipedia gives a good century-by-century overview of the monastery's history. Another history site.

Birds-eye drawing of the grounds- with geographic links. Only a few years ago they restored the monastary's blagovest bells. Some very good photos.

A video tour of the monastery is available.
The official site of the monastary (much like an online book) and museum.

Note: Lavra means monastary of the highest rank (1 of 3).

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