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The all-embracing volumes

Every time I speak on the cruises, someone asks me to recommend a book in English, that would cover all of Russia's history from the beginning to the present. Preferably, both concise and comprehensive. Of course, no single volume can embrace all that is Russia. Besides, when one author covers such a mammoth topic, such a book inevitably contains some factual errors. Every time I look through such big books, I come across mistakes. For example in the most fascinating book on Peter the Great by Robert Massie my hometown of Taganrog (founded by Peter the Great) is mentioned twice, but never correctly ('Tagonrog' and 'Tagenrog'). Martin Sixsmith in "Russia: A 1000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East" speaks of the flat low rate of income tax contributing greatly to the budget of Russia. In reality, the money raised from the personal income tax is divided between corresponding regional and municipal budgets, nothing goes to the federal budget. In "Natasha's Dance" by Orlando Figes I read that in the novel "War and Peace" Levin comes to Moscow to court Kitty - but these are the characters of "Anna Karenina". The list of such examples goes on and on.

If you are not as pedantic as I am, and as indulgent as you were while attending my talks, please ignore my remark.

Of the relatively recent accounts of Russia, I would recommend three books.

1) Martin Sixsmith's "Russia: A 1000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East". The above mentioned one. Its merits outweight the imperfections. It is based on the series of talks the author held on BBC radio 2. I also bumped into his publications in 'National Geographic'. His synthesis of a reporter's experience and scholarly information make the book exceptionally interesting and entertaining.

2) Philip Longworth's "Russia's Empires. From Prehistory to Putin". The author is a Canadian scholar who analyzes the cycles of expansion, collapse and recovery of the Russian civilization. Harder reading than the previous one, but definitely merits your concentrated attention.

3) Geoffrey Hosking's "Russia and the Russians" is another scholarly volume that meets the demand of an intelligent and culturally inclines reader. I like the introduction explaining how the environment shaped Russia, the themes of the traditional cuisine and vodka drinking and many other things. Again, another comprehensive and extended coverage of the country, 'understood yet not understood'in whose mirror you'll better appreciate your own'.

Enjoy the reading.

Inna Gritsenko

The Beginning. Periodizations.

Well, the cruise season has started. We have 88 tourists from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK. Seem to be quite merry fellows. The weather is smiling on them so far.
When I asked about the associations of Russia, the string of answers included KGB, Russia's size, tsars, great writers, propensity for aggression (and Syria was referred to) and propensity for suffering.
Some do not know the difference between the USSR and Russia today, thinking that Putin is presiding over Ukraine and other former Soviet republics that have been sovereign states since 1991. Some state that Putin is no different from Khrushchev and Brezhnev by demeanor. It also seems that the US presidential race has overshadowed all other ongoing developments in the world.

Was asked to repeat the periodization of five Russia's empires.

Ancient Rus or Kievan Rus (IX – XIII) followed by the Mongol-Tatar invasion
Muscovy of the Rurikids (XV-XVI) ended with the Time of Troubles
The Romanov Empire (1613-1917)
The Communist Russia (1917-1991)
The Postcommunist Russia (1991 -)

As you see, Russia has been developing in cycles of boom and bust, following the algorithm of expansion and growth, catastrophic collapse and spectacular recovery.

And the periodization of the Communist times:

Oct. 1917 – March 1921 – Civil War.War Communism.
March 1921 – 1929 – The NEP (New Economic Policy)
1929 – 1953 – Stalin's Totalitarianism.
1956 – 1964 – Khrushchev's Thaw.
1964 – 1982 – Brezhnev. Stagnation.
1985 – 1991 – Gorbachev's Perestroika.

*1953 – 1956 the head of state was G. Malenkov.
*1982 – 1985 – the short rule of Y. Andropov and K. Chernenko.

Chekhov's Humoresque

Coming from Taganrog, I naturally have a deep-seated feeling of spiritual connection to Anton Chekhov, like to quote from him, and call upon all of you to draw from his proverbial wisdom.

The following statement was a mantra of many parents in Soviet times. My mother never missed a chance to reiterate it.
'A well-mannered person is not the one who does not spill the sauce on the table cloth, but the one who preteneds not to notice when someone else has done it.' (From 'The House with the Mezzanine').

One more: 'If your wife has betrayed you, be glad that she's betrayed you, and not the nation'. It is from the humoresque I am offering to your attention. I wonder why in the world, whatever piece of translation from the Russian classics I happen to read, I always find that something is omitted. ('The Dead Souls' by N. Gogol [Penguin Classics], 'Life and Fate' by V. Grossman), so that the meaning is somehow distorted. I am even beginning to suspect that it is being done by design.

The following essay in the original has a very important subtitle. 'To Those Who Are About to Commit Suicide'. As you know, Chekhov was a professional medical man and knew much about psychiatry. Pondering on the nature of suicides in Russia compared to Europe, he wrote: 'In Western Europe people perish from the congestion and stifling closeness, but with us it is from the spaciousness... The expanses are so great that the little man hasn't the resources to orient himself... This is what I think about Russian suicides.' (Letter to D.V. Grigorovich, February 5, 1888).

So, you could print this text and reat whenever you are in distress. Maybe it will save your life, who knows...

Life is Wonderful

by Anton Chekhov


Life is quite an unpleasant business, but it is not so very hard to make it wonderful. For which purpose it is not enough that you should win 200,000 roubles in a lottery, or receive the order of the White Eagle, or marry a beautiful woman -- all these blessings are transitory and are liable to become a habit. But to feel continuously happy, even in moments of distress and sorrow, the following is needed:
(a) To be satisfied with your present state; and
(b) To rejoice in the knowledge that things might have been much worse.
When your matches suddenly go off in your pocket, rejoice and offer thanks to heaven that your pocket is not a gunpowder magazine.
When your relations come to pay you a visit during your holiday in the country, don't turn pale, but exclaim triumphantly: "How very lucky it is not the police!"
If you get a splinter in your finger, rejoice that it is not in your eye.
If your wife and sister-in-law practises scales on the piano, don't lose your temper, but be grateful for the joy that you are listening to music, and not to the howling of jackals, or to a cat's concert. Rejoice that you are not a tram-horse, nor a Koch bacillus, nor a trichina, nor a pig, nor an ass, nor a bear lead by a gipsy, nor a bug.
Be happy that you're not limped, not blind, not deaf, not mute, not affected with cholera...
Rejoice that at the moment you are not a prisoner in the dock; that you are not interviewing your creditors, and that you have not to arrange the question of fees with Turba, the editor.
If you can live in a place not so remote as Siberia, can't you feel pleased at the idea, that by mere chance you might have been deported there?
If you have pain in one tooth, rejoice that it is not all your teeth that are aching.
Rejoice that you can afford not to read the 'Daily Citizen'; that you have not to drive a sewage cart, nor to be married to three women simultaneously.
If you are removed to a police cell, jump for joy that it is not the fiery gehenna that you have been taken to.
If you are flogged with a birch rod, kick your legs in rapture, and exclaim: "How very happy I am that it is not nettles I am being flogged with!"
If your wife has been unfaithful to you, rejoice that she has betrayed merely yourself, and not your country.
And so forth... Follow my advice, good soul, and your life shall be jubilation.

[* This piece appeared in the original in No. 17 of the humorous paper 'Oskolki' in 1885, when Chekhov, then only twenty-five, was being paid
literally in farthings for his contributions. 'Life is Wonderful' has not been included in Chekhov's collected works. *]
"Plays and Stories by Anton Tchekhov"
translated by S.S. Koteliansky
pages 354-355
Everyman Library #941
J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London

My Kitchen

Recently, I was told that my newly redesigned kitchen, with its khokhloma decorations and firebird tiles is good to receive foreign visitors. Well, dear foreign visitors, welcome. The area is about 15 sq. m. The curtain is made by my mother. When our elderly neighbour saw her work, she joked that some decades earlier we would have been dekulakized. (Kulak (literally 'fist') was a term used in the beginning of the XX c, first as a compliment to an affluent peasant, and after the Revolution, to designate a wealthy peasant who exploits his poor fellow villagers. When Stalin started collectivization, 2 mln not just wealthy, but more or less well-off peasants were banished to Siberia. Over 400 000 were killed or died on the way. Others had to start their life anew. All their property, up to personal effects, was taken over by those poor neighbours.) Though, it's not about wealth, as you can see, but creativity.

The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food

Hello, my dear readers, listeners, and everybody.

Again, I am presented with a chance to lecture on the Uniworld cruises in Russia, so it would be appropriate to resurrect my journal. My listeners constantly demand for something to read of my humble authorship.

The emphasis on gustatory satisfaction seems to be the utmost priority on those trips. Indeed, food on board is abundant and beautifully prepared. I've been told that I'm 'serving intellectual food' and recommended to 'sprinkle' my historical narration with up-to-the-minute comments on current affairs. The gastronomic metaphors remind me that I no longer find myself in the world of education, but in the sector of obsequious service. Yes, I am there for your good cheer, once your palates and gullets are tended.

Even if food and drink are not quite my area of expertise, I'm taking the liberty to barge in with some remarks on the topic from time to time.

As a child, I was fond of picture-books. To this day the pictures of Russian and European fairy-tales, of the Firebird and the Hunchback Horse, of Cinderella and the Sleeping Beauty remain imprinted in my mind, along with those of... pelmeni, cheese, salads, sweets, cakes, banquet table appointmets. Look at these beautiful examples of food stylizing taken from the Soviet Kitchen Bible – 'The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food”. Despite being a food nihilist in my childhood, I was spellbound by the illustrations of that cookbook. By the way, some think they are colorized photos. Not at all – they are actually remarkably realistic paintings.

And these are not all.

The Book (the edition of 1964, 424 pages; the price – 2 roubles) is a part of my family heritage. It is by no means an ordinary cookbook. It's a memorial of the Soviet era, in a sense, the gastronomic equivalent
of the Moscow Metro. There were a dozen edition with 8 million copies inspiring and guiding generations of those who cook at home, that is practically everyone in my country.

The first edition was released in 1939 as a project of the Ministry of Food Industry headed by Anastas Mikoian. The terror-filled second half of 1930s was marked by the ideological switch from the asceticism of the early bolshevism to a more prosperous, even bourgeois lifestyle. The bulk of the population was half-starving and still reeled from the horrors of the forced collectivization leaving millions dead of famine. But in big privileged cities there were evident improvements in living standards of some privileged categories of the population. The government propagated 'prosperous and cultured' living of the builders of communism.

The book carries recipes of all kinds of dishes, guiding principles of home cooking, of healthy eating, suggested daily menus, historical information on the traditional Russian cuisine, the lists of dishes for the people with various health problems. That all made up the food cannon of the Soviet Russia. Being a powerful means of the official propaganda of the advantages of socialism, the book, however, contains some telltale details, such as the precautions to be taken by those who do not have a refrigerator at home, that is not to keep the food for too long. Canned goods and convinience foods are promoted so that the builders of communism would save time and energy for work and play, being freed from the kitchen slavery. No recipes from other countries are included into the Canon, but the traditional dishes of the Soviet republics.

Still the Book is most interesting, gripping, inspiring and stimulating. Helpful and practical as well.

When Jews got allowed to emigrate from the USSR, they couldn't take more than 40 kg of luggage. Many of them took that hefty volume (mine weighs 1.3 kg) with them. It was worth keeping.

Sometimes I use it as a book of reference. However, as Lenin put it, it 'is not a dogma, but a guidance to action'. When it comes down to proportions of ingredients or the time of cooking, you should take into consideration what you have on your kitchen table – the consistence of batter or dough for blini or pelmeni, for instance. Follow your senses. If they let you down, if you are a novice, you'd better combine reading with learning from someone more experienced, who would be able to show you what it all should be like by appearance, texture, touch and taste, who would help you with the techniques of cooking. For example I boil pelmeni for a little longer than the Book recommends, for safety reasons. The amount of flour added depends of the characterisitcs of the flour – be guided by your senses, unless you want to throw all the produce away. I always put much less sugar into cakes and jams – simply can not bear the deadly sweetness that is presupposed. It all applies to any cookbook if you use it as a manual. I dare say that modern cookbooks, both Russian and foreign, are far less reliable.

The English-speaking readers are fortunate to have the Book of Healthy and Tasty Food trastlated and published in 2012.

“The Book of Healthy and Tasty Food. Iconic Cookbook of the Soviet Union” is the full title.

//A very interesting research conducted by the “Russkiy Reporter” ('Russian Reporter') magazine was based on the extensive polls among people ageing from 18 to 72, living in various parts of the country, and belonging to different social groups. Contrary to their expectations, the Russian society appeared not as fragmented as it seems these days. Being asked about the books that they consider most important as the basis of our national mentality and set of values (not necessarily the books that they like personally) most respondents named the same books – those that we read, tend to refer to, like to quote from. Here is the list of books that have formed the consciousness of the Russian nation. Half of them were written by foreign authors thus but still formed our outlook on life.

Here is the list of 100 books that make up the Russian literary genome (in order of importance). Want to understand the Russians? Go ahead!

1.“The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov

2.“Eugene Onegin” by Alexander Pushkin

3.“Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

4.“War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy

5.“The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

6.“A Hero of Our Time” by Mikhail Lermontov

7.“The Twelve Chairs” by Ilya Ilf and Eugene Petrov

(Sorry: by Ilf and Petrov – the translators into English have chosen to deprive the authors of their first names. I was once pinned to the wall by one of my listeners for saying Herbert Wells, as we do in Russia, instead of the conventional H. G. Wells. No one understands who is Herbert Wells in the English-speaking world. A sigh!..

8.“1984” by George Orwell

9.“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

10. “Harry Potter” by J. K. Rowling

11. “Dead Souls” by Nikolai Gogol

12. “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy

13. “The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

14. “The Picture of Dorian Grey” by Oscar Wilde (My favourite English language writing which is always with me wherever I go)

15. “Woe from Wit” by Alexander Griboyevov

(By the way, 'Alexander Griboyevov' was previously the name of 'River Victoria' cruise ship. He was the head of the Russian diplomatic mission in Tehran and was brutally by the Islamist fanatics in 1829. “Woe from Wit” is a play included into the Russian school literature programme. Yet Griboyevov was a fine composer. Only two waltzes survived to this day. I can play both on the piano.)

16. “Fathers and Sons” by Ivan Turgenev

17. “The Lord of the Rings” by John J. R. R. Tolkien

18. “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger

19. “Three Comrades” by Erich Maria Remarque

20. “Doctor Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak

21. "Heart of a Dog" by Mikhail Bulgakov

22. "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll

23. "The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

24. "Sherlock Holmes" by Arthur Conan Doyle

25. "The Three Musketeers" by Alexandre Dumas

26. "The Captain's Daughter" by Alexander Pushkin

27.  "We" by Yevgeny Zamyatin

28 ."The Government Inspector" by Nikolai Gogol

29. "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare

30. "The Old Man and the Sea" by Ernest Hemingway

31. "Dark Alleys" by Ivan Bunin

32. "Faust" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

33. "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury

34. The Bible

35. "The Trial" by Franz Kafka

36. "The Golden Calf" by Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov

37. "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley

38. "Quiet Flows the Don" by Mikhail Sholokhov

39. "Homo Zapiens" by Victor Pelevin

40. "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare

41. "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen

42. "The Two Captains" by Veniamin Kaverin

43. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey

44. "Dunno's Adventures" trilogy by Nikolai Nosov

45. "Oblomov" by Ivan Goncharov

46. "Monday Begins on Saturday" by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

47. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain

48. "The GULAG Archipelago" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

49. "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

50. "Dandelion Wine" by Ray Bradbury

51. "The Wizard of the Emerald City" by Alexander Volkov

52. "Finn Family Moomintroll" by Tove Jansson

53. "The History of a Town" by Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin

54. "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov

55. "All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque

56. "For Whom the Bell Tolls" by Ernest Hemingway

57 "Arch of Triumph" by Erich Maria Remarque

58. "Hard to be a God" by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

59. "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" by Richard Bach

60. "The Count of Monter Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas

61. "Martin Eden" by Jack London

62. "Moscow To the End of the Line" by Venedikt Yerofeev

63. "The Belkin Tales" by Alexander Pushkin

64. "Nausea" by Jean-Paul Sarte

65. "Flowers For Algernon" by Daniel Keyes

66. "The White Guard" by Mikhail Bulgakov

67. "Demons" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

68. "Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri

69. "Fight Club" by Chuck Palahniuk

70. "The Cherry Orchard" by Anton Chekhov

Well, this is the 'top 70' for today. Of course, to be continued and commented.

Reascending the Throne?

The House of the Romanovs are offered to return to Russia.

Such an extravagant initiative came from a deputy of legislative assembly of Leningrad region, Vladimir Petrov. He believes that the return of the Imperial dynasty will symbolize revival of the spiritual power of the country. So the history is supposed to repeat itself and the Times of Troubles should be finalized with the enthronement of another monarch.

Mr Petrov sent letters to the two rival heads of the Romanov clan permanently residing abroad, - Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna in Spain and Prince Dmitry Romanovich in Denmark. Here The House of the Romanovs members are offered to return to Russia.

Such an extravagant initiative came from a deputy of legislative assembly of Leningrad region, Vladimir Petrov. He believes that the return of the Imperial dynasty will symbolize revival of the spiritual power of the country. So the history is supposed to repeat itself and the Times of Troubles should be finalized with the enthronement of another monarch.

Mr Petrov sent letters to the two rival heads of the Romanov clan permanently residing abroad, - Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna in Spain and Prince Dmitry Romanovich in Denmark. Here is an extract from the epistle to Maria Vladimirovna:

"Your Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna!
Throughout the history of their reign, the Imperial dynasty of the Romanovs was one of the foundations of Russian statehood... Today, a difficult process of restoring Russia's greatness and its return to world influence is underway. I am sure that at this crucial historic moment, members of the Imperial House of Romanov can't stay away form processes taking place in Russia.
...the return of the descendants of the last Russian Tsar to their historic homeland will contribute to the smoothing of political contradictions in the country, remaining from the times of the Octover revolution, and will become a symbol of revival of the spitirual power of the peoples of Russia. ...
"Descendants of the Royal family can play an important symbolic role in the life of Russian society. As in many European countries, the Romanovs could become a symbol of preservation of traditions and national culture."

The MP suggests that the Romanovs could participate in public ceremonies.

The leislative assembly of the Leningrad region is planning to draft a bill "On special status of members of the Royal family" to provide conditions for the return of the descendants of Romanovs. For example, the official residence of the Romanovs in Russia is proposed to be one of the palaces in the suburbs of St. Petersburg or even in Crimea. Mr Petrov says that "To this day many beautiful Royal palaces in the suburbs are empty or misused." He speaks about Ropshinsky and Pavlovsky palaces near St. Petersburg, or in Livadia in Crimea.

The Director of the Chancellery of the Russian Imperial house responded that representatives of the House are ready to move to Russia for permanent residence, but they need legal provisions. Duchess Maria Vladimirovna "does not claim any property nor political powers or privileges, but  wants that, as in most countries of the world, the Imperial house could be a historical institution and part of historical heritage. It is a cultural recognition, but it should be expressed through a legal instrument. Only then the Imperial house will move. Currently there is not even a place of residence for the members of the house in Russia."

By the way, Pavlovsly palace and park are 'misused' as a museum. Ropshinsky palace requires expensive restoration and is intended to house a school for restorers. Livadia in Crimea (where the Yalta conference once took place) would be the most interesting choice from the political standpoint. Imagine the Romanovs living in the region the sanctions are imposed on.

Currently, there are two main branches of the Romanov family - Kirillovichs and Nikolaevichs. The former call themselves "The Imperial house in exile", headed by Maria Vladimirovna, the latter is the association of descendants of the house of the Romanovs, headed by Prince Dmitriy Romanovich. In accordance with the law on succession established by Paul I, the legitimate heirs to the throne are the Kirillovichs, even if the rival wing of the clan do not recognize their supremacy.

After the murder of Nicholas II and his family, Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, who at the time lived in Germany, became the legitimate heir. He proclaimed himselrf "Emperor in exile" in 1924. But he was not popular with the other Romanovs for joining the jubilant revolutionary crowd in St. Petersburg after the abdication of Nicholas. But genealogically he was the next in line, and the branch of the Kirillovichs stems from him.

After the revolution, the Romanovs resided in different countries - Germany, France, England, Denmark, where their descendants continue to live. In the early 1990s nearly one Russian man in five supported the idea of their return. They often come and participate in pubic events, they are welcomed at the high level. Back in 1994 Boris Yeltsyn issued a decree proclaming Grand Duke Georgiy Mikhailovich, Maria's son, to be the legitimate heir to the Russian throne. A year ago publich opinion polls showed that 28 % of Russian either would like or do not mind to have a tsar on the  throne again.

Still, I have strong doubts that people would welcome Maria or/and George, or any other Romanov as their new symbolic monarch. The members of the Imperial House do not appear on TV, there are no interviews for the press. At best, their representatives speak on their behalf,  when necessary. They are complete aliens to the people. Prince Harry is much better known in Russia than 'Prince Gosha'.

Besides that, highly indicative was the fact that during the celebrations of the 400 years of the Romanov dinasty, the living Romanovs and the President Putin were attending the same memorial places, but their visits never coincided. Putin never gave an audience to any of the Romanovs. It's unlikely that he would sign the bill on their special status to become law. I think he doesn't approve of the idea.

As for me, I am not ready to be 'ensubjected' to any tsars, even if Prince Gosha seems to me incomparably nobler than Prince Harry.

Inna Gritsenko

I plan to lecture on the "River Victoria" run by Uniworld since Jule 26. Hope to have a noble audience with open minds. Will tell more about the tsarist, communist and contemporary Russia.

This is rather a short essay for speakers, lecturers, orators. Lecturing on the ships for travellers appears to be a very specific format of public speaking, and most enjoyable one.

There is an abundance of manuals on oratorical mastery, from the classical Dail Carnegy to “Speak Like Putin”. Very interesting reading, but I’m not sure that any of such books really influenced me as a lecturer. However, I have formulated some elements of the technology of lecturing that could be of use for others.

1.       Deer-herder principle. In actuality a herder doesn’t herd deer. It’s the other way around. He simply follows the animals moving from one locality to another when the food is exhausted. I monitor the interests of my people and am guided by them. Their conversations, questions and comments help me to compose lectures. It appears, there are certain trends of the popular topics depending of current events, documentaries shown in their countries and so on.


2.       Scales principle.  I always try to put something on another scale to present a balanced view by contrast to currently predominant ideas. For example, if Gorbachev is feted in the West, it is essential to show the other side of his personality and actions and explain what serious reservations people in Russia have about him and the questions that have not yet been answered (like the bloodshed in Vilnus or the mysteriously vanished gold of the Communist Party). If Stalin is viewed as the embodiment of the absolute evil, it would be interesting to present the aspects of his personality that make him an exciting figure to at least half of the Russian population.


3.       Charles Dickens principle. It is widely known – “Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait”. The enjoyment of humor or announcements of needs no explanation. As for crying, I am proud that sometimes any of my listeners shed a tear over the fate of the last Russian emperor and his family, those who died of starvation in 1949, or over the argument of the song about a soldier coming home after 25 years in the tsarist army and taking his grown-up daughter for his wife. Yes, it happens rarely, but to me this is most precious.


4.       Glossy magazine principle.  There are always people on the covers of such magazines. The lecture must be populated by interesting personalities with their life stories, strong qualities and weaknesses,  glories and tragedies. In each of my lecture at least two characters figure – Ivan the Terrible and Nicholas II, Lenin and Stalin, Gorbachev and Yeltsin, Putin and Medvedev. It can be called the tandem principle.


5.       Small company visualization.  No matter how professional, experienced, competent you are, it’s normal to be nervous confronting a large audience. Dail Carnegy recommends an orator to imagine that everyone in the audience owes him money to build up his courage. To me it doesn’t help at all.  Such an exercise would drive me mad, and the awareness that I was foolish enough to lend money to one hundred people would deprive me of the rest of my confidence.

My first experience of lecturing was often recalled by my late father. When I was eight only, we went by train to see my grandmother living in Chechnya. Father fell asleep on the upper bunk. When he woke up, several men gathered in our compartment, all were listening to me with their mouths open, and I was explaining politics! He was very proud to receive their congratulations. It was one of those rare moments when my perfectionist father took pride in what I did.

I prefer to remember myself at the age of eight talking to the small company of listeners in the train compartment. I try to imagine that there are not one hundred but some ten people in the auditorium. If I manage that the lecture will be successful, the right words come organically to my mind. If not – the nervousness remains. But, of course, any good speech must be performed with excitement.



Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past.

T.S. Eliot, 1888-1965,

Four Quartets, 'Burnt Norton'. I

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the beginning of post-communist Russia. The communist regime and the new epoch in the life of my country divide my biography into two equal parts. The last twenty years were the time of rethinking and forming a new understanding of Russia's experience in the XX century from the historical and cultural viewpoint.

Since 1990s the “civilization approach” to the analysis of historical process, formulated by N.Y. Danilevsky (great Russian philosopher of history) in XIX century, has been “fashionable”, again, among the Russian scholars. In Soviet times, the canonical Marxist “formation approach” prevailed.

According to the “civilization approach”, history is not seen as the universal succession of economic formations, but as the history of different civilizations, a sum of subhistories. Danilevsky wrote that the source of Russia's frequent military conflicts with Europe was that Russia and Europe belong different “historical and cultural types”, so it is not realistic to expect harmony between them.

Russia is not a young country. As a culture, a state, an identity, we are pretty 'aged', existing since the middle of IX century. The conventional beginning of the first Russian state is 862. So, this year brings us another anniversary – 1150 years of Russia. This is why 2012 is proclaimed “the year of Russian history” by President Medvedev.

In the XX century, Russia saw four revolutions, two world wars and a lot of local wars. Plus terror, collectivization, industrialization, the collapse of the USSR. That century was one of enormous exertion, or real mobilizations, with no rest. The nation was truly exhausted, people had no time to relax and think.

It was the century of utopias. People in power developed a number of big and small utopian projects, from turning around the stream of Siberian rivers to building a new type of society. It's amazing, how the Russian people rejected their traditional forms, sacrificed expediency and even their own lives in favor of something so absolutely mythical.

XX century was also the century of crimes. It was the whole epoch when the Russians committed crimes against each other. We will probably never know the real number of the victims. There are no accurate data. And they were not all being killed by the foreign conquerors. For the most part, the Russians themselves were torturing each other.

It was the century of revolutions. There were four of them, if we count the disintegration of the USSR. As a rule, revolutions occur whenever a society is unable to find any peaceful means to solve its problems.

In the beginning of the XX century, the problems of the past centuries arose to the full.

First of all, the consequences of the split of Russian culture into two subcultures were most evident, with the unbridgeable gap between “the Russian Europeans” and “the Russian indigenes”.

No less serious was the 'land question', or agrarian crisis. In my lectures I explain how the biggest territorial power in the world could suffer the shortage of land.

The issue of nationalities also was destroying the existing social structures.

Rephrasing T.S. Eliot and referring to the existing theories of Russian history, we can well maintain that it is not only our past that affects our future, but the future also modifies the past.

Only normal evolutionary development makes bloom the of the arts and sciences, industrial development and normal life possible.

In the beginning of the XX century Russia was on the massive rise, rapidly developing in all fronts, if we compare statistical data before and after 1913. There was an unprecedented advance in the economy. Not just the upper classes, but the ordinary people grew better off, too. There was a big increase in Sberbank deposits, dwelling space and incomes. The development of Russian culture of that period is referred to as “the Silver age”.

Suddenly, the revolution broke out in 1905, and it resulted in the compromise between the authorities and the society. That was the most successful of all the four Russian revolutions, because it didn't end in victory of any of the sides. The Manifesto of Oct, 17 granted political and civil rights to the citizens, and in 1906 the first Russian constitutional system was formed, including the parliament – the State Duma.

The rapid blooming of the political life was accompanied by reforms carried out by the Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin. His most fundamental project was an agricultural reform, giving peasants the right of voluntary separation from the commune.

It is important to note that revolutions do not occur in hard times, but in times when a society develops successfully, when protesters appear, and they are confident in their impunity.

No doubt, WWI interrupted the epoch of stability and triggered another revolution. Nicholas II could not avoid participating in the military operations, since he was bound by the system of international commitments. The role of the tsarina and Rasputin proved to be fatal in the course of events. Was the tzar just a simpleton? Many scholars consider his a mediocre statesman and hold him responsible for the catastrophe. But, on the other hand, there was no other epoch in Russian history, when the reforms were being held so smoothly.

After all, Russia didn't lose the war, but simply disengaged from it. Her principal task was to prevent Germany from occupying France, and then drawing off the troops of Austria-Hungary.

In the times of WWI there was no rationing in Russia, no shortage of food. W. Churchill said that the Russian boat sank while entering a harbour. In that war the question for Russia was not “to be or not to be”.

February 1917 revolution was quite an enigmatic one. Why did it happen? It was evident to everyone that Russia had not lost the war. Suddenly, uprisings started in Petrograd. The main reason for the revolution was that neither the authorities (the bureaucrats) nor the the society (parties, the bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, the university communities) realized the necessity of patience and compromise. They did not understand that Russia did not need another revolution. Since the times of the Decembrists, the Russian intelligentsia was conspiring and intriguing against the government, and spreading revolutionary philosophies.

The Provisional government consisted of the most brilliant politicians and public men of that epoch. Nevertheless, everything fell apart. One more revolution unfolded in Russia – the revolution of the Russian peasantry, the revolution of Russian communes. The people in the countryside wanted to live in communes, and they wiped out Stolypin's reforms. In the absence of authority, peasants began to seize the lands. They started unauthorized repartition. The countryside people forgot about the cities and ceased feeding the urban population.

In those days the old split between the nobility (europeanized society) and the peasantry (former serfs) was most evident. The noblemen spoke French and traveled throughout Europe. The peasants hated the masters and everyone wearing a pince-nez and a hat. The collision of the two revolutions – the revolution of the educated against the authority and the revolution of the peasant communes – interflowed in one great revolution. The vast masses felt capable of committing a crime thus forming a nutrient medium for radicalism. The radicals, such as Lenin and Trotsky, saddled up that wave of protest and fury combined with brigandage and crime.

Everything was abolished and called prejudices by the new regime.

Religion was abolished. The Bolsheviks planned that by 1935 the word “God” would cease to exist. It meant that there were no more absolute values.

The same was about the law and legislation.

In the beginning, the institution of family was going through the same process. According to the initial communist project, children were supposed to be separated from their parents and brought up by the state in the common stock. Thank God, the new rulers came to their senses afterward.

All property holdings were nationalized. In Soviet times the propaganda spoke about private, public and cooperative property, while in actuality everything was in the hands of a small group of people who manipulated the assets. That system turned out economically ineffective. It makes no sense to struggle with property, one should work with it. The institution of property also implies social responsibilities of owners.

As for the issues of ethics, Lenin formulated the notorious principle, calling moral everything that serves the purposes of communism.

Thus they destroyed the traditional statehood.

Many of the Bolsheviks were not evil, but courageous people, sincerely committed to their ideas.

That was an absolutely unprecedented regime, an absolutely utopian one. The bolsheviks even had an idea to annex the whole world. Leon Trotsky formulated a theory of “permanent revolution”. He planned adventurous campaigns of the Red Army in various parts of the globe.

In 1924 the first Constitution of the USSR was adopted, containing the idea that any country is welcome to join the Soviet state.

In 1920s and 30s new strange names were being given to newborn children. Marlen (male - Marx, Lenin), Oktyabrina (female - after October – the month of the revolution), Yaslenik (male - Ya s Leninym i Krupskoi – “I am with Lenin and Krupskaya [Lenin's wife]”) Oyushminalda ( female Otto Yulievich Shmidt na ldine – “[Polar explorer] Otto Yulievich Shmidt on the ice-floe”).

That bizarre social project was impossible to put into reality. Features of normality were emerging even in the most terrible years of Stalinism.

1930s were really a tragic time. It was the time of horror and terror – of collectivization and great political terror. On the other hand, there was an incredible enthusiasm. The first five-year plans were truly grandiose in scale and resulted in the rapid industrialization of the country.

No doubt, if the revolution had not happen, Russia would have been a different country. A much better country. We have to learn the lessons of our past since our losses are essential to take into consideration in forming new strategies of development.

Bolshoy Theatre. The Renaissance.

 Last year was quite eventful in Russia. What will make it most memorable for me for years to come, is no doubt, the completion of the reconstruction of the Bolshoy Theatre and the solemn ceremony of the opening of the historic stage. I am immensely happy to have lived to see that.

The word “Bolshoy” means “Grand”. This grand theatre is considered number one in Russia among all theatres, a symbol of the country’s greatness, her imperial grandeur, her cultural prominence. It is a sacred place for every cultured and intelligent Russian and an absolute must for every visitor coming to the Russian capital. The Bolshoy Theatre is one of the most famous landmarks of Moscow, it is depicted on a 100-ruble bill. Everyone knows the eight-columned portico, the neo-classical pediment crowned with the eye-catching quadriga – a sculpture by Pyotr Klodt, which depicts Apollo driving a chariot.

The first Bolshoy Theatre opened under Catheine the Great in 1780 and presented comic operas, comedies and masquerades. In 1805 the whole building burnt down. In 1825 the new theatre was completed to a design by Osip Bove and Andrey Mikhailov. The essentials of that highly praised delineation were retained in subsequent restorations.

Another fire destroyed the theatre in 1853. The reconstruction by Albert Kavos was completed in 1856. The basic elements of the building were retained, including the sculpture of Apollo. Some new details were added, such as the relief depicting a pair of angels carrying the lyre on the pediment, the new shape of the auditorium (resembling the shape of a violin). As we know today, the reconstruction works were being done in a hurry during 16 months to open the theatre as part of celebrations of the coronation of Alexander II. (See my entry on shturmovshina. It is not a purely Soviet phenomenon. It took place in tsarist times as well.) The building was renovated while the old foundation remained intact. It caused many serious problems and made the latest reconstruction procedure extremely risky.

The building of the Bolshoy Theatre was often used by the Bolsheviks to house their party congresses and other political gatherings, until the Palace of Congresses was constructed on the territory of the Kremlin. The last speech of Lenin was made on the stage of the Bolshoy. In January,1924, his death was first announced there. In December, 1922, Stalin proclaimed the formation of the USSR in the Bolshoy. By the way, Stalin was a passionate music lover and never missed any premiere.

The Soviet authorities also made some renovation works to suit their purposes. The imperial crowns and two-headed eagles were removed from the pediments and replaced by the communist coat-of-arms. The seating capacity was increased to 2,400 (nearly twice), so all the delegates of congresses could have seats. Old arm-chairs were replaced with smaller chairs. Unfortunately, the hollows under the main stage and the orchestral pit were filled and that spoilt the acoustics. In Soviet times, the Bolshoy theatre ranked 55th in the world in the quality of its acoustics.

By 2005 the need for restoration of the theatre was really urgent. The building itself was actually torn apart by seven huge cracks. There was even a joke, that the theatre was held together only by engineering networks and electricity cables. The emergency condition didn’t allow patrons to use the front entrance to go inside. Indeed, the painstaking restoration has saved the Bolshoy for the future generations.

The scale of the renovation works is most impressive. They took six years (twice as long a it was planned) and cost the enormous sum of about 750 million dollars (500 mln were initially allocated). The total floor space has been increased twice; six storeys for the installation of stage machinery have been constructed as well as a number of underground quarters of various purposes – rehearsal rooms, a sound and video recording studio and others.

The most stunning was the story of the reconstruction of the foundation, or the replacement of the foundation, to be precise. After more than two centuries, the old base of the theatre became nothing but a mosaic of small fragments. So, more than two thousand metallic piles were installed to support the whole building while the debris of the old foundation were being removed. There was a time when the theatre was actually born aloft, and the slightest error in the engineering calculations would cause the collapse of the whole structure. I remember the crying headlines in the press. Well, success is never blamed, but the risks were too high.

The new concrete foundation has been pumped. More than two thousand restorers had a lot to fix, to gild, to paint. The orchestral pit has been enlarged to seat 157 musicians – now most complicated scores by Wagner can be performed. The acoustical hollows are back again. It is claimed that the restored Bolshoy will be among the best five opera houses in the world in the acoustics quality. Wait and see. A new curtain has been made for the main stage, one square metre of the cloth with gilded threads weighs one kilogram. 35 historic bells have been installed in the new belfry to be used in some Russian operas.

The auditorium’s seating capacity now is 1700 again, as it was before the Soviet times. Yes, it was not very convenient then, but one can expect that the prices for tickets will be still more exorbitant.

As for the affordability of the Bolshoy for ordinary people, the problem is really acute. When I attended operas there, I saw only foreign spectators in the parterre. All decent seats are bought by travel agencies in advance through their established connections. Back seats on high tiers only are left for us, for Russians. One has to stand to be able to see anything on the stage. It is announced that 396 tickets for each performance, regardless of its cost, will be distributed among the poor at 100 rub apiece. The poor will obviously sell them at a market price. However, I plan to attend the Bolshoy in summer, whatever it costs.

Inna Gritsenko