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 counterpart 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
On Saturday, Sept 24, at the Congress of the United Russia party the ruling tandem came up with expected but nevertheless sensational statements about the future configuration of power in the Kremlin. They announced their intention to swap posts after the presidential election campaign in 2012. It was not a big surprise to learn that Putin will be president again, but there's a sense of loss of something. “I feel as though my future has been stolen”, said one man on the air of Ekho Moskvy radio station.
According to the Russian Constitution one person can serve in the office of the President for no longer than two consecutive terms. I think that the word 'consecutive' may had been included into the text of the article by chance while Yeltsin's team were compiling it in a hurry. But it makes Putin eligible to run for the post again and theoretically remain in power for another six of even twelve years. Since 2012 the presidential term will be increased to six years.
Four years ago there were widespread sentiments among the Russians to keep Putin in the office by changing the constitution. According to public opinion poll, in 2008, 35 percent wished him to rule for life. He is widely considered to be the national leader. On September 24, the transition from authoritarian government to autocratic rule of one person was completed. The Russian neo-monarchy has been cemented. In the comments about the plans of the tandem the most often used word seems to be the word 'stagnation'.
In the latest poll by Levada center 40 percent of the Russians want Putin to be president again, and 22 percent support Medvedev. It is evident that Dmitry Medvedev is a weak person who is fully dependent on Putin. He came to power with the slogans of 'modernization' (see, for instance, his program article 'Russia, Forward'). Now, in American parlance, he is seen as a 'lame duck'. He is now being called 'still president', as weak and impotent as probably Nicholas II was.
In 2000 – 2007, on Putin's watch, Russia saw sustained economic growth. So people place their hopes on Putin and this illusion is the source of popular support of the regime. Under Medvedev the country faced economic crisis and diminishing incomes, and those things are associated with him.
We observe the traditional perception of 'a good tzar and bad boyars', that the way to solve all the problems is to get a personal access to the tzar and explain him what is really going on in the country.
Among those who are most active in voting people with less than average education from the provinces prevail. Such people depend on the ruling authorities, they can not get out of poverty. Plus the degradation of the Soviet infrastructure in the depressed regions where we find ignorance,
lack of information and intellectual degradation. In big advanced cities with well off and educated population traditionally there is more criticism of Putin.
In the resourceful groups of population the growth of 'suitcase mood' has been indicated. Those who belong to the emerging Russian middle class fear their future and want to raise their children somewhere outside Russia, far from the hypocritical realities of their homeland.
Putin is a winner by nature, he just can't lose the game. He is psychologically unable to accept coming off second best. And it is quite risky for him to come to rule for the 4th term. First, there is a risk not to be recognized a legitimate ruler on the world arena. Of the G 8 leaders he appears the longest-serving head of state. If he is not accepted in the Western democratic societies, it would be more difficult for the Russian elite to keep their money or teach their children abroad.
Second, anxiety and tension inside Russia are growing. There is much aggression in everyday life, the rise of negative emotions. Third, another economic crisis is looming along with slump in oil prices. Indeed, the future is unpredictable and quite frightening.
The outcome of upcoming elections seems to be determined in advance. What's the point for voting then? 60 percent of Russians think that elections are being falsified by throwing in extra ballot-papers, upward distortions, etc. But there are no public protests, street rallies, riots. So the current state of affairs is unpleasant but still bearable for the people. So far.
- Current Location:St. Petersburg, onboard m.s. River Victoria
On March, 2, Mikhail Gorbachev turned 80. But the jubilee is not the only reason for him hitting the headlines again. He is not the least an idyllic old man. He continues leading an active life as a writer, a lecturer, a globe-trotter, a public figure. He has not forgotten anything and has not become reconciled with anything. From the perspective of modern political reality Gorbachev, again, is a dissident making the lives of the ruling elite in Russia much less comfortable.
His name will always be associated with the third most significant event in the history of the XX century after the Russian revolution and WWII. Voluntarily or not, Gorbachev became the grave-digger of communism.
Where did he come from? What influenced his development as a personality?
Mikail Gorbachev was born in the southern Russian region of Stavropol in 1931. He came from a Russian-Ukrainian peasant family. His grandfather was an old communist as well as his father, a war veteran. Being convinced of the preeminence of the communist system, Gorbajev joined the Party at the age of 19. His rise to the top of power is an example of a high level of vertical mobility in the workforce in the Soviet Union. Most active, devoted and hard-working individuals could successfully climb the social ladder on the basis of their talents and personal qualities. In accordance with the dominant ideology, to reach any top position manual work experience was obligatory. Following the footsteps of his father, Mikhail Gorbachev in his teens worked as a combine harvester operator. Then he was educated at Stavropol Agricultural Institute as an economist. So he was aware of the systemic flaws of Soviet agriculture that had suffered enormous losses since collectivization. (As a popular Russian saying goes, the Russian agriculture has four major problems. They are: winter, spring, summer and autumn.)
Another education was acquired by the future perestroishchik at the law school of the Moscow State University. That, indeed, broadened his horizon, changed his outlook on the world, brought new ideas and new people into his life. Frankly, I am rather skeptic about Gorbachev as a lawyer. While most of his party-mates either had a technical education or studied Marxism-Leninism at the High Party School, young Mikhail, supposedly, was exposed to a different curriculum containing the history of political thought, world jurisprudence, legal systems of other countries. But he was among the activists at the faculty. There was a common practice at Soviet universities that public work for such people often took more time and efforts than actual studying. Later in working life those lacking professionalism often took refuge in Communist Party organizations. To his credit, Gorbachev never tried to project the image of a lawyer, unlike, for instance, Dmitry Medvedev permanently reminding us of his jurisprudent antecedents.
In Moscow, Mikhail Gorbachev mingled with the companies of intelligent students and academics with their critical thinking, discussions, reading illegally published (typed or even rewritten by hand) dissident writings. The years of “thaw” under Khrushchev were the time of relative liberalization for the intellectuals, and even the communists like Gorbachev were in its orbit. They were no longer fanatics of Marxist Leninist theories. Sure, the ideologists tried to adapt the theory of communism to the new circumstances (for example they developed a concept of 'developed socialism' as another phase in the progress toward true communism). But any adaptation of any theory inexorably has its limits. They realized that, but didn't know what to say to the population and continued to propagandize the outdated ideas while the popular support of the system was diminishing.
Mikhail made time both for work and amusement. At the university ballroom dancing studio he first saw an elegant, slender, intelligent young lady named Raisa Titarenko, also a provincial, who studied at the faculty of philosophy. Later they met at the students' dormitory in the company of friends.
Their love story was the one of those that really thrilled the world. Neither Mikhail nor Raisa were looking for a good match in Moscow to be allowed to stay in the capital to live and work, like many other did. The ambitious couple got married and upon graduation from the university went to the Stavropol Krai, the homeland of Mikhail. They were not discouraged by the start-up difficulties and were ready to work hard and share all happy and sorrowful moments in life.
Once, interviewed by the NTV's program “Tieless” showing top politicians at home in informal atmosphere, Raisa was asked a question “Can you cook yourself?” And the host of the program, a panther-looking lady, threw a suggestive glance at the cake that apparently has been delivered from a confectionary. Raisa responed with dignity: “Of course, I can. I grew up in a very poor family and learned to do all my housework. But now it is not necessary. I can buy a cake.”
Raisa certainly played a crucial role in the formation of Gorbachev as a leader. He was literally honed by his more refined and intelligent wife who often directed his style and manner of speaking and behavior. But she was not a kind of 'grey cardinal'. In his latest interview to Der Shpiegel Gorbachev said that politics is his second love in life, the first was Raisa. She died in 1999 of leukemia.
Gorbachev was the Second Secretary of the regional communist organization when he met Yuri Andropov, the firm and incorruptible KGB chief who once visited Stavropol. Then the active and young apparatchik was recruited to work in the Politburo, so he had to move to Moscow. For a while he supervised the agricultural policies.
His position in the top ranks of the Party gave him chances to travel abroad and see with his own eyes life in the capitalist world. In 1970s he visited Belgium, France, Great Britain, West Germany. He was impressed by the fruits of a consumer society and, most of all, by the spirit of liberty, freedom to exchange opinions, raise criticism of governments, speak frankly and freely. He also visited the socialist block countries and was fully aware of their resentment over the Soviet domination.
The ruling elite of the country were well informed about the real state of affairs and finally decided to put forward someone young, determined and courageous to confront the crisis.
(To be continued)
- Current Location:Moscow, m.s. River Victoria
Many weeks have passed since I posted the last entry. Many more have been written, and I am currently editing them to publish afterwards. In the beginning of each cruise, before I start lecturing, it's very important for me to figure out what kind of audience I am going to have this time. What topics interest them most, what kind of knowledge of Russia they have, what is their perception of my country, what have they read, and seen, and experienced. The lectures are never exactly the same. The topics are formulated as generalizations, so I can 'model' the course applying the method which I call 'deer herder's method'. What is it like? It's not a deer herder who herds deer, it's the other way around. He only follows them when they exhaust the food in a particular location. This is similar to the way I follow my listeners, given the acute shortage of time.
Your comments are always most precious for me as feed-back. I was informed by Lena (our cruise manager) about the feeling of some of my listeners (I guess a young couple from Jamaica) about my lack of patriotism and sharing things that one probably shouldn't share with aliens. Specifically, she referred to my statement that Russians in general somewhat dislike the Muscovites and consider the Petersburgers to be somewhat arrogant and pretentious. Frankly, I thought those were quite innocent facetious remarks. Sorry, it I have offended someone's sensibilities. On the other hand, the people didn't talk to me, I can only guess how exactly they feel. Reproduced by somebody else, the thoughts are often being somewhat distorted, I know that by my own experience.
However, I'm not going to cede my freedom of opinion easily since I am not a politician, an ideologist, a propagandist but try to be a balanced scholar and a popularizer of history. So do not expect from me a Soviet-style (Sovietesque) propaganda for tourists. I respect my audience and their ability to accept honest analysis.
And it is actually a very thorny ideological problem how to construct a new image of Modern Russia, a positive image to form the amalgam of loyalties cementing the Russian society, to teach the young generation to be proud of the country and their forebears, to show foreign people that Russia is no an evil empire but a reliable partner in international affairs with the best of intentions.
“Patriotism means unqualified and unwavering love for the nation, which implies not uncritical eagerness to serve, not support for unjust claims, but frank assessment of its vices and sins, and penitence for them.” - Solzhenitsyn's definition of patriotism has become a guide-line for many other Russian intellectuals. Their patriotism is moderate and self-critical, not blind. But it's not easy for the majority of my compatriots to understand and accept. In Soviet times Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov were condemned as traitors, or renegades. Now their role as conscience of the nation is unquestionable. I can add a statement of late Dmitry Lichachev, a reknowned academic, an expert in ancient Russian literature and Russian culture, a former gulag prisoner, the one who called Boris Yeltsyn and finally persuaded the president to attend the funeral of Nicholas II while other politicians, and even the patriarch, refrained from coming to Peter and Paul Cathedral for the ceremony. So Lichachev said that 'Russians are really devoid of the imperfection of self-glorification or self-praise. The strength of self-condemnation is above all strength. It shows the the society is still strong enough'. By the way, the most outspoken critic of the foibles of our system and society today is the President.
In the 1830s, the chief of the Secret Police, count A. Benkendorff formulated the guiding principle for historians: 'Russia's past was wonderful, her present magnificent, and as to her future, it is beyond the grasp of the most daring imagination. This is the point of view from which Russian history must be written.' From that perspective, which is quite widespread today, those who criticize anything here simply 'rock the boat', destabilize the situation in the country. Resorting to medical analogies, this is like enduring pain, pretending that all is well, declining treatment. Ultimately it all may end up in a catastrophe.
In the whole tradition of Russian political and historical thought criticism predominates. In one of the previous entries (on Russia as a conundrum) I told about Tyutchev and the story of his quotation on the billboard removed by the order of Moscow municipal authorities. Another renowned thinker of 1830s, A. Chaadayev, in his Philosophical Letters wrote that Russia doesn't belong to the European family of nations. Her mission in the world's history is to reveal the global experience of catastrophes to the rest of the world. The author was sent to a mental asylum after the writings were published.
As for me, if it comes to taking sides, I am, or course, with Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, Likhachev, and other passionate Russian patriots who condemned primeval clannish loyalty and wished their fellow countrymen grow more mature, realizing that patriotism does not necessarily imply tribal defensiveness toward outsiders but honest analysis of everything.
I certainly try to analyze various phenomena being balanced. For instance, one cruise ago I was beleaguered with questions about independence of the Russian judiciary, the cases having deep resonance, those of Khodorkovsly and Magnitsky in particular. Yes, there are many shameful things about all that. But there are other things to be put on another scale. For example, that, statistically, over 90 % of the cases of Russian citizens against taxation agencies are won by the citizens. Or in the Constitutional Court 80% of the cases of citizens vs the state are ended with the victory of the citizens. Not 1 or 2 %, but 80 % ! It indicates that legal system nevertheless works despite the shortcomings.
As the old Russian saying goes, the truth has seven sides. And I try to expose as many of them as possible to the best of my resources.
P.S. I would recommend you to remember that criticism of various things about Russia is believed to be a prerogative of the Russians. If a foreigner attempts to speak critically of anything Russian, most Russians, be they dissidents or not, will quickly turn against him, even if they say the same things themselves. Hope you've got the point.
- Current Location:St. Petersburg, onboard m.s. River Victoria
What has been the best period in Russian history?
My great fellow-townsman Anton Chekhov once said that the Russians fear their future, they hate their present and they deify their past. We often dream about good old days of our childhood or the distant past and our celebrated forbears.
At times the official line makes us believe that the best epoch is now. Shortly after the death of Catherine the Great in 1796 a Russian historian wrote to her grandson Alexander I: “Should we compare all the known epochs of Russian history, virtually all would agree that Catherine’s epoch was the happiest for Russian citizens; virtually all would prefer to have lived then than at any other time.”
In the 1830s, the Chief of Secret Police, Count Alexander Benkendorf formulated the directive to historians: “Russia's past was wonderful, her present magnificent, and as to her future, it is beyond the grasp of the most daring imagination. This is the point of view from which Russian history must be written.”
A century later, in the 1930s, the time of famine, bloody purges, overwhelming fear, predominating poverty, Russian people seemed happier and more excited compared to the “corpulent” years under Putin. The Soviet propaganda spread the belief in progress and bright future, cursing the czarist past.
From perestroyka forward, the pre-revolutionary Russia was viewed as the Paradise we lost. A documentary directed by Stanislav Govorukhin, was called The Russia We Lost. From that film we had learned how prosperous the country was before the bolshevik coup, how rapid was her industrial development. To our surprise, dressed up men and women on the reel were not representatives of the wealthy classes of exploiters, but ordinary workers returning home after work. We had been taught at school that they lived in squalor, wore rags and usually had not much to eat. But the documentary material showed that we might, in fact, envy their menu, while under Gorbachev we had rationing and endemic shortages of everything, from food to medical drugs. A hugely popular literary serial by B. Akunin about the adventures of handsome detective Erast Fandorin is set in the times since 1880s, “when the literature was great, the faith in progress was interminable, and even the crimes were committed with elegance and style.” But people are cautious to believe the fairy-tale. One of my students of the faculty of foreign languages said on a seminar: “I know my social origin, and I'm sure I would be nothing more than a laundress had I lived before the Revolution, and now I am a university student thanks only to the Soviets.”
In 2000 and 2005 the VtsIOM (All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center) conducted a poll, asking What have been the best time to live in Russia. Here are the 2005 results:
Russia Today — 52%
Russia under Brezhnev — 26%
Russia under Stalin — 4 %
Russia in the early XX c. - 4%
Russia under Yelstin — 1%
Any other epoch —8 %
Hard to say - 5%
1600 respondents from 46 regions, 153 localities took part in the poll. Statistical error – 3,4%.
The overwhelming majority seems to be content living under Putin. In 2000 39% preferred “Russia Today”. Well, I believe there are a lot of skeptics who do not trust such polls. They would say it was an exaggeration and propaganda of Putinism. I know personally some sociologists working for the VTsIOM, I know how their research work is being conducted, and I am inclined to trust them.
The latter poll was conducted shortly after the death of the first Russian President Boris Yeltsin. No more than 1 per cent find the time of shock therapy appealing.
The thing that amazed most of the observers is that in the XX century people tend to select the epoch of Leonid Brezhnev, which in history books is characterized as 'stagnation'. In 2000 the number of its adherents was even higher – 31%. You may find it interesting that today many draw parallels between the times of Putin and Brezhnev – oil dollars keeping the economy afloat, television constantly showing the head of state in carefully prepared news programs, frustration and apathy of the population, etc.
When it comes to the evaluation of the general direction of Russia's development, the opinions are split practically fifty-fifty about three epochs in the XX century – the times of Lenin, Nicholas II, and Brezhnev. Other periods are seen as predominantly negative (the rule of Stalin, Khrushchev, Gorbachev and Yeltsin) or largely positive (Putin's time). The closer the epoch to us in time, the more consolidated is Russians' view of it. Thus 72% disapprove Gorbachev's line while 15% support it. 80% are strongly critical of Yeltsin's rule, 9% view it positively. As for the general development of the country under Putin, it is approved by 67% and disapproved by 20%.
I wonder why they don't conduct a new poll. How the crisis and stagnation have corrected people's preferences? Less for Putin, more for Brezhnev again?
- Current Location:Moscow, m.s. River Victoria