Category Archives: History

The Revolutionary Smolny Telephone

In Russia, when you cannot get through a certain number, you say that the number is engaged ‘like at the Smolny’. The Smolny Palace was built by Giacomo Quarenghi in 1806-08 to house the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens, Russia’s first institution for women’s education. However, in 1917 the Smolny Institute was moved out of Petersburg, and between October 1917 and March 1918 the building served as the headquarters for the Bolshevik Government. Vladimir Lenin resided here, and several revolutionary decrees got passed here in November 1917, including the Decree on Peace and Decree on Land. Naturally, the phone line must have been engaged most of the time, due to a high activity of the Bolshevik government, and so the abovementioned expression originated.

The Museum of Contemporary History in Moscow’s Tverskaya St. has tweeted a picture of the phone that was used by the Military Revolutionary Committee in Vassilevsky Island to keep in touch with the Bolshevik headquarters at the Smolny.


Church of St. Nicholas in Pushkino near Moscow (1692-94)


The church of St. Nicholas is the oldest building in Pushkino (Moscow Region). Its construction was blessed by the Patriarch Adrian and started in 1692. Apparently, Pushkino had already existed in the XIVth c. and for a long time belonged to the Church. St. Nicholas’s ensemble consists of two chapels, a bell-tower and a five-dome church. I made the photo from the car, so you can see the bell-tower and all five domes. The church had been rebuilt and restored many times throughout its history; however, uzorochie window frames and the 1912 art nouveau flooring have survived intact. The Classicist bell-tower erected in XIX century culminates in the Yaroslavl-type tent. The graveyard preserves several old burial monuments, including those of the Armand and Kamzolkins families.


The 1980 Olympic Games Memorabilia

As we know, the first time Russia got to host the Olympic Games was in 1980. Turns out, at home we’ve got quite a collection of the Olympic memorabilia, which I’ve now collated into a PDF document. What awaits you inside are postcards, tourist materials (phrasebooks etc.), advertising materials of the Soviet Railways, perpetual calendars until the year 2000, mascots and badges. Regarding mascots, apart from the famous Mishka there was also a Seal that represented Tallinn, Estonia where the sailing competitions were held. There is also a sleeve for a Russian adaptation of Pablo Neruda’s Xoaquin Murieta’s at the Lencom Theatre. My parents went to see it in early 1980, and bought a vynil disk that had already been adorned with the Olympic symbol. Browse the PDF, ask questions, and I’ll find you the answers.


The Olympics 2014: Thoughts and Hopes

I was born in the year when Russia (then the USSR) hosted its first ever Olympic Games. And I know about the scandal that surrounded the Games. I successfully celebrated the opening in front of the telly, dancing in my mum’s tummy to the tune of Kalinka. The Olympics are not the reason why I came to like the winter sports, but I’ll have another post for that.

Tomorrow, February 7th, the Games open again, this time in Sochi. Lots of scandals are brewing this time. The instances of corruption at the construction stage, incorrect translations, “uncovered” loos with two water closets behind one door, not to mention the infamous “anti-gay law”. And a revolutionary Maidan in the Ukraine. Although Russia has announced the Olympic truce, the example of the Beijing Olympics when an armed conflict between Russia and Georgia had burst out proves that, when some forces are hell bent on having their way, the age-long tradition is no excuse to postpone the plan. I hope this is not the case this time.

I have changed jobs in autumn last year, and I can honestly say that one of the reasons for looking to move was a continuous disdain of the Olympic effort in the company and the support given to the voices who wanted to sabotage the Olympic Games. I certainly have my own criticism of the regime, and the Russian Orthodox Church, and God knows what else in Russia, but you won’t see me trying to bring down an amazing international event organised and presented by my country.

The reason is simple: what sportsmen do throughout their career is so much more important and inspiring than the work of many a contemporary politician. We tend to discuss and decry the payments of sportsmen, but in the world where a politician easily appears in a nude photoshoot and becomes a member of the Parliament for rather obscure reasons it’s great to see someone working on themselves, competing, winning, losing, and still keeping their determination to win. It’s an amazing victory over one’s weaknesses, an ability to make your strengths serve you right, while adhering to and displaying the best human qualities and values. The Olympics have changed considerably over the decades, today it’s an advertising opportunity for the country, so the money ethos is omnipresent to a bigger or lesser extent wherever the Games are held. It’s strange that you do need to be paid zillions to showcase your best qualities and to inspire others, but considering that those values are priceless, perhaps it makes sense to pay a little extra to see them applied in real life.

However, these people have dedicated their lives to sport, training, and competition. It is unreasonably selfish to want to deny them the chance to add more medals and tropheys to their collection, to strengthen their reputation, and to continue their work in the chosen field. So, for the next three weeks all I care about is the performance of the athletes, and not about money. And, of course, I sincerely hope Yevgeny Pluschenko wins his Olympic Gold.

Anyway, I’m happy and proud Russia is the host of the Olympic Games in 2014, and I strongly believe we will be able to deliver a great performance as a national team and to ensure that other sportsmen also perform to their best level. The rest can eat snow 😉

The book I’m sharing may be of more interest to my Russian-speaking readers who will be able to understand the text. I hope, though, everyone of you likes illustrations by S. Ostrov to the story by Ye. Ozeretskaya about an Ancient Greek boy who once visited the Olympic Games.



Serge Gainsbourg – V Lesu Prifrontovom (In the Forest Near the Frontline)

Russia celebrated the lift of Leningrad’s blockade on January 27th, while elsewhere in the world they celebrated the liberation of the prisoners of Auschwitz camp. There is not a single family that had been left unscathed by the World War Two. Soviet films about the Great Patriotic War have been gradually coming to the Western audiences, but the songs are still likely to be relatively unknown, apart from the famous Katyusha.

I have just discovered a recording which I didn’t know existed: Serge Gainsbourg sings a wartime Russian waltz, In the Forest Near the Frontline, in Russian. In his own words, he used to hear it from his mother, but as he didn’t know any Russian, he had his relative write him a phonetic version of the song, and this is what you hear in the recording. A very touching song tells a story of soldiers staying in the autumn forest and recalling the peaceful time with their beloved. Gainsbourg very skillfully conveyed the sadness of soldiers who could quite likely perish at war, and his heavy French accent only strengthens the forlorn feelings of those who wanted to live and love and yet were denied the chance of happiness… The performance dates back to 1974 and will turn 40 years in July this year.

St. Tatiana Day in Russia (Celebrated with a Jazz Improvisation)

Every year 25th of January marks the Day of St. Tatiana, acknowledged throughout Russia as a Students’ Day. On this day in 1755 the Moscow State University was founded, the date being symbolical for Tatiana was the name of an aunt of Ivan Shuvalov, one of father-founders of the University. Russian students successfully emulated their European predecessors, the vaganti, by getting drunk on this day whereby a saying has been going since: “On Tatiana’s Day all students are merry“.

At the Moscow State University they usually hold a traditional event on this day, with medovukha (a honey-based alcoholic beverage) poured to students by the Rector himself. This is continued with a special concert dedicated to the student brother- and sisterhood and singing the hymn of the University, Gaudeamus igitur.

Last year I attended a clarinet concert at the Rakhmaninov Hall of the Moscow State Conservatoire. Several beautiful musical pieces were offered to the audience, but many of us were especially taken by this jazz improvisation… which turned out to be named “Tatiana” after a composer’s wife. I hope you enjoy it.


How to Climb Medieval Stairs: A Practical Lesson

Whenever we watch films about the Middle Ages, there is once in a while a scene of two antagonists fighting on the staircase. As befits the genre and the plot, we are focused on the antagonism and on the physique of the actors. Little do we think, I guess, about how feasible were those fights in the first place. I have no idea how many fights had taken place on the Tallinn wall, but I know one thing for sure: a duel on this particular staircase would very quickly become lethal for one party or another. Add to the fact that the steps are rather narrow, and that warriors would be wearing something far less comfortable than my soft shoes. But enough talking – here’s a video that I have long wanted to shoot in various Welsh castles I visited, and yet only finally got the chance in Estonia.

The Causes And the Course of the World War One (1914-1918)

As I taught History this year and had to occasionally revise different topics, I rediscovered SlideShare as a place to find some spectacular presentations on History topics. Admittedly, some are lame, but if you search well enough you may be granted with a few that are just very, very informative.

Russia is going to mark the beginning of the WW1 for the first time in all these years. Lenin concluding a separate peace with Germany at Brest-Litovsk and thesubsequent victory of the Bolsheviks meant that for the next 70-odd years the Great War was called “imperialist” (not that it was not true, in fact) and never “celebrated”. I doubt Russian part in it was studied well because it was the Tsarist Russia’s war effort.

Not wanting to jump on the bandwagon on the year of the centenniary but obviously wanting to participate in some way, the country has joined the “we remember the Great War” movement in 2013. I posted photos from the memorial World War One park in Moscow in June, and most recently MSN Russia posted a collection of colour photos produced at the frontlines of the First World War by the French cameramen of Albert Kahn’s studio.

So, just in case you were forgetting why the conflict had started in the first place, who were the participants, etc., here is a very detailed presentation by Dan Ewert I found on SlideShare. There are over 180 slides packed to the brim with facts, figures, and photos. Overall, it is a great resource, especially if you are high school student or teacher reading this.

World War One Memorial Park In Moscow

Until recently Russia celebrated the victory in the Patriotic War against Napoleon in 1812 and in the Great Patriotic War against Hitler in 1945. I spent 7 years in the country that faithfully celebrates the Armistice Day on November 11 that marks the end of one of the most tragic conflicts in world history in the 20th c., the First World War.

Although the Second World War was by many accounts more devastating, it is generally regarded as the outcome of the World War One and as such it was not unexpected. World War One also did not come out of the blue, being the consequence of the collapse of the Viennese system established in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. And yet, whereas the nations tried to prevent the Second World War, the World War One was received with cheers, as if Europe was one huge playground where kids with rifles were going to enjoy themselves. Sadly, it immediately became obvious that there would be no quick results, and Europe slid down into one long killing spree.

European, British in paritcular, cities and towns are planted with cenotaphs commemorating the war effort, the victims, and the eventual victory of the Entente powers in the World War One. The victory was ridden with ambiguity, as all countries, France in particular, attempted to get the better out of Germany to solve their own post-war problems – forgetting along the way that Germany was just as penniless and devasted by war, as the rest of Europe. Nonetheless, Germany remained to be seen as an aggressor and a war-wager, and the  World War One continues to be regarded as a glorious page in European history, rather than a story of human folly.

Russia withdrew from the war following the Bolshevik Revolution, with a separate peace treaty signed by Russia and Germany in Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. Since the World War One was imperialist by nature, it is little wonder that in Soviet times it was given by a passing mention. The novels like And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov detailed the Russian part in the war, along with the growing disdain for the imperial power and the obligation to fight. But even then ordinary soldiers who fought in the war were barely remembered, as the war belonged to the tsarist, pre-Socialist part that had to be forgotten, and the sooner the better.

Now the situation has changed. The park dedicated to World War One in Moscow is located in the territory of 11,5 hectares in a walking distance from Sokol metro station. Presently there are many green stretches, and commemorative monuments have been pleasantly incorporated into the landscape. There is a small chapel on a hill and a few cenotaphs. A monument at the park’s entry (from Sokol metro station) reminds us that in the park’s grounds the first common cemetery to the soldiers and medical sisters who died in the war had been created as early  as 1915. Those graves had been subsequently moved to another cemetery, but the present park is located in the cemetery grounds. It is a peaceful and solemn place where one can’t help but meditate on life and death, war and peace.

World War One Park in Moscow – Entry Memorial


World War One Park in Moscow –
To the Victims of the World War 1914-1919


World War One Park in Moscow –
A Memorial Close-Up


World War One Park in Moscow –
Aviators Memorial
World War One Park in Moscow –
One of the cenotaphs


World War One Park in Moscow –
One of the cenotaphs


World War One Park in Moscow – A Chapel


World War One Park in Moscow –
Moscow To the Dead Russian Soldiers


World War One Park in Moscow –
A Second World War Memorial


World War One Park in Moscow –
A Church Monument


World War One Park in Moscow –
One of the cenotaphs, featuring the symbols
of principal military awards
World War One Park in Moscow –
A commemorative stone on the former location
of the common cemetery for soldiers and
medical sisters from Moscow communities
who died in the World War One