Category Archives: On Russia

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.

 

Saturday Music: Valeriy Obodzinsky – The Way

The English-speaking world usually believes nobody sang in English in the Soviet Union. Well, sometimes there were made films that required an English soundtrack – like The Silence of Dr. Evans, written and directed by Budimir Metalnikov and released in 1973.  I’ve not seen it myself, but as I’m going through a revival of my life-long love for Valeriy Obodzinsky, I’ve come across the song The Way, composed by a famous Russian composer and pioneer of electronic music Eduard Artemev. Artemev also composed music to Solaris (1972), The Mirror (1975) and Stalker (1979) by Andrei Tarkovsky.

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.

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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.

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