Following THE INTERVIEW of the century (Tucker Kalrson and Vladimir Putin), I want to point you to some posts on this blog that illustrate or analyze Russian history. Being an historian who spent 7 years living in a Western country, I am perfectly qualified to talk on these topics since I know my subject and foreign people’s expectations and misconceptions underpinned by the lack of knowledge and unbridled propaganda. So below I gathered some posts from different years (I’ve been writing this blog since 2006) in the hope they will help you learn more about Russia, its history and culture.
Ivan Shmelyov (1873-1950) was a Russian writer and essayist who emigrated to France after the October Revolution. The Year of God (Лето Господне) is a book of his recollections of pre-revolutionary life in Russia. The narrator, an adult person, recalls everyday life and religious festivals of a merchant family in Moscow, into which he was born. He turns a loving eye to his childhood memories, going through them like a fantastic kaleidoscope of events. For this Christmas season I have translated a respective chapter of his book…
Ivan Shmelyov – Christmas
You want, my dear boy, that I told you about our Christmas season. Well… Should you not understand something, let your heart guide you.
Imagine me as old as you are now. Do you know what snow is? Here it is rare, and it melts as soon as it falls. But in Russia once the snowfall started, no light of the day would be seen for three days or so! The snow covered everything. The streets were all white, with large drifts. The snow was everywhere: on the roofs, on the fences, on the streetlights – lots of snow! It would even hang down from the roofs – and suddenly it would drop, like a heap of flour, and even get behind one’s collar. The caretakers collected the snow and took it away, otherwise everything would sink in it.
The Russian winter is silent and dull. The sledge may ride fast, but you do not hear a sound. Only when the frost comes, then the runners screech. And when the spring arrives, and you hear the sound of the wheels, then what a joy it is!
Our Christmas comes from afar, very quietly. The snow is deep, and the frost is getting stronger.
Once you see the frozen pork being delivered, then you know that Christmas is near. For six weeks people were fasting on fish. The wealthier ate beluga, sturgeon, walleye, navaga; the poorer had herring, catfish, bream… In Russia, we had all kinds of fish. But at Christmas everyone ate pork. At the butcher’s, they would lay those pigs, like tree logs – up to the ceiling. The gammon was cut off, for corning. And so these cuts were lying in rows, and the snow dusted the pink stripes on the ground.
The frost was so strong that it riveted the air, turning it into a foggy frosty haze. The wagon trains were coming for Christmas. What is it, you ask? Well, it is like a train, except there were wide sledges instead of carriages, and they were riding on the snow, coming from the distant lands. One after one, they went in single file, stretching for miles.
The horses were from the steppe, to be sold. The drivers were all healthy, strong men from the Volga Region, near Samara. They brought pork, piglets, geese and turkeys, from the “ardent frost”, as they said. Then there was a Siberian grouse and a black grouse. Do you know a Siberian grouse? It is mottled, or pockmarked, that’s what its Russian name means. It is as big as a pigeon, methinks. It is a game, a forest bird. It feeds on rowan, cranberry, and juniper. And what taste it had, my brother! Here this bird is rare, but in Russia it was delivered by wagon trains. The merchants would sell everything, including the sledge and horses, buy the cloths and calico and go back home by cast iron. What is cast iron? Ah well, it is the railroad. It was more profitable to travel to Moscow on a wagon train: the merchant carried his own oats for his horses from his plants on the shoals of the steppe, and sold the horses in the capital.
Just before Christmas, in Konnaya Square in Moscow – or the Horse Square, for they sold horses there – the groans never stopped. This square… how to say it? It was more spacious than… the one where the Eiffel Tower is, you know? And there were sledges everywhere.
Thousands of sledges stood in rows. Frozen pigs were piled like firewood for miles on end. The snow would cover them, but snouts and bottoms were lurking from beneath. Next stood the vats as great… as this room, perhaps! The corned pork was cooked there. The frost was so strong that the brine froze, and you could see thin ice on it. The butcher was cutting the pork with an axe, and sometimes a piece of it, as much as half a pound, would bounce off – no care! A beggar would pick it up. These pork “crumbs” were thrown to beggars by armful: have it, the fasting is over! In front of the pork there was a piglet row, for another mile. And farther they traded geese, chicken, ducks, black grouse, Siberian grouse… They traded directly from the sledge. There were no scales, and everything was mostly sold by piece. Russia is a very hearty country: no scales, things are done by the eye. Sometimes the factory workers would harness themselves to the large sledge and off they went, laughing. And in the sledge there was a pile of piglets, and pork, and corned pork, and mutton… Life was rich then.
Translated from Russian by Julia Shuvalova.
Other posts in Translations.
Ivan Shmelyov, Christmas, part 2.
I wanted to have a lazy day this Saturday, so I didn’t set the clock. Indeed, this is my best way to relax and recharge: to have no alarm clock go off when I haven’t slept enough.
Then I went to do some shopping because I really don’t like to do it on December 30th or 31st. And by that time we had already started getting reports about the Ukrainian forces attacking the city of Belgorod that borders on the Kharkov Region. Yet around 4pm it got worse. The Russian forces obviously worked well to counter the attack. Yet it still resulted in several deaths, including three children’s. Around 20 people are currently in hospital in life-threatening condition.
As I have a student from Belgorod this year, I messaged his mother to ask if they were fine – just in time to learn that she was going to go out for something. Apparently, my mission was to remind her that there are some important things at this time, especially her safety.
This is not the first time something atrocious happens days before New Year. In those years, despite tragedy, no celebrations were cancelled. This year the capital cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg cancelled fireworks, although the decorations and Christmas markets are in full glory. It is evident, however, that when our entire country is investing in our war effort lavish celebrations are inappropriate.
The case with Belgorod has been reported by the other side as an air raid of a military object. But as you can see in the photo the attack aimed at the central square with New Year tree and the Christmas market. Hence the casualties among civilians, including children.
I wrote last year that all the so-called civilized nations and allies had ever done was killing children. Not all children, of course, but certainly those they deemed unworthy of walking the Earth. Such was their treatment of the Soviet children, then the Vietnamese, then the Russian kids at the Nord-Ost musical and in Beslan, then the children of Donbass. In autumn this year we have witnessed a totally unacceptable destruction of Gaza in Palestine, resulting in mass killings of children. The truth is, the same conductors operate this devilish orchestra. And today they ordered an air attack on the Belgorod city centre, two days before New Year.
As much as they understand the futility of these actions, they still undertake them, for their desire to annihilate those they consider their adversaries is stronger than any common sense. We just wait to see this desire finally turning against them.
Our condolences go to the Belgorod families.
Britain celebrated Remembrance Day, and I wrote on my Russian Telegram channel about it. November 11th was first marked in 1919 by the decree of King George V. Since then, and especially after the World War Two, people remembered those that fought and died in other conflicts. In fact, in one of the ceremonies I watched they even remembered the soldiers who died in the Boer War. The day that began with commemoration of the victims of the First World War has evolved into an occasion to remember all soldiers of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.
In Russia, we also remember the tragedy of World War One, but we do it on August 1st, the day the war started. In recent years, we have largely come to see this event as a personal tragedy of the Russian state and its people. Following the successes at the front in 1916, it was probably assumed that Russia won the war; however, the events of 1917, with its two revolutions and deposition of monarchy, annihilated every achievement of the Russian army. The separate peace treaty between the Bolshevist government and Berlin effectively left Germany to struggle alone on the Western front. Russia, in turn, was engulfed by the Civil War.
It is hard to feel gratitude for such events, but as I said in an earlier post, it is these events that ultimately teach us the most valuable lessons. And so I’m grateful for this experience that my country had once undergone that now supports its domestic unity.
November 7th used to be widely celebrated as the birth of the Soviet State. It was considered a benign democratic antidote to the tzarist system.
If we take seriously the fact that the three-coloured imperial flag was changed to the monocoloured red standard, we might say that the October Revolution was the first attempt at a colourful revolution. It wasn’t the Georgian Orange but the Soviet Red that heralded the epoch of “adopted” democracies that ensued.
Today people’s attitude to the October 1917 events has changed, mostly towards a more balanced view of the Romanovs and the role the October played in the events of the first half of 20th century in Russia and elsewhere in the world.
Am I grateful to those late October 1917 events? I see little point in even contemplating this question; but since I chose to give thanks to things, I shall. I believe a sure sign of human maturity is the ability to turn a loving eye to the past of one’s family and country. It is healthier to evolve at one’s own speed, no doubt. Yet in the case with a revolution one has to remember that it never happens for no reason. The society was ready for it, but not for its aftermath. And so we can be grateful for the opportunity to distinguish between the common good and the common evil. The events of 2023 with an unsuccessful mutiny have proved that the people have learned a historic lesson.
On the Day of National Unity our gratitude goes to the patriotic spirit of the 17th century Russian citizens. A chain of ill-thought events following the death of Boris Godunov led to the Moscow throne being seized by the Polish party. For the first time since the end of the Mongol yoke Russian sovereignty as the state was under threat. The people of Russia eventually abandoned their feuds, and all social classes united for one cause.
The icon of Our Lady of Kazan that was miraculously found in 1570s by the future Patriarch Hermogen (who was later imprisoned by the Poles in Moscow for his appeals to people and starved to death) played a pivotal role in protecting the Russian forces. It was then used again in 1812, during Napoleonic invasion; and it is widely believed that a helicopter with this icon on board flew around Moscow in November-December 1941, during the Moscow Battle. However, it was also thought to have been lost; yet this year, Patriarch Kirill announced that the icon was found again.
Our unity as a nation has been tested in 1990s, but since Vladimir Putin came to power the patriotic spirit has been growing. It received a significant kick in 2022, reviving the national pride and the desire to serve one’s Land. And so we are thankful to be Russian, to live in Russia and to work to make it great.
If Marylin Monroe had been alive, she would definitely visit Mr President, if in disguise. I recently saw the play The Insignificance at the Oleg Tabakov Theatre, and if Marylin were able to see Albert Einstein, she would leave no stone unturned on her way to the Kremlin, to see Vladimir Putin.
To say we are proud in Russia to have a leader like Putin is an understatement. In my childhood, we felt pride and honour when we heard a foreign ambassador address the Soviet nation in an almost impeccable Russian. These days, we feel the same when we read comments from foreigners, like, “I wish he were our President”.
The picture that Vyacheslav Volodin, the State Duma speaker, shared today speaks a thousand words. Vladimir Putin is the real Pater Patriae, the Father of the Nation, and this includes not only people but animals, too. The love and support he has from the people outweighs the hardships we sometimes experience due to a long period of the liberal agenda’s omnipresence. Yet there is enough willpower to overcome these hardships, and it is obvious that this is something we as a nation have longed for.
Happy birthday, Mister President!
More posts in History.
A historical moment: Uganda passes the anti-gay law, to protect African children from paedophilia and LGBTQ+
A historical moment recorded by the BBC: a Black African state spits on its *assumed* White majors. Uganda passes the anti-gay law, and the Parliament has seemingly rejoiced upon counting the votes.
I was watching this video from BBC Uganda and thinking to myself:
what does it feel like for Britain and others, to spend centuries keeping Africa subdued, half-literate, half-alive, only for the Black Continent to start fiercely objecting to some essential aspects of a White-Man propaganda, in this case the LGBTQ+?
You see, I used to be tolerant to homosexuality until it was restricted to L, G, and B. To this day I have some gay friends abroad and I have a couple of them in Russia, too. The T was harder to digest, but I have always believed in a man’s free will and responsibility for their words and actions. Yet Q+, a bazillion of genders, sexual lessons at the age of 10, gender-changing operations at the age of 12, and paedophilia as the new “normality” is far too much. Even my gay friends are perplexed and infuriated.
I am glad to hear that people in Britain and the U.S. try to protest against their governments’ gender policy in educational institutions. But this is not enough.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has already warned Uganda against the application of this law, which is yet to be ratified by the President of Uganda. To judge by his son’s reaction, however, the President is unlikely to withdraw and will persevere in the country’s stance. The Uganda anti-gay law will enforce the following:
- a death penalty for paedophilia and sexual acts with the disabled, including the instances that led to HIV/AIDS contraction;
- 20 years of prison for homosexual acts with under-18s;
- 14 years of prison for proven homosexual relations;
- 10 years of prison for providing the premises for homosexual services.
So, yes, the Black Continent, impoverished, undereducated, and suffering from HIV/AIDS, does not lack the willpower and a concern for its own national interests. God bless Africa!
More on History
On March 22nd, 2023, Belarus marks the 80th anniversary of annihilation of Khatyn village – one of nearly 5,000 villages that suffered the same fate during the Russian phase of the Second World War.
Today, on March 22nd, 2023, Belarus marks the 80th anniversary of annihilation of Khatyn village – one of nearly 5,000 villages that suffered the same fate during the Russian phase of the Second World War.
The story of Khatyn is succinctly narrated in this passage:
The destruction of Khatyn and the murder of the villagers was an act of revenge in response to the bombardment of a German motorcade by Belarusian partisans on 22 March 1943, killing the company commander, Captain Hans Woellke, and three Ukrainian members of the Battalion 118 protection team. On the same day Khatyn was plundered and destroyed by Battalion 118 and SS Special Battalion Dirlewanger. They drove the inhabitants first into the village barn, set it on fire and with machine guns shot the people who tried to save themselves from the barn. A total of 149 villagers died, including 75 children. One adult, the then 56-year-old village blacksmith Iosif Kaminskij, and five children survived the destruction of Khatyn and the Second World War. Two more girls were able to flee from the burning barn into the forest and were taken in by inhabitants of the village Khvorosteni, but then died in the destruction of that very village.
Some people from the Soviet side who participated in burning of the villages later attempted to lead a “normal” life and even met with school pupils as “veterans” to talk about the war. But one by one they were identified and exterminated.
The tragedy of Khatyn was revisited in May 2014 when over 100 people perished in the fire in Odessa for their opposition to the Kiev’s coup (Maidan). It was then that it became evident to many people that the coup was orchestrated by neo-Fascist forces who used the same strategy of “punitive operations” called to terrify the people and stop the resistance.
I’ve never been to Khatyn, but you can have a 3D virtual tour at the site of memorial complex. In addition to the eternal flame and solely standing bell-towers, there is a cemetery where all destroyed villages are symbolically “buried”, and a heart-tearing sculpture of a man carrying his murdered son. The sculpture that epitomises the fatal tragedy of the entire Soviet population during the Great Patrioric War has its real-life protagonists. A Khatyn blacksmith, Iosif Kaminskij, miraculously survived and found at burning site his 15-year-old son Adam who died in his hands.
Today, when we again fight against the same enemy, we have no choice but to live through the pain of those people. They nearly began to vanish in the haze when the bell rang to remind that no crime like this can never be forgotten.
More on History
Vladimir Putin acts as Alexander Nevsky, making a choice between the antagonistic West and the more traditional China, now epitomised by Xi Jinping.
Russia’s definitive turn to the East that is presently much discussed in the Western media comes as another historical comeback of the recent years. Here, Vladimir Putin acts as Alexander Nevsky, making a choice between the antagonistic West and the more traditional China, now epitomised by Xi Jinping.
The 13th Century in Russian History: A Choice between the West and the East
Back in the first half of 13th century the Papacy went berserk against everyone that was still not subdued to the power of the Roman throne. The barbarian Albigensian Crusade and the siege and capture of Constantinople as the highest point of the Fourth Crusade were insufficient. The Slavic and Baltic tribes of the Eastern Europe remained pagan or Orthodox, and they had to be
converted coerced into Catholicism.
The Livonian Order successfully converted or exterminated several Baltic tribes before reaching the borders of Rus near Novgorod the Great. The story of Alexander Nevsky’s overthrowing the Catholic knights in two decisive battles (the Battle on the Neva River, 1240; and the Battle on the Ice, 1242) is well known.
At practically the same time the Mongols came in hordes and subdued the fragments of the Ancient Russian state that fell apart as a result of feudal disunity. Arguably, the Tatar-Mongols were better equipped, and they acted as one force, whereas the Russians were divided, and this explains why there was little resistance to their onslaught. The Mongols were strong, the Russians were weak – although not too weak against the Catholic knights.
Yet there was another reason why the Mongol yoke seemed the lesser of two evils. The Mongols left unscathed the Orthodox Church. If an occasional temple did perish in the flame, it was because the Mongols burnt the entire city, and not because they strongly opposed the Russian religion. As a result, not only did the Orthodox church and faith survive, they also became the building block of the Mongol resistance and played the pivotal role in the first victory at Kulikovo Field in 1380.
Needless to say, this would be absolutely impossible if the Papacy had its way. The Papacy’s sole aim was to expand its power beyond the known limits, to make it universal. There would be no Orthodox order, but only the Roman Catholic. There would be no Russian churches or that peculiar ancient Russian culture we all admire. And there would possibly be no Russians as a nation. The Papacy gave an example of discerning between the heretics and faithful during the Albigensian Crusade: kill them all, and God will know the difference.
Russia and China Today
Centuries later we are back to the same configuration in politics, and once again Russia opts for an alliance with traditional, Orthodox-friendly China against the West, which has clearly lost sight of things in its servile devotion to “progress” and a staunch opposition to Orthodox Christianity.
Hence, Alexander Nevsky’s not-so-difficult choice has been upheld by Vladimir Putin.