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Democracy In Iceland: How To Make the Best Of an Economic Crisis

I translated the text below from Russian for two reasons. One, it would be really great if more countries followed in the footsteps of Iceland. Nevermind loans and debts, this is the great example of democratic government, by people and for the people, and this is something that must be known, discussed and – hopefully – studied and used. 

Secondly, as I was reading the story I kept going back to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Writing his book so that the French could figure out how to create a democracy in their country, this royalist descendant who foresaw the inevitable arrival of democracy also mentioned one curious thing: that for a country to successfully implement a democratic regime, it must either be very small or very young. In his time, the first half of 19th c., only two countries satisfied the criteria: Switzerland in Europe, and the United States, the former being small, the latter young. In case with Iceland, the size and language are likely to cement the achievement. Reading the comments Russian people make in social media, I wonder if anything like this may ever be possible here because the common memory seems to run very deep, and these undercurrents are unlikely to be abandoned any time soon. Even before one considers the size of Russia one has to admit that the country would quite likely take all historical and emotional baggage into the new era and to continue “harking back” to the times immemorial because all of them constitute an important part of the national “fabric”. This is not to say that Russia cannot be democratic, but it will be a new, Russian kind of democracy.

And at the same time the example of Iceland can be used for personal study, how to use the critical situation to adhere to and to advance your own interests. As it often happens, life gets in the way, and we try to get on with life, abandoning or indefinitely postponing the realisation of our goals. Iceland teaches us how we can take matters in our hands and to carry on with our course, no matter what life events get in the way. 

Translated by Julia Shuvalova. Original Russian text. An article in Komsomolskaya Pravda about the events.

Have you heard of what happened in Iceland on October 20, 2012? Probably not. You know, why? Because on October 20 Iceland has survived a revolution – absolutely peaceful but a revolution nonetheless. It showed at once how “dangerous” it is when “democratic procedures”, of which the liberals talk so much, are controlled by the majority and not by the minority, as usual. This is precisely the reason why the world media keep mum about the demonstrative example of Iceland, all but concealing it. For it is the last thing that the powers that be of this world would want to happen – that Iceland could really lead other countries. However, let’s take it steady.

On October 20, 2012 a referendum took place in Iceland approving of the new Constitution. This referendum struck the final note in the battle the Icelandic people have fought since 2008 when they suddenly found out that, due to the financial crisis, their country (which is not a member of the EU, as a matter of fact) literally became bankrupt.

The news was sudden because it came after the five years of flourishing, sustained by the “most effective” neoliberal economy based on privatisation of all banks in the country (in 2003). To attract foreign investments, the banks extensively used online banking system that provides fairly high profits against the minimal spend.

Indeed, the Icelandic banks attracted funds from many small British and Dutch investors, everything was grand, and, as far as neoliberals were concerned, the economy was in a great state. All was good, except for one thing: the more investments were attracted, the quicker grew the external debt of the banks. Whereas in 2003 this debt made 200% of GNP, by 2007 it was 900%. The global financial crisis of 2008 dealt the death blow to Iceland’s economy. Three leading banks – Landbanki, Kapthing, and Glitnir – went bankrupt and were nationalised, while the krona lost 85% of its value against the euro. At the end of the year Iceland announced bankruptcy.

Now it is time to remember that Iceland is a democratic country. At first the citizens decided to rely on the “usual” representative democracy. Several months after the banks’ collapse the Icelanders took to the streets, protesting against the bankers, responsible for the crisis, and the ignorant politicians who allowed the crisis to develop. The protests and public unrest eventually forced the Government to resign.

The new elections took place in April 2009, and the coalition of left forces came to power. On the one hand, it instantly denounced the neoliberal economy, but, on the other hand, the new government quickly gave in to the demands of the World Bank and the members of the EU to pay the banks’ debts – altogether, 3,5bln euro. This meant that every citizen in Iceland would have to pay 100 euro monthly for the next 15 years, in order to repay the debts of private persons (the bank owners) to other private persons.

This was too much even for the phlegmatic Icelanders and has led to a rather extraordinary course of events. The idea to pay for the mistakes of private financiers, that the entire country must be subjected to a toll to repay the private debts, was so unacceptable that a new wave of mass protests ensued. These practically forced the government to side with the majority of people. As a result, the President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson refused to ratify the law, already passed through the Parliament, that would make the citizens responsible for the bankers’ debts, and called a referendum.

Next followed the reaction of the “international community”, rather characteristic of the “free world”: Iceland was put under the unprecedented pressure. Great Britain and Holland threatened to impose severe economic sanctions, up to a complete isolation of Iceland, if the debts are not repaid. The World Monetary Fund threatened to withdraw any help. The British government threatened to freeze the savings and current accounts of Icelandic citizens. But Iceland stood firm, while the President Grimsson remarked: “We were told that, if we did not accept the conditions of the global community, we would become the Northern Cuba. Yet if we did accept them, we’d become the Northern Haiti”.

The referendum took place in March 2010. 93% of Icelanders decided not to repay the debts to the foreign creditors – Britain and Holland. The World Monetary Fund immediately freeze all credits. But nothing could any longer stop the Icelanders. With popular support the government initiated civil and criminal investigations against the individuals responsible for the financial crisis. Interpol gave an arrest order against the ex-President of Kaupthing Bank, Sigurd Einarsson, while other bankers, involved in bringing the country to bankruptcy, fled Iceland.

Yet even this was not the end. The Icelanders decided to create a new Constitution that would liberate the country from the power of global finance and virtual money. At the same time, the Icelanders wanted to write the Constitution themselves, as one nation. And they succeeded! The project of the Constitution was written by 950 ordinary citizens, randomly selected (as in a lottery) by the members of the National Assemble in 2010.

To complete the Constitution, the people of Iceland elected a Constitutional Council consisting of 25 people. Fishermen, farmers, doctors, and even housewives were elected from 522 adult citizens who did not belong to any political party and who was each recommended by at least 30 people.

As a Russian journalist wrote in his article (the name of the article referring to the famous quote from Lenin, that “every cooker can sit in the government”), “let us underline specifically that nobody in Iceland resented the fact that they could not read through all 522 bios and political platforms, let alone to find their way in the bulletin that contained the names of so many people”.

Next, the citizens began to polish the text of the Constitution. Let us cite the same Russian journalist: “After this the Council used the system of crowd-sourcing and provided access to its work for everybody. The citizens’ feedback was collected on Facebook, Twitter, and even YouTube. Altogether 3600 comments and 370 amendments were made. Every week the Council published online the new articles, to be discussed by people. Two or three weeks later, having considered all suggestions from the citizens and experts, the Council published a final draft of the articles that could then be discussed for one last time. Apart from this, the members of the Council recorded weekly bulletins about their work and uploaded them to YouTube, and the Council meetings could be watched online in real time. In the end, all 25 members voted to end the work on the Constitution. “We, the people of Iceland, want to create a fair society where each of us will have an equal place at the common table”, – such is the opening paragraph of the Constitution”.

In their comments the members of the Constitutional Council admit that in other languages this phrase sounds rough, but, in their opinion, the idea is clear to all Icelanders and better than any other reflects the aspiration to create equal opportunities for everyone. According to the Constitution, the natural resources of the island are declared the public property. Of a particular interest is the article “Open information and fairness” that obliges the government to provide a public access to all of its documents, unless they constitute the state secret. The Constitution also calls the government to work for the benefit of the Earth and biosphere, and not people alone. A separate article supports the animal rights. This innovative document incorporates a rather archaic article, omitted from the majority of European constitutions: according to it, the Evangelical-Lutheran church of Iceland retains its national status.

One important point should be noted, as it influenced the course of events. The Constitutional Council turned to be, as it were, “Eurosocialist” – not so much because the majority of Icelanders adhere to the leftist program, but because of the short-sighted and downright silly attitude of the Icelandic right forces. Previously in power, The Progressive Party and The Party of Independence appealed to their members to boycott the elections to the Council and subsequent work on the Constitution, which appeal the members followed. As a result, the right forces and the conservatives were in the minority.

Thus, due to the joint influence of both objective and subjective factors, the majority suddenly held all the trumps in their hands. They were the majority in the Constitutional Council, in the committee that developed the Constitution, and then at the referendum. The result “exceeded all expectations” to such extent that for a long time now the world media keep eloquent silence about the results of the referendum on October 23, when the Constitution was approved by 80% of Icelanders, with 66% turnout.

So, you got it? As soon as the majority was allowed to develop and vote for the Constitution, then privatisation as a panacea to all economic maladies was “swapped” for nationalisation, the state secret became the common knowledge, and instead of the strictly representative democracy the elements of true democracy have emerged.

God forbid, think the neoliberal governments throughout the world, the example of Iceland is followed elsewhere. Today the same solutions are offered to other countries. Greece is told that privatisation of the public sector is the only solution. The same is told to Spain, Italy, and Portugal. But what if they followed the example of Iceland? What a horrible thought to entertain…

Yet this can happen. Many Russian tourists who constantly suffer through the endlessly striking “European PIGS” (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain) note that many manifestation banners mention Iceland. But none of this is mentioned in the news. The main focus is on what conditions these “pigs” consent to a gracious offer of a loan to repay the debts of bankrupt private banks.

This is why you never knew about the Icelandic referendum. The world media pretend that nothing happened. For the media, just like governments and parliaments, also represent the interests of the ruling classes who do not want the majority of citizens to have a say in the government matters.

But for all those who support the majority and who are not indifferent to the true democracy, the story of Iceland is a lesson. It is a lesson in an organised majority, in direct democracy, in the real exercise of the rights of the majority, in popular legislation and self-government. It is the lesson in all the things that make any democracy possible in the first place.

Important update:

I have just found an article submitted to Reddit and published on March 30, 2013 by Torvaldur Gylfason. It reads:

In sum, it was clear that in a secret ballot the constitutional bill would never have had a chance of being adopted by parliament, not even after the national referendum on the bill on 20 October 2012 where 67% of the electorate expressed their support for the bill as well as for its main individual provisions, including national ownership of natural resources (83% said Yes), direct democracy (73% said Yes), and ‘one person, one vote’ (67% said Yes). But the parliament does not vote in secret. In fact, 32 out of 63 members of parliament were induced by an e-mail campaign organized by ordinary citizens to declare that they supported the bill and wanted to adopt it now. Despite these public declarations, however, the bill was not brought to a vote in the parliament, a heinous betrayal – and probably also an illegal act committed with impunity by the president of the parliament. Rather, the parliament decided to disrespect its own publicly declared will as well as the popular will as expressed in the national referendum by putting the bill on ice and, to add insult to injury, hastily requiring 2/3 of parliament plus 40% of the popular vote to approve any change in the constitution in the next parliament, meaning that at least 80% voter turnout would be required for a constitutional reform to be accepted in the next session of parliament. The politicians apparently paid no heed to the fact that under these rules Iceland’s separation from Denmark would not have been accepted in the referendum of 1918. In practice, this means that we are back to square one as intended by the enemies of the new constitution. There is faint hope that the new parliament will respect the will of the people if the outgoing one failed to do so despite its promises. In her farewell address, the outgoing Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, declared this to be the saddest day of her 35 years in parliament.

One can see that the future of Iceland is yet far from certain, but the hope remains.

Felina Petrarcae (Petrarch’s Cat)

I don’t really now how many cats Francesco Petrarca had in his lifetime. Neither do I know much about the cat that was embalmed and put to stay in his house-museum in Italy. I did read his letters, and some passages were referenced in the story. It started in one notebook on a bus on my way home and finished in another book, when I was living on my own in Manchester. It was originally written in Russian in 2008 and appeared in print in early 2011. I finished the translation in 2012, of which I can say I am quite happy with it.

Felina Petrarcaehttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/115390200/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&access_key=key-3eguodq5u4py0e9dinq


Elizabeth Barrett Browning – How Do I Love Thee?

This is the poem I shall be working on translating, most likely, in 2013. 2012 has resulted in a few good translations of poems, as well as some prose pieces. Among them – translations from Robert Burns, George Orwell, Vita Sackville-West, Omar Khayyam, and W. H. Auden, and a poem by contemporary poet and author Adrian Slatcher.


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

An Interview With the Secretary of Salvador Dali, Enrique Sabater

Until May 10, 2012 an exhibition of rarely seen artwork of Salvador Dali was exhibited in Paris. All objects on display belonged to one-time secretary of the great artist, Enrique Sabater. The video from PressTVGlobalNews is a fair introduction to the kind of artwork that went on display. And below is my translation (from French) of an interview with Mr Sabater, conducted by Nathalie d’Allincourt for L’Objet d’Art edition (April 2012).


In the privacy of Salvador Dali 

Nathalie d’Allincourt

A personal secterary to Salvador Dali, the Catalan Enrique Sabater lived for over ten years next to the master and his muse, Gala. After the Musee de Cadaques l’Espace Dali exhibited an anthology of 120 works that the master had given him and often dedicated: drawings, watercolours, photographs, objects…

The photos that underpin the exhibition were made throughout the years passed close to Dali. Were they intended to be art or merely a matter-of-fact? 
I adore photography that I have practised since childhood. Near Mr Dali there was no restriction, I could photograph at any moment. In 2004 I presented the scores of my photographs at the exhibition in Barcelona marking Dali’s centenary. Almost always these photos show the artist in an intimate atmosphere.

People are aware of the theatrical aspect of Dali’s personality. Was he really different in private life? 
He had two personas. When we were all three together with Gala (we had a breakfast together every morning), it was one person, absolutely normal. He was very intelligent, passionate about science and had many scientists as his friends. But when he appeared in public, he acted in a very theatrical manner, to the point of changing his voice.

How did you live all those years next to Dali? 
Every year we spent summer in Catalonia, at the house of Portlligat. Mr Dali worked in the morning and in the afternoon, after a short siesta. After 6pm he often received visits from young artists who came to show him their work. After that there were 15 days in Paris, at the hotel Meurice, then in New York where we stayed for 4 or 5 months at the hotel Saint Regis. In New York every Sunday Andy Warhol came to have a dinner with three of us. We always stayed at the same hotels, in the same rooms. Twice a year we spent a few years at the Ritz in Barcelona for familial reasons. Likewise, we visited Madrid and stayed at the Palace Hotel, to see the Prince Juan Carlos, the future king.

Did Dali visit other museums or artists of his generation? 
The master knew all the museums and collections, but he did not feel the necessity to put himself vis-a-vis the work of other artists. The only museum that we did visit was the Centre Pompidou because we collaborated with them a lot. Since our stays in Paris were short, we particularly loved visiting certain streets, like Rue Jacob. Throughout his life Dali upheld the connection with Picasso. It is often considered that the two had been enemies for political reasons: Picasso was a Communist, of course, but Dali was not at all a Fascist! They maintained the distance without ever breaking the connection: the word was sent by trumpet. Each one in their own way was acutely aware of what they had to say to another, and so they did. In April 1973 Dali was immediately informed about Picasso’s death, and we left for Mougins. Picasso treasured his trumpets, which his son Claude inherited from him.

You hold the academic sword of Dali in your possession…
Yes, he gave it to me the next day after receiving it, and this is the first time I am showing it to the public. On the sword a polished space was prepared for a gravure, a dedication created by Dali for the paper letters of Gala. The object was not leave Paris without being engraved! I am also showing a preparatory drawing.

You met Dali in 1968 during an interview and you never left until 1981. What was it that made you leave him? 
In 1972, Dali and Gala charged me with commecialisation of the master’s work. But in 1981 Gala went mad. Dali, ennerved, could no longer make enough to satisfy the enormous want of money this woman had had. Behind my back Gala began to deal with real gangsters, and the market got flooded with forged lihographs. I ended up infoming the Spanish government. A New-Yorkean solicitor of Dali came to try and explain to Gala that she needed to stop. I left, despite the master’s insisting on me staying.

Are you going to write the memoirs of this exciting time?
They have already been written, it only remains to publish them…

Translated from French by Julia Shuvalova

Marshak of the Soviet Union: To Samuil Marshak’s 125th Anniversary

The famous Russian poet and translator Samuil Marshak was born on November 3, 1887. This year marks his 125th anniversary. He is particularly known to the Western audience and scholars as a translator who made Shakespeare’s sonnets and Robert Burns’s poetry available to the Russian readers. What is less known is his contribution to the tradition of children’s poetry in Russia, and this post will look at precisely this.

This wonderful person was once called “Marshak of the Soviet Union”. Indeed, together with Kornei Chukovsky, Agniya Barto, and Sergei Mikhalkov, he was the main children’s poet, and it would be hard to single out any one of the four. Possibly, Marshak and Chukovsky would stand apart since they had not merely drawn inspiration from the everyday life of Soviet children, but also from the endless well of world literature. And still Marshak stands out in his own right with his beautiful, melodic poems and plays in verses in which he reconstructed a magical world of childhood.

So below are links to the previous posts on this blog where Marshak work featured, as well as several books from my home library.

Samuil Marshak – In the Van (Translated into English by Margaret Wettlin)

Samuil Marshak – In the Vanhttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/112006657/content?start_page=1&view_mode=book&access_key=key-ers0x51nvdfhbimrcwm

Marshak’s translation of Love and Poverty poem by Robert Burns that became a famous song in the Soviet adaptation of Charley’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas.

Another translation of Robert Burns, this time The Little Black Boy.

Samuil Marshak – Cat’s House (in Russian)
A beautiful fairy tale about the feline couple who once declined taking two orphaned kittens in the house. Then their house burnt down, and they had to look for shelter which they found with the kittens. A story of compassion, friendship, and the need of the family.

Samuil Marshak – Cat’s Househttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/112003690/content?start_page=1&view_mode=book&access_key=key-23svg11wypfstk1r6vlv

Samuil Marshak – The Tale of a Hero Nobody Knows (English translation by Peter Tempest)
A poetisation of the Soviet youth: a “hero” is a guy who acts according to circumstances, saving people, and shuns recognition.

Samuil Marshak – The Tale of a Hero Nobody Knowshttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/109381612/content?start_page=1&view_mode=book&access_key=key-23wg5v69dcb3cntk2xa7

Samuil Marshak – Petits d’animaux derriere les barreaux (French translation by Catherine Emery) 
Short poems about animal cubs.

Samuil Marchak – Petits d’animaux derriere les barreauxhttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/106628764/content?start_page=1&view_mode=book&access_key=key-23nd2yiojs9xoi4nxxe


A Full Text Of Slava Polunin Interview

I know a lot of you are interested in the interview with Slava Polunin that I translated in 2003. It wasn’t published, and then in 2008 I thought I’d publish it here. Since then I’ve received so many thankyous, I’ve met a few people who were involved in absurdist, surrealist theatre or in clownery and who apparently even used this interview in their classes. What happened, as well, I changed templates on the blog, and suddenly “read more” option stopped working, and some of the posts from the interview got truncated.

So when I received yet another request from someone involved in clownery and acting, it occurred to me that I could use Scribd! Gosh, you can really go for ages not realising there is an obvious thing to do. Now the document is on Scribd, I gather the S’s editors were happy with the document and had it featured, and you can read it here, download, embed it on your site, print it out, in short – spread Slava’s talent, thirst for life, and carnival spirit.

Slava Polunin – A Monologue of the Clownhttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/106971542/content?start_page=1&view_mode=book&access_key=key-2ac2yu7vsas1n77gb558


July and August News

As you gathered from previous post, I can now blog from my mobile phone. Don’t be surprised: in all 6 years I blogged from PCs, notebooks, and netbooks, sometimes even at the Internet cafes, but never from a mobile phone. One thing I should sadly mention is that the mobile version of Blogger doesn’t have an option to add a hyperlink. It also suggests I type in the names of Labels, which is not at all convenient. I suppose I can do formatting myself, but it’s not ideal for blogging on the go. At least, now the Blogger team has feedback 😉

It was hard to keep up with the blogging tempo I had last year, but there’re plenty of great things I can share. Last year I translated a book from English into Russian on the subject of children’s puberty. This year it was finally published and is already sold in Moscow bookstores. Not only am I a published author now, I’ve got a translated book under my belt, too.

Next, wherever you are in the world, interested in Russia but not wanting to be spoon-fed any kind of propaganda about this country, welcome to Russia-InfoCentre. Since 2001 this English-language e-zine, produced entirely by Russian citizens, has been serving the global audience who wanted to learn more about Russian culture, business, arts, travel opportunities, etc. There are also two sections on the site that provide encyclopaedic articles about Russian famous people and cities and regions of the country. When I decided to stay in Moscow for a period of time, I began to look for opportunities to tell people about Russia as it really is, behind the headlines, official sources, misconceptions, and the Cold War era propaganda. Russia-IC and I found each other, and I’ve been a part of their team since May 2011. It gives me a great pleasure to invite you to subscribe to their news and article RSS feeds and to follow them on Facebook or Google Plus.

I’ve moved my personal information to http://avidadollars.org/, where people can also contact me and which I am updating with my news.

Back to mobile blogging, I will now be able to share Moscow photos straight to LCJ, although I’ll probably have to add FourSquare and Qype recommendations manually on PC.

By the way, many thanks to Qype Team who commended my review of the Old Trafford Stadium last month. In August I contributed several more Moscow landmarks, their reviews and photos, and even became a champion of a few hotspots! As a matter of fact, some reviews and photos have gone places, like this review of the Beacon of Hope in Manchester’s Sackville Gardens. I’m very pleased to have been Qype’s contributor since 2010.

After a quick visit to Manchester in February this year I’ve not travelled anywhere – and then went first to Kaluga Region in early August, then to Pskov Region in late August, and spent the most wonderful evening enjoying the famous Gorky Park. I’ve painstakingly documented all these trips in my hand-written diary, in addition to taking photos. And I’m already planning the next trip, which, if I make it happen, should become a long-relished cherry on the cake.

What else should I say? I wrote this on Facebook and I can only repeat again: this August I deeply felt how happy and lucky I was with all close friends, family members who back me and support me, with great friends I’ve made through social networks or with whom I maintain contact via the same networks. I’m grateful to them for bearing with me 🙂 and for being what they are.

After all is really said and done… welcome to September!

Walking in the rain in Moscow (Credit: Julia Shuvalova 2012)


Thoughts on Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange

I think the “good” film adaptations are mainly those of Shakespeare’s work. I didn’t analyse yet as to what exactly makes them good, i.e. faithful and accurate, but I announced my impression.

I read A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess when I was still in Russia. I didn’t then plan to go to Britian, and I didn’t even imagine I’d end up living in Burgess’s native Manchester. Having lived there for a number of years, seeing the notorious yobs and hearing crime reports, I certainly would envisage a different kind of screen adaptation. But even if Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange (1971) is fascinating as far as cinematography is concerned, as a kind of “translation” it is incomplete – and this is now I explained on Reddit the other day.

Re: A Clockwork Orange – don’t judge the film before you read the book. For all the visual beauty, the film is incomplete. Also, it’s an adaptation, hence it’s a kind of cinematic translation. Burgess, having come from Manchester, must’ve known well the kind of lads he was writing about – and they still inhabit Manchester, even though Burgess had gone. I lived in Manchester and Salford in 2000s, there are still gangs of youngsters who speak their own language and are ready to knife, rob and rape anyone they like. Sad but true. What happens in the novel, though, is that after all his tribulations Alex returns home where he’s not wanted and at some point realises that he no longer wants to be in a gang. He wants to have a place, a home, a family, a boy… who will probably end up making the same mistakes – because he’ll be from the same background as Alex. He doesn’t merely find the golden middle, he realises that the values and actions he thought had belonged to him are in fact completely alien to him. And it’s this latter part that Kubrick didn’t bring to screen, and it’s for this reason I think the adaptation is incomplete. It’s like if you translate a book and think “hang on, I’m not going to translate this because I think it will make a wrong impression” – and so you lose an integral part of the author’s plot“.

Mikhail Lermontov – I Come Out To the Path, Alone…

On July 27, 1841 the great Russian Romanticist poet Mikhail Lermontov had been killed at the duel in Pyatigorsk. In his short lifetime, filled with romance, military service, and bitterness, he composed numerous poems, several long poems (Demon, Valerik) and ballads, plays (The Masquerade), short stories, and a novel The Hero Of Our Time that has long been in Russian school curriculum.

The poem “I Come Out To the Path, Alone” was composed in 1841 – the year Lermontov died, and prophetically carries the gloom of predestination. It successfully marries Russian melancholy with the Romanticist fighting spirit. The disillusioned protagonist foresees his death but wishes it would lead to eternal life where he could join and enjoy the Nature.

The poem was put to music and has long been a popular romance. It also featured in The Life of Klim Samgin becoming the epitome of the spiritual searches and disillusionment of all Gorky’s characters, caught up in the ever changing Russian life at the turn of the 19-20th cc.

The song in the extract is performed by Marina (Natalia Gundareva) and Kutuzov (Andrejs Zagars). The poem was translated into English in 1995 by Yevgeny Bonver.

I come out to the path, alone,
Night and wildness are referred to God,
Through the mist, the road gleams with stone,
Stars are speaking in the shinning lot.

There is grave and wonderful in heaven;
Earth is sleeping in a pale-blue light…
Why is then my heart such pined and heavy?
Is it waiting or regretting plight?

I expect that nothing more goes,
And for past I do not have regret,
I wish only freedom and repose,
I would fall asleep and all forget…

I would like to fall asleep forever,
But without cold sleep of death:
Let my breast be full of dozing fervor
For the life, and heave in gentle breath;

So that enchanting voice would ready
Day and night to sing to me of love,
And the oak, evergreen and shady,
Would decline to me and rustle above.

Alexander Blok – The Italian Impressions (Translation, An Extract)

Italian Impressions by Alexander Blok is a curious example of the Russian Symbolist poet visiting Italy and returning largely unimpressed

In 1909 The Italian Impressions by Alexander Blok came out of print. Blok wasn’t impressed to say the least, and his sentiments, in spite of his support of the revolutionary efforts of his own country, were rather negative  the industrial development of Italy or, indeed, any other country. Below is an extract of my translation of this essay.

Alexander Blok, The Italian Impressions.

The Preface.

Time flies, civilization grows, mankind progresses.

19th century is the Iron Age. This is the age when a train of heavy-loaded carts runs along the cobbled road, drawn by exhausted horses pushed by people with mellow, pale faces. Their nerves are ruined by hunger and need, their open mouths extort swear words, and yet neither swearing, nor cries are heard. Only whips and reins can be seen, and every sound sinks in the deafening noise of the iron lines loaded on carts.

This entire century shakes, trembles and rumbles – like the same iron lines. People, these slaves of civilization, tremble in terror in front of its very face. Time flies; with each year, day and hour it becomes clearer that civilization is about to come down upon its own creators and to crush them; yet this doesn’t happen. Insanity continues: everything is forethought and predestined, and death is inevitable but it doesn’t hurry to arrive. What must be is not; what is ready is not happening. Revolutions strike, then calm down, then disappear. People always tremble in terror. They used to be human but no longer are they, only appearing such. They are slaves, animals, reptiles. What was called people is no longer protected by God, groomed by Nature, or pleased by Art. Those who were people no longer demand anything from God, Nature, or Art.

Civilization grows. At the start of the century Balzac spoke of “human comedy”. In the mid-century Sherr spoke of “tragi-comedy”. Today we have a street spectacle. The farce began when the first airplane took off.

The air has been conquered – what a magnificent sight to behold! One pathetic dandy whirled up in the sky. So a hen decided to fly: she spread her wings and flew over a pile of shit.

Do you know that every nut in the machine, every turn of a screw, every new technical achievement produces the masses of plebeians? Of course, you don’t know this, for you are “educated”, and “nobody compares to an educated person in his shallowness”, as your kind-hearted Ruskin once blurted out.

Translated into English © Julia Shuvalova 2012.

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