An archaeological park to be built in Crimea

The local authorities of Kerch, a city in the Eastern Crimea, are developing a plan to create an archaeological park. The park is to be located in Arshintsevo, a district of Kerch. This place is known as the ancient town Tyritake (Τυριτακε). The Greek colony was established in mid-VI century BCE. It was captured and destroyed by Huns in the IV century CE. The first arhaeological expedition started excavations in Tyritake in 1932. The park will include reconstructed walls and towers, houses and wineries, an early Christian basilique. It is planned that the park will open in five years. Currently, the restoration works in Tyritake are performed by Crimean department of the Ukrainian Institute of Orient and the charity foundation "Demetra".

From newspaper Kommersant.

February 28 in Russian history

1825: Russia and Great Britain sign a convention on the borders between their American colonies. The result is still seen on the map as the border between Alaska and Canada.

1835: On this day Elias Lönnrot, a Finnish scholar and a doctor, writes the last letters in the preface (the letters were E.L.)and sends the manuscript of Kalevala to the publisher. This day, February 28, is celebrated now as the Kalevala day, Kalevalan päivä. There is probably no need to explain what is Kalevala, but why do I write about this day in a Russian history blog? First, Finland was a part of Russia when Lönnrot wrote the epic. Second, Kalevala is also the national epic of Karelians. Third, my wife sometimes tells me (with an approval or disapproval, I never understand) that I am a Finn. Then she watches at me and adds: "or an Ugrian". She probably means an ogre, but it doesn't really matter. And, fourth, it is just a great reading. The day is celebrated in Russian Karelia and St.Petersburg. For an unclear reason, the Petersburgians celebrate the day two weeks later (old style calendar? or just natural slowness?).

1921: The Kronstadt rebellion begins. The navy sailors, who had been one of the main forces supporting bolsheviks during and after the November revolution, grew annoyed by the politics of the dictatorship of the proletariat, by the devastation and havoc caused by the Civil War. The same causes resulted in multiple peasants' revolts. On February 28, sailors and workers of Kronstadt, the crucial naval port near St.Petersburg, started a rebellion under the slogan "For the Soviets without bolsheviks". The rebellion began with the adoption of a resolution, which included 15 demands, like new elections to the Soviets, freedom of speech, right of assembly, right to form trade-unions, amnesty for all political prisoners, abolition of the activity of political parties in the army and of the armed detachments of the political parties. The rebellion was headed by Stepan Petrichenko, a scribe from battleship Petropavlovsk. Soon, there were 14,000 supporters in Kronstadt. Navy officers, usually hated by sailors, joined the rebellion. On March 2 a revolutionary committee was formed. On March 4, the bolsheviks officially named the events in Kronstadt a mutiny. The storm was scheduled on March 8, but the attack failed. On March 16, at night, a new storm started with a mass artillery fire. About 50,000 troops attacked Kronstadt and about every fifth of them was killed. The rebels had to leave the fortress and flee to Finland. Stepan Petrichenko, the leader of the sailors, also escaped to Finland and lived their until 1940, when he was expelled to the USSR, arrested and sent to a labor camp, where he died soon. Many historians say that the rebellion became the turning point towards the totalitarian state.


February 27 in Russian history

1825: The first chapter of Eugene Onegin is published for the first time. Onegin is a novel in verses, but, just like more common prosaic novels, it was a serial and was published by chapters. The last, eighth chapter was published in 1831 and the book in whole appeared in 1833. I would love to write a huge article about Pushkin and Onegin where I could say everything I'd like to say about the book, but I won't even try, since I know that I wouldn't be able to, even in Russian. Instead, I will simply quote some lines from the preface to Onegin which could be easily a preface to this blog (or any other blog, for that matter :))

Heedless of the proud world's enjoyment,
I prize the attention of my friends,
and only wish that my employment
could have been turned to worthier ends --
worthier of you in the perfection
your soul displays, in holy dreams,
in simple but sublime reflection,
in limpid verse that lives and gleams.
But, as it is, this pied collection
begs your indulgence -- it's been spun
from threads both sad and humoristic,
themes popular or idealistic,
products of carefree hours, of fun,
of sleeplessness, faint inspirations,
of powers unripe, or on the wane,
of reason's icy intimations,
and records of a heart in pain.

Other, less important anniversaries of today are:

1617: The end of the Russo-Swedish war of 1613-1617. Treaty of Stolbovo signed. Russia lost Kexholm and Ingria, Estonia and Livonia. Not forever, though. Sweden recognized tsar Mikhail as the ruler of Russia.

1901: A student Pyotr Karpovich, a member of the party of socialist-revolutionaries, kills the minister of education Nikolay Bogolepov. Karpovich planned the assassination after he learned that Bogolepov ordered to send 183 students of the Kiev university to the army. When Karpovich came to the Bogolepov's office, he witnessed a discussion between the minister and a mayor of Chernigov, who asked to open another school in his hometown. Bogolepov asked: "Give us the proofs that the richer citizens will send their children to this school. We do not want to teach the poor." During the trial, Karpovich said that these words finally convinced him in the necessity of the assassination.

1919: Bolsheviks create Litbel, Lithuanian-Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, on the territory of Byelorussia and eastern Lithuania. About half a year later, when the Polish army occupied almost whole territory of Byelorussia, Litbel ceased to exist.


February 26 in Russian history

1832: Poland becomes a part of the Russian Empire. After the Third Partition of Poland, a semi-autonomous state was formed on the territory belonging to Russia, the Congress Kingdom of Poland. The Kingdom had a constitution but was ruled by the Russian emperor. With time, emperors Alexander I and, especially, Nicholas I began to violate the constitution and became autocratic rulers. This was one of the reasons which caused the uprising of 1830. After the suppression of the uprising, in February 1832, a new decree was issued, called the Organic Statute of the Kingdom of Poland which abolished the Polish army and the Sejm (legislative body). The Statute officially turned Poland into a part of the Empire.

1878: Ivan Franko is put under trial on the false accusation of being a member of a socialist organization. Franko was an interesting personality. He was born in 1856 near Lviv, in Galicia, which was a part of Austria-Hungary at that time. Lviv (Lemberg) was the capital of Galicia. The region was inhabited mostly by Ukrainians (or Ruthenians), but ruled by the Polish aristocracy. In 1875, Franko entered the Lviv university and joined a circle of the so called "moscowphiles". The popularity of pro-Russian sentiments in the Western Ukraine in XVIII-XIX centuries may be explained by weak self-identification of the Ruthenians. In spite of relatively tolerant position of the government of Austria-Hungary towards the Ukrainian language, this language was perceived as "low" and "uncultured" by the Ukrainians themselves. The attempts of self-identification were directed to affiliation with a larger cultural unity: Polish, Russian or Austria. The Russian party was one of the strongest for a number of reasons, especially in the second half of the XIX century. They published a number of magazines and newspapers. Trying to limit the influence of the moscowphiles, the Austrian authorities started a number of trials, accusing them in treason and anti-Austrian conspiracies. Ivan Franko was a member of one such group and he was sentenced to 9 months in jail and had to leave the university after the term. He spent these months in one room with thieves and vagabonds. This period defined his writing style. He wrote about workers and peasants who were forced by poverty to commit crimes. He also writes stories from Jewish life, which was rather unusual in those days, when anti-Semitism was a norm of everyday life. His stories were often called "radical" and "naturalistic", but the critics recognized the talent of the writer. Paradoxically, the moscowphiles gave the first impulse to the Ukrainian national movement, partially because Austria saw Russia as the worst of the three evils and attempted to replace the moscowphile tendencies with the ideas of the Ukrainian revival.

1917: Civil unrest in Petrograd. The State Duma is dissolved. On midday, demonstrations begin, which are dispersed with armed forces. Barricades are built on the streets and a general strike begins.


February 22 in Russian history

1918: The beginning of the famous Ice Campaign of the Volunteer Army (Dobrovolcheskaya Armiya, or simply Dobrarmiya). The army was born on December 27, 1917 by general Alexeyev to fight the Red Army. General Anton Ivanovich Denikin also assisted the formation of the Volunteer Army. The commander of the Army was general Lavr Fyodorovich Kornilov. It consisted of officers, soldiers, cadets, students, even schoolchildren who escaped to Don from the parts of Russia controlled by bolsheviks.

By the end of January 1918 there were about 3,500-4,000 soldiers. Together with the Cossacks led by Alexey Kaledin they fought against the regiments of Antonov-Ovseenko. Unfortunately, Cossacks were generally reluctant to support the counter-revolutionary movement and a month later the Volunteer Army had to retreat. On February 22, 1918, they left Rostov and went to Kuban. It was not the "heroic and glorious" campaign, as it is sometimes painted by the historians in emigration. Heroic -- yes, but definitely not that glorious. It was more of a march of the desperate people, who sometimes "confiscated" food from the local population, sometimes executed those who, as they suspected, supported communists, etc. They went under rain and snow, they died from frost and starvation, and reached Kuban in March. They attempted to capture Yekaterinodar (modern Krasnodar), but failed. The Kuban Cossacks, like Don Cossacks, did not grant their support.

General Kornilov was killed during the storm of Yekaterinodar and Denikin became the commander of the Dobrarmiya. He managed to raise the number of the fighters to 30,000-35,000 men and achieved some successes which made many to believe that the Bolshevism would be soon overthrown. In 1919 he almost took Moscow, but he failed. In autumn of 1919 they began to move back southwards and in spring of 1920 what remained of the army were evacuated from Novorossiysk to Crimea. In Crimea, they merged with the Armed Forces of South Russia, led by general Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel. I deeply respect these people, but I am not sure if I would respect them if I had met them face to face.

Russian history 19: Wars against the steppe and the decline of the Kiev state

The knyazes' wars were only one of the troubles of Rus. The other was the tribes of the nomads in the steppes. We have said before that pechenegs were defeated by Yaroslav the Wise in 1034. Soon after that they left Rus completely to the Balkans. Another, stronger tribe took their place, the Polovtsians (Kipchak). Since 1061, their raids were incessant. They robbed the cities, killed or enslaved people. The slaves were sent to Crimea and then to other countries of Europe and Asia. Only in 150 years from 1061 to 1210 there were 50 especially large raids. Naturally, the southern parts of the country suffered most: Kiev, Pereyaslavl, Chernigov, etc. Sometimes even knyazes asked the nomads to assist them in the wars with other knyazes.

More often, though, the knyazes worked together to stop the nomads. So, during the Dolobsky congress of the knyazes, Monomakh managed to talk Svyatoslav Izyaslavich into a joint campaign and in 1103 they defeated the Polovtsians. With time, the attacks of the nomads grew stronger and in 1185 the Igor Svyatoslavich and Vsevolod Svyatoslavich, grandsons of Oleg Svyatoslavich, knyaz of Chernigov, were defeated and captured. This campaign, the battle, the defeat and Igor's escape from the captivity were described in chronicles and in the poetic legend called "The Tale of Igor's Campaign". Knyazhestvo of Pereyaslavl was almost lost in the second half of the XII century and the Polovtsians were not only invading it, but settled there. Russian city on the Azov sea, Tmutarakan, was lost and the southern roads were in the hands of the nomads. So, the trade with Greece declined and finally stopped completely. The importance of Kiev, based on its position as a "middleman" was also lost. By this time, after the crusades, European countries found other trade routes to the East and Kiev was depopulating and growing poor. The population of the southern parts of Rus fled from dangers and poverty to the north or to the west.


February 21 in Russian history

1784: A fortress was founded near the Tatar village Aqyar, named Sevastopol, from the Greek words σεβαστóς and πóλις, literally meaning "the venerable town", but the connotation being "the imperial town". This town has a special place in Russian history. In some way, it is a legend.

Sevastopol is locate on the South of Crimea, on the Heraclean peninsula. Its northernmost point also has a classically sounding name -- cape Lucullus. In antiquity, a Greek colony Chersonesos was located on this place. It was built by inhabitants of Heraclea in V century BC. In 705, the citizens of Chersonesos revolted against the emperor Justinian II. In 711, a new revolt happened, led by Bardanes Philippicus, who had been exiled to Chersonesos some years earlier. Bardanes succeeded and became the new emperor of the Roman Empire. In 988, knyaz Vladimir the Saint (aka the Red Sun) attacked and seized Chersonesos. In 1804 Sevastopol was proclaimed the main naval port of the Russian Empire. In 1830, a large revolt started in the city, known as the "plague revolt". It was caused by the oppressions during the epidemics of cholera in 1829-1830. During the Crimean war of 1853-1856, the joint forces of Britain, France and Turkey sieged Sevastopol. After 11 months of heroic defense, Russian army left a part of the town and evacuated to the northern bank of the bay. In 1905, a large group of sailors and soldiers revolted and demanded for the call of the Constituent Assembly, republican government, 8-hour long working day, etc. The revolt was quelled and four leaders, including lieutenant Schmidt, were executed. During the World War II, in 1941-1942, the Second Siege of Sevastopol took place, when the city survived 250 days of bombardment. It was liberated on May 9, 1944. In 1954, the city along with the whole Crimean peninsula was transferred under the authority of the Ukrainian SSR to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the re-unification of Ukraine and Russia. Now, while remaining a Ukrainian city, Sevastopol hosts a Russian naval base and the HQ of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Russian history 18: The throne of Kiev from Vladimir Monomakh till 1169

The election of Vladimir Monomakh was accepted not only by the people, but also by other knyazes, who felt threatened by Monomakh's wealth and power. He had the abilities to keep them from mutiny and to keep the Polovtsian (Kipchak) nomads at a safe distance. His personal qualities are discovered in his own writings quoted by chroniclers. These are his messages to his children and to knyaz Oleg Svyatoslavich. In the letters to the children he teaches them to be hospitable and generous, to work and not to rely on the servants, to believe in God and to live as the Christians should.

The accession of Vladimir Monomakh violated the established order of succession and after his death the enmity between the branches of the knyazes families began. Kiev was inherited by his sons instead of his brothers and turned into the property of Monomakh family. After Vladimir's eldest son, Mstislav (1125-1132), his brothers inherited Kiev. Quite soon they began to compete for the throne and the children of Oleg Svyatoslavich, knyazes of Chernigov, often attacked them and occupied Kiev for a number of times. One of Oleg's children, Vsevolod Olgovich, was especially successful and controlled Kiev till his death. After this feud, however, Monomakh's descendants retained the town. The most influential of them were Monomakh's grandson Izyaslav Mstislavich and his son Mstislav Izyaslavich.

After the conflict with Oleg's sons was over, they had to fight with their own close relatives, Monomakh's younger son Yuri Dolgorukiy (Long-Handed) and Yuri's son Andrei Bogolyubski. At the end, Andrei Bogolyubski became the ruler of Kiev in 1169. By this time, though, the situation in Rus changed significantly and Andrei preferred to leave Kiev and stayed in his homeland, knyazhestvo of Rostov-Suzdal. Burnt and sacked, Kiev was given to one of Andrei's vassals.

The inability of knyazes to establish and to observe the order of succession led to incessant feuds and to the decay of the knyazes' clan into independent and hostile branches. Every branch owned a part of Rus: Olgoviches, sons of Oleg, owned Chernigov and Ryazan, elder Monomakhoviches -- Smolensk, Pereyaslavl and Volyn lands, younger Monomakhoviches -- Rostov and Suzdal. Polotsk since the times of Vladimir the Saint (great grandfather of Monomakh) belonged to a separate branch of the clan, successors of Izyaslav, son of Vladimir the Saint and his pagan wife Rogneda. All of them wanted to come into possession of Kiev. Obviously, the knyaz of Kiev lost his position of the leader of the clan and neither other knyazes, nor independent cities submitted to them. Every branch of the clan had their own "grand prince" and every town tried to avoid the control of the knyazes and to become a free town.


February 19 in Russian history

1861: Emperor Alexander II signs the decree on the abolition of serfdom. The serfdom became a heavy burden in Russia in XVIII century, when the peasants lost the last remains of freedom they still had. Since then, many Russian rulers attempted to abolish the serfdom. Catherine II, being a friend of Voltaire, of course, planned to liberalize the Russian legislation, but she was not too consistent, under the stress from her advisors. The same may be said about Alexander I. The reform of Alexander II was only partial. Moreover, the peasants did not understand the new laws and the rumors were spreading that the "real" law which gives them full freedom, was stolen by the landlords. Mutinies followed. Anyway, however partial, the reforms became the basis for the next steps, including the formation of the elected bodies of local self-government, educational, military and legal reforms.

1938: The drifting polar research station "Severny Polyus-1", the first drifting polar station in the world, finishes its odyssey. The station was founded in 1937 by Ivan Papanin (head of the expedition and cook, Pyotr Shirshov (hydrobiologist), Evgeny Fyodorov (astronomer) and Ernest Krenkel (radio engineer). The exploration of the Arctic Ocean was necessary to provide the reliability of the Northern Sea Route. To make it possible, a state organization was founded and, as one author put it, "the people who came to the North after reading too many Jack London stories, became a part of a huge state machine." The possibility of life on the drifting ice was proven by the crew of steamship Chelyuskin 13 years earlier. So, on May 21, 1937, the four expedition members landed on ice near the Northern Pole. The expedition became yet another "victory of communism" and the life of the station was heavily politicized. All four expedition members were elected members of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR while working on the station. In spite of this ideological burden, the scientific input of the expedition was also immense. They made meteorological observations, measured the polar currents, magnetic fields and so on. See the photographs from "Severny Polyus-1" here.

1954: On the 300th anniversary of the Pereyaslav Rada and the re-unification of Ukraine and Russia, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopts the decree on the transfer of Crimea from Russian Federation to Ukraine. Khrushchev spent many years in Ukraine and the transfer of Crimea was his gift to the republic he loved. Nobody knew, of course, that 40 years later Ukraine will be a separate country.

Attack on civil rights redux

Unfortunately, I was wrong. The story was not fake. The newspaper Noviye Izvestiya writes (article in Russian) that on January 23, a group of human rights activists from Novorossiysk and students of local universities were meeting their guests from Germany in a local children's art school. The German businessmen visited an exhibition of children's drawings and they went to a room where a table was set for them all. An interpreter and an operator of a local TV channel were also present. The visitors planned to discuss the idea to spread tolerance towards ethnical minorities with posters and friendly football matches. At this moment, a group of 15 men dressed in the police uniform came in. The group was led by an FSB lieutenant colonel Dmitri Fedorenko. The group also included Anatoly Nilov, head of the culture department of Novorossiysk administration. They checked the documents of everyone present in the room. When asked what were the legal pretexts, they did not give an answer. Some time later, one of the policemen said that they should have notified the city administration of the planned meeting. The participants referred to the Constitution, but major Ovcharenko said that the meeting was not sanctioned by the authorities and falls under the law on demonstrations, rallies and picketing. The Germans consulted the embassy and decided to leave Russia, even though they had all documents and visas.

The authorities say that it was a usual raid of the immigration service and that the visit to the art school was not planned in advance, that it happened by chance.

Anyway, some days ago the human rights activists were officially accused of holding the meeting without notifying the authorities in advance. The participants and the principal of the school (Marina Dubrovina, Vladimir Serdyuk, Vadim Karastelev and Tamara Karasteleva) were found guilty and fined 500 to 1000 rubles. Tamara Karasteleva (or Karastelyova), on of the activists' leaders, explained that the people were just sharing impressions, making acquaintance and watching photographs, but the judge Vera Abshtyr said that it must be done at home, not at a school. The activists intend to appeal.

On February 12, the Novorossiysk Human Rights Committee issued a press-release. It says that one more participant of the meeting, Vladimir Pyankov, was fined 1000 rubles.

More links (all in Russian):
Novorossiysk Human Rights Committee
A blog that with a number of posts on the topic

BTW, I couldn't find the name Froda in any of these articles. The Karastelevs couple are known as the leaders of the School of Peace foundation (the web-site was working two days ago but it is down now. For what reason and for how long, I do not know), an organization that promoted tolerance towards ethnic minorities and protects the rights of children from ethnic minorities. They are known for the activity in protection of human rights of Meskhetian Turks, who were removed by Stalin to Uzbekistan, fled from pogroms to Russia in 1989, but were given a cold shoulder here and forced to emigrate to USA. This activity of the School of Peace became the hidden reason for the closure of the organization in 2003.


February 16 in Russian history

1918: The Council of Lithuania (Lietuvos Taryba) proclaims Lithuania's independence from Russia and Germany. In 1915, Lithuania, a part of the Russian Empire at that moment, was occupied by German troops. By 1917 it was clear that there will be no decisive German victory and Germany attempted to get some support on the occupied lands by giving them a limited autonomy. A group of Lithuanian politicians and clerics decided to form a working group to decide on the future of Lithuania. This group convened the so called Vilnius Conference, which, in its own turn, elected the Council of Lithuania. The Council's politics was not really consistent. For example, in July 1918, they decided to establish a constitutional monarchy and offered the throne to a German duke Wilhelm von Urach and even named him king Mindaugas II, but four months later the offer was recalled. In December 1917, the council adopted a resolution to form a "firm and permanent alliance" with Germany based on common currency, economic policy, transportation system and military integration. These relationships with Germany made the establishment of diplomatic relationships with other countries, enemies of Germany, much more difficult. So, on February 16, the Council decides to "re-declare" the independence, breaking the alliance. German occupation was still an obstacle, and when it was over, after a number of Communist demonstrations in various Lithuanian cities, the Lithuanian Communists formed workers' councils. In December 1918, the Communist Party of Lithuania formed a new government, displacing the Council of Lithuania. Anyway, the Lithuanian newly formed army managed to drive away the alliance of Lithuanian Communists and the Soviet Red Army. On June 20, 1920, a peace treaty between Lithuania and Soviet Russia was signed, when Russian recognized the Lithuanian independence. Now, February 16 is a national holiday in Lithuania. Happy Independence Day, Lithuania!


Attack on civil rights?

I found this shocking news by serendipity, it could have passed by totally unnoticed:
Nine members of Froda, a group that campaigns for ethnic minority rights, were found guilty of holding an illegal meeting and fined after they had tea with two German students visiting a friend in the southern city of Novorossiysk. ... "We were told that, under the new law, any meeting of two or more people with the purpose of discussing publicly important issues had to be sanctioned by the local administration three days in advance," Mrs Karastelyova said.
More details in The Telegraph. Frankly, the story is so weird even for Russia, that I would like to find more information before posting this bit, but the same weirdness of the event gives me creeps so huge that I just can't put it aside. Update: It seems to be a very strange organization, this Froda. They don't have a web-site. They are not mentioned anywhere in the Internet, with two exceptions: the article from The Telegraph (reproduced in a number of other newspapers) and the 2004 report on human rights practices in Russia. The more I read, the more I suspect that there is something wrong with the whole story. Or, at least, I hope there is.

February 15 in Russian history

1045: The construction of the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Novgorod began. This is the oldest church in Russia that survived till now. Russia.com writes about the cathedral:

This five-domed stone cathedral was built by Vladimir of Novgorod, son of Yaroslav the Wise. His father’s last request was that the St. Sophia Cathedral of Novgorod be built as a sign of appreciation to the Novgorodians due to the fact that they had given so much support to him during his struggle for Kiev. Before the St. Sophia Cathedral was built an ancient wooden, 13-domed church established in 989 existed in its place. The cupolas or the dome-shaped roof are thought to have gained their present shape in the 1150’s, after it was rebuilt after being in a fire. The interior rooms were painted in the 11th and 12th centuries but certain parts of the interior had to be repainted in 1860s. The many frescoes, or paintings done directly on partly dry plaster, have faded to the point where not much of the pictures can be seen due to the many fires. In the 15th century the white stone bell tower was added and the clock tower was finished by 1673. The St. Sophia Cathedral was built as a ceremonial and spiritual institution of the Novgorod Republic during the 12th to the 15th century and stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Ural Mountains. The St. Sophia has been seen by the Novgorodians as a monument standing for their independence something they are very proud of. Fortunately, the Cathedral survived the Nazi occupation of Novgorod, even though the Kremlin was damaged so much from the Nazi abuse. When the Spanish infantry came they removed the large cross from the main dome of the church. In fact till November 16, 2004 the cross spent 60 years in the Madrid’s Military Engineering Academy Museum. Then in 2004 the Spanish minister of defense Jose Bono gave it back to the Russian Orthodox Church. The main cathedral gates of the St. Sophia have led to much speculation as to their origination. Customarily they were thought to have been brought by Saint Vladimir from Korsun in Crimea as part of the apparent Korsun Treasures. There are still a few objects left that can be seen but the gates itself have been replaced on many occasions. Year 1335, Archbishop Basil donated a gate, which was later transferred to Ivan III residence in Alexandrov near Moscow on his request and can still be seen there today. The gates that stand at the St. Sophia Cathedral now are bronze doors that are thought to have been taken by Novgorodian pirates from Sigtuna a Swedish town in 1187. These gates are only opened on special occasions twice a year.

Wikipedia also has an interesting article about the temple.

1495: Elena, daughter of Ivan III, marries Alexander, the Great Duke of Lithuania. Both countries hoped that the marriage will increase their influence in this constantly competing couple, but the balance was too stable, Russia did not become catholic and Lithuania did not accept orthodoxy. Elena suffered because of this competition between her father and her husband. After their death, she spent the rest of her life under home arrest in a Lithuanian castle.

1895: Sisters Eugenia, Helen and Maria Gnessin, known in Moscow as outstanding pianists, founded the first musical college in Russia. This college, renamed to the Gnessin State Musical College, is one of the best Russian musical schools.

1919: The Council of Workers' and Peasants' Defense adopted the decree on cleaning the railroads from snow. Railroads were very important during the Civil War and the winter was snowy. All men in the age from 18 to 50, living withing 20 kilometres from a railroad, were obliged to participate in the cleaning: "Some committee members from the areas where the works are not done satisfactorily, whould be arrested. In the same areas, a number of peasants must be taken as hostages and executed if the snow is not cleaned."


February 14 in Russian history

1610: After the death of Feodor, the ruling dynasty ended in 1606 and the Time of Troubles began. Legal tsar, Vasili Shuysky, almost lost his power when two people, both known as false Dmitri, attempted to pretend they were lawful rulers, but unsuccessfully. A group of boyars attempted to restore order in the country and on February 14, 1610 (February 4 old style), elected Wladislaus, son of the Polish king Sigismund III, as the new tsar. Strictly speaking, they had no right to elect anyone, but some months later Moscow swore allegiance to Wladislaus. His father, though, decided that he could do it better and proclaimed himself the Russian ruler. It was more than the Muscovites could bear and a strong patriotic movement started, led by Kuzma Minin.

1956: Nikita Khrushchev made the classified speech the "cult of personality" of Stalin. Strangely enough, he forgot to mention the Red Terror of Lenin and his own participation in Stalin's terror. And yet, after the total worshipping of Stalin, even these bits of truth had the effect of a bomb.


Medieval settlement found in Kursk

Kursk archaeologist have been working near village Gochevo for almost 100 years. This year, they found some extremely interesting artefacts: burnt down fortifications, a XIII century vessel, a chess figure (approximately first half of XIV century) and pieces of armour similar to the armour used by participants of Kulikovo battle.

The Tale of Igor's Campaign, an ancient Russian poem, mentions a town called Rimov and its location is still uncertain, but Yuri Lipking, an archaelogist from Kursk (his 100th anniversary was celebrated recently), thought that the real Rimov was located somewhere near modern Gochevo. This theory is supported by a number of serious evidences. The recent finds in Gochevo became another such evidence. But it was thought that Rimov was destroyed in late XII century, and these finds are dated by XIII-XIV centuries. Anyway, the discovered fortress was, most probably, a part of the fortified line of the Duchy of Lithuania against the Golden Horde and it was destroyed very fast, in one day.

The earliest finds in Gochevo are dated by VI-IV BCE

In summer, archaelogists will continue their work in Gochevo. Schoolchildren from the school 52 in Kursk will assist them.

February 13 in Russian history

1921: Duke Kropotkin, scientist and famous theorist of anarchy, buried in Moscow. All anarchists were released from the Moscow jails to participate in the funerals, after they promised to return to the jails after the ceremony. And they did.

1934: Soviet steamship Chelyuskin sunk in the Chukchi Sea. It was an epic story of the heroism of "real Soviet people", which became a significant part of the mythology of the Stalinist Soviet Union. Chelyuskin was built in 1933 in Denmark and named after Semion Chelyuskin, Russian polar explorer, a participant of the "Great Northern Expedition" of 1733-1743. On August 2, 1933, Chelyuskin left from Leningrad with 112 people. The expedition was led by the Soviet geographer Otto Schmidt and the captain was Vladimir Voronin. The task of the crew was to prove the possibility of navigating along the Northern Sea Route in one summer. It was done by Sibiryakov in 1932, but Sibiryakov was an icebreaker, not a cargo ship. They almost reached their goal, but in November, 1933, in the Chukchi Sea, near the Bering strait, they were stopped by heavy icepacks. After three months, the ship sunk, crashed by ice. The crew managed to save food, bricks and wood. One man died during the evacuation. Schmidt and Voronin were the last to leave the sinking ship. A government commission was formed to organize the rescue operation. Some Western newspapers wrote that it is impossible to save the people, because there were no icebreakers able to navigate the Arctic Ocean in winter and that it was cruel to incite hope in these doomed people. The rescue commission hoped to use aviation. The American government offered their assistance, but they could not help with the aviation, because flights in the Arctic were cancelled due to recent crashes. On March 5, the airplane piloted by Anatoly Lyapidevsky found the camp of the Chelyuskinites, landed on ice and rescued ten women and one baby, who was born in September on board of Chelyuskin. During the second attempt, Lyapidevsky's airplane was damaged. The government decided to send three groups of pilots. The first group departed to the USA, where two airplanes were bought from Pan Am. One of them was damaged soon and another, piloted by Mavrikiy Slepnyov, rescued 5 people and later evacuated O.Schmidt, who was seriously ill. Other people were saved by pilots Kamanin, Pivenshtein, Demirov, Bestanzhiev, Molokov, Vodopyanov and Doronin on Soviet R-5 planes. The engine of Galyshev's plane broke and he could not participate. On April 13, the last people were evacuated. The Chelyuskinites later spoke that the leadership of Otto Schmidt, who published a newspaper in the camp and read lectures on philosophy, was the key in their survival.

1940: Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov finished his best known masterpiece "Master and Margarita". Less than one month later, he died. Bulgakov started his work on this novel in 1928 or in 1929. In 1930, he burnt the first draft, when he learnt that his piece "Cabal of Sanctimonious Hypocrites, or Molière" was banned . The second version was being written since 1931 till 1936. The last, final version was in active work since 1936 till 1938, but Bulgakov kept adding and modifying the text till 1940. "Master and Margarita" is called by many critics one of the greatest Russian novels of the XX century. I would say, though, that the book is so heavily influenced and so tightly woven with the references to the general European culture, from Bible to Goethe, to Hoffmann, that it should be perceived as one of the greatest works in the European, not Russian, literature. On the other hand, Bulgakov, in his turn, influenced Salman Rushdie's "Satanic verses" and even Rolling Stones. After all, it's a small world, isn't it?


February 12 in Russian history

1446: Russian throne seized by Dmitry Shemyaka and Vasily II captured and blinded. Life of Vasily II, grandson of Vytautas, duke of Lithuania, deserves the attention of novel writers, but I will limit myself to a couple of quotations from Wikipedia, if you pardon me. "Upon Vytautas' death in 1430, Yuri went to the Golden Horde, returning with a license to take the Moscow throne. But the Khan did not support him any further, largely due to the guileful policies of the Smolensk princeling and Muscovite boyarin Ivan Vsevolzhsky. When Yuri assembled an army and attacked Moscow, Vasili, betrayed by Vsevolzhsky, was defeated and captured by his enemies (1433). Upon being proclaimed Grand Duke of Muscovy, Yuri pardoned his nephew and sent him to reign in the town of Kolomna. That proved to be a mistake, as Vasili immediately started to plot against his uncle and gather all sort of malcontents. Feeling how insecure his throne was, Yuri resigned and then left Moscow for his Northern hometown. On his return to Moscow, Vasili had the traitor Vsevolzhsky blinded. Meanwhile, Yuri's claim was inherited by his sons who decided to continue the fight. They managed to defeat Vasili, who had to seek refuge in the Golden Horde. After the death of Yuri in 1434, Vasili the Cross-Eyed entered the Kremlin and was proclaimed new Grand Duke. Dmitry Shemyaka, who had his own plans for the throne, quarreled with his brother and concluded an alliance with Vasili II. Together they managed to banish Vasily the Cross-Eyed from the Kremlin in 1435. The latter was captured and blinded, thus having been effectively removed from the contest for the throne. In 1439, Vasili had to flee the capital, when it was besieged by Olug Moxammat, ruler of the nascent Kazan Khanate. Six years later, he personally led his troops against Olug Moxammat, but was defeated and taken prisoner. The Muscovites were forced to gather an enormous ransom for their prince, so that Vasili could be released some five months later. During that time, the control of Moscow passed to Dmitry Shemyaka. Keeping in mind the fate of his own brother, Dmitry had Vasili blinded and exiled him to Uglich (1446). Hence, Vasili's nickname Tyomniy, which stands for "blind" (or, more accurately, "seeing darkness"). As Vasili still had a number of supporters in Moscow, Dmitry recalled him from exile and gave him Vologda as an appanage. That proved to be a new mistake, as Vasili quickly assembled his supporters and regained the throne. Vasili's final victory against his cousin came in 1450s, when he captured Galich-Mersky and poisoned Dmitry. The latter's children managed to escape to Lithuania. These events finally put to rest the principle of collateral succession, which was a major cause of medieval internecine struggles."


War in Chechnya: the beginning

Sorry, no medieval stories today. I found a blog of a man who lived in Grozny, Chechnya, in 1994, when the war started. He posted his recollections about the first days of the war. I was so impressed that I asked for his permission to translate his article, which he kindly granted. Timur Aliev is the editor-in-chief of the newspaper 'Chechen Society'. His has a blog at LiveJournal and the Russian text of the article is here. I tried hard to do my best, but I wanted to finish the translation as soon as possible and I apologize for any errors I could make in the translation.

12 years ago

For me, just as for many others in Checnnya, the war started on November 26. Now, many people say that the war started on December 12, and the November attacks are called the storm of the opposition, but for many people that November day was the beginning of the war.

The official version, accepted today, calls the tanks which entered Chechnya and Grozny a reinforcement sent to the forces oppositional to Dudayev. Then, it was on the contrary: the opposition were just guides, and the tanks -- the beginning of the aggression.

I was ill in those days and was at home. I only remember that November 26 was a sunny and, maybe even warm day. It made the events even more disturbing. People spoke about fights against tanks, how one tank got to the city centre and another to Gudermesskaya street, and both were shot. Somewhere in the clouds an airplane was flying and I went to the yard to listen. It was unclear what to do.

In the evening, the local TV shown captured tanks' crew -- there were about 20 men. All they named their detachments and said that they took days off to make some money in this tank invasion. Or something like that.

On the next day I felt better and went to work. I went through the city centre. There were the remains of two tanks on Lenin square. Idlers were climbing them. There were few people in the city and there was nobody at work.

I won't bet I will be exact in the chronology of the following events. I only remember that for some more days we kept going to work. Then we were offered to go home for an uncertain period. We argued with friends if everything will be over by the New Year, so we could celebrate it at the office. What this "everything" was, few of us understood.

The same was with my study. We were on the last year, so we had few lectures, but even the last ones were canceled.

And the same was happening everywhere. I couldn't find a doctor who would visit my mother. The hospitals replied that one or another doctor had left and they didn't know when they would be back. Actually, it was the war already. And some people felt it's coming even earlier.

Now, when I recall that time, I am amazed by how careless we were. We didn't see the most obvious things. In summer, the Chechen strongest football team was disqualified from the championship. They had chances to make it into the higher league, and, perhaps, for this reason they were disqualified. In August, the train to Moscow was canceled. People spoke about an outbreak of cholera in the North of Chechnya. And to leave Chechnya, we had to get some documents in these Northern districts. Only later I learned that the opposition, kind of loyal to Moscow, was concentrating in these regions and understood that by November Chechnya was already in a blockade. But I could think only about computers and science fiction and didn't noticed anything.

The first half of December I spent at home, playing computer games and writing a book. Sometimes we went for a walk with a friend. A couple of times I visited our office, another couple of times I went to talk about my computer. Youth from villages and other parts of the city was always on a demonstration to support the defense of the city. Many of them had no money and buses gave them a free ride. I don't remember any weapons, they probably hoped to get it in the city. But all of them went to the square in front of the president's palace to demonstrate. And since summer the crowd didn't get any smaller. The local TV explained how to make bottles with Molotov cocktail and how to use it to burn tanks. Approximately on December 20, the centre of Grozny was bombed. After the first explosion the glass in our windows broke and my mother hid under the table in the next room, covering her head with a pan.

After that, mother was always uneasy and kept telling that we should leave. We opposed. Every night she went to the cellar of our neighbours. Grandmother also used to go with her. Because of this, I could sleep still. My nerves were still good then and I didn't care about the artillery fire.

In the end of December, my friend with whom we used to play Warlords, left the city. Then the electricity was gone and I couldn't turn the computer on and read books. The water had gone even earlier. We got used to melting snow. To bring water from other parts of the city was difficult -- we were not rich enough to get taxi and we had no car. The New Year night we spent in the basement.

At last, mother felt she couldn't bear the bombings any longer and on January 8 we left to the village. Grandmother refused to leave the home and stayed. I wanted to stay, too, but someone had to go with mother and I went.

It was calm in the village. Youth gathered self-defense detachments to defend the village. Some went to fight to the city, but there were few of my friends among them.

Somehow, it turned out that almost noone of those who studied and worked with me or lived nearby, went to war. Rusik left to Vedeno in the end of December. He told us later funny stories about self-defense troops. Pashka also left and came back to Grozny only in April. Sanya stayed at home. Zhenka spent the whole period of fighting in the basement, and when he decided to go to Stavropolye, where his sister and her husband lived, he has hardly escaped execution by soldiers. They thought he was a Ukrainian mercenary, because his last name ends in '-o'. Only a miracle saved him.

With a great reservation, only Aslanbek fought. Till December 31, he was at the president's palace. On the New Year's Eve, he decided to go to home to celebrate with his family, to sleep. When he came home, he learned that the full-scale storm of the palace had started. The parents didn't let him to go back.

Another friend of mine, Rashid, on the New Year's Eve was a bit drunk and he and his friend wanted to walk to the downtown. When they got to the palace, the storm started and they had to spend two days there. As he recalled later, they didn't even understand then, how serious it all was. Both wore suits and white shirts, and the seriousness of the events struck them when they had to fall onto the dirty floor, but it was too late. Only on the second day, they managed to get out from there.

In January, I came home for one day. It was even worse then before. It was too dangerous to spend nights at home because of the frequent bombardments. The neighbours, mostly Russians and Armenians, used to go to the basement of a nearby two-storey building for the night. The gas was gone and people cooked in the courtyards. Some people started making metal ovens (it was a novelty then). I brought water for the grandmother and left with a firm resolution to come back soon and then to leave to as far as possible. Life in the village was also difficult. So many our relatives fled there that we slept on the floor. We simply felt ill at ease for giving inconvenience to our relatives.

But it turned out that I came back too late. The frontline was moving towards Minutka and it was dangerous to go through Chernorechye. The road along the dam near the oil refinery was well seen. The federal artillery was shooting the passing cars. We took another road. There were no people there to be seen. The roads were deserted, too.

When passing a street market on Okruzhnaya, we saw a woman hiding behind the stalls. She was selling Pepsi and Fanta in two-litre bottles. On this very morning the airplanes bombed the bus station, located only a half kilometre from Okruzhnaya. So, she would hardly sell anything.

Our house was empty. The window glasses were all broken out and there was a hole in the roof. And the grandmother was not waiting for us... She was killed on the day before, when a shell struck the neighbouring house and the shell fragments hit her and a little boy who lived in the house. Grandmother was in the courtyard. It was this boy's birthday (his name was Sasha, if I remember correctly). She wanted to cook a birthday dinner for him, fired the oven, put a pan with meat-balls on the fire (I brought the meat when I visited her earlier). The shell's fragments hit both of them. She died from bleeding in just some minutes...

My grandmother was a saint woman, she never wished any harm to anyone, often suffered herself (mostly, because of her own kindness). In spite of her age, she was very active. Maybe, more lively than me. But she died. Died at war... And I hate the bastards who say that a war can resolve some controversies or that the victory is more important than the war itself. I'd like to wish their own last years were spent under bombs, not in the trenches, but between the trenches of the two sides. I could wish that, but I will not...


February 7 in Russian history

1238: Batu Khan captures Vladimir. Only three months earlier, the knyaz of Vladimir Yuri, son of Vsevolod (known as Bolshoye Gnezdo, the Big Nest) refused to send troops to help knyaz of Ryazan, Yuri Igorevich. Tens of Russian knyazes competed for their own lands and refused to co-operate to save the country. Ryazan was completely destroyed in December, 1237. Vladimir lost the key ally on the South. Now, on the 5 February, Batu Khan camped near the walls of Vladimir. Knyaz Yuri left the city to his sons Vsevolod and Mstislav and the chieftain Pyotr Oslyadkovich and left to gather an army that would be able to withstand the Tatars. Batu Khan offered Vladimir to surrender, promising to spare the life of another Yuri's son, Vladimir Yurievich, who was captured a week ago in Moscow. The leaders of the city refused and Vladimir Yurievich was killed with swords. Vsevolod and Mstislav attempted to offer a ransom and went out of the gates with rich gifts, but Batu Khan ordered to kill them, too. They were killed in front of the Golden Gates of Vladimir, the main gates of the city. On February 6, the Tatars were preparing the attack and on February 7 they broke the walls, entered the city, sacked and burnt it. The citizens of Vladimir attempted to hide in the Uspensky cathedral with its thick stone walls, but the Tatars put huge fires around the cathedral and all the people died. A month later, knyaz Yuri and his new army lost the battle on river Sit'. I visited Vladimir this summer and saw these Golden Gates (I am still writing a story of this trip and will post it as soon as I finish it). The Uspensky cathedral was rebuilt and it still exists. The remains of the city walls are there, too.

1920: Bolsheviks executed one of the leaders of the White Guard, the Supreme Ruler of Russia, Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak. A brilliant naval officer, participant of polar expeditions, geographer, commander of the Black Sea fleet, he became a prominent political figure, a leader of the counter-revolutionary movement. In 1918, he was appointed the military and naval minister of the so called Siberian government of Russia in Omsk. Two months later, he organized a coup and proclaimed himself the Supreme Ruler of Russia. In 1919, his troops began to lose the war to the Bolsheviks and Kolchak attempted to move his government to Irkutsk. Part of the railroad from Omsk to Irkutsk was controlled by the Czech Legion, who promised him safe passage, but instead they arrested him. The French representative of the Entente in Siberia, Maurice Janin, who controlled the Czech Legion, handed him over to a leftist organization called Political Centre in Irkutsk. The organization was created by bolsheviks especially to give impression that Janin contacted SRs, not bolsheviks. Immediately after they got Kolchak, the Political Centre was disbanded and Kolchak became a prisoner of Cheka. As a payment for Kolchak, bolsheviks allowed Janin to take a large amount of gold from Siberia. The White Army troops led by Vladimir Kappel attempted to save Kolchak, but the Bolsheviks executed him on a direct order from Moscow after two weeks of "investigation". His body was thrown into a small river Ushakovka.


Full collection of birch bark writings is available onlin

Thanks to Languagehat who wrote:

The site "Birchbark Literacy from Medieval Rus: Contents and Contexts" has put online all the extant birchbark documents unearthed in Novgorod; as they say, this "will constitute a qualitative leap forward in the development of the study of birchbark documents by laying a reliable foundation for the further research into the texts and rendering the material accessible to an international medievalist audience of different backgrounds."

Unfortunately, this web-site is in Russian. It includes photographs of the writings, their text in ancient Russian and translations to modern Russian. They also write:

This web-site is a part of the system of the electronic resources being built, which will include the digital archive, a multifunctional database with full archaeological information about the birchbarks and a text corpus with lemmatization and morphological markup. The database will be available for download upon completion.
It is also possible to search for the inscriptions by period, city, site, genre and damage level.

We discussed this topic some time ago at Sima Qian Studio.:

55 years ago, on July, 26, 1951, the first birch-bark writing was found in Novgorod by Nina Akulova, a participant of the expedition led by Artemy Artsikhovsky. To celebrate the date, the Novgorod State Museum in collaboration with Moscow State University, Institute of Russian Language and other organizations are planning to launch a web-site that would feature the full collection of the found inscriptions (more than 1000), with photographs, translations and comments from historians. Initially, about 950 writings of XI-XV centuries will be published.The final date of the project is 2007. By that time, the web-site is to be finished and a CD will be published. Scientists from Cambridge, Leiden and Helsinki also participate in the project. Some of these writings are written by feudals, by their ministers or even peasants. There are barks written by men, women and children, who learned to write. Some of inscriptions made by a boy named Onthim, contain alphabet, simple drawings and simple texts (the pictures may be found on this page (text in Russian)). People wrote business and legal documents, notes, reminders, jokes... Only 3 or 4 of found inscriptions contain religious texts. Actually, everyone wrote everything. The society of the medieval Novgorod republic was almost 100% literate. The absolute majority of the writings are written in vernacular Old Novgorod dialect of Old Russian language. However, there is one, birch-bark letter 292, dated by the early XIII century, which is the oldest document ever written in a Finnic language. More samples of birch-bark letters may be found on the web-site of the Uni of Chicago, Slavic dept: Birch-bark letter photographs. See also an article at Stefan's Florilegium: Old Novgorod birch-bark writings.

Russian history 17: Order of succession after Yaroslav

The unity of Russia, restored by Yaroslav, finally disappeared after his death in 1054. Under his sons and grandsons, the Kievan Rus turned into a number of separate and independent duchies, united only by the church and the knyazes belonging to one family. The feuds between the children of Yaroslav resulted into the general decline of Rus -- both political and economical. Russia, who recently defeated Pechenegs, now suffered from attacks of another nomadic tribe, Polovs, who came into the southern steppes in mid-XI century. They occupied the eastern and soutnern trade routes and disrupted the trade. By XIII century, only 150 years after the death of Yaroslav, the Kievan state dissolved into independent entities and Kiev became an desolated town, stricken by poverty.

One of the reasons for such decline was the order of succesion established by Yaroslav. He gave Kiev and Novgorod to his elder son, Izyaslav, Chernigov to Snyatoslav, Pereyaslavl to Vsevolod, etc. The elder brother was the grand prince, but he did not rule the whole state. For the knyazes, Russia was a property of the whole their family. Every knyaz hoped to become the grand prince (velikiy knyaz) some day, when his older brothers die. The title of the velikiy knyaz was inherited not by his son, but by his younger brother. If he had no brothers, it was the elder nephew, that is the eldest son of the his eldest brother. So, when the knyaz of Kiev died, hiw brother from Chernigov had to move to Kiev, and the third brother moved from Pereyaslavl to Chernigov, etc. When a knyaz died not having reached the title of the grand prince, his children lost the right to succeed and became izgoys, who had no place in Russia.

These rules were very difficult to observe. The very first heirs of Yaroslav started fighting for the throne. Izayaslav was exiled from Kiev by Kievans themselves, and when he managed to get the throne back, he was exiled again by his brothers Svyatoslav and Vsevolod. Izyaslav left to Germany where he tried to obtain help from Henry IV and Pope Grigory VII, but to no avail. Svyatoslav ruled in Kiev till his death. Only after his death, Vsevolod allowed Izyaslav to take the throne for the third time. Vsevolod became the next ruler. So, they ruled in the following order: Izyaslav, Svyatoslav, Izyaslav, Vsevolod. Had Svyatoslav not seized Kiev, he would not become the grand prince, since he died earlier than his elder brother Izyaslav.

On this pretext, Izyaslav and Vsevolod after Svyatoslav's death decided that his children, Oleg and Yaroslav, became izgoys. This feud went on for many years and many knyazes were sent into exile or killed, until in 1097, the knyazes gathered in Lyubech, where they decided on a council that every knyaz should stay in his own knyazhestvo (duchy). Svyatopolk son of Izyaslav stayed in Kiev, children of Svyatoslav ruled Chernigov and Vladimir Monomakh, son of Vsevolod, became the knyaz of Pereyaslavl. So, sons of Svyatoslav got the rights of knyazes.

The feud did not stop after this congress. When the Grand Prince Svyatopolk died in Kiev in 1113, the Kievans refused to give the throne to the knyazes from Chernigov, but invited Vladimir Monomakh, who was respected in all parts of Russia. Vladimir refused to become the Grand Prince, but the Kievans insisted and, at last, he agreed. So, the order of succession established by knyazes was violated by the gathering of citizens.

From the above, we can see the reasons of the political disorder in Kievan Russia:

  • the order of succession established by Yaroslav was too complicated and unjust;
  • stronger knyazes often violated the accepted rules;
  • the population sometimes refused to honor the decisions of the knyazes and elected the rulers by themselves.


February 5 in Russian history

First of all, I beg your pardon if I miss some "days in history" from time to time, like now...

1494: The end of the first Muscovite-Lithuanian war. Ivan III, in the union with the Crimean khan Mengli Girai, managed to gain large territories, which passed from one hands to another for a long time: Vyazma, Kozelsk, Meshchera, Tarusa and a number of other cities. The most important part of the treaty, signed on February 5, 1494 in Moscow, was that the Lithuanians agreed to name Ivan III "sovereign of all Russia." The importance of this step comes from the fact that by this time Russians constituted more than a half of the population of Lithuania, which bore the official name of the Lithuanian-Russian state. Until 1494, Lithuania and Muscovy contested the right to be the nucleus of the forming Russia. Alexander, the duke of Lithuania, married Elena, daughter of Ivan III. The "eternal peace" survived for six years, when another war followed.

1851: Ivan Dmitrievich Sytin was born. He was born in a distant village near Kostroma and his parents were literate, but poor. He moved to Moscow and began working at a book publishing company. Some years later, his boss helped him to start his own publishing business. Soon he became one of the largest publishers and educators in Russia. He published books by Tolstoy and Chekhov, the so called "Popular Calendar" which could be found in almost every home in Russia, and newspapers and magazines for general public, for children, for teachers, etc. One of the largest Russian newspapers, "Russkoe Slovo", was founded by Sytin. One of his magazines, "Vokrug Sveta" (Around the world) is still one of my favourite monthlies. By 1914, around 25% of all book published in Russia were printed by Sytin. In 1911, he built "The teachers' house" in Moscow and sponsored gifted children. In 1917, his typographies were nationalized and he became unemployed. Then, he was invited to work in his own typography, sicne 1928 he received a special personal pension (a very small one, though) and died in 1934.


Came back from Volgograd

This is the article I wrote and posted at the Sima Qian Studio history forum in August, 2005, when I came back from Volgograd.

Last week the company where I work sent me to our office in Volgograd. During the first day I was busy with the office computer network, but on the second day I had 6 free hours at my disposal and I spent them walking and gazing around. Actually, I don't like the usual tourist attractions, and, even though Volgograd is the place of the famous Stalingrad battle, I planned to just walk and enjoy a warm summer day.

So, on Saturday, having finished with the cabling & wiring and all that dull work, I picked my backpack and went looking for a place to eat. The weather was fine and I didn't want to take a bus. At last, I found a good pizzeria and dropped in. The pizza was just the way I like it, with lots of pepper, and my next impulse was to get some beer. They had good Russian beer at the pizzeria, but I wanted to visit another remarkable place, the blues-rock bar 'White Horse'. We don't have such places in Samara and I just couldn't miss it. So, sitting in the 'White Horse' with a mug of beer, I tried to gather my wits and summarize my impressions about the city.

From the very start I was impressed with the architecture. Unlike the streets of Samara, Kazan, Saratov and other nearby cities, a typical street in the center of Volgograd is rather wide, about 70-100 meters, and lined with trees. Similar wide green streets I have seen, for example, in Togliatti and other relatively new cities. Volgograd, however, is different. First, the whole city is a preserve of the Stalin's imperial architecture. The number of columns and Parthenon's look-alike buildings is overwhelming. And second, as soon as you realize WHY this city looks like it was built on an empty place, the charm of these green streets obtains a tragic shadow. After the war (and don't even ask me which one -- when a Russian talks about 'The war', he means The War) there was not a single building in Stalingrad that was not damaged by bullets and bombs. The remaining separate walls were of no use and the city had to be rebuilt from scratch. So, when I walked these nice pavements, I couldn't stand the feeling that I actually walk above the ruined buildings and, most probably, the bones of the people who died here with weapons in their hands.

Although I didn't plan to visit the usual places of interest, at last I thought that I really have to see the Pavlov's house. If you've never heard about the house before, please, read here: Wikipedia:Pavlov's house. The house was reconstructed after the war and now it's just a commonplace 4-storeys high building, but it still retains some very special aura around it. Right across the street from the Pavlov's house there is a square where an old building of an ex-mill was left unreconstructed after the war. Now, it is a part of the Museum of the Stalingrad battle. This mill produces an amazing impression. That's the way it looks now: photos. If you walk around the building, you can see the difference between the eastern and the western facades of it -- the eastern side is just an old wall with empty square black holes, but the western side is so cankered with bullets that it's almost impossible to believe that defenders could survive there.

Well, since I happened to be near the Museum of the Stalingrad battle, I thought I could visit it. The museum is called 'the Panoramic Museum', because of the huge panorama of the battle which is displayed there. A very impressive picture, but only a picture. The more common museum-style exposition -- uniform, old newspapers, drawings made in 1943, soldiers' letters -- touched me much deeper. When you see a small sheet of paper with some words scratched on it and know that the author was killed soon after he wrote these words, you just can't tear your eyes off this paper and stop thinking about this man, his life, his family...

Besides the WWII display, the museum features a more modern exposition, devoted to the soldiers who died in Afghanistan and Chechnya. There may be different viewpoint on these wars, but there are two things I'd like to note. First, the 19-year old boys should not die. Never. Second, they didn't come there to kill and to destroy, they were there to help and to save. These boys are not to blamed for what happened next. So, they have deserved to be remembered for good.

The panorama in the museum shows the picture of the battle for Stalingrad as seen from the summit of the Mamaev Kurgan, a 102 meters high hill. Now, the hill is a huge memorial composition. I thought that after visiting the museum I could have a look at the stage of the battle from the hill and I took a trolley to the Mamaev Kurgan. Well, it's difficult to describe the scale of the composition. Have a look at the pictures of Mamaev Kurgan. The sculptures are very impressive and tragic. Unfortunately, it was not what I came there for. No matter how breath-taking this complex is, I lost the sensation of the link between the ages. I couldn't imagine a battle raging around. Anyway, it's probably a place which must be visited if you come to Volgograd.

I have to say here that this feeling of the link between the ages is very important for me. I search for it at every historical site I visit. Recall what you felt when touching an ancient stone in Rome and imagining a senator who touched it two thousand years ago. That's what I mean -- a dizzling feeling of similarity between you and the people who left the place a long time ago. I managed to find this link in Volgograd and what a grievous sensation it was...

February 2 in Russian history

1238: Batu Khan seized and burnt Moscow. Batu Khan was a grandson of Chingiz Khan and the founder of the Blue Horde, later transformed into the Golden Horde. The most detailed account of the seizure of Moscow is given in Lavrentiev chronicle: "On the same winter Tatars took Moscow and killed the chieftain Philip Nyanko for the true Christian faith, and took knyaz Vladimir, son of Yuri, with hands, and killed people from old to little ones; and the burnt the town and the sacred churches, and all monasteries and villages, and left, having taken large loot." Anyway, there is another source -- some sheets, glued into a copy of Nikanorov chronicle. These sheets were copied by Johann-Werner Pause in the first half of XVIII century from a lost chronicle and were not explored sufficiently until late 1970s. This text reports: "Tatars came from there (from Kolomna. DM) to Moscow and beat it incessantly. The chieftain Filip Nyanskin sat on his horse and all his army with him, crossed themselves, opened the gates and, shouting, attacked the Tatars. And the Tatars, seeing the great force, were frightened and started to run. And tsar Batu then with great force stepped onto the chieftain and captured him alive, and dissected his body in parts and strewn it all over the field, and the town of Moscow was burnt and sacked, and all people and babies were killed."

1701: Peter I issued "The Decree about construction of six 16-gun ships on Ladoga lake." These ships became the first ships of the Russian Baltic fleet.

1943: The end of the battle of Stalingrad, sometimes called the bloodiest battle in the history. Frankly, I see no reason to describe it, since it is covered extensively in many books and online sources. For a brief introduction, see (I was perplexed by one sentence in the article: "The battle was marked by brutality and disregard for military and civilian casualties on both sides." German civilian casualties in the middle of Russia?) Instead, I will copy an article I posted at the Sima Qian Studio forum a year and a half ago when I visited Volgograd. See the next post in this blog.

Russian history 16: Knyaz Yaroslav the Wise

After the death of Vladimir in 1015, his elder son Svyatopolk attempted to kill his brothers to become the only ruler. He managed to kill three brothers out of five, Boris, Gleb and Svyatoslav. Two of them, Boris and Gleb were unaware of the plot and did not even try to oppose the elder brother. Their moral stand turned them into martyrs and since then St. Boris and St. Gleb became the patrons of brotherly love. Svyatopolk became known as Svyatopolk Okayanny (roughly translated as Damned).

The fourth brother, Yaroslav, who was in Novgorod at the time, led the mixed army of Novgorod and Varangians to Kiev. In spite of assistance given to Svyatopolk by the Polish king Boleslav the Brave, Yaroslav drove away Svyatopolk, who later died somewhere in exile. The last brother, Mstislav, lived in the southern city of Tmutorokan. For some reasons, a war started between Yaroslav and Mstislav, and the country was split between them. Yaroslav ruled Kiev and the lands to the West from Dnieper, while Mstislav was the ruler in Chernigov and the lands to the East from Dnieper. Only after Mstislav died, Yaroslav succeeded in re-uniting the Russian lands (1034).

Yaroslav became known as Yaroslav the Wise. He collected a large library of Russian and translated Greek books in the temple of St. Sophia in Kiev, and the library was available to the public audience. By his orders, many schools and churches were built all over Russia.

He was also a successful military leader. So, he defeated Pechenegs and freed Kiev from their incessant raids (1034). The majority of Pechenegs left to the Balkan peninsula and those who stayed, pledged loyalty to Russian knyazes and settled along river Ros (a right tributary of Dnieper). They were known as 'karakalpaks' (black hoods) since then. Yaroslav undertook an unsuccessful raid to the Byzantine empire, but the ensuing three-year long war ended by liberation of Russians prisoners taken during the raid.

The state was rich enough to afford large and rich edifices. So, Yaroslav built outstanding temples of St. Sophia in Kiev and Novgorod. He invited Greek architects to build these churches. Yaroslav sent his ambassadors and merchants to Germany, France, Hungary, Poland and Scandinavia. Many foreign rulers became his relatives. Yaroslav himself was married on a Swedish princess Ingigerd (Irina in Russian), three hes sons married daughters of German kings, his daughters married French, Hungarian and Norse kings, and his fourth son, Vsevolod, married a woman from Constantinople who was a relative of emperor Constantine Monomakh. So, under Yaroslav, Russia became a full-fledged European country and Kiev became an important European trade centre, shaping the trade between European markets and the Orient.


February 1 in Russian history

1816: A group of army officers founded the first secret political society "Soyuz spaseniya" (Union of salvation). This union became the first organization of the Decembrists -- a group of Russian nobility, mostly army officers, who planned to replace the autocratic monarchy with constitutional monarchy and to abolish serfdom. During 1816-1818 the society members were convinced that the reforms are near, that the constitution would be adopted soon. The main task of the Union of Salvation was to prepare the Russian society to accept these reforms and to prevent any delays. In 1816, the strategy was still under development. Contrary to widespread opinion, the ideas of the Decembrists were not imported from the West during military campaigns of the Napoleon wars. These ideas had their origin in deep religious sentiments. The first Decembrists were theorists rather than revolutionaries and did not plan any actions directed at the achievement of their goals. In 1820-1821, the situation changed dramatically, after the wave of terror in Europe. Emperor Alexander was frightened and drastically changed the government policy towards repressions. Only then the idea of regicide became dominant among the Decembrists. After 1820, new societies appeared and many new people joined the Decembrists. Most of these new people were less educated and more radical. In the end, their dominance led to the December revolt of 1825.

Russian history 15: Influence of the church in culture and spiritual life

The church influenced culture mainly in three ways:

  • practical examples of life in the Christian way;
  • literacy and books, both translated Greek and original Russian;
  • objects of art, created in Russia by Greek artists.

The examples of Christian life were given both by clerics and secular people. So, knyaz Vladimir himself after the baptism showed mercy and provided for the poor. The most influential clerics often became leaders of religious communities, or monasteries. Unlike later monasteries, they had no temples or walls. They retreated to secluded places, to the deep forests, and lived on their own, not communicating with the secular world. Their strict rules, brotherhood of priests, their unity often impressed people who visited them looking for guidance and brought gifts to the monks. So, the monastery became a rich centre of Christian education. Literacy flourished in the monastery and almost all Russian writers of that time were monks. The economy of the monasteries was based on Greek patterns and set an example for other landowners.

In the first years, the only books in Russia were the Greek and Bulgarian books brought by priests from Constantinople: Bible, history books, Nomocanon, etc. Under the influence of the Bulgarian writings, Russian literacy developed. The first Russian writers were simply literate people who imitated the translated books, but their writings were widespread and influenced the life of Russia.

The most important objects of Christian art in Russia are seen in architecture. Huge stone temples were erected in Kiev, Novgorod and other large cities. They were built by Greek architects and by Greek design. Other arts, besides architecture, were jewellery and enamel painting. The first artists in these areas were also Greeks and they had strong influence on Russian followers and the art of that period is called Russian-Byzantine.