Yesterday's papers: 25 March 1908

Russkoye Slovo:

Berlin, 11 March (24 March New Style)

The friendly relationships between Serbia and Montenegro are getting better. There are reasons to think that some of these days the two governments will reach a consensus.

Warsaw, 11 March

The bomb layed by terrorists at the door of the apartment of a wholesale shoe trader Vollmann has exploded. The explosion caused disaster on the stairway and in the apartment, where only one housemaid was present at the moment. She was shocked and thrown aside, but hurt only lightly. Vollmann had received threatening letters from the terrorists, but refused to obey their demands. The terrorists escaped.

Baku, 11 March

The international bank received a 3,000 rubles transfer for the editor of the Armenian magazine "Barirul". The money were erroneously delivered to the editor of the Tatar magazine "Bayilul", who received the money and fled.

Tiflis, 11 March

Armenian newspaper Vtakaya informs that more than 1,000 soldiers of the Turkish army were deployed in 7 villages of the Turkish Armenia. The arrival of Zekki-pasha, the organizer of the Sassoun massacre, is expected. The Armenians flee in panic.

Odessa, 11 March

Glinsky-Kazarinov, who was elected by the reactionary majority of the city Duma to the Ministry Commission on the reform of the city statute, made a statement at the meeting of the Union of Real Russian People that he will support the full autonomy of the city self-government. He said also that he is the proponent of the equality of Judaists and Christians in the city elections. The newspapers of the Black Hundreds call him a traitor. It was decided to ask the ministry to replace Kazarinov with another person, to pass a non-confidence motion against Kazarinov and to proclaim his views harmful for the interests of the state and for the Russian population of Odessa.

Mortality in Moscow

The last statistical data demonstrate a sad phenomenon. The mortality among the Moscow population that was slowly decreasing for decades, suddenly peaked. In the last year, 33,128 people died in Moscow, while a year earlier, there were only 28,770.

Peterburgskaya Gazeta:

Golden wedding anniversary

Goldenblüm family recently celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary. Doctor of philosphy Goldenblüm is a German citizen. To their surprise, the couple received from Emperor Wilhelm II congratulations and a silver medal with portrait of the Emperor and the Empress. G.Goldenblüm has been living in our capital for many years.

Rare anniversary

Today, on 12 March (25 March New Style), the staff of the Mariinsky hospital honours an old woman, Elena Georgiyevna Vasilyeva, who has been working at the hospital's laundry for fifty years. During this half of century she washed the clothes of the most patients suffering from the most dangerous infections, like equinia and pox, and survived eight epidemics of cholera. The director of the hospital will present a congratulatory letter, the colleagues will present an icon, etc.


March 25 in Russian history. Gogol, Andropov and Khrushchev

On the photos there are two monuments to the Nose in St.Petersburg and in Kiev.


On 25 March an unusually strange event occurred in St. Petersburg...

Monument to the Nose in St.Petersburg

Collegiate Assessor Kovalev also awoke early that morning. And when he had done so he made the “B-r-rh!” with his lips which he always did when he had been asleep — he himself could not have said why. Then he stretched, reached for a small mirror on the table near by, and set himself to inspect a pimple which had broken out on his nose the night before. But, to his unbounded astonishment, there was only a flat patch on his face where the nose should have been! Greatly alarmed, he got some water, washed, and rubbed his eyes hard with the towel. Yes, the nose indeed was gone! He prodded the spot with a hand — pinched himself to make sure that he was not still asleep. But no; he was not still sleeping. Then he leapt from the bed, and shook himself. No nose! Finally, he got his clothes on, and hurried to the office of the Police Commissioner...

Monument to the Nose in Kiev

Then he halted as though riveted to earth. For in front of the doors of a mansion he saw occur a phenomenon of which, simply, no explanation was possible. Before that mansion there stopped a carriage. And then a door of the carriage opened, and there leapt thence, huddling himself up, a uniformed gentleman, and that uniformed gentleman ran headlong up the mansion's entrance-steps, and disappeared within. And oh, Kovalev's horror and astonishment to perceive that the gentleman was none other than — his own nose! The unlooked-for spectacle made everything swim before his eyes. Scarcely, for a moment, could he even stand. Then, deciding that at all costs he must await the gentleman's return to the carriage, he remained where he was, shaking as though with fever. Sure enough, the Nose did return, two minutes later. It was clad in a gold-braided, high-collared uniform, buckskin breeches, and cockaded hat. And slung beside it there was a sword, and from the cockade on the hat it could be inferred that the Nose was purporting to pass for a State Councilor. It seemed now to be going to pay another visit somewhere. At all events it glanced about it, and then, shouting to the coachman, “Drive up here,” reentered the vehicle, and set forth.

The Nose by Nikolay Gogol.


Chairman of KGB Yu. Andropov wrote a memo addressed to the Central Committee of the Communist Party:

In the last time, N.S.Khrushchev works more actively on his memoirs about the period of his life when he held high posts in the party and the state. The dictated parts of the recollections contain the information classified as exclusive secret of the party and the state on questions related to the defense of the Soviet state, industry, agriculture, economy as a whole, scientific and technical achievements, activity of the state security organs, foreign policy, relationships between the CPSU and the fraternal parties of socialist and capitalist countries, and others. He discloses the practices accepted on the discussions during the closed sittings of the Politbureau of the CPSU.

Andropov concluded the memo with the proposal:

It is necessary to take urgent measures to control the work of N.S.Khrushchev and to prevent the probable leakage of the party and state secrets.


March 20 in Russian history. 100 year old newpapers.

I have recently found an interesting Russian web-site, called Starosti.ru (roughly translated as Old News). The author, Sergey Sokurenko, works for Echo of Moscow radio. For more than 10 years he's been preparing a short program named "The Old News of Moscow", where he reviews 100 year old newspapers. In 2001 he launched the web-site to publish longer extracts. Below are some articles from the Russian newspapers printed on 20 March, 1908 (7 March Old Style).

I absolutely loved the articles. Some of them look like exact copies of today's articles, like Russia coming up with an alternative plan to reform a Yugoslavian republic. Others are absolutely unbelievable today, like Estonians striving to move to Siberia :). Well, here it is:


Russkoye Slovo (The Russian Word):

On the assassination of A.L.Karavayev

The news of the assassination of the former deputy of Duma, the leader of the trudoviks Karavayev, left a depressing impression among the deputies of Duma. During the tomorrow sitting, a group of deputies will propose to stand up in honour of his memory. The oktyabrists will join the proposal. Most probably, it will be accepted without protests...

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Malady of Leo Tolstoy

We received news from Yasnaya Polyana that Leo Tolstoy is ill. Doctors Nikitin and Berkenheim were called from Moscow. It is said that the malady started on 29 February (13 March New Style) with flu. But Leo Tolstoy still could walk. On 2 March he fainted away. He fell in his room unconscious. He was raised and put on the bed. When he recovered, he suffered from amnesia. Leo Nikolayevich does not recognize many relatives and acquaintances and even forgets the name of his sons. It is said that the doctors have diagnosed the brain anemia. But the acute crisis is over. Doctor Nikitin and duke S.L.Tolstoy, who visited his father, have already returned to Moscow. They said that in the last days the state of the patient got significantly better. The serious threat is ruled out.

Paris, 6 March (19 March New Style)

The topic of the day here is the Russian counter-project on the reforms in Macedonia. According to our information, it is wrong that Britain is ready to renounce her proposals and to accept the Austrian-Russian programme.

Berlin, 6 March (19 March New Style)

Against all expectations, the yesterday rally did not finish peacefully. In the late evening a conflict between the police and 5,000 demonstrators took place. 40 demonstrators and some policemen were wounded.

Vienna, 6 March (19 March New Style)

Neue Freie Presse reports from Thessaloniki that a plot of a Bulgarian committee to assassinate the consuls of two great powers was disclosed in this city. The assassination had to be committed by Greek-speaking Bulgarians, to accuse the Greeks. It was planned to use dynamite for the murder.

Milano, 6 March (19 March New Style)

Ex-princess of Saxony Louise is divorcing her husband, pianist Toselli, and is about to marry a French journalist.

Sarajevo, 6 March (19 March New Style)

Mass arrests followed a curious demonstration. When the operetta The Merry Widow was performed in the local theatre, the public decided that the show was insulting to the kindred people of Montenegro. The protests began. The arrests quickly put down the uprising.

Revel (modern Tallinn) 6 March (19 March New Style)

In the province of Estlandia the migration of the Estonians to Siberia is becoming epidemic since spring. Whole villages migrate. The mass departure of farm-hands already results in the shortage of the work force.

The town truck

Yesterday, near the building of the municipality the city administration demonstrated the first truck purchased abroad to transport firewood to the municipal buildings. The truck is able to transport up to 450 poods (7200 kilograms).


P.G.Zavyalov, a tenant at the Russian Society building in Bogoslovsky sidestreet, claimed that his concubine Sh. compelled him to issue a 100 rubles bill of exchange, threatening to kill him.

Lost things

The City Police Administration of Vladimir is looking for the owner of the things forgotten in the cab on 22 February: leather holster for the Browning revolver, one clip with 7 charges, one battery for an electric flashlight and three gold collar studs.

Russkoye Slovo (The Russian Word):

Science and technology

Student of the Electrotechnical university Freidenberg has finished testing a device for exploding landmines and field charges using the wireless telegraph. The tests were highly successful. The device was built in the inventor's workshop. The device has a simple and very cheap design and able to explode an unlimited number of landmines. The device can also manage the Whitehead torpedoes and type telegrams. Foreign engineers offer a huge sum of money for the invention. Freidenberg is already known as the designer of the first Russian automobile and the inventor of the revertine petroleum engine.

London, 5 March (18 March New Style)

Representatives of foreign countries gave an ultimatum to Haiti demanding to restore order in the country in one day, to stop the massacre and to allow free exit for all people who asked for asylum in foreign embassies. Otherwise, the president will be displaced.

Sevastopol, 5 March (18 March New Style)

Tonight, the police has seized an underground typography of the Socialist-Revolutionaries that had been working for a long time. Many materials, ready publications and weapons were found. Three are arrested.

Tver, 5 March (18 March New Style)

The company of swindlers, working under the name of socialists-communists, once again reminded of themselves. Rich home-owner Chizhov received a letter with the stamp of this party, where the authors demand that he pay them 2,000 rubles. If he doesn't, they threat to kill him.

Novoye Vremya (The New Times):

Attempt to kill a former Duma deputy. 5 March (18 March New Style)

Two young men came into the apartments of doctor Karavayev, former member of Duma, who was receiving patients, made two shots and wounded him.


March 19 in Russian history. He didn't return from the battle.


The "Soviet Youth" newspaper (Riga, Latvia) published the song "He didn't return from the battle" by Vladimir Vysotsky, one of the best Russian poets, who always managed to find the right words to get straight to the heart of the audience.

He didn't return from the battle

Why is everything wrong? Yet it seems just as fine:
The same sky, just as blue as before;
The same air, the same water, same forest of pine -
But he didn't come back from the war.

Who was right, who was wrong, I have no idea now,
In our ongoing quarrels and faction.
They wearied me then, now I long for a row,
Since he's been posted missing in action.

He'd go suddenly quiet. He would sing out of tune,
And his voice had a harsh kind of rattle.
He would keep me awake, then he'd get up too soon -
But he didn't return from the battle.

The loneliness isn't just all it's about.
I've just realised, we two made a pair.
It's as if the wind suddenly blew the fire out,
Now I know that he's no longer there.

With the spring blooming out now, in colourful riot,
I called him this morning, forgetting.
"Hey, leave me a dog-end!" No answer. Dead quiet -
For he didn't come back from the fighting.

Our dead will not leave us behind in the lurch.
The fallen still guard us forever.
The trees reach aloft like the nave of a church -
But my friend will return to me never.

There is plenty of room in the dugout below,
But it's time for us both now to yield.
I've the place to myself, yet I feel that I know
It is I who was killed in that field.

This very good translation by Jack Doughty was taken from this page. See here for more songs.

PS: There are some topics I'd like to write about, but as soon as I start, I understand that I just can't. I don't have the right words. Even in Russian. Vysotsky and his poetry is one of such topics. After all, do I have to write about him? He has written everything we should know.


March 15 in Russian history. Executions of communist leaders.

ExecutedToday.com features one more article written by our joint efforts: 1938: Seventeen former Bolshevik officials from the Trial of the 21.


On 15 March 1938, 17 former executives of the Communist Party were executed at the “special object” Kommunarka near Moscow. As head of the NKVD, Yagoda had arranged show trials before. This time, the shoe was on the other foot.

The names of some of them are found in any history book’ others were totally unknown even in 1930s. Alexey Rykov and Nikolay Bukharin were the topmost (well, almost) leaders of the USSR. Nikolai Krestinsky was a member of the Central Committee Secretariat and the Soviet ambassador to Germany. Christian Rakovsky was a diplomat, the head of the government of the Ukrainian SSR. Genrikh Yagoda was the minister of internal affairs, head of NKVD (the late name of Cheka). P. Kryuchkov was an officer of OGPU (an NKVD department) and the secretary of Maxim Gorky, the “official writer” of the communist USSR.

Let’s have a look at the newspapers of 1938.

From the resolution of the meeting of the workers of the institute of physiology of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and the institute of experimental biology and pathology of the Ukrainian ministry of health care.

With the deepest resentment and indignation we hold up to shame the traitors of their motherland, the mercenaries of the fascist secret services, mean Trotskyite-Bukharin’s scoundrels. The history of humanity hardly knows other examples of similar crimes.

We proclaim that the fascist mercenaries will never succeed in dismembering the great Soviet Union and in handing the flourishing socialist Ukraine to the capitalists. We add our voices to the voice of the many million Soviet people demanding to exterminate all the mean traitors, spies and murderers.

From the resolution of the third conference on physiology of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

The traitors Bukharin, Rykov, Yagoda and others did not disdain any means in their vile job. These traitors never eschewed any mostrous crime.

The doctors Pletnyov, Kazakov, Vinogradov and Levin in this repellent union consciously used the trust of their patients to kill them. History never saw such crimes. Death to these murderers! Destroy all the gang of the “right-trotskyite” block!

From the article “We demand merciless retaliation against the vile traitors of our great Motherland”.

Having sold themselves to the fascists, plotting with the diplomats and the general staffs of some aggressive imperialist states, a despicable handful of human degenerates, servants of the fascist cannibals, led by a Gestapo agent, gangster Trotsky, sold our socialist motherland and its treasures to the most evil enemies of the human progress.

We demand from our Soviet court merciless retaliation against the vile traitors! We demand the extermination of the despicable degenerates!

Read the full article here: 1938: Seventeen former Bolshevik officials from the Trial of the 21.


March 13 in Russian history. Master, Margarita and N.Bukharin.


70 years ago in Moscow the Trial of the 21 was over. 18 people, from top Soviet leaders to mere doctors were sentenced to death. 3 other people were sentenced to long terms in prison. (Two days later, on 15 March, ExecutedToday.com plans to publish an article about the trial of the 21 we wrote together.)

Among those sentenced to death was Nikolay Ivanovich Bukharin. I am not about to compete with the his biography published at Wikepedia. I have another story for you.

More than a year ago, on 13 February 2007, I wrote:

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 called one of the greatest works of 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?

Bukharin became the prototype for a less important character in "Master and Margarita", Nikolay Ivanovich, a "tenant from the ground floor", who is turned by a magic ointment into a boar. Natasha, Margarita's housemaid rides him to the sabbath when she becomes a witch. He has the same name as Bukharin and his face looks similar. He has the same "blond, wedge-shaped beard", wears pince-nez and a grey waistcoat. The attempts of Nikolay Ivanovich to seduce Natasha parody Bukharin's reputation of a womanizer (in 1929, when the action of the novel is set, Bukharin divorced his second wife). It may be interesting that Bukharin's favorite character in literature was doctor Faust. In 1932 he wrote an article about Göthe, proving that "the end of Doctor Faustus is a vague premonition, a prophetic dream of socialism." Since childhood, Bukharin was an atheist. On 12 June 1929 he opened the All-Union Congress of Atheists (in the novel, on 12 June the devil ran the black magic show at the Variety Theatre). In his biography, Bukharin recalled:

Once I read the famous "lecture on Antichrist" by Vladimir Solovyov and for some time I thought I could be the Antichrist. From the Apocalypse (and I was reprimanded by the school priest for reading it) I knew that the Antichrist's mother was a prostitute, and I interrogated my mother, and she was an unusually smart and working woman, who loved her children and was highly virtuous, whether she was a prostitute, which embarassed her to no end.

Bulgakov never thought Bukharin was a talented politician, or at least a real villain. This mediocrity, Nikolay Ivanovich, is not even invited to the devil's ball, but simply sent away to the kitchen.

Here are some episodes where Nikolay Ivanovich is mentioned:

There was the noise of a car driving away from the front gate. The garden gate banged, and steps were heard on the tiles of the path.
'It's Nikolai Ivanovich, I recognize his footsteps,' thought Margarita.
'I must do something funny and interesting in farewell.'
Margarita tore the curtain open and sat sideways on the window-sill, her arms around her knees. Moonlight licked her from the right side.
Margarita raised her head towards the moon and made a pensive and poetic face. The steps tapped twice more, and then suddenly - silence. After admiring the moon a little longer, sighing for the sake of propriety, Margarita turned her head to the garden and indeed saw Nikolai Ivanovich, who lived on the bottom floor of the same house. Moonlight poured down brightly on Nikolai Ivanovich. He was sitting on a bench, and there was every indication that he had sunk on to it suddenly. The pince-nez on his face was somehow askew, and he was clutching his briefcase in his hands.
'Ah, hello, Nikolai Ivanovich,' Margarita said in a melancholy voice.
'Good evening! Coming back from a meeting?'
Nikolai Ivanovich made no reply to that.
'And I,' Margarita went on, leaning further out into the garden, 'am sitting alone, as you see, bored, looking at the moon and listening to the waltz...'
Margarita passed her left hand over her temple, straightening a strand of hair, then said crossly:
That is impolite, Nikolai Ivanovich! I'm still a woman after all! It's boorish not to reply when someone is talking to you.'
Nikolai Ivanovich, visible in me moonlight to the last button on his grey waistcoat, to the last hair of his blond, wedge-shaped beard, suddenly smiled a wild smile, rose from the bench, and, apparently beside himself with embarrassment, instead of taking off his hat, waved his briefcase to the side and bent his knees as if about to break into a squatting dance.
'Ah, what a boring type you are, Nikolai Ivanovich!' Margarita went on. 'Generally, I'm so sick of you all that I can't even tell you, and I'm so happy to be parting with you! Well, go to the devil's dam!'
A heavy noise of ripping air came from behind and began to overtake Margarita. To this noise of something flying like a cannon ball a woman's guffaw was gradually added, audible for many miles around. Margarita looked back and saw some complex dark object catching up with her. As it drew nearer to Margarita, it became more distinct - a mounted flying person could be seen. And finally it became quite distinct: slowing down, Natasha came abreast of Margarita.
Completely naked, her dishevelled hair flying in the air, she flew astride a fat hog, who was clutching a briefcase in his front hoofs, while his hind hoofs desperately threshed the air. Occasionally gleaming in the moonlight, then fading, the pince-nez that had fallen off his nose flew beside the hog on a string, and the hog's hat kept sliding down over his eyes. Taking a close look, Margarita recognized the hog as Nikolai Ivanovich, and then her laughter rang out over the forest, mingled with the laughter of Natasha.
'Natashka!' Margarita shouted piercingly. 'You rubbed yourself with the cream?'
'Darling!!' Natasha replied, awakening the sleeping pine forest with her shout. 'My French queen, I smeared it on him, too, on his bald head!'
'Princess!' the hog shouted tearfully, galloping along with his rider.
'Darling! Margarita Nikolaevna!' cried Natasha, riding beside Margarita, `I confess, I took the cream! We, too, want to live and fly!
Forgive me, my sovereign lady, I won't go back, not for anything! Ah, it's good, Margarita Nikolaevna! ... He propositioned me,' Natasha began jabbing her finger into the neck of the abashedly huffing hog, 'propositioned me! What was it you called me, eh?' she shouted, leaning towards the hog's ear.
'Goddess!' howled the hog, 'I can't fly so fast! I may lose important papers, Natalya Prokofyevna, I protest!'
'Ah, devil take you and your papers!' Natasha shouted with a brazen guffaw.
'Please, Natalya Prokofyevna, someone may hear us!' the hog yelled imploringly.
Flying beside Margarita, Natasha laughingly told her what happened in the house after Margarita Nikolaevna flew off over the gates.
Natasha confessed that, without ever touching any of the things she had been given, she threw off her clothes, rushed to the cream, and immediately smeared herself with it. The same thing happened with her as with her mistress. Just as Natasha, laughing with joy, was revelling in her own magical beauty before the mirror, the door opened and Nikolai Ivanovich appeared before her. He was agitated; in his hands he was holding Margarita Nikolaevna's shift and his own hat and briefcase. Seeing Natasha, Nikolai Ivanovich was dumbfounded. Getting some control of himself, all red as a lobster, he announced that he felt it was his duty to pick up the little shift and bring it personally...
The things he said, the blackguard!' Natasha shrieked and laughed. The things he said, the things he tempted me to do! The money he promised! He said Klavdia Petrovna would never learn of it. Well, speak, am I lying?' Natasha shouted to the hog, who only turned his muzzle away abashedly. In the bedroom, carried away with her own mischief, Natasha dabbed some cream on Nikolai Ivanovich and was herself struck dumb with astonishment. The respectable ground-floor tenant's face shrank to a pig's snout, and his hands and feet acquired little hoofs. Looking at himself in the mirror, Nikolai Ivanovich let out a wild and desperate howl, but it was already too late. A few seconds later, saddled up, he was flying out of Moscow to devil knows where, sobbing with grief.
`I demand that my normal appearance be restored to me!' the hog suddenly grunted hoarsely, somewhere between frenzy and supplication. 'I'm not going to fly to any illegal gathering! Margarita Nikolaevna, it's your duty to call your housekeeper to order!'
'Ah, so now I'm a housekeeper? A housekeeper?' Natasha cried, pinching the hog's ear. 'And I used to be a goddess? What was it you called me?' 'Venus!' the hog replied tearfully, as he flew over a brook bubbling between stones, his little hoofs brushing the hazel bushes.
'Venus! Venus!' Natasha cried triumphantly, one hand on her hip, the other stretched out towards the moon. 'Margarita! Queen! Intercede for me so that I can stay a witch! They'll do anything for you, you have been granted power!'
And Margarita responded:
'All right, I promise.'
Thank you!' exclaimed Natasha, and suddenly she cried out sharply and somehow longingly: 'Hey! Hey! Faster! Faster! Come on, speed it up'' She dug her heels into the hog's sides, which had grown thinner during this insane ride, and he tore on, so that the air ripped open again, and a moment later Natasha could be seen only as a black speck in the distance, then vanished completely, and the noise of her flight melted away.
In Natasha's place Nikolai Ivanovich now stood. He had regained his former human shape, but was extremely glum and perhaps even annoyed.
This is someone I shall dismiss with special pleasure,' said Woland, looking at Nikolai Ivanovich with disgust, `with exceptional pleasure, so superfluous he is here.'
'I earnestly beg that you issue me a certificate,' Nikolai Ivanovich began with great insistence, but looking around wildly, 'as to where I spent last night.'
'For what purpose?' the cat asked sternly.
`For the purpose of presenting it to the police and to my wife,' Nikolai Ivanovich said firmly.
'We normally don't issue certificates,' the cat replied, frowning, 'but, very well, for you we'll make an exception.'
And before Nikolai Ivanovich had time to gather his wits, the naked Hella was sitting at a typewriter and the cat was dictating to her.
'It is hereby certified that the bearer, Nikolai Ivanovich, spent the said night at Satan's ball, having been summoned there in the capacity of a means of transportation ... make a parenthesis, Hella, in the parenthesis put "hog". Signed - Behemoth.'
'And the date?' squeaked Nikolai Ivanovich.
We don't put dates, with a date the document becomes invalid,' responded the cat, setting his scrawl to it. Then he got himself a stamp from somewhere, breathed on it according to all the rules, stamped the word 'payed' on the paper, and handed it to Nikolai Ivanovich. After which Nikolai Ivanovich disappeared without a trace, and in his place appeared a new, unexpected guest.

Two other persons convicted during the trial of the twenty one and used by Bulgakov as prototypes for the characters in Master and Margarita are Genrikh Yagoda and his secretary Pavel Bulanov:

The last two guests were coming up the stairs!
'It's some new one,' Koroviev was saying, squinting through his lens.
'Ah, yes, yes. Azazello visited him once and, over the cognac, whispered some advice to him on how to get rid of a certain man whose exposures he was extremely afraid of. And so he told an acquaintance who was dependent on him to spray the walls of the office with poison ...'
'What's his name?' asked Margarita.
'Ah, really, I myself don't know yet,' Koroviev replied, 'we'll have to ask Azazello.'
'And who is with him?'
'Why, that same efficient subordinate of his. Delighted!' cried Koroviev to the last two.

This episode is directly linked to the anecdotical "confessions" of Bulanov:

When he [Yagoda] was discharged, he had already taken steps to the poisoning of the room where Nikolay Yezhov had to begin working soon. He gave me direct order to prepare the poison: to dissolve mercury in acid. I don't understand anything about chemistry and medicine and I may confuse the names, but he warned me to careful with the sulfuric acid: burns, smell and something like that. It happened on 28 September 1936. I fulfilled the order, prepared the solution. It was sprayed in the room by Savolainen in the presence of Yagoda and me.

The full text of Master and Margarita is available here: in Russian and in two English translations, by Michael Glenny (1967) and by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (1997).

These are two very good web-sites about Mikhail Bulgakov and Master and Margarita in particular:
MasterAndMargarita.eu, created by Jan Vanhellemont from Belgium
and Master and Margarita, created by Kevin Moss at Middlebury College.

PS: The book illustrations were taken from http://www.richcollection.ru/item.233.html


March 12 in Russian history. Arkady Averchenko.


One of the smartest satirists in Russian literature, Arkady Averchenko, died in a hospital in Prague. In 1908 Averchenko became a secretary in a satirical magazine The Dragonfly and since August the magazine got the new name: The Satiricon. Since 1913 Averchenko was the editor-in-chief of The Satiricon. In 1917 Averchenko welcomed the February revolution, but the next one, the November revolution made him an exile. The Satiricon was closed by the bolsheviks in 1918 and Averchenko fled from Petrograd first to Ukraine and then to Crimea. In 1919 Averchenko began working in the newspaper of the Volunteer Army "The South". In 1921 he published one of his best known books, A Dozen Knives Into the Revolution's Back. V.Lenin read this book and commented: "This is a book written by a White Guard, resentful to the degree of madness." However, he admitted that the book is "highly talented".

Unfortunately, there's little information about Averchenko in English. One day I will write a longer article. As for now, a brief biography of Averchenko in English may be found here. Some short stories by Averchenko were translated into English by Serge Elnitsky and you can read them here.


(27 February Old Style)

Nikolay II signed his abdication from the throne. The Satiricon published the text of the manifesto on the cover with Averchenko's visa in the top corner: "Read with pleasure. Arkady Averchenko." It was a mocking imitation of Nikolay's own words he used to approve documents.


Other blogs: Russia, USSR and history

Andy has posted a Russia Blog roundup at his Siberian Light blog, where he mentions my article about Georgy Kosenko written some days ago for ExecutedToday.com. Thanks to Andy, but this is not what I wanted to say in the first place :).

Andy also mentioned some very interesting blogs. One of them is Soviet Russia, born in February 2008. The first two articles written by Xavi are really outstanding: Cold War blazing skies about the training flights of the Soviet air forces in the Atlantic, about the reaction of the US and NATO and about the first victims of the Cold War. The second article is titled Stalin’s golden cage. It's about the building that became the symbols of the Stalin's epoch. Xavi's work is extraordinary, so keep reading his blog.

Another interesting blog, Russia, Past and Present, was launched in October 2007. It's mostly about Russian art and culture, but the author, Seesaw, doesn't shun politics or mass culture. Very well written and with lots of video clips, this is a good addition for your daily reading list.

And, finally, one more article mentioned by Andy in his roundup: The Geography of Russia Through History in otherwise irrelevant Coming Anarchy blog shows the maps of the Russian states from Kievan Rus to the principality of Muscovy to modern Russia.


Underwater excavations in Novgorod.

The Novgorodian Divers Federation and The Novgorodian Society of Amateurs of Antiquity have been running archaeological excavations at the bottom of river Volkhov for some years already. They have found some thousands of various artefacts of XII-XVII centuries. In the end of February, the new annual expedition began and in the first days of March three articles about the new finds appeared one after the other in Russian media.

On 1 March, the archaeologists found a XV century town stamp. The stamp featured the image of a bird and the inscription "Орел" (Eagle). It belonged to the Council of the Lords, the ancient Novgorod administration. It was the thirteenth town stamp found in the city.

Then, a cannonball was found. It weighed about 6 pounds. It was the standard weight of Russian cannonballs in XVII century. Probably, it fell into the river during the siege of Novgorod by the Swedish army in 1611 or 1615.

And, finally, on 4 March it was reported that two metal arrowheads were found. It's not clear why, but arrowheads are an unusual find in Volkhov. These are the first arrowheads found at the bottom of the river during the 2005-2008 expeditions.

The goal of this year's expedition is to find the earliest remains of the so called "Great bridge" and to establish where it was located in XI-XII centuries. The bridge connected the districts of Novgorod situated on the opposite banks of Volkhov.


March 5 in Russian history. Captain Sedov.


Russian polar explorer, Georgiy Yakovlevich Sedov, died near Rudolf island in the Arctic Ocean.

One of the best adventure novels in the Soviet (and Russian) literature, The Two Captains by Veniamin Kaverin, is a story of a boy, Sanya Grigoryev, who becomes a polar pilot. Since childhood he dreamed of finding the traces of the lost polar expedition of captain Tatarinov and finally found. By the way, this book gave the second life to the famous motto:"То strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield". Captain Tatarinov had a literary prototype in real life. Even three prototypes: Georgiy Sedov, Georgiy Brusilov and Vladimir Rusanov. All three departed to the polar seas in 1912 and neither of them returned.

Sedov was born in 1877 in Ukraine, on the shores of the Azov Sea. His father left his family looking for job and Georgiy became a fisherman in the age of seven. He was illiterate till 14 years; then his father returned home and Georgiy finished three-year course of a church school in two years and left his home. In 1894 he entered the sea college in Rostov, but abandoned it in 1897. He then entered the sea school in Poti (modern Georgia). He studied and worked and finally in 1898 he got the diploma of the navigator. Three years later he became a navy officer and for the first time he came to the Arctic Ocean, where he participated in a geographic expedition. During the Russo-Japanese war he was the captain of a ship in the Bay of Amur. In 1908-1910 he worked in a geographic expedition on the Caspian Sea and on Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic. In 1911 he became a member of the Russian Geographic Society and Russian Astronomical Society. After this success, the tsar Nikolay II invited Sedov to visit him and during a long conversation Sedov told Nikolay of his dream.

Robert Peary discovered the North Pole in 1909, but it was soon found out that because of the inexact astronomical instruments it's hard to tell whether he really was on the Pole. On the other hand, Russia was often criticized for the lack of efforts in the exploration of the polar seas. Sedov decided to become the first Russian to reach the North Pole. To do so, he had to begin the expedition earlier than Roald Amundsen, who planned to depart in 1913. Sedov hurried and his plans were censured by the Russian geographers as too dangerous and poorly prepared. So, Peary had 250 dogs and 4 support groups, while Sedov's expedition included 3 men and 39 dogs. However, Nikolay II supported him and donated 10,000 rubles for the expedition. Newspapers organized the fundraising campaign and soon Sedov was ready to go. Sedov reviewed his plans and increased the number of dogs to 60, but had to decrease the food rations. What he didn't know was that while he was so busy with the preparations and had not enough time for the control, the merchants sold him local mutts for huskies and rotten meat for pemmikan.

On 27 August 1912 the ship Svyatóy Múchenik Foká (Saint Martyr Phokas) left Arkhangelsk. Actually, it was too late to begin the expedition, but the race with Amundsen forced Sedov to depart. Of course, Sedov knew it and he planned to spend the first winter on Novaya Zemlya, on cape Pankratyev. During the whole winter they performed geographic and astronomic observations. So, Sedov and the boatswain Inyutin mapped 700 kilometres of the northern shores of Novaya Zemlya. Because of the cold winter, in 1913 only on 2 September they managed to get out of the ice and to head to Franz-Joseph Land where they spent the next winter. By this time the food shortage became obvious and some of the members of the expedition, including Sedov himself, fell ill with scurvy. In spite of the disease, on 2 January (15 January New Style) 1915 Sedov and two sailors, Grigory Linnik and Alexander Pustoshny, went to the North Pole with only 8 dogs. They were very ill. The temperature fell to -40C. Trying to save the fuel they ate cold meat and made "tea" by melting the snow with their own breath. On 22 February (5 March New Style) Sedov died near island Rudolf, the northernmost island of the northernmost Russian archipelago. Linnik and Pustoshny buried him on the island, erecting a cross made of two skis with the English inscription: "Sedov Pol. Exped. 1912". On 9 March the sailors decided to return and on 19 March they came back to St. Foka. In August the ship returned to Arkhangelsk. Only then his wife Vera learned of his death.

How could Sedov, an experienced traveler and geographer, hope to reach the Pole, to follow 1,000 kilometres to the Pole and 1,000 kilometres back, with only two ill sailors and a handful of dogs? Perhaps, it was hopeless. I think he knew it was. Of course, it was not a suicide, rather a desperate attempt to leave Amundsen behind. Not to become the first, but to win the pole for Russia (Sedov's diaries seem to confirm this point of view).

His expedition, however, was not a complete disaster. First, they gathered a huge amount of information about Russian North. The information which was invaluable for the next expeditions. And second, there was a man in the crew, Vladimir Vize, who became later one of the leading Soviet geographers, exploreers of the Arctic. It was Vize who proposed to use drifting ice polar stations to explore the Arctic Ocean. Probably, two years on St.Foka helped him to elaborate this idea.

In 1931 N.Pinegin, painter and scientist who was a member of the expedition, returned to island Rudolf and built a new cross on Sedov's grave.

There are eleven geographic locations named after Georgiy Sedov. The largest training tallship of the world is named Georgiy Sedov. Sedov's grandson was the first captain of the tallship. There is bay of Vera and glacier Vera in Novaya Zemlya named by Sedov after his wife.


Russian history: Part 4

The fourth part will cover the history of Ivan IV the Terrible and the Times of Troubles.

Ivan IV:

  • 57. Childhood and youth of Ivan IV
  • 58. The first period of Ivan's reign. Inside Russia.
  • 59. The first period of Ivan's reign. The conquests.
  • 60. The psychological change and break up with his followers.
  • 61. The second period of Ivan's reign. Inside Russia.
  • 62. The second period of Ivan's reign. Foreign politics.

The Times of Trouble:

  • 63. Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich and Boris Godunov.
  • 64. Establishment of patriarchy in Moscow and the decrees on the peasants.
  • 65. Death of Dmitri, son of Ivan, and the end of the Moscow dynasty.
  • 66. Accession of Boris Fyodorovich Godunov.
  • 67. The impostor.
  • 68. Reign and death of the impostor.
  • 69. Accession of knyaz Vasily Ivanovich Shuisky.
  • 70. Troubles during Vasily's reign.
  • 71. The election of the Polish prince Wladimir and its consequences.
  • 72. The first People's Militia against the Poles and its failure.
  • 73. The second People's Militia against the Poles and the liberation of Moscow.
  • 74. Election of Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov.
  • 75. The significance and the consequences of the Times of Trouble.


Russian history 56. Church as a landlord. The sect of Judaizers.

In the XV century, Russian monasteries grew very numerous a owned so many lands that the government, who had already distributed their lands among the knyaz's noble servants, considered the plans of taking these lands away from the monasteries. On the other hand, some inhabitants of the monasteries also began to think that the wealth of the monks was an obstacle on their way to God and contradicted their monastic vows. These bilateral intentions gave birth to the whole movement which left noticeable traces in the literature of the XV century.

Under the rule of Mongols the monastery life was very intensive. Difficult life of the peasants forced many of them to become monks. They left the towns and moved to the woods of the north, where they built new monasteries. As new settlers fled from the south, they stayed in the same forests, often near the monasteries, forming new towns around them. The monks had to leave again. So, the monks became the spearhead of the colonization movement. Troitse-Sergiyev monastery alone formed at least 35 new monasteries-colonies. Being an attractive center for the peasants' villages, the monasteries were welcomed by the knyazes, who allowed the monks to become the landlords. So the wealth of the monasteries was being born.

However, not all monks welcomed this change. Some of them used them to facilitate their lives, others used them for charity and to alleviate the lives of the people living nearby, while the third came to the conclusion that the monasteries should not be landowners, but should instead earn their living by their own hands. In the end of the reign of Ivan III when many dark sides of the church land ownership became visible, a discussion began among the intellectuals in literature and on the church synods. The opposing parties were led by two outstanding monks of that age: Joseph of Volokolamsk (Joseph Volotsky, or Joseph Sanin, the hegumen of the Volokolamsk monastery, founded by himself) and Nil of Sora (Nil Sorsky, or Nil Maykov, the founder of the hermitage on river Sora, near lake Belozero). The former was a good organizer and administrator, and just as good writer. He made his monastery rich and seeing that this wealth did not harm the Christian spirit of the monks, he was convinced that the monasteries should use it to reach the holy ends. So, he said that the villages located on the monastery lands, give new monks. If there will be no villages near the monasteries, there will be no new people, no new bishops and the faith will suffer. Nil and his followers, known collectively as zavolzhskie startsy (the elders from beyond Volga, since most of them came from the northern monasteries, located on the other side of Volga) opposed Joseph. Nil was an hermit who rejected all ties between the monasteries and the outside world, who was convinced that the monks should have no property besides the basic necessities, that the monks must think about God and not about the treasures of this world. This discussion continued on the church synod in 1503. The majority supported Joseph and the secular authorities had to accept the growth of the church lands. In the meanwhile, the monasteries not only received new lands from the knyazes, but also bought them, took as pawn and received as gifts from rich people. The more practical part of the Orthodox clergy created a whole school of the monks-administrators, based on the writings of Joseph of Volokolamsk. Obviously, they needed the support of the secular authorities, so they easily collaborated with the knyazes and yielded to their demands. They were severely criticized for that by their opponents, especially by the monk Vassian the Squint-Eyed. A Greek monk named Maximus the Greek, who came to Moscow from Athos to translate Greek books and to manage the knyaz's library, also opposed the followers of Joseph. Both Vassian and Maxim were later isolated in distant monasteries for this opposition and arguing the legitimacy of the second marriage of Vasily III.

The enmity between these two parties was especially intensive during the heresy of the Judaizers. This heresy appeared in Novgorod in 1471, and then spread to Moscow. The Judaizers followed the teachings of somone Skharia (or Zakharia the Jew), they did not recognize the saint trinity, rejected Jesus Christ, expected the coming of the messiah, did not worship St. Mary, the saints, the cross and the icons, followed the law of Moses and instead of Sunday worshipped Saturday. The heresy became popular among the clerics in Novgorod. Some of the heretics were brought by Ivan III himself from Novgorod to Moscow and appointed clerics to the churches of Moscow, causing the Judaizing to spread fast in Moscow. Many officials sympathized with the Judaizers, like Fyodor Kuritsyn, the aide of the grand knyaz, or archimandrite Zosima, who was later elected as the metropolitan and then condemned the heresy. More than 15 years passed since the birth of the heresy till it was discovered. The archbishop of Novgorod Gennady reported about it to Moscow. An investigation was started, which was led with reluctance in Moscow but zealously in Novgorod, by Gennady. To push the Moscow church hierarchs to more active persecutions, Gennady asked Joseph of Volokolamsk for support. Joseph published a book called Prosvetitelets (The Enlightener), where he demanded the execution of the heretics. The zavolzhskie startsy denounced his intolerance, but Joseph won again: on the synod of 1504 the heretics were sentenced to death. Many of them were burned and soon the Judaizers disappeared.

Joseph's position suited the authorities very well and he was supported by the knyazes and his followers occupied the leading positions in the church. In return, they supported the monocracy of the Moscow knyazes


March 1 in Russian history. Radio Liberty is 55!


On 1 March, 1953, radio station Radio Liberation, founded by the American Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia, began the first broadcasts. In May 1959, Radio Liberation was renamed to Radio Liberty.

When I was a schoolboy, I was appointed a "political informer" at school. I was supposed to prepare digests of the Soviet newspapers and TV news and once a week I read them to the class. For some years I got school prizes as the best political informer. Want to know a secret? I didn't use Soviet TV news. My sources were Radio Liberty, BBC, Voice of America and Radio Sweden. I do hope that some of my former schoolmates listened to what I was saying. I like to think that there was a part of my efforts in the job of informing the Soviet people.

Now, the presence of RL in the air significantly decreased, in my opinion, but the website SvobodaNews.ru remains one of the best sources of information for those in Russia who want to know.

Dear RL journalists, happy birthday! And thanks for what you do. We need you.

Don Jensen, RFE/RL Director of Communications, said during the 50-th anniversary celebrations:

It was originally called Radio Liberation, but that was a misnomer. The word "liberation" -- a martial term appropriate to the early Cold War -- implied the freeing of a people from enemy occupation. The Red Army was indeed an army of occupation. "Captive nations" was a term the West used for the countries of Eastern Europe oppressed by Stalinism, while "captive peoples" were imprisoned within Josef Stalin's Soviet Union. The "Crusade for Freedom," moreover, was the U.S. government's campaign to raise money for the new radio service.

But calling the new radio service Radio Liberation exaggerated the West's influence in the region. It unfairly diminished the moral sensibility of those brave enough to be our listeners and minimized the fact that the struggle against communism was ultimately their responsibility, not that of an outside power.

The service's second name, Radio Liberty, had it right. "Liberty" better reflected how change could be achieved. Radio Liberty would not only inform its audience. The service would also ask a difficult thing of that audience -- that listeners use the information they received from Radio Liberty to seek for themselves an equilibrium between freedom and order in their lives and in their societies, no matter how bleak the prospects for change seemed.

In 1976, it was merged with Radio Free Europe, finally taking the familiar shape of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (read more at Wikipedia).

This article on the history of RFE also mentions the early days of RL:

A new organization, the American Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (Amcomlib), first met on January 12, 1951, to plan radio service to the Soviet Union. Despite formidable problems, Radio Liberation, later Radio Liberty (RL), overcame the hurdles and began broadcasting sixty-seven hours a week on March 1, 1953, from four 10-kilowatt transmitters at the RFE base at Lampertheim, purchased from NCFE. In contrast to RFE, RL maintained a low profile without the fanfare, promotion, and fund-raising with celebrities.

The timeline of the RL history is here: Radio Liberty: 50 Years of Broadcasting.

Five years ago, when RL celebrated the 50th anniversary, they ran a conference titled On Liberty and the materials from this conference are available here: On Liberty.