While a vast and multifacted state, the Soviet Union was nonetheless one in which power was highly centralised, not just within one city — Moscow — but even within one complex of buildings, the Kremlin. For the past fourteen years, however, a St Petersburg boy — Vladimir Putin — has been the man at the helm of the ship of state, and while Moscow is still the top dog St Petersburg is increasingly stealing the limelight. The number of commercial bodies (several subsidiaries of Gazprom, for example) moving from Moscow to St Petersburg is growing, and even a few government departments and other entities have moved back to the old imperial capital.
Among these is the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, which transferred to the old Senate and Synod buildings in St Petersburg in 2008. The Supreme Court and Higher Arbitration Courts have yet to make the move, however, and a scheme by architect Maxim Atayants has been chosen as the winner of the design competition for the new judicial quarter on the banks of the Neva. (more…)
In 2003, the lamentable and vulgar government of Britain launched Beagle 2, part of the European Space Agency’s ‘Mars Express’ programme. It contained a pop song fragment by ‘Blur’ and an “artwork” by Damien Hirst to calibrate its cameras and spectrometers. The whole thing was a failure, contact with Beagle 2 being lost six days prior to its scheduled entry into the Martian atmosphere.
Whereas we sent dull pop music and bad art, the Russians have one-upped us again. To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the first man in space, they’ve taken an icon of Our Lady of Kazan aboard the Soyuz TMA-24 mission.
(With apologies to Comrade First Secretary Krushchev for the paraphrased post title.)
ANOTHER VICTORY DAY in Moscow — sixty-five years now since the Allied Powers defeated the crisply attired Axis of Nazi Germany and her slightly foppish cohort Fascist Italy. Russia commemorates V-E Day a day “late” because the German instrument of surrender entered into force at 23:01 CET on May 8, 1945 — by which time it was already May 9 in Moscow. For this reason most countries within the ex-Soviet sphere celebrate the end of the Second World War a day later than in western Europe. It is also customary on this day for patriotic citizens to wear the orange-and-black ‘Ribbon of St. George’, which recalls the Military Order of the Holy Great-Martyr and the Triumphant George established in 1769 and revived in 1994. The Order of St. George is the highest military honour awarded by Russia after the paramount Order of St. Andrew. (more…)
I can’t remember who it was that, watching the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain, said never in his right mind did he expect that within just a decade Washington would be the chief propagator of worldwide revolution and the Kremlin would be a relatively conservative power, guarding jealously its local sphere of influence. What could add more of a dash of the absurd (and yet, eminently sensible) than the Russian government, facing the worst crisis of population decline of any major power, promoting larger families with a poster campaign quoting the conservative American philosopher George Santayana.
ONE OF OUR correspondents sends word that Russia is to name the fourth of her Borei-class ballistic missile submarines Николай Чудотворец, which is to say “Saint Nicholas”. The Borei-class vessels are the first series of Russian strategic submarines to be launched in the post-Soviet era. The previous subs in the class have been named the Yuri Dolgoruki (after Prince Yuri I, founder of Moscow), the Alexander Nevsky (after the Grand Prince of Vladimir & Novgorod venerated as a saint in the Eastern churches), and the Vladimir Monomakh (after the Grand Prince of Kievan Rus). The Saint Nicholas is of course not the first boat or ship to bear the name of New York’s patron saint. There was HMS St. Nicholas as well as a Spanish naval ship San Nicolas in the 1790s, eventually captured by the Royal Navy and commissioned as HMS San Nicolas. A Sealink (later Stena) ferry named St. Nicholas traversed the Harwich/Hook-of-Holland route from 1983 until it was renamed Stena Normandy in 1991 and transferred to the Southampton/Cherbourg route. Numerous merchant vessels took the saint’s name and patronage throughout the nineteenth century.
I recently discovered that we receive the television channel Russia Today in our humble little flat here in Stellenbosch, and have spent the past few days enjoying it. They are shockingly truthful (almost nasty) in their reporting of international relations, in so far as the truth — for the moment — tends to favour the Russian case in world affairs, and make NATO look like a bunch of ninnies. Saturday — May 9 — was Victory Day in Russia, in which the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War is commemorated and celebrated. RT showed many minutes of splendid highlights from the great parade in Red Square, and I just sat and enjoyed it.
A new 100,000-square-foot space displaying works from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg will open in Amsterdam this June. The Hermitage Amsterdam will be located in the Amstelhof, a former home for the elderly built in 1683 by the Dutch Reformed Church and transformed into a modern exhibition space by Hans van Heeswijk Architects. The opening exhibition, “At the Russian Court” — a “a deeply researched exploration of the opulent material culture, elaborate social hierarchy and richly layered traditions of the Tsarist court at its height in the nineteenth century” — will display 1,800 works from the massive collection in St. Petersburg and continue until the end of January 2010.
Here’s a film that has it all: naval battles, mutiny, revolution, civil war, brave men, beautiful women, sin, sacrifice, and betrayal on multiple levels. But “Admiral” («Адмиралъ»), which opened in Russia this month, is notable for another reason: this is the first major film depicting the tsarist White Russians as the good guys to receive at least part of its funding from the Russian government. The eponymous hero of the film is Alexander Kolchak, the naval commander and polar explorer who later led part of the White Army fighting the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War.
“Alexander: Battle of the Neva”
Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, the most famous Russian writer and historian of our age, has died at eighty-nine years of age. Solzhenitsyn was the earliest to bring first-hand knowledge of the Gulag, the Soviet system of prison colonies and labour camps, to wider Western attention. For this noble task, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 and expelled from the Soviet Union four years later, returning in 1994. After the fall of the Soviet regime, he despised Boris Yeltsin’s incompetence, identifying 1998 as the low point of Russia’s recent history. “Yeltsin decreed I be honored the highest state order,” Solzhenitsyn explained. “I replied that I was unable to receive an award from a government that had led Russia into such dire straits.”
He gave cautious support to the presidency of Vladimir Putin, and was pleased that while, in his words, “Moscow is still communist”, there was a growing readiness under Putin to admit (and even broadcast on state television) the crimes and outrages of the Soviet regime.
“Putin inherited a ransacked and bewildered country, with a poor and demoralized people. And he started to do what was possible — a slow and gradual restoration. These efforts were not noticed, nor appreciated, immediately. In any case, one is hard pressed to find examples in history when steps by one country to restore its strength were met favorably by other governments.”
Influenced by his experience in exile in both Switzerland and New England, Solzhenitsyn insisted on the need for local self-government in Russia. “Today I continue to be extremely worried by the slow and inefficient development of local self-government. But it has finally started to take place. In Yeltsin’s time, local self-government was actually barred on the regulatory level, whereas the state’s ‘vertical of power’ (i.e. Putin’s centralized and top-down administration) is delegating more and more decisions to the local population. Unfortunately, this process is still not systematic in character.”
Solzhenitsyn expressed further disappointment with the new Western imperialism being waged against Russia, embodied in the 1999 War against Serbia which turned so many Russian minds against the Western powers they had previously been quite friendly to.
In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, Solzhenitsyn was asked whether he was afraid of death:
“No, I am not afraid of death any more. When I was young the early death of my father cast a shadow over me — he died at the age of 27 — and I was afraid to die before all my literary plans came true. But between 30 and 40 years of age my attitude to death became quite calm and balanced. I feel it is a natural, but no means the final, milestone of one’s existence.”
When the interviewer from Der Spiegel wished him many more years of “creative life”, Solzhenitsyn calmly responded “No, no. Don’t. It’s enough.”
Christians in Russia yesterday solemnly remembered the brutal killing of the country’s Imperial Family by the Bolshevik revolutionaries 90 years earlier. Tsar Nicholas II, the Tsarina Alexandra, their daughters the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, and the Tsarevich Alexei have all been added to the canon of saints of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Imperial Family were first officially recognized as saints by the Russian Orthodox Church outside the Soviet Union in 1981, and the Moscow patriarchate extended the same recognition in 2000.
Nicholas II, Tsar of All the Russias and George V, the King Emperor.
These photos of Czar Nicholas II and his son, the Czarevich Alexei, are from the Romanov family photo album which somehow ended up in the Beinecke Library at Yale University. Nicholas and Alexei, along with their entire family, were murdered by the Communists in the basement of a house in Yekaterinburg, Russia on the night of July 17, 1918. The family having since been canonised (or ‘glorified’, as it’s called in the Russian church) as saints, a cathedral now stands on the site of their murders. (more…)
I don’t know how that translates into Russian.
|The Life and Death of Colonel
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. A fine film, worth seeing. I’ve spied a few Blimps-in-training at the Mess in Wyvern. Also, Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff is a heck of a good name for a character.
|La Grande Illusion
Directed by Jean Renoir. I enjoyed this film greatly. It made me wish I had been a WWI pilot shot down by the Huns just so I could be invited to luncheon with the German officers. Everyone comported themselves well in those days (or at least in the cinema version of those days). According to IMDB, the Viennese Erich von Stroheim had spent so much time in America that he could barely speak German when the film was made.
|The Birth of a Nation
Directed by D.W. Griffith. Disturbing. The film’s basic premise that the United States was forged as a nation by the white knights of the Ku Klux Klan is balderdash, pure and simple. Still, a powerful and remarkable propaganda film. “It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true,” said Woodrow Wilson, whose Southern racism most modern liberals like to ignore.
Directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein, score by Sergei Prokofiev. More brilliant propaganda, this time for the USSR, not the KKK. Beautifully shot, but the battle scene is a tad too long. Though very nationalistic, it is not hard to see the communism behind the film in a number of scenes. Found the only slightly veiled swastikas on the mitre of the Teutonic bishop rather droll.
|The Battle of Algiers
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, score by Ennio Morricone. My second viewing of this splendid film. Colonel Mathieu: “There are 80,000 Arabs in the Casbah. Are they all against us? We know they’re not. In reality, it’s only a small minority that dominates with terror and violence. That minority is our adversary; we must isolate it and destroy it.” And they did. Still managed to lose Algeria though – which was a damn shame for the Algerians.
Novy Ochevidets, Russia’s blatant imitation of the New Yorker is shutting down after only five months in operation, according to the Moscow Times.
Novy Ochevidets, which translates as the ‘New Eyewitness’, specially commissioned a Cyrillic font that fashioned after that of its mentor, and even had it’s own version (seen at right) of the New Yorker‘s classic fopp, Eustace Tilly.
I mourn for the New Yorker. It has yet to recover from Tina Brown’s years at the helm, and shows no signs of getting better. Indeed, quite the opposite, as was shown this past year when the magazine endorsed a political candidate for the first time in its history. (If you hadn’t already guessed, it was the man perenially described by James Taranto as ‘the haughty French-looking senator from Massachusetts who, by the way, also served in Vietnam’).
Via the indispensible Arts & Letters Daily.
Those fretting about our recent divisive election in the United States should turn for a moment to the Republic of Transnistria. President Igor Nikolayevich Smirnov has so united the people of his unrecognised independent republic that he was elected with 103.6% of the vote in the northern region. Andrewcusack.com: your leading source for Transnistrian news.
Transnistria on Wikipedia.