Happy New Year!

Some old NY postcards:







Happy New Year and wish you new labor feats!


December 25 in Russian history


On 25 December 1991 the president of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev handed the case with the “nuclear button” to the president of Russia Boris Yeltsin. At 19:00 MSK, in a TV address to the nation, Gorbachev announced that he resigned the position of the president of the USSR because the Commonwealth of the Independent States had been formed. At 19:38, the flag of the USSR was replaced with the new flag of Russia on the dome of the Kremlin Palace.

Half a year earlier, on 17 March 1991, during the referendum, 76.43% of the Soviet citizens who participated in the referendum voted Yes to preserve the Soviet Union in the form of the federation of equal republics. After the GKChP coup attempt it seemed impossible to comply with the results of the referendum and on the 8 December the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia signed the agreement on the dissolution of the Soviet Union and creation of the Commonwealth of the Independent States (CIS). All this ended with the resignation of M. Gorbachev.

Eventually, the nationalists superseded communists in all former republics of the USSR. Same thing only different.

On the same day in 1991, Boris Yeltsin signed the bill on the renaming of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to Russian Federation. Tajikistan ratified the agreement on the creation of CIS.

Just think that all this happened 17 years ago... Sorry for the triviality, the time flies.


On 25 December 2000, the second president of Russian Federation V. Putin signed three laws: on the national anthem, on the national flag and the national coat of arms. The new anthem was the anthem of the Soviet Union (with slightly modified lyrics), the new coat of arms was borrowed from the tsarist Russia (it even has the royal crown), and the new flag was the flag of democratic Russia (it had been used also by the White Guard).


December 15 in Russian history. Elena Molokhovets.


On 15 December 1918 Elena Molokhovets (née Burman) was buried in St.Petersburg. It is not known when she died, only one record was found in a cemetery registration book. 1918 was not a good year to die.

The name of Molokhovets, long forgotten, is now very popular. She wrote a number of books (including such immortal bullshit like "Monarchy, Nationalism and Orthodoxy" (1910) or "The Voice of The Russian Woman on National, Spiritual, Religious and Moral Revival of Russia" (1906)), but only one of them survived for more almost 150 years. It is a cookbook A Gift to Young Housewives or a Mean to Decrease Expenses in Household. When the name of Molokhovets began its comeback in the early 1990s, the period of economic hardships in Russia, most of us knew just one quotation from this book: "If guests payed an unexpected visit to your home, and you have nothing to dine them, send a man to the cellar to fetch a hind quarter, a pound of butter and a dozen of eggs..." Ironically, this phrase is not found in the book, but it conveys the spirit quite well. The book is a monument to the years when hind quarters were stored in the cellars (not all of them, of course) and the butter was bought in pounds (if you had some money left after you had bought bread). When Yevgeny Zamyatin, the author of the famous dystopia We, left Soviet Russia, he wrote: "The two most popular authors among Russian émigrés are Molokhovets in the first place, and Pushkin in the second." On 20 May 1911, the Birzheviye Vedomosti newspaper wrote: "Tomorrow, on 21 May, it will be exactly 50 years since the first edition of the well known to everyone book, A gift to young housewives, compiled by E.M.Molokhovets. The first edition was issued on 21 May 1861 and was published since then in 26 editions, 10 to 15 thousand copies each, in total number of 300,000 copies, and it seems that there's not a single family in Russia who do not have a copy of the book."

In the foreword, Elena explained that the goal of the book was to teach young ladies the tricks and subtleties of housekeeping. To avoid possible misunderstandings, Elena pedantically indicates exact amount of ingredients, unlike authors of other cookbooks of that period. She teaches, lectures and almost moralizes on the art of housekeeping. A literary almanac joked in 1884 that "Molokhovets is convinced that cooking on fire is her invention, and that without her guidance people will be unable to put the spoon in their mouth. Every dish not cooked in accordance with her book is forged for her, and everyone who does not follow her lessons is her personal foe".

In one of her other books, a housekeeping encyclopedia called To the Russian People, she gives such invaluable recipes like: "If your palms sweat often, take two frogs in your hands and hold them till they die." Or "during the birth pangs, the best cure is a prayer". The Russian Society for the Public Health Care was enraged: "We cannot decide what is more objectionable: the impermissible ignorance of M-me.Molokhovets or her impudence".

Her family life was sorrowful. Her husband died. Her youngest son was sent to mental hospital. Of her ten children only two outlived her. But she died in the age of 87. What happened to her between 1917 and her death, we do not know. Probably, she starved. If 1918 was not a good year to die, it was not a good year to keep living, either.

Her books are still available in bookstores (even in English). There's a restaurant in St.Pete named Mechta Molokhovets (Molokhovets' Dream) and NY Times' readers say it's one of the best restaurants in the city.

Wikipedia article about A Gift to Young Housewives:

A Gift to Young Housewives (Подарок молодым хозяйкам) is a Russian cookbook written by Elena Ivanovna Molokhovets (Елена Ивановна Молоховец). It was the most successful book of its kind in 19th- and early 20th-century Russia.[1] Molokhovets revised the book continually between 1861 and 1917, a period of time falling between the emancipation of the serfs and the Communist Revolution. The book was well known in Russian households during publication and for decades afterwards.[2]

The original series went through 20 editions and sold 295,000 copies. The book gave instructions for elaborate dishes like suckling pig, Madeira cake, and hazel grouse. Other recipes included soups, fritters, tortes, mushrooms, aspics, mousses, and dumplings. There were also instructions on making jam, mustard, and vodka. Although the number of recipes varied by edition, there were as many as 3,218 in the 1897 edition.[3]

In addition to recipes, the book covered cooking techniques, utensils and cooking equipment, stoves and ovens, household management, relations with servants, menus for feast days, and nutrition; it also gave time- and money-saving hints.[3]

During the Soviet era, the book, written for the middle class and aristocrats, was condemned as "bourgeois and decadent", mainly because of its aristocratic tone and obvious disparagement of the lower classes. The book, for instance, says that "fresh roach is not very tasty and barely useful; it is, therefore, best used to feed the servants."[4] Also, it was mostly outdated for the 20th century, as for obvious reasons it didn't cover usage of modern kitchen equipment: refrigerators, electric and gas ovens, etc.

In the post-war USSR, a time when people dealt with food shortages, long lines, and a scarcity of the necessary ingredients, cookbooks were mostly seen as a laughable anachronism.[3] For example, one recipe for babka called for ingredients such as 60 to 70 eggs, which few people could afford at that time. But as life was getting better the need for cookbooks and complex recipes was arising. In 1952 "The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food" was published to replace outdated "Gift" as an everyday cookbook.

Joyce Toomre adapted and translated recipes and other content from the various editions into a 1992 book published as Classic Russian Cooking: Elena Molokhovets' a Gift to Young Housewives.

Now, I need to go and fetch something from the cellar... Sorry. Bye for now.


December 12 in Russian history. War in Afghanistan.


On 12 December 1979, the Politbureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union adopted the secret resolution 176/125 "On the situation in `A'", where A stands for Afghanistan. It was the decision to deploy Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

After the bloodless coup in 1973, when Daoud dethroned the shah, Daoud launched reforms, trying to modernize the country. He disbanded the parliament, banned all political parties and formed an authoritarian regime. His reforms were not supported neither by the fundamentalists, nor by the pro-communist factions. In 1978, after the still mysterious murder of a leader of the pro-communist party PDPA Mir Akbar Khyber, PDPA revolted and Daoud was killed during the coup. The Soviet government was caught in surprise, but they decided to provide economic support to the socialist reforms undertaken by the new leader, Taraki. The reforms were radical. Islam was proclaimed "the religion of the exploiters", the tribal customs and religious traditions were dismissed. The programs of democratization, liquidation of illiteracy and national discrimination were launched. It caused the rise of the fundamentalist opposition. At the same time, Taraki instilled the "cult of personality" absolutely in the style of Stalin. Party members wore badges with his portrait, museums were built where he had lived, during the meetings at least five portraits of Taraki had to be hanged, he was called "the father of the peoples of Afghanistan" and "the great leader of the revolution and the teacher of the workers" and so on. Moscow was aware of the growing opposition to Taraki and PDPA. In July 1979, the US administration began a propaganda campaign and financial aid to the fundamentalists, trying to increase the resistance to the pro-Soviet regime. The main competitor of Taraki, though, was not the fundamentalist opposition, but his deputy, Amin. Even more than the Kremlin, Afghanistan reminded of the bulldogs fighting under the carpet. Taraki attempted to poison Amin, but failed. In the end, Amin himself killed Taraki in October 1979. But it didn't help him. The attempts to assassinate him continued. In the meanwhile, the Soviet political advisors only attempted to stabilize the situation. The Kremlin did not like working with the successor, whose politics was too much like the one led by Taraki. Former prime-minister of Afghanistan Sultan Ali Keshtmand wrote that the regime of Amin was totalitarian. The repressions were getting even worse. Soviet diplomats even had to convince him to drop his plans to include the "dictatorship of the proletariat" in the constitution of Afghanistan.

Both Taraki and Amin insisted that the USSR should deploy the troops in Afghanistan, but the Soviets refused. Since January 1979, they supplied weapons to the Afghanistan government, sent military advisors, doctors and engineers there and were very unwilling to do anything else. The brutality of the Amin's regime finally convinced them that something has to be done. The first Soviet detachments were deployed in Afghanistan in July 1979, they had to guard the airport in Bagram and the embassy, but in November 1979, the Soviet government considered the possibility of the mass deployment.

On 12 December, the Politbureau adopted the resolution 176/125. The gist was that Hafizullah Amin must be replaced by Babrak Karmal and that the troops had to be deployed in Afghanistan to stabilize the situation. The task of the military was not clearly defined. It was formulated in the most vague diplomatic terms. The army was not certain what they were expected to do. Hence, numerous errors in the preparation phase.

In the end, the Soviets entered Afghanistan, occupied the Amin's palace (Amin was found dead inside) and became involved in the feudal wars. More than 14,000 Soviet soldiers were killed. Almost half a million were wounded or sick. Karmal had to resign in 1986 and his place was taken by Najibullah. In 1989, the Soviet army left Afghanistan. Soviet and Russian generals agree that it was not a loss or the war, that they have fulfilled the tasks: the friendly government survived, the opposition was contained, the mujahideen never captured a single city or ran a single large scale offensive and the Soviet troops, buildings and communications were safe. Humanitarian goods were delivered in time. All actions of the Soviet 40th army in Afghanistan were either preventive or retaliation strikes.

However, after the end of the operation it was the task of the diplomats and politicians to prevent the creation of an inimical state on the borders of the USSR, and they failed.

The USA, who did their best trying "to induce a Soviet military intervention", later spent hundreds of millions of dollars supporting the fundamentalist opposition. In exchange, they have got Al Qaeda, which was born in Afghanistan, in the camps of the anti-Soviet mujahideen. Such is the sad story of the end of the Cold War.

Photographs taken from the following web pages (click to see more):


Update @2008-12-12 23:40: Oh, and the Afghanistan payed for independence with the never-ending civil war. Eventually, they somehow ended up losing the independence again. Sometimes I think that the best that could have happened for all interested sides would be if the Afghans had decided to join the USSR :)


December 11 in Russian history. Nikolay Ozerov.


In 1922, Nikolay Ozerov was born. Fifty years later he became one of the most notable symbols of the Soviet epoch. Remember the Big Red Machine, the Soviet ice-hockey team? Ozerov was the sportscaster, the man whose voice was inseparable from the games of the Machine.

From World Wide Hockey Hall of Fame:

Ozerov was not well-known to the west, as Sweden's Patrick Houda told us.

"I would say that Ozerov's name is only known among the old journalists over here in Sweden. But the same thing goes for Foster Hewitt who was almost an icon in Canadian broadcasting," Houda said.

"Canada had Foster Hewitt, the Russians had Nikolay Ozerov, the Czechs had Josef Laufer and Sweden had Lennart Hyland. All helped popularize the sport thanks to their great radio and TV broadcasts."

Arthur Chidlovski grew up in the Soviet Union, listening to Ozerov. Chidlovski said, "Ozerov's reports from the 1972 Summit belong to the classics of TV broadcasting. When the Soviets won the first game in Montreal, Ozerov said that the 'myth of unbeatable self-praised Canadian hockey professionals is over now.' "

Chidlovski added that although not intentional, Ozerov's phraseology would sometimes send a nation of hockey fans into fits of laughter.

In 1974, the WHA played the Soviets in an lesser-known eight-game series, won by the Russians, and Ozerov was there to broadcast the only international tournaments played by Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe.

"Gordie Howe is a legend of Canadian hockey," said Ozerov. "He is 46, has over 1000 scars on his body, his hair is gray but it's still not enough for him. Life is expensive and Howe needs money. He plays himself and forces his children to play too. His sons, Mark and Marty, are playing for Team Canada too. Canadian hockey pros don't wear helmets. They wear nothing. The only one who wears anything is Bobby Hull. He wears a wig."

That was enough to convince several of the North Americans on the committee that Foster Hewitt wasn't the only person who had hickey fans turned on and tuned into the radio.

His father was an opera singer and since his childhood Ozerov loved opera and knew by heart all operas from the repertoire of the Bolshoi theatre. When he was 9, he started playing tennis. Three years later he won the boys' championship of Moscow. In the end of the 1930s, when Henri Cochet, famous French tennis player, came to Moscow and visited the stadium to look at training children. "This fatty will go far", said he about Ozerov. He was right. 24 times Ozerov won the USSR tennis championships (in men's singles, men's doubles and mixed doubles).

In 1970s Ozerov met Cochet once again, when he visited the open championship of France in Rollan Garros. When he came back to Moscow, someone reported to KGB that Ozerov met a Frenchman who, probably, collaborated with the Nazis during the war. Ozerov had problems on TV, till another popular journalist, Valentin Zorin, found out that during the war Cochet was a member of the Resistance movement.

In 1941 he entered the theatre institute in Moscow and earned the "Master of Sports" title. During the war he participated in some "propaganda" tennis games. There were only three tennis players left in Moscow then, and they played on all tennis stadiums, and the radio broadcasted all these games to raise the spirit of the Muscovites.

After the war Ozerov became a theatre actor in the Moscow Art Theatre (MKhAT), one of the best theatres in the country. In the evenings, after the performance was over, he ran to play tennis or football (he played for Spartak, Moscow). In 1950, Vadim Sinyavsky, a famous sports journalist of those times, offered Ozerov to join him during a football game. So Ozerov became a sportscaster. Good knowledge of sports and the artistic talent made him the ideal candidate for the job. After the first game between Dinamo and TsDKA, the radio bosses waited for some time for the reaction of the listeners, but the responses were positive and Ozerov was now allowed to comment all football games.

Ozerov worked on 17 Olympic games, 9 football world championships, 30 hockey championships, in 50 countries. Once he had to work, sitting on a top of a tree. In Kiev, he worked on the roof of the stadium. In 1972, during the unforgettable Summit games between Soviet and Canadian hockey teams, Ozerov was in Munich, on the Olympic games, but nobody could even think of someone else working in Canada, so Ozerov commented the games watching them from Munich, and nobody ever learned it till many years later. Every time I recall the games of the Soviet hockey team, I still can hear his voice, saying one of his famous phrases, like: "So, these are the vaunted Canadian profies..." or "No, this is not the hockey we need!". The old rumors tell about another his phrase: "Goal! No! F*ck! Post!", but I don't know anyone who actually heard it :).

Ozerov once recalled a funny story. When he once came to a post-office, he noticed a vaguely familiar old man. Some seconds later he understood, it was Vyacheslav Molotov, former Soviet prime-minister and foreign minister, retired by Khrushchev in 1957. Ozerov offered him a ride, Molotov agreed, but he didn't recognize Ozerov. Some minutes later he said: "I can't recall you, but your face is somehow familiar. Have we met before?" "No", replied Ozerov, "but you might have heard me on radio. I'm sportscaster Ozerov. Nikolay Nikolayevich.". After a pause, Molotov replied: "My wife won't believe me: Ozerov himself gave me a ride!"

Theatre and cinema star Mikhail Ulyanov said: "Just like we cannot imagine the 1940s without the voice of Levitan, we cannot imagine 1950s-1980s without the voice of Ozerov, his passion and enchanting love to sports". The unique feature of Ozerov was his optimism, enthusiasm, sincerity and not a single aggressive note, only deepest respect to the sportsmen.

In the end of 1980s Ozerov was forced to leave the TV. Soon, when he was in Middle Asia, because of some infection, he lost his leg. He could not afford buying crutches, so the widow of Lev Yashin gave him her deceased husbnand's crutches. On 2 June 1997 Nikolay Ozerov died.

Here's an article about Ozerov written by Arthur Chidlovski (mentioned above):

Nikolay OZEROV was the legend of the Soviet sports broadcasting. For millions of Russian hockey fans, he was what Foster Hewitt was for the Canadian viewers and listeners. Ozerov never played hockey. Although he was a star tennis player in the 1940s, only a few historians associate his name with tennis. He acted professionally on the stage of legendary Moscow Arts Theater but very few people remember him as an actor. But for those who watched hockey on TV from 1950s to 1980s , Ozerov's name can't be separated from hockey. In a way, he was Mr. Hockey or, keeping up with the terminology of his prime time in broadcasting, Comrade Hockey. During these glorious decades in Soviet hockey, generations of viewers watched his hockey reports from Moscow and Toronto, Voskresensk and Helsinki, Montreal and Stockholm, Prague and Kiev.

Ozerov's reports from the 1972 Summit belong to the classics of TV broadcasting. I am not sure if it was the drama of the Series, the level of hockey shown in the Summit or the passion in Ozerov's voice that made these games in September 1972 one of the best sports spectacles ever shown on the Soviet TV.

When the Soviets won the first game in Montreal, Ozerov said that the "myth of unbeatable self-praised Canadian hockey professionals is over now." I was just a little kid at that time and watched many games after the Summit, but this phrase by Ozerov is still in my memory.

The difference between the Soviet and Canadian styles was obvious. "We don't need this kinda hockey!" This is another saying from Ozerov's reports in 1972. Although it was said in regard to the Team Canada's tough and sometimes brutal by the European standards hockey, the phrase itself went well beyond hockey.

Ozerov was not a comedian but it was his entertaining reports that made the whole nation laugh on his phrases and sometimes mistakes. In 1974, legendary Gordy Howe and Bobby Hull played in the Team Canada (WHA) vs. Team USSR Summit.

"Gordy Howe is a legend of Canadian hockey," said Ozerov. "He is 46, has over 1000 scars on his body, his hair is gray but it's still not enough for him. Life is expensive and Howe needs money. He plays himself and forces his children to play too. His sons, Mark and Marty, are playing for Team Canada too."

"Canadian hockey pros don't wear helmets. They wear nothing. The only one who wears anything is Bobby Hull. He wears a wig." Almost 30 years passed since Ozerov said these lines, but I still remember wondering what might happen to the Hull's wig in the game or counting Howe's 1000 scars.

Making my memory trips to the 1972 Summit, I always think about Ozerov. I guess it's not just me. He was an integral part of Soviet hockey of that time.


Yesterday's papers: Gilyarovsky

(From Starosti.ru)

On 10 December, 1908 (27 November Old Style), Russkoye Slovo newspaper wrote:

Yesterday, well known journalist and writer Vladimir Alexeyevich Gilyarovsky celebrated 25th anniversary of his life in literature. For the whole day postmen were delivering congratulations from numerous admirers of Gilyarovsky's talent: from the chairman of the charitable society for senile theatre actors Garin-Winding, from the agricultural society to its first secretary, from Mr.Moter from Prague, the translator of Gilyarovsky's stories into Czech language, from Bulgaria, from Don Cossacks and others.

The Fisher's Photography presented the artistic portrait of the hero of the day. By the way, a deputation of vagabonds from Hitrov market also visited Vladimir Alexeyevich. One of the received letters was from the narodnik writer Maxim Semyonov, with the stamp of the jail where the author currently serves his sentence.

Wikipedia is rather laconic about Gilyarovsky:

Vladimir Alekseyevich Gilyarovsky (Russian: Владимир Алексеевич Гиляровский, 26 November 1853 - October 1, 1935), was a Russian writer and newspaper journalist, best known for his reminiscences of life in pre-Revolutionary Moscow ("Moscow and Muscovites"), which he first published in a book form in 1926.

He was born on the 26 November 1855 (according to church records, 1853 according to his own writings) on a manor near Vologda where his father, a Novgorodian, worked as an assistant to the manor's bailiff, a Zaporozhian Cossack whose daughter he later married. Gilyarovsky treasured his partly Cossack descent: as a young man, he posed for one of the Cossacks depicted on Repin's huge canvas Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks (this part of the picture is on the right. DM); he was also a model for Taras Bulba, whose figure is part of the Gogol Monument in Moscow.

Raised by his well-educated mother (who died when he was 8) and his aristocratic stepmother, he left home early and, after a series of odd jobs (which included stints at a toxic lead paint factory in Yaroslavl, as a tutor and as a barge hauler), he enlisted as a volunteer during the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish war. After a short career as a provincial actor, he established himself as a journalist, winning praise and notoriety as one of the best crime reporters in Moscow. His first book, "The Stories of the Slums" (1887) recorded his experiences with the Moscow underworld, the Moscow of poverty and crime, finding its epitome in the area of Khitrovka.

After the revolution he dedicated himself to writing memoirs. Among those were "My Travels" (1928), "Newspaper Moscow" (published posthumously), recording his reminiscences of the newspaper business of pre-revolutionary Moscow and of some famous people he'd worked with (such as Anton Chekhov), and "Theatre People" (also published posthumously). He died in Moscow on October 1, 1935.

Some days ago I couldn't find the English translations of poems by Cherubina de Gabriak, so now I am a bit disappointed by the absence of Gilyarovsky's stories in English. The translators still have a lot of work :). In the meanwhile, learn Russian and read these stories here. Or, just to get a general idea of what he wrote about and how he wrote, reread The Road by Jack London and imagine it was written in Moscow.

A short biography of Gilyarovsky was written by Lyubov Tsarevskaya and translated by the authors of Voices from Russia blog:

Some people become living legends. One such person in Russian history was Vladimir Gilyarovsky, a reporter who at the turn of the twentieth century was famous throughout Moscow, and was lovingly dubbed “Uncle Gilyai” by Muscovites. In giving directions to a coachman, you would simply say, “To Gilyarovsky”, and you would be taken straight to his house in Stoleshnikov Lane in the very heart of Moscow. Today, the house bears a memorial plaque. Next to his name stands but one word, “writer”. This tells the truth, of course, but not the whole truth. Nevertheless, no plaque can be large enough to carry the list of all the occupations and merits of this amazing man.

The future writer spent his early years in the town of Volga in northern Russia. At 17, he dropped out of school, and ran away from home leaving a note that said, “I’m gone to work as a manual labourer on the Volga”. This meant he would become a barge hauler, a hard occupation that required extraordinary physical strength and endurance. However, Gilyarovsky had such strength. He received it from his father. Once, as a grown-up, he came home and just for fun tied a poker in a knot. Of course, his father got angry, “why should my son damage kitchen utensils!”, but he did not say a word to his son. He simply took the poker and… undid the knot!

During the first decade after he left home, Gilyarovsky tried a variety of odd jobs. He worked as a barge-hauler and docker on the Volga, as a horse-herder, and volunteered to fight in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878, serving in a unit consisting of audacious intelligence officers. For his conspicuous bravery, he received the highest military award, the Order of St George. Then, Gilyarovsky joined a circus and enraptured the public with the daredevil stunt of racing on an unsaddled horse. Travelling with a company of wandering actors, he acted on the stage himself and dabbled in simple plays. He faced numerous dangers, and many times was on the verge of death. Nevertheless, he lived to be 83! He followed his own recipe of longevity, “Don’t let anybody or anything scare you, never be angry, and you will live 100 years”. His cheerful audacity and good-nature also came from his parents as well as his last name itself, which was given to his father when he entered seminary. In Latin, it means “cheerful”, and it was changed into a Russian last name. Gilyarovsky’s father never became a priest, but, the name stuck.

Update @2008-12-10 20:28: Etymologically, a more exact translation would be not "cheerful", but "hilarious". Both "hilarious" and "Gilyarovsky" are derived from Latin "hilaritas" and Greek "ἱλαρός" with the same meaning "cheerful, merry". DM

In 1881, at the age of 28, Gilyarovsky made Moscow his home, and lived there until his death in 1935. In Moscow, he became the recognised king of reporters, a journalist who knew today what was going to happen tomorrow. He described this ability in these words, “Many can see the facts. However, it is up to reporters to take a careful look at things. I love my profession with all my heart, and plunge into it often risking my life. Not a single time was my report turned down. Each was strict, verified, and pure truth”.

This was even more amazing since Gilyarovsky covered every aspect of life, ranging from theatre and society news to criminal happenings. He had a perfect knowledge of Moscow, particularly, the districts of the homeless, beggars, and thieves. Muscovites tried to avoid those neighbourhoods. However, Gilyarovsky was not scared. He sympathised with the hopeless, and understood the tragedy of their situation. Outcasts trusted him, and often turned to him for help. Gilyarovsky entitled his first book People of the Slums. The government censors suppressed the book and burned the whole edition.

After a long interval, Gilyarovsky issued several more books about Moscow and Muscovites, which put together, one might describe as an encyclopaedia of Moscow’s life at the turn of the twentieth century. No one produced a more extensive and trustworthy record of those days. As another twentieth century writer, Konstantin Paustovsky, put it, “Gilyarovsky was picturesque in everything. In his biography, his looks, his manner of speaking, his carefree attitude, and his diversified and many talents…”

December 10 in Russian history. Nobel prize awards.

The 10 December, the day when Alfred Nobel died, for more than 100 years has been the day when Nobel prizes are awarded. For the last five years, there were no Russians among the winners. Here's the list of Russian/Soviet Nobel prize winners:

  • Ivan Pavlov, Physiology or Medicine, 1904
  • Ilya Mechnikov, Physiology or Medicine, 1908
  • Ivan Bunin, Literature, 1933
  • Nikolay Semenov, Chemistry, 1956
  • Pavel Cherenkov, Physics, 1958
  • Boris Pasternak, Literature, 1958 (forced to decline)
  • Lev Landau, Physics, 1962
  • Aleksandr M. Prokhorov, Physics, 1964
  • Nicolay G. Basov, Physics, 1964
  • Michail Sholokhov, Literature, 1965
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Literature, 1970
  • Leonid Kantorovich, Economics, 1975
  • Mikhail Gorbachev, Peace, 1990
  • Zhores I. Alferov, Physics, 2000
  • Alexei A. Abrikosov, Physics, 2003
  • Vitaly Ginzburg, Physics, 2003

Some years ago, though, Kommersant newspaper compiled a list of Nobel prize winners with connections to Russia:

Year of award Category Name Relation to Russia (USSR)
1903 Physics Marie Curie (born Marie Sklodowska) Born in Warsaw (Russian part of Poland)
1904 Physiology and medicine Ivan Petrovich Pavlov Subject of the Russian Empire; later a citizen of the USSR
1905 Literature Henryk Sienkiewicz Born in the Russian part of Poland; subject of the Russian Empire
1908 Physiology and medicine Ilya Ilich Mechnikov Subject of the Russian Empire
1911 Chemistry Marie Curie Born in Warsaw (Russian part of Poland)
1933 Literature Ivan Alekseevich Bunin Born in Voronezh (Russian Empire); at the time of the award, a stateless person resident in France
1945 Physiology and medicine Ernst Boris Chain Son of a native of Mogileva (Russian Empire, now Belarus)
1952 Physiology and medicine Selman Abraham Waksman Born in Priluky (now Ukraine; left the Russian Empire are age 22)
1956 Chemistry Nikolai Nikolaevich Semenov Citizen of the USSR
1958 Physics Igor Evgenevich Tamm Citizen of the USSR
1958 Physics Ilya Mikhailovich Frank Citizen of the USSR
1958 Physics Pavel Alekseevich Cherenkov Citizen of the USSR
1958 Literature Boris Leonidovich Pasternak* Citizen of the USSR
1960 Physics Donald Arthur Glaser Son of a Russian woman (Russian Empire)
1961 Chemistry Melvin Calvin Son of Russian immigrants
1962 Physics Lev Davidovich Landau Citizen of the USSR
1964 Physics Nikolai Gennadievich Basov Citizen of the USSR
1964 Physics Aleksandr Mikhailovich Prokhorov Citizen of the USSR
1965 Physiology and medicine André Michel Lvov Son of Russian immigrants
1965 Literature Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov Citizen of the USSR
1970 Literature Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn Citizen of the USSR at the time of the award (later stripped of citizenship and expelled from the country; now a citizen of Russia)
1970 Physiology and medicine Sir Bernard Katz Son of Russian immigrants
1971 Economics Simon Smith Kuznets Born in Kharkov (Russian Empire, now Ukraine); left the country in 1922
1971 Physics Dennis Gabor Great-grandson of a Russian subject
1973 Economics Vasily (Vasilevich) Leontev Born in St. Petersburg; left the Soviet Union after graduating from Leningrad University in 1925
1975 Peace Prize Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov Citizen of the USSR
1975 Economics Leonid Vitalevich Kantorovich Citizen of the USSR
1976 Literature Saul Bellow Son of Russian immigrants
1977 Chemistry Ilya (Romanovich) Prigogine Born in Moscow (Russian Empire); left Russia at age 4
1977 Physiology and medicine Andrew Victor Schally Born in Wilno (Poland; later Vilnius, USSR; now Lithuania
1978 Physics Petr Leonidovich Kapitsa Citizen of the USSR
1978 Physiology and medicine Daniel Nathans Son of Russian immigrants
1979 Physics Sheldon Lee Glashow (Glukhovsky) Son of Russian immigrants
1979 Chemistry Herbert Brown (Brovarnik) Son of Russian immigrants
1980 Chemistry Paul Berg Son of a Russian immigrant
1981 Physics Arthur Schawlow Son of a Riga native (Russian Empire, now Latvia)
1981 Chemistry Roald Hoffmann (Saffran) Born in the city of Zloczow (Poland; later Zolochev, USSR; now Zolochiv, Ukraine)
1982 Chemistry Aaron Klug Born into a family of Russian natives (Russian Empire)
1982 Physiology and medicine John Vane Son of Russian immigrants
1986 Physiology and medicine Stanley Cohen Son of Russian immigrants
1987 Literature Joseph Brodsky Born in Leningrad (USSR); left the country in 1972
1988 Physiology and medicine Gertrude Bell Elion Daughter of Russian emigrants
1990 Physics Jerome Isaac Friedman Son of Russian immigrants
1990 Peace Prize Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev Citizen of the USSR
1995 Peace Prize Joseph Rotblat Born in Warsaw; subject of the Russian Empire until Poland declared independence
2000 Physics Zhores Ivanovich Alferov Citizen of Russia
2002 Physiology and medicine Robert Horwitz Grandson of a Russian immigrant
2003 Physics Aleksei Alekseevich Abrikosov Citizen of Russia and the United States
2003 Physics Vitaly Lazarevich Ginzburg Citizen of Russia


December 5 in Russian history. Yet another duel. Cherubina de Gabriak.


(22 November Old Style)

Duel of two famous Russian poets, Nikolay Gumilyov and Maximilian Voloshin, took place in St.Petersburg, on Chernaya Rechka, where Alexander Pushkin was killed by Georges d'Anthès on the duel in 1837. The cause of the duel had a mysterious name: Cherubina de Gabriak.

Elizaveta (Lila) Dmitriyeva was a shy young girl from a poor aristocratic family. Tuberculosis left her lame for her life. Her brother and sister used to tell her: "If you are lame, your toys should be lame, too", and tore away legs from her dolls. In 1909, she lived in Koktebel, in Crimea, where the healthy climate was good for her. She wrote poems and met Maximilian Voloshin. Once he brought a gift for her, a wooden imp, named Gabriakh. He also had one leg, one arm and an amiable doggy muzzle. His name was found in a compendium on daemonology, it belonged to an imp who protected people from evil spirits.

Voloshin tried to publish Lila's verses, but they did not impress editors. Then they invented the new name for Lila: Cherubina de Gabriak. Gabriak was, of course, the name of that wooden imp, and the first name Cherubina was taken from the short story A Secret Of Telegraph Hill by Bret Harte. Then the story described in the Wikipedia article about Cherubina followed:

In August 1909, the famous Russian artistic periodical Apollon received a letter with verses on a perfumed paper with black mourning edges, signed only by a single Russian letter Ch. The verses were filled with half-revelations about its author—supposedly a beautiful maiden with dark secrets. The same day a woman with a beautiful voice phoned the journal's publisher Sergei Makovsky and arranged for publication of the verses. Over the next few months, publications of the newfound poetic star were the major hit of the magazine, and many believed that they had found a major new talent in Russian poetry. The identity of the author was slowly revealed: her name was Baroness Cherubina de Gabriak, a Russian-speaking girl of French and Polish ancestry who lived in a very strict Roman Catholic aristocratic family, who severely limited the girl's contacts with the outside world because of an unspoken secret in her past. Almost all of Apollon’s male writers fell in love with her, most of all the great poet Nikolai Gumilyov. He wrote a series of passionate love letters to her and received quite passionate answers.

Makovsky lost his head about Cherubina. He was proud of his talents in graphology and from the letters written by Voloshin and Lila Dmitriyeva he concluded that the author was a daughter of a father from the South France and a Russian mother, that she was raised in a monastery in Toledo. "If I had the annual income of fourty thousand rubles, I would dare to fall in love with her," wrote Makovsky. Lila was a teacher in a gymnasium and earned 11 rubles per month. She must have been an unusual teacher: when an inspector visited her class in the gymnasium and asked the girls who was their favorite tsar, their answer was unanimous and unexpected: Grigory Otrepyev! She graduated from the Imperial Women's Pedagogical Institute and specialized in medieval history and French medieval literature. At the same time she studied Spanish literature and Old French language in the St.Petersburg University and Sorbonne.

Now that she was a mysterious Frech lady, her poems were accepted in all magazines and became known to everyone in St.Petersburg. Lila and Voloshin went on getting fun from the story. They invented a whole family of Cherubina, including her Portuguese cousin, don Harpia de Mantilla. Makovsky must have been really blinded if he payed no attention to the name. The others suspected a mystification, but the suspect was the innocent Makovsky.

The fame of the newfound genius was short-lived. In November it was discovered that Baroness Cherubina de Gabriak did not exist at all, and the verses were written by a disabled schoolteacher, Elisaveta Ivanovna Dmitrieva, with the participation of a major Apollon contributor and editor, the poet Maximilian Voloshin.

Apparently Sergei Makovsky had rejected several of Dmitrieva's verses; and Voloshin, who knew his publisher quite well, invented the legend about Cherubina. There is still controversy about the correct attribution of Gabriak's corpus. Most contemporaries, including all of Apollon’s critics, were certain that all the verses and most of the letters were written by Voloshin himself; after all, they claimed, Cherubina was a first-rank poet and Dmitrieva was not. Both Elisaveta Dmitrieva and Maximilian Voloshin claimed that the verses were all Dmitrieva's, and that Voloshin only selected them and suggested themes and expressions. Modern researchers tend to support attribution of the verses to Dmitrieva, as they are quite similar to her later works.

Nikolai Gumilyov was outraged by the thought that his passionate romantic correspondence might in fact have been with a mocking Maximilian Voloshin. Even so, Dmitrieva claimed that she had written the letters to Gumilyov herself, had indeed been in love, but had known the romance would end the moment Gumilyov saw her.

Gumilyov was rude. He told stories in public about his affair with Lila and cruelly ridiculed her. His ungentlemanly conduct made Voloshin to throw down the glove.

On November 19, 1909, at the studio of artist Ivan Bilibin, Gumilyov slapped Voloshin across the face, which by the customs of the time made a duel inevitable. The duel took place on November 22 on the banks of the Chernaya River, which had been the site of the fatal duel between Alexander Pushkin and Georges d'Anthès. Voloshin's second was Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoi; Gumilyov's second was Johannes von Gunter.

Wikepedia is wrong. It was Voloshin who slapped Gumilyov and asked: "Do you understand?" "Yes", replied Gumilyov. Only half a year earlier, Voloshin almost called out some other man and Gumilyov had to be his second, but that duel did not happen. This time it was serious.

The peace-loving Voloshin did not want to kill Gumilyov, and wanted even less to be killed himself, so he planned a psychological diversion to defuse the situation. While walking to the place of the duel he lost one of his pair of galoshes in the mud, and claimed that he could not shoot until the missing boot was found. Both seconds started to look for it, and within half an hour Gumilyov joined the search. When eventually the boot was found, the duel had become psychologically impossible, and both participants agreed on a truce. Gumilyov was still angry with Voloshin and broke off all contact until a few months before his death in 1921, when he visited Voloshin and restored their friendship.

And here Wikepedia is also not quite right. The duel did happen. Gumilyov shot first, but missed. Voloshin's pistol misfired. He proposed to end the duel, but Gumilyov insisted that Voloshin has to shoot. After the second misfire, Gumilyov demanded that Voloshin attempt for the third time, but it was against the rules and only then the duel was stopped. Later, Voloshin confessed that he simply didn't know how to shoot...

Gumilyov was executed by Cheka in 1921. Voloshin lived till 1932, when he died peacefully.

Yelizaveta Dmitrieva wrote later to Voloshin: "Cherubina has never been a game for me. Cherubina was my birth, but, alas, it was a stillbirth." She became interested in theosophy. After the revolution she was exiled to Yekaterinodar (modern Krasnodar). In 1922 she was allowed to return to St.Petersburg, but in 1926 she was exiled again, this time to Tashkent. In 1927 she wrote her last literary mystification, a cycle of poems "House under the Peach Tree", under the pseudonym Li Xiang Tzu.


19 years after the duel, on the same day, 5 December, Lila Dmitrieva died in Tashkent of cancer.

In 2008, a playwright from New York Paul Cohen wrote a play Cherubina. It was staged in Sanford Meisner Theater. The Village Voice wasn't really impressed with the play, but NYTheater.com wrote:

Cherubina is one of the most entertaining and well-crafted new plays I've seen this season. I highly recommend it!

And, finally, a large quotation from the Dictionary of Russian Women Writers by Marina Ledkovskaia-Astman et al.:

'DE GABRIAK, Cherubina' (Elizaveta Ivanovna Dmitrieva; 'E. Li,' 'D. [also E. and V.| Arkasova1; m. Vasil'eva; b. Mar. 31, 1887. SPb; d. Dec. 5, 1928, Tashkent). Poet, prose writer, dramatist, and translator.

Although the author of a large body of lyric poetry, Dmitrieva is remembered primarily for the two dozen poems that she published as 'Cherubina de Gabriak' in the years 1909-10. In some ways she emerges as a rather tragic illustration of how much Silver Age interest in women's creativity sometimes depended on personal image.

Though belonging to the noble estate, her parents were low-paid professionals: her father a schoolteacher and her mother a midwife. Between the ages of seven and sixteen, Dmitrieva was bedridden with tuberculosis, which left her crippled. Despite illness, she managed to graduate from a gymnasium in 1904 and went on to study at the university level, specializing in Romance languages and history. She then taught for a year at a gymnasium before studying abroad in France and Germany.

Dmitrieva's literary career began in 1908 with the publication of her translations from Spanish religious poetry in the Messenger of Theosophy (Vestnik teosofii). (She had joined the Russian Anthroposophical Society in 1908.) In 1909 her poetry was rejected by S. Makovskii, editor of the new journal Apollo (Apollon). The fiction of 'Cherubina' began in the summer of that year when Dmitrieva paid a visit to Maksimilian Voloshin's villa at Koktebel' on the Black Sea. There the two made plans to submit her poems to Apollo under the pseudonym 'Cherubina de Gabriak.' In October 1909, Apollo printed a cycle of twelve de Gabriak poems. Dmitrieva became a succes de scandale, yet no one suspected her true identity. Her eventual unmasking the following month led to a major row: most angry of all was the young poet Nikolai Gumilev, who was to marry Anna Akhmatova the next year, but who was Voloshin's rival for Dmitrieva's affections at the time. After Gumilev publicly insulted Dmitrieva in the crudest sexual terms, he and Voloshin fought a duel. Fortunately no serious mishap ensued. Yet in September of the next year Apollo published a cycle of fifteen poems by 'de Gabriak'; these were immediately followed by a poem printed under her real name. The affair of 'Cherubina' made Dmitrieva, for a short while, more notorious than any other woman poet of her day. In 1911 Dmitrieva, along with her new husband, Vsevolod Vasil'ev, an engineer, left St. Petersburg for Turkestan. She maintained contact with SPb. and M. mystic circles and now devoted herself to anthroposophy. In a letter of 1910, Dmitrieva announced to Voloshin: "I shall not publish anything more; my ego—as an artist—has died." It was not until 1915 that a new creative streak which she described in her "Autobiography" as "a new Cherubina," was to overtake her. By 1918, Dmitrieva had settled in Krasnodar, where in 1920 she began to work with the playwright Samuil Marshak. Together they created a center for homeless children and a children's theater for which they wrote plays. In 1922 they returned to Petrograd, where Marshak headed up the Theater for Young Spectators, assisted by Dmitrieva. She also published prose for children.

In 1927 Dmitrieva was arrested and exiled to Tashkent, probably because of her link with anthroposophy. Before she died in 1928, Dmitrieva composed a cycle of philosophical poems entitled "House under the Pear Tree" (Domik pod grushevym derevom), which remained unpublished until 1988.

The 'Cherubina' incident was to be used by Liubov' Gurevich (in Estetika i kul'tura) as an illustration of the decadent trend's self-advertising excesses. There was some justice in this. The runaway success of 'Cherubina's' verse was partly due to its pandering to snobbery (see, for example, "Our Coat of Arms"); the Hispanophilia which swept over Europe in the years before World War I also played a role. In stylistic terms, the poetry was not particularly original. The setting is typically Symbolist in its lack of definition; references to cultural objects are given in terms of the most banal generalities. The lexicon runs the conventional Decadent gamut of solitude, stars, darkness, doomed beaty and corruption, reusing such Gippius-like rhyme combinations as "shroud/blood" (pokrov/krov'). 'Cherubina' also used fashionable "imported" poetic forms such as the rondeau and the French chain verse ("The Golden Bough").

What does give 'Cherubina's' poetry a more than ephemeral significance is the complex feminine psychology which it delineates. These verses achieve a clever fusion of the Decadent female persona, as it had earlier been developed by Mariia Bashkirtseva in her diary, Mirra Lokhvitskaia in poetry, and Lidiia Zinov'eva-Annibal in prose, with a Catholic religiosity drawing partly on French Symbolism and partly- on Dmitrieva's reading of the Counter-Reformational mystics St. Teresa and St. Ignatius Loyola. Reflecting its Symbolist background,

this work at the same time transformed it. A variety of doubles appears in the poems; identity is more fluid than in the dualistic representations of femininity preferred by Symbolism, possibly a result of Dmitrieva's anthroposophical ideals. The lexicon might be Gippius', but the chief actor was now a woman, not Gippius' male speaker; Gabriak's use of Catholic mysticism was a feminized equivalent of Viacheslav Ivanov's borrowings from Italian medieval tradition. Gabriak established a precedent for the use of a female persona in mystical poetry, a fact that was to become very important with mystical poetry's growing significance, during the 1920s and 1930s, as a genre practiced by women in external and internal emigration from Soviet official culture (e.g., Kuz'mina-Karavaeva and Akhmatova).

The 'Cherubina' affair appears also to have aided Dmitrieva's own development as a poet. In her early poems, what coherent voice she has is imitative. In those written after 1915, a stronger individuality develops, and most striking of all are the poems which Dmitrieva wrote in her Tashkent exile. At times, as in "The Willows" (Ivy), the simple lexicon and flexibility of metrics anticipate Akhmatova's practice in the 1930s and 1940s. Her poetry, like that of Sofiia Pamok, Vera Merkur'eva, Adelaida Gertsyk, or Akhmatova herself, is indicative of the very high literary quality achieved by Russian women in internal emigration.

Update @2008-12-06: I've added the story of the name Cherubina and fixed the Wikipedia article.

Other blogs: languagehat on languages in 19th century Russia

One more favorite blog of mine is Languagehat. Today, he writes about the use of the French language in the early 19th century in Russia, about the decline of Russian language among the aristocrats and what happened that reversed the situation. He quotes Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes:

Princess Dashkova, a vocal advocate of Russian culture and the only female president ever of the Russian Academy of Sciences, had the finest European education. 'We were instructed in four different languages, and spoke French fluently,' she wrote in her memoirs, 'but my Russian was extremely poor.' Count Karl Nesselrode, a Baltic German and Russia's foreign minister from 1815 to 1856, could not write or even speak the language of the country he was meant to represent. French was the language of high society, and in high-born families the language of all personal relationships as well. The Volkonskys, for example, a family whose fortunes we shall follow in this book, spoke mainly French among themselves. Mademoiselle Callame, a French governess in the Volkonsky household, recalled that in nearly fifty years of service she never heard the Volkonskys speak a word of Russian, except to give orders to the domestic staff. This was true even of Maria (née Raevskaya), the wife of Prince Sergei Volkonsky, Tsar Alexander's favourite aide-de-camp in 1812. Despite the fact that she had been brought up in the Ukrainian provinces, where noble families were more inclined to speak their native Russian tongue, Maria could not write in Russian properly. Her letters to her husband were in French. Her spoken Russian, which she had picked up from the servants, was very primitive and full of peasant slang. It was a common paradox that the most refined and cultured Russians could speak only the peasant form of Russian which they had learnt from the servants as children...

This neglect of the Russian language was most pronounced and persistent in the highest echelons of the aristocracy, which had always been the most Europeanized (and in more than a few cases of foreign origin). In some families children were forbidden to speak Russian except on Sundays and religious holidays. During her entire education Princess Ekaterina Golitsyn had only seven lessons in her native tongue. Her mother was contemptuous of Russian literature and thought Gogol was 'for the coachmen'. The Golitsyn children had a French governess and, if she ever caught them speaking Russian, she would punish them by tying a red cloth in the shape of a devil's tongue around their necks. Anna Lelong had a similar experience at the Girls' Gymnasium, the best school for noble daughters in Moscow. Those girls caught speaking Russian were made to wear a red tin bell all day and stand like dunces, stripped of their white aprons, in the corner of the class; they were forced to remain standing even during meals, and received their food last. Other children were even more severely punished if they spoke Russian—sometimes even locked in a room. The attitude seems to have been that Russian, like the Devil, should be beaten out of noble children from an early age, and that even the most childish feelings had to be expressed in a foreign tongue.

See more quotations from Figes at Languagehat.


Public opinion poll on Russian history

A couple of weeks ago VTsIOM (the public opinion study center) asked Russian citizens whether they support the rehabilitation of the royal family and what political figures of the early 20th century they like and dislike. The full results of the poll are here (in Russian). The results are interesting, especially when compared with the similar poll held in 2005. I will give some excerpts below with comments.

"The Presidium of the Supreme court has recently rehabilitated Nikolay II and the members of his family. Do you agree with the decision?" 27% said that they agree completely. 42% mostly agree. 9% mostly disagree. 2% completely disagree. 19% gave no answer. But the most interesting part is the breakdown by political position of the respondents. 17% of communists completely agreed with the decision of the court and 36% more said that they mostly agree. It gives us the 53% support of the rehabilitation of Romanovs among communists! Supporters of other political parties gave even more positive answers, but the sheer number of the communists who are ready to make peace with Romanovs after all, is very interesting. On the one hand, it may demonstrate the common sense of modern communists, but on the other hand, it might be an indicator of the transformation of the communist party into something like national-socialist one. The downside of patriotism is that generally it's an effective brain inhibitor.

The last table is the most informative, IMHO. "What do you feel toward the following people:"

Name 2005 2008
Nikolay II:

The first thing that attracts attention is, of course, still considerable, but notably decreasing sympathy to Stalin and Lenin. The number of those who dislike them, however, remained almost the same.

The most striking change has happened in these three years to Kolchak and Makhno. The number of Kolchak's sympathizers has grown by half: from 20% to 32%. The number of those who dislike him has decreased by 25%: from 41% to 30%. The proportions of changes in public opinion of Nestor Makhno are about the same, but the absolute numbers are smaller. The most obvious causes of the changes were, of course, two movies: the series The Nine Lives of Nestor Makhno (2006) and this year's hit, sugar-sweet romantic story Admiral.

Another shift, but the one that doesn't strike the eye, is the significant decrease of the opponents of Kerensky and Denikin. To tell you the truth, I cannot explain it. A side-effect of that Admiral movie, could be?

Note also the large number of people who had no opinion on Bukharin and Milyukov. These two figures are the least known in the list.

Generally, I might call the results "inspiring" :).

December History Blog Carnival

Frog in a Well - The Japan History Group Blog, is hosting the History Blog Carnival this month. December 2008 History Carnival covers some recent events, including the elections in the USA and the financial crisis, from the point of view of history. My recent post on the 1908 US elections and the 1933 crisis is also mentioned. Thanks to the authors for the link.

Other topics of the carnival are: women in history, history of the Far East (China and Korea), history of the trans-Atlantic links and a little bit more.


En passant: answer to Larussophobe

It seems that I was unlucky enough to attract the attention of someone who runs a blog named Larussophobe (which does not appear in my blogroll). The author has read my recent post written after a visit to a local bookstore. The article at Larussophobe sums up to the following: a) I am a thief because I steal books; b) I see no connection between violation of intellectual property and the price of books; c) (quite unexpectedly) I am a stupid coward because I do not go and start a guerilla against Putin's tyranny.

I sometimes flatter myself with the thought that there's a share of my efforts in the fall of the USSR, because many years ago I participated in the anti-Soviet movement. It was only a tiny share, but still I cannot blame myself for doing nothing. I did not really oppose socialism per se, I didn't like the atmospere of lie, deception and concealment. Having read the article of Larussophobe, I have an impression that I am in the USSR. The author ascribes to me some statements of his own and attacks the strawman with the energy of a well-trained Soviet journalist. Unlike Soviet journalists, though, Larussophobe is anonymous.

We may have different ideas on what is theft, but even from the point of view of the most active proponents of intellectual property I am hardly a thief. The last books I have read are the works of Jack London, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Ivan Yefremov, Ivan Goncharov and other authors whose works are in public domain. There was also a book by Neil Gaiman whose novel I found too boring to pay for it. Theft? You may call it so, but I would not feel sympathy to poor writers. Let me quote the Egyptian Nights by Alexander Pushkin:

The calling of poet does not exist in our country. Our poets do not receive the patronage of men of quality: our poets are men of quality themselves, and if any Maecenas (devil take them all!) should fail to realize this, so much the worse for him. With us there are no tattered abbés whom a composer might pick up on a street corner to write a libretto. With us, poets do not walk door to door soliciting donations.

In a similar fashion, I write here for free. Unlike Larussophobe, I find it shameful to receive money for writing about history or politics. My salary may be small by Larussophobe's standards, but I earn it with my brain, to the last cent. And I don't make money on politics. I do write about politics, too, and I did criticize the ways of the Putin's Russia more than once. Larussophobe has even made some money by quoting me before. No, I would not call him a thief. But he is not an honorable man.

So, who is a stupid coward, me or the anonymous venal journalist who writes Soviet-style propaganda under nom de plume Larussophobe? Dismissed and forgotten.

PS: Oh, and by the way, I have finally bought A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People by Steven Ozment and Histoire de L'Italie by Katherine Brice :)


Porvoo cathedral

Finnish radio YLE reports that after two years of restoration works the Porvoo cathedral was reconcecrated and open for public.

In 2006, 18-year-old Kalle Johan Ernesti Holm burned the cathedral and was sentenced to three months in jail.

In 1809 Finland became a semi-autonomous part of the Russian empire and the Porvoo Diet convened in this cathedral:
Between March 25 and July 19, 1809 the four Estates of occupied Finland (Nobility, Clergy, Burghers and Peasants) were assembled at Porvoo (Borgå) by Tsar Alexander I, the new Grand Duke of Finland. The central event at Porvoo was the sovereign pledge and the oaths of the Estates in Porvoo Cathedral on March 29. Each of the Estates swore their oaths of allegiance, committing themselves to accepting the Emperor and Grand Duke of Finland as the true authority, and to keeping the Constitution and the form of government unchanged. Alexander I subsequently promised to govern Finland in accordance with its laws.
The events of 1809 are considered to have been more important for the independence of Finland than the official recognition of the independence in 1917: From Helsingin Sanomat:
"Of course I take a slightly reserved stand on the 2017 side of things. From the Finnish perspective, 1809 is a more significant milestone than 1917, when the declaration came and the fledgling state waited to see if any other countries would acknowledge Finland's sovereignty and independent existence", says Klinge.
"In fact, if we are really scientific about it, the changes that took place in 1917 were of a much lower order of magnitude than those of 1809", he goes on.
A bronze statue of emperor Alexander I, made in 1909 by Walter Runeberg, is still standing in the cathedral.

Other blogs: Soviet Zion and math teaching in USSR

Always entertaining and educating blog Strange Maps writes about "Stalin's Siberian Zion" – the Jewish Autonomous Region in Siberia. To make things more interesting I have collected the results of population censuses:

Year: Total population of JAR: Jewish population of JAR: Total population of Russia (thousands): Jewish population of Russia: (thousands)
1937 76,500 18,000
1939 108,915 17,695 108262 891
1959 162,856 14,269 117534 855
1970 172,449 11,452 130079 792
1979 188,710 10,166 137410 692
1989 214,085 8,887 147022 537
2002 190,915 2,329 145167 230

So, nowadays the percentage of Jewish population in Jewish autonomous region is about the same as across Russia

The figure below represents the decrease of the population of some ethnic minorities in Russia. Orange line is Jews, green line is Germans and blue line is Ukrainians (1989 is 100%).

I just have to add that the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia questioned these results. They say that the Jewish population in Russia is at least six times larger. The specialists from the Jerusalem university, though, replied that the number of Jews in Russia may be about twice as large as the result of the census (that is, about 500,000), but hardly much more.

God Plays Dice is a blog about mathematics. Yesterday, the author posted a link to an article in Journal of Mathematical Behavior, written by Andrei Toom: A Russian Teacher in America (PDF). Mr. Toom makes some statements about the attitude of American students and compares it with the attitudes of the students he taught in the USSR. He admits that he has "very little experience with the bulk of the Russian population", since most of his students in Moscow "were children of intellectuals, because in Russia a much smaller percentage of youngsters than in US go into higher education".

I have no figures at hand, but according to this article, "Russia also had one of the highest shares of population with tertiary education (over 50 percent)". Does anyone know the exact figures for Russia and USA?

PS: the difference is that in the USA the salary of the people with higher education grows faster, while in Russia it's the other way round :)


November 24 in Russian history. Duel of the four. Griboyedov and Chavchavadze

(12 November Old Style)

One of the first articles I wrote here mentioned Avdotya Istomina, famous ballerina. Here's a story where she became the cause of one of the most famous duels in Russian history.

Avdotya Istomina


Istomina was eighteen and she was beautiful. Well, you see her portrait and it would be better to say that she was considered beautiful, for some reason. Like many other eighteen-years old beauties, she was frivolous, puerile and a little bit cruel. By that time she had been living with 21-years old captain of cavalry of the Horse-Guardsmen Regiment Count Vasily Sheremetev. Sheremetev was hot-tempered and jealous. On 3 November 1817, Avdotya left him and moved to live with Maria Azarevicheva, her good friend. What caused this break-up is not known. Perhaps, it was just another scandal. She told later that she had planned to leave him for a long time. Rumors said that the young count was running out of money. On 5 November, one of her numerous acquantances, Alexander Griboyedov (the author of the magnificent play Woe From Wit), after an evening in the theatre, offered her to visit his good friend, Count Shakhovsky, who had something to do with the show business (the theater, ballet, and so on). Instead, he brought her to his friend Count Alexander Zavadovsky, kammerjunker (Gentleman of the Bedchamber). Griboyedov explained later that he just wanted to find out what happened between her and Sheremetev, but since he lived at Zavadovsky's, it was the only place where they could talk, and Zavadovsky arrived later.

When Zavadovsky came back, he, an egotistic playboy, thought that, of course, she must have come to see him. Later, during the investigation, Istomina confessed that during this evening Zavadovsky had offered her his love, but she didn't know whether he was serious or not. Something went wrong, so she left disappointed Zavadovsky and Griboyedov took her back to Azarevicheva's apartment. Soon Sheremetev came there, begged her to pardon him for his jealousy and then they departed to Sheremetev's. When they came back, though, he started inquiring where she had been, with whom, what did they talk about and what did they do and so on. When he finally learned that she payed a visit to Zavadovsky, he went mad. His friend, cornet of Life-Guard Alexander Yakubovich, being just as zippy as Sheremetev, convinced Sheremetev that Griboyedov was also guilty, that he had played the role of a pander in this affair. Yakubovich also told later that the cause of the duel between Sheremetev and Zavadovsky was some ungentlemanlike act of Zavadovsky, but refused to tell what it was, saying that he promised to Sheremetev not to disclose this matter.

On 9 November, at 4pm, they came to Zavadovsky and challenged him to shoot right now. Zavadovsky asked them to wait for a couple of hours, because he hadn't yet had his dinner, so they decided to postpone the duel to tomorrow, 10 November. Friend of Zavadovsky, second lieutenant of artillery baron Stroganov tried to reconcile the duellists, but failed. On the next day the place for the duel was not yet agreed upon, so they postponed all deaths till 11 November. On 11 November, it was snowing and windy and the duel was delayed again. On 12 November they came to the Volkovo cemetary. The distance was 18 steps and they agreed that the one who shoots first will have to come to the barrier in the middle.

Sheremetev, annoyed by Zavadovsky's lentitude, shot first, but the bullet only tore away a piece of Zavadovsky's collar. Sheremetev cursed and said that if Zavadovsky would miss, they will shoot again. Zavadovsky took aim for a long time, then his pistol misfired, then it misfired again, and finally he shot. The bullet hit Sheremetev in the belly. The duel between Yakubovich and Griboyedov was postponed and they took wounded Sheremetev to his home where he died on the next day.

Sheremetev's father asked emperor Alexander not to punish Zavadovsky. The emperor gave an audience to Zavadovsky and concluded that it was a lawful self-defense.

Alexander Griboyedov

Playboy Zavadovsky was sent away from Russia. Yakubovich was arrested and transferred to Caucasus. Griboyedov was also sent away from Russia. He was offered a choice: he could join the Russian embassy in the USA or in Persia. He chose Persia. On his way there, in Tiflis, Griboyedov met Yakubovich and the postponed duel took place. The bullet of Yakubovich hit Griboyedov into his palm, damaging forever his pinkie. "At least, he'll stop playing piano", said the implacable Yakubovich.

Nina Chavchavadze

Griboyedov became a good diplomat, he often came back to Russia and then returned to Persia to continue his work. In 1828, on his way from Russia to Tehran, he stopped in Tiflis again. There he met the beautiful Georgian duchess Nina Chavchavadze, daughter of his good friend, poet Alexander Chavchavadze, and fell in love with her, just like she did. They married and the happy couple went to Tehran. A week later Nina stayed in the city Tavriz on the border and Griboyedov went forward to prepare his apartments for the arrival of his lady.

There was an Armenian eunuch in Griboyedov's retinue, Mirza Yakub, and the rumors said that he planned to convert from islam to christianity. The leaders of the Tehran muslims decided to kill the apostate. The fanatics attacked the Russian embassy and killed everyone there. The body of Griboyedov was identified by the mutilated pinkie.

More about Griboyedov in a small, but well written article by Philip Henscher in the Spectator: The playing fields of Persia, review of "Diplomacy and Murder in Tehran: Alexander Griboyedov and Imperial Russia's Mission to the Shah of Persia" by Laurence Kelly

From bookstores

My family's gone to Moscow for some days and I feel a little bit lost and forgotten :). Probably, this is why I decided to take a walk to a nearby bookstore. It's been quite some time since I was there. Could be six or seven months, I think. The reason for this neglect was not that I quit reading. Quite the contrary. In April, I received a gift from my wife. It was an electronic book, called LBook. LBook is, actually, yet another brand name for the device generally known as Hanlin eReader. LBook is distributed by the Ukrainian company MUK. In some other countries the device is known under other names: Walkbook, papyre, BeBook, EZ Reader or just Hanlin eReader. To see how it works, check this video at YouTube. My LBook works even better, because it runs firmware, modified by some Russian enthusiasts, so, unlike the original Hanlin, it renders HTML, CHM and Epub in a quite readable way.

So, back to the story. I came to the bookstore, hoping to find some synoptic history of Germany and Italy. I did find a couple of books, Histoire de l'Italie by Katherine Brice and Kleine Deutshe Geschichte by Ulrich Herrmann, Andreas Gestrich, Ulf Dirlemeier et al. I had a look at the prices and put the books back to the shelf. $13-16 for a book is a little bit more that what I hoped to spend. Then I found another great book. It was La civilisation de L'europe des Lumieres by Pierre Chaunu. I checked the table of content, browsed through some pages and was ready to run for the cashdesk, when I saw the price. I used to buy the books from this series, like The Byzantine Civilization by Andre Guillou (I wrote about the book before) or the Civilization of Renaissance by Jean Delumeau or The Civilization of the Classic Islam by Dominique and Janine Sourdel and they cost me about $10 (250 rubles). But that last book costs 650 rubles! Even now that RUR/USD rate has plunged from 24 to 27 rubles, it's still 24 dollars, which is more than 3% of my monthly salary. So, I had to place it back ruefully.

No, I didn't just go away empty-handed. I bought a copy of The course of Russian history of 19th century by Alexander Kornilov. He was another historian from those last free thinkers who worked in the early 20th century, like Sergey Platonov or Dmitri Ilovaisky or Vasily Klyuchevsky. A great book. I'm afraid that we won't see a comparable work on 20th century for a very long time. Not from the Russian historians, sorry.

Now, some conclusions. Firstly, Russian business is Russian business, the prices go only one way, up and up. In the 1990s the sellers used to say: "Of course, the prices grow. You know, the dollar's rising", or "Of course, the prices grow. You know, the dollar's falling". No matter what, they said it with the most sincere faces and the expression of deepest conviction. I'm sure that now they will tell us: "Of course, the prices grow. You know, deflation..."

Secondly, once again I thank the Ukrainian sellers of that ebook device, my wife and so called "pirates", who scan books and make them available to those who can't catch up with the prices. Taking into account the digits I saw today, my LBook has already payed off its cost in six months.

Update: (2008-12-02 11:28:42) Follow-up: En passant: answer to Larussophobe


November 23 in Russian history. The man who raised Soviet children


One hundred years ago Nikolay Nosov was born in Kiev. He wrote many children's books, read by hundreds of millions of Soviet children for decades. Those who haven't read his stories about Neznaika, heard the audio recordings or (in the late Soviet years) saw animated films. The trilogy about Neznaika, Vitya Maleev at School and at Home and short stories are his best known books.

You can find the full text of the first book about Neznaika here: The Adventures of Neznaika and His Friends. See also a very brief review of the trilogy here: Nikolay Nosov: Neznaika trilogy. The author of the review, Layla AbdelRahim, qualifies the books in the following way: the first book is a socialist anarchist utopia of Flower town, the second, Dunno in Sun City, reminds one of the communist state and the third one, Dunno on the Moon, describes harsh realities of the capitalist society on the moon. This is true, but this is not why we loved the books. I recall one of my friends (we were, probably, 7 or 8 years old then), who had borrowed my copy of all three books (and they were not easy to buy in the USSR!), once whispered to me in a conspiratorial way: "You know what? The third book is about America!". Well, we didn't like the way people lived on the capitalist Moon, but the books were incredibly popular. Most of all I loved the second one, about the communist Sun City :).

As for the other books, I strongly advice that you check the translations of some short stories by Nikolay Nosov made by Svet from Windows to Russia:

The crucian carp
The crucian carp (part 2)
Mishka's porridge
Mishka's porridge (part 2)
The Pistol
The Pistol (part 2)
Garderners (part 2)
Laddy (part 2)


November 22 in Russian history. Death of Mikhail Yaroslavich, nephew of Nevsky


In the chapter on the rise of Muscovy, Sergey Platonov wrote:

The two first knyazes, Daniil Alexandrovich and his son Yuri, took the lands along the whole river Moscow, tearing the towns Kolomna from the Ryazan principality and Mozhaisk from Smolensk principality. Also, Daniil inherited Pereyaslavl-Zalessky from the childless knyaz of Pereyaslavl. Yuri Daniilovich became so influential that he decided to ask the Golden Horde for yarlyk to become the grand knyaz of Vladimir, competing with the knyaz of Tver Mikhail Yaroslavich (Mikhail was a nephew of Alexander Nevsky and an uncle of Yuri Daniilovich). Since the political struggle in the Horde was led by all means, including conspiracies and violence, both knyazes were murdered in the Horde.

The principality of Vladimir was about 3-3.5 times larger than the duchies of Tver or Moscow. The owner of the title of knyaz of Vladimir became also the grand knyaz, the chief ruler among all the knyazes of the North-Eastern Rus. He defined the joint foreign policy and was the chief military commander in the case of war. Even the free principality of Novgorod recognized the grand knyaz as their supreme ruler. But to become the grand knyaz, one had to obtain the yarlyk from the khan of the Golden Horde. So, since the times of Alexander Nevsky Russian knyazes competed for the yarlyk. In the early 14th century the knyazes of Muscovy and Tver were the strongest candidates.

In 1304 the grand knyaz of Vladimir Andrey Alexandrovich, or Andrey of Gorodets, the third son of Alexander Nevsky, died. His three sons had already died and his heritage produced a huge turmoil among the other knyazes. As a matter of fact, he had bequeathed the principality of Vladimir to his cousin, Mikhail Yaroslavich of Tver. In 1305, Mikhail left to the Horde for the yarlyk.

Yuri Danilovich, knyaz of Muscovy, a grandson of Nevsky, might think he was very unlucky. His father, Daniil, died just one year earlier, 1303. Had Daniil lived a bit longer, the complicated laws of accession would make Yuri Danilovich the grand prince. He was not a legitimate candidate for the princedom, but his principality was stronger than Tver. So, he decided to interfere. As soon as Mikhail of Tver left to the Horde, Yuri followed him. The Moscow boyars and even the Maxim, the metropolitan of Vladimir, insisted that he should stay. He said that he goes to the Horde on his own business, having nothing to do with the yarlyk and departed for good.

When both of them arrived to the Horde, khan Tokhta, a very practical ruler of the Golden Horde, said that the yarlyk will go to the one who offers a larger tribute. Yuri and Mikhail raised the stakes till Yuri gave up. Mikhail stayed in the Horde for some more days, while Yuri hurried back to Moscow. Having arrived there, he immediately sent his army to Pereslavl Zalessky, a town that used to belong to the knyazes of Moscow, but recently adjoined to the domain of the grand knyaz of Vladimir. The excuse used by Yuri was that the deceased knyaz of Pereslavl was an old ally of Moscow. Legally, though, it was a treason and the army of Tver moved to Pereslavl. Mikhail, though, was still absent and Yuri defeated the Tverians. As a matter of fact, the Mongols had to interfere and restore the law. But they were not interested in the rise of one strong grand prince, so they left the two to solve their problems. Besides, who knows who of the princes might offer more money? Having returned to Tver, Mikhail attacked Moscow and forced Yuri to abandon Pereslavl.

But the competition was not over yet. Yuri's brothers, Alexander and Boris, refused to support him, but he still conflicted with Tver time to time, raided his neighbors and his rather aggressive policy increased the strength of Muscovy. In 1306 he killed the knyaz of Ryazan Konstantin, but failed to adjoin Ryazan and had to suffice with Kolomna. In 1307, Yuri attacked Nizhny Novgorod, conflicting with Mikhail once again. In 1308 Nizhny Novgorod Mikhail became the prince of Nizhny Novgorod, but Yuri did not give up. He found a good ally for himself – the new metropolitan of Russia, Peter. In 1312, when khan Tokhta died and khan Uzbek became the new khan of the Golden Horde, Mikhail of Tver went to the Horde to pledge allegiance to the new khan, and Yuri attacked Nizhny Novgorod, where the situation was very similar to what had happened in Pereslavl in 1305. Mikhail wanted to send his army, but the metropolitan Peter intefered and banned him from attacking Yuri.

Uzbek, rather annoyed by that little restless pain in the neck, demanded that Yuri visit him immediately. So, in 1315, the two swapped their places: Mikhail came back from the Horde, and Yuri came there to talk to Uzbek khan. Mikhail took back Nizhny Novgorod and was pretty sure that he could sleep well, even though the Novgorodians didn't like him and revolted now and then. But Yuri did not waste the time. He made acquaintance with Konchaka, the daughter of Uzbek khan and very soon married her. It was a great move. In 1317, Yuri came back to Rus with a large Mongol regiment, led by Kavgadiy, with Konchaka, who was baptised and got the name Agafya, and with the yarlyk of the grand knyaz!

Mikhail immediately made peace with Nizhny Novgorod and went with his army to meet Yuri. They met near Kostroma. Long and tiresome negotiations followed. It seems that Mikhail Yaroslavich agreed to give up his claims. He understood that Yuri will never leave him alone and upon his return to Tver he began to enforce the city and to train the army. The conflict ensued and in December 1317 Yuri attacked Tver but was defeated and fled to Novgorod (not Nizhny Novgorod, but Great Novgorod). Konchaka-Agafya, Yuri's brother Boris, many knyazes and even Kavgadiy were captured. Kavgadiy, though, was soon released with many gifts. Yuri gathered a new army in Novgorod and Pskov and returned to Tver, but this time there were no battles. The knyazes met and agreed to ask the Mongols to end their strife.

In theory, Mikhail had good chances to win. He was richer, he had good contacts in the Horde and he had better support in Russia. Right after the truce, he sent his son Konstantin to the Horde to make arrangements for the dispute.

Suddenly, still imprisoned Konchaka died. Yuri accused Mikhail of poisoning her and left to the Horde. Mikhail didn't plan to follow him, but soon a messenger from Uzbek khan arrived, demanding that Mikhail go with him. By the time Mikhail came to Uzbek, the khan had already learned from Yuri and Kavgadiy a lot about the "evil" deeds of the knyaz of Tver. The slander worked and Mikhail was put on trial. Kavgadiy was both the prosecutor and the judge. On 27 October Mikhail was put in chains and on the next day he was chained to a heavy log. After the trial that took place on 20 November, though, Kavgadiy promised him that he would be released soon. On 22 November 1318, 690 years ago, Kavgadiy, Yuri and a large group of their people assaulted Mikhail in his tent. They threw him down and started kicking him. Then someone Romanets fished out his knife and stabbed Mikhail in his heart.

His body was sent to Tver and on 6 September 1319 a huge crowd of people attended his funeral in the Tver cathedral. They were so frightened by his death that soon they forgot Mikhail's feuds with other knyazes, the ransack of the civilians in Torzhok in 1316, forgot how he had brought the Mongols and so on. They even began worshipping him as a saint.

In 1319-1320 this story was written by hegumen Alexander, Mikhail's father-confessor.

On 21 November 1325, almost exactly 7 years after the death of Mikhail, Yuri of Moscow was killed in the Golden Horde by Dimitri Mikhailovich, knyaz of Tver, son of Mikhail of Tver. Dimitri was also killed on spot.

To make the story just a little bit easier to read, here's the family tree of Rurikids, the Russian knyazes: