A little about history of Ossetia and Georgia

The article is based on Russian, Georgian and Ossetian sources. It is by no means perfect or exhaustive, it was written in haste and I would welcome any comments, corrections and additions.

The Ossetians came to what is now Georgia after the attacks of Mongols on the Ossetian country in the northern Caucasus. Georgia, also weakened by the Mongols, needed help against the never stopping raids of the Persians and Turks, so they let the Ossetian occupy the lands in exchange for the military assistance. Georgian historians, though, say that the Ossetian invaded weak Georgia and even occupied Gori. In 14th century king George V restored the unity of Georgia, but very soon the invasion of Timur turned Georgia into a mess of small feudal duchies again. The Georgian feudals often used Ossetians in their wars. In exchange they granted their allies parts of land of the neighbor feudals. In the end, Ossetians lived in relatively small groups between Georgians. In some places, though, higher in the mountains, they lived in a more homogeneous environment. Also, in the Alazani valley, in the south of Kakheti (one of Georgian kingdoms), they formed a large enclave.

In 18th century the rulers of Kartli and Kakheti were named Wali (governor) of Gurjistan and the kingdoms belonged to Iran. These governors were obliged to convert to Islam and the only one who refused to do so, was George XII, son of Erekle II, who had to ally with Russia to save Georgia. In 1799, before his death, he wrote to his ambassador: "Give them [Russians] all my kingdom and my possession as a sincere sacrifice, and offer it not only for the protection of the Russian empire, but leave it at their discretion, so since this time the kingdom of Kartli would belong to the Russian state with all the rights that other areas of Russia have".

Georgian feudals Machabeli and Eristavi became the lords of the lands now known as South Ossetia. They competed and South Ossetia belonged sometimes to one of them, then to another, then Erekle II would take them to himself, then grant to one of these families again and so on. Ossetians, like normal peasants, often rebelled.

In attempts to get rid of the feudals, Ossetians in 1749 attempted to ask Russia for protection. Some sources say that in 1774 the united Ossetia (South and North) joined Russia. I have no information about any evidences except for some vague references to the treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji.

In 18th century, the situation in Georgia was quite complicated. The Western Georgia (kingdom of Imereti) failed to unite. Guria, Svanetia, Abkhazia and Megrelia strived for independence. In an earlier article I wrote briefly:

"In early XVIII century, the Georgian king Vakhtang VI and other Georgian political figures find an asylum in Russia. In the end of 1782, king Erekle II asks Catherine to take Eastern Georgia (kingdom Kartli-Kakheti) under protection and in 1783 the treaty of Georgievsk was signed. Eastern Georgia gave up its autonomy and Russia guaranteed its independence and territorial integrity. Russia promised to increase the number of troops in Georgia, but failed to comply. In 1795, Persia attacked Georgia and sacked Tbilisi. Two Russian battalions retreated, but Russia sent 13,000 soldiers and liberated Georgia. Turkey also gave up all claims. In 1798, Erekle died and his son George XII became the king. Soon, his illness provoked instability in the country, when his son David and his half-brother Yulon contested the throne. Russia backed David and in December 1800 David became the regent of the Eastern Georgia. In January 1801 Russia violated the terms of the treaty of Georgievsk, removed David from power and proclaimed Eastern Georgia a part of the Russian empire. David was brought to St. Petersburg under a military escort, but in Russia he was freed, he settled in St. Petersburg, became a general and an important politician and in 1812 became a senator. In 1810, the Western Georgia (kingdom of Imereti) joined the Eastern Georgia and became a part of Russian empire."

The whole story is a bit longer and more complicated, but it'll do for now. Famous Georgian writer Ilya Chavchavadze wrote: "Since that memorial day Georgia recovered peace. The protection of the great brotherly nation dissipated the eternal fear of the enemies. The tired country calmed down, rested from devastation and havoc, from never ending wars and struggle".

The tsarist government attempted to normalize the relations between Georgian feudals and Ossetian peasants. A group of anti-Russian Georgian nobles led by prince Yulon tried to use Ossetians against Russia. Since the Eristavi family eagerly cooperated with Russia, it was easy to talk Ossetians into rebellion against Eristavi and Russia. In 1801 Ossetians rebelled. In 1802 they killed the hated Machabeli. Russia sent troops to South Ossetia. The commander, Simonovich, attempted to avoid conflicts, contacted the Ossetian elders and soon he convinced them to stop attacking Russians. Ossetians agreed, but demanded that the tyranny of Georgian aristocrats be stopped. Eristavi and Machabeli wanted to get their feuds back, but Russia refused to restore their power and in 1832 they began terror against the Ossetian peasants.

In 1837 a deputation from South Ossetia asked Nicholas I to judge whether Eristavi and Machabeli have the right to be their masters. The special commission in St.Petersburg ruled that Machabeli failed to prove their rights as landowners in South Ossetia. However, the court in Tiflis (the old name of Tbilisi) ruled that the Ossetians failed to prove their right to be free. The question was elevated to the Russian Senate. Nicholas I supported the decision of the St.Petersburg commission, but sweetened the pill granting a huge pension to Machabeli. Machabeli refused to comply. They hoped that the serfdom would be instituted in Ossetia, but these were the last years of serfdom in Russia.

After that the situation was under strict control of the tsarist government till the revolutions began in Russia. In Georgia the power belonged to mensheviks (social-democrats, very similar to bolsheviks, but slightly different). Ossetians backed bolsheviks. In 1918-1920 multiple and bloody conflicts between Georgians and Ossetians took place in Tskhinvali, the capital of Ossetia. In 1920 the bolsheviks proclaimed that the Soviets take the power in one of the regions in Ossetia and asked Moscow for support. Moscow did not reply and soon the uprising was suppressed. Georgians killed 4812 people, burned about 50 villages, sacked the food supplies and forced up to 50,000 Ossetians to excape to Russia. Many of them died of cold, starvation and infections.

After the communist take-over in Georgia in 1921, the communist leaders decided to give a status of the autonomous district to south Ossetia.

During the Stalin's repressions, Ossetians suffered even worse than other peoples. Stalin and Beriya were Georgians, you remember? The Ossetians constituted about 2/3 of the population of South Ossetia, but their percentage in the number of the repressed people was about 90%.

During the war, Ossetians fought together with other peoples of the USSR, but they were special here. 35 Ossetians were awarded the highest military award, the Hero of the Soviet Union, which makes one award for 12,000 people, which is the highest percentage among all peoples of the USSR. There are still very proud of it.

After the war, the strict control of the Soviet state kept the national sentiments hidden. However, Georgia attempted to "Georgify" the Ossetians from time to time. So, in 1939 the Ossetians were obliged to use the Georgian alphabet for Ossetian language. Ossetian place names were replaced with Georgian ones. Moving in the same direction, in 1988 Tbilisi decided that the Georgian language would become the only official state language in all Georgia. In 1989 Tbilisi refused to finance the expenses of South Ossetia and did not sanction the elections to the parliament of South Ossetia. On 10 November 1989 the Congress of the People's Deputies of South Ossetia decided to raise the status of the autonomous district to the autonomous republic withing Georgia. The Congress asked Georgia to approve the decision.

Georgians responded with the move that became the beginning of the open confrontation. On 23 November 1989 a march of Georgian nationalists, up to 40-50 thousand people, who gathered from all Georgia, came to Tskhinvali for a rally. The march was led by the Georgian president, nationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia, later overthrown by Georgians themselves. The march was stopped near the city by 13 or 15 young unarmed men. The rally did not happen, but the Georgians blocked the city for some days.

On 20 June 1990 the Supreme council of Georgia denounced the Consitution of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic and all the laws adopted since 1921. One of such laws proclaimed he founding of the autonomous district of South Ossetia. Thus, the autonomy of South Ossetia was cancelled. Moreover, on 9 December 1990 Georgia adopted the law on the abolition of South Ossetia. On 6 January 1991 Gamsakhurdia sent the Georgian troops to occupy Tskhinvali. After 20 days of fighting Ossetia paramilitary groups forced the Georgians to leave the city, but the war continued.

On 17 March 1991 on the referendum most of the inhabitants of South Ossetia voted for the preservation of the Soviet Union. On 19 January 1992 on another referendum the majority of Ossetians voted for independence and reunification with Russia.

On 29 May 1992 South Ossetia proclaimed independence. On 24 June 1992 Georgia, South Ossetia and Russia signed agreement that led to the end of the war on 14 July 1992. All sides agreed to denounce violence and to form Joint Peacekeeping Forces, run by the Joint Control Commission. By that time Gamsakhurdia was deposed and the new president of Georgia Edward Shevardnadze said: "The Ossetians gave us no pretext for their mass removal from Tbilisi, Gori and other cities. Probably, there were guilty among them too, but we are a large country, a large state and we have to show repentance... I clearly see what a crime has been committed against this people".


Dangers of blogging in Russia

About two months ago a Russian blogger Savva Terentyev was sentenced to one-year probation for a comment that, according to the judge, was "inciting enmity and publicly humiliating representatives of a social group" (social group being the police, I assume). The details of the case may be found in the article by Veronika Khokhlova: One Year Sentence for Blog Comment. She also translated the comment Terentyev was convicted for:

I don't agree with the thesis that “policemen still have the mentality of a repressive stick in the hands of the powers that be.” First, they are cops [menty, not militsionery, a less respectful way to refer to police]. Second, their mentality isn't still here. It's simply ineradicable. Once a musor [a synonym for ment; non-slang meaning of the word is “trash”], always a musor, even in Africa. Those who become cops [menty] - rednecks and thugs - are the dumbest and least educated representatives of the live/animal world. Would be great if there was an oven, similar to those in Auschwitz, in the center of every Russian city, at the main square (in Syktyvkar, right in the center of Stefanovskaya, where the New Year's tree stands, so that everyone could see), and there'd be a daily ceremony - or, even better, twice a day (at noon and midnight, for example) - of burning a dishonest cop [ment] there. The people would be doing the burning. This would be the first step towards cleansing the society of the dirt that the thuggish cops are.

Now, another blogger is being accused of the same crime. But this time he "incited enmity" to FSB. The "Moscow Times" wrote:

Activist Placed Under Investigation for Blog

Kemerovo prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the activities of an opposition activist, following allegations that he made offensive comments about law enforcement officers in a blog.

The blogger, Dmitry Solovyov, coordinator of the Kemerovo region branch of the Oborona movement, faces up to two years in prison if charged and convicted.

Oborona's Moscow coordinator, Oleg Kozlovsky, said the case was an attempt to intimidate members of the movement, which has regularly participated in rallies staged by The Other Russia opposition coalition. "This is an attempt to put pressure on Oborona, both at the local and federal levels," Kozlovsky said Friday.

Solovyov is suspected of libeling and inciting hatred against police and Federal Security Service officers in his posts on LiveJournal, Kozlovsky said.

He said the Kemerovo region branch of the Investigative Committee opened the case on Aug. 11 at the request of the FSB's local branch and that the postings in question were made from December 2006 to June of this year under the nickname "dimon77."

Irina Khakova, a spokeswoman for the regional branch of the Investigative Committee, said she had no information about the case. No one was available for comment at the regional offices of the Interior Ministry or the FSB Friday afternoon.

Kozlovsky said he had a copy of the order opening the investigation but refused to provide it for fear of compromising Solovyov. He did say the document contained links to the blog entries in question.

An entry from March, titled "The People in Gray Won't Break Oborona," accuses Interior Ministry and FSB officers of silencing opposition, delivering "unjust verdicts," "beating confessions out" of people, intimidation and committing dissenters to psychiatric asylums.

Solovyov did not author the contents of the March posting but instead quoted a piece by another blogger, citing the original.

Examined Friday, none of the posts in Solovyov's blog referencing the Interior Ministry or FSB contained insulting epithets or incitement to violence.

Kozlovsky said Solovyov would not comment for fear of harming his case.

Anton Nosik, director of SUP, the Internet provider for LiveJournal.com in Russia, said a conviction for Solovyov would endanger freedom of speech on the web.

"It would be frightful if a court didn't realize that there is no crime here," Nosik said.

Andrei Richter, head of Moscow's Media Law and Policy Institute, said the cases of Solovyov and Komi republic blogger Savva Terentyev, who was handed a one-year suspended prison sentence in July for inciting hatred against the police, represented "a dangerous trend."

"People will be afraid to voice their opinions," Richter said.

Russian LiveJournal users formed a support group to help Dmitry Solovyov. The first article says (translation taken from ChtoDelat blog:

On August 5, Kemerovo blogger Dmitry Solovyov was charged with violation of the notorious Article 282 Part 1 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code. The regional prosecutor’s office accuses him of publishing several posts, under the nickname dimon77, that “incite hatred and enmity towards, and debase the dignity of, employees of the organs of the Interior Ministory and the FSB.” [One example of such “extremist” posts has been translated, below.]

On August 12, Dmitry’s home was searched. Police confiscated computer equipment and Oborona stickers. FSB officers participated in the search, and criminal charges were filed at their behest. The case is being investigated by R.I. Shlegel, senior special cases investigator and a Class I jurist.

The siloviki have clearly decided to make the Savva Terentiev case a precedent. Which of us hasn’t written something bad about a particular “social group”? If we don’t help Dmitry now, then tomorrow they might come for any of us.

Any help is welcome. We need a lawyer, we need experts to conduct an independent assessment of the evidence, and we need funds for all this. And, of course, we need the support of journalists and the blogger community so that the prosecutor’s office won’t get away with punishing yet another LJista on the sly.

Here is one of the articles written by Solovyov, which might make him a criminal:

The Men in Grey Won’t Break Oborona

You think that with a stupid “Not allowed!” you can destroy an organization? It won’t work. You have been dragged into a a game you know you cannot win. You’re setting up your brown bear protégé. You’ll keep going until some Merkel or Bush calls on the phone and whispers “Stop it!” into the receiver. And then, although you now stand on every corner spreading the stinky mantra, “Russia will never be brought to its knees. Russia will not permit itself to be ruled from abroad,” you’ll come to attention like good lads, salute, and bellow out, “Yes, sir!” Just like you bellowed last year, when the June March [of the Dissenters] was permitted at the request of the German chancellor. Or like you bellowed a month ago, when you transferred [Vasily] Aleksanyan [a severely ill lawyer and ex-Yukos executive in police custody since 2006] to a clinic at the request of the American president.

You admit it: you’re not capable of any sort of dialogue with the opposition. For you, we are the spawn of hell. Go ahead, be afraid: sooner or later you’ll return to the hole you crawled out of in 1999.

On 2 December [2007] and 2 March [2008—the dates, respectively, of Russian parliamentary and presidential elections] you once and for all dispelled our remaining illusions. Anyone capable of thinking no longer believes you. And those who can’t think for themselves will all the same end up getting hit over the head by you. The recent Moscow action against “persons of Slavic complexion”—when you arrested minors and fingerprinted them as if they were criminals—showed a lot of such people what ordinary folks—people who go a mile out of their way to avoid politics and think that if they don’t stick out their necks they’ll be left alone—can expect from you.

You’re sure that the best way of communicating with a citizen is when his mouth his taped shut. Fine: you’ve shut him up; you’ve handcuffed him and tied his legs to a chair. And what have you got? This is what you call sovereign democracy? This is what you advertise at all the international forums as stability? No, you’re afraid. You tremble in the fear that everyone will find out what you’ve turned a free country into in the space of eight years. How many innocent people sit in pre-trial detention waiting for unjust verdicts? How many people have been maimed and how many people murdered at police stations, where they were forced to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, and all for the sake of monthly crime fighting statistics? What kind of quota have you already set for charging people with violation of article 282 [of the Russian Federation Criminal Code, which outlaws the incitement of ethnic, racial or religious hatred]? Was Savva Terentiev a test run? How many such Savvas are you prepared to enfold in your iron embrace?

Then there is your success in the battle against extremists: since the new year, thirty-seven ethnically motivated murders have been committed in Moscow. Moreoever, this is what you want: it is easier to persuade ordinary folks of your own indispensability by racheting up the fear.

You have managed to drag back into the world an abomination that only ten years ago we thought had surely gone away forever—the psikhushki [punitive psychiatric detention]. Andropov’s favorite creation. Or is any comparison with that unforgettable KGB agent like music to your ears? What have you yourselves become? Have you forgotten how this all ends? Don’t be naïve: you won’t escape the danger a second time. A blind, cruel man is incapable of seeing the light and feeling compassion. And you yourselves know what is done in such cases.

Note also an interesting comment made by the authors of ChtoDelat, which might explain the real reasons for the accusations of Solovyov:

We should also point out that on July 4, dimon77 made the following entry in his Live Journal:


Moscow begins military action against Georgia in late August

Well, who out there has gotten homesick for war? Here you go: soon, quite soon you’ll get the chance [to get over your homesickness]:

Moscow begins military action against Georgia in late August

The link leads to an entry in a LiveJournal entitled The End of the Age of Pu


which in turn cites in full an article from the notorious, pro-Chechen website Kavkaz Tsentr:


The article, also dated 4 July 2008, claims that:

  • Vladimir Putin made the decision to take military action against Georgia before Dmitry Medvedev was elected president;
  • Intensive preparation for war had been underway at all levels for several months, and this preparation was being coordinated by Putin himself;
  • The primary goal of military operations was to seize the Kordori Gorge area (in “upper” Abkhazia) and to maximally weaken or topple the Saakashvili regime;
  • Military actions would commence between August 20 and September 10, and would be preceded by a ratcheting up of the number and intensity of clashes between Abkhazians and Georgians;
  • This intensification would include terrorist attacks involving casualties, both in Abkhazia and in Russia itself;
  • According to one scenario, a major terrorist attack for which the Georgian secret services would be blamed would occur in Sochi, Russia;
  • After the successful seizure of the Kordori Gorge, military actions would commence in the Tsinkhvali area, with the goal of displacing both Georgian military units stationed there and the ethnic Georgian population.

On the morning of August 7, in fact, a bomb exploded on a beach in the village of Loo, near Sochi. Two people were killed, and thirteen wounded.


August 27 in Russian history. Russian tsar Wladislaw. Those were the days, my friend.


(17 August Old Style)

The boyar government of Muscovy signed a treaty with Polish hetman Stanisław Żółkiewski, agreeing to recognize Władysław, son of the Polish king Sigismund, as the new Russian tsar. On the same day, the Muscovites pledged allegiance to the new tsar. Unfortunately, nothing good came out of this idea.

One month earlier, after mass demonstrations of the Moscow people, a deputation of boyars came to tsar Vassily Shuysky asking him to abdicate. He pretended to agree and left to his old house, but right after that began plotting against the boyars, trying to get the throne back. The only authority during this interregnum was the boyars' Duma and Moscow swore allegiance to it. There were many candidates to become the new Russian tsar all of them had some support from various groups of the Russian society. Poorer people wavered between young Mikhail Romanov and False Dmitry II (aka "the Thief of Tushino" or "the brigand of Tushino"). The church preferred Vassily Golitsyn. The nobles didn't like the idea of making one of them the tsar, because of the earlier experiences with Boris Godunov and Vassily Shuysky. Nor were they ready to accept the impostor. Numerous rebellions, including that of False Dmitry and the peasants war led by Ivan Bolotnikov, made the boyars to waste no time. After a brief consultation, they made their choice. They sent a deputation to Żółkiewski, asking him to save Moscow from False Dmitry. Żółkiewski arrived and after some diplomatic and military successes he convinced the Muscovites that Władysław could be a good tsar. The treaty was based on an earlier treaty with Sigismund, but the boyars made some amendments. So, they insisted that Władysław had to accept Orthodoxy and (note this!) they crossed out some articles: on freedom to leave the country for studying abroad and on promotion of lesser boyars according to their merits. Actually, that earlier treaty signed on 4 February 1610 near Smolensk was very interesting and remind me to write more about it next February :).

However, because of Sigismund's exorbitant ambitions the Muscovites rebelled and drove the Poles away. Who knows how the history might have turned if Władysław became the tsar of Russia.


A German Me-109 fighter landed on the fields of the sovkhoz "Krasnaya Volna" (The Red Wave) near Kharkiv in Ukraine. Ivan Zelinsky, a foreman in the sovkhoz, disarmed the pilot and sent his people to convoy the pilot to the nearby Soviet command staff. In the meanwhile, another Nazi pilot, making sure the Soviets in the field are not armed, landed close to the first airplane to set his genosse free. He shot at Zelinsky but overshot. Zelinsky knocked the gun from his hand and tied him. Both nazis were handed over to the soldiers, who arrived at the spot. Both airplanes were intact and were sent to an aviation squadron.


Mary Hopkin released a single with the only Russian song that ever topped the British charts: Those Were The Days. The song, named Dorógoy Dlínnoyu (something like The Long and Winding Road :)) was written by B.Fomin and K.Podrevsky and recorded by Alexander Vertinsky in early 1920s.


Russia: a country with an unpredictable past

I don't remember who coined the phrase from the title of this article, but its veracity has been confirmed once again recently. The first part of a new history coursebook for secondary schools, the teacher's book "History of Russia 1900-1945", was presented on the teachers' conference in the Russian Academy of teachers' training, writes newspaper Vremya. The book was written by a group of authors led by Alexander Filippov, who had already written "History of Russia 1945-2007", which caused a lot of controversies last year because of its one-sided interpretation of recent events and glorification of the politics of Putin and "United Russia". The following is the translation of some excerpts from the article in Vremya by Anatoly Bernshtein.

"The attention of the students should be concentrated on the explanation of the motives and logic behind the actions of the authorities", write the authors. So, the book is basically the history of the authorities. Here are some uncommon ideas which my grandchildren will probably have to learn: Russia never lagged behind other countries, it only fell behind in the things that "were not a part of the Russian civilization, but borrowings from outside". In 1914-1917 the Great Russian revolution, modeled after the Great French revolution, took place in Russia. The bolsheviks were guilty in the beginning of the Civil war, while the Whites "in a number of occasions represented a pro-fascist alternative to bolshevism, and had the chances to implement a nationalist model in the future". The famine in the Soviet villages in 1920s-1930s was not a result of the actions of the Soviet state, but it "was caused both by outstanding weather conditions and by the incomplete collectivization". The social structure built in the USSR by the end of the 1930s was no socialism or capitalism, but the industrial society. The pact of Molotov-Ribbentrop was a response to the Munich agreement. The entry of the Soviet troops to Poland was the liberation of Ukraine and Belorussia. The Winter war with Finland was won by the USSR who reached its goals. The USSR, probably, was preparing the preemptive war against Germany, but "Stalin assumed that he should wait for the concentration of the enemy's army for aggression, to make the planned strike look as justified self-defense, but in the summer of 1941 such plan was not yet possible". The initial defeats in the war were caused by strictly objective reasons. The mass deportations in the course of the war should be discussed with "special restraint and caution".

An even more obvious task of the book is the justification of the mass repressions in the Stalin's period. So, recognizing the fact of the mass executions of the Polish prisoners of war in Katyn by NKVD, the authors comment: "It was not only the matter of the political advisability, but also a response to the death of many thousands of Red army soldiers in the Polish prison after the 1920 war, which was initiated by Poland, not the Soviet Russia".

While in the Soviet schoolbooks the mass repressions were either hushed up or presented as a distortion of the general policy of the communist party, this book tried to give "rational" explanations to the extermination of millions of people by the Soviet regime:

It is important to show the two components of this problem. The first one is an objective force. The resistance to the Stalin's policy of accelerated modernization and his apprehension of losing control over the situation was the main cause of the "great terror". Being the only political party, VKP(b) was also the only way of getting feedback for the leaders. At the end, under the influence of the growing oppositional attitude of the Soviet people the party became environment where various political and ideological groups and trends were formed, and was losing its integrity. For Stalin it was a threat of the loss of leadership and even physical elimination (as the results of the voting on the 17th congress of VKP(b) had shown). It was also a threat of the general political destabilization. The high activity of various emigrant organizations increased his apprehension. The usage of the "fifth columns" by external forces in other countries (Spain being the best example) was thoroughly studied by the Soviet leaders. Besides, Stalin had good reasons to consider the military leaders who started their career during the Civil war Trotsky's adherers. Before the war, facing the choice between the competence and the loyalty, Stalins chose the loyalty of the army's officership and bureaucracy in general. The negative attitude among the military leaders could not be neglected. It was especially important considering the threats of terrorism against the country's leaders. The assassination of S.Kirov catalysed these processes. The ideas of the party's right wing (Bukharin and others) were popular among the party functionaries and it was necessary to oppose them both ideologically and politically. Stalin did not know whence the strike will be blown and so he attacked all known ideological groups and all those who did not support him without reservation. The second component of the matter was subjective, it was explained by the dogmatism of the bolshevist ideology and the personality of Stalin himself.

Now, what conclusions do the authors make of all this?

So, it is important to show that Stalin acted in accordance with the historical situation, acted (as a manager) on a fully rational basis — as a protector of the system, a consistent proponent of the transformation of the country into a centrally managed industrial society, as the leader of the country staring in the face of a large war.

The rational terror, the authors write, was stopped as soon as Stalin understood that the integrity of the society is not threatened anymore. And then Lavrntiy Beriya, another effective manager, began yet another project: "The terror served the goals of the industrial development: NKVD organized planned arrests of engineers and specialists necessary to solve the defense problems and other tasks in Siberia and the Far East. Terror became a pragmatic tool to solve the economic problems."

Understanding that the scales of the repressions cannot be explained by the logic of "rational management", the authors propose to review the number of the repressed people: "It must be determined clearly who may be considered repressed. We think it would be correct to include in this number only those who were sentenced to death and executed". By using this new formula, the authors refuse to recognize those who died in Gulag as victims of the repressions. This position contradicts the law of the Russian Federation "On the rehabilitation of the victims of political repressions", adopted by the president of Russia on 18 October 1991, which defines the term "repressed" as including those who were deported and removed, deprived of citizenship, exiled and so on.


Volga river voyage

So, the last two weeks of my 2008 vacations are over. We spent the first week in a riverboat voyage along the Volga river. The idea was born two or three years ago, when we returned from a trip to the Gold Ring of Russia. At last we gathered the sufficient amount of free time, money and lazyness at one point of space and time and on 3 August we went on board of "Valery Chkalov", named after the famous Soviet pilot of the 1930s. We went to the north, up the river, and soon we reached the dam of the Kuibyshev hydroelectric power station near Togliatti. The city was named Stavropol but after the dam had been built it was flooded and the people relocated to a new settlement which was named after Palmiro Togliatti, an Italian communist. We went throught the dam gates and entered the Kuibyshev water reserve, or the Kuibyshev sea as it is sometimes called. We stopped in Togliatti for only about 30 minutes and didn't see the city. We kept going north for the whole night and a half of the day and finally came to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan.


Three years ago Kazan celebrated its 1000th anniversary. Frankly speaking, until recently Kazan was thought to be much younger and the discoveries that increased the age of the city were inspired by political rather than historical motives. However, the archaeologists did find the evidences of the early history of Kazan.

The first and, actually, the only place we have seen in details was the Kazan Kremlin. It is a fortress located at the confluence of two rivers: Volga and Kazanka. The Kremlin occupies a large territory and includes many buildings, both old and new, many of which are used now by various state institutions. So, the residence of the president of Tatarstan is also in the Kremlin. The most interesting places in the Kazan Kremlin are the remains of a 10th century stone wall, the first wall of Kazan; Suyumbike tower, which, like the tower of Pisa, declines from the vertical line so that its top is 2 meters away from the place where it should be; and Kul Sharif mosque, built in 2005, a white elegant building, one of the most beautiful I have seen. There is the museum of Islam in the mosque, but, unfortunately, we had no time for a visit there. We climbed to a gallery whence we could see the internal construction, decorations and the hall for prayers. Inside it looks just as good as from the outside.

After the Kremlin, we had an hour for a walk along Bauman street, the main walking street in Kazan. Nothing special, but I think that if we had some more time to see the city we might like it much better.


Cheboksary, the capital of Chuvash autonomous republic, was named the cleanest city of Russia in 2002, if I remember correctly. It is also often called the most comfortable town or the town with the best living conditions. Because of these rumors my expectations were too high and I was slightly disappointed by Cheboksary. Indeed, it's a pleasant, green town, but I bet it was not the cleanest city I have seen.

But we were pleasantly surprised by the way they met us: with folk songs and dances, in folk costumes, with bread and salt, as the Russian tradition says.

Cheboksary are located on the bank of a relatively new water reserve and after the flooding the reserve formed a little inlet right in the centre of the city. They built three high fountains in the middle of this inlet and the place became one of the best sights in Cheboksary.

But most of all I liked the museum of mineralogy. When I was a boy, I was deeply interested in geology, but there are no geological museums in Samara, so I enjoyed this small, but packed with showpieces, museum. But once again, we didn't have much time and I could not make all photos I wanted to :).


This small town is located in Mari El republic. It was raining when we came there and we were all wet when we came back. Actually, during all our voyage the weather was quite cold (down to 13-15°C and rainy). In spite of all this, I liked Kozmodemyansk. We saw the old part of the town and it's really cozy. Old houses decorated with the ornaments carved in wood remind of the time when they were typical for all cities on Volga, including Samara. Unfortunately, the land they stand on is too attractive for our newborn capitalists and the old houses burn way too often. It's a shame that in Samara most of old houses are already lost. In their places new ones are built: kitchy, rich-looking and tasteless.

In Kozmodemyansk we went to see the ethnographical museum where the life of Mari families of 18th-19th centuries is presented. They have a large peasant's house, a mill and a number of other buildings necessary in the peasants life, like a smithery or a summer kitchen. A really interesting place.

On the way back, when my family ran to hide from the rain, I visited yet another museum: the museum of the merchant's life. It is located in the old house of a local 19th century merchant and features many things from that time. The museum seems to be very young and even the two museums of S.Aksakov I saw recently have better expositions. And yet, I wasn't sorry about visiting it: the atmosphere is very warm and nice people work there.

Nizhny Novgorod

Of course, it was the culmination of our trip. Nizhny Novgorod (literally, "the lower New Town", as opposed to Veliky Novgorod, "the great New Town") was founded by knyaz Yuri Vsevolodovich in 1225, I think. It was built at the confluence of two important Russian waterways, Volga and Oka, and quickly became on of the important cities, a centre of trade and industry. In 17th century, during the Times of Trouble, knyaz Pozharsky and a kraftsman Minin gathered an army here, led it to Moscow and forced the army of Wladislaw, prince of Poland, elected tsar of Russia, to leave the country. In 19th century Alexey Peshkov was born here. Later he became famous under nom-de-plume Maxim Gorky. In the Soviet times Nizhny Novgorod was renamed to Gorky after this Soviet writer (he was very angry at this). After the fall of the USSR, it became Nizhny Novgorod again. In the 21st century, when Putin reformed the adminstrative system of Russia, trying to take as much as possible under his personal control, Nizhny Novgorod became the capital of the so called "Volga river federal district". When I saw the city, I understood why Samara had no chances in the competition for the name of the capital. Nizhny Novgorod reconciles the best features of a large centre and a typical city of Volga merchants. It is both huge and comfortable, administrative and industrial, rich and artistic.

Nizhny Novgorod is separated by Oka in two parts. The southern part is the oldest, the Kremlin is located here and the best places for tourists are here. The northern part is where the city works and makes money.

We saw only the southern part and it was full of historically meaningful places. So, we saw a restored 16th century building, a number of small wooden houses that reminded us of the small Kozmodemyansk, 19th century apartment buildings and modern administrative palaces.

There are no especially interesting buildings in Kremlin, unlike what we saw in Kazan, but there are some good places on the hills, whence the valley of Volga is seen for tens of kilometres to all sides.

At last we had enough time to take a walk around the city and we thought that the city shows some very distinctive spirit that makes it different and we liked it.


Makaryev is best known for its famous monastery. It happened so that we arrived there one day before the day of St.Makarius, who the monastery and the village are named after. I am all fed up with monasteries and I preferred to have a look at the ostrich farm. Unfortunately, I didn't take the camera. Anyway, I'm sure you've seen enough ostriches in your life, so I got an even better photo here. The dog is lying on a haystack and there's the monastery wall behind. It reminded us of "The dog in the manger" by Lope de Vega (even more so because the Russian title of the play is "The dog in the hay") :).


Kozlovka is a really tiny town and it gets smaller each year as its denizens leave to larger cities for work and "luxuries" of the megapolis. Being an idle tourist from a city with more than a million people living there, I liked the feeling of freedom that comes from walking in the middle of the road and knowing there won't be cars honking at you and drivers expressing their opinion about your IQ. But we found at least two other people who live there and like Kozlovka. They are two ladies from a local museum. The museum is not an average nature and history exposition that is not visited by anyone but the staff and that you sometimes find in such small charming places. No, it is the Nikolay Lobachevsky museum. People with math background certainly know who is Lobachevsky, others are kindly asked to follow to Wikipedia. Besides being a genius mathematician, Lobachevsky was the head of the Kazan university. I was really glad to learn that he was also the director of the university library. I myself spent some years working in a library and deep down in my soul still proud of it. After the retirement, Lobachevsky bought a house in a village that later became a part of Kozlovka. The house was saved from demolition and moved to a new place, where it now stands.

The exposition includes many documents (copies, of course), books by Lobachevsky, photos, etc. Of course, the museum tries to make the exposition as wide as possible and it covers the geography, zoology and archaeology of the region quite well.

Kozlovka was the last place on our way and it was a good way to end the voyage.

And finally, some photos from somewhere on Volga.