Soviet television shows California (1976)

What did the Soviet people know about USA? How did they see America? California Today is a short documentary (26 minutes) made in 1976 by the Soviet television. Nature, American working class, banks, roads and cars, Hollywood, military-industrial complex, Berkley university, students protests, conservatory and rock music, beaches, immigrants, Disneyland.

Music includes "My Beautiful Balloon" and "One of These Days".

The web-site CCCP.TV is an online archive of Soviet TV programs: political, for kids, concerts, sports, travel, party congresses... See, for example, one-hour long the First of May parade in Moscow in 1974 or ice hockey match USSR-Canada in 1960.

The archive is not a large one, but I do hope they will grow.


Two blogs you really have to look at

The first one is a brilliantly erratic Poemas del río Wang. Multilingual, colorful, aimless, meditative and absolute must read.

The second one is in Russian, but in most cases all you need to read is the year in the post title. Visual History (a.k.a. "Photo archives to the people!") is a collection of old photographs. Mostly, but not exclusively, Russian, including the famous photos by Prokudin-Gorsky and equally brilliant images made in USSR by journalists of the "Life" magazine Howard Sochurek and Carl Mydans. Absolute must see.

Here are some links to articles in Visual History:

P.S.: while writing, I found also this collection of photographs: Kansas City with a Russian accent.


Illustrations to War and Peace

I've found an old album of watercolor illustrations to “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy. The illustrations were published in 1893 as a free supplement to magazine “Sever” (North). The titles are (in order):

  1. Battery of captain Tushin near Schoengraben
  2. Napoleon and emperor Alexander I meeting in Tilsit
  3. The first ball of Natasha Rostova
  4. Rostovs hunt with hounds in Otradnoye
  5. Rostovs go to Melyukovs on yule
  6. Napoleon and Lavrushka during the march from Vyazma to Tsarevo-Zaimische
  7. Kutuzov on Polkonnaya mount before the war council in Fili
  8. Count Rostopchin and merchant's son Vereshchagin near the governor's house in Moscow
  9. Natasha Rostova and Andrey Bolkonsky in Mytishchi
  10. The French execute arsonists in Moscow
  11. Death of Petya Rostov

Below you can see a preview of the album (all 20 pages):

Press the icon in the lower right corner of the preview to switch to fullscreen.

To download the full PDF file, right-click in the preview window and select Download document...


How we almost killed each other

In 2009, I wrote about a fictional occupation of the USSR by the USA: The World War that never happened. Recently, I learned about some more wars that never happened. Or was it the same war?

The article was published at OrientalReview.org: Britain Planned to Attack USSR on June 12, 1941

The first potential war took place in the early 1940, when Britain and France planned an invasion into the Soviet Union. Yugoslavian, Romanian, Greek and Turkish armies, directed by British and French governments, had to attack Soviet Caucasus and from the Balkans. Perhaps, this was why they had rejected the Soviet proposal to join forces to contain the Nazi Germany.

The goal of the second potential war (June-July 1940) were Soviet oil fields: “Baku bombing would put the Soviets into the critical situation, as long as Moscow requires every single drop of oil that is produced today in order to provide the fuel for the Soviet motorized units and the agricultural equipment”.

The Soviet oil fields worried the European allies even in 1941: “On the 12th of June Heads of Staff Committee decided to assume the measures that would allow to conduct the strikes against the oil refining plants in Baku using the average bombers from Mosul in Iraqi Kurdistan without any delays”

Some years later, when the Soviet Union recuperated after the WWII, the Soviets managed to retaliate. At least, in the same potential way. The “Parallel History Project on Cooperative Security (PHP)” features a huge amount of Warsaw Pact documents, including some war plans, like this 1964 plan: “This war plan provides describes the operations of the Czechoslovak People's Army in wartime. Under the scenario, the NATO countries launch surprise nuclear strikes against the main political and economic centers of Czechoslovakia. It also assumes that the combat actions of both NATO and Warsaw Pact troops in the initial period of war will have the character of forward contact battles. It offers conclusions as to the anticipated opposing NATO units and enemy war aims. The document lists the specific tasks and lines of advance for major elements of the Czechoslovak People's Army, with the main axis of attack concentrated in the direction of Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Strasbourg, and Epinal, and with the aim of holding the areas of Langres, Besançon, and Epinal one week after the outbreak of war.”

As far as I can understand, the Soviet war plans were based on the premise that NATO would attack first. The NATO plans seem to agree.


Rodric Braithwaite on the Afghan war 1979-89

Rodric Braithwaite, former U.K. ambassador to Russia and the author of the book “Afgantsy. The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89” was interviewed by Olga Smirnova from the BBC Russian Service. The original text of the interview is here: "Афганцы": новая книга бывшего британского посла в Москве. I could not find the English text, so below is an automatic translation made by Google, where I fixed the most obvious errors, trying to make the text a bit easier to understand.

The book "Afgantsy. The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-89" by Sir Rodric Braithwaite, British ambassador to Moscow from 1988 to 1992, was published in Britain.

After 1992, Rodric Braithwaite was, in particular, advisor to Prime Minister John Major on international affairs and chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee.

"Afgantsy" is the third book of Braithwaite. The previous one, "Moscow 1941: the city and its inhabitants," was devoted to the Battle of Moscow. The new book continues the theme of the people at war. BBC correspondent BBC Olga Smirnova interviewed the author.

BBC: Why did you choose this topic for the new book?

Rodric Braithwaite: I think there are few good books, especially in the West, about what really happened in Afghanistan. And I am very sympathetic to the Soviet soldiers who fought there. They were strongly criticized outside the Soviet Union and in Russia.

As in my previous book on Russia, I wanted to explain to the Western reader that there is nothing unusual in Russians and that they are people just like us. They are no worse and no better than us. And you can understand Russian politicians, Russian soldiers, Soviet women who served in Afghanistan, and there were many - they can be understood in human terms.

I would like to amend the myths about the Afghan war, which existed during the Cold War.

BBC: What do you think were those myths?

RB: In the West there are two main myths about the Afghan war. The first - that when invading Afghanistan, the Soviet Union pursued imperial aims, that is, that they wanted to expand the Soviet empire and would jeopardize the supply of oil to the West from the Gulf countries.

Of course, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan for very different reasons. The Soviet Union launched the Afghan campaign for defensive purposes. Their concern was the instability in Afghanistan, which bordered on the USSR. The Soviets were concerned, probably wrongly, that Americans would use Afghan territory against the interests of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet leaders were also worried by drug trafficking from Afghanistan.

And it is true that the Soviet leaders hoped to build a better society in Afghanistan.Similar hopes were in Western countries before the recent invasion of Afghanistan.

A second major myth is associated with the reasons why the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan. It did not happen because the Soviet Union was defeated in this war. Nobody won a victory over the 40-th army. The army itself left Afghanistan, because it became obvious that the war was futile, it clearly did not achieve the goals.

The third myth is that a major role in the Afghan war was played by Stinger anti-aircraft guided missiles supplied by the Americans to the Mujahideen. This is totally wrong. Gorbachev invited the Afghan leader to Moscow in 1985 and told him that the Soviet troops are going to withdraw from Afghanistan, and the first Soviet helicopter was show down by a Stinger only 11 months after this conversation. So the weapons supplied by the U.S. had no effect on the political decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.

Well, probably, the last myth is that the war in Afghanistan was a particularly brutal war. Yes, the Soviets bombed villages, killing many civilians. But what happened in Afghanistan was no worse than what had happened in Vietnam. War is always cruel. And all military interventions are particularly brutal, especially when combined with the civil war, as it was in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

BBC: When writing the book you talked to a lot of veterans. What's new did you discover talking to them?

RB: I was most surprised that the veterans are returning to Afghanistan, where they were fought. They meet the people they fought against. I did not expect it. They return to Afghanistan as tourists.

On YouTube you can watch films they made in Afghanistan. They return to the outposts, where they served for many months. They come to Afghanistan because they love this country and love the Afghans.

BBC: In 2008 you visited Afghanistan. How do they now recall the war of 1979-89?

RB: In 2008 I asked the Afghans, when it was better in Afghanistan - with the Russians or now?

And Afghans always answered: "Why do you ask such a stupid question? Of course, it was better when the Russians had been here."

Even one of the Mujahideen, with whom I spoke told me that "At least, the Russians fought as honest soldiers, and Americans simply destroy us from the air."

BBC: In your book you intentionally avoid comparing the Afghan war of 1979-89, and the current war?

RB: Of course, intentionally, because between there is a big difference between the wars. My book is historical one, not political, and I'm not trying to enter in controversy.

While there are parallels between the two wars, may the readers themselves think about it.

Western politicians are now saying that we will prevail in Afghanistan.

We say that we will leave there, when a strong government and a strong Afghan army will appear in Kabul and then things will be fine in Afghanistan.

The Soviet leaders told the same, but after they had stopped supporting the government of Najibullah, the Afghan civil war started.

One has only to read Clausewitz to realize that military victory does not mean much without a political victory.

BBC: In the book you often rely on the memoirs of Soviet politicians. How reasonable is this, considering that in memoirs the events are often distorted?

RB: Of course, a memoir is an unreliable source of information. But the story in general can not be completely impartial.

Even the archival documents can not be objective, as is thought by historians.

I am a former civil servant, and I know how the documents are written and why. It's not that simple.

BBC: Some of the Afghan Mujahideen claim that the world should be grateful to them, since they, when waging a struggle with the Soviet Union, caused the downfall of communism. In your opinion, are they right?

RB: This is a huge exaggeration. I do not want to belittle the achievements of the Mujahideen. But they failed to win the 40 th Army, which left Afghanistan on their own will, in an organized way.

The Soviet Union dissolved because of many, many factors. And the Afghan war is just a small factor.

It is true that the war in Afghanistan has helped to undermine the faith of ordinary Soviet people in their government. I do not know whether this is true, but Chernobyl had even more influence on public opinion.

BBC: In recent years, several films about the Afghan war were made in Russia, there was a number of publications, particularly during the celebration of the 20 anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. Do you think Russia is still trying to comprehend the war?

RB: There are few good films about the Afghan war. Among those the veterans like, a really good movie is "Afghan Breakdown", filmed in 1991. Мне кажется, что он достоверно изображает войну. It seems to me that it portrays the war accurately. Veterans do not like the "Ninth company", which enjoyed success in Russia and abroad.

As for the comprehension of the war, many those who served in Afghanistan, say more and more often that when Yeltsin cancelled the supply of weapons, fuel and food to the Afghan leader Najibullah, it was a betrayal, and led to Najibullah's downfall.

BBC: During the war years of 1979-89 up to half a million civilians were killed in Afghanistan, and three million have become refugees, which is a large figure for a country with 15 million people. В популярных книгах о войне часто происходит обезличивание местного населения вражеской страны и его страданий. In the popular books about the war the local population of enemy countries and their suffering are often depersonalized. And this leads to the fact that cruelty against this faceless population becomes more acceptable. When paying attention mainly to Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan, don't you do the same?

Р.Б.: Я написал эту книгу, потому что Запад обезличил русских солдат в Афганистане. RB: I wrote this book because the West deprived of individuality the Russian soldiers in Afghanistan. And I wanted to repay it, pay attention to them and portray them as people and not as an enemy.

I did not write about the Mujahideen, because many have already written about them before me.

I hope that the reader does not have the impression that I was demonizing the Mujahideen. They were brave fighters. Yes, sometimes they showed the cruelty, as well as Russians did.

I think that in any war demonization of the enemy is inevitable.Then it is easier to get soldiers to fight.

I hope that my book makes it clear my attitude to the war - that war is horrible, but that, unfortunately, the desire to fight is an innate human trait.

I do not think the wars will ever stop, which means that we will continue to demonize the enemy. It's human nature.


Autobiography by Grigory Grigorov

I can't say I enjoy reading about that scary period of the Russian history called the Civil War, but I often read memoirs about those years. I often think about their authors: what did they think, what did they feel, what did they hope for, what made them join one or the other side in that war. The war must have started subtly, creepingly, insensibly. Some of them were, probably, afraid of the German army, but then the Reds or the Whites came to the city and the people faced a simple choice: they could join that army or become, well, subjects of preventive actions. Had I lived in 1919 or 1920, I would, probably, try to avoid both sides, but, of course, I dislike the bolsheviks more. Could it have been the other way round if I really lived then? I believe, yes. Because I am sure that the communists were not all bloodthirsty maniacs. Like Whites, the Reds fought for a better life for the people. Well, some of them did.

Recently, I finished reading memoirs of Grigory Grigorov. He was born in 1900 in Ukraine, in a family of a poor tailor. The book starts in 1905, when his family lived in Aleksandrovsk, with one of his first recollections, a pogrom. In 1911, he graduated from a five-year Jewish school and started working: at a footwear factory, as a newspaper boy, an assistant at a barbershop... In 1915 he made acquaintance with a couple of students who ran education groups for workers and who helped him find good books, and he started learning. In just two years, Grigory managed to prepare for the gymnasium exams, which included math, geography, history, physics, chemistry, biology, German and Latin languages. In 1917, he was already reading Caesar in Latin and Schiller in German. At the same time, he read philosophy books, books about religion, classical Greek literature, Shakespeare's works. What's more important, these two students who became his close friends, were socialists. They introduced him to Marxism. By that time Grigorov was working at a factory, and the choice of socialism was quite natural for him.

He mentions some people, like young turner Bondarenko or foundryman Likhachov, who told him unanimously that the revolution, should it happen, would fail, because the workers would not be able to keep the power. "Either bourgeois, or opportunists would exploit the movement of the Russian proletariat", they told. Grigorov was not that pessimistic, so he joined the socialist party. In 1919, he worked as a spy on the territory occupied/liberated by the White Army. He was caught and put to jail, but liberated by anarchists of Nestor Makhno. Since then, he treated anarchists with respect. For a year he fought in the Red Army, but for some personal reason he prefers not to tell a lot about this period. In 1920, he decides that he has had enough and goes to Moscow. He always wanted to learn, so he enters the Moscow State University, where he studies philosophy and social sciences. In 1922 he entered the philosophical department of Institute of Red Professors.

It was a magnificent period for him, when he met a lot of great figures of the Russian culture: Mayakovsky, Stanislavsky, Chaliapin, Yesenin, when he was lectured by famous scientists and talked to influential politicians. In 1923, the bell rang. Someone reported to the party Central Committee that he promoted anti-Marxist views. As a warning, he was sent as a lecturer to a small town, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, then to Siberia: to Tomsk and then to Novosibirsk.

The first volume of the memoirs, the only one I had, ends in 1927. The other volumes were not published in Russia, but, fortunately, I found a blog of Grigorov's grand-daughter (Russian History). You can find a short synopsis of the whole book in a much better English there. Besides, that blog features large extracts from the books, so I will not go into further details. The blog authors told me they had published the second and the third volumes in Israel. These volumes cover Grigorov's life from the first arrest in 1928, return home in 1930, second arrest in 1934, twenty years in prison and all the following life in USSR. In the foreword to the first volume, the author promises some interesting news in the following books. So, he tells about a group of army officers who in 1926 met with Trotsky to propose a putsch to overthrow Stalin...

What is so interesting about this book? Firstly, it's a detailed description of life in the early USSR. Secondly, it is one of few biographies written by the people from the other side of the revolution. And, finally, to a certain degree, it has explained to me the way of thinking of the people who fought in the Red Army for the bolsheviks. Grigorov, like many others, was disappointed with the way the things went. I'd say he should have listened better to the wise people, like Bondarenko and Likhachov. There's a bunch of things where I would disagree with Grigory Grigorov, but he had made his choice and the book is a frank justification of that choice.

A bit later I read another book of memoirs, by Sergei Golitsyn, son of prince Mikhail Golitsyn, who, of course, disliked the bolsheviks. Actually, he never even tried to oppose them, but he hated them with all his heart. Paradoxically, this book has also helped me understand what brought people to the camp of the revolutionaries. Golitsyn's aristocratic arrogance and disdain towards all those who belong to the lower classes really made me feel what the bolsheviks must have called "the class feeling". So, Grigorov was not really that wrong when he joined the revolution, I believe. His books is a valuable source of information and I hope it will be made available in English soon. At least, Russian edition is already available in the library of Harvard university.


A quotation from Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

One more post to commemorate 100th anniversary of the death of count Leo Tolstoy. Below is a quotation from L. Tolstoy's essay “The kingdom of god is within you”. In spite of the title, this is not a study in religion. It's a strong political statement, absolutely modern even though it was written 120 years ago (from July 1890 to May 1893).

Governments and the ruling classes no longer take their stand on right or even on the semblance of justice, but on a skillful organization carried to such a point of perfection by the aid of science that everyone is caught in the circle of violence and has no chance of escaping from it. This circle is made up now of four methods of working upon men, joined together like the limes of a chain ring.

The first and oldest method is intimidation. This consists in representing the existing state organization--whatever it may be, free republic or the most savage despotism--as something sacred and immutable, and therefore following any efforts to alter it with the cruellest punishments. This method is in use now--as it has been from olden times--wherever there is a government: in Russia against the so-called Nihilists, in America against Anarchists, in France against Imperialists, Legitimists, Communards, and Anarchists.

Railways, telegraphs, telephones, photographs, and the great perfection of the means of getting rid of men for years, without killing them, by solitary confinement, where, hidden from the world, they perish and are forgotten, and the many other modern inventions employed by government, give such power that when once authority has come into certain hands, the police, open and secret, the administration and prosecutors, jailers and executioners of all kinds, do their work so zealously that there is no chance of overturning the government, however cruel and senseless it may be.

The second method is corruption. It consists in plundering the industrious working people of their wealth by means of taxes and distributing it in satisfying the greed of officials, who are bound in return to support and keep up the oppression of the people. These bought officials, from the highest ministers to the poorest copying clerks, make up an unbroken network of men bound together by the same interest--that of living at the expense of the people. They become the richer the more submissively they carry out the will of the government; and at all times and places, sticking at nothing, in all departments support by word and deed the violence of government, on which their own prosperity also rests.

The third method is what I can only describe as hypnotizing the people. This consists in checking the moral development of men, and by various suggestions keeping them back in the ideal of life, outgrown by mankind at large, on which the power of government rests. This hypnotizing process is organized at the present in the most complex manner, and starting from their earliest childhood, continues to act on men till the day of their death. It begins in their earliest years in the compulsory schools, created for this purpose, in which the children have instilled into them the ideas of life of their ancestors, which are in direct antagonism with the conscience of the modern world. In countries where there is a state religion, they teach the children the senseless blasphemies of the Church catechisms, together with the duty of obedience to their superiors. In republican states they teach them the savage superstition of patriotism and the same pretended obedience to the governing authorities.

The process is kept up during later years by the encouragement of religious and patriotic superstitions.

The religious superstition is encouraged by establishing, with money taken from the people, temples, processions, memorials, and festivals, which, aided by painting, architecture, music, and incense, intoxicate the people, and above all by the support of the clergy, whose duty consists in brutalizing the people and keeping them in a permanent state of stupefaction by their teaching, the solemnity of their services, their sermons, and their interference in private life--at births, deaths, and marriages. The patriotic superstition is encouraged by the creation, with money taken from the people, of national fêtes, spectacles, monuments, and festivals to dispose men to attach importance to their own nation, and to the aggrandizement of the state and its rulers, and to feel antagonism and even hatred for other nations. With these objects under despotic governments there is direct prohibition against printing and disseminating books to enlighten the people, and everyone who might rouse the people from their lethargy is exiled or imprisoned. Moreover, under every government without exception everything is kept back that might emancipate and everything encouraged that tends to corrupt the people, such as literary works tending to keep them in the barbarism of religious and patriotic superstition, all kinds of sensual amusements, spectacles, circuses, theaters, and even the physical means of inducing stupefaction, as tobacco and alcohol, which form the principal source of revenue of states. Even prostitution is encouraged, and not only recognized, but even organized by the government in the majority of states. So much for the third method.

The fourth method consists in selecting from all the men who have been stupefied and enslaved by the three former methods a certain number, exposing them to special and intensified means of stupefaction and brutalization, and so making them into a passive instrument for carrying out all the cruelties and brutalities needed by the government. This result is attained by taking them at the youthful age when men have not had time to form clear and definite principles of morals, and removing them from all natural and human conditions of life, home, family and kindred, and useful labor. They are shut up together in barracks, dressed in special clothes, and worked upon by cries, drums, music, and shining objects to go through certain daily actions invented for this purpose, and by this means are brought into an hypnotic condition in which they cease to be men and become mere senseless machines, submissive to the hypnotizer. These physically vigorous young men (in these days of universal conscription, all young men), hypnotized, armed with murderous weapons, always obedient to the governing authorities and ready for any act of violence at their command, constitute the fourth and principal method of enslaving men.

By this method the circle of violence is completed.

Intimidation, corruption, and hypnotizing bring people into a condition in which they are willing to be soldiers; the soldiers give the power of punishing and plundering them (and purchasing officials with the spoils), and hypnotizing them and converting them in time into these same soldiers again.

The circle is complete, and there is no chance of breaking through it by force.

Translated by Constance Garnett, 1894. The full text of the essay is available here: “The kingdom of god is within you”


Leo Tolstoy left his home 100 years ago. “War and Peace” and history

When I started reading “War and Peace” one month ago, I didn't even remember about the upcoming hundredth anniversary of Tolstoy's death. Today, I finished reading it and it happens that this is the day when one hundred years ago (28 October Old Style, 10 November New Style), Leo Tolstoy left his home together with his personal doctor Makovitsky. Tolstoy planned to escape from the annoying life in the comfortable mansion and to spend his last years in poverty and honesty. The doctor didn't quite understand Tolstoy, he thought they are going to visit some family members and didn't take enough money. Tolstoy kissed his daughter, took the suitcase and they left. They took third class railway tickets and departed to Kozelsk. A lot of people smoked in the car and Tolstoy had to go outside for fresh air. He spent about 45 minutes outside and these three quarters of an hour were crucial. Ten days later Tolstoy died of pneumonia on the railway station Astapovo. So smoking killed one of the most famous Russian writers.

Well, the story of his life and death is more or less well known and you can read his biography in almost any language. I would like to talk today about his novel “War and Peace”. Tolstoy wrote later that the novel is fiction and that it may distort history to comply with the author's intentions. Indeed, there is a large number of inconsistencies, contradictions and anachronisms in the book. Let's have a look at some of them.

Do you know how the Russian text begins? Here's the first paragraph:

— Eh bien, mon prince. Gênes et Lueques ne sont plus que des apanages, des поместья, de la famille Buonaparte. Non, je vous préviens que si vous ne me dites pas que nous avons la guerre, si vous vous permettez encore de pallier toutes les infamies, toutes les atrocités de cet Antichrist (ma parole, j'y crois) — je ne vous connais plus, vous n'êtes plus mon ami, vous n'êtes plus мой верный раб, comme vous dites

This is the original Russian text, and I mean it :) Later in the novel, Tolstoy also mentions some noble whose patriotic feelings made him learn speaking Russian. Of course, Russian aristocrats of the 19th century usually spoke very good French, but Tolstoy is wrong here. In the first decade of the century, foreign-speaking aristocrats were rare. Those who lived in Russia, had to talk to their servants (and sometimes they spoke in a folksy manner for this reason). Only those who were born in abroad, spoke some foreign language sufficiently well. And this language was hardly ever French, because after the revolution of 1789 very few Russian aristocrats visited the lawless and rebellious France, they preferred Germany. Strange enough, but French became popular in the aristocratic salons after the Napoleonic wars, when children grew up who were raised in 1790s-1800s by French tutors, who fled from the revolution to Russia.

The family of Kuragins is painted by Tolstoy in a rather strange manner. Tolstoy dislikes them and his feelings are seen even in the names of the family members. So, the name Hippolyte is outstandingly unaristocratic. This name was typical for bourgeoisie, especially Polish. The title “prince Hippolyte” must have sounded absurd in 1805. His sister's name is Helene. Her name looks French, but it wasn't used among French nobility because of its foreign, Anglo-German sound. In Russia of the early 19th century, the name associated with Russified Germans. Just as often the name may be found in the form “Länchen”, purely German (the name of the wife of Faddey Bulgarin). The brother of Hippolyte and Helene has the name Anatole. The name is neutral, but extremely rare in all countries of that time.

The novel begins in the aristocratic salon of Anna Scherer, maid of honor of the Empress. Another one of Tolstoy's errors. You see, maid of honour was not just a title. She was a maid, she could not be married. And maids absolutely could not invite guests, except for close relatives, and only during the day. So, a salon of a maid would be a flagrant violation of the public norms.

Besides, in July 1805 the guests of Anna Scherer would be out of the city, all of them. The royal family with all the courtiers would leave St. Petersburg to the summer residence. Army officers (including, for example, Dolokhov) would be in the summer camps.

Anatole Kuragin asks princess Mary for her hand in marriage, but he was only twenty years old. It was too early for him to marry. Later, he tries to run away with Natasha Rostova, even though he knows he cannot marry her (he had been married by that time). He should have known that Natasha was not a plebeian gal, she was a lady and ladies were not that defenceless. Firstly, Natasha's brothers would have demanded satisfaction. Secondly, Rostovs were a noble family and could have complained to the emperor himself, and his rage would have been quick and merciless. So, prince S. Trubetskoy was deprived of his title and property and sent to the army as a mere soldier when he tried to run away with a married lady.

Helene Kuragin wanted to divorce Pierre Bezukhov so much that she converted to catholicism, writes Tolstoy. Well, actually, she didn't have to. She could have divorced without much problems, because of the long time they lived separately. It was a legitimate reason for divorce. On the other hand, in 1812 the number of conversions to catholicism, always very small, dropped to zero. The problem was that the order of Jesuits was disbanded by the Pope in 1773 and restored only in 1814. In the meanwhile, the Jesuits found a shelter in Russia and their situation was so unstable that they would not risk losing the favor of the emperor by proselytizing.

Tolstoy writes about Prince Andrew: “After the Austerlitz campaign Prince Andrew had firmly resolved not to continue his military service, and when the war recommenced and everybody had to serve, he took a post under his father in the recruitment so as to avoid active service.” It was hardly probably, since nobody could make a Russian aristocrat to serve unless he wanted to. This freedom was granted by the 1762 Manifesto of Peter III.

When Natasha Rostova visited her uncle, she danced in typical Russian manner, says Tolstoy: “Where, how, and when had this young countess, educated by an emigree French governess, imbibed from the Russian air she breathed that spirit and obtained that manner which the pas de chale would, one would have supposed, long ago have effaced? But the spirit and the movements were those inimitable and unteachable Russian ones... She did the right thing with such precision, such complete precision, that Anisya Fedorovna, who had at once handed her the handkerchief she needed for the dance, had tears in her eyes, though she laughed as she watched this slim, graceful countess, reared in silks and velvets and so different from herself, who yet was able to understand all that was in Anisya and in Anisya's father and mother and aunt, and in every Russian man and woman.”

But Natasha spent a large part of her life in village and she had to have seen the village girls dancing and, of course, she knew the folk style of dancing.

Now, Pierre Bezukhov. When he first appeared in the book, “Anna Pavlovna greeted him with the nod she accorded to the lowest hierarchy in her drawing room”, because he was a bastard, but the bastards were not treated this way even in the highest society. So, another bastard, N. Novosiltsev, the base son of the sister of the Count Stroganov, was one of the “young friends” of the emperor Alexander.

In the age of ten, Pierre left Russia and spent another ten years abroad, and yet, unlike Hippolyte Kuragin, he speaks Russian very well.

Pierre's ties with the freemasons do not look very trustworthy. By that time the old-fashioned rituals of freemasons were already looked upon sarcastically, their Golden Age was in mid-18th century.

The funny thing with all these (and many other) anachronisms is that even when you are aware of them, the novel remains a masterpiece. You understand the characters better, the storyline becomes straight and clear. After all, Tolstoy is still a great writer, even though his Russian style looks so awkward that many Russian readers turn to hatred. So, one of very good science fiction writers, Svyatoslav Loginov, agnrily criticizes “War and Peace” for the last fifty pages, where Tolstoy explain his philosophy of history. I agree, these final pages are unbearable (and I never read them to the end). And yet, the book is great. The battle scenes are overwhelming, the plot is absorbing, the characters are vivid and the language is unmistakably Tolstoyesque: awkward but precise.

If you ask me, the best character in the book is Kutuzov, the master of zen war, who defeated Napoleon by escaping him. Oh, and the best reason to love “War and Peace” is not in the book. She is in the movie, and you know her name: Audrey Hepburn :).

This post is heavily based on the information borrowed from the article “Historical Context in Fiction: Aristocratic Society in the Novel ‘War and Peace’” by Ye. Tsimbayeva, published in the magazine «Вопросы литературы» 2004, №5. The full text is available here: “Исторический контекст в художественном образе (Дворянское общество в романе «Война и мир»)”


Report of Russian secret police on moral and political state in the country. 150 years ago, sorry

Since 1827, The Third Section of His Imperial Majesty's Own Chancellery produced special reports for the tsar, describing the moral and political situation in the Russian society. Four years ago, a large share of these reports was published by the Russian State Archive. Below are some short excerpts from the report summarizing the events of 1860, 150 years ago. Five years had passed since the coronation of Alexander II and only one year remained till the most important act of liberalism in Russia in 19th century (the last three words were, probably, not necessary).

Moral and political review of 1860

On revolutionary projects

For thirty years already, the aggregations of political emigrants in England, France, Belgium and Switzerland have constituted the source of all destructive projects in Europe. The revolutionary propaganda was led by Joseph Mazzini, the tireless advocate of the Italian freedom and the universal republic, in which this dreamer sees the future of the humanity...

The bombs, thrown in 1858 in Paris by Orsini, have proven the extreme danger of the ideas of the emancipation of Italy for the French throne...

Politicians see in the preparations for the popular resistance certain signs of the upcoming merge of the Italian question with the Hungarian, Polish and the Eastern questions. The future may confirm this guess, but it is already clearly seen that the tools chosen for these plans prove their revolutionary and democratic nature.

On Polish expatriates

The Polish emigrants include the expatriates of 1832 and 1848. The former, due to their number and influence, are more important than the latter, who mostly left Poland in young age, because of their inclination to life of leisure, without strict political principles...

According to the directions given in the speech [by Adam Czartoryski], instructions were sent to the Poles in the Tsardom to do nothing till the liberation of peasants [...] but that they should make the Polish peasants believe that the Polish aristocrats forced the Tsar to liberate them.

In the meanwhile, the hopes of the Polish emigrants in Paris and in London are based on the events being prepared in Hungary. They plan that either the rebellion in Hungary in which Poles would participate may become useful for their own rebellion, or that the Hungary, reformed by Austria, will provide them with the moral grounds to demand the reformation of Poland.

On Russian expatriates

In 1860, the number of Russians who left their Fatherland and explicitly joined the opposition, has grown. Some of the most important of them are: 1) Prince Peter Dolgorukov, the author of the book titled "La Verite sur la Russie". Having published the book in Paris, he departed to London, making acquaintance with Herzen and Ogarev. As far as we know, his book was recognized abroad as malicious vilification of the all Russian state and the ruling Dynasty and damaged his reputation among people of reason...

2) Prince Yuri Golitsyn, who fled from Russia due to the being justly punished for the improper correspondence withe Herzen. Because of his narrow-mindedness, he could not succeed in literature and has to earn his living by giving concerts in London and other cities...

3) Someone Kisleyev or Kisteltsev, young man in the age of 28, who calls himself doctor of medicine, while others think he is a clergyman... On 17 [29] November, on the day of anniversary of Polish revolution, Kisleyev was present on the meeting and spoke in favor of revolution.

4) Hierodeacon Agapy, who broke with the archimandrite and fled to London.

All mentioned above have joined the circle of Herzen and Ogarev, who continue their maleficent publications. According to secret information, there are other Russian citizens who did not proclaim their animosity towards the legitimate government but do participate in revolutionary projects. So, it is known that two Russians, retired officer Dietmars and retired state official Mechnikov, fought in the army of Garibaldi.


The constitutional rights of the Great Duchy of Poznan give their citizens right to advocate patriotic feelings in public, while promoting hatred to all things German... The government views it forbearingly, as if being afraid of decisive measures. While the Poznan Poles made no rebellious actions in this year, they took every opportunity to prepare the population for such rebellions. Their main weapon in this year was the accusation of police by deputy Niegolewski (probably, Władysław Niegolewski. DM), who suggested that the police was responsible for the sending of fake proclamations, putting Poles on political actions... On the other hand, the demands to allow usage of Polish language in courts never stopped. There were occasions when the prisoners refused to reply in German, pretending they do not understand.


The patriotic sentiments were strongest among university students in Krakow, who demanded the lectures in Polish to be allowed by sending the deputy to Vienna, who beat the education inspector who tried to keep them inside the university to prevent demonstrations, who sang the songs from the 1830 rebellion during morning walks and often met in on of the city caffees. An anonymous letter was received, reporting that the students formed a secret society during these meetings. Investigations are underway. Among the people involved in the society, the most important seems to be the retired lieutenant of the Russian army Narcyz Jankowski (Link in Polish. DM) who was mentioned in the letter. In September, Jankowski was arrested on the border and delivered to Krakow.

Lieutenant Jankowski, son of a landlord from Kiev region, retired in 1857. For 3 years he lived in Warsaw, making acquaintances and hosting meetings with public book readings. During the arrest, Jankowski managed to destroy some papers. Among the papers found in his apartment were draft program of a Polish democratic committee in Paris, instruction to the secret societies to begin armed rebellion all over Poland and a note saying that 100 brochures of "Przeglad rzeczy polskich" were given to him to deliver to Warsaw


In December, a Polish review printed in Paris (Przeglad rzeczy polskich) published and article, where the author mentions the May demonstration in Krakow university and states that the Polish autonomy will be attained by the youth, and offers the younger readers to deepen their patriotic feelings, even though they have already been reproved by many older Polish authoritative thinkers.


The governor of the Polish Kingdom has reported that the Poznan police informed him of the arrival of a Polish emissary Lisecki to the Great Duchy of Poznan. He distributed inciting brochures and pretended he was sent by Miroslawski to investigate the chances of beginning a mutiny in Poznan or in Poland... From a letter sent on February 14 from Paris, it is known that the real name of Lisecki, a.k.a. Gnatowski, was Arthur Trok.

The Polish Kingdom

According to the news from the Kingdom, the Poles there sympathize the events in Sicily and Naples, the national movement in Hungary and Galicia, but remain calm, while awaiting for advantageous changes in the politics. In the meanwhile, they chose to assist the growth of the nation: enhancing the morality of the lower classes by fighting alcoholism and by attracting them to the churches; establishment of municipal banks to liberate the agriculture, especially from the destructive influence of the Jews and to enhance the arable farming. The primary instrument for this was the Farming society, established in 1859, which has grown immensely and established contacts with similar societies in Poznan and Galicia. Very soon the Farmin society started showin signs of maleficent for the monarchy political influence in the Polish Kingdom. So, it deemed necessary to close the provincial departments of the society, preserving the central department in Warsaw. This measure, though, produced dissatisfaction among Poles.

Western districts

(This chapter also described the unrest among Poles in other regions of Russia, including Vilno (modern Vilnius) and Kiev. DM).


In Finland, a secret society was formed of the people, who write for Swedish newspapers articles hostile to Russia, trying to incite Finns against her rule, especially the younger Finns, among whom destructive ideas were found in the Helsingfors University. These feelings were noted by Swedish politicians who find them useful for their goals. In the end of 1859 Dahlfeld was appointed the Swedish consul in Helsingfors. He made acquaintances among lesser writers, who are his instrument to spread ideas hostile to Russia. British and American consuls cooperated.

On state reforms

In 1860, just like in the previous three years, the most important matter of the Russian politics was the liberation of landlord-owned peasants from serfdom. It was expected that the question will be solved by the end of 1860, but in spite of the efforts of the government, it was impossible... Nobody, though, could underestimate the high moral and political goal represented by the liberation. The full freedom in the discussion, allowed by Your Majesty, helped the detailed investigation of all possibilities. Measures were taken to mitigate unrest when the decrees of Your Majesty were being published, and the measures gave positive results.

In the Baltic regions, where the aristocracy has exclusive rights to own the land they were afraid that their privileges may be violated during the liberation of peasants and that the peasants will have equal rights during the elections.

A part of peasants in the Baltic regions (mostly in Lifland and Estland) expressed their desire to move to new lands in Samara region. In spite of the resistance of some landlords, 400 peasants have moved.

In Crimea, a large number of Crimean Tatars have moved to Turkey this year. This resettlement threatens the landowners of the Crimean peninsula who might not have enough workers to continue cultivating their land. The aristocrats of Crimea gathered in Simpheropol to discuss possible replacement for the lost workforce and the introduction of new machines.

Together with the government's intentions to alleviate the life of peasants, certain private efforts took place in 1860. Mostly, by establishment of sunday schools and temperance associations.

Unnaturally fast growth of temperance associations in 1859 was explained by the rage of the lower classes against liquor stores owners. As soon as measures were taken to prevent violent actions, the growth stopped.

Sunday schools are getting extremely popular and the local education authorities are instructed to pay special attention to prevent dissemination of harmful teachings.

On administration

All credit institutions have been merged in one State Bank. It is too soon to make any conclusion on the effect of this measure, but the first impression of the merchants was that the activity of the new bank is limited by the responsibility and insufficient capital.

On the internal political state of the Empire

To conclude the report, we have to note that the spirit of the people of the Empire strives for the growth of the civil rights on modern liberal ground. These views are expressed in magazines, where, in spite of the efforts of the censorship, very often too liberal and even dangerous views are found. The liberal journalism incites the intellectual ferment and helps the illegally imported revolutionary magazines, directed against the existing state and monarchy. What is true for other countries, should be true for Russia: the unrestrained freedom of press is the greatest danger for the existing state, but the press can also be the best instrument in the hands of the government.

Besides the love towards liberal establishments, the dreams of restoration of independency of separate nations have also made their way into Russia. These dreams are insecure for the multinational Russian Empire. They can be observed not only in the Western districts, but also in Little Russia and Finland. The modern politics of the West gives more grounds to these dreams, especially to those of Poles, whose loyalty even earlier was doubtful.

Adjutant-general Dolgorukov

March 22, 1861


130th birthday of Alexander Railway Bridge

The Alexander Railway Bridge was opened on August 30, 1880. In the end of 19th centuryBy that time, it was the longest bridge in Europe, 1436 meters. It was also the last large bridge in Russia built from imported iron. Newspapers compared it to the Suez channel. The importance of the bridge was that it was the point of connection of the railroads from Moscow and Western Russia and the railroads of Urals and Siberia, including the Trans-Siberian Railway.

In 1918, two spans were exploded by retiring troops. After the revolution the bridge was renamed to Syzran Bridge, after a nearby city.

I cross Volga along this bridge every year and, I have to admit, every time I feel a bit scared: it's so long and thin and you see the running water below :)

Here you can find some old photographs of the Alexander Bridge: Gallery of Syzran. In 2004, the bridge was reconstructed and now it looks differently: Bridge reconstruction. And I like this photo.