Yet another birch bark from Novgorod

Some Russian news agencies reported on the recent find in Novgorod. During the construction works, two pieces of a birch bark letter were found. The archaeologists say that the letter was written in XV century. The experts have read the text.

The letter was written by someone Alexey, the steward at a manor near Novgorod. It seems that Alexey gave away some of the landlord's meadows to the peasants for mowing, but a local priest accused him of squandering the landlord's property. In this letter, Alexey asked the landlord to send him a confirmation of his right to dispose of the meadows.

"The priest threatens that should he catch someone on the lord's land, he will tie the grass around his head," writes Alexey. It's absolutely unclear what he means by "tying the grass", but the procedure is, probably, not at all pleasing. So, Alexey hurried the landlord up, asking him to send the confirmation of his rights by St. Peter's day (12 July).

Russian sources:
Новгородские археологи подтвердили, что "без бумажки ты букашка"
В Великом Новгороде раскопали еще одну берестяную грамоту


May 20 in Russian history


(9 May Old Style)

Semion Chelyuskin reached the northernmost point of the mainland Eurasia, locate at 77°44′N, 104°15′E. He named it Eastern Northern Cape. 100 years later, in 1842, the cape was renamed to Cape Chelyuskin.

Very little is known about Semion Chelyuskin. His grandfather, Rodion, was a colonel of Streltsy in Moscow. After the Streltsy revolt, the family fell from grace and lived in a small village on river Oka. The date of birth of Semion Chelyuskin is not known. It could be 1704 or 1707. In 1714 he arrived to Moscow and entered the School of Mathematics and Navigation. One of his teachers was Leonty Magnitsky, famous mathmatician, the author of the first Russian mathematics schoolbook. In 1721 Chelyuskin graduated from school and became a navigator assistant in the Baltic fleet.

In 1732, Russian government decided to send the second Kamchatka expedition. The first expedition, led by Vitus Bering, took place in 1725-1727 and discovered the Bering Strait. The second expedition had to explore the shores of Alaska, to explore the Kuril islands and to map the north-eastern Russia between river Pechora and Chukotka. Semion Chelyuskin joined the expedition as a navigator. In 1738, Chelyuskin presented to the Admiralty the report on the results of the expedition. He thoroughly studied the good and the bad sides of the earlier expeditions and prepared a plan to continue the exploration of the Arctic Ocean.

In 1739-1740, his ship Yakutsk explored the Taimyr peninsula. In August 1740, the ship was crushed by the floating ice, but the people survived and continued the scientific research. In December 1741 the groups departed on dogs from Turukhansk to reach the unknown northernmost point of Taimyr. The temperature fell to –50°С, but the team made 30-40 kilometers every day. Chelyuskin pedantically mapped the way and filled the journal. On 6 May they killed a white bear to replenish the meat supplies. The blizzard made them stop for one day. Some days later they reached a cape, which Chelyuskin named Eastern Northern Cape. Only in 1919 Harald Ulrik Sverdrup, the chief scientist of the expedition of Roald Amundsen, established that this cape is the northernmost point of the Eurasian continent.

In July, Chelyuskin came to Mangazeysk where his part of the second Kamchatka expedition ended. In 1743 lieutenant Khariton Laptev (after whom the Laptev sea is named), another participant of the expedition, published the description of the lands between rivers Lena and Yenisey. This work included many materials collected by Chelyuskin: descriptions of rivers, islands, shores, sea depths, tides, soils, etc. Chelyuskin and Laptev mention the mammoth bones which they sometimes found. They also write about the tribes that inhabited the Russian north, telling about their life and traditions.

In 1756, Semion Chelyuskin retired and led the life of a village gentleman. In November 1764, he died in his village on river Oka, not far from Tula.

Here you can see cape Chelyuskin today. On the top photo: a tower built on Cape Chelyuskin by the Amundsen expedition in 1912.


May 19 in Russian history. Happy birthday to Shavarsh Karapetyan!


19 May 1953: birthday of Shavarsh Karapetyan. Writing about Shavarsh is both easy and difficult. It's easy, because writing about good people is a pleasure. But it's difficult to find to right words, the right tone. He wouldn't like a pompous articles about a great sportsman who became a hero. However, the facts speak for themselves. Shavarsh has saved 20 people. In the most literal and direct way. His name was known to everyone in the USSR. Many years have passed. Below is the article written in 2005 by Nune Hakhverdyan.

The trolley-bus and Shavarsh Karapetyan

Nune HAKHVERDYAN | November 23, 2005

There was a tragic accident in Yerevan on September 16, 1976. A trolley bus fell into the water with a lot of passengers in it when crossing the Bridge of Yerevan Lake. The 92 passengers inside the trolley-bus could have died because the weather was cold then and they were stuck in the trolley-bus because they couldn’t break the windows. The big trolley bus was being covered by water fast and it could bring to a big tragedy. At that time Shavarsh Karapetyan and Kamo Karapetyan were running near the Lake and didn’t hesitate to jump into the water and start saving the lives of those people. Shavarsh Karapetyan, who was a world and European champion and famous swimmer realized that the lives of those people depended on one second. “I could see nothing in the water because the water was too dirty. I realized that I was alone and the only person responsible for everything”, -said Shavarsh Karapetyan to “Komsomolskaya Pravda” newspaper correspondent. The lake was ten meters deep. Shavarsh made efforts and could break the window of the trolley bus. He entered inside by harming his legs and started to look for people with his hands. The brother of Shavarsh, Kamo, who was also a swimmer, was taking people to the bank from the surface after Shavarsh had brought them up to surface. Shavarsh Karapetyan dove for thirty times and saved twenty people. He was taking the bodies of people to the surface and giving them to his brother to take out of the water. “I was going up to the surface, breathing and diving again. And after diving one more time I took a leather chair out from the trolley-bus, I was so tired that didn’t notice that it wasn’t a man”, -said Shavarsh. The friend of Shavarsh, Babken Khachatryan, once said that Shavarsh regretted much and often said that he could have saved one more life instead of that chair. It was actually impossible to do what Shavarsh did, because you have to be also very kind and have a strong will besides being a good swimmer and diver.

When some divers came to the lake it turned out that there was no air in their balloons. He was sure that he could save everyone if there was air in their balloons. The closed system of the Soviet Union didn’t allow publishing correct and right information about the accident, and the photos were kept only in the prosecutor’s office. Head of “Photolur” agency Herbert Baghdasaryan says: “We were informed about this tragedy only two years after the accident, when we got an order from “Komsomolskaja Pravda” to make a report about Shavarsh Karapetyan”.

It is not clear yet what the reason of this accident was. According to official information the driver got a heart attack when driving the trolley-bus. But the passengers that were saved said that the reason was the conflict between a passenger and the driver. They said that the passenger was trying to make the driver stop the trolley-bus there and the driver was refusing by saying that it wasn’t a taxi for him. They also said that the passenger beat the driver and the driver lost control and that is why the trolley-bus fell into the water.

After saving the lives of those people Shavarsh Karapetyan was tired, out of power and his body was injured. As a result of his heroism he got serious sicknesses, blood disease and pneumonia. There was sewage water in the lake too and this was also a reason for his sicknesses. After this accident Shavarsh had to forget about sports. His life was divided into two parts: till the accident and after the accident. He forgot all his goals and what he had reached. Shavarsh Karapetyan took treatment at hospitals for a long time and once asked the doctors: “Will I be able to swim again?” But the answer didn’t satisfy him, because being in cold water for a long time he had seriously damaged his health. “When after the accident I dove again I understood that my lung was not like before. Before I could play with my competitors, but now I have to struggle. I reached one more world record, but this one was the last”, - once said Shavarsh.

Once Shavarsh told a Russian newspaper correspondent that the son of his brother had died in water too. And said that he felt very pity because his brother was a good swimmer and couldn’t have saved him and this time the trouble was water again.

In 1993 he moved to Moscow and tried to start a new life: he founded a small shoe production there. His company was called “Second Breath”. Now he is a good businessman. Armenian shoemakers are considered to be the best ones in Moscow. He hasn’t forgotten about his heroism 30 years ago. “The saved people didn’t know the name of the person who saved them”, -said B. Khachatryan. Only several years later in the period of “economy reconstruction” some books and information were published about Shavarsh Karapetyan. There is a planet that bears his name now. The saved people thanked him a lot. Some time later Shavarsh Karapetyan was given “Fair Player” medal of UNESCO. This medal is given to people who are good in sports, but he didn’t do this heroism in sports, but in real life.

Happy birthday, Shavarsh! And thank you. Thank you for being with us. For showing us what the man should be.


May 7 in Russian history. What is a parliament? Working day regulations.


(24 April Old Style)

Vladimir Nikolayevich Kokovtsev, minister of finances of Russia, during a sitting of the IIIrd State Duma said: "Thank god, we don't have a parliament." Almost 100 years later, in 2003 the chairman of the new Duma, Boris Gryzlov said: "Parliament is not a place for discussions." At least, now we've got a parliament...


The Council of Ministers adopted the law which was the final point in the introduction of 7-hours long working day in the USSR.

The government of the Russian empire pioneered the labour legislation in 1741, when empress Anna ordered to limit the working day at weaving factories to 15 hours, introduced minimum wages and hospitals for the workers. In 1785, empress Catherine II shortened the maximum working day to 10 hours and limited the working week to 6 days, and prohibited women and children to work at night. The governments of England and France banned their newspapers from reproducing this law, which was considered too revolutionary.

In 1882, Russian government forbade to use the work force of children below 12 years old. Children between 12 and 15 years could work up to 8 hours a day with a dinner break (later the limit was raised to 9 hours). They were not allowed to work at night and on week-ends. In 1885, night work was prohibited for people under 17 years old (after a series of protests from factory owners, the limitations were weakened).

In 1897, Nikolay II issued a law limiting the working day to 11.5 hours (and 10 hours on Saturdays). The statistical data show that in 1897 the average working year was 2592 hours (2700 hours in USA). In 1908 the average working day on the factories of Moscow was 9.5 hours for adults and 7.5 hours for children. Also, the tsarist government attempted to lower the working day duration to 8 hours. This limit was introduced at some state-owned factories, like Nikolayevsk ship-building plant. US president William Taft said to a group of Russian officials who visited him: "Your emperor has created the labour legislation with which not a single democratic state can compete."

In October 1917, one of the first decrees of the bolsheviks limited the duration of the working time to 8 hours a day and 48 hours a week. The state officials had 6-hour long working day. Also, in 1918, two-week annual vacations and 16-week birth leaves were introduced. The 1922 labour legislation confirmed these norms and limited the overtime work. In 1928-1933 the working day was shortened to 7 hours. Five working days were followed by one day off.

On 19 June 1940, at a meeting of the Soviet government, Stalin said: "Our trade unions have corrupted our workers. It's not the school of communism (Trade unions are the school of communism, wrote Lenin. DM) but the school of self-seekers. They stir up the workers against the administration and indulge them in parasitic trends. Why in capitalist countries the workers can work for the capitalists 10-12 hours a day, and our workers work only 7 hours for their own state? We have made a serious error when we introduced the 7-hour working day. Now we have to ask the workers to make a sacrifice and to increase the working day to 8 hours without increasing the wages." On 27 June the decision was approved. The average working month has increased by 33 hours (8 hours long working day and 6 working days a week, with one day off). The same law prohibited self-willed resignation. Coming at work 20 minutes late was considered absence from work and was punished with 6 months of "correction work" at the work place with 25% salary decrease.

In the period of 1956-1960 the 7-hour working day was restored. The decree of 7 May 1960 finished this transition. The working week remained 6 days long plus one day off. A little bit later the schedule was reformed again to take the final form: 5 8-hour long working days and two week-end days.

After the break-up of the USSR and the restoration of capitalist enterprises, the regulations are all but forgotten. Anyway, I still have four weeks of annual leave and I am appalled by the contract of my old friend who left to the US and who has one week of annual vacations :)