Category Archives: history

Viking Russia, Land of Barbarians

Alexei Bayer, writing in the Moscow Times:

The origins of the Russian state and its early history help explain the country’s modern political makeup.

According to the Kievan Primary Chronicle, compiled around 1110, Slavic tribes invited Scandinavian prince Rurik to rule over them in the 9th century. But the history of the Viking expansion in Western Europe suggests that an “invitation” was hardly necessary. In the West, the Vikings began by raiding settlements, pillaging them and dragging their inhabitants off to slavery. They set up outposts to collect tributes, gradually becoming feudal lords. They adopted the local language and customs and eventually melded with the local population.

The Norsemen followed the same pattern in Britain, France and Sicily. The Varangians, as they were known in Russia, became feudal lords and the name of their tribe, the Rus, gave Russia its name just as Normandy was named after the Normans.

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Andrei Zubov, Russophobe

Standpoint reports:

“Why do you hate your own country so much?” This was the angry reaction of one Russian who had just listened to a devastating critique of everything that Communism had done to his country between 1917 and 1990. The event was a seminar at the Moscow School of Political Studies and the speaker who had provoked this outburst was Andrei Zubov, one of Russia’s most brilliant — and most controversial — historians.

Zubov, who is the editor and co-author of a two-volume history of Russia in the 20th century, has a burning desire to make Russians face up to the realities of the Soviet era. He used his talk (which I attended as a participant in a later seminar) to describe in relentless detail the way in which all that was good in Russia’s past — not least the flowering of culture that took place in the second half of the 19th century — was destroyed by Lenin, Stalin and their associates. But his remarks about today’s Russia were no less striking.

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Learning About Russia from the Songs of its Slaves

Amanda Bellows, writing on the New York Times Opinionator blog (click the link for an audio comparison of American and Russian slave songs):

Frederick Douglass spent much of his life speaking about the hardships of slavery — but even he, at times, realized that words were not enough. Instead, he turned to music: “The mere hearing of [slave] songs,” he said, revealed the “physical cruelties of the slave system; for the heart has no language like song.” Today, spirituals like “Go Down, Moses” and “God’s Going to Trouble the Water” continue to convey American slaves’ anguish, frustration and hope.

Less familiar to Americans, however, is the music of Russia’s serfs, who were emancipated in 1861, on the eve of President Lincoln’s inauguration. Although the slaves and serfs were separated by vast distances and significant historical experiences, each group endured years of bondage by turning to song. Likening the songs of Russian serfs to those of American slaves, early 20th-century actor and slave descendent Paul Robeson observed that both groups had “an instinctive flair for music … [a] faculty born in sorrow.” But their musical traditions have striking differences, too — differences that help us understand the contrasts between the two systems.

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What’s Wrong with the Russians?

Russian film director Andrei “Russophobe” Konchalovsky, writing on Open Democracy:

“Cursed be those who express our thoughts before us!”

– Aelius Donatus, Roman grammarian and teacher of rhetoric

Donatus, living in ancient Rome, was fortunate – he wanted to be the first to express a seditious thought. If I, living in today’s Russia, wish to express an opinion that someone might find offensive, I need to attribute it to some recognised authority, ideally an eminent Russian thinker. Otherwise I will be accused of every sin in general, and of hatred of everything Russian in particular.

So, here are my thoughts.

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Russians Spit on their Own Fellow Citizens, History

Simon Shuster, writing for Time magazine’s website:

Alexander Smirnov has never gotten over the euphoria of August 1991. He was a college student in Leningrad at the time, lanky and pale with Coke-bottle glasses, and on the morning of Aug. 20, 1991, he walked out onto the central square of the city to find a sea of people taking part in one of the largest demonstrations Russia had ever seen. The day before, a military coup had begun.

The heads of the KGB, the army and police, along with a few other obdurate communists, had seized control of the Soviet Union from President Mikhail Gorbachev, and ordered tanks into Moscow to impose a state of emergency. In response, hundreds of thousands of people went onto the streets across the empire to stop the return of the bad old days of the Communist state. “We were prepared to lay down in front of the tanks,” Smirnov says. And in Moscow a few of them did. Only three days after the military junta began, the civil resistance defeated it. On Aug. 22, the coup leaders were arrested, and the Soviet Union never recovered. Four months later, on Christmas Day, it was dissolved.

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Remembering the Last Iron Curtain as the New One Descends

Vladimir Kara-Murza, writing on his blog Spotlight on Russia, remembers the end of the old Iron Curtain as the new one descends across the continent:

Just the same, no simpler
Are the tests of our times:
Can you come to the square?
Dare you come to the square?
Can you come to the square?
Dare you come to the square?
When that hour strikes?

— Alexander Galich, St. Petersburg Romance (1968)

On August 19, 1991, Muscovites awakened to the sound of tanks. In a fitting conclusion to the decades of Soviet tyranny, the tanks that once rolled on the streets of Budapest, Prague, and Vilnius, came to the heart of Russia. By mid-morning, Moscow was occupied by troops. Television channels were broadcasting Swan Lake, interrupted only by pale-faced news anchors who read out decrees by self-proclaimed “acting president” Gennady Yanayev declaring a state of emergency, suspending most constitutional rights, shutting down newspapers and radio stations, and announcing the formation of a new governing body—the “State Committee on the State of Emergency” (known by its Russian acronym, GKChP), composed of the top Communist leadership, including the vice president, the prime minister, the minister of defense, and the chairman of the KGB. Their objective: to save the rapidly crumbling Soviet dictatorship

If history was any indicator, the coup was bound to succeed.

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Duma Deputy: Russia will not Last to 2020

Sergei Petrov, a Russian State Duma deputy from the Just Russia party and founder of Rolf Group, writing in the Moscow Times:

Strategy 2020 — the question of where Russia will be in 2020 — hangs in the air. There are a variety of scenarios being offered by leading economists, political scientists and other analysts, but one thing is clear: There will be no miracles in the next nine years. The prospects for a country mired in archaic institutions, an oil- and gas-dependent economy, systemic corruption, unprotected property rights, corrupt courts, fraudulent elections and an apathetic population can only be dim at best.

I’m almost certain that Russia will not be able to survive in its current borders through 2020. This is not an exaggerated, sensational prognosis taken from the blogs of radical liberals or anarchists, but a clear-headed, objective analysis based on the Kremlin’s flawed policies over the past decade.

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