Showing posts from 2012

A Life of Integrity: Vladimir Bukovsky at 70

Vladimir Bukovsky does not like to be called a politician, preferring to be known as a neurophysiologist, writer or, at the very least, civic activist. In truth, he never engaged in politics: he merely realized, at an early age, that he could not reconcile himself to live quietly with a criminal and mendacious regime that sought to make millions of people its silent accomplices. Bukovsky’s protest was a moral one. “We did not play politics, we did not draft programs for the ‘people’s liberation,’” he recalls in his memoirs, To Build a Castle (a must-read for anyone interested in Russian history). “Our only weapon was glasnost (openness). Not propaganda, but glasnost, so that no one could say ‘I did not know.’ The rest is a matter for each person’s conscience.”

“I did not know” was a popular answer among members of the older generation when asked by the youngsters of the 1950s about Stalin’s times. The public condemnation of Stalinist crimes at the 1956 Communist Party congress and (alm…

Zinaida Gippius: I Seek for Rhythmic Whisperings

I SEEK for rhythmic whisperings
Where noises bandy—
For life I listen wistfully
In footless banter.

I cast wide nets and tentative
In lakes of sorrow.
I go toward final tenderness
By pathways sordid.

I look for dewdrops glistering
In falsehood’s gardens.
I save truth’s globules glistening,
From dust-heaps garnered.

I fain would fathom fortitude
Through years of wormwood—
And pierce the mortal fortalice,
Yet live, a worldling.

My cup, through ways impassable,
To bear, untainted;
By tenebrous bleak passages
To joy attaining.

Leo Tolstoy: Confession

I was baptized and brought up in the Orthodox Christian faith. I was taught it in childhood and throughout my boyhood and youth. But when I abandoned the second course of the university at the age of eighteen I no longer believed any of the things I had been taught.

Judging by certain memories, I never seriously believed them, but had merely relied on what I was taught and on what was professed by the grown-up people around me, and that reliance was very unstable.

I remember that before I was eleven a grammar school pupil, Vladimir Milyutin (long since dead), visited us one Sunday and announced as the latest novelty a discovery made at his school. This discovery was that there is no God and that all we are taught about Him is a mere invention (this was in 1838). I remember how interested my elder brothers were in this information. They called me to their council and we all, I remember, became very animated, and accepted it as something very interesting and quite possible.

I remember also…

G.V. Plekhanov: Belinsky and Rational Reality

Lucifer: Was not thy quest for knowledge?
Cain: Yes, as being the road to happiness.
– Byron, Cain, a Mystery.

Chapter I

“THE ROOT question of Hegel’s influence upon Belinski’s world outlook has been posed by most Russian critics, but it has been analyzed by none with the necessary thoroughness ‘through a comparison of Belinski’s well-known views with their original sources,” says Mr. Volynski: “No one has analyzed attentively enough Belinski’s esthetic ideas in their original content, nor subjected them to impartial judgment on the basis of a definite theoretical criterion.” (A. Volynski, Russian Critics, p.38.)

All of this is by no means surprising because prior to Mr. Volynski’s appearance among us, there existed no “real” philosophy, nor was there any “real criticism.” If some of us did happen to know something, we knew it merely in a confused, disorderly way. By way of compensation, as of now, thanks to Mr. Volynski, we shall all rapidly set ourselves in order and enrich our meager…

Anatoli Rybakov

More than one generation of readers became absorbed in books by Anatoli Rybakov (1911-1998). In Russian literature Rybakov stands out as one of the first courageous writers who dared to tread on forbidden ground and unfold the truth about this country’s hard times. His major books, Children of the Arbat and The Heavy Sand, are semi-autobiographical; guided by his own life experience the author created captivating and discerning works with a focus on most important things about human nature. Almost all his books have been screened.

Anatoli Naumovich Rybakov (real surname is Aronov) was born on January 1, 1911, in the city of Chernigov into a Jewish family. From 1919 he lived with his family in Moscow.

In November 1933, while a student of Transport Institute, Rybakov was arrested and condemned to three years of exile for “counterrevolutionary agitation and propaganda”. After the exile he was devoid of the right to live in big cities where special passport regime was established and had t…

Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) - Muse of Keening

A short film by Barry Lowe and Dino Mahoney introducing the great Soviet era modernist poet, Anna Akhmatova. The film, shot in winter in Saint Petersburg (Leningrad) contains rare interviews with people who knew her, academics, and dramatised readings of some of her poems.

Maria Feodorovna, Empress Consort of Russia

Maria Feodorovna Romanova was born Princess Dagmar of Denmark, but through her marriage to Alexander III she became Empress Consort of Russia – and mother of the last Russian monarch, Nicholas II.

Her family provided royal consorts for the thrones of Russia, Great Britain, Romania and Spain, giving Christian IX of Denmark and his wife the title of “grandparents of Europe.”

Princess Dagmar first entered the world of Russian royalty through her engagement to the Russian heir, Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich. But tragedy struck Dagmar when the Tsarevich suddenly fell sick and died in 1865.

Dagmar then got engaged to his younger brother, the Grand Duke Alexander – the future Tsar Alexander III of Russia who reigned from 1881 till 1894. In 1866 Princess Dagmar left Copenhagen for St. Petersburg where she converted to the Russian orthodox faith. The wedding ceremony took place in the Winter Palace and was packed with royalty from around Europe.On becoming Empress, Dagmar adopted the name Mar…

Russian Villagers In 1938-41

Russian Villagers In 1938-41: These are the photos of Russian old believers taken by a Japanese scientist Yamazoe Saburo in 1938-41. All the shots are being presented at the exhibition now, some of them are published below. This is Yamazoe Saburo himself. via

Svetlana Ivanova Dances Giselle Pas De Deux

This is a rare performance for Svetlana Ivanova and her upcoming full length Giselle will be even rarer and very special. Her partner is ex London Royal Ballet dancer, Xander Parish.

Mikhail Lermontov: Death Of the Poet (1837)

The Bard is killed! The honor's striver
Fell, slandered by a gossip's dread,
With lead in breast and vengeful fire,
Drooped with his ever-proud head.
The Poet's soul did not bear
The shameful hurts of low breed,
He fought against the worldly "faire,"
Alone as always, ... and is killed!
He's killed! What for are late orations
Of useless praise; and weeps and moans,
And gibberish of explanations? --
The fate had brought her verdict on!
Had not you first so hard maltreated
His free and brave poetic gift,
And, for your pleasure, fanned and fitted
The fire that in ashes drifts?
You may be happy ... Those tortures
Had broken his strength, at last:
Like light, had failed the genius gorgeous;
The sumptuous wreath had weathered fast.

His murderer, without mercy,
Betook his aim and bloody chance,
His empty heart is calm and healthy,
The pistol did not tremble once.
And what is wonder? ... From a distance,
By road of manifold exiles,
He came to us, by fatal instance,
To catch his fortune, rank …

Natalia Nikolaevna Pushkina-Lanskaya (née Goncharova), wife of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin


Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Christmas Tree and the Wedding

The other day I saw a wedding... But no! I would rather tell you about a Christmas tree. The wedding was superb. I liked it immensely. But the other incident was still finer. I don't know why it is that the sight of the wedding reminded me of the Christmas tree. This is the way it happened:

Exactly five years ago, on New Year's Eve, I was invited to a children's ball by a man high up in the business world, who had his connections, his circle of acquaintances, and his intrigues. So it seemed as though the children's ball was merely a pretext for the parents to come together and discuss matters of interest to themselves, quite innocently and casually.

I was an outsider, and, as I had no special matters to air, I was able to spend the evening independently of the others. There was another gentleman present who like myself had just stumbled upon this affair of domestic bliss. He was the first to attract my attention. His appearance was not that of a man of birth or high fami…

Anna Akhmatova: The Last Toast

I raise my glass 
To ravaged home, 
My bitter life,
And lonely days with you.
I drink to you,
To lying lips’ betrayal,
To deathly frigid eyes;
To that the world is cruel and crude, 
To that we weren’t saved by God. 1934

Igor Sakhnovsky: Vital Needs of the Dead

For a book dedicated to the narrator’s dead grandmother, “The Vital Needs of the Dead” is surprisingly sexy. Gosha Sidelnikov’s earliest memory of Rosa is “naked and nocturnal” and she remains an active figure in his life long after her death. Sidelnikov is often relatively passive in his later relationships, with mercurial Lora, seductive Nadia, or voluptuous Valentina; sex is often described in terms of being embraced, engulfed or “dragged in.” He compares himself to “a sports apparatus that came in handy for a breathtaking gymnastic exercise.” Women interact with him, while he is “led along by apathetic curiosity.” During a naked swimming scene, towards the end of the novel, Sidelnikov’s wish to surrender to the river’s current symbolizes his lack of volition. “Somehow you seem a bit Proustian,” says Nadia; it is precisely the narrator’s passivity that makes him an admirable chronicler of history, an observer of lost time. The introspection of childhood and adolescence is backlit by …

A Tour to The Capital of Uzbekistan

A Tour to The Capital of Uzbekistan: Now you are going to travel to the city of Tashkent in the sunny Uzbekistan and see its architecture, some places of interest, local people, colorful markets and some more. Tashkent is 2200 years old, its population is about 2,5 … Read more...

N. K. Krupskaya: Reminiscences of Lenin, St. Petersburg 1893-1898

Vladimir Ilyich came to St. Petersburg in the autumn of 1893, but I did not get to know him until some time later. Comrades told me that a very erudite Marxist had arrived from the Volga. Afterwards I was given a pretty well-thumbed copy-book "On Markets" to read. The manuscript set forth the views of technologist Herman Krasin, our St. Petersburg Marxist, on the one hand, and those of the newcomer from the Volga on the other. The copy-book was folded down the middle, and on one side H. B. Krasin had set forth his views in a scrawly hand with many crossings out and insertions, while on the other side the newcomer had written his own remarks and objections in a neat hand without any alterations.

The question of markets interested all of us young Marxists very much at the time.

A definite trend had begun to crystallize among St. Petersburg Marxist study-circles at that time. The gist of it was this: the processes of social development appeared to the representatives of this tren…

Ostromir Gospel

The Ostromir Gospel is the oldest dated Russian manuscript book to have survived. It was commissioned by Ostromir, the governor of Novgorod, who was a close confidant of Prince Iziaslav of Kiev, the son of Yaroslav the Wise.

In an lengthy codicil on the last page of the book the scribe, Deacon Grigory, records that he worked on it from 21 October 1056 to 12 May 1057. An inscription on the first page Evangelie sofeiskoe aprakos states that Ostromir donated the manuscript to St Sophia's Cathedral in Novgorod. The subsequent fate of the work can be traced in documents only from the beginning of the eighteenth century. The Ostromir Gospel is mentioned in an inventory of the property belonging to one of the churches in the Moscow Kremlin which was compiled in 1701. In 1720 a decree by Peter the Great required the gathering of information about ancient documents and manuscript books in churches and monasteries and in that same year the Ostromir Gospel was sent from Moscow to St Petersbu…

Weird Side of Soviet Architecture

Weird Side of Soviet Architecture: Soviet architects could dispel sadness indeed. They were trying to put meaning in life and death and display it in their works. Some of the Soviet structures are still standing and look very weird. This one is the Kiev crematorium … Read more...

Galina Vishnevskaya obituary

The soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, who has died aged 86, coloured her performances of opera, and especially of Russian song, so beautifully that full comprehension was not essential for enjoyment. Of course, once you did understand the words, you realised how much meaning she brought to them. Possessed of a striking physical presence with lustrous dark hair, she was such a natural actor that she became the star of her generation at the Bolshoi opera company in Moscow, forging artistic relationships with the stage director Boris Pokrovsky and the conductor Alexander Melik-Pashaev. And – appropriately for a performer who sang with all the skill of an instrumentalist – for more than half a century she was married to Mstislav Rostropovich, not just a great cellist, but also a considerable conductor and pianist. Their marriage – her third – came in 1955 after a whirlwind romance, with Rostropovich sweeping her off her feet, even though she was also being courted by the Soviet premier, Marshal …

Winter Begins From Yakutia!

Winter Begins From Yakutia!: It seems that the word “Yakutia” itself is chilly. It is so far and so cold, how can people live there? . However it’s the very place to see the real winter. It’s where the pole of Сold is located … Read more...

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The First Circle

Among the street phone booths there was a vacant one, but it looked like it had a window broken. Innokenty headed for the metro.

Down there, all four telephone booths were occupied. Further left, however, some simpleton, drunk and mellow, was finishing and about to hang up. He smiled at Innokenty and was even about to say something. Once in the booth, Innokenty pulled the thick glass door up tightly; the other hand, still in the suede glove, dropped a coin and dialed the number.

After a series of long ring tones someone picked up.
“Is this the secretariat?” he asked, trying to change his voice.
“Yes, it is.”
“Could you please put me through to the Ambassador? Right now?”
“You can’t call the ambassador,” the response came in very good Russian. “What is the matter?”
“Then – the deputy! Or a military attaché! And please, hurry!”
There was some thinking on the other side of the wire. Innokenty made a bet with himself: it’s a no.
So be it. There’ll be no other time.
“Okay, I am putting you through t…

G. V. Plekhanov: Art and social life

The relation of art to social life is a question that has always figured largely in all literatures that have reached a definite stage of development. Most often, the question has been answered in one of two directly opposite senses.

Some say: man is not made for the sabbath, but the sabbath for man; society is not made for the artist, but the artist for society. The function of art is to assist the development of man’s consciousness, to improve the social system.

Others emphatically reject this view. In their opinion, art is an aim in itself; to, convert it into a means of achieving any extraneous aim, even the most noble, is to lower the dignity of a work of art.

The first of these two views was vividly reflected in our progressive literature of the sixties. To say nothing of Pisarev, whose extreme one-sidedness almost turned it into a caricature, [3] one might mention Chernyshevsky and Dobrolyubov as the most thorough-going advocates of this view in the critical literature of the time…

Nikolai Nekrasov: My Poems!

MY poems! Witnesses of unavailing
Tears for the sad earth shed!
Born in the moment when the soul is failing,
And by the storm-winds bred;
Against men’s hearts you beat with wistful wailing
Like waves on cliffs as dead.

Soviet Reality On the Photos of Victor Vorobyev

Soviet Reality On the Photos of Victor Vorobyev: Vladimir Vorobyev (1941-2011) is a photographer who, unfortunately, became popular only recently. He was from Novokuznetsk, Russia, the city where was held the first exhibition of his works. Those images are often inside of us, but they remain so deep … Read more...

Happy Moscow by Andrey Platonov

At the time of the 1917 revolutions, Andrey Platonov was sixteen and had already worked as an office clerk, a pipe smelter, an assistant machinist, a factory worker, a warehouseman, and a railroad technician. During the next four years, he wrote extensively and conspicuously, publishing poems, stories, and hundreds of essays on every imaginable subject. But when drought and famine struck in 1922, Platonov abandoned his literary pursuits (which he deemed idle and ineffectual) to travel all over the country, working as an electrical engineer and administrator. It was only later, when he again took up writing—now with the belief that literature, like manual labor, could help build socialism—that he began to perceive the vocation as that of a “creative engineer,” tasked with “refashioning the inner soul.” Virtually all of this material remained unpublished for decades; the unfinished novel Happy Moscow would not appear in Russian until 1991, the year that the Communist Party of the Soviet…