Global Archive: Russia, Part 1

In our Global Archive series, we get to know the world a little better, one country (or territory) at a time. Today’s installment: Russia!

Looking at Russia | PolyArchive.com

So let’s start at the very beginning. Modern Russia has origins in about the 8th century CE. Vikings (called Varangians by the Greeks) came to rule over the people known as Slavs.

  • Is the word slav related to the word slave? Maybe. Some linguists think they have a shared origin in Latin. Slavic people were often enslaved in the 3rd through 8th centuries. It might also be derived from slovo, “word”–people who spoke the same language or “word” might have called each other Slavs, then other people heard them calling each other Slavs, and then decided that that was their name…

In 862, Rurik, a Varangian prince, came to rule over the area around Lake Ladoga, not too far from modern day St. Petersburg. He founded a new settlement at Novgorod. Rurik’s descendants would be the first dynasty of Russian rulers.

By the 9th century, the Varangians had assembled the Slavic tribes into a loose federation of city-states. At the time it was called “the land of the Rus'”–though linguists argue about what Rus’ means. Nowadays it is often called Kievan Rus’, because Kiev became the most powerful city after Novgorod.

Slavs were pagans and worshiped nature. There were at least 6 major gods representing things like thunder, the sun, and women’s work. In 988, the Grand Prince of Kiev, Vladimir, forcibly began converting people to Orthodox Christianity in order to strengthen his relationship with the Byzantine empire. The people did not totally want to give up some of their pagan traditions though, and for years priests complained about “dvoeverie” or having two faiths.

Learn about Russian history on PolyArchive.com

Kievan Rus’ around 1100 CE.

As Kievan Rus’ eventually began to decline, Mongols started invading. Kievan Rus’ fell in 1240 to the “Mongol Yoke.” The cities of Rus’ had to pay tribute to Mongol leaders. Finally, the princes of the city of Moscow got strong enough to fight back in the 1400s, and by 1480, Moscow rose as the new powerful, independent city. It conquered its neighboring areas.

As Kievan Rus’ eventually began to decline, Mongols started invading. Kievan Rus’ fell in 1240 to the “Mongol Yoke.” The cities of Rus’ had to pay tribute to Mongol leaders. Finally, the princes of the city of Moscow got strong enough to fight back in the 1400s, and by 1480, Moscow rose as the new powerful, independent city. It conquered its neighboring areas.

Learn about Russian history on PolyArchive.com

Moscovy by 1525.

In 1547, Ivan the Fourth, more famously known as Ivan the Terrible, took a new title: The Tsar of All the Russias.

  • Ivan’s name in Russian, Иван Грозный, does not mean “Ivan the Terrible”–it means “Ivan the Terrifying.” He was a scary guy!
Learn about Ivan the Terrible on PolyArchive.com

Tsar Ivan IV as depicted by Sergei Eisenstein in a 1944 biopic.

He conquered the far eastern territories of Kazan and Siberia, and Russia became a multicultural country.

The Romanov dynasty came to power in 1613. They strengthened Russia and kept expanding its borders. By the late 17th century, Russia had absorbed half of Ukraine.

In 1721, Peter I (the Great) named himself emperor. The Russian Empire was born. He built a new capital at St. Petersburg, and led a cultural revolution to modernize Russia. Catherine the Great continued these imperialist ways, and added enormous amounts of land to the empire through conquest and colonization.

Learn about Russia on PolyArchive.com

Russian Empire in 1866. Hey, there’s Alaska!

Eventually, the empire declined. When Russia entered World War I, the high costs of war and dissatisfaction with corruption led the people to unrest. Two revolutions took place in 1917–the first in February forcing Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate in favor of a Provisional Government and eventually the Russian Republic, and another in October seizing power for the Bolshevik party, led by Vladimir Lenin. By January 1918, the Soviet Union, the world’s first Soviet state, was born.

  • The official name was The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics– Союз Советских Социалистических Республик. Soviet refers to the elected council that governed each republic. It is the same word as совет– advice!
  • Here are the 15 republics that were part of the Soviet Union: Russian SFSR, Ukrainian SSR, Byelorussian SSR, Uzbek SSR, Kazakh SSR, Georgian SSR, Azerbaijan SSR, Lithuanian SSR, Moldavian SSR, Latvian SSR, Kirghiz SSR, Tajik SSR, Armenian SSR, Turkmen SSR, Estonian SSR (SSR means “Soviet Socialist Republic”)

In order to achieve the monumental goal of modernizing the vast territory of the former Russian empire, the Soviet Union had to be organized. It is no secret that these modernizations, such as the forced collectivization of farmlands, came at an appalling human cost. The Second World War took an enormous toll on the USSR as well; however, the rapid industrialization of the previous decades made for an effective wartime infrastructure.

I think I’ll leave discussion of the rest of the 20th century and beyond for another day, as this post is already getting quite long. To be continued!

 

 

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Андрей Вознесенский | Первый лед || Andrei Voznesensky | First Frost

Андрей Вознесенский
Первый лед
Телефон-автомат советского образца

Телефон-автомат советского образца (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Мерзнет девочка в автомате,
Прячет в зябкое пальтецо
Все в слезах и губной помаде
Перемазанное лицо.

Дышит  в худенькие ладошки.
Пальцы—льдышки.   В ушах—сережки.

Ей обратно одной, одной
Вдоль по улочке ледяной,

Первый лед. Это в первый раз.
Первый лед телефонных фраз.

Мерзлый след на щеках блестит —
Первый лед от людских обид.

1959

-----------------------------------

Andrei Voznesensky 
First Frost

A girl is freezing in a telephone booth,
huddled in her flimsy coat,
her face stained by tears
and smeared with lipstick.

She breathes on her thin little fingers.
Fingers like ice. Glass beads in her ears.

She has to beat her way back alone
down the icy street.

First frost. A beginning of losses,
the first frost of telephone phrases.

It is the start of winter glittering on her cheek,
the first frost of having been hurt. 


(This was one of the first Russian poems I ever read (in translation), and I'm fairly certain
 this is the very translation. I don't know who the translator is, though--please 
contact us if you know!)

Анна Ахматова | Меня, как реку… | Anna Akhmatova | This Cruel Age has Deflected Me…

Анна Ахматова

beaver dam Lama river, Russia, Moscow region

(Photo credit: Gnilenkov Aleksey)

                Меня, как реку,
Суровая эпоха повернула.
Мне подменили жизнь. В другое русло,
Мимо другого потекла она,
И я своих не знаю берегов.
О, как я много зрелищ пропустила,
И занавес вздымался без меня
И так же падал. Сколько я друзей
Своих ни разу в жизни не встречала,
И сколько очертаний городов
Из глаз моих могли бы вызвать слезы,
А я один на свете город знаю
И ощупью его во сне найду.
И сколько я стихов не написала,
И тайный хор их бродит вкруг меня
И, может быть, еще когда-нибудь
Меня задушит…
Мне ведомы начала и концы,
И жизнь после конца, и что-то,
О чем теперь не надо вспоминать.
И женщина какая-то мое
Единственное место заняла,
Мое законнейшее имя носит,
Оставивши мне кличку, из которой
Я сделала, пожалуй, все, что можно.
Я не в свою, увы, могилу лягу.
Но иногда весенний шалый ветер,
Иль сочетанье слов в случайной книге,
Или улыбка чья-то вдруг потянут
Меня в несостоявшуюся жизнь.
В таком году произошло бы то-то,
А в этом – это: ездить, видеть, думать,
И вспоминать, и в новую любовь
Входить, как в зеркало, с тупым сознаньем
Измены и еще вчера не бывшей
Морщинкой…
Но если бы оттуда посмотрела
Я на свою теперешнюю жизнь,
Узнала бы я зависть наконец…
1945. Ленинград

—-

This cruel age has deflected me,
like a river from its course.
Strayed from its familiar shores,
my changeling life has flowed
into a sister channel.
How many spectacles I’ve missed:
the curtain rising without me ,
and falling too. How many friends
I never had the chance to meet.
Here in the only city I can claim,
where I could sleepwalk and not lose my way;
how many foreign skylines can I dream,
not to be witnessed though my tears.
And how many verses have I failed to write!
Their secret chorus stalks me
close behind. One day, perhaps,
they’ll strangle me.
I know beginnings, I know endings, too,
and, life-in-death, and something else
I’d rather not recall just now.
And a certain woman
has usurped my place
and bears my rightful name,
leaving a nickname for my use,
with which I’ve done the best I could.
The grave I go to will not be my own.
But if I could step outside myself
and contemplate the person that I am,
I should know at last what envy is.
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Brodsky on trial, 1964

…Among those “enemies” prosecuted as a parasite was Joseph Brodsky, a young poet and future recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. At that time, he was considered among “the most politically unreliable” people, because he  “was part of a circle of anti-Soviet individuals” and “wrote poems of a decadent and even hostile nature” instead of engaging in activities that would benefit the state.

The hearings in the Brodsky case started on February 18, 1964. Brodsky was charged with willful social parasitism, and his trial would become part of Russian and world literature:

Judge: What do you do?

Brodsky: Write poems. Do translations. I guess ….

Иосиф Александрович Бродский

Иосиф Александрович Бродский

Judge: No expressions like “I guess.” Stand still! Do not lean on the wall! Look at the judge! Answer the judge properly! … We are not interested in “I guess.” Answer – why didn’t you work?

Brodsky: I worked. I wrote poems.

Judge: We are not interested in this. We are interested in the following: with what organization were you affiliated? …  In general, what is your specialty?

Brodsky: Poet.  Poet-translator.

Judge: Who has acknowledged that you are a poet? Who assigned you to poets?

Brodsky: Nobody. (In an unchallenging manner) And who assigned me to humans?

Judge: Did you study this?

Brodsky: What?

Judge: To be a poet? Did you try to complete a degree, attend a university where one is prepared, trained?

Brodsky: I do not think it can be acquired by education.

Judge: By what then?

Brodsky: I think this comes (Embarrassedly) … from God.

[via]

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the infinite sky

There’s a Peanuts cartoon (wish I could find it), in which Charlie Brown says, “I’ve watched this movie 29 times, and Shane never comes back.”

I feel the exact same way about Prince Andrey Bolkonsky in War and Peace. Recently, I did a freelance project (a Cliff Notes type thing) for W&P, and so I read it for the fourth and most deliberate time (though not the most painful–that would be the time I had to do it in Russian). And I’ve watched some of the film adaptations–some of which are harder to get through than a 560,000 word novel.

And every time, I keep hoping that Andrey won’t die and leave everyone else to sink into mediocrity. But he always does, and they always do. When he dies, his transcendent vision of the infinite sky expires with him.

I may post some excerpts of my project here. It really is an amazing book, all hype aside.

In looking for images for this post, I found the various interpretations of Andrey to be fascinating:

First, an illustration by Valentin Serov:

tumblr_m8wb87wdQN1rd3w7po1_500

Then, Mel Ferrer, 1956 USA version:

War_and_peace4

That is a terrible, terrible blond toupee.

Daniel Massey, 1963 UK version:

WAR AND PEACE

Not sure what scene this is supposed to be…

Vyacheslav Tikhonov, 1965ish USSR version:

v.tikhonov bolkonsky

Good casting. Bondarchuk almost redeems himself for casting that sweaty old guy (himself) to play Pierre. Oh wait, no it doesn’t at all.

Vyacheslav-Tikhonov-and-V-001

Oh hai Napoleon.

And then, my friends, we have Alan Dobie in the 1973 UK miniseries (with Sir Anthony Hopkins as Pierre):

tve4703-19721007-622

4703

wpcbaker

Nathan Gunn, French opera production, 2000:

nathangunnwp

Alessio Boni, 2007 miniseries by multiple European countries: kriegundfrieden_ov

“So insignificant at that moment seemed to him all the interests that engrossed Napoleon, so mean did his hero himself with his paltry vanity and joy in victory appear, compared to the lofty, equitable, and kindly sky which he had seen and understood, that he could not answer him.

“Everything seemed so futile and insignificant in comparison with the stern and solemn train of thought that weakness from loss of blood, suffering, and the nearness of death aroused in him. Looking into Napoleon’s eyes Prince Andrew thought of the insignificance of greatness, the unimportance of life which no one could understand, and the still greater unimportance of death, the meaning of which no one alive could understand or explain.”

–Lev Tolstoy, War and Peace

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Aleksandr Blok. 62.

О, весна без конца и без краю –
Без конца и без краю мечта!
Узнаю тебя, жизнь! Принимаю!
И приветствую звоном щита!

Принимаю тебя, неудача,
И удача, тебе мой привет!
В заколдованной области плача,
В тайне смеха – позорного нет!

Принимаю бессонные споры,
Утро в завесах темных окна,
Чтоб мои воспаленные взоры
Раздражала, пьянила весна!

Принимаю пустынные веси!
И колодцы земных городов!
Осветленный простор поднебесий
И томления рабьих трудов!

И встречаю тебя у порога –
С буйным ветром в змеиных кудрях,
С неразгаданным именем бога
На холодных и сжатых губах…

Перед этой враждующей встречей
Никогда я не брошу щита…
Никогда не откроешь ты плечи…
Но над нами – хмельная мечта!

И смотрю, и вражду измеряю,
Ненавидя, кляня и любя:
За мученья, за гибель – я знаю –
Все равно: принимаю тебя!

———————————————

Oh, spring without end and without limit,
Without end, without limit, a dream!
I discover you, life! I accept you!
And welcome you with a clang of the shield!

I accept you, misfortune,
And success, I send you greetings!
In the vicious circle of tears,
In laughter in secret– there’s no shame!

I accept sleepless disputes,
Morning veiled by dark windows,
So that my bloodshot eyes
Are irritated, drunken with spring!

I accept deserted villages!
And wells of earthly cities!
The clarified space of the skies
And the languor of servile works!

And I meet you at a threshold-
With a violent wind in snake curls,
With an undiscovered name of a god
On cold and compressed lips…

Before this quarreling meeting
I had never dropped my shield…
Never had you lifted your shoulders…
But above us – an intoxicating dream!

And I look, and measure the enmity,
Hating, cursing and loving:
For the suffering, for the destruction – I know-
All the same: I accept you!

(translation mine)

The Crisis of the Humanities Officially Arrives – NYTimes.com

“President Philip (who is without a doctoral degree and who has little if any experience teaching or researching)”

via The Crisis of the Humanities Officially Arrives – NYTimes.com.

GRRRR. This makes me so angry, partly because SUNY Albany has a good Russian program (one of their faculty co-wrote my favorite textbook series, Nachalo), and partly because I have a bit of experience with underqualified administrators who have no respect for the academic programs they administer. It’s just a cushy job with an easy schedule, good benefits and lots of days off. Oh, and if I buy myself a tablet PC on the university’s tab the same week I lay off a staff member who’s a single mom, no one really notices or cares…

And meanwhile, all of us who studied the humanities pound the pavement in search of work that would actually allow us to, y’know, use our education.