Show Posts

This section allows you to view all posts made by this member. Note that you can only see posts made in areas you currently have access to.

Topics - Tsarfan

Pages: [1] 2
Imperial Russian History / The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« on: July 24, 2013, 10:09:05 AM »
The Russian government and the Orthodox Church have recently joined in a series of anti-gay legislation that smacks almost of fundamental Islam in its severity and that has left western observers scratching their heads about what is going on.  To give an idea of the stridency of these measures, the adoption of Russian children even by heterosexual couples in countries that have legalized gay marriage has been banned.  Another new law allows the police to arrest and hold foreigners for up to two weeks who are "suspected" of being gay or "pro-gay".  This is raising concerns about the safety of athletes competing in the upcoming Olympic games in Sochi and spawning talk of boycotting the games.

A recent editorial by a European man living in Dubai commented on the conviction there of a Norwegian woman who had been sentenced to 16 months in jail for reporting a rape by a male colleague.  The writer reminded westerners that our assumptions about the universality of correct principles of law, human rights, due process, and government reach are simply wrong.  People in eastern cultures might flock to MacDonald's, might wear blue jeans, might drive Mercedes' and BMWs and Buicks, might listen to western music and line up for western action movies.  But the notion that, in the process, they are becoming more like us in the west is an illusion.

All this brings back into focus for me a question that I have pondered on and off for the past several years, particularly as I have watched the "managed democracy" of Putin take root and his courtship with Russia's autocratic legacy find its legs.

Is Russia reverting to its Asiatic roots?  Is she coming to the end of the road paved by Peter the Great three centuries ago as he forcibly turned the eyes of Russia's social and political elite westward?

I'd like to start with two quotes (one I recently posted on another thread):

From General A. E. Tsimmerman, a frequent commentator on Russian society during the reign of Nicholas I:

"Generally we in Russia are normally much closer to Constantinople and Tehran than to Paris or London.  The very understanding of the Russian people about good and evil, about right, about law, and justice, comes closest to that of the eastern peoples.  In government, the people respect and particularly want to see strentgh.  Our common people love to see in their ruler a powerful and stern sovereign."

And from Count Reiset, a member of the French embassy to St. Petersburg in the mid-19th century, to a Russian friend in Paris:

"I am resolved to direct all of my efforts towards a struggle against your influence [in European affairs] and to drive you back into Asia whence you came.  You are not a European power; you ought not to be, and you will not be if France remembers that part which she should play in Europe.  Our government knows very well your weak points and they are precisely the ones by which you are tied to Europe; let those ties be weakened and, of your own accord, you will flow back towards the East and you will become once again an Asiatic Power."

The reference to "weak points" was to the fact that Russia's Great Power status at that time rested only on the size and perceived strength of her army (something which was soon to be revealed as a chimera by the Crimean War).  In terms of law, civil rights, social organization, and manufacturing economy Russia was a backwater from a European point of view.

And that same charge could be and was leveled against the Soviet Union in the Cold War era a century later -- a perceived military colossus manned by millions with no rights to those things that, to westerners at least, define life in an advanced civil society.

Then, for a brief moment in the late 1980's as Glasnost and Perestroika seemed to bloom into hopes of fully-fledged democracy, many westerners thought that Peter the Great's long, torturous road had finally led Russia into the full light of western modernity.

We know by now that those hopes were forelorn.  Within a few years, Russia had descended in a chaos of corruption and crony oligarchy under an alcoholic president, Boris Yeltsin.  And from the collapse of that rickety house emerged an obscure KGB agent to whom power was handed in return for his promise not to pursue Yeltsin and his cronies for their sordid stewardship of Russia's affairs.

And today we have the "managed democracy" of Vladimir Putin and an era of rigged elections, political murders, press muzzling . . . and youth camps fostering worship of the demigod Putin, accompanied by large doses of xenophobic anti-western propaganda.

Has Peter the Great's road ultimately been nothing more than the longest detour to the biggest dead end in Russia's history?

Having Fun! / Amusing Quotes
« on: March 12, 2013, 10:16:38 AM »
I occasionally run across quotes while looking up various things, so i thought we could collect quotes here that readers find amusing.  Here are a few to start:

"Neither a fortress nor a maidenhead holds out long once it begins to parley." (Benjamin Franklin)

"The trouble ain't that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain't distributed right." (Mark Twain)

"Once you can accept the universe as being something expanding into an infinite nothing which is something, wearing stripes with plaid is easy."  (Albert Einstein)

Rulers Prior to Nicholas II / Date of Founding of Romanov Dynasty
« on: February 21, 2013, 08:12:01 AM »
February 21st 1613,Michael Romanov ascends the Throne of Russia!

Certainly the Romanovs observed 21 February as the anniversary of the founding of their dynasty.  In point of fact, however, Mikhail was only elected on 21 February 1613.  His whereabouts were unknown, and when he was at last found on 14 March he initially refused to accept the throne.

Since one cannot ascend a throne until one accepts it -- and Mikhail neither knew of nor accepted his election until March -- that should be the earliest date for his ascension.  But perhaps, given the muddiness around the discussions between the boyars, Mikhail's mother, and Mikhail himself on and immediately after 14 March (during which time the boyars at one point resorted to threats to elicit Mikhail's acceptance), the cleaner date to use for the ascension of Mikhail to the throne would be 22 July (11 July O.S.) 1613, the date of his coronation.

Puzzle me this:

If Mikhail really became tsar on 21 February, then he acquired on that date the power to refuse the throne.  Since he did, in fact, refuse the throne as soon as he found out he was supposedly already on it -- and he was therefore already vested with a tsar's authority -- then his refusal to ascend the throne abnegated the election of 21 February, rendering it null and void.  It could not, therefore, be deemed the date for the start of the dynasty.

Nicholas II / A Yardstick for Nicholas II
« on: September 06, 2012, 08:10:49 AM »
There is general agreement that Nicholas II lived and ruled in very difficult times for Russia.  The land issues left unresolved by the emancipation of the serfs were building inexorably.  Rapid industrialization was stressing the urban social fabric and dislocating the traditional lines between town and country.  Waves of assassination were occurring just under the throne.  Nationalistic movements in central Europe and Germany's clumsy attempts to build a colonial empire were disrupting the international status quo.  And then came World War I.  Few rulers in Russia's history had confronted problems of this diversity, and none had confronted them on this scale.

Perhaps three of Nicholas' predecessors had the talent to deal with such problems with real odds for success.

Third on this list would be Catherine II.  Her reputation rests more on her successful expansion of Russian territory and her ability to hang onto a throne on which she sat illegally and much less on her spotty and largely dead-end efforts to reform Russian social and economic life.  The greatest talent she brought to bear on her successes was the wise choice of counsellors.  Beginning with her maneuvering to protect herself against Peter III and then to seize his throne, she chose men who were determined and competent, and she managed their internal strife and their personal agendas to her own advantage.  And she managed to retain their personal loyalty even when setting them aside when the time came.  Then she put much of her fate and that of Russia in the hands of the singularly talented Gregory Potemkin, leaving him with great power to pursue the interests of Russia even when her tempestuous personal relationship with him finally made it impossible for them to spend much time in each other's company.

Second on this list would be Peter I.  The list of traits he brought to the task of transforming Russia from a regional into a world power is astonishingly long:  manic energy; a mostly astute sense of military brinksmanship; unrelenting focus; the grasp of the limitations of land power for a nation ambitious to play on the world stage; great sense of personal power coupled with pronounced work-a-day practicality, self-effacement, humor, and a willingness to get his hands dirty (and bloody) both figuratively and literally; an ingrained belief that the tsar, as first servant of the state, had to be the hardest-working servant of that state who only then could demand the same sacrifices of his subjects; . . . and, most crucially, an instinct to spring into action instead of fall into paralysis when confronted with crisis.  

And -- first on this list -- is the vastly-under-recognized Ivan III.  In the following passage, the historian J. L. I. Fennell aptly summarizes the reign of the man who turned Russia into a nation and launched it onto the path to greatness.  I quote this passage at length, because think it lists the inch markers from which to assemble a yardstick for taking the measure of a tsar:

     "In the case of Ivan III and his reign there is little or nothing to help the historian elaborate policies, except for the astonishingly logical sequence of events.  Campaigns, annexations, marriages, embassies, executions, reforms – all occur as if by some preconceived plan.  The purpose of each event becomes clear when viewed in perspective from the end of his reign.  Nothing seems to have been accidental, carelessly planned or even mistimed.  And all events appear to point in one direction.  The numerous minor campaigns, the countless attempts to form friendships in the east and in the west, the disgraces at home, the intrusions in Church affairs – all these were by no means haphazard occurrences caused by the whim of a despot.  They were rather steps in the path of a statesman of vision and above all of astounding single-mindedness.  For Ivan III, more clearly that any of his predecessors or followers on the grand princely throne of Moscow, knew precisely where he was going.  He knew his goal, the means at his disposal, the obstacles to be encountered.  He never over-estimated his own strength or under-estimated that of his enemies.  His cold reasoning told him just how far he could abuse the freedom of his subjects and tamper with the sanctity of religious institutions.  He never fought a war for the sake of fighting, sought a friendship from altruism or disgraced a subject through spite.  All the deeds of this dedicated, hard-headed ruler and most shrewd diplomat were directed towards one goal only . . . .

     "Though he was an uninspiring general (he fought his wars sitting at home, said the great ruler of Moldavia, Stephen) and a cautious rather than a bold diplomat, it was nevertheless the results of his generalship and diplomacy which made him the most successful of all pre-Petrine rulers and Russia the leading nation of eastern Europe . . . .  His land reforms, his Church policy, his attitude towards his Council and the close circle of his family and relatives, all were motivated by his over-riding purpose [to make a nation of the disparate Russian lands]."

So . . . by this yardstick, what is the measure of Nicholas II?

Ever since I joined the Forum a couple of years ago, there has been a running controversy about the reliability of Yurovsky's several accounts of the massacre and disposal of the imperial family.  The tenor of much of the debate was that such a murderous villain was constitutionally incapable of telling the truth and that his accounts were therefore inherently unreliable.

As the newest discovery outside Ekaterinburg adds to the pile of evidence that tends toward corroboration of Yurovsky's accounts, it is time to ask a fundamental question:  have people been as ideologically blinkered in challenging Yurovsky's veracity out of hand as he was ideologically blinkered in his hatred of the Romanovs?

While we today tend to see all early Bolsheviks through the lens of Lenin's and Stalin's cynical willingness to pronounce whatever truths were expedient for them, we make a mistake in trying to understand Russian history if we assign that same cynicism to everyone else involved in the establishment of the soviet state.  I know I'll have to repeat this endlessly if I stay active on this thread, but make no mistake . . . Yurovsky was a cold-blooded murderer, plain and simple.  From a moral perspective, what he did was reprehensible.

At the same time, to assess his propensity to tell the truth or lie, one has to look beyond his actions to his motivations.  His motivations were to undo the destructive hold he felt the Romanovs had on his countrymen.  By his own lights, he was doing what he felt necessary to accomplish a salutary goal -- and he happened to be one of those humans who think that any means justifies certain goals.  This difference between his perspective and most of ours is what creates the seemingly incongruous scenario of a man committing a horrible act of violence and then scrupulously recounting it accurately.  But the growing evidence is that Yurovsky is an example of just that incongruous scenario.

Time and again in the past few days, I have seen people question various aspects of the massacre, such as where and how the assassins fired their guns.  And, with almost every question, a reference back to Yurovsky's own accounts gives a credible explanation of what happened.

For those who want to know all the gory details of that night and the gruesome burial foul-ups, I think it is time to start back at the source that has been too long discounted -- Yurovsky himself.  There should be gore aplenty there for the most salacious tastes . . . with the added piquancy of accuracy.

Regarding the breaking story about the possible recovery of bones from the Ekaterinburg murders, Grand Duke Nikolai Romanov, one of the pretenders, commented in a telephone interview from Switzerland, "I would be absolutely delighted if they have really found the remains of Tsarevich Alexei and Maria, but you have to be very cautious with such epoch-making events.''

How, exactly, will a new epoch be made if the bones check out?

Most people who study history seriously have long since accepted that the Romanovs disappeared from the world political stage in any meaningful sense after the revolutions of 1917.  Russian leaders have lost little to no sleep over a possible return of the dynasty since at least 1921.

If this pit does contain the bones of Alexei or Anastasia or Marie, will the Russian economy finally find a sound footing?  Will the Russian press recover its independent voice?  Will the dilemma of the decaying secret cities of the Stalin era be resolved?  Will Putin rethink his strategy of consolidating all power in the presidency?  Will cries rise up for a restoration of the Romanovs?  Will the inexorable march of the Russian state toward a Muslim-dominated demographic come to a screeching halt?

The last historically-relevant decision any Romanov made was to enter World War I. 

Finding a cache of their broken bones being a catalyst for the making of a new epoch?    Puh-leeze.

Imperial Russian History / Life Under the Tsars
« on: July 17, 2007, 01:23:04 PM »
I have been reading Elaine Feinstein's recent biography of Pushkin which, though not the weightiest work on Russia's pre-eminent literary genius, takes account of some of the newest evidence to emerge on his life and loves.  Having also recently read The Glitter and the Gold,  Cornelia Vanderbilt Balsan's autobiography which includes a recounting of her visit to the Russia at the start of the twentieth century, I could not help but draw some comparisons and begin musing about how life under the tsars really  looked to those who experienced it.

In the 1820's Pushkin found himself exiled for six years to various parts of southern Russia by Tsar Alexander I, whom Pushkin had offended with a poem alluding obliquely to the circumstances of Tsar Paul's death and with a private letter -- which wound up in the hands of the secret police -- in which Pushkin reported favorably on an English writer who was examining atheism.  While exiled to his family estate at Mikhalovskoe, Pushkin was visited by his close friend Ivan Puschin who brought along a new work on the subject of wit by an author Pushkin admired.  In the midst of reading from the new work, a local monk who was doubling as an agent of the secret police dropped in unannounced, whereupon Pushkin immediately feigned to be reading a religious tract.

The notion that Pushkin, a member of a noble (though impoverished) family older than the Romanovs, sitting at home on a remote estate pleasantly reading an innocuous work with a close friend in private, could be intruded upon by a tsarist agent and feel constrained to pretend to be doing something else sent something of a chill up my spine.  And it triggered the recollection of a report on a dinner at the Winter Palace almost eighty years later.  Cornelia Vanderbilt, then the Duchess of Malborough and a lady-in-waiting to Queen Alexandra, found herself seated next to Nicholas II.  Nicholas asked her why her friend and travelling companion, the  Duchess of Sunderland, had been seen in in the company of Maxim Gorky during their visit.  Vanderbilt was taken aback by the question, whereupon Nicholas explained that his secret police dogged the footsteps of all foreign visitors to Russia and reported their activities to him personally.  It had apparently not occurred to her that two English Duchesses, along with the Duke of Malborough -- all intimates of the British royal family and unreproachably monarchist in their viewpoints -- would be objects of police surveillance while in Russia.

We too often forget that behind all the mesmerizing pomp of Imperial Russia and all the charming pictures of pretty little princes and princesses there lurked a police state.  It might not have been as efficient or as brutal as that which succeeded it, but it was equally bent on forcing the views and the will of one individual -- the tsar -- on the actions and even the thoughts of all who lived and moved within Russia's borders.

The Fundamental Law of Russia contains the following provision in Chapter 1:  On the Essence of the Supreme Autocratic Power:

4.  Supreme Autocratic power belongs to the Emperor of All the Russias.  Obedience to His power, not only out of fear but also for the sake of conscience, is ordained by God Himself.

I would like to explore the origin of this concept of supreme autocratic power.  For starters, how did God communicate his will on this matter and to whom?

Their World and Culture / The Connection between History and the Arts
« on: November 02, 2006, 09:12:34 AM »
I am watching with interest Elisabeth's new thread on Russia's Silver Age of literature and what it reflected about Russia as it neared the end of tsarist rule.  Unfortunately, I am not versed enough in Russia's literature to contribute anything, and I suspect others may share my limitation.

So I thought people might be interested in a thread that also looks at the broader question of how the arts of an era reflect the contemporaneous developments in culture and politics -- and how the arts sometimes presage those events.

Let's open up the discussion to the century from roughly 1850-1950 -- the period that set the final stage for breakdown of the old European order and the start of the ongoing struggle to find a new equilibrium in the aftermath of two world wars.  And let's open it up to the arts of any country and to all forms of art:  literature, theater, film, and the plastic arts (painting, sculpture, architecture).

This is not a thread for discussing whether Anna Anderson (or anyone else) was really Anastasia.  Rather, it is meant for a discussion about whether it would have made any real difference in the course of later events if she (or any of the children) did survive.
If I look at the fates of people who were incontestably close relatives of the last tsar, they fared rather poorly as a lot.  Other than the Dowager Empress, most of them went their separate ways and forged whatever lives they could.  Of those who did not trade on their names to marry heirs and heiresses, Xenia had perhaps the best of it, living in a grace-and-favor house on the charity of the British Royal family, who paraded around in jewels once owned by the Romanovs.  Marie Pavlovna the Younger had to work for a living, retrieving material from storerooms where she stumbled upon extra bolts of fabrics that once graced her family's apartments at the Catherine Palace.  One Grand Duke (whose name escapes me) was reported to be a chauffeur in Paris.  And Olga Alexandrovna, the last and closest surviving relative of the last tsar, died in poverty over a barbershop, cared for by neither friend nor family.
The Romanovs as a ruling clan were not highly regarded -- inside or outside of Russia -- in the years immediately preceding and following the revolution.  Most of the wealthy people who took an interest in their fates viewed it as an opportunity to pick off the spoils of imperial wealth -- Marjorie Post, Armand Hammer, Malcolm Forbes, even Queen Mary.  Other than to a few snobs who were desperate to acquire a royal pedigree (even a deposed one), the Romanovs were mostly curiosities on the world scene, relished as much for the collapse of their fortunes as for anything else.
By those standards, Anna Anderson's fate of having an eccentric but affluent professor jump to her bark right up to the end was really not too bad.  In fact, I can find nothing in the treatment accorded other members of the tsar's family to indicate she could have expected any better.
If she wanted international attention, she got more than either Xenia or Olga.  If she wanted physical and financial security, she got more than Olga and many others.  If she wanted to be recognized as who she said she was, she fared well enough in having some people recognize her, given the difficult case she presented to her supporters.

If it had been incontestably proven that Anna Anderson was Anastasia, what difference would it have made to the course of subsequent history?

French Royals / Movies about the French Court
« on: August 10, 2005, 10:08:29 AM »
Thanks, Prince, for starting this section on French Royalty -- those glorious competitors in excess with the Romanovs.

Now, to the real business, what about the movies?

Any opinions on Ridicule?  On Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette?  On La Nuit de Varennes?  On the various versions of the Musketeers' sagas?  On others?

The Tudors / The Character of Henry VIII
« on: July 29, 2005, 09:27:13 PM »
Tsarfan, I think Henry VIII's character deserves a thread of its own, and I would be more than happy to contribute if you started one!

Okay . . . let's have at the old boy!

Let's see where this goes . . . .

Palaces in St. Petersburg / How Many Palaces?
« on: May 25, 2005, 05:31:40 AM »
I once read that the Tsar owned seven palaces.  That figure seems low, and I've never found a definitive list.  Does anyone have a list of the palaces either owned by the Tsar or within his direct control (as opposed to palaces owned or controlled by other members of the Romanov family)?

Palaces in St. Petersburg / Service and Entertaining Logistics
« on: May 05, 2005, 04:26:57 PM »
I've always been fascinated by the service areas of palaces and how the logistics of large-scale entertaining were handled.

Does anyone have any information on such things regarding the Winter Palace or other ceremonial venues?  For instance:  where was food prepared?  how was it transported?  how were candles changed durings events?  where did the crowds at balls and receptions go to use the toilet?  where were wraps stored?  how were people kept out of off-limits areas?  et cetera . . . ?

Pages: [1] 2