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Imperial Russian History / Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« on: March 01, 2014, 11:31:53 AM »
Divide the country like Czechoslovakia in 1993.

This makes quite a bit of sense.

The Crimea has a population of little over 2 million, and trying to hang onto it will bring Ukraine nothing but headaches.  Of course, they would be abandoning the non-ethnic Russians -- and especially the Tatars who got their belly full of Russian treatment during Stalin's reign -- to their fates in a country that has shut down the free press, that is nursing xenophobia and hate-mongering as state policy, and that is in the throes of almost insuperable demographic and social problems.

But Ukraine, which has neither the economic nor military force to take on a Russia willing to play hardball, has a real chance of becoming a prosperous, progressive nation if it can align itself with western Europe.  If the price of that is losing the Crimean, then so be it.  A strong, stable, and democratic Ukraine without the Crimea is a much better deal (as least for those fortunate enough to live outside the Crimea) than an unstable, harried country trying to hang onto a region for misguided reasons of trying to protect an ethnic Ukrainian minority in the Crimea.

That may sound a bit cynical, but if we haven't learned by now the lessens almost two hundred years of Balkan history and pan-Slavism taught us about trying to build government policy around ethnic concerns, then there is really no hope for us.

Imperial Russian History / Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« on: February 28, 2014, 08:23:01 AM »
This thread has been languishing for a while now, but I'm wondering if the current events in Ukraine and the Crimea might not make it more topical?  More than any other recently, these events are throwing into high relief the question of whether the lands straddling the Europe/Asia divide are going to face west in outlook as Peter the Great wished, face east, or face inward to be something that is both eastern and western . . . and therefore neither.

Russian Noble Families / Re: Buturlin Family
« on: December 20, 2013, 01:51:03 PM »
There is an Italian author named Tatiana Boutourline whose mother was iranian and father was Anglo-Russian.  In her bio she mentions that her family had escaped "all revolutions", I suppose meaning the overthrow of the Shah and the Russian revolution.  Perhaps another branch of the family?

Russian Noble Families / Re: Buturlin Family
« on: December 20, 2013, 01:00:51 PM »
Here is what I could find about the Buturlin clan in my library:

Oddly, the books seldom give first names for any of the Buturlin's they mention, either using initials or just role titles.

The first mention I could find was of an A. V. Buturlin who was a general during the reign of Alexis in the mid 1650's.  (Warfare, State and Society on the Black Sea Steppe, 1500-1700, Davies)

The next mention is of a General and Vice-Admiral Buturlin of "the Guards", who was among the nobility that resisted Menshikov's grab for influence during the ascension of Peter II.  (Peter the Great, Massie)

The next mention is again of a General Buturlin who was insulted at dinner table by the future Peter III late in Elizabeth's reign.  As this would have been some 25-30 years later than above, this may not be the same Buturlin.  This General Buturlin was also recounted by Catherine II as a heavy drinker.  (Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, Massie)

The next mention is of a Count D. Buturlin who headed a supreme secret committee on censorship as part of Nicholas I's panicked reaction to the revolutions of 1848 in western Europe.  This supreme committee -- popularly dubbed at the time as "The Buturlin Committee" -- was called "censorship over the censors", and was the capstone of the extremes of censorship under Nicholas I that reached such heights that the term "forces of nature" was removed from a physics textbook, and the terms "were killed" were changed to "perished" in a history of Roman emperors describing their demises.  (Nicholas I and Official Nationality in Russia: 1825-1855, Riasnovsky)

This D. P. Buturlin (we pick up the second initial in this source) who headed the Imperial Public Library was among those who, during a bureaucratic dustup between rival censorship factions, denounced to Nicholas those in the Ministry of Education who had supposedly taken Nicholas' mission of purifying public thought too lightly.  (Fighting Words: Imperial Censorship and the Russian Press, 1804-1906, Ruud)  Alexander II dismantled the Buturlin Committee during the first year of his reign as part of a sweeping liberalization of censorship in Russia.

I can find no further mention of any Buturlins, even in books focusing on the end of the empire and the revolutions of 1917 such as Orlando Figes' A People's Tragedy and Douglas Smith's Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy.

I hope this gives you a trail or two you can follow to find out more about your forebears.  Some of them do seem to have had rubbed elbows with emperors and empresses.

Imperial Russian History / Re: Pre revolution spoken Russian
« on: November 05, 2013, 06:27:23 AM »
Does it really delve into linguistics? I.e. the issue of palatalisation?

No.  It's really more philological and etiological in its approach.

Imperial Russian History / Re: Pre revolution spoken Russian
« on: November 04, 2013, 07:27:12 PM »
For perhaps the best English-language description of the evolution of written and spoken Russian throughout the 19th century, one should read Orlando Figes' Natasha's Dance.  In fact, one should read this book for several other reasons.  It examines the cultural history of Russia in a way that political and social histories barely touch, much less fully explore . . . and it ties that cultural history coherently into the social and political movements of the time.  I would go so far as to say that trying really to grasp what happened in Russia in the century leading up to the revolution is all but impossible without resort to this book.

Imperial Russian History / Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« on: September 01, 2013, 03:58:48 AM »
As General secretary: he fired people left and right, the economy and agriculture remained a mess. His virgin lands program was a disaster. Then there is the 1962 Novocherkassk massacre. We will probably never find out what happened there. However, one must say his letting most of the inmates out of the Gulag was a good idea.  Of course this was not done on soley humanitarian grounds the communist leadership was worried about a number of revolts that broke out in them in the early 1950s fearing a major revolution might occur.

All true.  And this is to me the saddest commentary on 20th-century Russia that one can make:  that Kruschev was about as good as it got.

Imperial Russian History / Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« on: August 26, 2013, 04:36:54 PM »
One hopes whoever succeeds him turns Russia into a more progressive democratic state.

Starting back with glasnost and perestroika, I hoped -- even assumed -- that this would be the case.  However, as the years have passed and I have become more steeped in Russian history, I have come sadly to the conclusion that it may never be.

The modern western states all have their own histories of cycles of progression and regression, but in all of them over time the cycles of progression advanced far enough and subtly and permanently altered attitudes enough that a kernel of the political progress remained to form a higher starting point for the next cycle of progression.  In England, it went all the way back to Magna Carta, the lineage of which can still be traced in British constitutional law despite some very despotic intervening regimes and the bizarre experiment of Cromwellism.  In France, enough Enlightenment attitudes survived the conflagrations of The Terror and the dullness of the Restoration to form the basis for a modern democratic France.  Even in Germany, the heritage of early 19th-century liberalism and Bismarckian administrative progressiveness came through the fires of National Socialism to form the basis for the modern German state.

Not so in Russia.  There, despite many attempts at reform, none attained the momentum to weather the next cycle of autocratic resurgence.  And this was in spite of the fact that, looking back to the glory days of Kievan Rus and the great city states such as Lord Novgorod the Great, that part of the world showed more promise of a progressive, democratic future than almost anything further westward.

But the tide turned with Ivan III, with autocracy gaining a foothold in the Russian mindset and body politic that has not since been fundamentally shaken.  Peter the Great undertook serious reforms of Russia, some of which stuck although in somewhat distorted form.  But they were aimed at making Russia a more efficient military and economic force, not a more liberal civil society.  Catherine the Great stepped off the line with her ambitious Nakaz but quickly found herself in the quicksand of Russian reactionism among a nobility whose support she needed to maintain her initially tenuous hold on a throne to which her legal claim was somewhat dodgy.  Finally the Pugachev Rebellion and the French Revolution doused the last embers of her early fire to bring Russia into closer alignment with western European enlightenment attitudes.  Despite some interesting reform work during Michael Speransky's periods of influence under Alexander I and even Nicholas I, no serious attempts to liberalize Russian society at a fundamental level were made until the reign of Alexander II -- a reign which, ironically, was terminated by leftist terrorists whose biggest fear was that Alexander's reforms might, in fact, succeed enough to lighten the yoke of autocracy and make it more tolerable to a wider spectrum of Russian society.

Then came Russia's brief courtship with true democracy in the chaos of the months between the February and October revolutions 1917 -- a time during which, not insignificantly, Kerensky could hardly wait to move into the tsar's personal quarters in the Winter Palace.

And then, of course, came Leninism which, despite its philosophical grounding at the opposite end of the political spectrum, quickly availed itself of all the tools of autocratic control, including the secret police, censorship, suppression of political opposition, and government by fiat.  In the process, it became simply a left-wing dictatorship instead of a right-wing monarchy.  And with Stalinism Russia saw days such as it had not seen since Ivan IV and his terroristic Oprichniki and social and economic control such as not seen since the height of Peter I's reforming zeal.

And now we have Putin, under whose government political opposition has been suppressed, the government had reasserted control over the media (including the assassinations of opposition journalists), free elections have been bald-facedly rigged, xenophobia has been made a cornerstone of government policy, and minority groups have been scapegoated as proxies for Russia's deep and abiding problems.

It's hard to digest, but as the west comes to understand more of Nikita Kruschev's time at the helm, he might ultimately be realized to be perhaps the most selfless and sincere liberalizer in modern Russian history.  Unlike Gorbachev, he did not do it because the state was collapsing around him.  He did it because he felt Stalin had been wrong, both morally and practically.  And, in trying to make Russia more humane, he threw bold rolls of the political dice which, sadly and perhaps predictably, he lost.  It's a damned shame that in the west he is remembered primarily as the buffoon who pounded his shoe on the podium.  He was anything but.

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?

The Final Chapter / Re: Stupel
« on: July 22, 2013, 12:53:21 PM »
So Stupel and the others were still in Tobolsk . . . .   G. D. Tatiana writes: "We haven't heard anything about Stup., and probably won't".

You seem to have access to some very comprehensive sources.  Thanks for enlightening us further on this.

It does seem, however, that Stupel might have been gone from Tobolsk by the time the children were packing to leave, based on Tatiana's response to her mother.

The Final Chapter / Re: Stupel
« on: July 21, 2013, 12:30:38 PM »
Stupel, a valet, was one of the 45 retainers who accompanied the Romanovs into exile in Tobolsk.

Stupel is listed in the 2009 petition to the Procurator General of the Russian Federation for rehabilitation of all 45 retainers.  However, the deposition given by Colonel Kobylinski listed Stupel as one of the nine servants the family had to discharge in Tobolsk after state funding of the prisoners was reduced.  Consequently, he would not still have been employed at the time the remainder of the family would have been packing to leave Tobolsk.

Perhaps Marie either was not aware that Stupel had been let go, or she had forgotten.  With 45 servants on hand and a valet typically serving only male members of the entourage, perhaps Marie did not have much contact with Stupel and had known his name and role but not much else about his comings and goings.

The Final Chapter / Re: Why Wasn't Olga Chosen to go to Ekaterinburg?
« on: July 18, 2013, 10:30:27 PM »
. . . Tobolsk was still something of a backwater, relatively conservative, and, even after the Bolshevik seizure of power, somewhat sympathetic to the ex-IF in its midst.

It's true that Kerensky chose Tobolsk for both its remoteness and relative placidity in the summer of 1917.  However, the town, although conservative, was not well-disposed toward the imperial family.  Here is how Yakovlev described the situation in Tobolsk (from The Fall of the Romanovs, by Mark D. Steinberg and Vladimir M. Khrustalev, Yale University Press, 1995):

"Perhaps they [pro-Romanov demonstrations] would have taken place if not for the notorious Grigory Rasputin, who had already discredited the family back in 1915 with his behavior and cynical bragging about being close to the imperial family.  This impudent rascal behaved himself so shamelessly on his last visit to Tobolsk, so scandalously and brazenly, that he removed the last vestiges of the halo from the tsar’s family . . . .  Thanks to Rasputin, the notorious Varnava, whose negative side is well known to Tobolsk townspeople, was made bishop . . . .  Rasputin, more than anyone, utterly ruined the imperial family’s prestige in the eyes of the people of Tobolsk . . . ."

Even Baroness Buxhoeveden found Tobolsk, though not overtly hostile, somewhat less hospitable than she had heard, reporting that, "the sympathetic demonstrations I had heard spoken of in Petrograd were legends".

And one has to remember that, though Ekaterinburg was more hostile to the Romanovs, Ekaterinburg was not the destination Moscow had in mind when it dispatched Yakovlev to move Nicholas, nor did Yakovlev intend to relocate anyone but Nicholas.  The whole family ended up in Ekaterinburg for two reasons:  Nicholas refused to leave Tobolsk alone, and the Ural Soviet interfered with Yakovlev's mission -- whatever it was -- in seizing Nicholas and his entourage.

It seems clear that, at least up until April 1918, the central soviet government had no intention to move the entire imperial family to Ekaterinburg in order to execute them in a more radical environment.

It is not until the Ural Soviet finally seized full control of the situation on the ground that anything like a clear intention to execute the whole family emerged.


The Final Chapter / Re: Why Wasn't Olga Chosen to go to Ekaterinburg?
« on: July 18, 2013, 06:34:10 AM »
Saying the Romanov dynasty of the second decade of the 20th century essentially "had it coming" because of the actions of their ancestors is like saying I had it coming when I got mugged by some African-American kid because my great-great-great grandfather was a slave owner.

I'm not suggesting the Romanovs "had it coming" in terms of their murder.  I was pointing out, however, that the actions of the Bolsheviks have to be put in historical context when assessing them.  And Russia, more than any other western nation, had a storied history -- most of which played out during the monarchical era -- of acquiring and maintaining power by murdering those who could threaten one's grip on power.

It continues to this day in the unfortunate "accidents" that seem to keep carrying off Russian journalists.

Remember that Catherine II not only countenanced the murder of her husband and then usurped the crown from her son, the legitimate heir, but she had a poor innocent murdered who had been imprisoned as an infant and was still in captivity upon her accession.  Yet history calls her "the Great".

I am, however, suggesting that the Romanovs "had it coming" in terms of removal from power.  The likes of Nicholas, Michael, and most other Romanovs of their era would have been over their heads running a chain of 7/11's, much less an enormous empire trying to hold the modern world at bay.  The Vladimirivichi might have had the energy and moxie to rule, but their willingness to undermine the credibility of the throne in order to get their hands on it eliminated them as attractive alternatives.

The Final Chapter / Re: Why Wasn't Olga Chosen to go to Ekaterinburg?
« on: July 17, 2013, 10:17:22 PM »
The killing of all the IF was no accident, a quirk of convenience.

No, it was no accident.

But much remains unclear about when and how the final decision was made and what phases it passed through before taking its final comprehensive form.  As you point out, the Bolsheviks killed GD Michael a month earlier.  Since the IF was in their custody, what was the reason they delayed an additional month in killing them?

And if the decision had long been in place, what was the reason the Bolsheviks bothered to move the family from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg?

And if it was a foregone conclusion from the time of the Bolshevik coup that they would kill all of the Romanovs within their reach, why did six months elapse between the killing of the IF and the killing of the four grand dukes in St. Petersburg (over a year after the coup)?

If it was an early foregone conclusion that the IF would be murdered, why did the Bolsheviks let the White Army get within earshot of Ekaterinburg before executing the family?

The only way one can make sense of this timeline is to recognize that the decisions of whether to kill, why to kill, and whom to kill were made almost on the fly, as internal power ebbed and flowed within Bolsheviks ranks and as events evolved.

The very fact that the Bolsheviks waited so long to execute the IF and took the risks of relocating them from Tobolsk and even then delaying the execution until the Whites were almost upon them seems to me to suggest that there was some scenario which the Bolsheviks thought -- at least for a period of time -- might develop that would warrant the IF being kept alive.

One really has to read Orlando Figes' A People's Tragedy to get a sense for how much brutality and murder (much of it far more gruesome than the Romanov murders -- there were cases of people being actually being flayed alive) descended on Russia after 1917, from both the White and Red sides.  In fact, one of the reasons the Whites failed to maintain control of the regions they initially conquered during the civil war was their brutal tactics in dealing with the countryside.

The Romanovs -- who lost their power largely through incompetence and, in the final stages, paralysis -- were but the tiniest drops of blood in an ocean of blood unleashed during the Revolution by all sides.

To get a sense for just how bizarre it got, during the March Revolution a squadron of loyal troops made its way from the suburbs of St. Petersburg to the Winter Palace to come to the defense of Grand Duke Michael . . . and he refused them entry because their boots were dirty and they might break the china in the display cases.

I am sorry the IF was massacred.  But the dynasty had become a limp, fuzzy shadow of what it had once been well before revolution engulfed Russia.

And the Romanovs had quite a track record of murdering each other to gain or hang onto power.  

Remember that Peter I had good reason to fear that his half-sister Sophia might have him killed.  Remember that Peter I was in turn complicit in his son's murder to preserve his legacy.  Remember that both Empresses Elizabeth and Catherine II were willing to murder the imprisoned Tsar Ivan VI to keep their power (and Catherine actually did it).  Remember that Catherine II's husband was murdered to secure her coup (which was as much a coup against her son Paul's rights to succeed his father as it was a coup against Peter III).  Remember that Tsar Paul was murdered to clear the way for his son, with his son's possible complicity.

In killing Romanovs, the Bolsheviks did no more to them than they had been doing to themselves for two centuries.  To me, the true evil of Bolshevism was in destroying a fledgling chance of constitutional government and continuing the absolutist and repressive society of imperial Russia.  (The censorship, the planned economy, the police state, forced labor, imperialist foreign policy -- all these things continued almost seamlessly from the autocratic era into the soviet era.  Even Stalin's Terror had its antecedents in the Oprichniki of Ivan IV and in the Black Hand of the late imperial era.)

Sorry I've veered off the topic of not taking Olga to Ekaterinburg.  But this seems to be of a bit more consequence, historically speaking.

The Final Chapter / Re: Why Wasn't Olga Chosen to go to Ekaterinburg?
« on: July 17, 2013, 11:25:59 AM »
Thanks.  That's very helpful regarding the issue of coaxing information out of the guards.

I still don't quite understand why they would have taken her into the unknown situation with Yakovlev, but the answer may lie in something that transpired between Nicholas and Yakovlev about which we might never know.

Part of my problem is that Nicholas' reign was so riddled with bad decisions that I am never inclined to give him or Alexandra the benefit of much doubt.

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