Showing posts from December, 2017

The great error - The bookishness of Bolsheviks

What more fitting monument to a millenarian movement could there be than a thousand-page “saga”? Yuri Slezkine’s guiding argument in this remarkable, many-layered account of the men (rarely women) who shaped the October Revolution is that the Bolsheviks were not a party but an apocalyptic sect. In an extended essay on comparative religion that constitutes just one of his thirty-three chapters, he puts Russia’s victorious revolutionaries in a long line of millenarians extending back to the ancient Israelites; in their “totalitarian” demands on the individual believer, he suggests, the Bolsheviks are cut from the same cloth as the sixteenth-century Münster Anabaptists and the original “radical fundamentalist”, Jesus Christ.

Slezkine is by no means the first person to draw the analogy between the Bolsheviks and sectarians (Lenin himself is reported to have taken an interest in the Münster Anabaptists and Cromwell’s Puritans as he pondered Russia’s revolutionary potential in the early twen…

The Nutcracker (1989) Bolsoi Ballet & Orchestra

The Nutcracker
by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
on a story by E.T.A.Hoffman
The Bolsoi Theatre Orchestra
Conductor: Aleksandr Kopilov
Performed by the Bolsoi Ballet at the Bolsoi Theatre, Moscow 1989
Choreography by Yuri Grigorovich
Original choreography by Lev Ivanov
Clara: Natalya Arkhipova
Nutcracker prince: Irek Mukhamedov
Drosselmeyer: Turi Vetrov

Pushkin's pride: how the Russian literary giant paid tribute to his African ancestry

For Russians, Alexander Pushkin inhabits a space beyond taste, where nationalism has given subjective art the patina of fact. He is the undisputed father of their literature in the way Shakespeare is for Brits. Given the insular nature of contemporary Russian politics, it might be hard to imagine that the creator of Eugene Onegin was not only a proponent of multiculturalism and global exchange but an example of it: Pushkin was mixed race, and proud of his African ancestry. 

His great-grandfather, Ibrahim Petrovich Gannibal, was probably born in what is now Cameroon in 1696. Gannibal was kidnapped as a child and taken to Constantinople, where, in one of those confounding literary footnotes, one of Tolstoy’s ancestors “rescued” him (this is Pushkin’s own word – vïruchiv – in a 1824 note) and presented him to Peter the Great.

Gannibal exchanged one form of servitude for another, but as page, godson and exotic court favourite to the emperor, his new life was much more glamorous. Following…

Why Stalin Starved Ukraine

History is a battleground, perennially fought over, endlessly contested. Nowhere does this aphorism hold true more than in Russia. A majority of Russians recently voted Joseph Stalin the “most outstanding person” in world history (followed, naturally, by current President Vladimir Putin). No longer the monster of the gulags and purges that killed millions, Stalin now looms in the national consciousness as the giant who defeated the Nazis in World War II. Meanwhile, not only has Russia annexed Crimea and destabilized Ukraine’s eastern regions, its military adventurism has also extended to Syria. Putin, who once described the collapse of the USSR as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the twentieth century, looks determined to avenge the humiliations of Russia’s post-Soviet implosion. Integral to this endeavor is not just to flex the country’s geopolitical might in the present but to re-write its past.

It is this point that makes the historiography of the USSR—a subject worthy of …