Many Russian poems, paintings and musical pieces are devoted to Susanin’s feat
400 years ago, in 1613, Russian farmer Ivan Susanin gave his life to save the life of the first Russian tsar of the Romanov dynasty, Mikhail.
Various sources name various details of this event. It is sometimes very difficult to separate historic truth from myths and legends. Besides, the significance of what Susanin did is estimated variously by various historians.
As a rule, monarchs are not elected – they inherit the throne from their parents. However, after Russians overthrew the regime of the Polish invaders in 1612, they had to appoint or elect someone as the country’s new ruler. Thus, something like a council was convoked to elect a tsar.
Mikhail Romanov, a son of a high-ranking clergyman, who was very young at that time, was not present at this council. He was in the city of Kostroma when he heard the news that he was elected the tsar of Russia.
The Poles, wanting to take revenge for their defeat, decided to capture or even kill the newly elected tsar before he had managed to ascend the throne. They came to the village of Domnino and ordered a local farmer, Ivan Susanin, to tell them where the young tsar was.
A widely spread version of Susanin’s story has it that allegedly, he said that he would take the Poles to the place where Mikhail Romanov was hiding. But instead, he led them into an impassable forest. When the enemies realized that Susanin had deceived him, they killed him. But they never managed to get out of the forest because they drowned in a bog.
However, historians say this version is probably a legend that appeared later. The version that sounds more real to them is that Susanin did not lead the Poles to any forest. He categorically refused to say where Mikhail Romanov was. The Poles severely tortured Susanin, but he did not betray the tsar. Finally, the enemies killed the brave farmer.
The only documented mention of Susanin which dates back to his time and has preserved till our days is a decree of Mikhail Romanov, by which he presented one half of the Domnino estate to Ivan Susanin’s descendants.
“The Gospel says: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13.) Ivan Susanin sacrificed his life for the Romanov dynasty. The history of the Romanov dynasty did not start from a large-scale battle or from a historic deed of a certain noble person. It started from a selfless feat of a modest farmer who, most likely, never expected that people would glorify him in songs within many centuries and build monuments to him.”
“In fact, Ivan Susanin gave his life not only for the young Mikhail Romanov,” Alexander Zakatov says. “It would not be an exaggeration to say that he saved the entire Russia. If the Polish invaders’ regime resumed in Russia, this would have been a real catastrophe for our country.”
Unexpected as it may sound, although Susanin saved a tsar, the Soviet authorities also proclaimed him a hero. Soviet propaganda, however, didn’t stress that he saved a tsar. It said that he saved Russia from enemies.
“Artifacts or documents may be destroyed or lost. But if a hero lives in people’s memory, his feat can never be erased from this memory. In the case of Susanin, it is very hard, if possible at all, to separate the truth from legends. However, legends do not appear at an empty place. Some minor details of legends about Susanin may be not true, but these legends are obviously based on real events.”
Many Russian poems, paintings and musical pieces are devoted to Susanin’s feat. Probably the best known of them is the opera “Ivan Susanin, or a Life for the Tsar” by 19th-century composer Mikhail Glinka.
© The Voice of Russia. 01 April, 2013