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Saturday, 26 September 2015
Archive for Materials Relating to Russian Emigres Opens in Paris
Topic: Imperial Russia

A new centre for the storing of historical documents relating to the emigration of Russians to France in the years following the 1917 revolution opened on 24 September, in the Parisian suburban town of Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois. The cemetery of the town, which is located at a distance of 23 kilometres from the centre of Paris, contains the graves of members of the Russian Imperial family, as well as many famous Russian writers and artists. The Russian government took an active role in creating the new archive and memorial-research centre, which has been laid out on the territory of the Maison Russe. 

Russian financing has ensured the documents are kept in top condition, and the staff at Maison Russe will help academics access material necessary for their research. 

Maison Russe director Jean de Boyer expressed his sincere thanks to the Russian president for supporting the project. Russian Ambassador Alexander Orlov noted the huge cultural and intellectual contribution the Russian emigres made to the life of their new adopted homelands, and especially to France. He also thanked the Paris authorities for helping to keep this memory alive. "The Maison Russe is a testament to the dreams of those, who always dreamt of going home, but never could", he said.

A memorial plaque in honour of the founder of the Maison Russe, Princess Mescherskaya, was also unveiled today.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia / Russkiy Mir Foundation. 26 September, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:49 AM EDT
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Friday, 4 September 2015
On This Day: The Ministry of the Imperial Court was Established
Topic: Imperial Russia

The Main Office of the Ministry of the Imperial Court was located at 39 Liteiny Avenue, St. Petersburg. Structural units of
the Ministry were situated in the Winter Palace at 32 Dvortsovaya Embankment and 20 Fontanka River Embankment.
On 3 September, (O.S. 22 August) 1826, Emperor Nicholas I issued a decree establishing the Ministry of the Imperial Court to serve the needs of the emperor, his family and the imperial court. It brought together all the administration of the court office that had existed since the beginning of the 18th century.

The Ministry was headed by Minister of Court, which was beyond the control of the Senate and other senior government bodies and reported to the emperor only. The Minister received all the commands directly from the Emperor regarding the issues which demanded the imperial resolution, and also had the right to enter with a report directly into emperor’s chambers. This specific state of the ministry was due to the fact that the subjects of its activities were not of national character, and focused exclusively on the royal family. The first minister of the Imperial Court was Adjutant General, General of Infantry, Prince P. M. Volkonsky.

Under the jurisdiction of the Ministry was management of the personal property of the emperor and the imperial family, including land property; financial control over all agencies under the Ministry; superintendence of imperial palaces, gardens, parks; organization of court ceremonies, arrangement of ceremonies, coronations; ensuring of the imperial family’s security, sanitary supervision of the state of the imperial palaces and palatial cities. Also, the Ministry was in charge of awarding orders and medals and decorations; of censorship of works, performed at the Imperial Theater and Choir; of maintenance of the court clergy. The Office of His Imperial Majesty was also in submission to the Minister.

From 1852, the Minister of the Imperial Court was appointed to perform all the duties of Chancellor of the Chapter of Russian imperial orders: he was authorized to sign letters in the absence of the emperor to award the Order of White Eagle, St. Vladimir 2nd class, St. Anne 1st class and St. Stanislaus 1st and 2nd class with a star.

In 1858, the Ministry of the Imperial Court included the Dispatch Office of ceremonial affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the next year - Imperial Archaeological Commission. In 1882, based on Jagermeister office was established the Imperial hunting, and on the basis of the Court of His Imperial Majesty's Office were established the Chief palace office.

In April 1893 was issued a new establishment of the Ministry under which the Minister was appointed chief captain over all departments of the court offices and at the same time the Minister and Chancellor of the Imperial and Royal Orders. In his charge also were the Imperial Academy of Arts and the Moscow Art Society. That same year was created the position of Assistant Minister of the Imperial Court, who had the rights and duties of deputy minister.

In Western Europe, the creation of institutions of the Ministry of the Imperial Court was not universal. In Russia after the February Revolution, the Ministry of the Imperial Court was abolished. In March-April 1917 the properties of the offices and apanages were declared state property and handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture; industrial enterprises - to the Ministry of Trade and Industry; palaces – to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. With the establishment of Soviet power after the October Revolution, the property of the Ministry of the Imperial Court and principalities was given over to the People's Commissariat of property of the Soviet Republic.

Note: Count Vladimir Frederiks is probably the most famous Minister of the Imperial Court. He served at the Court of Emperor Nicholas II from 1897 to 1917, and is often seen in vintage photographs with the sovereign. He is easily recognized by his signature white moustache. For more information on this highly respected personalities, please refer to the following article:  

Count Vladimir Frederiks 

© Presidential Library / Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 03 September, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:33 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 4 September 2015 8:13 AM EDT
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Sunday, 30 August 2015
Obituary - Kyril Zinovieff 1910-2015: Witness to the Bolshevik Revolution
Topic: Imperial Russia

Kyril Zinovieff born September 11 1910, died July 31 2015
A Russian émigré who, as a child, glimpsed Rasputin and saw Tsarist officers being shot by their men. Read about the fascinating life of Kyril Zinovieff, including his early years in St. Petersburg before the 1917 Revolution, published in The Telegraph on 30 August, 2015

Kyril Zinovieff, who has died aged 104, was a first-generation Russian émigré who served in the British Army, spent his working life as a British civil servant, and became an acclaimed translator of works by Russian writers; as a child he caught sight of a laughing Rasputin and remembered Tsarist officers being shot outside his bedroom window in 1917 during the Russian Revolution.

The youngest of four children, Kyril Lvovich Zinovieff was born in St Petersburg on September 11 1910 into one of Imperial Russia’s most illustrious families. Their association with St Petersburg had begun soon after the city first became the capital of Russia under Peter the Great. They shared with Pushkin descent from Peter’s African slave, Hannibal, and Kyril could also claim descent from the plotters who brought Catherine the Great to the throne by murdering her husband Peter III. The main instigators of the coup were the Orlov brothers: their mother was a Zinovieff, and the wife of Grigory Orlov (one of Catherine’s lovers) was also a Zinovieff.

From then until the Revolution of 1917, Zinovieffs were a constant presence in the city’s administration. Kyril’s father Lev (Leo) was Marshall of the Nobility for the Peterhof district and his grandfather was the last Tsarist governor of the province of St Petersburg. After the introduction of a constitution in 1905, Lev Zinovieff was elected to the Fourth Duma as a member of the liberal Octobrist party, while his father became a member of the upper house, the Council of State. Other relatives included Kyril’s great aunt Lydia Zinov’eva-Annibal (1866-1907), wife of the poet Viacheslav Ivanov and (among other things) the author of Thirty-Three Abominations, a novella which dealt with the then taboo subject of lesbianism.

Kyril’s mother, Olga Baranova, was the daughter of a cavalry general who became Minister of the Court of Tsar Nicholas I’s son, Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolayevich. Before her marriage, Olga had served as Maid of Honour to the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna and the Empress Alexandra. Both the Baranov and Zinovieff families had estates in Estonia.

Kyril and his siblings spent their early years among the elite of imperial St Petersburg and he and his older sister Elena, who died in 2013 aged 104 (a brother, Leo, died in a railway accident in Britain in 1951 and a sister, Olga, died in 1981), had magical memories of watching the ballet from their grandfather’s box at the Mariinsky Theatre, with butlers serving dinner in the interval.

Although the family fled into exile after the Revolution, when Kyril was seven years old, both he and Elena retained vivid memories of the last days of Tsarism — including a chance encounter with the “Mad Monk”, Grigori Rasputin, in 1916. Kyril recalled how, when walking in St Petersburg with their nurse, they saw a tall figure in black, “white teeth gleaming in a black expanse of beard”, emerge from a carriage. “ 'Look,’ said my nurse, 'Rasputin — smiling at us!’, ” Zinovieff recalled. “ 'Who,’ I asked, 'is Rasputin?’ ” By the end of the year Rasputin was dead, murdered by nobles who hoped to save Tsarism by ending his sway over the royal family. It did no good: A few months later the Bolshevik Revolution put an end to the imperial regime.

In an interview with The Independent in 2010 Kyril and Elena recalled watching from their nursery window as a military parade being held near the Winter Palace suddenly came to a halt. As an officer separated himself from the ranks, Kyril asked his mother and nurse: “Why aren’t they marching? Why is he talking to them? What’s happening?” Then, without warning, a shot rang out and the officer fell to the ground; to the end of his life Kyril recalled the way his arms flew back as he fell into the snow. The family realised then that the men were shooting their own officers.

As mutiny turned to massacre, Kyril recalled their nurse shouting down to the soldiers, and being told to mind her own business. “I thought, my God, they’re brave! To speak to my nurse like that! ” That night, for the first time, the family slept on the floor to avoid stray bullets.

As food supplies dwindled in the months that followed, the Zinovieffs kept going on supplies of dried vegetables brought to St Petersburg by peasants from their estates, all of whom were later shot by the Bolsheviks for helping the “enemies” of the revolution. When the arrangement began to fail, the Zinovieff children began to suffer from such severe starvation that when they were eventually inspected by an English doctor, he told their mother that they would never be healthy again. In addition they witnessed frequent acts of random violence during the early part of the period known as the Red Terror.

One day in July 1918 the family received a tip-off that their father Leo was “on the list”. That night the family, with the children’s beloved nurse (who hid the family jewels under her ample embonpoint), slipped away from St Petersburg and made their way, by tram, train and donkey cart, to the family estates in Estonia . The next day the border crossing was closed.

The Zinovieffs found themselves unwelcome in Estonia, nervous of its eastern neighbour, and in 1920 the family moved to London, where they made ends meet by selling family assets in Estonia, taking in paying guests and giving Russian language lessons.

Kyril was educated at St Paul’s School, then at the London School of Economics. After working briefly as a film extra at Ealing Studios during the Depression, he was recruited by the Foreign Office.

In 1938 he was sent to Prague, where he witnessed Hitler’s triumphal tour of the city in March 1939 and recalled a Jewish friend begging him to look after his prize possession, an engraved fob watch, until the end of the war. The man, a doctor, somehow survived Auschwitz and later wrote asking for the watch to be returned. Sadly Zinovieff had had to leave the watch behind in Prague when he received a coded message instructing him to evacuate after Britain declared war on Germany. He remained dogged by the memory of having to break the bad news to a man who had lost everything else in the Holocaust.

With Britain now at war, the Foreign Office advised Zinovieff to change his name, on the grounds that it might be an embarrassment to have a Russian name at the time of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. He chose the name FitzLyon (son of Leo), a name by which he was known to many for the rest of his life, not realising that the prefix “Fitz” implied “bastard son”.

Called up for military service in June 1940, Zinovieff spent the war in Military Intelligence in the Middle East, mainly in Egypt, but with stints in Iraq and Persia, and was heavily involved in liaising with Russian troops and then German prisoners-of-war around Alexandria.

Kyril Zinovieff with his wife April
In 1941 he had married April Mead, who would who would become a distinguished writer and translator under the name April FitzLyon. Returning to Britain after the war, he joined the Joint Intelligence Bureau of the Ministry of Defence where he worked until 1971. Thereafter he devoted himself to teaching, writing and translating, sometimes in collaboration with his wife.

His Before the Revolution (with Tatiana Browning, 1983), used photographs to present a picture of a Russia that is irretrievably lost. His introduction to his translation of Dostoevsky’s Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, was considered by Isaiah Berlin to be “a major contribution to the understanding of influences on Dostoevsky”. He also translated the Memoirs of Princess Dashkova and the Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky.

Later, he worked for an American organisation smuggling banned books into Russia and Eastern Europe.

During the 1980s, and less often in the 1990s, he made regular visits to Russia and eastern Europe. His memory, he liked to joke, stretched from Rasputin to Putin.

After his wife’s death in 1998 Zinovieff began a new phase in his life, shared with Jenny Hughes, whom he had first met in the Foreign Office and with whose family he and April had forged a close friendship.

In 2003 he and Jenny published The Companion Guide to St Petersburg, part guidebook, part family memoir, to coincide with the city’s tercentenary. They also published new translations of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (2008) and Khadji Murat (2011), and Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground (2011).

A compulsive and brilliant talker (his voice was once described as “a charming mix of 1920s BBC announcer and the occasional Slavic rolled 'r’ ”) Zinovieff had a wide circle of friends who loved him for his wisdom and self-deprecating sense of humour.

Kyril Zinovieff is survived by Jenny Hughes and by his two sons. © The Telegraph. 30 August, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:36 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 30 August 2015 8:04 AM EDT
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Monday, 1 June 2015
Hidden World of the Czars: The Russian Empire in 3D Photographs
Topic: Imperial Russia

Go back in time to the Hidden World of the Czars of the Russian Empire as seen in 3-D photographs, on Saturday, June 6 at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts.

Drawing on a trove of never-before-shown historic photographs, this virtual tour of Czarist Russia spans the earliest days of photography in the 1850s to the fall of the regime in World War I. 

High resolution original stereo photos will be projected in 3 dimensions, as they were intended to be seen. See serfs in the squalor of 19th-century Russian peasant villages, bustling ports and cities of the new merchant classes, the glittering life of the czar and his court, and the wars and struggles that signalled the end of the empire. Through the magic of 3D, you can stroll the streets of Moscow, view houseboats in St. Petersburg, visit ancient monasteries, walk through villages and farms, visit with Tolstoy and his long-suffering wife Sonia, and stand in the trenches with conscripted Russian soldiers. This is a never-to-be-forgotten chance to see the once hidden and now vanished worlds of Russia’s storied past. 

Presented by Photoarchive3D (, a freshly digitized archive of 30,000 historic photographic images. 
© Museum of Russian Icons. 01 June, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 11:06 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 4 June 2015 11:12 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 18 November 2014
Special Imperial Russia Issue of National Geographic Magazine, November 1914
Topic: Imperial Russia

Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the November 17, 2005 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Alexander Potemkin, owns the copyright of the work presented below.

One hundred years ago, National Geographic published an issue entirely devoted to Russia. On Nov. 19, the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation honoured the author's grandson for his contribution to American-Russian cultural cooperation.

The November 1914 issue of National Geographic Magazine is famous in Russia. Under the title "Young Russia. The Land of Unlimited Possibilities,” journalist and editor Gilbert H. Grosvenor gave the reader an idea - with a hundred pages of text accompanied by just as many photographs - of Russia's geography, history, economy, customs and traditions, of its beliefs and aspirations.

With majestic slowness resembling the Volga River - the symbol of Russia - Grosvenor begins his narration very meaningfully: "Russia is not a state; it is a world…"According to the traveler, the country's resources are inexhaustible. Grosvenor talks about Russia's achievements in industry, trade, agriculture. He believes it is capable of feeding half of the world. The population growth is enviable (according to his estimates, by the end of the 20th century 600 million people were supposed to live in Russia).

The main objects of his photographs are people. The magazine does not have any portraits of the tsar or his family, just numerous photographs of common people: industrialists, merchants, peasants and artisans.

In a way, with his impressions the author echoed the prediction of the famous French traveler Alexis De Tocqueville (1805-1859), who had written: “There are at the present time two great nations in the world ... the Russians and the Americans... Their starting-point is different, and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.”

Grosvenor dedicated the "Russia and the United States" section to Russia's contribution to the formation of America. He reminded readers about Catherine the Great's refusal to send Cossacks to subdue the American colonies when King George III asked her, about Russia's many efforts in ending the war between the U.S. and Great Britain, about the friendly visit of Russian squadrons in New York and San Francisco during the American Civil War, which helped prevent foreign intervention. Many of these facts were a revelation for readers.

The magazine could not but stir Americans' interest in Russia. After such promotion Russia could only expect a flow of curious tourists, farseeing businessmen and so on. But the world stage darkened. WWI snuffed out the hopes of many nations. The chance to realize Grosvenor's optimistic hopes in the development of American-Russian relations was lost.

The National Geographic Magazine itself has not lost its interest in Russia. Since 1914 more than a hundred articles about the country have appeared on its pages. Today the magazine is published also in Russian with a circulation of 29,000 copies.
Alexander Potemkin was the last Soviet cultural attaché, and is now the executive director of the ARCCF.

On Nov. 19, the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation hosted a black-tie event in Washington, DC, honoring the role photojournalism has played in promoting closer U.S.-Russia relations.

During the event, the ARCCF presented Gilbert M. Grosvenor, honorary president of the National Geographic Society and Gilbert H. Grosvenor's grandson, with an award for the magazine's and his grandfather's contribution to American-Russian cultural cooperation.

Speaking on behalf of the National Geographic Society at the event, John Fahey, chairman of the organization's board, said: "Gilbert H. Grosvenor was a man ahead of his time. His remarkable cover story showcasing Russia...was groundbreaking for its beauty as well as its unique utlization of pictures to enhance the written word." 
© Alexander Potemkin / Russia Beyond the Headlines. 18 November, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:43 AM EST
Updated: Friday, 21 November 2014 6:54 AM EST
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Wednesday, 15 October 2014
New Schools Turn Back Clock to Train Russia's Girls in Virtues of Nobility
Topic: Imperial Russia

Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens. Last graduates of 1917
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the October 12th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Anna Trofimova, owns the copyright of the work presented below.

Five schools that turn out ‘noble maidens’, just like in the times of the tsars, have recently opened in Russia. RBTH reports on the purpose these so-called ‘institutes for noble maidens’ served in the days of the Russian Empire and what their modern-day equivalents are like.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, in 1764, Russian Empress Catherine II (the Great) issued a decree establishing Russia’s very first Institute for Noble Maidens – the Smolny Institute in St. Petersburg. This institution was tasked with “giving the state educated women, good mothers, and useful members of the family and society,” as the decree reads.  
School for royal ladies
The institute accepted girls no older than six and provided them with a 12-year training course. According to the charter, their parents could be ranked no lower than colonel and state councilor. The institute also accepted the daughters of hereditary nobility for an annual fee. All pupils were prepared for the life of the royal court.

The training program included Russian literature and language, arts, geography, arithmetic, history, foreign languages, music, dance, drawing, conventional manners, and home economics. The girls lived according to a regimented daily routine and could only see their relatives on weekends and holidays, and only in the presence of the headmistress. They did not have the right to leave the institute prior to graduation, either of their own volition or at the wishes of their families. With the help of this institute, the Empress planned to snatch schoolgirls from their familiar surroundings and create a “new breed of people.” After Catherine’s death, the institute started accepting girls from a later age (nine or older) and deliberately preparing them for marriage to military men. Military wives needed to be educated women capable not only of rearing children, but also of engaging in small talk. The Smolny Institute existed right up until the 1917 revolution, producing women such as Maria Budberg (Maxim Gorky’s lover and an NKVD agent) and the writers Nina Berberova and Maria Dobrolyubova (a teacher, nurse, and revolutionary).

The Russian Empire had a total of 12 Institutes for Noble Maidens in different cities, including far-off Siberia (Irkutsk), the Urals (Orenburg), and present-day eastern Ukraine (Kharkov).
Boarding schools for the children of the military
Today, announcements recruiting girls for schools or preparatory courses for ‘noble maidens’ are becoming ever more commonplace. The largest such institution is the Ministry of Defense of Russia Boarding School for Girls, which was founded in 2008. This establishment uses as its inspiration pre-revolutionary ‘institutes for noble maidens’, leaving the old terms of enrollment, list of subjects, and daily schedules intact.

In order to matriculate at the Boarding School, a girl must come from a family of “servicemen who completed military service at remote military garrisons, from single-parent families, and large families, the daughters of deceased servicemen and of combatants decorated with government awards for the fulfillment of military duty,” according to the institution’s charter.

“Neither my parents nor I knew what sort of education was provided in these institutions,” said a graduate of the Boarding School who is now studying at a military university in Moscow and requested anonymity. “My enrollment was my parents’ decision. We lived in a remote garrison, and I could hardly imagine where I would end up.” “This type of school is adapted to the modern social environment. We don’t isolate the girls at all. We teach them things that are not taught in ordinary schools,” said Yelena Venediktova, director of studies at the Academy for Noble Maidens attached to the Novosibirsk Cadet Corps. Such subjects include homemaking, social practices (etiquette, behaviour and so on), and choreography; girls from the school dance the waltz together at balls with boys from the Cadet Corps. In contrast with pre-revolutionary noble maidens, modern ‘noble maidens’ prefer to continue their education, usually in the humanities or in the military field. This is the key difference: The girls not only leave the institute’s walls as cultured women and homemakers, but they can also compete with graduates from general schools for university admission.
© Anna Trofimova / Russia Beyond the Headlines. 15 October, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 12:05 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 14 October 2014 6:16 PM EDT
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Monday, 1 September 2014
Russia Pines for the 19th Century
Topic: Imperial Russia

In recent years, the uniforms of the Kremlin guard regiments were redesigned to look more like those
of the Imperial Guard regiments from the time of Nicholas II. Photo © Artlook Photography
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the August 17th, 2014 edition of The Moscow Times. The author, Alexei Bayer owns the copyright of the work presented below.

Speaking at the opening of a World War I memorial in Moscow earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin noted that victory in that war had been stolen from Russia.

Indeed, after the war, Russia stood to get Galicia and parts of eastern Prussia, effectively restoring rule over Poland. Moreover, France and Britain had agreed that Russia should fulfill its age-old imperial ambition by taking over the Bosporus, along with swaths of land on both banks, and gain the biggest prize of all, Tsargrad (Istanbul).

All that evaporated, however, when Lenin declared "peace without annexations" and took Russia out of the war. In his speech, Putin decried the missed territorial gains as a "betrayal of their own national interests" by the Bolsheviks.

But actually, the Bolsheviks did far more damage to Russia's national interests by taking it out of the modern capitalist system, in which on the eve of World War I Russia had been poised to make significant gains.

In fact, all the preconditions were in place for Russia to overtake the United States and Germany as the world's largest economy and most prosperous country. By far the largest country in the world, it had just began settling and exploring Siberia with the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Russia was the breadbasket of Europe, and its grain exporters helped develop early hedging instruments on the London financial markets. It had vast natural resources feeding its growing industry in the west of the country and in the Urals. Two of the first 10 recipients of the Nobel Prize for medicine were Russians; no Russian has won it since. Russia's educational system, put in place under Nicholas I, was excellent, albeit narrowly based. Still, literacy was spreading: It went from 28 percent in 1897 to 40 percent in 1913, with the urban population already mostly literate.

But in the name of progress, the Bolsheviks not only killed off or expelled the best and the brightest from the country, but threw Russia into some kind of a warped version of the past.

They replaced money, the driving force of capitalism, with loyalty to communist ideals, individual initiative with collectivism, competition with rigid planning, information with lies and openness with the Iron Curtain. Elections were faked and general secretaries ruled for life, much like the monarchs of old. As though to underscore the neo-feudal nature of communism, the Soviet Union was stuck with a vast land empire even as other empires crumbled.

By the end of the last century, instead of being the world's richest nation, as it had looked set to become in 1913, Russia was one of the poorest and least developed in Europe. Finally, communism failed and the Soviet Union collapsed. Russia no doubt would have lost all the territories it could have won in World War I.

In the 1990s, Russia got a chance to rejoin the capitalist system. Instead, sky-high oil prices allowed it to coast without developing modern economic and political institutions. It never really left communism behind and now it is veering back to the past once more. It is pining away for the empire, seizing territory and even, in the words of Duma vice speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, itching to declare Vladimir Putin a kind of emperor.

And so, despite Putin's praise for pre-Soviet Russia, the country looks set once again to embark on a road to nowhere.

Alexei Bayer, a native Muscovite, lives in New York. His detective novel Murder at the Dacha was published by Russian Life Books in 2013. 
© Alexei Bayer / The Moscow Times. 01 September, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:15 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 7 September 2014 8:55 AM EDT
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Thursday, 17 July 2014
Nationalists Seek to Change Russian Flag to Tsarist Imperial Standard
Topic: Imperial Russia

Since the 1990s this flag is used by monarchists and some extreme right political groups
A lawmaker from the populist nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) has prepared a motion to change Russia’s current white, blue and red state flag to the black, yellow and white flag adopted by Russian emperors in the late 19th century.

MP Mikhail Degtyaryov has said in a press interview that the imperial flag was much more appropriate for the important events taking place in Russia. These landmark occasions include Crimea’s accession into the Russian Federation, the start of the Russia-led economic bloc the Customs Union, and the rise of patriotism in general, he said.

A similar “victorious epoch of Russian history” was the period of the Russian Empire, Izvestia daily quoted the MP as saying.

In the explanations to the draft, Degtyaryov also wrote that when the Russian state was using the black, yellow and white flag its territory increased greatly and included Alaska, the Caucasus, Crimea, Eastern Prussia, Poland, the Baltics, Central Asian states and Finland.

“We were achieving brilliant victories when we used the imperial flag and today it is still capable of uniting all Russian citizens. The modern tri-color, returned by Boris Yeltsin in a rush, has never been discussed with the people, no research has been made. In early 1990s all decisions in our country were dictated by US advisers… We need people to think more about the flag that is flying over Russia. We must return the state flag that matches the resurrecting glory of our nation,” Degtyaryov told the newspaper.

He estimated the price of the nationwide transition to the new flag at 15.5 million rubles (about US$443 000).

Most Russian historians claim that the current white, blue and red flag was first introduced by Peter the Great in the late 17th century. The Tsar supposedly borrowed the design from the Netherlands, where he studied shipbuilding and other modern trades of his era.

The black, yellow and white flag was approved as a national symbol by Emperor Alexander II in 1858 and remained as such till 1896. According to the official explanation the flag borrowed the colors from the imperial coat of arms – the Byzantium eagle was black, the Byzantium banner was gold, and the horse of St George, also pictured on the Moscow city emblem, was white. However, the black, yellow and white scheme was also used by German Kaiser of the same period and back then Russia allied with Prussia and other German states.

Various combination of the imperial standard and the white-blue-red tricolor were used between the 1896 and 1917.

Modern Russia approved the white, blue and red tricolor in 1991. It was the flag used by supporters of Boris Yeltsin during the 1991 coup attempt and was modeled on the flag of the Russian Republic – the state that existed between the Tsar’s abdication in February 1917 and the October Revolution. The official explanation of the tricolor colors was the claim that it symbolizes the principles of Russian statehood.

However the fringe nationalists opposing Yeltsin and his pro-Western policies continued to use the imperial standard, claiming that it was the only ‘true Russian’ flag. It was flown regularly at the ‘Russian March’ rallies and other similar events and is still used by some radical groups. Representatives of these movements have not so far commented on Degtyaryov’s plan.

However, the draft drew comment from the founder of Russia’s Monarchist Party. Anton Bakovtold the URA news agency that such suggestions were discrediting the very idea of monarchy.

“How can Russia use the Romanov dynasty flag before the descendants of the emperors return to their homeland? The Tsars got the Kremlin stolen from them, and the Hermitage Palace. Now the LDPR deputy wants to steal their flag,” Bakov told reporters.

MP Vyacheslav Lysakov of the parliamentary majority United Russia party told Izvestia that the change of state flag in Russia was not very likely.

“We have a state flag already, there is nothing controversial about it. We have had such suggestions before, they never ended in anything but empty words,” Lysakov said. 
© Russia Today. 17 July, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:00 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 17 July 2014 5:04 AM EDT
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Monday, 14 July 2014
From Byzantium to Present-day Russia, the Double-headed Eagle Still Soars
Topic: Imperial Russia

This beautiful example of the Russian double-headed eagle can be seen at the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the July 13th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Vladimir Khutarev, owns the copyright presented below.

Originally the symbol of Imperial Russia, the double-headed eagle was restored as the country’s official emblem in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But how did this majestic bird first come to appear on the coat of arms of the medieval Russian state?

Although 23 years have passed since the collapse of the USSR, in the minds of many foreigners the Soviet-era hammer and sickles still a symbol of Russia. 

However, Russia's current state emblem is completely different, and its history dates all the way back to the times of the Byzantine Empire. 

The state emblem of the Russian Federation - the double-headed eagle - happens to be one of the oldest Indo-European symbols. Its history is a mixture of Christianity, Paganism, Zoroastrianism, the epochs of great empires and those of feudal fragmentation. 

Entire states and civilizations vanished, but the double-headed eagle continued to soar above the people of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.

Here's how it evolved. The double-headed eagle first appeared on the coat of arms of the great Hittite Empire, which occupied the territory of present-day Turkey in the 17th-12th centuries BC.

There it was later adopted by the heir of the Roman one-headed eagle, the Byzantine Empire. It shortly became the symbol of Eastern Christianity and then spread across Christendom, appearing on the coats of arms of Serbia and Montenegro, Germany (the Holy Roman Empire) and Armenia. 

The eagle "flew" over to Russia only in the 13th century, replacing the trident - an ancient symbol of the ruling dynasty. First the double-headed eagle appeared in Chernigov, in present-day Ukraine, then in Vladimir (176 km west of Moscow), then in Moscow itself. 

After the fall of the Byzantium Empire in 1453, Russia was left the only independent Orthodox country in the world. 

The eagle subsequently became Russia’s main official symbol towards the end of the 15th century, when Grand Prince Ivan III, "the gatherer of the Russian lands", married Sophia Palaiologina, the niece of the last emperor of Byzantium– and thus rightly inherited the symbol of his wife’s kin. The eagle succeeded another ancient Russian symbol of power, the lion. 

As Ivan III’s grandson, Ivan the Terrible, became the first Russian tsar, the two-headed eagle appeared on the first Russian coat of arms and the tsar’s seal. 

During Ivan’s reign, Muscovy annexed the Kazan and the Astrakhan khanates, the Tatar feudal states and the remnants of the Golden Horde, and began the annexation of the Siberian Khanate. 

Therefore in the early 17th century, the two-headed eagle began to be depicted with three crowns – to symbolize the victory over the three khanates. 

That is how Tsar Alexis himself, the father of Peter the Great, explained this in the middle of the 17th century. During Alexis’ reign, the scepter and the orb, which the eagle held in his claws, were also added to denote the tsar as the “autocrat and the owner of the land”.

Over the centuries of Russian history, the three crowns have been assigned a great lot of different meanings. Some said that they symbolized the primacy of the tsar’s power over both the government and the church. 

There is also an opinion that three crowns denote the tsar’s power over Muscovy, Little Russia (later, Ukraine) and White Russia (now Belarus); or that the three crowns mean that the Russian tsar is both the sovereign of East and West… Whatever the truth may be, the three crowns remained on the coat of arms throughout the history of Muscovy and the Russian Empire. 

At times, other symbols were added to the coat of arms. During the Polish occupation of Moscow in 1612, the Catholic royal lily appeared on the eagle's chest. This was later substituted by St. George or by a griffon, the symbol of the ruling Romanov dynasty. 

According to Russian heraldic tradition, there has always been a difference between large and small official coats of arms. The large coat of arms, besides the eagle, also included the emblem of the Romanov dynasty, as well as the emblems of the most important lands comprising the Russian Empire. 

The Russian emperor was concurrently the tsar of Poland, Georgia, Siberia and the Grand Prince of Finland. In order to emphasize the government's Christian character, Archangel Michael and Gabriel were placed alongside the double-headed eagle. 

After the February Revolution of 1917, the Provisional Government removed the crowns. It is precisely the democratic "downgraded" eagle that is seen on the monetary units of the Russian Federation. 

The scepter and orb were also removed. During the Civil War the anti-Bolshevik powers reinstated the eagle as their coat of arms, but the crowns were replaced with the cross. 

The scepter and the orb once again appeared in the eagle's claws, though the emblem was living on borrowed time by then: After the Bolshevik victory the hammer and sickle was adopted as the official emblem of the new state on July 6, 1923.

The double-headed eagle returned to Russia only after the collapse of the USSR and a three-year study carried out by a special commission. In 1993, following President Boris Yeltsin's decree, it was reconfirmed as the symbol of the official coat of arms. 

Flying in from the distant past and alighting in Russia, the double-headed eagle continues to change, as if adapting to the current political reality of its adoptive country. 

Vladimir Khutarev has a Ph.D. in History and is President of the Moscow City Division of the All-Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments. 
© Vladimir Khutarev / Russia Beyond the Headlines. 14 July, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 11:34 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 14 July 2014 11:39 AM EDT
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Thursday, 10 July 2014
Monarchs' Menu: Feasts Fit for Russian Tsars and Emperors
Topic: Imperial Russia

Ceremonial Dinner in the Faceted Chamber of the Moscow Kremlin. Artist: Mihaly Zichy (1827-1906)
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the July 9th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Alexei Denisov, owns the copyright presented below.

Tsar Ivan the Terrible was radical both in his politics and his cuisine. Reformer Peter the Great never ate fish. Enlightened Empress Catherine the Great treated her guests to pheasants. RBTH explores these and other curious facts in Russia's gastronomic history.

Little is known about meals that were served to Ivan the Terrible, one of the most eccentric Russian tsars. According to Austrian envoy Sigismund von Herberstein, the author of "Notes on Muscovite Affairs", the tsar was an incredibly hospitable host. "Lunch would last three or four hours," von Herberstein wrote about meals at the tsar's palace. "During my first mission to Russia, we even ate till after midnight… The tsar often treats his guests to food and drink…" A more detailed description of a royal meal can be found in a historical novel by Aleksei Tolstoy called "Prince Serebrenni": "Once the swans were eaten, servants, in pairs, left the chamber and returned with three hundred fried peacocks… The peacocks were followed by kulebyakas, chicken pies, meat and cheese pies, all possible varieties of blinis, pastries and fritters…" The next change of dishes was even more impressive: "The tables were laid first with meat jellies, followed by cranes with spicy herbs, marinated roosters with ginger, bone-free chicken, and duck with cucumbers. Then there came different soups and three varieties of ukhas."

The tsar treated his guests only to classical Russian dishes of the time. For example, a kulebyaka (coulibiac) is a traditional pie in the form of a thin pastry shell and a generous filling, often consisting of several ingredients. The filling of a chicken pie (called "kurnik") was no less complex, with poultry meat, primarily chicken, being the main ingredient. A meat jelly (also known as aspic) is a cold jelly made of meat broth with finely chopped meat inside; while an ukha is the traditional Russian fish soup. Culinary pragmatism The first Russian emperor, Peter the Great, was a man of modest tastes. One of his close associates, a mechanic and a sculptor, Andrey Nartov, recalled: "Peter the Great did not like any splendour, luxury or to be surrounded by many servants. … His food consisted of cabbage soup, aspic, porridge, grilled [meat] with pickled cucumbers or lemons, corned beef, ham. He was particularly fond of Limburger cheese. All of the above was served by his chef Felten. Of vodkas, the tsar preferred anisette. His usual drink was kvass. At dinner, he drank Hermitage wine (red wine from the northern Rhône – RBTH), sometimes Hungarian wine (sweet, Tokaj – RBTH). He never ate fish…"

Anisette, which Peter the Great so favoured, is widespread in Europe too, whereas kvass is a traditionally Slavic drink that remains very popular in Russia still. In olden days, it was invariably served at weddings and other feasts (there were different varieties of it, depending on alcohol content). Taste of Enlightenment Catherine the Great had the reputation of one of the best educated women of her time and a proponent of the philosophy of European Enlightenment. In her later years, she developed as simple a taste in food as Peter the Great had. According to historians, her favourite dish was boiled beef with pickled cucumbers and sauce made of dried venison tongues.

Of sweets, she preferred the famous Kolomna pastila (this classical Russian dessert is made of whipped fruit puree that is later dried following a special recipe). When entertained by her favourite, Count Potemkin, who had a dozen foreign cooks working for him, the empress was particularly impressed by "bombs a la Sardanapal" prepared by a French chef. The dish consisted of cutlets made of minced game meat. However, during official meals the empress was not as modest as in her private life. In his book "Repast History of the Russian State", Professor Pavel Romanov describes one such banquet consisting of over a hundred dishes. The empress and her guests were served a dozen soups, poularde and quail with truffles, pheasants with pistachio nuts, bass with ham, teal with olives, tortoise meat, lamb roast, etc. Some of the dishes were clearly inspired by French influences. This is not at all surprising since, during Catherine the Great's rule, it was fashionable among the Russian nobility to hire French chefs and Russian cuisine was changing under their influence. Those strange Russians To an unprepared foreigner, Russian tsars' menus often seemed puzzling. One historical anecdote tells the story of how a Russian tsar sent a Western European counterpart of his a pound of black caviar and the European monarch, out of ignorance, instructed his cooks to boil it first. An English ambassador to the court of Alexander I once found himself in a similar situation.

The tsar liked discussing gastronomical topics with him and once, as a follow-up to a discussion they were having, presented the ambassador with botvinya (a complex soup based on kvass, sorrel and beet greens with boiled fish). The ambassador, thinking that "those strange Russians" have sent him a soup that has grown hopelessly cold, ordered it to be warmed up, unaware that this Russian specialty should be consumed only cold. Having said that, not all foreigners showed themselves so ignorant when it came to Russian cuisine. For example, the legendary French cookery specialist and author Alexandre Dumas Sr. described the above mentioned botvinya as "the queen of Russian soups". Under 50 minutes Alexander II, who abolished serfdom in Russia in 1861, was known on the culinary front as the tsar who introduced a strictly observed duration of meal times at breakfast and lunch for members of his family. Each meal was supposed to take exactly 50 minutes.

The task was made all the more challenging because the tsar from time to time changed the venue for these family meals, with some of them being so far from the kitchens that staff found it extremely difficult to get all the food on the table in time and hot. In the end, they came up with the idea of using large hot water bottles to keep the food warm. The trick did not always work with delicate sauces, whose original taste and smell was sometimes affected. But punctuality was more important. Alexander II's son, Emperor Alexander III, was much less of a pedant and remains in royal culinary history as the tsar who "started a new era for Russian winemaking". According to the head of staff at the Imperial Court Ministry, Aleksandr Mosolov, "under Alexander II, all served wines were foreign ones. Alexander III started a new era for winemaking in Russia: he ordered serving foreign wines only when there were foreign monarchs or diplomats present at the meal. Otherwise, all served wines should be Russian. I remember that many officers found this wine nationalism misplaced: instead of assemblies, they began eating in restaurants, which were not obliged to follow the monarch's instructions." However, soon attitudes towards Russian wines changed: largely thanks to the efforts of Prince Lev Golitsyn, who set up the famous wineries Massandra and Novy Svet. Gradually, Russian wines ceased to be seen by the Russian nobility as an oddity. Last menu The best chronicled in history are the culinary preferences of Russia's last tsar Nicholas II. Here is, for example, what Aleksandr Mosolov says in his book "At the Emperor's Court": "Lunch [at the Livadia summer palace in Crimea] began with a soup with small vol-au-vents, savoury pastries, and small cheese toasts. Importantly, vol-au-vents were served together with the soup rather than as a separate dish, as they are abroad. The soup was followed by fish, a (game or chicken) casserole, vegetables, sweets, fruit… To drink, there were madeira, white and red wines for breakfast (or beer as an option) and different wines served at lunch, as is the custom everywhere else in the civilised world. And liqueurs with coffee…"

All this was cooked by the emperor's favourite chef, Frenchman Pierre Cubat. Alas, after the 1917 revolution, French influences on imperial cuisine became a thing of the past. As did imperial cuisine itself, to be replaced by a Soviet culinary era. 
© Alexei Denisov / Russia Beyond the Headlines. 10 July, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:09 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 10 July 2014 8:21 AM EDT
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