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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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Saturday, 22 March 2014
Sweet Chariots: Vintage Carriages Return to Vogue in Russia
Now Playing: Language: Russian. Duration: 3 minutes, 9 seconds
Topic: Imperial Russia
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the March 21st, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Vladimir Kozlov, owns the copyright of the article presented below

The production of horse-drawn carriages has seen a revival in Russia over the last ten years. However, since old traditions seem to have been lost, enthusiasts are starting from scratch, taking inspiration from pictures and old carriages that have survived in museums.

From nomads to emperors: early Russian carriages

The oldest Russian version of a wheeled horse-drawn carriage existed at least a thousand years ago. Referred to as a kolymaga, it was derived from carts used by nomadic tribes from the south Russia.

In the early 17th century, the first proper carriages began to be imported into Russia from Western Europe. By the mid-17th century, the number of carriages had increased so drastically that Tsar Fyodor III introduced restrictions on the vehicles, allowing only members of the Boyar Duma (a council for Russian rulers) to use carriages on the streets of Moscow in a bid to avoid traffic jams.

While imported carriages dominated, local production of similar vehicles began to grow. According to Mikhail Kazyonkin, a carriage enthusiast and manufacturer, Russian carriages were not very different from those made in Europe, as all the original technology and craftsmen came from there.

Later, several schools were opened across Russia to train talented boys to become carriage craftsmen. One of the schools was located in the village of Pakhrino, south of Moscow.

Students spent 12 years in the school learning the craft, which only gave them the status of apprentice, and only the most talented and hard-working were able to become full-fledged craftsmen.

Much like cars these days, carriages were supposed to reflect the owner's social status. The richest and most lavish carriages were owned by the emperors.

Those who have visited the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg will have seen the gilded Coronation Coach that was used for the coronation ceremonies of Empresses Catherine I and Catherine II (the Great), made to special order by French manufacturers.

For most of the 19th century, luxurious carriages were imported from France, but "economy class" horse-drawn vehicles were actively manufactured within Russia, both by individual craftsmen and small factories.

The most popular locally-produced type of carriages was based on French phaetons – lighter vehicles with folding roofs. Normally, three separate factories were involved, specializing in the manufacture of the chassis, the body and roof and the seats, respectively.

                                                                                 Maslenitsa (1889). Artist: Pyotr Nikolayevich Gruzinsky (1837-1892)
Life after cars: contemporary craftsmen resurrect the carriage

At the beginning of the 20th century, motor vehicles began to replace horse-drawn carriages, and the craft of carriage making gradually became obsolete. The first motor vehicles still used many elements of carriages, but as automobile design evolved, it moved further away from its predecessor.

However, several decades later, when horse-drawn carriages became a thing from a faraway past to be seen only in museums and period movies, interest in the obsolete transportation form began to revive.

Carriage rides have now become a popular tourist attraction in several cities, while some horse owners have shown interest in owning a carriage as well.

Kazyonkin has been involved in carriage manufacturing since he built his first horse-drawn cart in the late 1980s.
"I wanted to make a living doing that," he said. "Previously, I was involved in the horse-riding business, and it was a natural step from offering a horseback ride to a carriage ride. So I made a cart, then another one, and so it all began."

Kazonkin currently runs a shop that manufactures carts, carriages and sleds of various kinds. But reviving the old tradition turned out to be a very hard task.

"It's impossible to restore the traditions of the craft," said Kazyonkin, adding that he designs his carriages by himself as opposed to using old drafts, but derives inspiration from items that have survived in various museums.
"I have found some in the Hermitage; the [film studio] Mosfilm also has some in its collection," he said.

According to Kazyonkin, the people who buy his carriages are mostly entrepreneurs who offer carriage rides as a tourist attraction and private individuals interested in horses. "Someone, for instance, could make himself a birthday present like that," he said. 
© Vladimir Kozlov @ Russia Beyond the Headlines. 22 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 5:46 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 22 March 2014 5:55 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 19 March 2014
Clothes Make the Man: The Role of the Uniform in Tsarist Russia
Topic: Imperial Russia

Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the March 18th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines (RBTH). The author Inna Fedorova owns the copyright of the abridged version presented below.
The Ukrainian-born writer Nikolai Gogol famously penned The Overcoat, the allegorical tale of a petty bureaucrat who loses his social standing. The story symbolizes the role of the formal coat and uniform in Russia, where it was not merely a garment, but a symbol of dedication to one’s country.

In 1722, Peter the Great approved the Table of Ranks, a groundbreaking register of civil and military positions that systemized the Russian bureaucratic machine in the European manner. Every rank had a corresponding uniform, which thenceforth made it possible for anybody to precisely identify a bureaucrat’s job and his position in society.

The clothes make the man: For young men, this was one of the most important arguments in favor of employment, including civil employment. Even lowly newspaper vendors wore special clothing: a long, double-breasted coat with a peaked cap and a distinctive small bag slung over the shoulder.

The uniform also helped the government’s image: Under Peter, Russia started to speak the same language as Europe — in donning clothing that was familiar to Westerners, Russian bureaucrats ceased to appear as half-savage Slavs in the eyes of foreigners.

Peter the Great himself wore a uniform of exceptionally domestic making. In fact, the uniform catalyzed the establishment of a textile industry in Russia, spurring the development of clothing production.

Huge government orders for ready-to-wear uniforms stimulated the shift from the small-scale artisanal production of fabric and garments to full-scale manufacturing.

The Russian empire was the country of the uniform. From the college to the government office, all working men or students wore a uniform that was approved by the tsar.

Charts with detailed descriptions of the cut, color, ornament, material and even the measurements of these outfits were published in the texts of the laws. Every tsar personally approved and adjusted uniform designs as he saw fit.
Women were not affected by this issue. There were tacit recommendations that workers in educational and medical establishments wear modest colors and chaste garments that were virtually devoid of extra adornment — for the most part, women wore dark-colored, high-collared dresses.

A Table of Ranks was introducted by Peter the Great in 1722
Stripes, caps, black boots 

Every educational institution and government department had its own uniform, which came in several versions: formal, everyday, day off, winter, summer. For example, officers in the heavy cavalry guard had five or six uniform changes.

Rank-and-file soldiers of the same regiment had three different uniforms. Moreover, within each government department, the uniform differed depending on the wearer’s class and rank.

The pattern and placement of the stitching varied, from the formal uniform of a low-ranking bureaucrat to that of a collegiate registrar (14th rank), to that of a collegiate councilor (6th rank). In addition to the coat, the headwear came in different shapes and with fur trimming of various colors.

There was even variation within a single government department and for identical positions. Workers who served at the “headquarters” dressed differently from those who worked for “representatives in the provinces”: Those in the government’s central offices wore buttons decorated with a two-headed eagle, while their colleagues in the provinces wore buttons with the province’s coat of arms framed by a laurel wreath.

The shoes were black laced boots. High boots were permitted only with a double-breasted jacket, greatcoat or frock coat during missions. According to Soviet historian Yakov Rivosh, “Distinctive insignias based on rank were the same for all the ministries and government departments. They were fastened to the stripes or the shoulder straps,” writes Rivosh.

“There were stripes on all types of formal clothing, except the justacorps and uniform dress coat. The stripes bore the emblem of the ministry or government department, just like the one on the cap, but smaller. The bureaucrats’ dress uniform was the justacorps — a single-breasted jacket with fasteners on nine buttons and trousers with a braid lampasse [trouser stripe] (4th rank and up). All the medals and a ribbon (the oldest of the orders possessed) were worn on the dress uniform, along with a sword, white gloves and a white vest that was not visible.”

The colors were subdued, as Rivosh describes: “The justacorps, frock coat, dress coat and trousers of the uniform were usually bottle-green in color. Only bureaucrats in the Ministry of Education and Academy of Arts wore dark blue. In the summer they wore frock coats, vests and sometimes trousers made of bleached or unbleached linen or of lasting (closely twilled cotton fabric). The coverings on the peaked caps were sewn from the same material.”

In full dress 

The dress coat worn by senators, which was sewn with golden thread, was worth one month’s salary for a minister. The coat’s prestige was so great that even merchants and manufacturers, who were far removed from government service, envied it.

They gave substantial donations (hundreds of thousands, and even millions of rubles) to the Offices of the Empress Maria fund, which was maintained as a trustee for orphanages, homes for the elderly, hospitals and other charitable institutions.

The reward for benevolence was the right to wear the striking uniform of this office. Moreover, the lavishness of the uniform depended directly on the size of the donation.

The universal use of uniform came to an end with the dissolution of the monarchy. Nowadays, only workers in some military departments and judicial agencies wear uniforms. 
© Inna Fedorova @ Russia Beyond the Headlines. 19 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:40 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 19 March 2014 4:54 AM EDT
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Monday, 24 February 2014
A Short History of British Tourism in Imperial Russia
Topic: Imperial Russia

Guidebooks popular with British visitors to Russia during the 19th to early 20th centuries
included Baedekers (left) and Murrays Handbooks to Russia, Poland and Finland.
The following article was originally published in the February 23rd, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Anthony Cross owns the copyright presented below.

The post-Soviet boom in Russian tourism to Britain is a well-known phenomenon. But what about travel in the other direction? Britons have a centuries-long history of visiting Russia, writes Anthony Cross.

British tourism in Russia was certainly not invented by Intourist during the Cold War. An otherwise tragic expedition to discover a northern sea route first brought the English to Muscovy in the middle of the 16th century and it was essentially trade and profit that inspired further embassies and led to the establishment of a Russia Company to exploit that trade. However the concept of travelling for pleasure or what was often termed “out of curiosity” was much undertaken in the ancient world. What was new was travelling to barbaric, wild Russia, land of snow and bears and wolves, and of peoples with the strangest habits and, as an Englishman would have it, ‘to vices vile inclin’d”.

Click here to read the full article;

A Short History of British Tourism in Imperial Russia 


© Anthony Cross @ Russia Beyond the Headlines. 24 February, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:17 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 24 February 2014 4:27 PM EST
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Thursday, 30 January 2014
St. Petersburg Lawmakers Attack Bill on Imperial Russian Flag
Topic: Imperial Russia

The black-yellow-and-white tricolour flag was the official national flag of the Russian Empire from 1858 to 1883. In 1858, Alexander II ordered for the black-yellow-white flag to be used during celebrations. In 1865, the emperor issued a decree naming black orange (later “golden yellow”), and white as the state colours of Russia. Today, the flag is being used by Russian Nationalists and Monarchists. It is such a shame that a proud symbol of Imperial Russia has created so much negative media attention today - Paul Gilbert
A bill aimed at officially designating the imperial Russian flag a historical symbol has irked a number of deputies in the St. Petersburg legislative assembly, who say that the legislation is poorly crafted and potentially threatening to neighbouring countries.

The black-yellow-and-white tricolour flag was first introduced by Tsar Alexander II in 1858, but has been widely adopted by nationalist movements since the end of the 20th century.

United Russia's Vitaly Milonov, who introduced the bill to the assembly, said that the flag needs “to be cleared of its negative extremist symbolism” in order “to allow football fans to quietly carry it without being accused of extremism,” Regnum news agency reported Wednesday.

“We are not talking about forbidding anyone from using this flag, but it should not be a simple piece of cloth that can be thrown in a puddle,” Milonov said, reported.

Members of the Yabloko and A Just Russia parties were quick to criticize the proposal.

A Just Russia's Alexei Kovalev said the bill was a prime example of unprofessional legislation, and one that would surely sour the reputation of the assembly.

“It was this flag that became a symbol of the most notorious nationalist organizations, analogous to those, which are now fighting on” Independence Square in Kiev, Kovalev said, “Under this flag people are killed, it has become a symbol of extremism. Why should we make a political gesture today and support this symbol of extremism?”

The assembly's speaker, Vyacheslav Makarov, himself a member of United Russia, repeatedly turned off the podium's microphone during Kovalev's speech.

Another A Just Russia lawmaker, Marina Shishkina, said that much of the bill's explanatory note had been taken from the flag's Wikipedia page. About two-thirds of the article had been used, conspicuously leaving out the final paragraph detailing the flag's contemporary popularity among fascist-leaning nationalist parties.

Yabloko's Alexander Kobrinsky said that granting historical status to the flag would send an unmistakable message to Russia's neighbors that it was rediscovering its imperial ambitions.

Milonov, who coauthored the city's anti-gay legislation, refuted the suggestion and said Kobrinsky feared the revival of Russia as "a Great Power." "You want us to remain an uncrowned chicken,” Milonov said. At this point, Makarov once again shut off the podium's microphone, thereby ending the floor debate.

In the end, the draft legislation passed with 27 in favour, and 13 against. Deputies have three weeks to amend the bill before deliberating on the final version.
© St. Petersburg Times. 30 January, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 9:36 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 30 January 2014 9:54 AM EST
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