Tag: russian history

Escaping Russia to France


Paris of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a second home to Russia’s nobility. Until the start of the First World War, they retreated to Paris to have fun. Some liked it so much that until the war started they abandoned Russia almost entirely, remaining in Paris year-round.

“After the Romanovs: Russian Exiles in Paris from the Belle Epoque through revolution and war,” by Helen Rappaport, tells their story, following the Russians in France both before and after the Russian Revolution. It is a tale of the wheel of fortune taking those at the pinnacle of life to its nadir. The Revolution reduced Russian princes who lived in luxury to men driving taxis with their wives worked at\ fashion houses to make ends meet.

Rappaport emphasizes the before and after contrasts by opening the book during the Belle Epoque. She shows Russian aristocrats using Paris as a playground, with every want or need provided by their wealth. Republican Paris became a Russian colony, an escape from an uncultured Imperial Russia. One of Tsar Nicholas II’s brothers even moved to Paris, transferring his wealth there.

Ваш король голый: The Brilliant Theatre of Alexei Navalny (Borscht Report #8)


“They don’t like you to die unless you can die anonymously. If your name is known in the West, it is an embarrassment.” 

This is what Alexander, an imprisoned and unlikely dissident, explains to his son Sacha, when he begins a hunger strike in the Soviet mental hospital in which he is being imprisoned, in Tom Stoppard’s 1977 play Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. And it is clearly a lesson that Alexei Navalny has learned well. 

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ДДТ/DDT is a musical institution in Russia and the former Soviet Union, perhaps second only to Кино/Kino in international fame as a outstanding representation of the Russian language rock scene. New bands and fads (and political regimes), have come and gone, but DDT remains, and has chronicled the last 40 years of Soviet/Russian history with […]

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Radio Liberty does an excellent daily program called Весь эфир, which covers a variety of contemporary and historical topics, political and in the arts. Today they posted a very interesting podcast from 20 years ago about William F. Buckley Jr., discussing his ideas, legacy, and life with a variety of American and Russian thinkers (as […]

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Book Review: Hidden and Triumphant


Hidden and Triumphant: The Underground Struggle to Save Russian Iconography, by Irina Yazykova (translated by Paul Grenier), is a short work on how Russian Orthodox iconography, and indeed Christianity itself, survived the Soviets, found renewal in the Russian diaspora, survived the Nazis, spread into the greater Orthodox diaspora abroad, and returned home to its roots. As destructive as the Soviets were in their closure, desecration, and demolition of churches, not only were they unable to ever entirely squelch Christianity, but the very people they exiled were able to maintain the faith and provide outside inspiration and support to their people trapped within their homeland.

That traditional iconography survived the Soviets is remarkable in itself, yet that it survived at all as more than a novelty or as primitive folk art is just as significant.  Iconography, introduced during the conversion of Kievan Rus by Byzantium, developed its own Russian voice and style in the centuries after Byzantium’s conquest by the Ottomans, entering into a sort of golden age under such masters as Rublev during the 16th and 17th centuries.  Yet first, due to the schism with the Old Believers, and especially under the modernizing reforms of Peter the Great, much of that history was deliberately destroyed or hidden away.  From the time of Peter up until the eve of the disaster of World War I, Russian liturgical art was very often little distinguished from that of western European styles, save that its topics remained Orthodox and Russian in character.  Older, traditional icons, blackened with age and soot, were removed and relegated to barns or backwater churches far from the artistic centers of the major cities, and nearly the only practitioners of traditional iconography were rural artists or peasants.  Yet in that final generation before the Great War, these old masters were being rediscovered as these older panels were unearthed, cleaned, and restored, often for the first time in centuries, and Russian artists set about re-appraising their older traditions.

World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution ended that renewal at home.  And yet, as many Orthodox Russians fled the newly-created Soviet Union, they took with them these rediscovered forms, and in their communities of the diaspora, particularly in France, they laid the foundation for new schools of Russian liturgical art.  Yazykova profiles a number of such artists as they created new works for their churches in exile, and how they influenced new generations of iconographers, or changed what had been traditional roles.  In pre-Revolutionary Russia, for instance, only men could be iconographers in paint, while women were restricted to embroidered forms, yet with such a small community abroad, and the need to construct new churches in the expatriate communities, women stepped forward for the first time as skilled iconographers in their own right.  Sister Joanna Reitlinger, for instance, was a prolific artist, as was the highly skilled Mother Juliana (nee Maria Nikolaevna Sokolova), both of whom returned to Russia after the death of Stalin in order to continue their work and teach Russians (often in secret) in their own lands again.