And I shall leave you with the national anthem of the Russian Empire, “God Save the Tsar.” It’s been one of my favorite national anthems ever since I heard it years ago. I remembered to embed a version with English subtitles this year. I’m pretty sure the version I used last year had only Russian subtitles!
A hundred years is a long time to be gone. I wonder what their lives would have been like if they hadn’t been murdered in a basement that night.
I’m a historian by training and even if I’m not officially using my degree (I mean, aside from the writing skills, research skills, and presentation skills I learned while completing my degree—I say this to emphasize that humanities degrees do help you in the workplace, everyone!), I love encountering random historical things. I mean, there’s a reason this blog is called Fluent Historian. I wouldn’t have called it that and kept that name if I weren’t a huge history buff.
Anyway, one of my recent discoveries is a fascinating photo essay on The Atlantic called The 1918 Flu Pandemic: Photos From a Century Ago. It contains thirty black-and-white photos from 1918 and 1919, when the so-called Spanish Flu swept across the world and killed 20 to 40 million people. That’s more than the casualties of World War I (15 million). That could be more than World War II (66 million) as well (it’s hard to tell since casualty figures for World War II vary, as do the figures for World War I)*. Nevertheless, it’s a ton of people.
According to the article, the caption from the National Archives reads: “February, 1919. U.S. Army at Archangel Front, Russia. Funeral of member of crew of U.S.S. Ascutney. Three members died in Archangel and many were sick with influenza.”
As morbid as this sounds, I find that to be so fascinating. For those of you who aren’t as obsessed with the Russian Civil War as I am (and that’s probably most of you, because my obsession knows no bounds! 😉 ), that picture is from the doomed Allied intervention in Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution. After Lenin and his nasty band of followers seized power in 1917, the Russian Civil War broke out. You see, a large amount of people realized the Bolsheviks and their leadership, especially Lenin, were a bunch of nasty pieces of work and didn’t want to be ruled by such people. During the war, the (largely) pro-monarchist Whites fought the Reds (Bolsheviks). There were also the anarchist Greens, the anarchist Blacks of Ukraine, and even a group called the Blues. As you can see, identifying yourself by a color was all the rage.
Anyway, Allied forces also intervened in the war, though I would argue their involvement was too little, too late. The flu pandemic was sweeping the world during this time—even though I know about both the Spanish flu and the Russian Civil War, I hadn’t specifically thought of them as occurring at the same time, even though they obviously did. And as we can see from the photo above, American soldiers were sent to fight in Russia, with some dying and being buried there. Just a fascinating bit of history for you this week.
*Note: Casualty figures for the flu come from this Stanford site. The ones for World War I and World War II come from Matthew White’s excellent book Atrocities.
[Cursed Days] is regarded as one of the very few anti-Bolshevik diaries to be preserved from the time of the Russian Revolution and civil war.
His scathing account of his last days in Russia recreates events with graphic and gripping intimacy. His criticism of Bolshevik leaders is unparalleled, referring to them as “pitiful, dull, mangy-looking creatures”.
On hearing of the death of the Bolshevik leader, Vladimir Lenin, in January 1924, Bunin gave an emotional speech in Paris, in which he dubbed Lenin a degenerate by birth, who committed the monstrous crime of crashing the world’s most powerful nation and killing several million people
Bunin was the first Russian writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1933). He was revered among White emigres for his anti-Bolshevik views, and regarded him as a true heir to the tradition of realism in Russian literature established by Tolstoy and Chekhov.
Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin died in Paris on 8 November 1953.
I’ve wanted to read Cursed Days for years, but still haven’t got around to it. However, that little excerpt I quoted above makes me want to read it even more. I have so many Russian books on my to-read list, it’s ridiculous. And I take forever to read in Russian, so I often avoid doing it. Meanwhile, the list grows and grows and grows… That’s just the Russian to-read list, by the way. I have a to-read list of English books, too.
Dear readers! 99 years ago today, Nicholas II, Emperor of all the Russias, along with his family and faithful servants, was cruelly murdered by the Bolsheviks. Let us take a moment to remember the last tsar.
Дорогие читатели! В этот день 99 лет назад, жестко убили императора Всероссийского Николая II с семьей и верными слугами большевиками. Давайте запомним последнего царя.
On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. It was a decision from which Hitler would never recover, though he was too dumb to know it at the time.
In Hitler’s defense (I never thought I’d write those words!), maybe the Soviet Union didn’t look so strong. I know the Germans thought it would collapse like a house of cards. Plus, Stalin had purged many of the competent officers in the Red Army, so I suppose it may not have been so farfetched to think this. Still, Hitler must have thought himself immune to the problems Napoleon experienced when he attempted to invade Russia. (If you need a refresher, things didn’t go so well for Napoleon, either. His failure in Russia contributed to his eventual defeat.)
Most importantly, Operation Barbarossa opened up the Eastern Front of the war, which ensured Nazi Germany would be fighting a war on two fronts. Obviously, this didn’t work out so well for them.
In addition to a military operation, the Nazis also sent the Einsatzgruppen into the Soviet Union as well. The Einsatzgruppen were death squads who shot people—specifically, unarmed civilians—in cold blood. There have been many academic works on the Einsatzgruppen and they make for grim reading. Richard Rhodes’ Masters of Death is the one that immediately comes to mind for me.
This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Hitler’s notorious Commissar Order, which ordered the immediate execution of any Soviet political commissars captured. The order also called for any prisoners who were “thoroughly bolshevized” to be shot as well. This actually made the Soviets fight harder—often to the death—because they knew they faced certain death if they surrendered.
I’ll leave you with a recording of an old Soviet song called Двадцать второго июня, ровно в 4 часа [On the 22 of June at 4 in the morning]. This song is about the Nazi invasion of the USSR. The song is basically about the Germans invading and the Soviet arising to defend their homeland. Despite my love for all things imperial Russia-related, I quite like this song.
Basically, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) has introduced a bill in the Russian parliament (Duma) to replace the current national anthem with the tsarist-era anthem, “God Save the Tsar.” (Zhirinovsky famously declared war on a letter in the Cyrillic alphabet years ago, so he’s no stranger to very random pronouncements.) Now, I do like the current anthem, I really do. I think it’s quite beautiful. But I like the tsarist anthem even more, so as you can imagine, I was delighted to hear this news.
I doubt the bill will pass, to be honest. I don’t think there’s popular support for it. I don’t think United Russia, the most powerful party in the Duma, supports it, and support from United Russia would be crucial for it to pass. Nor would I want it to pass in the form it was introduced: apparently, according to other sources I read, the bill also proposes changing the calendar back to the Julian version, which would be very confusing since the entire world uses the Gregorian calendar right now. As such, I do think reverting to the Julian calendar would be rather stupid.
But I digress. With all this talk of the two different anthems, you’re probably wondering what they sound like. Wonder no further, dear readers. I have embedded below videos of each so you can listen.
First, the current anthem—here is a direct link to YouTube, in case the embedded version isn’t working. It has the lyrics in both Russian and English.
And here is the tsarist era anthem. Again, here’s a direct link in case the embedded version doesn’t work. I managed to find a version that had the lyrics in English, which was not easy. There are better musical versions out there, but I wanted to have the lyrics in English for all of you to read.
Really, I do think they are both nice anthems. But I’d love to see a change back to the tsarist version. It’s all part of the plan, you see. First, the tsarist anthem. Then the tsarist flag—oh wait, that’s already happened. The current flag in use in Russia was also used during the late period of the Russian Empire (though there were other flags in use in earlier years). The next, and final step is to restore the monarchy to Russia. I rather like that idea—as long as Putin is not the tsar… 😉
No Wednesday Music today, dear readers. I couldn’t find/decide on a piece! But I did write a post, so at least that.
Regular readers may know that I’m a huge admirer of Alexander Kolchak, a Russian admiral who served in the Imperial Russian Navy and later became famous as a noted military and political leader for the White Movement during the Russian Civil War. I’ve been fascinated by him since I saw a Russian film called Admiral back in 2008. (Just so you know, the TV series is way better, but unfortunately not available with English subtitles.)
Anyway, about a week ago, I wasn’t having such a great day at work. Everyone kept giving me stuff to do (and of course wanted it done yesterday, i.e. the day before they gave it to me), I was worried about not being able to finish, and it was very frustrating. I opened up Twitter and, lo and behold, what did I see? A quote from Admiral Kolchak! I follow a pro-White Movement Twitter account (actually, I follow several, because that is the depth of my obsession) and someone tweeted this nice photo. It certainly won’t win any awards for graphic design, I’ll give you that, but it really made my day.
In English, the quote is: “There are no defeats—only temporary obstacles.” Or at least that’s how I’ve translated it. There seem to be a surprising amount of shades of meaning of the word поражение [porazhenie].
Now, I realize there’s a certain bit of irony in quoting a man who was betrayed by troops who were supposed to be on his side, which led to him being handed over to his enemies, interrogated/tried by a kangaroo court, and murdered at the conclusion of this “trial.” (Kolchak’s murder took place ninety-seven years ago as of yesterday, February 7. Maybe that’s why I’ve been reflecting on this recently…) I’m not really sure what to call that other than a defeat. But hey, I think it’s an inspiring quote and I’m rather partial to anything Kolchak-related.
A lot of people at work have quotes on little pieces of paper pinned up at their desks. Most people have random inspirational stuff or favorite Bible verses. I may have to put this one up. Now that will garner some inquiries from my team, I’m sure!
P.S. Here’s how the tweet looked when it showed up in my Twitter stream. It made me so happy that I had to take a screenshot.
P.P.S. I researched this quote and to be honest, it’s quite hard to find a substantiated source for it. In my research, I found this slightly more wordier version: Не может быть поражений — могут быть лишь временные трудности. It pretty much amounts to the same thing in English, though. Despite the unsubstantiation (is that even a word?), I like it and am going to resolutely believe it is true unless I find out otherwise.
Dear readers, look what arrived in the mail for me last week.
In English, the title is Kolchak: Supreme Leader of Russia by Pavel Ziryanov. Yes, I ordered this online and about a week later, it arrived. It actually didn’t come directly from Russia. The seller I bought it from is based in New York. I read parts of this book when I was in graduate school and had access to an excellent collection of Russian-language books at the university library. I meant to buy it but forgot until recently. Luckily, I found it online, impulsively ordered it, and here it is.
And seriously, I got it for an excellent price. Only $19.00, including shipping. I found this exact book on a Russian website and even with the exchange rate that’s favorable to America right now, it was more expensive. Plus it would have taken forever to get here and the shipping was more expensive, as the site ships internationally with a private carrier. (Because, trust me, you don’t want to entrust the Russian postal service with anything of vital importance.)
The embalmed corpse of Vladimir Lenin, whose seizure of power following the Bolshevik Revolution sealed the fate of the Romanov dynasty and ushered in more than 70 years of communist rule, lies on view in a squat stone mausoleum just outside the Kremlin walls.
Amid intermittent calls from Russians to put Lenin in the ground, Putin — who is often described as pragmatic — may have been weighing the possibility for years. And 2017, the centenary of the revolution, would seem like the time to do it.
For one thing, burying Lenin could drive home the message that revolution is bad.
He criticized Lenin last January, accusing him of planting a “time bomb” beneath the state and sharply denouncing brutal repressions by the Bolshevik government. Putin went further when he denounced Lenin and his government for brutally executing Russia’s last Emperor along with all his family and servants. “Why did they kill Dr. Botkin, why did they kill the servants, people of proletarian origin by and large? What for? Just for the sake of concealing a crime,” Putin said during a meeting with pro-Kremlin activists.
Others have gone further. Natalia Poklonskaya, a Russian lawmaker and former prosecutor in the Russian-imposed government of Crimea, lumped Lenin together with Hitler and Mao Zedong as “monsters” of the 20th century. And ultranationalist Zhirinovsky has called for Moscow’s Leninsky Prospekt — Lenin Avenue — to be renamed after Ivan the Terrible.
In a reference to the Bolshevik Revolution during his state-of-the-nation address on December 1, Putin said that coups invariably lead to “the loss of human life, casualties, economic decline, and misery.” He warned against “speculating on tragedies that occurred in nearly every Russian family” as a result of the revolution — a warning, at least in part, not to try anything like it again.
As for my personal opinion, Lenin’s burial is long overdue. I’ve despised the man for years. They should cremate him and scatter his ashes in an undisclosed location as was done to Hitler’s body after his suicide in 1945. If that was good enough for Hitler’s remains, it’s good enough for Lenin’s.
(Do I think this is going to happen? Honestly, no. But I can hope!)
I’ve been a fervent anti-Communist ever since I was old enough to know what Communism is. This fact surprises some people, especially when they find out that I put years and years of effort into learning to speak Russian. I suppose they think that a love of the Soviet Union led me to study Russian. Even though it’s been gone for twenty-five years, it still looms large in many people’s imaginations.
The thing is, though, the Soviet Union was never what led me to Russian. It was imperial Russia—specifically, the imperial Russian family of the doomed last tsar, Nicholas II, and his wife and five children. They were what initially sparked my interest in the Russian language. (I feel like there’s a certain irony in that the form of Russian I learned is slightly different than what they spoke. After the Bolsheviks seized power, they enacted a wholesale orthographic reform of the Russian language. Certain letters were removed from the alphabet and the spellings of words were changed. Even some grammar was changed. As a result, I can read the pre-Revolutionary Russian, but couldn’t reliably produce it myself since I have never learned the spelling rules that were used at the beginning of the twentieth century.) Continue reading “The Rehabilitation of Nicholas II By Natalia Poklonskaya”→