Words Of Wisdom From The Admiral

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.

Click to see larger
Нет поражений. Есть временные трудности. -А.В. Колчак

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.

Yes, my phone is in Russian!
Yes, my phone is in Russian!

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.

Look What Arrived In The Mail…

Dear readers, look what arrived in the mail for me last week.

From Russia with love
From Russia with love

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 Rehabilitation of Nicholas II By Natalia Poklonskaya

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.)
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A Documentary About Pyotr Wrangel

I watched a fascinating documentary this weekend. Unfortunately, it’s in Russian, so if you don’t speak Russian, this post may not be all that useful, as neither video has English subtitles.

Anyway, the documentary aired on the channel Russia-24, which was once banned in Ukraine for being too pro-Russian. (I don’t know if it’s still banned.) I’ve embedded both videos below.

Wrangel in his uniform. From here
Wrangel in his uniform. From here

Baron Pyotr Nikolaevich Wrangel was a Russian general who fought on the side of the Whites during the Russian Civil War. His ancestry was Baltic German, hence the non-Russian last name. After suffering great defeat at the hands of the Reds (the Bolsheviks), he then escaped the country and went into exile and worked with other White emigres to form a group called the Russian All-Military Union that was meant to unite White Russians living abroad. This organization was active for many years, and depending on who you ask, may still exist. Since I love anything and everything to do with the Whites during the Civil War, I really enjoyed this documentary.

I haven’t really been watching many Russian-language videos recently, so it was nice to take some time to watch this documentary. I’m trying to get back in the habit of watching Russian documentaries since it’s a really fun way to keep up passive understanding of the language.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Book Review: The Billion Dollar Spy

The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and BetrayalThe Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal by David E. Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really fantastic book that tells the story of Adolf Tolkachev, a Soviet engineer who spied for the CIA and gave the United States hundreds, maybe even thousands, of technical documents pertaining to Soviet radar, military planes, weapons, and much more.

The book briefly traces the history of the CIA in Eastern Europe. At the start of the Cold War, it was very hard to recruit and run agents within the Soviet Union itself. Most of the assets spying on our behalf were doing so outside of the Soviet Union and were diplomats or intelligence officers working abroad. Eventually, this changed, and the CIA was able to recruit in Moscow itself. There was a setback during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, as the director of the CIA during this time placed more importance intelligence gained through technical means as opposed to intelligence from actual humans.

This was the environment in which Tolkachev approached the CIA. It took the poor man about a year to get the CIA to actually respond to his overtures for contact—but once they did, he produced an impressive amount of material. Originally, he hand-wrote valuable intelligence, either from what he’d seen over his career as an engineer or from documents he memorized, but the CIA quickly realized this wasn’t feasible long-term, so they supplied him with miniature cameras to photograph documents.

It wasn’t easy and he ran the risk of being caught many times, especially when he took documents home to photograph them. At one point, his wife discovered his spying and told him to stop, not because she liked the Soviet Union but because she was worried about the potential consequences for their family. In fact, Tolkachev’s hatred of the KGB and the Soviet Union stemmed from Natasha, his wife. Her family was murdered in Stalin’s purges in the 1930s and she was briefly reunited with her father when she was eighteen. He was released from a labor camp in poor health and told her everything: how Natasha’s mother Sofia was arrested and shot because she dared go visit family living in Denmark, a capitalist country, and how he refused to turn against Sofia, which led to his long sentence in the labor camp.

Tolkachev spied for many years, asking for payment in an escrow account he would have access to upon defecting, and also asked for everyday items that were hard to come by in 1970s and 1980s Moscow, including Western music for his son Oleg.

Unfortunately, despite the CIA and Tolkachev’s efforts to evade KGB surveillance in Moscow, Tolkachev was arrested, tried, and executed. His capture was the result of an internal betrayal; both Edward Lee Howard, a disgraced former CIA trainee, and Aldrich Ames helped the KGB identify him. He was executed in 1986. His intelligence helped the United States well into the 1990s: thanks to him, the United States was able to fight Iraqi pilots during Desert Storm since the Iraqis flew Soviet aircraft. Hoffman also emphasizes that the Tolkachev case shows how valuable human intelligence is, as there was no way to have acquired all this intelligence without having a source like Tolkachev.

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A Fascinating New Website: ‘A History of Russia in Photographs’

This link comes from Paul at the excellent Royal Russia blog, one of my favorite websites to read since it combines two of my favorite things (history and imperial Russia). There is a new website available called “A History of Russia in Photographs.” Now, the site is in Russian and I don’t see an English option, but you can still look at it even if you don’t read Russian. The first time you go to it, there’s a button you have to click on a little pop-up window welcoming you to the site. The button is brown and says Перейти к просмотру and if you click on it, the site loads. You can click on a year on the timeline at the top of the page and see photographs from that year.

This site looks really cool and I can’t wait to explore it further once I have some time this weekend!

The U.S. Through the Eyes of a Foreigner

As you may know, I read a bunch of Russian craft blogs. I might even be addicted to them. I love crafts (specifically knitting and crocheting) and I love Russian, so they’re great fun for me to read.

Last week, Nastenka at Creative Living wrote a lovely post, all in Russian, about a recent trip she took to California. (She lives in Moscow.) It’s so interesting to see what someone who wasn’t born and raised here thinks about my country. It’s even more fascinating to see what a non-native English speaker thinks. I’m not sure how much English Nastenka speaks, but she definitely knows some since her blog is peppered with it. (Настенька, если вы хотите говорить по-русски со мной, я могу помочь вам!) Anyway, it looks like it was a good trip. Getting the visa was annoying because the government website is stupid and makes the connection time out before you can finish filling out the application, she says. She ended up getting a three-year visa, though, which is more time than I’ve ever had on a Russian visa!

She landed in San Francisco and rented a cute red car. She visited Stanford, downtown San Francisco, the piers with the sea lions, and rode a cable car. (I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I had to look that up in English. I couldn’t think of the English word for трамвай for the life of me!) All in all, it looks like a nice trip, if a bit short. The flight here and back to Russia is so ridiculously long that it eats entire days of the trip, unfortunately.

Check out Nastenka’s photos of her trip here! Yes, the entire post is in Russian, but just keep scrolling and you’ll see photos.