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Russian culture

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This will be a thread dedicated to sharing information, asking questions, and exploring Russian culture together.  Come on in and enjoy yourself.

This thread makes these promises:

1- The tea will always be on so you can relax and stay awhile.
2- Kvas is always free while you're here.  We have cold Kvas in the fridge for westerners and warm Kvas bottles on the counter for easterners.
3- No smoking, we are a smoke free environment.
4- Tort and confetti are in plentiful supply.  Help yourself.
5- Just remember your mother doesn't live here.  If you spill something or make a mess please clean up after yourself.
6- Toilets are down the hall, on the left.


Topical Guide to this thread:
Ancient Russia, page 1
Black Sea, page 6
Chronology of Russia, page 1
Dacha Life, page 3
Golden Ring cities, page 2
Map of Russia, page 1
Moscow History, page 2
Moscow Kremlin, pages 2,3
Napoleon's Invasion, page 1, 3
Novodevichy-New Maiden's Convent, page 2
Park Pobedy (Victory Park), page 2
Revolution of 1917, page 3
Romanov Dynasty, page 3
Russian Music, page 1
Sheremetyevo Park, page 6
Siberian Yukats, page 5
Trans Siberian Railroad, page 1-2

Russian cities:
See the link on RUA about Russian cities:

Moscow Metro, page 2
Moscow Buses, page 2
Marshrutka Buses, page 2
Electric Trolley buses, page 2
Electric Trains, page 2
Trains (see Trans Siberian Railroad, pages 1-2)

Ancient Russia

The early history of Russia, like those of many countries, is one of migrating peoples and ancient kingdoms. In fact, early Russia was not exactly "Russia," but a collection of cities that gradually coalesced into an empire. I n the early part of the ninth century, as part of the same great movement that brough the Danes to England and the Norsemen to Western Europe, a Scandanavian people known as the Varangians crossed the Baltic Sea and landed in Eastern Europe. The leader of the Varangians was the semilegendary warrior Rurik, who led his people in 862 to the city of Novgorod on the Volkhov River. Whether Rurik took the city by force or was invited to rule there, he certainly invested the city. From Novgorod, Rurik's successor Oleg extended the power of the city southward. In 882, he gained control of Kiev, a Slavic city that had arisen along the Dnepr River around the 5th century. Oleg's attainment of rule over Kiev marked the first establishment of a unified, dynastic state in the region. Kiev became the center of a trade route between Scandinavia and Constantinople, and Kievan Rus', as the empire came to be known, flourished for the next three hundred years.

By 989, Oleg's great-grandson Vladimir I was ruler of a kingdom that extended to as far south as the Black Sea, the Caucasus Mountains, and the lower reaches of the Volga River. Having decided to establish a state religion, Vladimir carefully considered a number of available faiths and decided upon Greek Orthodoxy, thus allying himself with Constantinople and the West. It is said that Vladimir decided against Islam partly because of his belief that his people could not live under a religion that prohibits hard liquor. Vladimir was succeeded by Yaroslav the Wise, whose reign marked the apogee of Kievan Rus'. Yaroslav codified laws, made shrewd alliances with other states, encouraged the arts, and all the other sorts of things that wise kings do. Unfortunately, he decided in the end to act like Lear, dividing his kingdom among his children and bidding them to cooperate and flourish. Of course, they did nothing of the sort.

Within a few decades of Yaroslav's death (in 1054), Kievan Rus' was rife with internecine strife and had broken up into regional power centers. Internal divisions were made worse by the depradations of the invading Cumans (better known as the Kipchaks). It was during this time (in 1147 to be exact) that Yuri Dolgorukiy, one of the regional princes, held a feast at his hunting lodge atop a hill overlooking the confluence of the Moskva and Neglina Rivers. A chronicler recorded the party, thus providing us with the earliest mention of Moscow, the small settlement that would soon become the pre-eminent city in Russia.


Napoleon's Invasion of Russia

In June of 1812, Napoleon began his fatal Russian campaign, a landmark in the history of the destructive potential of warfare. Virtually all of continental Europe was under his control, and the invasion of Russia was an attempt to force Tsar Alexander I to submit once again to the terms of a treaty that Napoleon had imposed upon him four years earlier. Having gathered nearly half a million soldiers, from France as well as all of the vassal states of Europe, Napoleon entered Russia at the head of the largest army ever seen. The Russians, under Marshal Kutuzov, could not realistically hope to defeat him in a direct confrontation. Instead, they begin a defensive campaign of strategic retreat, devastating the land as they fell back and harassing the flanks of the French. As the summer wore on, Napoleon's massive supply lines were stretched ever thinner, and his force began to decline. By September, without having engaged in a single pitched battle, the French Army had been reduced by more than two thirds from fatigue, hunger, desertion, and raids by Russian forces.

Nonetheless, it was clear that unless the Russians engaged the French Army in a major battle, Moscow would be Napoleon's in a matter of weeks. The Tsar insisted upon an engagement, and on September 7, with winter closing in and the French army only 70 miles (110 km) from the city, the two armies met at Borodino Field. By the end of the day, 108,000 men had died--but neither side had gained a decisive victory. Kutuzov realized that any further defense of the city would be senseless, and he withdrew his forces, prompting the citizens of Moscow to began a massive and panicked exodus. When Napoleon's army arrived on September 14, they found a city depopulated and bereft of supplies, a meagre comfort in the face of the oncoming winter. To make matters much, much worse, fires broke out in the city that night, and by the next day the French were lacking shelter as well.

After waiting in vain for Alexander to offer to negotiate, Napoleon ordered his troops to begin the march home. Because the route south was blocked by Kutuzov's forces (and the French were in no shape for a battle) the retreat retraced the long, devastated route of the invasion. Having waited until mid-October to depart, the exhausted French army soon found itself in the midst of winter--in fact, in the midst of an unusually early and especially cold winter. Temperatures soon dropped well below freezing, cossacks attacked stragglers and isolated units, food was almost non-existent, and the march was five hundred miles. Ten thousand men survived. The campaign ensured Napoleon's downfall and Russia's status as a leading power in post-Napoleonic Europe. Yet even as Russia emerged more powerful than ever from the Napoleonic era, its internal tensions began to increase.

The Great Seal/Emblem of the Russian Empire

The term Czar (actually better transliterated as Tsar) means 'Caesar' and over the years evolved more to the idea of Emperor which was in line with other European kingdoms at the time.

It was Ivan III (father of Ivan IV--the Terrible) who made it the state emblem of the Russian Empire.  Ivan III adopted the golden Byzantine double-headed eagle as his seal, first documented in 1472, marking his direct claim to the Roman imperial heritage and posing as a sovereign equal and rival to the Holy Roman Empire.

Years later the United States would adopt as it's SEAL the one-headed Eagle.  And therein lies a funny story.  In the days of the Cold War in 1946, Soviet school children presented a two foot wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States to Ambassador Averell Harriman.

The Ambassador hung the seal in his office in Spaso House (Ambassador's residence). During George F. Kennan's ambassadorship in 1952, a routine security check discovered that the seal contained a microphone and a resonant cavity which could be stimulated from an outside radio signal.

Russia's notoriety for eavesdropping and espionage stretches back even to the czars. James Buchanan, U.S. minister in St. Petersburg during 1832-33 and later U.S. President, recounted that 'we are continually surrounded by spies both of high and low degree. You can scarcely hire a servant who is not a secret agent of the police.'


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