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Tumarkin, Nina. The Living & the Dead: The Rise and Fall of the Cult of World War II in Russia. New York: BasicBooks, 1994.


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2013 rock music Uncategorized

Memories of Kino and the Rock Movement (Lirsen Myrtaj)

At first glance, rock music seems inherently anti-Russian. It gained its popularity out of the American youth revolt of the 1960s posing itself as an alternative to the ennui of Nixon’s “Silent Majority.” There is something about seeing Russians perform rock which is odd. A lot of the themes which are characteristic of early American rock music — such as psychedelia and illegal drug use — are not present. Instead of singing about strains of cannabis (“Purple Haze” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience), Viktor Tsoi and his band Kino perform a song about cigarettes («Pachka sigaret») and the relief from stress it may cause. Like many figures in American rock, Viktor Tsoi died young. While Jim Morrison died of a heroin overdose, Viktor Tsoi died in a car accident while driving sober. This comparison seems to illustrate the difference between American and Russian cultures. Failure in America is due to your own faults. In Russia, fate has the final say over what will happen to your life. Rock music in Russia can thus seem more often like a cultic performance than a talented musician playing to a psychedelic beat. The result is that the memory of rock in Russia seems more like a remembrance of saints rather than a hazy memory of a burst of great talent as it is seen in America.

When asking a Russian rock fan about his favorite bands, I received answers which I took to show a lack of taste. It seems like Linkin Park, an alternative band which I had assumed nobody liked anymore, is still popular in Russia. So is Rammstein, a German industrial metal band whose strange music videos include themes of cannibalism and mob violence. While running the risk of appearing a rock snob, I felt that these bands displayed crass tastes which I grew out of by the time I entered high school. Yet the fan in name was a grown man in his late twenties. When I asked him about Russian rock bands, he told me that there aren’t any good bands. Since my knowledge of modern Russian rock is limited, I asked him about older bands like Kino and DDT. The reaction was positive. According to him, the only good Russian rock bands are the old ones. This seemed quite strange when considering the musical styles of Kino and DDT are remarkably different from Linkin Park’s and Rammstein’s. Yet it is unlikely that he was an avid listener and concert-goer before the age of ten, when the Russian bands in question were at their peak. Instead, the memory of the golden age of Russian rock had to have been passed on to him from slightly older generations, the generation which saw its youth revived in expense of the brutally conformist Soviet communist system.

Just as American rock ridiculed Nixon’s “Silent Majority” and the Vietnam War, Russian rock inspired youth to question authority. Tsoi’s most famous (and arguably best) song — «Peremen» — is not shy to tell the youth what they want:

Перемен требуют наши сердца,
Перемен требуют наши глаза,
В нашем смехе и в наших слезах,
И в пульсации вен
Мы ждем перемен.

Changes require our hearts,
Changes require our eyes,
In our laughter and our tears,
And the pulse in the veins
We are waiting for change.


It is hard to argue that Russian youth did not want change.  The Soviet government realized this and began to fund rock bands, something which it had not done before, perhaps in an attempt to seem not only more tolerant of “change” — which characterized the Gorbachev period — but also perhaps to attempt to coopt the music the youth was following.   It also seems like the youth were tired of seeing their friends die in the Afghan War – it is hard not to see herein a comparison with the Vietnam War’s effect on youth in America — as expressed by Yuriy Shevchuk of DDT’s song «Революция» (“Revolution”) with the lyric “Сколько афгани стоит смерть? / Если чья-то жизнь не права?” (“How many Afghans does it cost to die? / If someone’s life is not right?).

Tsoi also seemed to be a pacifist as expressed in his song «Я объявляю свой дом» (“I declare my house”):

Я объявляю свой дом
Безъядерной зоной!
Я объявляю свой двор
Безъядерной зоной!
Я объявляю свой город
Безъядерной зоной!

I declare my house
To be a nuclear-free zone!
I declare my yard
To be a nuclear-free zone!
I declare my city
To be a nuclear-free zone!


The youth were thus not only in revolt because they were getting bored of the old system, but also because their very youth was being destroyed whether it was through casualties in war or because of a repressive system. It is hard not to see this when watching the Russian-made documentary Рок or simply Rock, the first documentary on the subject from a Russian perspective. The first scene does not involve a close-up of some rock musician performing live in concert, but a Soviet Pioneers’ rally in the Red Square, where the young children are spoken to by Leonid Brezhnev. The scene then shifts to a modern rock musician who looks almost confused, much as his more conservative contemporaries would have thought when seeing him. But they are probably right. Those brought up in the Soviet system look upon their days as pioneers with nostalgia. What came afterwards was uninteresting and alienating. Any sense of individualism was crushed beneath the weight of communist conformism to the working-class ideology. The confusion this caused among identity-seeking youth found its expression through rock music.

Watching Viktor Tsoi perform is almost like watching somebody sobbing. This effect is accentuated by the heavy make-up he and his band members wear, giving Tsoi an almost effeminate character. Yet this is not for performance or dramatic effect: Tsoi remarks in Rock that his art is not a hobby, but his life. He does not seem to be so well-known for his vocals which, like Jim Morrison’s, seem weak. Tsoi is instead giving us metaphors which convey deep feelings. He is not telling you how to feel; he is instead observing life through his lyrics, as in «Кукушка» (“Kukushka”):

Кто пойдет по следу одинокому?
Сильные да смелые
Головы сложили в поле в бою.
Мало кто остался в светлой памяти,
В трезвом уме да с твердой рукой в строю,
В строю.

Солнце мое – взгляни на меня,
Моя ладонь превратилась в кулак,
И если есть порох – дай огня.
Вот так…

Who will go on the lone trail?
Strong and brave
Heads lay in a field in battle.
Few people remain in memory,
In a sober mind but with a firm hand in the ranks,
In the ranks.

My sun – look at me,
My hand turned into a fist,
And if there’s gunpowder – give fire.
That’s it…


It is thus no coincidence that upon Tsoi’s death, the 17 August 1990 issue of the Kosmomolskaya pravda stated: “Tsoi means more to the young people of our nation than any politician, celebrity or writer. This is because Tsoi never lied and never sold out. He was and remains himself. It’s impossible not to believe him… Tsoi is the only rocker who has no difference between his image and his real life, he lived the way he sang… Tsoi is the last hero of rock” (, 2013). Tsoi thus embodies a memory of being honest through his art and through his life. He was thus a sort of revolutionary figure to the millions of Russian youth who listened to him. Perhaps that is why our Russian rock fan has such a positive image of Kino, despite generally listening to music whose styles contrast with Tsoi’s.

Russian rock retains an image which is characteristic of Russian society. Messianism seems to be a theme in at least some of the figures observed by the makers of Rok. While long hair and a beard is de rigueur among rock artists anywhere, it is hard not to draw a comparison to Christ when seeing it in Russia. This is confirmed in the final scenes of the documentary when some musicians sing a melodic prayer, thanking God for his merciful acts, against scenes of Russian landscapes. Yuriy Shevchuk of DDT seems to conform to this image as well. In the documentary, he and his band members gather with their families in a forest  beneath a large oak tree. The scene is reminiscent of “rainbow gatherings” where American hippies would gather in camps in the forest, reputedly using drugs and engaging in other debaucherous activities. In the Russian version, however, one could see children sitting and singing a Russian folk song along with the rest of the people gathered, reminding one of Christ gathering children with him even though his disciples tried to shoo them away. The passionate performances of Shevchuk create an image of a man who is not only trying to write good songs, but also to lead through example and passion. At one point in Rok he mentions his interests in Buddhism and meditation, seeming to confirm that he is also a quasi-spiritual figure rather than simply a talented musician. While Shevchuk portrays the more extroverted forms of the Messiah, Tsoi represents the quieter and more somber messages of Christ. In addition to his “sobbing” performances, Tsoi also led an introverted and solitary lifestyle, never boasting of his fame. It seems as if he actively tried to deny the fame given to him, leaving the limelight for a while just as Christ went into the dessert for 40 days. A now famous scene in Rok involves Tsoi working at his job as a stoker. He carries the coal back into the apartment and throws it into a boiler which has since been named “Kamchatka.” The image portrayed is a strange one for someone of his stature. Tsoi comes across as a simple man, fulfilling a job which has been given to him by the state as all men and women in the Soviet Union. This simple boiler, located on Ulitsa Blokhina (Улица Блохина) in St. Petersburg has since become a pilgrimage site for Tsoi’s fans.

The novelty of rock to Russians seems to be not only an element of Rock but also the reason it was made. It is interesting to notice that there is only one scene in the entire film where you can see a concert audience. It provides a somewhat ridiculous image: a Russian rock musician who is supposed to look something like David Bowie is performing to an audience of miners. Most of the miners, who have presumably never before seen such an act, look somewhat confused or even bemused. There are no screaming fans, none of them sing along, and all of them are sitting down. Yet the image is valuable in order to understand how rock music was received. By the time the documentary was filmed, rock had only recently become popular. The musician in the scene seemed almost heroic, like a David battling the Goliath that is the Soviet culture of conformism. The battle was a battle of ideals, and the youth saw in rock an opportunity to express themselves free of the system that had raised them.   In that sense, the rock movement was a revolution. Viktor Tsoi and others were the leaders of the revolution. Yet they were not Leninists, seeking to bring about change from the top. They were instead prophets or missionaries, expressing themselves as they saw fit. They allowed the youth to latch on to something new and creative when they saw stagnation all around them. When they realized the influence they had, they began to sing about revolution, peace, and the problems they saw everyday. In that sense, they not only led a revolution in culture, but soon enough became the representatives of the youth whose new culture erupted both before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Viktor Tsoi along with others are remembered not only as great musicians, but also as the voice of the youth during the stagnation of the 1980s. Yet their memory does not only live on among those who were old enough to see them perform live and get hold of their new albums as soon as they came out. It is not atypical to see street musicians performing songs from Tsoi and others; graffiti displaying КИНО is a common sight, especially on the Tsoi wall in Arbat in Moscow; Tsoi paraphernalia is common throughout St. Petersburg; and karaoke bars feature people singing Tsoi’s most famous songs off-tune. Perhaps it is pride that forces Tsoi to live on in Russian memory. After all, Kino is one of the “only good Russian bands”, and Tsoi is a man whom Russians can take pride in as one of their own. But he is not extolled as a conquering hero.  Russians loved him because he seemed meek and humble, never demanding anything extraordinary, and never seeing himself as too great to perform with true emotion. This quiet figure came to represent his contemporary Russian youth not only during his time, but also today. He thus serves the purpose of being an object or an abstract site of memory for generations to come.

Museums Uncategorized Памятники

Memory in a Museum (Ben Oelberg)

Considering Russia’s volatile and sometimes quite frightening history, Saint Petersburg might be seen as a breath of fresh air. This city is the gem of progress brought to Russia by Peter the Great – a city of art, music, theatres, universities, gardens, fountains, and ships. It illustrates the ambitious emperor’s desire to link his country to European civilization. It has served as an alternative to what might be seen as the harsher and less-friendly Moscow – the center of Soviet totalitarianism and Vladimir Putin’s soft authoritarianism. However, the beauty and cosmopolitanism of Saint Petersburg can easily conceal its darkest hours. When the Germans and Finns surrounded the city which was by now named Leningrad, in 1941 its people would experience unspeakable suffering and death from starvation, diseases, and aerial bombardment. Of Leningrad’s two and a half-million inhabitants, over six hundred thousand lost their lives due to starvation, cold, and diseases. The total death toll was approximately one million when civilian and battle casualties are included (Tumarkin, 69).

The State Memorial Museum of Defence and Siege of Leningrad was one of the first monuments to the predations of the blockade. It was founded around its present location immediately after the siege was lifted in early 1944 (“900-day Siege;” “Museum of the Defense and Siege of Leningrad”). However this museum was originally much larger, covering an area more than thirty times the size of the current exhibition. It featured 37,000 exhibits such as German tanks and aircraft and many of the exhibits were donated by Leningrad citizens. Yet Joseph Stalin was afraid of the “unifying power of such a monument,” so he had it destroyed while purging Leningrad Communist Party officials in 1948 (“Museum”). Perhaps the museum had the potential of reminding Leningraders that the Soviet government basically left the city’s residents to fend for themselves in the midst of starvation for over two years. That could certainly tarnish the myth that Stalin was the ultimate architect of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. Fortunately, the museum was re-established in the late 1980s. Just like the first time, most of the exhibits were provided by the survivors and their families. The museum re-opened on 8 September 1989 (“Museum”).

A visitor entering the museum is confronted by an untitled large painting by an anonymous artist of five women trying to keep warm during the bitter Russian winter. They are huddled together on what might be a frozen river since there appears to be what looks like a small bridge in the background, along with snow-covered buildings. Each of the women is heavily cloaked with coats, shawls, and boots. The woman standing on the left side is also wearing large mittens, but the other two women standing have no mittens or gloves and are struggling to keep their hands warm. The one in the middle is cupping her hands together and blowing into them for the slightest bit of warmth. She may also be praying. The woman standing in a corner on the right side is actually just a young girl, possibly the daughter of one of the four older women. The other two women are on the ground, surrounded by those standing. One of them is sitting on the snow with her back to the viewer, while the one next to her appears to be kneeling, comforting the other with her hand on her shoulder. The woman who is sitting looks like she must be the oldest of the group. She is probably sitting because she does not have much strength left. It is rather dark where they are, but there are pinkish orange rays of sunlight far behind them in the sky. However, it is not clear whether it is dusk or dawn. Either way, the sunlight could represent that small glimmer of hope that the people of Leningrad held on to during the blockade. As desperate as they were, the hope they clung to was strong enough to help them avoid giving up and surrendering to the Germans.

Most of the exhibits were on the second floor, prominent among them another painting titled “Words of Farewell,” also the work of an anonymous artist. This work of art shows an old woman wearing a long dark coat and shawl hugging a soldier, whom we can assume is her son. He wears a thick coat and an ushanka with a rifle strapped on his right shoulder. The woman not surprisingly has a subtle expression of sorrow on her face as she leans it against her son’s chest. Yet, there is also some unexplainable hint of confidence in her expression. While she is certainly afraid for her son, she seems to have faith that he is strong and even if he does not return, he will at least have died defending the city and the Motherland. In the near background, we see the back side of another soldier walking along a snowy path to the front.

On the top floor, the many propaganda posters took a more militaristic tone. One of the first posters in the glass display was particularly striking. In the middle of the poster, a Red Army soldier (who literally is red) shoves his bayoneted rifle into a giant Hitler snake that is covered with white swastikas. Below this act of defiance, it reads in red letters “Death to Fascism!” This poster also features a smaller picture and caption in each corner. In the top-left corner, a beastly loincloth-wearing
savage is burning books, the caption reading “Fascism is the destruction of culture.” In the bottom-left corner, a thin woman holds her naked starving child, with the statement “Fascism is hunger.” The top-right corner shows a swastika-shaped building, below which reads “Fascism is a prison.” Finally, the bottom-right corner features a green-skinned, helmet-wearing, troll-like creature carrying a bomb in one hand and a sword dripping with blood in the other. The caption simply reads “Fascism is war.” In desperate times of war, it can obviously be quite effective to dehumanize the enemy. These illustrations might have also been useful in getting across the patriotic message to any Soviet soldiers who could not read.

Another patriotic poster shows a mighty medieval Russian warrior, reminiscent of Alexander Nevsky, on horseback swinging his blade and decapitating a dragon whose eyes have swastika-shaped pupils. Alexander Nevsky, a thirteenth-century Novgorodian prince, who had won significant victories against Swedish invaders in 1240 and against the Teutonic Knights two years later, became a useful heroic talisman for the Soviet regime during the Great Patriotic War (Evtuhov, Goldfrank, Hughes, and Stites, 67). In the bottom half of the poster, a Red Army soldier is also on horseback and about to strike a German fascist with his sword. The call-to-arms at the top of the poster roughly translates to “Liberating the people in the century of centuries is the fate of a Russian noble blade.” By drawing comparisons to Russian heroes like Alexander Nevsky, the Soviet state is assuring the people that no matter how fierce the invaders may appear, Mother Russia need only look back at her history to be reminded that she will ultimately triumph against the enemy.

Another poster similarly uses the past to draw comparisons to the Soviet Union’s current crisis. However this one refers to events that are not nearly as distant as the one with Alexander Nevsky. The left half of the poster has the year 1919 at the top and shows a Red Army soldier in the garb of a commoner. He has a determined and fearless expression with his bayoneted rifle raised forth, ready to confront the anti-Communist reactionary White Armies. In the background, a crowd of armed Leningraders stride forth into battle. They carry a giant red banner that reads “Everything for the Defense of Petrograd.” The city’s name had been changed to Petrograd during the First World War when the Russian Empire was at war with the Germans since Petersburg sounded too Germanic (although it had in fact derived from Dutch). In the same fashion, the right half of this poster has the year 1941 – the year Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union – at the top and there is now a Red Army soldier in the same pose with a bayoneted rifle, only this time he wears a proper military uniform and helmet. Sure enough, he is followed by other proletarian warriors who carry a giant red banner that says, “Everything for the Defense of Leningrad.” Like the previous military poster mentioned, the message of this one is quite simple: just as the Red Army defeated the counterrevolutionary White Armies during the Russian Civil War, the Red Army will triumph once more over the German fascists, especially since the Red Army is now better equipped and better trained. Of course, this does not mention the fact that in the first few months of the German invasion, some Red Army soldiers were sent into battle without rifles due to shortages.

Considering Saint Petersburg’s/Leningrad’s significance in the development of the Russian navy, it is no surprise to see a poster that praises the Soviet fleet. It shows two Soviet sailors in their black uniforms with caps, aboard a battleship firing an anti-aircraft gun at German planes. One of the planes is already hit and about to crash into the Gulf of Finland. Underneath the illustration the poster declares “There will be no black wings flying over the homeland.”

Another colorful poster, which is not military-themed but just as patriotic, displays four images of women doing manual labor. It is not too surprising that all of the workers in the poster are female, since every able-bodied man was needed to fight. The top-left image is of a proletarian woman standing on top of a table cleaning the ceiling near an elegant chandelier. The top-right has two brave women on a scaffold painting over the battle scars of a building. The bottom-right shows two women repairing Leningrad’s trolleybus wires. The bottom-left portrays two women placing new tiles on the roof of a building that was likely bombed by German aircraft. The top of the poster reads “Working people of Leningrad! Restore our city.”

The determination of the hardworking women of Leningrad is depicted in yet another illustration, showing four women working together and helping each other to rebuild a destroyed building. In red lettering at the top, the poster proclaims “We will give all our strength for a speedy recovery of urban Leningrad!”

The museum also contains other kinds of representations of the past, for example the reconstruction of a typical room during the winter of 1941 to 1942. The first winter of the Leningrad blockade was the harshest and most “hungry” time of the entire siege (“Room of Winter 1941 – 1942”). The exhibit mentions that the water supply ceased to operate due to bombardment, air raids, and frost “that set in as early as November, 1941.” It is very dark in this room and this is explained by the lack of fuel: “…the electricity was supplied only to strategic objects – state, military, industrial objects and bakeries.” This “frozen-through” dwelling received only scant heating from an oven known as a burzhuika, which was nothing but a cast-iron moveable stove, and people burned books, furniture, and floor parquetry to keep warm (“Room”). The lack of light in the reconstruction of the room might make visitors confused and make them somewhat realize the difficulties of life during the blockade of Leningrad. In order to truly understand the suffering, though, uninformed visitors will need to read the many descriptive plaques in this museum.

The worst aspect of the Leningrad blockade was starvation. It became so acute during the blockade that people resorted to eating dogs, cats, petroleum jelly, carpenter’s glue, sheep’s gut jelly, and sometimes each other (Tumarkin, 69-70). By November 1941, the city had little food or fuel and thus little lighting and transportation, forcing people to walk everywhere. Leningraders worked until they no longer had any strength to “pull the frozen little corpses of their children on sleds to common graves.” People died suddenly “at work, at home, on the street – anywhere, at any time” (Tumarkin 70).

One museum case contained two small photographs of emaciated children lying on what would likely become their death-beds. These two photographs are probably the most powerful images in the entire museum. They provide clear proof of the horrors of life in a besieged city with no food. When you look at these pictures, you might think you are looking at Holocaust victims – bony children devoid of strength, slowly wasting away. It might be difficult to know that this beautiful European city could be the site of such horrendous suffering and death.

This exhibit also features rationing cards and a meager slice of bread that weighs only 125 grams and this was an entire day’s ration. In addition to making jelly out of glue, the people of Leningrad also consumed various leather products such as belts, bags, gloves, and “even parts of technical units.” People made cakes from “saltbush and other grass” that were only available during summer. The exhibit mentions notes that there were “[h]eaps of corpses” lying in the mortuaries and cemeteries. In fact, there were so many bodies that it was impossible to bury all of them. Trucks were loaded “up to the top” with corpses and then drove the bodies to communal graves. Explosives had to be used to provide burial pits since the shovels could not penetrate the frozen soil. The exhibit claims that on 20 February 1942 alone, ten thousand bodies were buried at Piskarevskoye Cemetery (“Famine”). One might argue that the museum does not in fact devote enough attention and space to this existential aspect of the blockade.

Overall, in my opinion, the State Memorial Museum of Defence and Siege of Leningrad does not do enough justice for the victims and the survivors of the blockade in commemorating the extreme loss of life and the unspeakably desperate conditions of the city’s residents. The museum tends to romanticize the Soviet military victory against Nazi Germany in what became mythicized as the Great Patriotic War. Both the Soviet and post-Soviet regimes have capitalized on Russia’s victory in the war to the point where it has essentially become sacred – never to be questioned or stained with uncomfortable truths such as hundreds of thousands of people starving to death in Leningrad. It is as if Russia wants to forget the ugliest realities of the blockade and paint a largely positive picture, therefore ignoring the fact that for many Leningraders, there was no glory to remember. What is to remember then? Corpses – sometimes only parts of them lying in the streets; freezing winters that showed no mercy; darkness; and eating anything one could find. It was just about living to see the next day.

Works cited




Non-Orthodox Religious Spaces on Nevsky Prospekt: Oppression, Privacy, and Memory (Vincent Rampino)

Founded with greater connections to the West in mind, it is almost a cliché to describe St. Petersburg as a cosmopolitan city. From its creation, St. Petersburg hummed with the noise of many languages, spoken first by the various foreigners brought by Peter the Great and later by the descendants of those people. As the history of St. Petersburg progressed, this was not always the case, with an ebb and flow of Westernizing and Slavophile currents. One battleground of this conflict is the history of the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Government. With the official atheism of the Soviet era gone, the Russian Orthodox Church now enjoys a close relationship with the government of President Vladimir Putin. How does this relationship affect the activities of non-Orthodox Christian sects in Russia? In examining the context and presentation of the Lutheran Church of St. Peter and St. Paul and St. Catherine’s Catholic Church (both on Nevsky Prospekt), it can be seen that by keeping commemoration within the community, such religious communities have been able to rebuild healthy congregations since the end of the Soviet Union, without running afoul of the seemingly two-headed apparatus in power.

Organized religion began in Russia with the introduction of Christianity through missionaries from Constantinople and the Eastern, Byzantine portion of Christendom. The most reasonable date for the beginning of Christianity in Russia is 988, when Prince Vladimir, who was married to Anna, the sister of the Byzantine emperor, converted to Christianity (Murarka, 2841). Christianity was brought to Russia with a Slavonic translation of the Bible and its own alphabet created for the Slavic people, which allowed it to become a religion of the people, as the common man could understand it without having to speak Latin, as was necessary with Christianity based in Rome (2841). It was isolated from the West due to this language barrier and its accessibility allowed religious practice to become more ingrained in daily life, leading to a religion that was “more devotional than intellectual,” and more closely aligned with national feeling (2841). This identification of Russian Christianity with Russian identity itself made convenient the use of religion as a political tool and, thus, Christianity, particularly the Eastern Orthodox variety of Christianity practiced in Russia, became closely linked with political authority (2841).

This fusion of Russian folk culture and Byzantine religion created a distinctly Russian religion, and its clear emphasis of devotion over the intellectual pursuit of theology placed it apart from its Byzantine-Greek roots (2841). With the Turkish conquest of Constantinople, the Russian religious began to see their role as that of the only remaining protectors of the one true faith, one that had to be preserved at all costs (2841). This sacred mission led to a “deeply imbedded attitude against change” that valued orthodoxy most of all, and relied on strictly hierarchal structure to maintain it (2841). This structure was held up by the principle of “symphonia,” cooperation between the church and state that tied the imperative protection of “true Christianity” to the Russian state; a strong state would protect the “third Rome,” and thriving Christianity would help legitimize and keep stable the authority of the Russian government (2842). Though debate has continued over the centuries within both the Church and the Russian government as to the exact nature of this union, close ties were consistent up until the 20th century.

With Peter the Great, the state took control of the relationship, essentially establishing the Church as a “little more than a government bureaucracy” (Caridi, 6). In return for its subjugation, the Church was granted even greater latitude in Russia, including exclusive rights to religious education in Russian schools, as well as legal protection from defamation (Murarka, 2343). This ended in 1905 with the “Edict of Toleration” that granted much greater freedom to non-Orthodox confessions, though as many Russians immediately left Russian Orthodoxy, most for Roman Catholicism, these freedoms were restricted again a few years later (Caridi, 7).

Throughout the centuries of Christian presence in Russia, adherents to non-Russian Orthodox religions have been almost exclusively foreigners (7). Their numbers and freedoms have typically been bolstered by Westernizing efforts, particularly Peter the Great’s construction of St. Petersburg and his recruitment of foreign experts to work in Russia. These surges for non-Orthodox groups have typically been met with renewed restriction, due to the conflict over Russian identity. As Russian national identity is so closely tied to the Russian Orthodox Church, any influx of Western ideas or religion can be seen as an assault against the Russian way of life and the stability of the state, leading to action against confessions and sects outside of the mainstream (8). The centrality of the Russian Orthodox Church to the idea of Russian identity was reflected in the Soviet Union’s suspension of repression of the Orthodox Church in the Great Patriotic War (9).

This pattern of enthusiastic modernization and the expansion of freedoms, followed soon after by “objectors who [strive] furiously to beat back the tide of Holy Mother Russia,” can be seen in the last couple of decades and the aftermath of the Soviet Union (11). After the establishment of “western-style” freedom of religion in Russia in 1991, Russia witnessed an influx of well-funded foreign missionaries from other religions and Christian sects that threatened the traditional role of Orthodoxy at the center of the Russian state (11). In response, the Orthodox Church pushed for restrictions that would protect its position and preserve Russia as an Orthodox state (11). These efforts were somewhat successful as legislation made it through the Russian parliament a couple of times in the early 1990s, but Boris Yeltsin refused its approval on each occasion (12). By 1997, Yeltsin gave in and signed into law a measure that once again put the Russian Orthodox Church above all other confessions (14).

The current relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and other religions remains fraught with conflict, as non-Orthodox religions are seen as unjustly encroaching on the rightful territory and people of the Russian Orthodox Church (Dunn, 7). In the last decade, the Russian Orthodox Church and local Russian government authorities have acted against the established Catholic Church in Russia by threatening to close Catholic churches in Russia, accusing Catholics of espionage, and canceling the return visas of Catholic clergy (8). This recent tightening of restrictions over non-Orthodox religious establishments should be viewed in contrast with the Russian government’s prosecution of the punk rock band Pussy Riot over their February 2012 “Punk prayer service” performance in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral (Kizenko, 609). Importantly, this cathedral has come to symbolize the ties between the church and the central Russian government since its reconstruction after the fall of the Soviet Union, as it is the location “where Patriarch Kirill I celebrates Christmas and Easter services attended by Putin and…Medvedev” (609). During the performance, Pussy Riot “[entreated] the Virgin Mary to liberate Russia from Vladimir Putin” (609). Band members were accused of blasphemy by the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Russian Government responded to this pressure by prosecuting them for hooliganism inspired by religious hatred (609). Despite significant criticism from both within and without Russia, the Russian government pressed on with strict legal proceeding, going far toward legitimizing Pussy Riot’s claim that the supposedly secular Russian government has an inappropriately close relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church structure.

There are a few key points that should be understood from this brief history. The close relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state is founded on Russian Orthodoxy as a central pillar of Russian identity and life, which provides for a mutually beneficial arrangement. If the Russian Government protects Orthodoxy and maintains its position at the center of Russian life, governing will be easier. This is especially true after the fall of the Soviet Union, as Russian society lacks definitive structures and meaning. Beyond this, it is important to observe that the Russian Orthodox Church considers itself to be the only religion that should be allowed to operate in Russia, and will see any other religious activity as a threat against its position, and thus, the stability of “Holy Mother Russia.” The current relationship does bear some resemblance to the earlier-mentioned “symphonia” of the pre-Soviet church-state arrangement.

The fairly extreme position of the Russian Orthodox Church makes the presence of non-Orthodox religious spaces on the bustling section of Nevsky Prospekt between the Fontanka and the Neva interesting, if problematic. Despite the great power of the Russian Orthodox Church, there are minority religions operating freely on the central street of one of the most important Russian cities. Certainly, St. Petersburg has always been a special case in Russia, and non-Orthodox religions, such as Roman Catholicism, have been “present in St. Petersburg from its inception” (8). However, St. Petersburg has not been isolated from the dynamics present in Russia as a whole. During the Soviet period, the Lutheran Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, located opposite Kazan Cathedral, was the site of a swimming pool (Richardson, 71-73). St. Catherine’s Catholic Church, close to the Armenian Church and opposite Gostinyi Dvor, was ransacked in 1938 after its closing and was used in a variety of capacities until its return to its parishioners in 1992 (“A Summary of the Temple”).

The Lutheran Church of St. Peter and St. Paul was designed by Alexander Briullov and built from 1833-1837. The church provided a home to the sizable German Lutheran population of St. Petersburg, and managed other community services as well, including the Petrischule, a notable secondary school of St. Petersburg emphasizing the study of German language (History of the Church of St. Peter). As mentioned above, the Soviet period saw the church requisitioned for use as a swimming pool, a period of its history that is still visible in the structure of the church hall (History). In June 1993, the church was returned to the remaining Lutheran population of St. Petersburg. Today masses are offered in both German and Russian (History).

The Catholic Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria was designed by the architects Pietro Trezini and Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe, and was consecrated on October 7, 1783 (“A Summary of the Temple”). From its beginning, the church hosted a very international congregation comprised of Poles, Frenchmen, Germans, Italians, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Russians” (“Summary”). St. Catherine’s was a significant church in Eastern Europe, boasting many celebrated priests and housing the tombs of Polish kings Stanislaw August Poniatowski and Stanislaw Leszczynski, as well the head of the allied armies against Napoleon, General Jean Victor Moreau (“Summary”). On September 7, 1938, the church was closed by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR and ransacked, later being used as a storage space for the Museum of History of Religion and of Atheism located in Kazan Cathedral (History of St. Catherine’s Roman Catholic Parish). In February 1992, city authorities succumbed to public pressure and returned St. Catherine’s to Catholic hands (“Summary”). During the time St. Catherine’s was controlled by the state, two fires gutted it beyond recognition, and looting when it was initially closed down stripped it of much of its splendor (“Summary”). Today, the church has only about 600 members in its congregation, requiring masses to be offered in English, Russian, Polish, and French due to their ethnic composition (“Summary”).

Today, both churches take very similar approaches to commemorating their past and using it to direct their present activity. Approaching either from the street, there is little external commemoration of their histories aside from small plaques memorializing the dates of their construction and the names of their architects. In fact, the manner in which they are publicly identified through commemoration seems to suggest that the value of the buildings is artistic in nature, as two more attractive facades to add to the parade of buildings on Nevsky Prospekt. Furthermore, the churches tend to disappear into their surroundings, hardly noticeable except by deliberate effort. The front of St. Catherine’s Church is crowded and obscured by street vendors selling flowers, finished artwork, and street portraiture made to order. The Lutheran Church of St. Peter and St. Paul crouches behind a gate at the end of a short sidewalk off of Nevsky, past restaurants and bars and a sign commemorating the role of Germans in the history of St. Petersburg.

It seems wrong to think that there is any intention or malice in the reduced visual impact of these buildings. They seem to be hidden more by circumstance and casual disregard than by deliberate action. If anything, it appears as if they are hiding behind the bustle of Nevsky Prospekt, as concealed oases for those who already know where to find them. Most evidently, though, it is fairly clear that most who pass by on the street simply do not care that they exist, leaving them to squat unnoticed mere yards from their own daily activity space.

Mimicking this physical positioning on Nevsky Prospekt is the positioning of the parishes in cyberspace. The websites of both churches have limited accessibility, as St. Catherine’s is only available in Russian and the Lutheran Church’s only in Russian and German. This suggests that there is little to no thought paid to the potential of these churches as tourist or quasi-pilgrimage sites for those outside of their communities. They are little more than functioning parishes. There are sections on each site concerned with the history of the churches, but in both cases, these histories are brief. On the website for St. Catherine’s, the history section must be sought, and is not readily evident from the front page, crowded with stories about Pope Francis, minor saints and devotions, and the day-to-day activities of the parish: typical fare for any unremarkable church (St. Catherine Parish). Ultimately, the posture of both parishes in cyberspace is consistent with the unassuming posture they have in perceived physical space.

This positioning in the common mental landscape of Nevsky Prospekt is key to the manner in which the Lutheran Church and St. Catherine’s commemorate their history. Upon entering St. Catherine’s, the noise of Nevsky Prospekt quickly dies away and is replaced by the tranquility and modest grace of a typical urban Roman Catholic Church. At the threshold between the foyer and the church itself are a few plaques in both Cyrillic and Roman letters commemorating those who were buried in the church, as well as a short timeline of the Church’s history. This is all very similar to what is to be found online. However, in the midst of the renovated church are two memorials to the predations of the Soviet period. Both transepts house an altarpiece unaltered from its condition when the church was returned to its parishioners. There are a few words on each piece, but the visual impact of the crumbling piles of stone against the well-kept and gleaming church is powerful enough to provoke consideration of acts against religion of all creeds.

The Lutheran Church is home to a significantly more thorough commemoration project, perhaps due to its larger congregation. Throughout the building that contains meeting halls, classrooms, chapels, and the main church hall for its congregation are many posters, each about the height of a person, that tell the history of Germans in St. Petersburg, from their arrival at the behest of Peter the Great, through World War II, and all the way to today. These posters are in either Russian or German, suggesting an internal focus to the commemoration once again. Perhaps most importantly, though the main church hall has been significantly renovated, with seating, an altar, and a band area, the stands remain from the church’s days as a swimming pool. Additionally, the acoustics of the space have been forever altered by its former use, creating a somewhat jarring disconnect between the matter of a church service and the ambience of an indoor swimming pool.

In the case of both churches, commemoration occurs internally and is similarly directed internally, allowing commemoration to continue without impediment from a Russian Orthodox Church at the elbow of the Russian Government. The history of the community can be transmitted within community with the privacy granted to the communities by remaining externally silent. Such a subtle approach to charged memories of repression grants non-Orthodox Christian sects in St. Petersburg the latitude to continue to practice their faiths how they choose. Though the situation might, perhaps, be different in another city, or in the provinces, the minority religious communities of St. Petersburg are able to keep memory most vibrant by keeping it quiet, and they continue to add to the varied cultural makeup of St. Petersburg, as they have since their foundation.

Works cited


Alexander Garden (Kelly Okun)

In arguably the largest tourist attraction in Russia, St. Petersburg embodies the modern-day culture of the country. Transitioning from a tsarist government, to a communist and socialist revolution, to today’s reign under Putin, Russia has undergone several significant changes. Within these different nuances, St. Petersburg’s popular sites have evolved. For example, Alexander Garden (Aleksandrovskii sad), originally part of Peter the Great’s shipbuilding scheme at the beginning of the eighteenth century, is currently a rare patch of grass where people from all paths of life can congregate. Although parks are traditionally built for certain citizens, one can truly say that the people have changed this park, debunking former myths in the process.

Alexander Garden was immediately immortalized in Alexander Pushkin’s description in his novel Evgeny Onegin. However, Alexander Garden received its name from another Alexander, Alexander II. Interestingly, the park was built in honor of Peter the Great’s 200th birthday. Because he chose 52 different types of tree species to be planted there, Alexander II earned his name on the plaque (Alexander Garden [Saint Petersburg]). The park opened in 1874 after many years of hard work by the designer, Eduard Regel. However, many historians enjoy reminding tourists and residents alike that Alexander Garden used to be fortification against the Swedes.

In 1703, St. Petersburg became Russia’s first port and connection to the rest of Europe. By 1704, Peter the Great began building the Admiralty, a fortress. Here, Russia built its navy and placed its naval officers in the Admiralty. Even though building the fort at the mouth of the Neva would have been more advantageous, “Peter also wanted it to be protected by the Peter and Paul fortress” (Navigating St Petersburg).

The Admiralty experienced many fires, especially since it was constructed with wood. Anna Ioannovna, the Empress of Russia from 1730 to 1740, decided to rebuild the Admiralty with stone. This stonework lasted until 1805. Then, the Admiralty, under Andreyan Zakharov’s designs, was reconstructed one last time into Admiralty Square. Because the naval officers and wealthy merchants near the former Admiralty became the aristocracy of St. Petersburg, Admiralty Square became the social area for them. Alexander I was not fond of so much upper class influence in this area and gave Admiralty Square more administrative buildings. More changes were made in 1844 when the shipbuilding base was filled in at Admiralty Square and moved downstream (Navigating St. Petersburg).

As Admiralty Square transformed from a naval focus to one more social and political, several aesthetic changes were made. In 1872, plans for Alexander Garden were initiated, and the park began construction in 1874. Other names for the garden include Admiralty Garden and Labourers’ Garden. In 1879, a “dancing” fountain, designed by Alexander Geschwend, was installed in the garden and is synchronized with music. In 1880, monuments were added to the collection of statues to give it a historical touch. Furthermore, in 2007, a memorial plaque in honor of the first tram line opening in St. Petersburg in 1907 was placed in the Alexander Garden. The garden still holds “public toilets from the time of Alexander III” (Baikal Nature). This setup is quite popular in the city, with even buses being converted into public restrooms. However, perhaps the most important aspect of this park is the people. The Russians loved this garden so dearly that, during World War I when they experienced a shortage of firewood, they resolved not to cut down any of its trees.

Initially, the elite of the era claimed Alexander Garden. However, as Bolsheviks became the faction in charge, more and more aristocrats dealt with “political persecution, [the expropriation of property], [imprisonment], execution, and [the designation] as ‘former people’” (Smith 7). After the Revolution of 1917, the park was opened to the public, permanently losing its aristocratic ambiance but not its prestige. Additionally, rumors and myths continue to circulate, even into the 21st century where facts are readily available to contradict these beliefs.

The Przhevalsky myth revolves around Nikolai Mikhailovich Przhevalsky’s appearance. Born in early 1839 in Smolensk, he joined the military as a teenager and was promoted to general officer in 1867. He completed five expeditions to unknown lands, encountering “the great salt lake of the Chinese classical writers, Lop Nor, in the desert.” Dying in 1888 during his fifth exploration, he became renowned for his success as well as praised for his traveling techniques; not many explorers at the time chose only three companions (Answers Corporation).

Despite the inconsistencies of Polish and Georgian backgrounds, the myth states that many Russians believe that Przhevalsky was the father of Joseph Stalin; some ardent communists even leave flowers by the statue in commemoration of Stalin because their appearances are quite similar. When this myth was mentioned to an elderly crowd in Alexander Garden, they literally laughed at the concept. They declared that Przhevalsky was born in Smolensk, Stalin in Georgia. The general consensus was that Przhevalsky, though also considered “maniacal”, was not related to Stalin. I expected these reactions from the younger generations, but the elderly, who have lived in the soviet era, shared the same sentiment.

Although the Przhevalsky statue may be the most popular in the park, others are scattered about the garden’s paths. For example, the statue of Zhukovsky, added in 1887, memorializes Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky, a famous Russian poet and writer in the early nineteenth century. “Zhukovsky is credited with introducing the Romantic Movement into Russia”, and he translated many works into Russian, including those written during what was dubbed the Dolbino Autumn. In fact, Grand Duchess Alexandra Feodorovna asked Zhukovsky to tutor her in Russian since she was from Germany. He became close enough with the family to tutor her son, Alexander, as well. (Poem Hunter)

In 1896, the statue of Gogol was added; Nikolai Gogol was first considered to be a realist writer but later believed to be more surrealist. He was also credited with introducing the idea of short stories. Legends such as Alexander Pushkin soon followed his lead.

The statue of Lermontov was also unveiled in 1896. Mikhail Lermontov led an intriguing life. Developing wit as his only way to survive military school, he wrote many controversial poems; they led to fame but also to exile in the Caucasus. He wrote many poems while there and, upon return to St. Petersburg, was able to publish some of them as well as his only novel before being exiled again. He soon died in a duel in 1841 but is still famous among Russians today. (Russiapedia)

The last major statue to gain admittance to the Alexander Garden was Glinka in 1899. Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka is considered the “father of modern Russian music” or “classical music.” Because he grew up in a more privileged setting, he was inspired by his French and Italian cultural education. He decided later in his life that he wanted to establish a purely Russian opera. A Life for the Tsar, his first attempt at using Russian and Polish culture, was actually Zhukovsky’s idea. He became extremely successful with this opera but his next attempt was too foreign for the Russian audience because his inspiration was more from the bordering states of Russia than the center. After his death, many composers used Glinka’s work as a foundation for their own, allowing Glinka to become famous once more. (Classical Net – Basic Repertoire List – Glinka)

Currently, Alexander Garden is not restricted in any way, socially and geographically. Set between the Neva River and St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the park is open to whoever wishes to stroll its paths. The benches at the fountain, surrounded by statues of the greats, are regularly occupied by couples, families, artists, and vendors. Every so often, a tour will be led through the garden and past the Przhevalsky statue. In addition to the vendors and plethora of paths, Alexander Garden also hosts a playground, where children continuously run around while their parents spectate from nearby benches. Compared to the strict regimen of navy officers and merchants, Alexander Garden’s visitors have significantly expanded. It was also noted that most visitors today are tourists. However, Alexander Garden’s most inspiring aspect is that its history is fully dependent on its people.


Works Cited



Ballet Culture in Russia (Sherri Grierson)

Anna Pavlova. Mikhail Baryshnikov. Rudolph Nureyev. Names belonging to the complex cultural tradition of classical ballet. These names are the greats—celebrities of an era still being uncovered.   They are part of the rich cultural history of St. Petersburg, and reflect the most complex of relationships among the high and low aspects of the artistic world, including art, music, and dance. Russian “kul’tura,” is distinctly different from the rest of the modern world, its role and formation a result of adaptations (or russifications) of surrounding states. A majority of people look at culture as solely internal, but when analyzing Russian society—this fails to account for everything that is identified as distinctly Russian. It is in this respect that culture blurs lines with identity.

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Dance has long been at the forefront of Russian culture. The ballet of St. Petersburg has played a significant role in forming the Russian identity of past and present, and will undoubtedly continue to play a role in future cultural development. The dance culture of Russia has been instrumental in influencing the western perception of Russian society, as well as, western perception of classical dance as a whole.Identity, which can be either constructed or innate, can still become an element of culture.

Ballet originated in the art halls of Italy before spreading into nearby France. As Western Europe chassed and chaine-turned their way through the Renaissance movement, the Rus’ state was dealing with the Mongol invasion and later building an imperial regime. Ballet in Russia is linked to the imperial period—encouraged by the Romanov tsars and tsarinas. Ballet was first introduced by Empress Anna in St. Petersburg in 1734 (“History of the Vaganova Ballet Academy”). Indeed, the word ‘balet’ is derived from the French language. This school of ballet, which was aptly called the “Imperial Theatre School,” was under the instruction of Western instructors during its formative years. The encouragement of ballet during this time coincided with the ideology of “Westernization” championed by Peter the Great. Years after the creation of the “Imperial Theatre School”, Catherine the Great of Russia established the Mariinsky Theatre also by imperial decree (“History of the Theatre: Mariinsky Theatre.”). Over the course of the 19th century, the Russian Ballet gained worldwide prominence and respect as one of the leaders in classical dance. In the 20th century the Russian Ballet gained fame as the premier example of classical dance—a model for other countries to follow. It is in the 20th century that the distinguishable Russian ballet techniques and teaching methods started to become a Russian export.Art is a social construct, defined by a constantly changing community. In times of great social upheaval, art, in many ways, can capture the changes that form within society. In the early twentieth century, a colossal shift occurred within the Russian borders when the Soviet regime came into power. Because art is both a reflection of social values, as well as a potential spark for the change of social values, it would be reasonable to think that the dance world in Russia would also change—exemplifying the social upheaval that traditionally results after drastic political upheaval.

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In October 1917, the Bolshevik Party overthrew the Provisional Government which had established itself in Russia following the end of the Romanov dynasty, marking the end of the imperial Russian state. The Ballet Russes was created several years prior to this event, during a time of political unrest and revolution in Russia. Formed in 1909, the Ballet Russes has been considered the greatest ballet company of the 20th century (“Diaghilev and the Ballets Russe”). This traveling modernist dance troupe played a significant role forming the perception of Russia as a model for dance culture in the Western world. The Ballet Russes revived the declining performing arts of the western countries, bringing the ballet tradition of Europe full circle.

The Ballet Russes, praised for its ingenuity, has a strong historical connection to the Imperial Ballet Company. Although arising in Paris in the early 20th century under Sergei Diaghilev, the Ballet Russes “collected” many dancers trained in the ballet schools of St. Petersburg and Moscow (“Diaghilev and the Ballets Russe”). The company fostered western fascination, especially within Paris, of Russian culture outside of the growing political tensions. The Ballet Russes, characterized by its emphasis on both modern themes and technique, was able to connect the past and contemporary Russian ballet tradition into a singular entity that could be loved by art lovers and the general public. The significance of the Ballet Russes lies in the company’s unmeasurable influence on the evolution of ballet across the world.

During the Soviet period, the arts, much like all aspects of culture, were subject to government control. The performing arts were seen by many Soviet leaders as maintaining ties to monarchical Russia, and as built upon values in opposition to the Soviet government—western, imperialistic, high-class values. When the Soviet government took control of the Mariinsky as a state asset, it also assumed the responsibility of patronage of the Mariinsky performers. Before the fall of tsarist Russia, ballet dancers and other artists were supported by the royal family and high-standing nobles. Prima ballerina Mathilde Kshesinskaya was a favorite of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. A former mistress of the future leader, Kshesinskaya amassed a wealth and status from royal support—with the start of the Soviet Union this support system fell apart and another had to take its place. Kshesinskaya later moved to Paris after the Revolution, and opened a ballet school. Interestingly enough, Vladimir Lenin, the first leader of the Soviet Union, would later give a famous speech standing from the balcony of Kshesinskaya’s house—now the home of a Museum of Political History in St. Petersburg, Russia (“Museum of Political History”).

Dance, much like other art genres, progresses through movements and eras with different artistic philosophies and aesthetics. In response to increasing criticism of the avant-garde movement and fear of “artistic anarchy” a new policy of “socialist realism” exemplified by Maxim Gorky, a Soviet writer, was adopted by the Kremlin as state-supported artistic orthodoxy (Evtuhov and Stites, 372-374). While many superficial changes had occurred prior to the policy adoption, socialist realism was an attempt to internalize soviet values in the art world. Instead of superficially changing the names of ballet theatres and schools to “Kirov” or “Leningrad,” socialist realism attempted to change what was being depicted—the art itself (“History of the Theatre: Mariinsky Theatre”). Ballets during this time sought to portray uncomplicated moral themes that dealt with Soviet life, while still keeping the technical skill developed during the Russian Empire.

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Ballet existed throughout Soviet period, never truly detaching from its imperial tradition. Despite the continued ties to that tradition, Soviet leaders, including Stalin, did not seek to destroy Russian ballet. Instead the ballet itself was repurposed to serve the goals of the new Soviet state. This idea is supported by the fact that the Mariinsky Theatre was renamed in 1935 in honor of Sergei Kirov, a communist revolutionary, following his death. Many scholars today comment on the lack of a national, historical foundation for the Russian state—the lack of a metanarrative. Ballet, along with other forms of art and culture, common elements of a national tradition, were consequently used to create a national tradition in the USSR.

The Soviet Union marketed itself as a place of artistic expression and ingenuity superior to its capitalist counterparts. The Soviet Union, contrary to many prevalent stereotypes, supported the ballet tradition, whilst censoring social expression as a whole. Theatres and concert halls were exported to states within the Soviet Union as an example of the regime’s largesse—it used the ballet tradition and environment, the classical institution, to appeal to states within its control. Ballet helped serve a “dual political role,” in promoting the Soviet Union’s propaganda as a culturally superior country, as well as disseminating Soviet values to a larger audience (Hamm 3). Art, like other aspects of society, was rewarded with medals and titles like the “Narodnyi Artist SSSR” or National Artist of the USSR. Such practices perpetuated the social acceptance of ballet as a national activity, not unlike the use of ballet to create a more Western association a century before.

Many dancers, however, especially while touring in western countries, defected from the Soviet Union. Rudolph Nureyev, a soloist in the Kirov Ballet Company, refused to return to Soviet Union after performing in Paris in 1961. The dancers, like Nureyev, who left the Soviet Union would later join Western ballet companies gaining individual fame as well as increasing the prominence of the companies relative to the Soviet Union (“Russian Ballet Star Nureyev Defects”). These well-publicized acts of course contradicted the Soviet government’s perennial declaration of free cultural expression. [youtube][/youtube]

Russia’s deep history with ballet has contributed to its place within the national identity. The Ballet Russes set a precedent. There is a deep-seated interest in Western countries in Russian ballet. People flock to opera houses and arts centers in hopes of seeing what makes the Russian ballet different from other ballet traditions. Museums in Russia and Western countries frequently have exhibitions dedicated to the Russian ballet tradition, perpetuating the association of Russian society with ballet (“Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music”). Dance in Russia has been depicted in literature and art, and has accompanied opera and theatre productions. Music and dance combine when viewing the famous ballets of “Sleeping Beauty” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and the “Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky (Jenik). In Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, the Countess Natasha performs a dance said to lie within every Russian and consequently “rediscovers [her] own ‘Russianness’” (Figes xxx, 45).

Many articles concerning the dance world of Russia are involved not so much with the influences of politics and society on the social institution, but rather with the art itself. They look at how the ballet techniques and schools compare to Western counterparts. It has been argued that ballet is a reflection of Russian society—changing as society has changed. Others have argued that ballet and dance culture is instead one of the few things in Russian society that has been a constant across the decades – remaining generally unaffected by the Soviet period (Ezrahi 234, 237).

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Teatralnaya ploshchad’, Theatre Square, is home to the renowned Mariinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg, Russia. The Mariinsky Theatre is the head of the Mariinsky opera, ballet and theatre companies. While in the past the Theatre and the Company functioned separately, today the company does not exist without the patronage of the theatre. Because of this interconnected relationship, when discussing the Ballet of St. Petersburg, the Mariinsky Theatre must also be addressed. Ordering a ticket at the Mariinsky Theatre is both an interesting and invigorating experience. Thousands of people move through the historic space each day, standing in lines in order to see the next showing of Don Quixote or The Brothers Karamazov.

These ticket officers speak various languages, able to communicate in English but ready to tolerate broken Russian. The tickets have a broad range of prices depending on what you want to see, where you want to see it and arguably, who you are (prices are conveniently lower for people who are adept at using the Russian language). The Mariinsky Theatre technically describes three separate buildings, each great in their own way: the Concert Hall, acutely designed to showcase musical greats; the original Mariinsky (Mariinskii Odin), and a new addition, Mariinsky Dva. The Mariinsky operates very differently than one would expect. It is formal, but at the same time—not. A mix of people in gorgeous trailing dresses and ties next to others in jeans and shorts. Cameras, while not allowed, are rarely supervised. The tickets, while not cheap (especially for well-known Ballets and Opera performances), are reasonable in an attempt to cater to a wider audience. A section of straight-backed, wooden benches lords over the other seating in reach of the classically painted mural and chandelier. This section is the least expensive and allows those who cannot afford the “Bainoire” or “Belle-Etage” levels a chance of seeing the productions. The Mariinsky experience is not solely for Russian citizens—but rather a source of pride that they can give to the world as a whole. The Mariinsky Theatre is one of the biggest tourist attractions in St. Petersburg, indeed in the world. Ships from all over the wottracts people who wish to see the Russian interpretation of well-known performances. They come because of the reputation that exists in the Western world, a reputation the Mariinsky propagates (“Giselle 3D from the Mariinsky Theater”).[youtube][/youtube]

Local pride in the theatre is endemic, and my host mother in St. Petersburg would regularly sit down at the small kitchen table to tell me about upcoming performances she would be attending. Almost every week she would look forward to the opera or one of her favorite performers, who were coming to St. Petersburg. Twice she gave me tickets to see Mariinsky performances myself—the opera, Rigolleto and a quartet, which played music by Russian composer, P. I. Tchaikovsky.

With the White Nights, the summer months of St. Petersburg hold an intangible feeling of excitement and adventure. The festival of the White Nights includes hundreds of performers of every specialty, working closely with the Mariinsky Theatre itself. The Mariinsky Theatre and the performances of ballet, opera and theatre, provide a service for the Russian people—it offers a place to escape. I saw three ballet performances on two different occasions—“The Carmen Suite”, a scene from the ballet “Le Corsaire” and “Giselle”. The ballet and the theatre have the ability to transport viewers to another place. It is three hours where the outside world disappears and the inside world becomes reality.

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Works Cited