THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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7 posts from June 2017

22 June 2017

Sounds Of The Revolution

Guest blogger Ilia Rogatchevski looks back at one of the events accompanying our exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths  and considers the role of music in the Revolution.

What is a revolutionary sound? Is it defined by the characteristics of the music alone or does context form an integral part of the music’s revolutionary temperament? On Friday 5 May, an event at the British Library attempted to answer these questions. Late at the Library: Sounds of the Revolution featured performances by Gabriel Prokofiev and The Renegade Orchestra. Organised in collaboration with Dash Arts, Kino Klassika  and Prokofiev’s Nonclassical label,  the event incorporated compositions old and new, including the debut performance of The Renegade Orchestra: Journey One.

Gabriel Prokoviev
Gabriel Prokoviev performing at the event on 5 May (photograph: Samantha Lane)

Composed by Alexander Manotskov, Journey One tells the story of three musicians from post-Soviet states who operate in a liminal musical environment, which draws inspiration from styles as diverse as jazz, classical, folk and electronic. Brought together by Dash Arts’ artistic director, Josephine Burton, for a workshop in Kazbegi, Georgia last year, the musicians worked at combining their disparate experiences into a united sonic strategy. Marina Kryukova (violin, pipes, voice), Shavkat Matyakubov (sato tanbur, kushnai, voice) and Vladimir Volkov (double bass, voice), along with Manotskov on cello, experimented with augmenting traditional forms by deconstructing expectations of music’s temporal nature.

Sounds 2
Performing Journey One (photograph: Samantha Lane)

In between rehearsals, which took place the previous day in the Library, Manotskov elaborated on the concept of musical time by stating that “only through divine, abstract, musical time can time that is accidental, personal, mortal, historical, be conquered”. He went further than simply inverting T.S. Eliot’s quote from the Four Quartets (“Only through time time is conquered”) by adding that the “binary opposition of freedom and not freedom is essential to the musical piece”. Furthermore, in composition it is “important to have something more general, something more elevated than social context”. The verbatim texts that wove in and out of the music, recalling snapshots of lives from the former Soviet Union, are a testament to this idea. These moments provided context, of course, but also something more general too: alternative sonic textures.

Sounds and children
 (photograph: Samantha Lane)

Unlike Manotskov’s Journey One, Prokofiev’s compositions did not betray a sense of nostalgia. Howl, which was originally scored for Maurice Causey’s all-electronic ballet, mirrored, in its contemporaneity, Arseny Avraamov’s Symphony of Sirens (‘Simfoniia Gudkov’). Performed in Baku to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, Avraamov’s notorious piece employed the sounds of the city itself – factory sirens, bus horns, cannons et al – in celebration of industry, communism and the future. Prokofiev did not conduct a city, but instead, dueted synthesised sounds from a laptop alongside Lydia Kavina’s theremin.

Avraamov Symphony of Sirens

‘Graphical score’ of Avraamov’s Symphony of Sirens. Reproduced in Sergeĭ Rumiantsev, Ars Novyĭ, ili Dela i prikliucheniia bezustalʹnogo kazaka Arseniia Avraamova (Moscow, 2007) YF.2008.a.31612.

Reflecting on the hopes, tragedies and myths of the Russian Revolution, Prokofiev conceded that “there is a kind of desperation, a loneliness, a cry – a howl” apparent in such momentous events. “You reach a breaking point when you revolt,” he continued. “Most people wouldn’t go as far as a revolution, unless they’re pushed so hard. And that’s what happened in the Middle East. That’s what happened in Russia.”

As if to emphasise the ambiguous nature of catastrophic political change, the evening climaxed with a new guided improvisation for Vsevolod Pudovkin’s 1927 silent classic, The End of St. Petersburg. Prokofiev was joined on stage by the Renegade Orchestra, Kavina, Manotskov, Jason Alder (bass clarinet) and Molly Lopresti (percussion).

Pudovkin 1

Scenes from Pudovkin’s The End of St. Petersburg, reproduced in A.M. Maryamov, Narodnyi artist SSSR Vsevolod Pudovkin (Moscow, 1951). 11796.b.43. 

Pudovkin 2

Together, the musicians constructed an alternative vision of the Revolution, one that did not simply celebrate the overthrow of a redundant despot or the provisional government that succeeded him, but focused on the people who suffered not only through the failings of the monarchy, but also the shadowy beginnings of the Soviet regime as well. Peasants and bankers had their own leitmotifs, characterised by Matyakubov’s dutar and Kavina’s theremin respectively, but neither purported to have moral supremacy over the other. The audience, too, collaborated with the musicians, towards the end of the feature, in a collective vocal exercise, oh-ing and ah-ing, like lamentful ghosts of revolutions past, to images of cannons firing on the silver screen.

Sounds overview 2
(Photograph: Samantha Lane)

In summary, it is not the sounds or the context that are revolutionary in of themselves. Rather, it is their combined presentation that leaves its mark on the public consciousness. Performing in the cavernous lobby of the British Library certainly throws up some challenges, especially when most of us are used to experiencing music in a concert hall, but it is precisely this unorthodox arrangement that helps to carry the music forward. On this point, both Manotskov and Prokofiev agree. Music has to evolve, particularly in the formal ways in which it is performed. To quote the former composer: “We should open our eyes and see that nothing is conventional. Everything is new and shocking. This is where we are musically and it’s a great place to be.”

The exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths  is open until 29 August 2017 and is accompanied by a range of events. You can hear more music on 27 June at the free ‘Strains of the Revolution’ performances. Details of all events are on our ‘What’s On’ pages. 

Sounds-of-the-revolution-1920x1080

19 June 2017

Crying wolf: the Bête du Gévaudan

In the current debate about the reintroduction of vanished species into their former habitats, apologists for the wolf often cite the species’ sophisticated social hierarchy and the benefits of predation in restoring the balance of nature in defence of a creature which, they claim, has been unjustly maligned. It is all too easy to forget that at the time when Perrault was writing fairy tales such as  ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and ‘Hop o’my Thumb’, the wolf who features so ominously in them was not merely a fanciful threat. French parish registers throughout the 17th and 18th centuries record numerous burials of those who had fallen prey to wolves, with, in many cases, only pitiful fragments left to inter.

Although these deaths were a sadly frequent occurrence which only disappeared with the gradual extermination of wolves in France throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, one outbreak attracted particular notice because of the extent and savagery of the attacks. The culprit was the notorious ‘Bête du Gévaudan’ which terrorized the Margeride Mountains in south-central France between 1764 and 1767. Over a century later, when Robert Louis Stevenson visited the region, he noted in his Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (Boston, 1879; 10109.n.63) that the inhabitants still recalled the terrible events and warned him against camping out because of the danger of wolves.

Bete 12517.bbb.23

The depredations of this mysterious creature have provided material for much speculation and also for some bizarre treatments of the episode, from Élie Berthet’s historical novel La Bête du Gévaudan (Paris, 1869; 12517.bbb.23; cover above) to Christophe Gans’ film Brotherhood of the Wolf (2006), where its ravages are attributed to a sinister religious cult. However, they have also been more systematically examined by historians and zoologists, and particularly by Jean-Marc Moriceau, an authority on French agricultural history (La bête du Gévaudan: 1764-1767, Paris, 2008; YF.2010.a.19761). Initially interested in the impact of the Beast’s activities on the rural economy, he went on to write a study of wolf attacks in France (Histoire du méchant loup: 3000 attaques sur l'homme en France (XVe-XXe siècle), Paris, 2007; YF.2009.a.3501) and to edit the proceedings of a conference devoted to relations between man and wolf (Vivre avec le loup? Trois mille ans de conflit, Paris, [2014];YF.2016.a.8804).

Bete farouche X.319-4064

A contemporary account of the beast, reproduced in  Jacques Delperrié de Bayac, Du sang dans la montagne. Vrais et faux mystères de la Bête du Gévaudan. (Paris,1970). X.319/4064

Contrary to the popular images of starving wolves prowling through snow-clad landscapes, the Beast claimed its first victim, Jeanne Boulet, just short of her 14th birthday, on 30 June 1764. The parish priest of Les Hubacs, recording her burial the following day, attributed her death to  ‘la Bête féroce’, suggesting that it had achieved some notoriety. In fact it had already made at least one previous attack, foiled by the cattle which the intended victim was guarding. Moriceau notes that while flocks of sheep were generally supervised by experienced shepherds with formidable sheepdogs armed with spiked collars, the practice of sending boys and girls to accompany the cattle to pasture rendered them especially vulnerable. In most of the fatal attacks which occurred over the next three years (up to 113, according to one source), the victims were young; of 79 cases cited where the age is recorded, 63 out of 79 were under 20. The spring and summer, when the rural population was engaged in outdoor pursuits in the fields and vineyards, offered special opportunities to a predator lurking at the edge of a forest or lying low in a cornfield.

Bete Figuren du monstre X.319-4064

Another contemporary view of the ‘monster’, reproduced in Du sang dans la montagne.

As the toll increased, even grown men were afraid to venture forth unarmed, leading to appeals for the ban forbidding the peasantry to carry weapons to be lifted. Fears were heightened by reports of the creature’s unusual size, strength and appearance, leading to rumours that it was not a wolf at all but a bear or a hyena escaped from the King of Sardinia’s menagerie. As even expert hunters failed to shoot it, it was claimed that it was no ordinary animal but a werewolf, invulnerable to firearms or to poison (more bizarre suggestions include a wolf/dog hybrid or, according to Pascal Cazottes in La bête du Gévaudan enfin démasquée? (La Motte d’Aigues, 2004; YF.2005.a.9199), a prehistoric Hemicyon.

This led to intervention by Louis XV himself; on hearing of the heroism of young Jacques Portefaix, who successfully defended himself and seven companions when attacked on 12 January 1765, he not only rewarded them financially but decreed that the Crown would send assistance to kill the Beast. This met with mixed success; the royal louvetiers were resented by the local residents on whom they were billeted, especially when their efforts achieved nothing. However, when on 20 September a large wolf was killed by François Antoine, the king's arquebus-bearer and Lieutenant of the Hunt, it seemed that he had exterminated the Beast, especially as several survivors recognized it by scars inflicted during attempts to beat it off. The stuffed specimen was displayed at Versailles, and Antoine fêted as a hero, but by December 1765 renewed attacks confirmed that the story was not yet over.

In May/June 1767 alone eight more victims perished, including a Carmelite nun and several young cowherds. On 17 June the burial of the last, 19-year-old Jeanne Bastide, was recorded by the parish priest of Binière. The following day the young Marquis d’Apcher organized a hunt and set out with a pack of hounds and around 300 huntsmen and beaters, including 12 named marksmen, one of them a farmer called Jean Chastel. At 10.15 on the morning of 19 June the Marquis sighted his quarry followed by its mate, and gave the order to loose the hounds. Chastel fired, and the Beast of the Gévaudan fell dead.

Somewhat anticlimactically, the corpse rapidly decomposed in the hot weather and could not be exhibited, and in contrast to Antoine, Chastel, on arrival at court, received only a modest reward of 72 livres. But he had earned the lasting gratitude of his neighbours for rescuing them from three years of terror, and 250 years later the surrounding area prepares to commemorate the events of June 1767 under the slogan Fête la Bête!’ 


Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities & Social Sciences) Research Services

16 June 2017

Kamenets Tower

I went to see the Kamenets Tower (photos below) while visiting my parents this Easter holidays. The Tower has been a branch of Brest Regional museum since 1960. It was closed when we arrived but it was still an amazing experience to have the medieval historical site almost to ourselves.

Picture 5   Picture 5.1
Kamenets Tower  (Photos by Rimma Lough)

The Kamenets Tower is also known as the White Tower – nothing to do with its colour, the name is taken from the local area. It was built between 1271 and 1289 on the order of Grand Duke Vladimir Vasilkovich of Volhynia  who died in 1289. Vladimir Vasilkovich also established the town of Kobrin in 1287.

Picture 6

Monument to Grand Duke Vladimir Vasilkovich and distant view of St Simeon’s Eastern Orthodox church, built 1914 (Photo by Rimma Lough)

Over the centuries the tower was under constant attack: first in 1378-1379 by the Crusaders. In 1382 the town of Kamenets was captured by Janusz I of Warsaw, and in 1390 briefly by Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania.  All of them saw the tower as a strategic fortress for the area.

Picture 1   Picture 1-1
Napoleon Orda’s drawing of the tower. Reproduced in Zʹmitser Vaĭtsiakhovich, Kraina zamkaŭ, alʹbo Belarusʹ na starazhytnym maliunku (Mensk, 1997) YF.2012.a.5328. 

Legends say that there was also a palace that did not survive. In 1500 Kamenets came under attack from the Crimean Khan Meñli I Giray’s  army.

The town of Kamenets  was established around 1276 and situated in the Brest Region. Today it has a population of 8,425. Its coat of arms features the outline of Kamenets tower.

Picture 7

In 1899, the tower was explored and measured by the Russian academician of architecture Vladimir Vasilevich Suslov, who planned a restoration, which did not violate the ancient forms of the tower.

The first restoration of the tower was carried out in 1903-1905 and later work was done in 1968-73 and in 1996-2003. Over the years and centuries the Kamenets tower became very popular with visitors, and I was glad to discover that British Library has a number of books about it.

  Picture 3
Turisticheskie marshruty Kamenetchiny (Brest, 2007) YF.2009.a.24106

Picture 4Legendy srednevekovʹia Belarusi = Legends of Medieval Belarus (Minsk, 2012) YF.2014.a.160

Rimma Lough, SEE Cataloguer Belarusian/Russian/Ukrainian

References/Further reading

A. A. Iarashėvich, Kamianetskaia vezha = Kamianetskaia bashnia = Kamenets tower ((Minsk, 2005) YF.2006.a.8414

M.A. Tkachev, Zamki Belarusi (Minsk: Belarus, 2007). YF.2007.a.35100

Napoleon Orda, Senosios Lietuvos vaizdai =Views of ancient Lithuania  (Vilnius, 1999).LF.31.a.452

 

 

13 June 2017

Revolutionaries, spies and royals

William Melville was Head of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and later a senior member of the British Secret Service MI5. While still at Scotland Yard, he was involved in intelligence operations against anarchists with suspected links to Russian revolutionary émigrés, such as Vladimir Burtsev, arrested by Melville in December 1897 when leaving the British Museum reading room. In his memoirs, Burtsev described this episode:

On 16 December 1897, when I was leaving the main British Museum Reading Room, I was arrested there by the chief of British Police Melville and sent to prison. In two hours, I was sent from prison to the preliminary court and indicted with accusation of plotting assassination of the person ‘who was not a subject of Her Majesty the Queen’, i.e. Nicholas II. The aim of that court was to decide whether my case could be heard by the jury court or not. I was taken to this court five times.

Melville
William Melville at his desk in Scotland Yard, ca. 1894. Reproduced in Andrew Cook, M: MI5's First Spymaster (Stroud, 2004) m07/.19673

In his letter to Petr Rachkovskii, the chief of the European intelligence department of the Okhrana, the secret service in Imperial Russia, Melville wrote:

If you found it possible to bring a case against Burtsev & Co you could only go about it in the following way. Send the aforementioned newspaper to the Russian Ambassador in London, having marked in it the most relevant passages, and accompany it with a letter in which you insist on the need to prosecute the editor. Ask the Ambassador to bring the letter to the notice of the Foreign Secretary, who surely pass it on to me. As you see, one will have to act through the diplomatic channel.

Sidney Reilly, who would be sent to Russia as an agent in the revolutionary years, was first recruited by Melville as an informer in an organization that was also involved with Russian anarchists. The rise of terrorist and anarchist activities alarmed the British public and became. For example, the central theme of Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel The Secret Agent, where the Russian links are prominent.

X808-38955 Reilly Ace of Spies TV tie-in   YKL.2016.a.1066 Reilly 2014 ed

 Left: Robin Bruce Lockhart, Reilly, Ace of Spies, a life of Sidney Reilly, first published 1967 (X.639/2067). The copy shown (X.808/38995) was published as a tie-in for a 1980s TV dramatisation which starred Sam Neill as Reilly. Right: Reilly’s partially ghostwritten memoir, Adventures of a British Master Spy (London, 2014) YKL.2016.a.1066. 

In 1902 Melville’s service was recognized by the Russian Imperial State and he received a silver cigarette case made by Imperial goldsmiths possibly subordinate to Fabergé and a watch with an enamelled double-headed eagle made by the Russian Imperial purveyor Paul Buhre. The gift was presented by the then heir to the Russian throne, Grand Duke Michael, Nicholas II’s younger brother who represented the family at the Coronation of Edward VII.

Michael-K.T.C.111.b.2

 Grand Duke Michael in the military uniform of the Russian Royals of the 17th century at the Costume Ball at the Winter Palace that took place in February 1903. From Alʹbom kostiumirovannago bala v Zimnem Dvortse v fevrale 1903 g. = Album du bal costumé au Palais d'hiver : février 1903. (St Petersburg, 1904) K.T.C.111.b.2

At the time, Michael was considered a suitor to British-born Princess Beatrice nicknamed ‘Baby-Bee’, the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria’s second son Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, and Grand Duchess Maria – Michael’s aunt, sister of his father Tsar Alexander III. And in 1913, Michael indeed came to live in England renting Knebworth House (pictured below) near London, but not as the husband of a British princess, rather as the husband of a divorced commoner, Natalia Sheremetevskaia.

IMG_1536

In a letter of 7 August 1911 to his lover Michael wrote:

My darling, I’m so afraid at the thought that I might not be allowed back into Russia, that we might be separated, when I think about it I literally pale with horror. What if I never, ever see you again or kiss, or embrace you again. You do understand how horrible it would be. I think of nothing else and in my thoughts and my dreams I am caressing you as if I was saying goodbye to you forever…

Having ignored the Tsar’s prohibition to enter a morganatic marriage, Michael was expelled from Russia and only granted permission to return on the outbreak of the First World War.

After Nicholas’s abdication on 15 (2) March 1917 Michael technically became Tsar, but called on the people to obey the Provisional Government. Historians still debate whether he was legally the last Tsar. His and Natalia Sheremetevskaia’s son Georgii (George) was smuggled out of Soviet Russia at the age of seven and, having settled in England with his mother, attended St Leonards-on-Sea College and Harrow School.

67-year old Melville and 39-year old Michael both died in 1918: the former of kidney failure and the latter shot by the Soviet secret police, the Cheka.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

References:

Andrew Cook, M: MI5's First Spymaster (Stroud, 2004) m07/.19673

Rosemary and Donald Crawford. Michael and Natasha: the life and love of the last tsar of Russia (London, 1997) YC.1999.b.4117

 The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website

09 June 2017

‘A Man of Throbbing Vitality’: Leon Trotsky and the ‘Leatherites’

In a recent article for the Guardian, the ‘weird fiction’ author China Miéville raised the issue of historian Orlando Figes’s ‘disapproving fascination’ with the leather jackets habitually worn by Bolshevik revolutionaries during the period of the Civil War. Figes’s fascination with their leathers and the ‘macho culture’ they signified is not just a personal quirk, but was a key element in the militant image of Bolshevism established in opposition to the suited politicians of the other parties in the Russian Revolution.

More than any other iconic figure of the revolutionary period, the founder of the Red Army Leon Trotsky has become associated with this uniform of leather, a radical departure from his dapper intelligentsia style of fashion in the pre-1917 years. A brief clip of the revolutionary in military garb can be found on the Getty Images website. While Trotsky wore an imposing suit of black leather, the guards on the famous train from which he commanded the war effort were reputedly kitted out in similar uniforms of red. Trotsky himself attributed the Bolshevik craze for leather to the lesser known figure Yakov Sverdlov, a leading Bolshevik who died of illness in 1919:

In the initial post-October period the Communists were, as is well-known, called “leatherites” by our enemies, because of the way in which we dressed. I believe that Sverdlov’s example played a major role in introducing the leather “uniform” among us. At all events he invariably walked around encased in leather from head to toe, from his leather cap to his leather boots. This costume, which somehow corresponded with the character of those days, radiated far and wide from him… 

LeninSverdlov
A 1918 photograph of Lenin with Sverdlov, in his leather jacket, from Tsetsiliya Samoilovna Zelikson-Bobrovskaya, Yakov Mikhailovich Sverdlov (Moscow, 1938) 10797.b.7.

The leather-look seems to have worked for Trotsky. British visitors to revolutionary Russia were often struck by his sense of fashion and personal charisma. Ethel Snowden, a figure on the right-wing of the Independent Labour Party (a section of the Labour Party which had taken an anti-war position during the First World War), was one such unlikely admirer. She was the wife of the austere Philip Snowden, the man who would become Labour’s first Chancellor of the Exchequer in the minority government of 1924 and again in the ill-fated government of 1929 – certainly no Bolshevik sympathiser.

EthelSnowden
Photograph of Ethel Snowden from her memoir A Political Pilgrim in Europe (London, 1921) 08026.b.51.

Ethel Snowden had been selected as a member of the Labour Delegation to Russia of 1920, which sought to establish the facts about the new Soviet state through the distorting mists of propaganda and counter-propaganda from both its enemies and admirers. During the visit she had the opportunity to share a box in the theatre with the ‘remarkable fine-looking man’ Trotsky, enjoying a performance of Borodin’s Prince Igor. Trotsky has the reputation of a rogue, his affair with Frida Kahlo during his more settled post-revolutionary years is well-known having been depicted in the 2002 film Frida, but in Snowden’s account in her book Through Bolshevik Russia he comes across as a devilish flirt even in the midst of heavy civil war:

At one point in the performance there came a tender love-scene.
“There,” said Trotsky turning to me and speaking in English for the first time, “is the great international language.”
“Yes,” I replied, “you are right. But there is also another – Art. These two great international languages of Love and Art will unite the world in peace and happiness at last.”
I should think Trotsky is a man of throbbing vitality and of strong feeling; once of splendid vision.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell was also in attendance and was, if anything, even more struck. He wrote a description of Trotsky at the theatre in his journal entry for 17 May 1920:

Very Napoleonic impression. Bright eyes, military bearing, lightning intelligence, magnetic personality. Exceedingly good-looking, which surprised me. Would be irresistible to women, and an agreeable lover while his passion lasted.

Russell’s published account repeats much of this description, but probably knowing how prudish the English can be he chose to omit the final clause. Despite Trotsky’s personal appeal, both figures would become committed anti-Communists following their trip, and Ethel Snowden in particular was attacked by Communists as a traitor to the cause of the working class. Although they managed to bring back a wealth of material from the Soviet state, much of which has found its way to the British Library, the Labour delegation did not carry the fashion for leather back to the British working class movement, which long retained its preference for impeccably proletarian and anti-militaristic cloth flat caps.

Mike Carey, CDA Student, British Library and Nottingham University

References / Further Reading

Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 (London, 1997) YC.1997.b.5078.

Leon Trotsky, ‘Jacob Sverdlov’ (March 1925) online at https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1925/03/sverdlov.htm

Bertrand Russell, The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell vol. 15: Uncertain Roads to Freedom: Russia and China 1919-22 edited by Richard A. Rempel et al. (London, 2000) YC.2000.a.8045.

Bertrand Russell, The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism (London, 1949 [first edition: 1920]) 09455.de.91.

Ethel Snowden, Through Bolshevik Russia (London, 1920) 10290.bbb.47.

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website

05 June 2017

One World, One Script, Many Lects: Early Soviet Turkic Language Reform

The concept of a unified national language is very much a product of the modern era. Since antiquity, commentators, authors, scribes and others have complained about the quality of language use in literary and scholastic circles and everyday life. Such gripes motivated the creation of highly curated liturgical and sacred languages, such as Classical Arabic or Sanskrit. Nevertheless, the creation of a norm against which transgressions could be measured, and its adoption as a tool of the state – as opposed to a religious institution – are novelties of the last few centuries. Profane language tinkering was undertaken with vigour across much of Europe in the 19th century, from French to Hungarian and Greek. It was not until the 20th century that the trend took minority European languages and non-European idioms by storm. Among the Turkic peoples of the Russian Empire, it was the advent of Soviet hegemony that turned language reform from a topic of discussion among intellectuals into stark reality.

The Language Issue, as it is often known, was a subject of frequent conversation among Turkic intelligentsia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jadidists  and Qadimists – so called because of their adherence to new or old methods of education – fought over the means and content of education, including language. It was during the first few years of Soviet power, however, that such actors were enlisted to help delineate linguistic boundaries and compile “scientific” knowledge about speech communities across the Union.

ITA1986a1059 Xocayev Ottoman Kazakh Uzbek Grammar

Bekir Çobanzade, for example, wrote a grammar of the Kumyk language. Xalid Sǝid Xocayev’s Comparative Conjugations of the Ottoman-Uzbek-Kazakh Languages (pictured above) is another case in point . These fed into the broader process of understanding and standardizing linguistic structures, which culminated at the 1926 All-Union Turcological Congress. The collection of articles prepared for the Congress, the Bulletin for which is held by the British Library, show the degree to which language issues and linguistic reform dominated the proceedings.

14499tt26 Ileri Lenin Portrait

Portraits of Lenin (above) and Stalin (below) from İleri (Simferopol, 1926-[1927?]) 14499.tt.26

14499tt26 Ileri Stalin Portrait

Along with linguistic reform came change in orthography and writing systems. A quick glance through Turkic-language publications from the first half of the 1920s shows that experimentation with different means of Perso-Arabic spelling was common. Crimean Tatar publications such as İleri  and Yeşil Ada demonstrate just how much writers dabbled in such matters. Despite discussing the standardization of such experiments at length, delegates at the 1926 Baku All-Union Turcological Congress eventually settled on whole-sale Latinization as the most efficient alternative. Thus, the ‘Uniform Alphabet’ was born. This particular Latin-based writing system aimed to give all languages within a particular language family the same grapheme for the same sound. It was based, in part, on earlier Tatar efforts at Latinization known as Yañalif, although it did also incorporated important innovations from other languages. Unlike European alphabets, where the English sound sh as is ship could be written sch (German), ch (French), sci (Italian), sz (Polish) or just plain s (Hungarian), all Soviet Turkic languages would now use ş.

14499tt25 Yesil Ada Cover Page
Cover of Yeşil Ada (Aq Meşçid [Simferopol'],1920.) 14499.tt.25

14499tt25 Yesil Ada Article Milli AqintiArticle from Yeşil Ada (Aq Meşçid [Simferopol'],1920.) 14499.tt.25

The Soviet authories used readers such as Jeni Turmuş and Jaş Kyc, both from Uzbekistan, to promote aggressively the new alphabet.  These formed part of mass education movements aimed at eradicating illiteracy as well as pre-Revolutionary epistemologies.

ITA1986a1112 Jas Kyc Erkin Qbz

Page from Jaş Kyc (Samarqand,1929). ITA.1986.a.1112 

Even those members of the new élite who had actively opposed Bolshevik advances, such as Akhmet Baitursynov,  joined the effort. Baitursynov’s 1927 publication Alip-Ba (Zhanga Kural)  sought to teach students the new Latin orthography. It followed upon his efforts to compile a grammar of Kazakh, entitled Til Qural, in 1925. Together, they provided a complete corpus of texts for the fixing and propagation of Soviet Kazakhstan’s new national language.

ITA1986a1104 Baitursynov Grammar Cover Page

Cover of Til-qural by Akhmed Baitursynov (Qyzylorda, 1925). ITA.1986..a.1104

ITA1986a1138 Baitursynov Reader Cover Page

Cover of Alip-Ba (Zhanga Kural) by Akhmet Baitursynov (Qyzylordam 1927) ITA.1986.a.1138

Orthographic standardization was informed by both a desire to simplify literacy and printing, and the Marxian belief that as humanity marched towards Socialism, languages and national cultures would merge into one. This humanity-wide kulturbund, united in its pursuit of socio-economic well-being, would no longer be divided by the bourgeoisie’s artificial distinctions of nationality, race or language. The Soviet authorities’ wish to help this process along among the Turkic languages is very much evident in an article entitled ‘Turkmen edebi dilining esaası yaghdayları’ (pictured below) from Tyrkmen Medenijeti . K. Bööriyif wrote the piece in 1930, which leads us to believe that it was, at least partially, influenced by the dominant ideology of Stalinism. In it, the author argues for the creation of a standard Turkmen language through the selection of “ideal” linguistic elements from various vernaculars. This is language management at the extreme, precluding the sort of linguistic unification that comes from literary production and socio-political changes, as occurred in Italy and Spain. Such a suggestion only adds to the overwhelming evidence the state’s push to imbue all aspects of Soviet life with Stalinist elements.

Tyrkmen Medenijeti B+Â+Âriyif article

Language reform and management are tools utilized by a wide swathe of governments, not just totalitarian ones. What is unique about the Soviet experience, and the Soviet Turkic experiment in particular, is how all aspects of language came under scrutiny. The brief period of forced convergence in the 1920s and early 1930s came to an abrupt end around the time of the Great Purge, when Stalin employed terrible violence to cleanse the state and the country of perceived ideological enemies. Latin gave way to unique Cyrillic alphabets for each language at this point, and the creation of new linguistic standards lost steam. Today, the peoples of the Turkic republics of Central Asia, the Caucasus and Siberia live with the consequences of this turbulent period, while some – including the Uzbeks, Turkmen and most recently the Kazakhs – have sought to determine what would have happened, had the changes of the late 1930s never been enforced.

Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Curator

Further reading:

Kazakhstan sets out plan for alphabet swap,” Deutsche Welle, Berlin: 12 April 2017. http://www.dw.com/en/kazakhstan-spells-out-plans-for-alphabet-swap/a-38407769

‘Nursultan Nazarbaev. Bolashaqqa baghdar: rukhani zhangghyru’ Egemen Qazaqstan, Almaty: 12 April 2017. https://egemen.kz/article/nursultan-nazarbaev-bolashaqqa-baghdar-rukhani-zhanhghyru

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths  is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website.

02 June 2017

The Death of Lenin

Immediately after Lenin's death in 1924. Kazimir Malevich, most famous for his abstract painting ‘Black Square’, compared the revolutionary leader to Jesus Christ. He argued that Lenin’s death was ‘a new event’ whose significance could only be equal to the death of Christ. According to Malevich, it manifested the change from one world outlook by the other and this new outlook was ‘meant to change the image of the material reality’. Malevich suggested that Lenin’s body should be placed ‘in a cube, as if in eternity’ and that such a ‘cube of eternity should be constructed as a sign of its unity with the dead’. An installation based on Malevich’s idea has been constructed for the 57th Venice Biennale this year.

Lenin’s death in 1924 was presented by the Soviet state as a national tragedy. All newspapers and popular magazines came in special issues, as this issue of the illustrated magazine Prozhektor (Projector), that had a special title Smert’ vozhdia (The Death of the Leader).

Prozhektor (1)
Prozhektor (2)
Prozhektor (3)
Images from the commemorative issue of Prozhektor, no 2 (24), 1924. LOU.FMISC639

But Lenin’s death also marked by one of the first remarkable examples of Soviet ‘ceremonial albums’, the genre that would become very much known and valued primarily due to works of Russian constructivist artists. Following Lenin’s death, tributes were sent in from groups and institutions all over Russia to be laid on his coffin. A lavishly-produced book, ironically reminescent of the equally lavish commemorative albums once produced for Imperial coronations, was compiled immediately after Lenin’s funeral to record them. It contains images and descriptions of about 950 wreaths, banners, ribbons and other objects that had been collected, described in details, photographed, documented and put into multiple categories: wreaths and banners from state organisations, party committees, soviets, co-operatives, factories, schools, etc.

Here are some examples of funeral messages and words of remembrance and tribute:

‘Lenin’s grave is a cradle of freedom for mankind’ (from the Central Aero-Hydrodynamic Institute)
‘To our dear Ilyich – the teacher to the world and healer of social illnesses’ (from male and female staff of the Kashchenko mental hospital);
‘To our dear miner, to our dear Ilyich’ (from the Donbass miners);
‘We will fully and with honour fulfil your behest: be on guard!’ (from the Cheka-GPU of the Ukrainian SSR)
‘Lenin– the sun of the future’ (from the Moscow Arts Theatre)

Image 2-47-Lenin's funeral book-10790.pp.9
Above: Wreath from the pupils of  ‘School No. 2’ with a notebook containing the children’s messages to Lenin; Below: Wreath from the Gomel regional committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks). Reproduced in Leninu: 21 ianvaria 1924 goda (Moscow, 1924) 10790.pp.9.

Image 2a 47a-Lenin's Funeral book 10790.pp.9 page 111

Published in 13,000 copies, some of them with hard half-leather covers and some in paperback, the book was meant to immortalise one of the grandest funeral ceremonies in the 20th century. According to Churchill, Lenin ‘alone could have led Russia into the enchanted quagmire; he alone could have found the way back to the causeway. He saw; he turned; he perished’. Reflecting on Lenin’s death Churchill formulated his great role for the people of Russia: ‘Their worst misfortune was his birth: their next worst—his death.’

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website