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81 posts categorized "Slavonic"

26 May 2017

Commemorating Russia’s last coronation

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On 26 May 1896 (14 May old style) Nicholas II was crowned ‘Tsar of all the Russias’ in the Cathedral of the Dormition in Moscow. Nicholas had acceded to the throne in November 1894, on the death of his father Alexander III. The long period between his accession and coronation was not unusual in Russia. It allowed time both to mourn the previous Tsar and to prepare the new ruler’s coronation.

By this time in the history of the Romanov dynasty a coronation involved a long and elaborate series of events and festivities. A lavish souvenir album, published by the Russian Ministry of the Imperial Court, both captures and reflects the scale and grandeur of the coronation and accompanying events. It is illustrated with photographs and with drawings in both black-and-white and colour, and the pages of text include decorative borders and attractive vignettes.

Coronation Album titlepage
Decorated title page of Les Solennités du saint couronnement (St Petersburg, 1896) L.R.25.c.20.

The British Library’s copy of the album is one of 350 published in French. It was originally presented to one Colonel Waters who later donated it to the then British Museum Library. Waters attended the coronation as attaché to Arthur, Duke of Connaught, the official representative of the British royal family. His handwritten note records that the Duke and other British dignitaries also received copies.

Coronation Album provenance
Colonel Waters’ handwritten note recording the provenance of the album

Some of the pictures in the album show the solemnities of the actual coronation ceremony: 

Coronation Album arrival
Above: The Tsar and Tsarina arrive at the Cathedral. Below: The Coronation regalia, and images from the service

Coronation Album regalia

Coronation Album Tsar and priest

Coronation Album altar

Coronation Album Crown

Other images show the celebrations that continued over the following days. There are reproductions of menus for formal dinners and programmes for theatrical performances: 

Coronation album menu

Coronation Album Menu 2

Coronation album programme

There is even a page illustrating some of the invitations to these and other events:

Coronation Album cards and tickets

Most of these events, like the coronation service itself, were largely reserved for royalty, aristocracy and visiting dignitaries. But there were also festivities laid on for the wider populace. Contemporary paintings and photographs show crowds gathered to watch the processions to and from the cathedral, and on the night of the coronation people thronged to watch as the Kremlin was illuminated.

Coronation Album Red Porch
Crowds gathered to watch the Tsar and Tsarina appear in the Red Porch of the Kremlin

Coronation Albun illuminations
Illuminations in Moscow

Four days later another crowd assembled for a planned ‘people’s feast’ and celebration on the Khodynka field in Moscow. Gifts of food, drink and souvenirs were to be handed out and the Tsar and Tsarina would appear before the people. But this supposedly joyous event turned into an unprecedented tragedy when rumours began to circulate that the gifts were running out. There was a rush towards the souvenir booths and in the ensuing stampede over 1300 people were trampled or crushed to death and a similar number injured.

Coronation Album Khodynka
The packed crowd at Khodynka field

The royal couple were shocked to hear of the tragedy. They promised compensation and assistance for the bereaved and wounded and later visited some of the casualties in hospital. But the same evening they also attended a lavish ball at the French Embassy. Nicholas had wanted to cancel in the light of what had happened, but his advisors persuaded him not to. The Tsar’s instinct was wiser in this case: his attendance at the ball was seen as a display of callous indifference to the deaths of ordinary subjects. And whatever his personal feelings, he continued with the planned round of dinners, receptions and balls in the following days.

Coronation Abum Ball
The Tsar and Tsarina arriving at a ball

The coronation album shows the world of the Russian Imperial court at its most elegant, celebrating the power and glory of a dynasty. But the very celebrations it records were tainted by a tragedy which, with hindsight, seems like an omen of greater upheavals and disasters to come. This would be the record of the last Imperial coronation in Russia’s history.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Further reading:

Greg King and Janet Ashton, For the life of the Tsar: Triumph and Tragedy at the Coronation of Nicholas II (East Richmond heights, CA, 2016). YD.2016.b.891.

Mary Hickley, Gold, glitter and gloom: recollections of the Coronation of Czar Nicholas II and later travels in Russia, with a foreword by Brenda Marsault (Devon, 1997)  YC.1998.a.242

Aylmer Maude, The Tsar’s Coronation, as seen by “De Monte Alto,” Resident in Moscow (London, 1896) 9930.b.26.

Coronation Album night scene

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

19 May 2017

Dmitrii Moor interrogates: Have *You* Bought Your Ticket?

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One of the main founders of Soviet political poster design, Dmitrii Orlov was born in 1883 in Novochekassk to the family of an engineer. In 1898 the family moved to Moscow. Although the young artist did not receive a systematic training, he started publishing caricatures in the satirical magazines that thrived during a short period after the first revolution in Russia in 1905. Early in his career, Orlov adopted the pseudonym D. Moor, alluding to Karl Moor, one of the protagonists in Friedrich Schiller’s romantic play The Robbers

Having started as a caricaturist in satirical magazines, Moor was very much influenced by the German satirical publication Simplicissimus (British Library LOU.F459) and the Norwegian artist and designer Olaf Gulbransson, known for his clear lines and emphasis on linking verbal and non-verbal messages. Moor’s artistic style also incorporated imagery from silent films with their exaggerated emotions, which can be seen on this film poster:

Image 1-Моор_кино_Убийца_афиша
Moor’s poster for the lost black-and-white film Ubiitsa (The Murderer)

It is interesting that he returned to a similar style in the 1930s: the worker on this poster bears a striking resemblance to the criminal from the film poster:

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‘Workers of the World Unite!’ Poster by Moor from the 193os. British Library 1899.c.12(22).

Today Moor is probably best known for his famous Red Army Recruitment poster of 1920, which appears on the poster for our current exhibition, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, MythsMoor is  also considered one of the main founders of that unique area of Soviet art – political poster design. His other striking  posters, well known to Soviet audiences, include ‘Wrangel is still alive! Finish him off without mercy!’ and ‘Be on Your Guard!’

Image 3-29-Far East-Krasnaia Armiia-Cup.1247.dd.20.
‘Wrangel is still alive! Finish him off without mercy!’ (left), as reproduced in the album Krasnaia Armiia (Moscow, 1938) designed by Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova. Cup.1247.dd.20.

Maps CC.6.a.38
‘Be on Your Guard!’ (1920) Maps CC.6.a.38

Here the right shoulder and raised leg of the Red Army soldier actually become the western state border, and thus the soldier personifies the state. His body is the body of Soviet Russia (his back rests against and fuses into the Urals, depicted as the bony ‘spine’ of the country – in Russian the same word means both ‘spine’ and ‘mountain range’). The vitality and resilience of the state is equated with the strength and will of its citizenry-in-arms.

Moor’s Alphabet for a Red Army Soldier, published in 1921, is a small book of cartoons intended to teach soldiers literacy as such and ‘political literacy’ at the same time: each letter is illustrated by a picture emphasising the special mission and the triumphs of the Soviet forces. The letter ‘G’ is the initial letter of the Russian word goret’ (‘to burn’), and the inscription to this picture reads: ‘The Earth burns with a fire lit by the worker’s hand.’ Trotsky and the other Bolshevik leaders hoped to instil in the Red Army a sense of historic mission, and an understanding that it was not simply a conventional national army but the custodian of world revolution.

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Dmitrii Moor, Azbuka krasnoarmeitsa (‘Alphabet for a Red Army Soldier’), 1921 (shelfmark Cup.401.g.25)

In the image for the letter ‘IA’ (Я), which also means the pronoun ‘I’ in Russian, the artist emphasised the idea of the new world and the new man who from now on will dominate in space and time for the next century: “The new Man has come! Long live the century of the Commune!”:

Image 6 smaller cup_401_g_25_014v

And there are examples of Moor’s caricature style, where enemies of the Soviet state look miserable and laughable. However, in most of the cases Moor uses the narrative and graphical themes that were very common and reproduced in many variations, such as Lenin sweeping the counter-revolutionary elements out of the country or a collection of ‘typical’ enemies opposing the new way of life.

Image 7-P1050733Images 8 P1050745

In the 1920s Moor worked for the anti-religious satirical newspaper The Godless and its reincarnation as the satirical magazine The Godless at the Workbench. The secularization of society and promotion of atheism was a crucial element of the ‘cultural revolution’ desired by the Bolsheviks, as Orthodox Christianity had been a pillar of support for the Tsarist state. Under Stalin anti-religious propaganda soon became quite aggressive. In 1925 the League of Militant Atheists, a volunteer organisation that promoted anti-religious views, was formed. In this image the peasant is sneezing out his religious beliefs under the supervision of the worker.

Godless P.P.8000.rs
Bezbozhnik u stanka (‘The Godless at the Workbench’; Moscow, 1923) P.P.8000.rs
.

Many art critics compared the aesthetics of Moor’s posters with the aesthetics and compositions of Sergei Eisenstein’s films and this is this is very true, as Moor was always thinking about perception of his works. For example, he wrote that a poster artist should not only be a complete craftsman in graphics, but also analyse the situation in which his art would be seen. He suggested that a poster artist should know the speed with which passers-by walk, the width of the streets in his town, the position of lights in the evening and many other things. It is not surprising then that his piece of agitation art invites you – or commands you – to come to our exhibition.

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

 

15 May 2017

Not Lenin and Trotsky - a Mystery Solved?

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Last year we published a blog post asking for information on two photographs by the American photographer Donald C. Thompson, widely published as images of Lenin and Trotsky in the English-speaking world but, with the benefit of hindsight, clearly not pictures of the two revolutionary leaders. We knew for certain who they were not, but struggled to find out who they were and what they were doing.

After some digging, Katya Rogatchevskaia (Lead Curator of East European Collections and of the exhibition, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths) managed to find the photographs reproduced in Russian and French publications. The elusive revolutionaries were found in a Russian ‘album of current events’ for the years 1914 to 1917 Voina i Revolutsiia (‘War and Revolution’).

LeninTrotsky War and Revolution

Donald Thompson’s photographs as published in Voina i Revolutsiia ([Petrograd, 1918?]) British Library X.802/4756.

The top-left photograph identifies the speaker as ‘German agent’ Robert Grimm, leaving the other man unidentified. The bottom photograph identifies the figures as ‘internationalists’, including Christian Rakovsky, Grimm, and Angelica Balabanova. They are shown laying wreaths at the Field of Mars in St. Petersburg (then Petrograd), where victims of the February Revolution were buried on 23 May 1917. This fits perfectly with Thompson’s story about when and where he took the photographs of ‘Lenin and Trotsky’, even if the figures are not right.

Robert Grimm (1881-1958) was a Swiss socialist, and a chief organiser of the anti-war Zimmerwald movement during the First World War. He was allowed into Russia after the fall of the first Provisional Government, led by Lvov, in May 1917, and became active in the anti-war movement. Grimm was embroiled in scandal while trying to gauge the German response to the Soviet desire for peace, which was interpreted as trying to get Russia to pull out of the war unilaterally and seen as a betrayal of the Allied cause – hence, Voina i Revolutsiia describes him as a ‘German agent’. This was by no means the end of his political career, however. Grimm led the Swiss General Strike of November 1918, and in 1946 became President of the Swiss National Council.

LeninTrotsky Grimm

Robert Grimm (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

Angelica Balabanova (1878-1965) was another Zimmerwald activist of mixed Russian, Jewish, and Italian heritage. She joined the Bolsheviks and in 1919 became the secretary of the Communist International (Comintern), but grew critical of the authoritarian Bolshevik style of socialism and returned to Italy.

At first I was uncertain about the identification of Christian Rakovsky (1873-1941), even though he was a known friend and collaborator of Grimm and Balabanova – I had only ever seen pictures of him clean-shaven and looking much younger than the figure in the photograph. However, it would make sense for him to be present alongside his Zimmerwald comrades. Rakovsky was a Bulgarian revolutionary who was also involved in the Zimmerwald movement, who had been freed from imprisonment in May 1917 – explaining, possibly, his haggard appearance in the photographs later in that month.

LeninTrotsky Rakovsky
Christian Rakovsky in military uniform after the Bolshevik revolution (image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Other photographs and images do show him sporting a beard, like this piece of anti-Bolshevik and anti-Semitic propaganda, with leading revolutionaries (including Alexander Kerensky alongside the Bolsheviks as part of a putative Jewish conspiracy against the Russian state) engaged in a ritual murder, evoking the history of the ‘blood libel’ myth

LeninTrotsky International

 White movement propaganda poster showing Rakovsky with a beard, kneeling in the centre beneath Lenin, from Wikimedia Commons.

Rakovsky joined the Bolsheviks at the end of 1917 and took a number of leading roles, including as the leader of a failed Communist revolution in the Kingdom of Rumania and then the first head of government for the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. His fate was less happy than Grimm’s – Rakovsky aligned with Trotsky and developed a critique of Stalinist ‘bureaucratic centralism’ in the Soviet Union. He became a high-profile victim of the Moscow Trials in 1938, confessing to spurious charges of espionage on behalf of the British, German and Japanese imperialists during the show trials, and was executed in 1941.

So, the two pictures of ‘Lenin and Trotsky’ may actually be of three people – Grimm, Rakovsky, and another. One possible, though uncertain, identity of this ‘third man’ comes from the French source. The images also appear in the Histoire des Soviets series (Paris, 1922-3; 1854.g.15.).This album was edited by Jacques Makowsky (1894-1981), a Jewish master-printer to Tsar Nicholas II who fled Russia for France after the Revolution.

With the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 Makowsky was forced to flee once more to America, where his wife and he became famous for cross-breeding the Rock Cornish game hen – ‘a succulent bird with all-white meat, large enough for a single serving’. There is a compilation of this beautifully printed and illustrated series on YouTube here, with one of the photographs in question visible at 0:21.

LeninTrotsky Histoire

 One of the covers of the Histoire des Soviets series (Paris, 1922-3) 1854.g.15.

We get our third name from here: Mikhail Martinov  (1882-1919). Martinov was a Bolshevik revolutionary who had been elected chairman of the particularly left-wing Kronstadt Soviet. Not long after these photographs were taken Martinov was elected to the commission charged with planning the armed demonstration of workers, soldiers and sailors which developed into the violent July Days. Martinov himself met a violent end just two years later, killed in a counter-revolutionary uprising at Krasnaia Gorka during the advance of the White General Yudenich’s army towards Petrograd.

We can’t be certain that the Histoire is correct on this point, as although it correctly says that Grimm was in the photographs, it mistakenly identifies the wrong figure as him. As for Martinov, I know of no other photographs with which to compare, but it is perfectly feasible that he would have been present at this event. Much of the mystery has been solved, but this point still remains to be verified or supported with other evidence.

Mike Carey, CDA Student, British Library and University of Nottingham

Further Reading

Christo Boyadjieff, Racovski: The Vanquished Socialist (Rio de Janeiro, 1984) YA.1991.a.16859

Israel Getzler, Kronstadt 1917-1921: The Fate of a Soviet Democracy (London, 1983) X.529/54596

R. Craig Nation, War on War: Lenin, the Zimmerwald Left, and the Origins of Communist Internationalism (London, 1989) YC.1992.b.4587

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. 

03 May 2017

Petro Lyzanets and his love for linguistics

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The Ukrainian collection of the British Library receives many donations during the year, but a recent generous gift was especially noteworthy. First of all, it consisted of an exceptional number of books – 37, and secondly, they were all by the same author. Olga Kerziouk and I wish to thank the Uzhhorod National University and Petro Lyzanets for their amazing contribution to Ukrainian and Hungarian studies.

Picture 1 with portrait

 Volodymyr Fedynyshynets, Fenomen profesora Lyzantsia. (Uzhhorod, 1996) YA.2002.a.18051.

Petro Lyzanets (also known as Péter Lizanec in Hungarian), a Ukrainian linguist and Professor at Uzhhorod National university was born on 2 July 1930 in the village of Izvor, later renamed as Rodnykivka, in the Zakarpattia Region  of Ukraine. One of a family of five children, he received his education at Uzhhorod State University, and his love of the Hungarian language developed during his studies at school and was encouraged at home by his mother. In 1948 he became a student of Ukrainian language at Uzhhorod State University and also worked at the library, writing his thesis about Mykhailo Luchkai (1879-1843) (also known as Michaelis Lutskay).

In 1989 Petro Lyzanets wrote an introduction to Luchkai’s book Hramatyka slov’iano-ruska = Grammatica slavo-ruthena (Kyiv, 1989; YA.2001.a.7611) (pictures below), which became a bestseller due to huge public interest.

Picture 2 Mykhailo Luchkai   Picture 2.1 Mykhailo Luchai-reprint

Ukrainian/Hungarian dialects in the Zakarpattia Region continued to be a strong academic interest of Petro Lyzanets for many years, as evidenced by his books Atlas leksychnykh madiaryzmiv (Atlas of lexical Hungarian elements; volume 3; Uzhhorod, 1976; awaiting shelfmark; picture below on the left) and Ukraïnsʹko-uhorsʹkyĭ slovnyk stalykh slovospoluchenʹ ta vyraziv = Ukrán-magyar állandosult szókapcsolatok és kifejezések szótára (Ukrainian-Hungarian dictionary of idioms and phrases; picture below on the right),  Magyar-ukrán állandosult szókapcsolatok és kifejezések szótára = Uhorsʹko-ukraïnsʹkyĭ slovnyk stalykh slovospoluchenʹ ta vyraziv (Hungarian-Ukrainian dictionary of idioms and phrases), both published in 2009 (awaiting shelfmarks).

Picture 3 Atlas leksychnykh  Picture 4 Ukrainian-Hungarian dictionary

In 2000 and 2010 were published IUvileĭnyĭ zbirnyk na chestʹ 70-richchia vid dnia narodzhennia profesora Petra Lyzantsia (YA.2002.a.28390) and IUvileĭnyĭ zbirnyk na chestʹ 80- richchia vid dnia narodzhennia profesora Lyzantsia (YF.2012.a.5983) celebrating the 70th and 80th birthdays of Petro Lyzanets (picture below).

Picture 5

While we already had volume 1 of A kárpátaljai magyar nyelvjárások atlasza = Atlas vengerskikh govorov Zakarpatia (Atlas of Hungarian dialects of Transcarpathia Region) (Ungvár: 1992; Maps 217.a.21.), it was great to add volumes 2 and 3 to our collection (picture below).

Picture 6 Atlas

We also received a donation of the complete Works of Petro Lyzanets (1957-2010) in 30 volumes (picture below).

Picture 7 Works

 Rimma  Lough, SEE Cataloguer Russian/Belarusian/Ukrainian

References:

Magyar-ukrán szótár = Uhorsʹko-ukraïnsʹkyĭ slovnyk / szerkesztésében Péter Lizanec = za redaktsiieiu P.M. Lyzantsia (Ungvár, 2001). Awaiting shelfmark.

Ukraïnsʹko-uhorsʹkyĭ slovnyk = Ukrán-magyar szótár (second edition) /szerkesztésében Péter Lizanec = za redaktsiieiu P.M. Lyzantsia. (Ungvár, 2008).

Profesor Lyzanets’ Petro Mykolaīovych: bibliohrafichnyī pokazhchyk (do 70- richchia vid dnia narodzhennia) (Uzhhorod, 2001) YF.2005.a.14044

Kárpátaljai Magyar Tudományos Társaság : életrajzi lexicon = Zakarpatsʹke uhorsʹkomovne naukove tovarystvo : bibliohrafichnyĭ dovidnyk ( Uzhhorod, 1995) ZF.9.a.8543

Petro Lyzanets’ = Péter Lizanec. Naukovi pratsi = Tudományos művek (Uzhhorod, 2009-2013). 30 volumes. Awaiting shelfmark.

 

01 May 2017

‘Workers of all lands, unite!’: The Communist Manifesto

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The Communist Manifesto, a political pamphlet by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, was first published in London in 1848. Here for the first time, the founders of the political theory later called Marxism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels predicted violent anti-capitalist revolution as the final stage of the class wars between proletariat and bourgeoisie. They could not imagine that what they called ‘the spectre of communism’ would first triumph in Russia – geographically and economically the furthest eastern European periphery. Marxism, however, was adopted by the Russian Social Democrats as the cornerstone of their ideology and adapted by Lenin and other Bolsheviks to the real conditions of the Russian Revolution.

Communist Manifesto c13627-13_path

The extremely rare first edition of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published in London in 1848. British Library C.194.b.289.

Originally written in German the 23-page brochure was produced in three print runs just in February 1848, and then serialised in the Deutsche Londoner Zeitung, a newspaper for German émigrés (London, 1845-1851; NEWS14530). In March, the brochure reached Paris and in April it was available in Germany, as the 1848 Revolution was unfolding in Europe. As initially planned, the Manifesto was soon translated into Polish, Danish, Swedish and English. However, it failed to make any great impact, and after the defeat of the Revolution only a few editions appeared until the next rise of the social-democratic movement that culminated in the Paris Commune (1871). Among the editions that did appear was the first Russian one, published in Geneva in 1869. The translation was traditionally attributed to Mikhail Bakunin, although his name was not on the title page. Several years earlier, in 1861, Bakunin had escaped from his Siberian exile and reached London via Japan and America.

Even before revolution turned victorious in Russia, translations and editions of this work had become ubiquitous. Before 1917, around 60 editions of the Manifesto were published in Russia alone. It was published at least 85 times in English and around 50 times in French. In 1964, Soviet historians and bibliographers claimed that they had recorded around 700 editions in 49 languages outside the USSR only. By 1973, the Soviet Union was leading in this race by publishing 447 editions in 74 languages and 44,341,000 copies.

Manifesto Russian
An edition of the Manifesto in Russian, published in Geneva in 1900. C.106.b.7.(13.)

The 1869 Russian translation, although it made its way to Russia, did not get popularity, and it was not until 1882, when with the second translation by the ‘first Russian Marxist’ Georgii Plekhanov . Marx and Engels wrote a special preface for this Russian edition where they discussed the peculiarities of the Russian economic and social system. In Soviet historiography it was believed that Lenin also translated the Manifesto and his translation was in clandestine circulation in Marxist learning groups in Samara, where he used to live in 1889-1890. The translation apparently did not survive.

Among other translators who endeavoured this work were revolutionaries Vladimir Posse (1903), Vatslav Vorovsky (1906), the founder of the Marx-Engels Institute David Riazanov, and the deputy manager of the Central Archives Board Vladimir Adoratskii.

Delegates_of_the_8th_Congress_of_the_Russian_Communist_Party_(Bolsheviks)

In this photograph of Lenin and Stalin with the delegates of 8th Bolshevik party Congress of 1919 Riazanov is the fourth from the right in the top row. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The special reverence for the Manifesto that was common among Russian Marxists is described in the diary of an astronomer and scientist Daniil Sviatskii, who was arrested for his role the 1905 unrest. In January 1906 he wrote:

I came [to the office]. There was a whole bunch [of books] on the table. I started examining them with admiration. ‘You are allowed to take only three’ – said the officer, and I was hesitating for a long time which ones to take. Among my three books, I took the Communist Manifesto and will be reading this New Testament of Socialism for the tenth time. While I was choosing other books, the office examined the copy of the Manifesto is case of any notes. I was looking at him and thinking: ‘Only three years ago, when I still was in the seminary, I first read this work by the great Marx and Engels. I was reading a clandestine copy of the Manifesto and was afraid that the authorities in the seminary would notice and expel me from the college, or when I was at home, I was afraid of gendarmes who could arrest me. Three years ago! In March 1905, just 10 months ago, I was reading the Geneva edition at night and every night I used to take it out of the room and hide in snow. And now the same book with the forward by the veteran of our Social-Democratic movement Plekhanov just passed censorship and the Public Prosecutor’s Office. And the prison officer in front of me, having examined it, handed it to me! I took it, brought to my solitary confinement cell and put it on the desk. I tore out Marx’s portrait and for a long time was gazing at our great Teacher of life.

 Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens on 28 April 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the fall 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

28 April 2017

Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths

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The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens today, marking the 100th anniversary of the Revolution, an event that changed history and profoundly influenced the course of the 20th century. The exhibition follows Russian history from the reign of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, to the death of Lenin in 1924, telling the story not only from the perspective of key players and ‘great men’ but from that of the ordinary people who lived through these extraordinary times.

On entering the gallery, visitors will see two vast maps of ‘European’ and ‘Asian’ Russia before the First World War, giving an idea of the sheer scale of the Russian Empire. Alongside them is our rare first edition of the Communist Manifesto, the slim 24-page pamphlet whose influence would help to overturn that huge empire.

Intro pic
The introduction to the exhibition (picture by Sam Lane Photography)

The first main section of the exhibition explores the last years of Tsarist Russia in more detail, looking at the vast social and ethnic diversity of the Empire, at the growing political opposition to the monarchy and at the revolutionary events of 1905 which led to the establishment of Russia’s first parliament (Duma). Star exhibits here include the lavish album published to commemorate Nicholas II’s coronation and Lenin’s letter applying for a reader’s ticket for the British Museum Library.


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An opening from the Coronation Album, Les Solennités du saint couronnement (St Petersburg, 1899) L.R.25.c.20 (picture by Sam Lane Photography)

The second section takes us from the outbreak of the First World War to the Revolutions of February and October 1917, the latter of which saw Lenin’s Bolshevik faction seize power. Among the documents on display are a copy of the Tsar’s abdication declaration, and ‘Order no.1’ issued by the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies on 1(14) March 1917, which overturned traditional military discipline and had a powerful effect far beyond the Petrograd garrison to which it referred. And one exhibit has a hidden personal story: a display of banknotes issued by the Provisional Government come from the family of the exhibition’s lead curator.

Order no. 1
‘Order no.1’ ([Petrograd, 1917]) HS.74/1870

In the third section we look at the Civil War which engulfed Russia in the aftermath of the October Revolution. In order to try and explain some of the complexity of this period – more correctly referred to as Civil Wars in the plural rather than a single two-sided conflict – a large animated map shows how the different factions gained and lost control. The formation of the Red Army is examined, with hand-written memoranda by Trotsky among the items displayed, but also in this section are some examples from the British Library’s collection of rare propaganda from the White (anti-Bolshevik) movement, ranging from seemingly uninspiring pamphlets on cheap paper to striking posters.

Cavalry
A White Army recruitment poster for Caucasian Muslim cavalrymen (1919). 1856.g.8.(30)

As the Civil Wars raged, the Bolshevik party were trying to consolidate and maintain their grip on power, and this is the theme of the fourth section. The devastating famine that spread through Russia and the Bolsheviks’ war on religion are also examined here, and of course we look at the fate of the Tsar and his family. Yet alongside these tragic events there was an outpouring of optimism among some that a better world was being born. We show some striking art and propaganda produced not only by avant-garde artists such as Mayakovsky but also by a group of women factory workers from Yalta, who produced their own ‘wall newspaper’, with essays, poems and pictures celebrating their work and their new-won literacy. This section also looks at the cult of Lenin that developed in Soviet Russia and at the experience of flight and exile for opponents of the new state.

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‘The Yalta Female Delegate’, Wall Newspaper (1927) Add.MS.57556 (picture by Sam Lane Photography)

The last section looks at international dimensions of the Revolution, first from the perspective of foreigners living in Russia during the period: journalists reporting on the situation, soldiers involved in allied anti-Bolshevik intervention during the civil war, and spies reporting on Russia’s new rulers. Then we turn to the influence of the Revolution outside Russia. The Bolsheviks hoped that revolution would spread from Russia, ‘setting the world on fire’, and indeed revolutions did break out in many European states, notably Germany and Hungary, but there were short lived ‘soviets’ in many other places, and communists around the world advocated the Soviet cause and formed links with Russian institutions. A banner presented to the Young Communist League of Shipley by Russian textile workers, and on loan to the exhibition from the People’s History Museum, illustrates such connections. Finally we look at the struggles for independence in states of the former Russian Empire and the formation of the Soviet Union in the early 1920s.

Moor Flame
A worker setting the world on fire with revolution, image from Dmitrii Moor, Azbuka krasnoarmeitsa ([Moscow, 1921]) Cup.401.g.25.

Finally, an epilogue looks at how the Revolution was depicted on film and in literature in the 20th century, featuring clips from famous and less well-known Soviet films, and the work of four Russian Nobel literature laureates.

The exhibition runs until 29 August, and we hope it will inform, inspire and intrigue visitors, taking them on a journey through a world-changing period of history and raising questions about how it should be understood today,and what contemporary resonances might be found in the events of 100 years ago. There is also a season of events with something for everyone from a late-night ‘Storming of the British Library’ to readings and lectures. Full details can be found on our website.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies, and Co-Curator of Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths

Red Army poster c British Library
Detail from Dmitrii Moor, ‘Have You Volunteered?’, Red Army recruitment poster (1920). HS.74/2009(10)

27 April 2017

Bianca Bellová wins the EU Prize for Literature

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On 21 April it was announced that this year’s European Union Prize for Literature had been awarded to a Czech writer with Bulgarian roots, Bianca Bellová, for her novel Jezero (‘The Lake’). She will receive the prize of 5000 euros at a ceremony in Brussels on May 23. The novel also won the Czech Magnesia Litera Award  for the book of the year recently.

Jezero

 Cover of Bianca Bellová, Jezero (Brno, 2016) BL copy awaiting shelfmark.

The European Union Prize, established in 2009, is awarded annually to writers from the EU member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and the EU candidate countries to enable them to have their books published abroad and address a wider public. It also aims to promote better understanding among nations, and over 60 of the winning books have been translated into three to four languages on average. The jury usually selects writers from 12 countries as the EU award laureates. In recent years the prize has twice been conferred on Czech authors: Jan Němec received it for his novel about the avant-garde photographer František Drtikol, Dějiny svetla (‘The History of Light’: Brno, 2013; YF.2014.a.9528), in 2014, and Tomáš Zmeskal for his debut novel Milostný dopis klinovým písmem (‘Love Letter in Cuneiform Script’) in 2011.

Bellová was born in 1970 in Prague, where she studied economics, going on to write for newspapers and periodicals and work for multinational companies before embarking on a career as a translator and interpreter from English. She made her literary debut with Sentimentální román (‘Sentimental Novel’; 2009), followed by the novellas Mrtvý muž (‘The Dead Man’; 2011) and Celý den se nic nestane (‘Nothing Happens All Day Long’; 2013). The first of these is the story of a traumatized family during the 1970s and 80s – the grandfather had been a victim of the regime (the book opens with the sentence ‘They hanged Grandad in September 1950’), the grandmother fights against it, the mother is on the verge of a complete breakdown, and the father experiences his own ‘coming out’ during the Velvet Revolution, while the children – the protagonist Hana and her twin brother David – play at being the Mašín brothers who fought the Communists in the 1950s and the ‘communist bastards’. In the second, set in a hotel which is preparing for a wake, an employee, Marta, is trying to communicate with her 16-year-old daughter Lola, while both of them miss Esterházy, a man who has abandoned them both.

Bellová also wrote a number of short stories. One of these, Přijela tetička Lidka (‘Along came Auntie Lidka’), appears in a collection held by the British Library, Možná si porozumíme (‘We may come to understand each other’), together with stories by other well-known contemporary Czech authors including Petra Soukupová and Michal Viewegh.

Czech short stories

 The short story collection Možná si porozumíme (Jihlava, 2015) YF.2016.a.16116

Jezero is the story of a boy, Nami, trying to find his mother in a distant region reminiscent of the shores of the Aral Sea. We follow him as he lives rough in search of work, standing hopefully in line day after day until he finally gets a backbreaking job as a stevedore at the port and then as an asphalt-layer in a sulphur factory. By night he sleeps in a squalid dormitory where his meagre savings are stolen and he is plagued by bedbugs; we witness the creeping brutalization of his fellow-workers whose sole pleasures are smoking and a weekly trip to the brothel, and the gradual breakdown of their health and hygiene as, covered in sulphur-dust, they stagger back at night too exhausted to wash or clean their teeth before collapsing into bed. This in turn mirrors the degradation of their environment - a fishing village at the end of the world on a lake that is drying up and, ominously, pushing out its banks.

Yet Nami cherishes memories of Zaza, his first love, whom he lost to Russian soldiers, and dreams of being reunited with his mother although he cannot remember her face or even her name. His quest for her takes him on a pilgrimage across the lake and around its shores; despite the highly topical themes of pollution and the slow poisoning of the atmosphere and the landscape, human relationships and individual souls, the eternal figure of the young hero, a Parsifal for our times, testifies to the endurance of hope in the midst of intolerable bleakness.

Susan Halstead Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences) Research Services

 

22 April 2017

Lenin's Birthday

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One of my very first childhood memories was a happy day, 22 April 1970, when the entire Soviet Union was celebrating the centenary of Lenin’s birth. I still remember an overwhelming sensation of pride, an excitement that spring brings with its smells after long winter, and envy toward the Young Pioneers who were assembled to march along the main street of Moscow to Red Square. I was watching them from the fourth floor flat in this main street wishing to grow up as quickly as possible to become a Little Octobrist and then a Young Pioneer and a member of Komsomol .

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Badges of the Soviet youth groups, l.-r., Little Octobrists (7-9 years), Young Pioneers (10-15) and Komsomol (14-28)

My childhood wish was very easily satisfied as membership of these organisations was technically compulsory. As I grew older Lenin on my badge was also becoming older and bolder. The image of the ‘most human of all humans’ was ubiquitous and based on legendary accounts and fake memoirs. Some historians believe that the attempt on Lenin’s life on 30 August 1918, which triggered the Red Terror, also laid the foundations of a cult of Lenin, as his recovery from the serious wounds was miraculously quick.

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Soviet Wall Calendar, 1920s. Cup.645.a.6.(65).

The design of this wall calendar imitates popular traditional motives and the composition of the Resurrection from Christian icons. However, Christ has been replaced with Lenin and the traditional warrior figure on the left bears the hammer and sickle on his breastplate. Lenin himself was not keen on being the object of worship, but even in his own lifetime he could not prevent it, and by the time of his death he was fully sacralised.

Natan Altman, a star of the Russian avant-garde, was interested in immortalising Lenin in the visual arts. His series of drawings of Lenin in his office in the Kremlin was published straight after Altman had finished it. The artist spent six weeks with Lenin in July 1920 and recalled that they spoke a lot about art and revolution. Based on these sketches, he created Lenin’s bust in bronze. It was the first portrait of Lenin to be shown abroad – at the Paris exhibition in 1925, where Altman received a gold medal for his work.

45b-Lenin-Altman-C.135.g.32 (1)-NOT ON THE LIST

45b-Lenin-Altman-C.135.g.32 (2)
Sketches from Natan Altman, Lenin: Risunki Al’tmana (St Petersburg, 1921) C.135.g.22.

In 1920 Lenin was very busy also sitting for the English sculptress, journalist and writer Clare Sheridan, who at that time was having an affair with the prominent revolutionary and Lenin’s Deputy Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars (government) Lev Kamenev. She stayed in the Kremlin for two months, where she made busts of the prominent leaders of the Russian Revolution. She spoke candidly with the Bolsheviks as she worked, discussing with Lenin his dislike of her cousin Winston Churchill. She later wrote a book Russian portraits, where she described her Russian experience.

Sheridan1
Portrait of Clare Sheridan wearing a Russian-style fur hat from her book Russian Portraits (London, 1921) 9456.d.22.

Book tributes to Lenin started appearing before his death. Such was, for a example, a chronicle of his life published for his 50th birthday.

Lenin's 50th 1765.f.2
Ko dniu piatidesiatiletiia so dnia rozhdeniia Vladimira Il’icha Ul’ianova (Lenina) 
(Moscow, 1920) 1765.f.2

One of the key figures of Russian literary Futurism, Aleksei Kruchenykh, wrote a book where he examined Lenin’s speeches and his style. He endeavoured to study them from a linguistic point of view as an example of propaganda art. Kruchenykh’s artistic study was inspired by academic works coming from the circle of literary critics and scholars called ‘formalists’, who were more interested in analysing the structures of literary texts, rather than in their historical, social and other contexts. Although the book could be seen as part of the trend of the rising cult of Lenin, the foundations principles of formalism were severally criticised under Stalin, and the book was forgotten.

45a-IAzyk Lenina-C.136.b.30-NOT ON THE LIS
Aleksei Kruchenykh, Iazyk Lenina: 11 priemov leninskoi rechi (Moscow, 1925) C.136.b.30.

One of the ‘devices’ of Lenin’s rhetorical style was what Kruchenykh called ‘resoluteness’. He insisted that Lenin was primarily the ‘person of deeds’, and not a ‘person of words’: ‘He doesn’t leave space for hesitation, as many authors or speakers do, when they speak as if asking for an advice from the audience. He sets himself a task not to convince the audience, but to put the audience face to face with the necessity to agree with the [inevitable] facts’.

This ‘resoluteness’ was probably a feature of Lenin’s character rather than only a rhetorical device. The country built by the man who did not know hesitation and probably was incapable of simple empathy collapsed having murdered millions of its citizens. Little did I know on this happy day 22 April 1970 how wrong were my feelings. Unfortunately, the birth of the third child in the family of a civil servant Ilia Nikolaevich Ul’ianov was not such a happy day for the course of the Russian and world history.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens on 28 April 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the fall 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

16 April 2017

Happy Easter from Imperial Russia

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Among various collections of visual material at the British Library we have a collection of postcards (HS.74/2027) published by the pioneer of postcard production in Russia, the Society of Saint Eugenia. The Society started as a charity organisation to support  nurses who had served in the Russian army during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, but after the war had no means of livelihood. Supported by artists and elites the society was patronised by Princess Eugenia of Leuchtenberg (1845-1925), a cousin of Tsar Alexander III, father of Nicholas II.

The Society supported hospitals, subsidised nursing homes and organised learning courses for young nurses to prepare them for work at the front in the war-time. To fund its activities, the Society started a publishing business, producing popular and commercially viable picture postcards with landscapes, photographs, art works reproduced on cards and made especially for the postcard format. Artists close to the World of Art group as well as other famous and popular painters and illustrators, such as Dmitrii Mitrokhin, Nikolai Samokish, Stepan Iaremich and many others took active part in the work of the society and contributed their art works to the print production of the Society.

The first printing endeavour of the Society was a decorative envelope for Easter 1896. Under a different name the Society continued its work after the Russian Revolution in 1917 and in 30 years of its existence produced around 6,500 postcards, with an average print-run of 10,000 each.

Vol 8  sleeve 10

Vol 14  sleeve 22

The use of postcards for holiday greetings definitely commercialised even religious holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. But we think that you might like to get our sincere Easter greetings with these old Russian postcards.

Happy Easter!

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens on 28 April 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the fall of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state.

23 March 2017

From Cubism to concentration camp: the life and death of Josef Čapek

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Many English speakers who claim that they do not know a word of Czech would be surprised to hear that at least one has found a firm place in their vocabulary: robot. Those who are aware of its origins might confidently state that it owed them to Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), first performed in 1920. However, he declared that he had merely given it currency, and the term had actually been coined by his elder brother Josef Čapek (1887-1945).

CapekSelf-portrait Self-portrait from Co má člověk z umění a jiné úvahy (Prague, 1946) 07812.m.41.

The two brothers had been born in the Bohemian town of Hronov as the sons of a doctor, and enjoyed a happy childhood there with their older sister Helena, who later remembered them affectionately in her memoir Moji milí bratři (‘My dear brothers’: Prague, 1962; 11880.r.19). All three siblings showed talent as writers from an early age, but Josef also displayed a gift for painting and drawing, and it was as an artist that he found his true vocation, studying at the Uměleckoprůmyslová škola in Prague and the Académie Colarossi in Paris. In later life he often illustrated the writings of Karel and Helena, but the paintings which initially made his name were in a very different style with a strong Cubist element, even in portrayals of Czech peasant life which recall the angular and bizarrely-coloured figures who people Chagall’s Vitebsk.

CapekHnedakrajinaJosef Čapek, Hnědá krajina (1936) from Josef Čapek, ed. Emil Filla and Bedřich Fučik  (Prague, 1937) X.0423/14.(63.)

Josef possessed considerable creative versatility, however, and developed not only a variety of idioms appropriate to the authors whose works he illustrated but a literary career of his own. He collaborated with Karel on the play Ze života hmyzu (‘The Insect Play’: Prague, 1921; Cup.408.z.53). Its satirical parallels between human society and that of various species of insects, from the bourgeois Crickets to the totalitarian world of the Ants, were universally applicable, and two years later it was translated by Paul Selver and ‘adapted for the English stage’ as The Life of the Insects (London, 1923; 11758.a.40.) Under his own name he published the utopian play Země mnoha jmen (‘The Land of Many Names’), which was also translated into English in 1923. However, one of his best-loved works was a charming collection of tales about a dog and cat who set up house together, Povídaní o pejskovi a kočičce (‘The Tale of Pup and Puss’), which is still a firm favourite with Czech children.

CAPEKPOVIDANINEWTitle-page from Povídaní o pejskovi a kočičce (Prague, 1929) X.992/1488)

He also had the capacity to provide humorous illustrations which matched the style of the comic authors such as Eduard Bass as well as Karel’s fairy tales and stories for young readers; though both brothers married, Josef had only one daughter, Alena, and Karel no children, but they were both adept at creating books for them whose wit and fantasy were in no way inferior to their works for adults.

However, as the 1930s progressed, political events provided sharper and bleaker matter for Josef to portray. He had had many years of experience as a journalist, initially as a critic and the editor of various art periodicals, including Umělecký měsíčník (Prague, 1911-14; ZA.9.b.1513), the journal of the Skupina výtvarných umělců (Group of Representational Artists), which he had co-founded in 1911. From 1918 to 1921 he acted as editor of Národní listy (MFM.MF641) which he left to spend 18 years as the editor and art critic of Lidové noviny (MFM.MF623). The caricatures which he provided for the newspaper became increasingly pointed and bitter in the period leading up to the annexation of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis in 1938, and on 1 September 1939 he was seized and imprisoned by the Gestapo. Eight days later he was transferred to Dachau, and thence to Buchenwald, where he spent two and a half years. His artistic gifts led him to be assigned to a calligraphic workshop where, along with other artists including Emil Filla, he was given the task of painting the family trees of SS officers.

CapekDiktatorskieBotyA drawing from the cycle Diktátorské boty (‘The Boots of the Dictator’: 1937), reproduced in Josef Čapek, ed. Emil Filla and Bedřich Fučik  (Prague, 1937) X.0423/14.(63).

His creative spirit remained undaunted even after his removal to Sachsenhausen on 26 June 1942, where he not only translated English, Spanish and Norwegian poetry but wrote and illustrated a long poem dedicated to his brother Karel and circulated further poems in manuscript. However, on 25 February 1945 he was moved yet again – this time to Bergen-Belsen, where typhus had broken out. In his weakened state after five years of incarceration Josef soon fell victim to the disease, and although some witnesses claimed that he was still alive in April, he died shortly before the camp was liberated, and as his body was never recovered he was officially declared in 1948 to have died on 30 April 1947. Karel had died at Christmas 1938, having contracted pneumonia after working in his beloved garden, and with his spirit crushed by the fate of his country; he is buried in Prague’s Vyšehrad cemetery, where a monument also commemorates the brother whose last resting-place remains unknown.

Perhaps less well known in the English-speaking world than his brother, Josef Čapek deserves to be remembered on the 130th anniversary of his birth for the original and many-sided vitality of an artistic spirit which remained unquenched even in the grim circumstances of his final months.

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