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154 posts categorized "Russia"

08 September 2020

Chernobyl: two new acquisitions at the British Library

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Like many, I was hooked by the HBO miniseries ‘Chernobyl’ when it was released last year. Receiving widespread critical acclaim, it sparked a surge of interest in the events surrounding the nuclear disaster of April 1986.

For those keen to delve deeper, the British Library holds a large amount of material relating to Chernobyl (Chornobyl in Ukrainian), from scientific articles and theses to photography albums and poetry collections. Earlier this year, the Library also acquired two particularly important sources: a new digital archive and a copy of a rare Cold War-era newspaper.

Information about the Chernobyl Files from East View

Information about the Chernobyl Files from East View

The digital archive, The Chernobyl Files, is a collection of declassified documents prepared by Russian and Ukrainian government agencies, including the KGB, that ‘detail the most important developments in the wake of the disaster, as well as internal reports and investigations on its various causes’. Among the documents are internal reports, communiqués, and correspondences between local and regional KGB officials long before the tragedy. The archive is currently only available in the Library’s reading rooms (please see our website for information on how to book a slot) but I am happy to assist with enquiries via email if possible. 

Front page of Ukrainian Peace Committee News, no. 2

Front page of Ukrainian Peace Committee News, no. 2 (London, 1987). BL shelf mark ZK.9.d.258

The second new acquisition is an issue of Ukrainian Peace (Committee) News. This newspaper was published in 1986/7 by the Ukrainian Peace Committee (UPC), which, according to the publication’s statement of purpose, ‘was formed in response to the disaster at the atomic plant in Chornobyl’. Its aim was to address issues relating to nuclear disarmament, human rights, the environment and national liberties, which it believed were at the centre of ‘hostilities between the governments of Eastern Europe and Western countries’. Further research, however, led me to a series of declassified CIA documents, which in turn unveiled a more complex story behind the UPC and its newspaper…

In October 1986, an individual, referred to only as ‘RK’, filed a report on the creation and activities of the UPC. The document, which was declassified and released in 2007 on the CIA’s Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room website, detailed how the organisation had been set up that year by Prolog, a small group of Ukrainian émigrés working for the CIA since 1950, with the specific aim of intervening in the World Peace Congress (WPC). The WPC was in turn sponsored by the World Peace Council, a largely Soviet project established in 1949/1950 to promote peace programmes around the world and counter what it viewed as the ‘warmongering’ attitude of the US. The 1986 congress took place from 15-19 October in Copenhagen, the first time it had been held in a non-communist capital since the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

The UPC, which was registered at an address in Hammersmith, London, comprised both Prolog and non-Prolog members, the latter of whom were allegedly unaware of the convert operation. In the weeks leading up to the Copenhagen WPC, members of the UPC worked to establish themselves as a credible group and gain access as delegates to the congress.

Despite several hiccups, the group’s activities in Copenhagen were deemed a success and RK recommended that the UPC should be allowed to continue and even expand its work. This included publishing ‘a 4 page tabloid size newspaper 4 times a year’ and travelling to ‘different conferences in Western Europe, Asia and Africa’ to ‘conduct interventions similar to the intervention in Copenhagen’.

Front page of Ukrainian Peace News, no. 3/4

Front page of Ukrainian Peace News, no. 3/4 (London, 1987). BL shelf mark ZK.9.d.258

We know for certain that the UPC went on to publish four issues of the newspaper, Ukrainian Peace Committee News, three of which are held by the British Library (no. 2, published in spring 1987, and the combined no. 3/4, published in winter 1987 and kindly donated to the British Library by the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto). Although they display the same peace dove logo, the design and typeface used for issues no. 2 and 3/4 differ significantly.

All of the issues focus heavily on the Chernobyl disaster and include samizdat (literature secretly written, copied, and circulated in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union) and other articles. The Soviet war in Afghanistan and the issue of workers’ rights also feature in the paper. In addition, one article in issue no. 2 deals with the proposal to build a Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) at the British nuclear power station Sizewell B. By including the latter article, the newspaper supported Prolog’s view that in order to ‘gain credibility within the Peace movement’ the UPC’s position ‘had to be a balanced one – not an anti-Soviet group only, but one critical of the West in some respects as well’.

Pages from Ukrainian Peace Committee News, no. 2 with the headline 'Chornobyl in Samizdat'

Pages from Ukrainian Peace Committee News, no. 2

The UPC appears to have ceased its activities at the end of 1987, at the time the last issue of its newspaper was published. Although the British Library unfortunately does not hold the first issue, Ukrainian Peace (Committee) News is an invaluable source for those researching topics including Cold War relations, the Chernobyl disaster and the peace movement.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections 

Further reading:

Svetlana Alexievich, Voices From Chernobyl (London, 1999). YC.2001.a.808

Kate Brown, Manual For Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future (London, 2019). DRT ELD.DS.389500

Adam Higginbotham, Midnight in Chernobyl (London, 2019). YC.2019.a.8185

Serhii Plokhy, Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy (London, 2018). DRT ELD.DS.277839

06 August 2020

Gianni Rodari, the logic of fantasy (part 1)

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Photograph of Gianni Rodari

Gianni Rodari. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Gianni Rodari (1920-1980) is regarded as the father of modern Italian children’s literature and we celebrate his fantastic contribution to literature and education in the year of his triple anniversary. 100 years since his birth, 40 years since his death, and 50 years since his “Little Nobel”, namely the Hans Christian Andersen Writing Award, his books are still inspiring all sorts of cultural events in Italy. Last March, for instance, his iconic Favole al telefono triggered “Pronto, chi favola?”, a free storytelling service on demand set up spontaneously by actors to uplift children at home during the COVID-19 lockdown: every day from 4 to 8 pm, an actor rings a child to read over the phone one of the 70 fables included in the book.

Cover of Favole al telefono

Cover of Telephone Tales with an illustration of a child sitting on an arm chair while on the telephone

Front covers of Favole al telefono illustrated by Bruno Munari (Turin, 1962) F2/0682, and its English translation Telephone Tales (London, 1965) X.990/103

In Italy Gianni Rodari needs no introduction, but English translations of his books are few and readers in the UK are not familiar with his delicious children’s stories. Although the British Library’s acquisition policy for purchasing foreign material generally excludes children’s literature, the library fortunately holds 40 works by and about Rodari. This presence underlines the international recognition gained by the author and helps to track his legacy through translations, adaptations and critical writings. Half of our holdings, consisting of criticism on Rodari’s intellectual contribution, might serve teachers and educators as an inspiring toolkit. An interesting surprise is the existence of four musical scores inspired by Rodari’s texts, one in Italian and three in Russian. This illustrates his huge popularity in the Soviet Union, a country where his books met with massive success thanks to several translations and adaptations for schools, and that Rodari visited often between 1952 and 1979. He commented on the Soviet educational system in Giochi nell’URSS. Appunti di viaggio (Turin, 1984; YA.1990.a.3048). On the other hand, a report of his journey to China in the 1970s is available in Turista in Cina (Rome, 1974; X.709/25245).

In regard to Rodari’s fiction, the British Library holds some Italian and English first editions of nursery rhymes, fables and short stories. The most recent publication is a bilingual collection (Italian/English) Tales to change the world (Lincoln, 2008; YK.2010.a.169). Among the first editions there is also a Russian one, Chem pakhnut remesla? Kakogo tsveta remesla? (Moscow, 1954; 12843.p.54), including two poems translated by children’s writer Samuil Y. Marshak

Cover of Chem pakhnut remesla? Kakogo tsveta remesla?

Gianni Rodari, Chem pakhnut remesla? Kakogo tsveta remesla? (Moscow, 1954) 12843.p.54 

Before introducing three of Rodari’s cult stories, a brief remark on his style and preference for extremely short literary genres (aphorisms, limericks, nursery rhymes, poems, fables, etc). A supreme love of words (in sound, script and meaning), a musical ear and a witty irony are key elements in his writing, always aiming to select the exact word. His surrealist approach to linguistic invention has been compared to those of Raymond Queneau, J.M. Barrie and Lewis Carroll. Rodari’s graceful pen mastered nonsense, parody and puns to perfection. He also believed that the best literary form to educate children with courage and intelligence was the fable.

Front cover of Il pianeta degli alberi di Natale

Front cover of C’era due volte il barone Lamberto

Cover of Mr Cat in Business

Front cover of Tales told by a machine

Front covers of Il pianeta degli alberi di Natale (Turin, 1962; F2/0681), C’era due volte il barone Lamberto (Turin, 1978; X.908/85349, illustrated by Bruno Munari), Mr Cat in Business (London, 1975; X.990/7133), and Tales told by a Machine (London, 1976; X.990/8338)

Cipollino

Italian and Russian children share a common literary hero in their childhood memories, Cipollino (‘Little Onion’), the vegetable protagonist fighting for social justice in Il romanzo di Cipollino (1951, retitled Le avventure di Cipollino in 1957) and its sequel Le avventure di Cipollino 2 – Cipollino e le bolle di sapone (1952). The book was an immediate success in the Soviet Union thanks to the Russian translation and various adaptations including a ballet (Chipollino; Moscow, 1977; g.1548.v), and a cartoon. Being published by communist publishing houses, it was no wonder that the book had difficulty circulating in 1950s Catholic Italy. The British Library holds one of the late anthologies Le storie (Rome, 1992; YA.1994.a.15779), where Cipollino’s story is in good company with five others (Piccoli vagabondi, La Freccia azzurra, Gelsomino nel paese dei bugiardi, Atalanta, Il giudice a dondolo).

La Freccia azzurra

Cover of The Befana's Toyshop

Front cover of the English translation The Befana’s toyshop (London, 1970) X.990/2455.

Freccia azzurra is a toy, a blue train, that little Francesco wishes to have as a gift from the Befana. In Italian folklore the Befana is an old woman who rides a broomstick and delivers sweets or presents to good children and a lump of coal to bad ones, entering through the chimneys on the eve of Epiphany. This tradition is much loved by children and is the second most longed-for holiday after Christmas. The tale first appeared as a serial in the children’s magazine Il Pioniere, then was published as Il viaggio della Freccia azzurra (Florence, 1954) and later retitled La Freccia azzurra (Rome, 1964). In Rodari’s story, the toys come alive and escape from their toyshop in order to reach poor children’s houses. The book inspired an animated film carefully crafted by director Enzo d’Alò in 1996, with stellar contributors such as actor Lella Costa and the Nobel Laureate Dario Fo providing the voices, and Paolo Conte and Miriam Makeba the soundtrack.

A pie in the sky

Front cover of A pie in the sky

Front cover of A pie in the sky (London, 1970; X.990/2913) 

The phrase “pie in the sky”, meaning “an unrealistic enterprise or prospect of prosperity”, is borrowed by Rodari in a surrealistic and hilarious way: the image of the metaphor is transformed into an actual gigantic pie flying above Rome. That is why Rodari’s tale La torta in cielo (Turin, 1966) sounds better in its English translation. In one of the interviews in the documentary Gianni Rodari, il profeta della fantasia, teacher Maria Luisa Bigiaretti explained how Rodari worked with her pupils at a primary school in Rome in order to co-create this story starting from the title-metaphor. The chimeric pie, which suddenly appears in the sky, is actually an atomic bomb that only brave children will be able to deactivate. Written in the Sixties during the nuclear war fever years, this pacifist tale aimed to present a difficult problem to children in order to open up a debate in the classroom and prompt their alternative solution to war.

Rodari believed that every children’s author has a duty to be as close as possible to his little readers so as to write stories with which they can connect and have an enjoyable learning experience. Reading must be a personal enriching pleasure above all, as Rodari stated: “La lettura, o è un momento di vita, momento libero, pieno, disinteressato, o non è nulla” [Reading is either a moment of life, a free, full and disinterested moment, or it is nothing (my translation)].

In Omegna, Rodari’s birthplace, the town council is keeping alive his legacy with a literary festival and a theme park, the Parco della fantasia Gianni Rodari, where children and their families are able to meet Rodari’s tales and heroes at any age, getting involved in one of the most exciting adventures that is literature.

To be continued

Ramona Ciucani, West European Languages Cataloguing team

Further reading:

Pino Boerio, Una storia, tante storie: guida all’opera di Gianni Rodari (Turin, 1992) YA.1995.a.529

Francesca Califano, ‘Political, social and cultural divisions in the work of Gianni Rodari’ in Mary Shine Thompson and Valerie Coghlan (eds.), Divided worlds: studies in children’s literature, pp. 149-158 (Dublin, 2007,) YC.2008.a.8892 and m07/.33327

Bernard Friot, ‘Quel che io devo a Rodari’ in Andersen 365 (Genoa, 2019) https://www.andersen.it/quel-che-io-devo-a-rodari/

Ann Lawson Lucas, ‘Blue train, red flag, rainbow world: Gianni Rodari’s Befana’s toyshop’ in Beyond Babar: the European tradition in children’s literature edited by Sandra L. Beckett, Maria Nikolajeva (Lanham and Oxford, 2006) m06/.36134

Donatella Lombello (Padua University) on Gianni Rodari in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cx1eo9rAUXQ

Pietro Macchione, [et al.], Storia del giovane Rodari (Varese, 2013) YF.2013.a.19948

Giulia Massini, La poetica di Rodari: utopia del folklore e nonsense (Rome, 2011) YF.2012.a.26928

Il mio teatro: dal teatro del “Pioniere” a La storia di tutte le storie, [testi teatrali di] Gianni Rodari, a cura di Andrea Mancini e Mario Piatti (Pisa, 2006) YF.2006.a.37288

Gianni Rodari, Telephone Tales (translated by Anthony Shugaar), to be published in September 2020

M. L. Salvadori, ‘Apologizing to the Ancient Fable: Gianni Rodari and His Influence on Italian Children's Literature’ in The Lion and the Unicorn, vol. 26, part 2, 2002, pp. 169-202; 5221.742000

Patrizia Zagni, Gianni Rodari (Florence, 1975) X.0907/36.(100)

21 July 2020

Inheritance Books: Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

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This post is part of our 'Inheritance Books' series with the Americas blog, where colleagues choose an 'inherited' item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to 'pass on' to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they're important to us. This week, we hear from Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator of East European Collections. 

What my predecessor Dr Christine Thomas left for me was unprecedented: in a small Slavonic book, offered to the British Library by a rare books dealer, she recognised a copy of the first dated Slavonic Primer (Azbuka C.104.dd.11(1)) printed in Lviv in 1574. It was not just another copy – it turned out to be the second surviving copy of this book. The second in the world, and nobody had known about its very existence! Before the British Library acquired this book in 1982 on Chris’s recommendation, only one surviving copy had been recorded at Harvard University Library. A facsimile edition of the Primer had been published just several years earlier, and therefore Chris could match the items and could not believe her luck.

Of course, to be completely honest, this wonderful curatorial success story has been a constant source of melancholy envy for me. On the other hand, it was a real present from Chris, as it provided me with a wide variety of creative opportunities. I can proudly report that I followed in my predecessor’s footsteps by writing an article and a couple of blogs promoting and interpreting this collection item and co-organising a conference Revisiting Ivan Fedorov’s Legacy (UCL SSEES-British Library, 2014). In the digital environment it was only natural that, as part of the conference outcomes, the Primer was fully digitised and is now available via the BL catalogue. During the lockdown, when I suddenly had more time on my hands, my colleagues suggested a tool that can cope with OCR, and I decided to give it a try. This is a new and exciting skill to acquire and I am really enjoying the project. I hope the text will be available alongside the images very soon.

Screenshot showing work on the Primer in Transkribus

Working on transcribing the Primer using Transkibus

One of my memorable acquisitions is linked to one of the strengths of our collections – Russian futurist and constructivist books. There was no mystery or drama associated with this acquisition, although the story is quite sad, like many stories that originate from the period of early Soviet history.

The Soviet propaganda journal USSR in Construction (P.P.7500) is probably quite well known, not only among those who have a special interest in Soviet history. The style of the journal was visual and cinematographic, and became iconic among designers. Not only were photographs ‘constructed’ using photomontage as a major tool, but some of the issues were really ‘assembled’ containing, for example, pieces of fabric, aluminium foil or vinyl disks.

I acquired a set of the magazine that was a ‘little brother’ of the famous USSR in Construction project. This Soviet art-illustrated monthly magazine has a long and peculiar title Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov (‘At the Construction of Machine Tractor Stations and State Farms’; HS.74/2243). It did not have international editions in various languages and was quite short-lived: 1934-1937. However, despite this, full sets are extremely rare in library collections.

Eight front covers of Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov

Front covers of Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov.

The magazine covered just one sector – Soviet agriculture. It specialized in promoting the achievements of state farms and collective farms and stood out as a separate edition of the magazine USSR in Construction. Magazine photo essays advocated ‘the best examples of honest work on the farm, the best examples of organizational activity in the MTS and state farms, and the best achievements in raising agriculture, culture and life of the collective and state farms’. Seven issues were designed by El Lissitzky.

The bold and powerful covers by talented artists and designers, and the essays written by gifted journalists and writers tell lies about life in the Soviet Union. The lives of these artists and writers tell a more truthful story about this time:

Semen Borisovich Uritskii (chief editor) – arrested in 1938 and executed in 1940;
Petr Petrovich Kriuchkov (author) – executed in 1938;
Artemii Bagratovich Khalatov (author) - executed in 1938;
Boris Fedorovich Malkin (member of the editorial board) – executed in 1938.

Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov has been already researched and cited, but certainly lends itself to further enquiries.

Further reading:

Christine Thomas. 'Two East Slavonic Primers: Lvov, 1574 and Moscow, 1637'. eBLJ, 1984. https://www.bl.uk/eblj/1984articles/article2.html

Ivan the Terrible, primers, ballet and the joys of curatorship https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2014/05/ivan-the-terrible-primers-ballet-and-the-joys-of-curatorship-.html

Classroom curiosities https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2013/11/classroom-curiosities-.html

E. Rogatchevskaia. ‘“A Beautiful, Tremendous Russian Book, and Other Things Too”:
An Overview of Rare Russian Books from the Diaghilev-Lifar Collection in the British Library.’ Canadian-American Slavic Studies (2017, 51:2-3) https://brill.com/view/journals/css/51/2-3/article-p376_10.xml?language=en

Victoria E. Bonnell, Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters Under Lenin and Stalin (Berkeley, 1997) YC.1998.b.1122 (Limited preview available)

Margarita Tupitsyn, Matthew Drutt, El Lissitzky, Ulrich Pohlmann. El Lissitzky: Beyond the Abstract Cabinet: Photography, Design, Collaboration (New Haven, 1999) LB.31.b.17233 (Limited preview available)

Victoria Bonnell. “Peasant women in Political posters of the 1930s” In: Public Sociology at Berkeley, 2nd edition (1997) https://publicsociology.berkeley.edu/publications/producing/bonnell.pdf

Erika Wolf, ‘When Photographs Speak, To Whom Do They Talk? The Origins and Audience of SSSR na stroike (USSR in Construction)’ Left History, Vol 6 No 2 (1999) ZA.9.a.9420 https://lh.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/lh/article/view/5382/4577

07 July 2020

Inheritance Books: Janet Ashton, West European Languages Cataloguing Team Manager

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This post is part of our 'Inheritance Books' series, where colleagues choose an 'inherited' item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to 'pass on' to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they're important to us. This week, Janet Ashton, West European Cataloguing Team Manager, explains her two choices. 

My job as team manager to the West European cataloguers focuses on the languages I’ve studied the longest and spoken most often, but my personal interests extend much further across the collections. In common, I suspect, with my colleagues, I had a real struggle to come up with just two items for this blog, and the “inherited” one proved especially difficult.

Cover of Two under the Indian Sun

Cover of Jon and Rumer Godden, Two under the Indian Sun (London, 1966) X.809/2495 

I could have chosen any one of a number of children’s books that inspired a love of reading or a curiosity about certain themes. I could have picked an obscure primary source I have used in my own research, and of which the Library holds the only copy. In the end, however, I opted for a commercially published, Legal Deposit item that made a mark on me very early in life, although it’s not a children’s book: Two under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden.

This book is the sister novelists’ memoir of their childhood in India during the First World War. Growing up as an expatriate child in Sudan in the 1970s and 80s, I recognised many elements of their experience, from the annoyance of prickly heat behind the knees, through the whir of electric fans, to the surreptitious pleasure of a cold bottle of a fizzy soft drink, stolen from parents’ supplies while they took their rest in the heat of the afternoon and the wakeful children sneaked around engaging in forbidden pleasures. The sights and smells of the market, the curious nostalgia for a UK that could never live up to expectation when one returned, and the colonial grandeur of the “Club” whose library furnished so much of the available reading material – all were familiar to me. It was Khartoum’s Sudan Club (actually the British Club) which provided me with the first copy I knew of this book, along with much more mildly old-fashioned reading matter – and of course the BL has one too. From a world in which new and needed books were quite hard to come by, I moved eventually to a job that allowed me easy access to the whole of the world’s knowledge. What remained was an enduring pleasure in travel literature and rich description of hot places and times past.

Cover of A life for the Tsar featuring a painting of the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II

Cover of Janet Ashton and Greg King, A life for the Tsar (East Richmond Heights, 2016) YD.2016.b.891.

The item I’m pleased to pass on is one that draws hugely on the BL’s resources, and for that reason I make no apology for mentioning my own book, co-written with my friend Greg King: A life for the Tsar. This is a US publication, not eligible for legal deposit, so I donated a copy – another one of the most usual routes by which items arrive at the BL. It’s the story of the disastrous coronation of Russia’s last Emperor, at which several thousand peasants were killed or seriously injured while queuing for coronation mugs, permanently damaging the image of both Tsar and regime. The tragic event seemed an inversion of Glinka’s classic coronation opera, in which a peasant willingly dies to save his future Tsar, leading to a reign of glory, and for that reason and others we chose re-use Glinka’s title. We based the book on innumerable British Library resources, from the official coronation albums (works of extraordinary detail and sumptuousness that were presented to all official guests) through well-known studies of the reign and contemporary newspaper accounts to obscure self-published memoirs written by those who attended. And then of course we supplemented these with manuscript and other material from other archives too. Our publisher supplied some remarkable photographs to complement our own personal collections, and worked them into a format that sought to echo that of the original album, with page decorations and inset images. The resulting book has all of our favourite things: it’s very pretty as an object, and it is full of accounts of wonderful architecture and costume, cultural history (especially of travel and of the press), real farce and in-fighting among the great and good, with a deeply serious dose of high politics as well. We are proud to have a copy in the Library for perpetuity and hope that readers enjoy it as much as they find it useful.

23 April 2020

Poems from the Edge of Extinction II

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This blog continues our theme of poetry in languages on the edge of extinction. It is part of a collaborative mini series with our Americas and Oceania collections colleagues. 

Cover of Swallows and Floating Horses

Cover of Swallows and Floating Horses (details below)

Frisian

Frisian is the language closest related to English. As the old saying goes: ‘Bread, butter and green cheese is good English and good Friese’. In Frisian this reads as ‘Bûter, brea en griene tsiis, etc.’

Otherwise Frisian and English are each other’s opposites. For a long time, Frisian was scarcely written down. Over the centuries it has stubbornly refused to die out, but it has changed with the times and is as strong now as ever. It is now the second official language of the Netherlands.

The above image is from Swallows and Floating Horses: An Anthology of Frisian Literature (London, 2019, awaiting shelfmark), published last year by Francis Boutle as part of their series ‘Lesser Used Languages of Europe’. It covers 1,000 years of Frisian poetry and prose, in English and Frisian. In February 2019 at UCL it was presented to the British public, with Frisian poet Tsead Bruinja, currently Poet Laureate of the Netherlands, performing some of his poems. You can read and listen to his poem, ‘Gers dat Alfêst Laket’ (Grass that’s Started Laughing) from Swallows and Floating Horses here

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections 

Cover of Sovremennaia literatura narodov Rossii. Poeziia. Antologiia

Cover of Sovremennaia literatura narodov Rossii. Poeziia. Antologiia (Moscow, 2017). YF.2019.b.1108

Russia

In 2017, the well-known Moscow publishing house OGI (The United Humanitarian Publishing House) published a really unique book – an anthology of poetry in 57 minority languages spoken in the Russian Federation in original languages and Russian translations (BL YF.2019.b.1108). The editor of the volume was Maksim Amelin, himself a poet, translator, publisher and literary critic. In the foreword to the book, it is compared to an encyclopaedia of living national languages, cultures and worldviews. Here you can see several pages of this book and read poems (alongside their translations into Russian) by:

  • Anisa Kettunen, who writes in Finnish. Although 5.4 million people in the world are native speakers of Finnish, it is a minority language in the Russian Federation, where we see permanent decrease in the use of the Finnish as a native language.
  • Pimagomed Aslanov and Giulbika Omarova, whose poetry represents 129,000 speakers of the Tabasaran language from the Lezghin group of the Nakh-Dagestan language family. Apparently, this is one of the most difficult languages to learn.
  • Georgii Tsvetkov and Radmira Bogdanova – two poets who use for their creative expression the North Russian dialect of the Romani language. 128,000 people speak the Romani language in Russia.
  • Brontoi Bediurov, who in his native Altai language created a ritual verse on the spring worship to the Holy mountain Babyrgan.Altai, 

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections 

 

Cover of People like us. Seļļizt nemē mēg

Cover of People like us. Seļļizt nemē mēg (details below)

Livonian

Livonian (līvõ kēļ or rāndakēļ), currently spoken by around 20 people (three of them poets!), is on the UNESCO list of endangered languages. For centuries it was spoken in fishing villages along the Livonian Coast of Latvia. Unlike Latvian, which is a Baltic language, Livonian belongs to the Finnic branch of the Uralic language family and is related to Estonian, Finnish and Karelian. Even though the last native speaker of Livonian is thought to have died in 2013, there is a sustained interest in Livonian language and culture. In 2018 the University of Latvia Livonian Institute, the first research institution solely focused on the history, culture and language of Livonia, was established. In May 2019 the Institute’s director Valts Ernštreits, who is also a poet writing in Latvian and Livonian, took part in the European Literature Night: Poetry and Performance event held at the British Library. The poem below comes from Ernštreits’ first bilingual (Livonian and English) collection of Livonian poetry People like us. Seļļizt nemē mēg, translated by Ryan Van Winkle and Ernštreits (London, 2019, awaiting shelfmark).

Siz ku kievād virgõbõd
tallõ vied allõ maggõnd līndõd,
nänt tūrgõd āt vel kažžizt,
nänt ēļ um vel kardõ,
nänt kēļ um vel ȭnõz ja vȭrõz.
Ku kivīd virgõbõd, paļļõd ja ōgizt,
ne nūzõbõd ilzõ jõugõst ja viedstõ, ja mūldast,
lougõ ja sitkõ,
addõŗi murdõs ja
kējid jālgad sil akkõs.
Nänt kēļ neku nänt eņtš sidām
vel um vizā, lǟlam ja tijā;
amād sõnād āt ūd,
set set sindõn,
set pimdõmst ulzõ tunnõd;
abbõrz sieldõm kūoŗ nēḑi katāb.
Kievād, ku lūomõd ja liestād,
pūošõd ja neitsõd
āt īdlimist jagdõd
pids randõ,
līndõd ja kivīd rõkāndõbõd
ūds kīels,
missõn jūŗi äb ūo
äbka īrgandõkst,
äb ka tutkāmt.

–––––

In spring, birds wake
from their underwater slumber,
their feathers damp,
voices cracked and croaking
in an empty, foreign language.
Stones, naked and grey, rise up
from the sand, soil, sea – stubborn
and heavy – breaking ploughs,
getting under your feet.
Their rocky tongues,
just like their hearts, are cold
heavy and hollow. Their words;
new born
fresh out
of darkness, swaddled
in a thin, eggshell light.
In spring, when beasts and fish
and all the young men
and all the young women
get dispersed fairly and evenly
throughout the coast,
the birds and stones
speak their rootless language,
a tongue
with no beginning, no end.

Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator Baltic Collections

 

Photograph of José María Iparraguirre playing guitar

José María Iparraguirre, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Basque

Basque, or Euskara, is a pre-Indo-European language spoken today in four provinces of Spain and three in France on both sides of the Western Pyrenees. It is an ‘isolate’, i.e. it is unrelated to any language group. Attempts have been made to find connections between Basque and an extraordinary variety of languages, living and dead. However, only the surviving fragments of Aquitanian, a language of S.W. Gaul, have revealed any meaningful coincidences.

Greater centralization after the Revolution weakened regional identity in France and minority languages suffered in consequence. In northern Spain, the fueros (local laws) were abolished in 1876. Paradoxically, Basque culture and language underwent a renaissance that lasted until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Use of the Basque language was forbidden under Franco, but it continued to be studied, initially clandestinely. Today, speakers of Basque number about 850,000. Its future is brightest in the Autonomous Community of Euskadi in Spain where it has co-official status. It is much less so in Navarra, where its status is more complex. The language is at greatest risk in the French Basque Country.

Poetry has always been a vital strand of literature in Basque. Indeed, the first book printed in the language was a collection of poems, Linguae vasconum primitiae (Bordeaux, 1545), by a parish priest, Bernart Etxepare. A feature of Basque verse, today and in the past, has been oral poetry. One of the most famous poems in the language, Jose Maria Iparragirre’s Gernikako arbola (c. 1853), is composed to a popular dance rhythm. Dedicated to the tree of Gernika, the ancient oak that symbolized the rights of the people of Bizkaia, it has become a de facto anthem of the Basque people and their aspirations. Iparragirre (1820-81) had himself been a defender of the fueros and he forms an indirect link to the cultural movement that grew up after their suppression.

The poem has 12 stanzas. We quote here the first in its original dialect spelling, as the whole poem can readily be found online:

Guernicaco arbola
Da bedeincatuba
Euscaldunen artean
Guztiz maitatuba
Eman ta zabaltzazu
Munduban frutuba,
Adoratzen zaitugu
Arbola santuba.

–––––

The Tree of Guernica
is blessed
among the Basques;
absolutely loved.
Give and deliver
the fruit unto the world.
We adore you,
holy tree.

Geoff West, Former Curator Hispanic Collections 

Further reading:

Luis de Castresana, Vida y obra de Iparraguirre. Seguida de la obra completa, original euskera y versión castellana, del autor del Gernikako Arbola (Bilbao, 1971). X.981/3103.

Nick Gardner, Basque in education, In the Basque Autonomous Community (Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2000) YA.2002.a.39245.

Luis Villasante, Historia de la literatura vasca, 2nd ed. rev. ([Oñate], 1979). BL HLR 899.92

 

31 March 2020

The Royal Granny Catherine the Great as an author of the first books for children

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It is difficult to believe now that the concept of childhood as a special time in human development emerged only during the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Enlightenment began to shape thinking about politics, society and the world in general. It emerged through the educational theories of the philosopher John Locke. By the beginning of the 19th century books for and about children started to be published.

Portrait of Catherine the Great walking with a dog

Portrait of Catherine the Great by Vladimir Borovikovskii (1794, Tretyakov gallery). Wikimedia Commons.

Russia was no exception. The first books for children were written by Empress Catherine the Great. Having no trust in her son and heir Paul, she put a lot of effort into raising her elder grandsons, so that they could follow in her footsteps in governing the country. Having missed almost all the joys of motherhood (which was not an exceptional situation for noble women of that time, though Catherine’s case was complicated by her job as Empress), she compensated by trying to be a caring granny. Catherine chose the names of the first two grandsons. She called them Alexander and Konstantin – names that had not been in use within the Romanov lineage – explicitly alluding to Alexander the Great and Constantine the Great.

The royal granny also selected nurses and teachers, and liked spending time playing with the boys, especially Alexander, whom she considered a more suitable heir to the throne than her son Paul. However, most interestingly, she wrote books for her grandchildren, which we can now call the first books in Russian written specially for children.

Page from Iunosti chestnoe zertsalo

Page from Iunosti chestnoe zertsalo, 4th ed. (Saint Petersburg, 1745). 628.c.21.(2.). A digitised copy is also available. 

Babushkina azbuka (‘The Granny’s Primer’) is strictly speaking a collection of moral rules that continued Peter the Great’s initiative of prescribing good manners to young people – Iunosti chestnoe zertsalo (‘The Honourable Mirror for Youth’, 1717). However, if The Honourable Mirror for Youth is more of a courtesy book focusing on etiquette, The Granny’s Primer talks about ethical issues, promoting the values that had been advanced by the Enlightenment. For example, she stated that people had very little difference by their nature, but differed in their relation to knowledge. The British Library has a copy of a contemporary edition (2004; YF.2004.b.1620), but if you would like to see a couple of sample pages of the original manuscript held at the Russian State Archive of Ancient Documents, you can visit the site (in Russian) created for the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the Romanov dynasty in Muscovy. 

Portrait of Alexander I of Russia as a child

Portrait of Alexander I, Catherine the Great's grandson, as a child. After Dmitrii Levitskii. Wikimedia Commons.

As much as she could, Catherine also tried to be entertaining and therefore wrote two tales about young princes – Khlor and Fevei – which were supposed to give children examples of good moral choices and behaviour. In one tale Tsarevitch Khlor, who is described as a child of exceptional beauty, is sent on a quest to find a rose without thorns that stings not. The beautiful child completes the task helped by his friend Reason, and using Honesty and Truth as their crutches.

Prince Fevei was also created by Catherine the Great as a role model for a child reader. The author removes all the traditional fairy-tale elements by setting the story in Siberia, suggesting that the reason for the tsarina’s recovery was medical care rather than miracle, and by testing the main character by giving him mundane tasks. The story of Fevei’s early childhood shows how by the end of the 18th century it became a subject of concern, value and appreciation. The baby’s nurse selected by his parents was a sensible widow, who “could distinguish whether a child cried out of need, illness, or self-will”. They didn’t swaddle him or wrap him up, didn’t cradle him or shake him, but fed him decently and on time. The child began to amuse himself with toys and selected those which gave him knowledge. While the baby was not yet able to speak, he was capable of explaining himself. Moreover, in her story, the Empress advocated for vaccination by mentioning that the prince was vaccinated with smallpox at the age of three.

Title page of 'Ivan Czarowitz; or, the Rose without prickles that stings not...'

Title page of the English translation of the tale of Prince Khlor. Ivan Czarowitz; or, the Rose without prickles that stings not. A tale ... (London, 1793). N.2048.(1.). 

Both tales were turned into operas and successfully performed in theatres (the British Library holds two librettos: shelfmarks 1343.h.12 and 1343.h.10), and the tale of prince Khlor was translated into English just a few years after its publication in Russia, in 1793, and is now freely available online.

And like the Royal Granny Catherine the Great, we will end our blog like this: “Here the story ends, and who knows better, let him tell another”.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections 

24 January 2020

‘Humble books’: B. U. Kashkin’s wooden artist books at the British Library

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The nonconformist artist and poet Evgenii Mikhailovich Malakhin, better known as B. U. Kashkin or later Starik Bukashkin (‘Old Man Bukashkin’), is a legendary figure in Ekaterinburg, the Russian city where he spent most of his adult life. Sporting a large bushy beard, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘I am a great Russian poet’, and carrying a balalaika, B. U. Kashkin could be found walking the streets and creating art for much of the 1980s and 90s. In recent years, the so-called ‘Bukashkin Trail’, a walk through the area where a small number of his murals remain intact, has even appeared on alternative English-language travel guides to the city. Yet, B. U. Kashkin remains relatively unknown outside of Russia or even Ekaterinburg.

Cover of B.U. Kashkin (1938-2005): zhiznʹ i tvorchestvo uralʹskogo pank-skomorokha (Ekaterinburg, 2015) featuring a photograph of the artist

Cover of B.U. Kashkin (1938-2005): zhiznʹ i tvorchestvo uralʹskogo pank-skomorokha (Ekaterinburg, 2015) featuring a photograph of the artist. YF.2017.a.4031

Born in Irkutsk in 1938, B. U. Kashkin studied engineering before moving to Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg) in the early 1960s to take up a post as a senior engineer for an electricity company. Although he was interested in philosophy and the arts, it wasn’t until the 1970s that he began exploring a more creative path. As well as experimental photography, he also wrote and self-published poetry, and painted and worked with wood (including chopping boards). He initially adopted the pseudonym K. Kashkin, which sounds similar to the Russian word kakashka (meaning a little piece of shit). In the late 80s, this morphed into B. U. Kashkin – from the word bukashka (meaning a little bug or, metaphorically, an inconspicuous person).

The first exhibition of his work was held in the mid-1980s and he later founded an art collective, ‘Kartinnik’, which took its name from the Russian word for painting or picture – kartina (and likely also kvartirnik, the word used to describe musical concerts or performance art held in private apartments in the Soviet Union in the 1960s-1980s). The group’s philosophy was based on the idea of art as a form of communication and not a commodity to be sold. In fact, B. U. Kashkin gave most of his art away for free to passers-by in the street. 

Photographs of three of B. U. Kashkin's murals

Photographs of B. U. Kashkin's murals taken by E. Polens, A. Shaburov, and V. Shakhrin, 1993-2000. From B.U. Kashkin (1938-2005): zhiznʹ i tvorchestvo uralʹskogo pank-skomorokha.

In the early 1990s, B. U. Kashkin expanded his canvas further, painting garages, rubbish bins, and fences around the city. Calling himself ‘the People’s Street Sweeper of Russia’ in a tongue-in-cheek jibe at the official People’s Artist title awarded by the State, his murals called for people to live harmoniously together and to take care of the city and nature. In this way, he was able to communicate his poetry and ideas with a wide, public audience. The performative aspect of B. U. Kashkin’s art has been likened to that of the skomorokhs, medieval East Slavic travelling street performers who sang, played musical instruments and entertained people with comic plays and acrobatic tricks. 

Inside of B. U. Kashkin’s wooden artist book, DRrrrr, featuring a painting of him cutting down a fir tree

Inside of Bukashkin’s wooden artist book, DRrrrr… ([Sverdlovsk?], [1993?]). RF.2000.a.48

B. U. Kashkin also made wonderfully playful and naïve wooden books, two of which are now held in the British Library. In the smaller of the two books, he juxtaposes the wooden canvas with the act of chopping down a fir tree, an important symbol in Russian culture. He himself is the woodcutter, bearded and dressed in a red tunic and red, white and blue hat – an ensemble he wore in real life and which can be found throughout his art. Measuring just 6.5cm x 5.5cm, the book is entitled DRrrrr… (evoking the sound of the saw) and features the name of the ‘publisher’, skromnaia kniga (‘humble book’), on its cover.

Cover of Kora featuring a dog, a cow, a bird and a fish

Cover of Kora: av-ai ([Ekaterinburg?], [1993?]). RF.2000.a.47

The second of B. U. Kashkin’s wooden books held by the Library is marginally bigger in size (9cm x 7cm!). Aptly titled Kora (tree bark), the cover features a dog, a cow, a bird and a fish, along with animal sounds. Once again B. U. Kashkin makes an appearance, this time with his infamous balalaika and an assortment of music-playing friends and animals. The books are part of a series B. U. Kashkin made using birch (also a symbol of Russian culture and beauty) and other types of bark in the early 1990s.

Inside of Kora featuring B. U. Kashkin and an assortment of music-playing friends and animals

Inside of Kora: av-ai

Following his death in 2005, staff and students of Ural State University worked to build the B. U. Kashkin Museum in the university. As well as holding rare artefacts and archival material related to B. U. Kashkin, the museum also serves to promote cultural projects and interdisciplinary research. The Ekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts similarly collected artworks from different periods of B. U. Kashkin’s life and held an exhibition to mark what would have been his 80th birthday in 2018.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

17 January 2020

‘How delightful to be a governess’ [not]: Anne Brontë in Translation

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‘Parson’s lass ’ant nowt, an’ she weänt ’a nowt when ’e’s deäd,
Mun be a guvness, lad, or summut, and addle her breäd.’

Those hard-headed words of Tennyson’s ‘Northern Farmer: New Style’ rang bitterly true in a family where ‘parson’s lass’ was the youngest of four surviving children out of six. The Rev. Patrick Brontë’s daughter Anne, born on 17 January 1820, had no choice but to earn her own living, and a teaching position, whether as a governess or in a school, offered respectability and an income, albeit a modest one. In her first post Anne earned £25 per year. Meagre as the material rewards were, though, her months with the Ingham and Robinson families provided her with others – a fund of experience and a determination to expose the humiliation and exploitation suffered by other women in her situation.

Pencil portrait of Anne Bronte
Anne Brontë, drawn by her sister Charlotte

As the youngest of three sisters, plus a scapegrace elder brother, Anne might have been expected to be accustomed to deferring to others and displaying the submissiveness required by her employers. If we are to believe her sister Charlotte’s account of her, she had all these qualities; the picture which Charlotte paints of her in the most delicate pastel tones suggests a muted meekness and piety which nowadays seems dangerously close to mawkishness. Samantha Ellis, in Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life (London, 2017; DRT ELD.DS.181944), describes how the taxi driver taking her to Thorp Green, the site of Anne’s second post, was unaware that there was another sister besides Charlotte and Emily.

This state of affairs is reflected to some degree in the British Library’s holdings of translations of Anne Brontë’s two novels and her poetry. Their scantiness contrasts strongly with the numerous versions of Jane Eyre or Emily’s single novel Wuthering Heights, and the fact that the majority of them are 20th-century publications suggests the slow growth of international awareness of her significance. The earliest in the collections is a French translation of Agnes Grey dating from 1859 in which Anne is not even accorded the dignity of a book to herself but shares it with a translation of her elder sister’s Shirley – both novels being attributed to ‘Currer Bell’, Charlotte’s pen-name, while poor ‘Acton Bell’ is completely obscured.

Title-page of a French translation of 'Shirley' and 'Agnes Grey'
Title-page of the translations of Shirley and Agnes Grey by Ch. Romey and A Rolet (Paris, 1859) 12602.d.3.

Another French translation, Agnès Grey, was published in 1949. It is easy to see the appeal of this work in a society where the governess was also a familiar figure in middle- and upper-class families, and where, indeed, French was, like music and drawing, one of the obligatory subjects in a curriculum designed to fit eligible young ladies for the marriage market. However, superficial accomplishments did little to enable them to choose wisely, as Agnes’ former pupil Rosalie Murray laments after becoming Lady Ashby, deploring her husband’s ‘carnet de paris, sa table de jeu, ses filles de l’Opéra, sa lady une telle, sa mistress une telle, ses bouteilles de vin et ses verres d’eau-de-vie et de gin!’ In contrast, Agnes, after two miserable experiences as a governess to charges who are spoilt, odious or uncontrollable, returns home to run a successful school with her widowed mother, and makes a happy marriage when independence has rendered her able to make a free choice.

Anne’s other novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, similarly highlights the importance of education in enabling a woman to make a life for herself, escape an abusive marriage and support herself and her children. Helen, its heroine, is at first dazzled by the handsome and wealthy Arthur Huntingdon, and convinces herself that the flaws in his character are due to neglect by his unsatisfactory mother. The marriage rapidly deteriorates through his drinking and mental and physical cruelty, and Helen finally leaves him, taking their child, and adopts a new identity under her late mother’s maiden name. She is able to make a living from painting because she treats it as a serious pursuit, taking lessons to develop her talent (one of the most painful scenes in the novel is that where Arthur burns her work), and becomes a well-regarded (and saleable) artist. Likewise, Agnes Grey’s elder sister Mary develops her artistic gifts and by doing so not only earns a decent living but lifts herself out of the depression which envelops her after the family’s decline into poverty. Nor does this preclude a happy marriage, as we learn when Agnes goes home to help with the preparations for Mary’s wedding to a young clergyman.

The title of this second novel provides some interesting challenges for the translator. In a French translation by Maurice Rancès (Paris, 1937; 12643.a.41) Helen becomes La Dame du Château de Wildfell, suggesting the banks of the Loire rather than rugged Yorkshire, while a 1985 Hungarian translation (YF.2006.a.11670) makes her simply Wildfell asszonya (‘The Lady of Wildfell’). A Russian translation which also includes Agnes Grey makes her Neznakomka iz Uaĭldfell-Kholla (‘The Unknown Lady of Wildfell Hall; wisely, translators have avoided attempts to tackle the name of her residence which produced some bizarre results in the case of Wuthering Heights). This translation appeared in 1990, and also contains her poetry.

Cover of a Russian translation of Anne Bronte's works
Cover of a Russian translation of Anne Brontë’s novels and poems (Moscow, 1990); YA. 1995.a.15633.

The strangest ‘translation’, though, is one purporting to be a Spanish version of a joint production by Charlotte and Anne Brontë from a German translation of a text never published in English. Adversidad (Barcelona, [1946]; 012643.tt.74.) is the work of one Ricardo Boadella, who in his preface claims that the novel, set during the Napoleonic wars, bears the unmistakeable stamp of the sisters’ admiration for Nelson, their interest in education and their devotion to duty as illustrated by the hero, ‘Rockhingham’ [sic], who becomes a martyr to it. One would like to think that Anne – a far more courageous and spirited character than she is conventionally perceived – would have relished this preposterous pastiche.

Susan Halstead Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

21 November 2019

‘The Man Who Lost His Homeland’*

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“The War was not our War! Yet it somehow found us. It took us in its clutches and threw us where we are now!” Cengiz Dağcı said, and added, “Fifty years! Fifty years away from my homeland, it has become a wound that never heals…”

The Crimean Tatar writer Cengiz Dağcı is one of the most underestimated novelists of the Second World War, with over 22 books on his beloved Crimea and its long suffering through world wars and Soviet oppression. He, like all Crimean Tatars of the time, suffered greatly. He was forced to leave his home and family when he was only 22. Despite being interned by the Nazis he managed to survive and, after liberation, made the arduous journey to London through a war-ravaged Europe. He would never return to his homeland again. Although he made a life in London, his heart was in Crimea. When he died at the age of 92, his body was transferred to his homeland through the cooperation of the Turkish, Ukrainian and British states.

Photograph of Cengiz Dagci

Photograph of Cengiz Dağcı by Zafer Karatay (reproduced with kind permission)

Dağcı was born, the fourth of eight children, on 9 March 1919 in Gurzuf, Crimea. His family moved to Kızıltaş from Gurzuf when he was a small boy. Located on the Simferopol - Yalta route, their house (which still stands today) has a beautiful, big, tranquil garden facing Ayi Dağı (Bear Mountain). Yalta has breathtaking landscapes and deep historical roots. Pushkin, Chekhov and Tolstoy were among many world-famous Russian authors, artists, and poets who lived in the city.

Photograph of Bear Mountain

Photograph of Bear Mountain by Melek Maksudoglu

After the Bolshevik Revolution and establishment of the Soviet Union, private houses were confiscated. The Dağcı family house was seized and three Russian families were settled in it. In 1931, Cengiz Dağcı’s father, Seyt Omer Dagci, was arrested on account of complaints made by a neighbour that the family was not cooperating with Stalin’s collectivisation policy and had hidden goods from the Soviet. Seyt Omer Dagci was labelled an enemy of the state and sent to the Gulag. The policy of collectivisation and the mismanagement of resources led to one of the biggest famines in Ukraine from 1932 to 1933. The Dagci family somehow survived.

A year later, Dagci’s father was released from prison and decided to move his family to Akmescit (Simferopol) from Kiziltas to avoid subsequent humiliation. The family’s new squalid and miserable lodgings are mentioned in Dagci’s memoirs, Letters to my Mother where he writes: “I see, mother, how you are saddened. This move to a miserable place reflects on your face. But how brave you were there and how you turned to God even more”.

Literatura krymsʹkykh tatar cover

A.E. Krymskii, Literatura krymsʹkykh tatar = Kʺyrymtatarlarnynʺ edebiiaty = Literatura krymskikh tatar (Simferopolʹ, 2003). YF.2006.a.11536. A Ukrainian-Tatar-Russian anthology of Crimean Tatar literature from the 20th century

Dagci continued his schooling in Akmescit and started writing short stories. He loved poetry and his early poems were published in 1936 in Crimea’s youth journal Gençlik Mecmuası. His early writings include one poem praising Stalin and the Soviet regime, but in his memoirs he admits that he was asked to write in such a manner. Another poem he wrote about Hansaray (a palace of the Crimean Khanate, the Turkic state which existed from the mid 15th to the late 18th century) in Bakcesaray, which is entitled ‘Söyleyin Duvarlar’ (‘Walls! Talk to us’), was published in the literary journal Edebiyat Mecmuası in Crimea in 1939 and glorifies the Crimean Khanate.

In his second year at university, Dagci enlisted in the Soviet Army and fought shoulder to shoulder with Soviet citizens, consisting of ethnicities such as Ukrainian, Uzbek, Kirgyz, and Tajik. In 1941 he was captured and became a prisoner of war. Throughout his imprisonment, he refused to collaborate with the German troops. When the war ended he tried to return to his homeland but to his dismay the roads were closed. He wanted to go back to his home, finish his studies, and become a good school teacher.

Cover of XX. yüzyılda Kırım with a photograph of 'The Swallow's Nest', a decorative castle located at Gaspra near Yalta.

Feyzi Rahman Yurter, XX. yüzyılda Kırım (Turkey, [1998?]). ITA.2000.a.6. This work, ‘20th-century Crimea’, examines the experience of Crimean Tatar POWs in the Second World War.

In 1945 he joined a Polish émigré group with his wife to seek refuge in the UK. It was a difficult and long journey to London where he built a life for himself and his family. He says in his memoirs; “I created a new home away from home. A home in which I and my wife could take sanctuary and feel safe.” He worked long hours in a restaurant during the day and wrote only at night. He kept writing about his beloved Crimea and the tragedies the Crimean Tatars faced.

All of Dagci’s novels were originally published in Turkish in Turkey. Coupled with the fact that he was living in the UK, this meant that he was able to write about the tragedies of the Crimean Tatar people. However, in the 1980s, Moscow sent a KGB agent to obtain copies of them, which were examined by the authorities and classified as foreign and restricted from the public.

Covers of four books by Cengiz Dagci

A selection of Dagci’s books. Awaiting shelfmarks. 

The most important theme running through all of his novels is the national identity of the Crimean Tatars. He evokes a clear picture of how they lived, their everyday life, customs, beliefs and the structure of their lives revolving around the seasons and their land. The Crimean Tatars lived a double life, having to outwardly demonstrate loyalty to the Soviet Regime that was actively trying assimilate and erase their identity, while keeping that identity alive among themselves, their families and communities, with hidden texts of resistance. They had been resisting Russian rule since 1774. Dagci, in his novels, also suggests that only after the Crimean Tatars become well educated could they ask for, and eventually receive, justice. The Soviet government’s ban on use of their language made it impossible to receive education in their mother tongue and this fact drove some Crimean Tatars to seek higher education in the Soviet system. Many of those educated in this system were subsequently involved in setting up the Crimean Tatar National Movement. 

*‘The Man Who Lost His Homeland’ is the title of one of Cengiz Dağcı’s books

Melek Maksudoglu, independent researcher

This blog post is based on an article by the author published by OCA magazine in January 2017

References/Further reading

E. Allworth, ed., Muslim Communities Re-emerge: Historical Perspectives on Nationality, Politics, and Opposition in the Former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (Durham, 1994). YC.1995.b.3180

E. Allworth, ed., The Tatars of Crimea: Return to The Homeland (Durham; London, 1998). 98/11840

Alan Fisher, The Crimean Tatars (Stanford, 1978). 81/14726

Isa Kocakaplan, Kirim’dan Londra’ya Cengiz Dagci (Istanbul, 1998)

Brian Glyn Williams, The Crimean Tatars: The Diaspora Experience and the Forging of a Nation (Leiden, 2001). ZA.9.a.11852

Paul R. Magocsi, This Blessed Land: Crimea and the Crimean Tatars (Toronto, 2014). YD.2015.a.1261

Hüseyin Su, ed., Çağdaş Kırım Tatar Öyküsü (Ankara, 2014). YP.2017.a.5735

A.E. Krymskii, Literatura krymsʹkykh tatar = Kʺyrymtatarlarnynʺ edebiiaty = Literatura krymskikh tatar (Simferopolʹ, 2003). YF.2006.a.11536

Feyzi Rahman Yurter, XX. yüzyılda Kırım (Turkey [1998?]). ITA.2000.a.63

 

29 October 2019

UNOVIS – the Bauhaus of the East

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This year is the centenary of the Bauhaus, prompting worldwide celebrations from Brazil to the UK, from Germany to China. The Bauhaus as a school of art and architecture is long gone, but as a marketing and PR campaign it has not yet run out of steam. The history of art has put it on a pedestal, and for decades it has been widely recognised as the undisputed primary source of inspiration for Modernism, but is it?

The almost fanatical reverence for the Bauhaus in the West certainly overshadows its most influential contemporary, the People’s Art School, which was located in a small provincial town in modern-day Belarus called Viciebsk (Vitebsk), hundreds of miles from any major cities.

Professors at the People's Art School in Viciebsk

Teachers at the People’s Art School in Viciebsk, July 1919 (Wikimedia Commons)

The school was the brainchild of Viciebsk’s most famous son, Marc Chagall. It was approved in August 1918 by Anatoly Lunacharsky, head of the People’s Commissariat for Education, and officially inaugurated in January 1919, just over two months before the Bauhaus and amid the upheaval of the Russian Civil War. But it was what happened next that actually cemented Viciebsk’s place in the history of modern art. The following year in November 1919, Chagall invited the maverick of 20th century modern art, Kazimir Malevich to teach in his humble art school in Viciebsk.

Title page of O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve with Malevich's black square

Kazimir Malevich, O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve (Viciebsk, 1919), C.114.n.46.

2019 therefore marks the centenary of Malevich’s arrival in Viciebsk, and under Malevich, the People’s Art School became a completely different breed with a singular voice. Malevich was in fact persuaded to move from Moscow to Viciebsk by a young teacher who was already teaching there, El Lissitzky, who would later become a celebrated artist worldwide in his own right. With Malevich came his Suprematism, and a clash with the pluralistic approach to styles preferred by Chagall was inevitable. Lissitzky very soon was won over by Suprematism and created his famous/ infamous pro-Bolshevik propaganda poster ‘Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge’ (1919), a powerful image that graces the floor of the art school (now a museum) today.

El Lissitzky  ‘Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge’ (1919)

El Lissitzky, ‘Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge’ (1919) (Wikimedia Commons)

Next year will be the centenary of another significant event in modern art history: the emergence of UNOVIS, and this warrants separate mention. The group was first founded by students from the People’s Art School on 19 January 1920 under the Russian acronym MOLPOSNOVIS, meaning ‘Young Followers of the New Art’, but within days, the group was joined by the teachers and was renamed POSNOVIS, meaning ‘Followers of the New Art’.

On 14 February 1920 it was renamed again, this time UNOVIS, meaning the champions, or the affirmers of the New Art – not followers any more. The architect of this cult-like group was Malevich, and it counted many future superstars among its converts, including Lissitzky, Vera Ermolaeva (who was also director of the School for a time), Nina Kogan, and Lazar Khidekel. The transition of the school from the influence of pluralistic individualism championed by Chagall to collective, impersonal and non-objective art was now complete – all the works created by UNOVIS were signed with Malevich’s iconic black square for anonymity.

Title page of Suprematizm. 34 risunka with Malevich's black square

Kazimir Malevich, Suprematizm. 34 risunka (Viciebsk, 1920). Wikimedia Commons. The British Library holds two facsimiles of this work in Russian and English (X.419/3137 and YA.1997.a.15443).

The whole town of Viciebsk soon became their testing ground as members decorated it with Suprematist art in all its forms, but the group’s ultimate goal was to apply Suprematism to the largest and most permanent art form with a more lasting impact on society: architecture. Although the group did not actually realise any architectural projects during its ephemeral existence, its Suprematist aesthetics inspired and continue to inspire many architects, even its antagonists, throughout the 20th century and up to this day, including the late Zaha Hadid, one of world's most sought-after ‘starchitects’ of recent decades.

The Bauhaus as a school is famous for its short life-span which ended in 1933, but UNOVIS was even more short-lived, it lasted just over 2 years and was dissolved in May 1922 for various reasons including financial ones. Nevertheless, UNOVIS had announced its presence to the world and had a far-reaching impact on 20th-century art and architecture beyond its very short life. The legacy of Viciebsk was re-affirmed by a major exhibition held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris last year (the catalogue is available at the British Library, LF.31.a.6493). The Viciebsk Centre of Modern Art is also planning a series of UNOVIS centenary publications and events next year, including exhibitions, a conference, and a poster competition.

Issue of Supremus newspaper

Issue of Supremus, a newspaper dedicated to Malevich and the legacy of Suprematism (Moscow/Zurich, 1991-2001). HS.74/803

There are a number of additional items related to this intensely creative period in Viciebsk in the collections of the British Library. Most notably, they include an original copy of Malevich’s manifesto Bog ne skinut: iskusstvo, tserkov', fabrika (‘God is not cast down: art, church, factory’; Viciebsk, 1922; C.114.n.33.). The Library also holds the first issue (1919) of the Viciebsk journal Revoliutsionnoe iskusstvo (‘Revolutionary Art’; C.191.b.6), which includes articles by Chagall and Malevich, as well as a facsimile of Almanakh UNOVIS 1 (Moscow, 2003; LF.31.b.1837), which was originally published in 1920. In addition, there is a strong collection of works by and about individual members of UNOVIS, as well as a wealth of secondary literature on the group.

Tszwai So, co-founder of Spheron Architects, is a London-based artist and architect