Return of the Romanov’s!

As reported in the Moscow Times two days ago, the Romanov’s are returning to Russia. It’s something we wrote about last year but is finally coming to fruition. Hermitage 2

They’re not coming back to take over the government and return the capital to Санкт-Петербург (Saint Petersburg). No, members of the Romanov royal family plan to return to Russia to help develop civil society and charitable programs. And according to Alexander Zakatov the director of the Romanov Emperor House Chancery, they have no plans to make a claim to restore the monarchy.

Not that a restored monarchy, much in the way of the United Kingdom for example, would be a bad idea. He went on to say that “coming to its native land, working in cultural, charitable and other nonpolitical programs for Russia’s benefit — that is what the house (of Romanov) is able and indebted to do.”

Zakatov represents Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and members of her family, who live in Madrid, the city where she and her son Georgy Mikhailovich were born. Her family members are relatives of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, and they fled to Finland during the 1917 Revolution.

In October 2008, the Supreme Court declared Nicholas II and his family to be victims of political repression. Nicholas II abdicated the throne in March 1917, and he, his wife and their five children were executed by Bolshevik soldiers in the basement of a merchant house in Yekaterinburg in 1918.

While most contemporary Romanovs live in Western Europe, the chancellery has an office in Moscow as a nongovernmental organization. As the Mendeleyev Report wrote in October 2008, Restoration of the dynasty has been whispered about in quiet Kremlin hallway conversations for some time.  But no one really takes these things too seriously.  However one well known Russian journalist/writer shared privately his hunch that Mr. Putin might be using the rehabilitation of the royal family as a basis for eventual restoration of the Russian Empire.

By replacing the current Russian Federation Constitution with one that restores some form of monarchy, the Kremlin could continue the bolstering of Russian pride and culture while at the same time issuing a call to former Russian nations/republics to rejoin the Federation.
Given that Russia was governed in tandem with the Tsar’s, and the Russian Orthodox Church providing political stability along the way, perhaps the first step was the accomplishment of the family of Tsar Nicholas II as minor saints back in 2000.
The second step to such a plan would be rehabilitation of the Romanov name–and that officially began in 2008.  Naturally any political restoration would come with the understanding that a Romanov dynasty be willing to accept some form of very limited (figurehead) power and the government would be run by the current set of Kremlin leaders.

Imagine the national prestige of having a Romanov in a figurehead capacity, living in the imperial city of Saint Petersburg in one of the Winter palaces or even at the summer residence in the palaces of Tsarskoe Selo.
No matter what is planned inside the secretive hallways of the Kremlin, the most important event is the one which should come next, according to Edvard Radzinsky, a Russian historian and the author of “The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II.”

Mr. Radzinsky points out that “We have two graves that symbolize the revolution: the dirty hole into which the royal family were thrown, and the mausoleum of the one who ordered this,” he said, referring to Lenin’s brick pyramid on Red Square.
“The closing of the first grave,” he said, “should lead to the closing of the second.”

We can only agree.



Raising children, Russian style

Some observers describe the FSU style of childrearing to be a combination of “smothering” and “free style” which strikes many of us Westerners as conflicting. How can you smother a child while at the same time allowing free reign and light, if any, form of training and discipline?

Its not just discipline. There is an expectation that someone else will teach them the important things in life. Watch for example a bear and her cubs on a TV documentary. Mama bear will raise these cubs herself to be self sufficient, to hunt, to scavange, to fish, how to forage for berries and nuts, how to protect themselves from danger, and all the other things she does in the first years of their lives.

Got that mama bear story in your mind? Well, bear symbolism aside, that is not Russian child rearing 101. Think of that Mama bear smothering her cubs with love and attention, and then leaving most of the other things to nature. 

Kids play

Here are some of the background reasons which may shed some light (perhaps even heat!) on how children are raised today in Russia and the former Soviet Republics:

Marx’s Formula for Women’s Liberation
1) Free union is the concept of marriage were based on love but not economic necessity. Either party could leave at their choosing. 
2) Women’s participation in the workforce. Marx wrote that the key to female emanicaption was to be rid of the role of mother and wife. Her place was in the factory and financial independence the key to her achieving equality.
3) Society raised children, everyone else worked outside the home. The state became the “nanny.”
4) Disolving the family: As women went to work and children were raised by the state, the family unit would become unwanted and unnecessary.

A characteristic of the early Bolsheviks was to take everything to the extreme. A popular theory called “Glass of Water Theory” completely denied the marriage institution and proclaimed that a communist woman should throw off all the traditional gender relations, killing uncontrolled emotions, but promoting free love and sexuality based on mutual respect both to the woman’s and men’s needs and desires.

 The 1918 Family Code
First the Bolsheviks overthrew the tsarist regime. Next they overthrew the family structure as it had been known. This in part was to dismantle the hold which the Russian Orthodox Church had on the Russian people.
1) Marriage became a civil union and church was excluded from the process. ZAGS (local registration offices) took over legal marriages.
2) Divorce was made easy to obtain for both parties…even encouraged.
3) Illegitimate children given equal rights and no child could be denied care simply because they were born out of wedlock. This was a good feature, but the purpose behind it was to usher in the state as responsible for all children.
4) Adoption was forbidden. Who needs parents when the state would be both father and mother? The Bolsheviks stated that this would protect orphans from being sold as slaves, but again the real purpose was in state control of the child. 
5) As both partners would be working and collecting their own wages, alimony and child support would become obsolete.

What makes Russian men seem so indifferent?
The state promised to take over his role as provider and wanted to provide nanny services in place of mothers.
While the new family code may have looked plausable on paper, the reality was something quite different. Under the idea of “Free Unions and Divorce” it made it easy for husbands to come and go as they pleased with no negative impact on his earnings, but in the meantime left many women in poverty.

(Alimony and child support was a symbol of woman’s dependency on men, and was therefore frowned upon. According to my Professor Lisenkova of Moscow University of the Humanities, expecting a man to pay alimony was sometimes viewed as an attack on his ability to work for the development of the socialist future.)

Why is prostitution so common in the FSU?
Very quickly the Communists learned that their economic theories flew in the face of reality. However instead of admitting such, they began to cut social budgets and to ration services. This left many women without jobs and with the role of men as husbands undermined, many women faced life with no employment, no child support and unfortunately it was often easier to resort to one of the most ancient female professions. Prostitution, which had declined immediately following the revolution, once again make a comeback as women became expendable employees under state’s New Economic Policy (NEP) budget cuts.  Most of the prostitutes were women with no education or skills, who had no employment and had been abandoned by husbands.

Socialized child care was a Soviet disaster.
The 1918-1920 civil war and following famine left the socialized kitchens and child care overwhelmed. The New Economic Policy of 1921 shut down many of the socialized institutions which had been designed to help the economy recover. It was expected that women would put their children in state run day care, but the day care institutions didn’t have enough money to feed or clothe the children. Soon charities were overwhelmed with orphans and conditions were so bad that the children preferred to live on the streets. This led to the problem of ‘street children’ which still exists today in Russian and Ukraine. 

According to government archives in 1922 there were an estimated 7.5 million ‘starving and dying’ children in Russia. It was a crime to acknowledge such things during the reign of Iosef Stalin and after his death the bulk of the state budget was dedicated to the militarization of the Soviet Union.

When a Russian or Ukrainian speaks of kindergarden it’s likely they’ll use the term “children’s garden” with the idea of that is where children grow. Today in the FSU the role of the “children’s garden” is still considered to be vital in the life of a family.

 kids playground

Above: most apartment buildings feature a small basic playground as shown.

A couple of resources for those interested in study of how Russians raise children include:
– Village Mothers: Three Generations of Change in Russia by David L. Ransel
– The Privatization of the Personal? II: Attitudes to the Family and Child-Rearing Values in Modern-Day Russia by Robin Goodwin (University of Bristol) and Tatiana Emelyanova (Tver University)

[Thanks to professor Ludmila Lisenkova, PhD, of Московский государственный гуманитарный университет (Sholokhov Moscow State University for Humanities) for her time discussing my notes for this post.]

Matryoshka (Матрёшка) dolls

When asked, most often the first step is to explain what they aren’t. A common mistake is to call the Russian wood carved “nesting dolls” as Babuskha (grandmother) dolls. The real name is matryoshka (Матрёшка), which are in the context of Russian history, a relatively new phenomenon. 

Unlike many objects of folk art, nesting dolls were not a product of hundreds of years of evolution of a particular art form. Some purists maintain that matryoshki are not real folk art at all. The generally accepted story is that they were introduced into Russia from Japan and brought in by merchants. But nesting dolls were introduced into a fertile artistic soil and, once the seeds were planted, village artists quickly adopted them.


How do you pronounce it? Watch and listen here:

The first Russian nesting doll (matryoshka) was born in 1890 in the workshop “Children’s Education” situated in Abramtsevo estate new Moscow. The owner of Abramtsevo was Sava Mamontov – industrialist and a patron of the arts. A set of matryoshka dolls consists of a wooden figure which can be pulled apart to reveal another figurine of the same sort inside. It, in turn, contains another one inside, and so on. The number of nested figures can be as few as three or as many as twenty. The dolls are typically made of linden tree (basswood), dried for at least 2 years to ensure their stability.

How is a Matryoshka carved out of wood?

Attend a class on how to make matryoshka dolls! 

The first matryoshki consisted of three, six, and eight pieces. For some reason, the early nesting dolls depicted what appears to be a family without a father. They include males, but those males are clearly children. After producing the first nesting doll, the Children’s Education workshop continued producing nesting dolls in Moscow until 1904. That year, all of the assets of Children’s Education were transferred to a workshop in Sergiev Posad, which became, and still is, the center of nesting doll production in Russia.


In 1904, the workshops of Sergiev Posad received a large matryoshka order from Paris, and many of the masters of Sergiev Posad directed their talents to this new product. The order from Paris provided the stimulus for many of Sergiev Posad’s artists and lathe operators to turn their attention to the making of nesting dolls. The nesting doll thus became simpler, more folk-oriented, and less expensive—the price fell by as much as twenty times. At the same time, the main theme became the female figure, and especially the peasant figure in peasant costume. “Matryoshka” is the diminutive of “Matryona”, a common peasant name at the time.

Matryoshka dolls were made in a variety of shapes and with a variety of themes. There were cone-shaped nesting dolls, bottle-shaped nesting dolls, and nesting dolls with pointed heads. Some dolls took on the shape of the subjects they depicted. Themes that were depicted ranged from characters in famous novels to more common fairy tale scenes. Interestingly, many of the themes that are popular on modern matryoshki—political figures, fairy tales, and peasant families—which are considered new, were in fact subjects of some of the earliest matryoshki. (One doll set is a matryoshka and the plural is “matryoshki.”)

As the revolution approached in Russia, there were hundreds of artists making nesting dolls in Sergiev Posad. By 1911, there were forty-one nesting doll workshops in Sergiev Posad. Most, but not all, had lathe operators who turned blanks for matryoshki as well as artists who painted them.

Like much artistic activity, Russian matryoshka making continued strong for several years after the revolution of 1917. Toys were no longer imported, so domestic toys became more popular, and master craftsmen continued with their work. In 1918, a toy museum opened in Sergiev Posad. In 1922, a Regional Handcrafters’ Union was created. The union’s Russian name is an early example of a tongue-twisting Soviet acronym—Raikustpromsoyuz. This union coordinated the artels of the city. In 1926, it worked with six artels, combining the talents of 260 craftsmen.During this period, Russian nesting doll painting in Sergiev Posad became more uniform. What we now call the “traditional” Sergiev Posad nesting doll came into existence in the mid-1920s. It was roughly based on the first nesting doll painted by Sergei Malyutin, featuring a girl in a national costume, sometimes holding a small object in her hands—a chicken, a basket, a bundle, a scarf. The matte, dark feeling of the original was brightened up, and the wood-burned outlines were replaced with painted contours.


Several times in this article the name Sergiev Posad (Сергиев Посад) has been referenced. That is the name of a Russian city about a two hour drive outside Moscow. Home of Russia’s oldest Orthodox Monastery by the same name, named for the Russian Saint Sergius, Sergiev Posad is also home to Russia’s most prolific Matryoshka doll makers. We leave you with this video feature of the home of not only Russia’s nesting dolls, but also what is called the “spiritual center” of Holy Mother Russia.

Casino action–Russian style

The Russian word for casino is a “cognate.” That’s a borrowed word from one language to another. In Cyrillic Russian the word casino is Казино and is pronounced as “kah-zhi-NO.” While this writer has been inside Russian casinos, I’ve never gambled in one. Not a single kopek, much less a full Ruble.

But I must admit that I found it unsettling when Moscow and Kremlin police began a crackdown on casino’s this morning. Why? Because in typical Russian style it was done early. An example of “early justice” as if getting a speeding ticket before one was speeding just to make sure you got the message.

casino arbat

The planned closing on 1 July of all Moscow Casino and Gambling locations has been well publicized. But this is Russia and one should always remember that it’s not the exact date which counts but the idea. In the West, we’d conclude that a July 1 ban on Casinos would mean that those establishments would be legal right up to the end of June. After all, 1 July is just that–July first, and not the 18th of June.

In Moscow however, July 1 came early. It started today, 18 June, as police began a crackdown on both customers and casino operators. Here is more from Alexandra Odynova of the Moscow Times:

With less than two weeks left before a July 1 ban on gambling in Moscow, police have started closing gaming halls as part of a citywide crackdown.

More than 200 officers with the police’s economic crimes department have checked about 100 gambling establishments over the past week and have closed 50, said Filipp Zolotnitsky, a spokesman for the police’s economic crimes department.

The closed establishments are suspected of tax evasion, fraud and operating without a proper license, Zolotnitsky said Wednesday. He declined to identify them, citing the ongoing investigations, but he said they were small. Police confiscated slot machines from 30 of the establishments, RIA-Novosti reported.

Zolotnitsky said the checks for violations would continue — even past July 1 if needed — in an indication that the police don’t expect all gambling establishments to close as required. “There will be more checks,” he said. “If needed, more checks will be held after July 1.”

Last week, Deputy Moscow Mayor Sergei Baidakov told reporters that all of the city’s more than 500 gambling establishments would be closed by the deadline.

Under a federal law passed in 2006, gambling will be confined from July 1 to designated zones in Kaliningrad, Siberia’s Altai region, the Far East and on the southern Sea of Azov. Any delay implementing the gambling ban promises to provoke a sharp response from the Kremlin.

He said regions where gambling will be banned will lose 5 billion to 6 billion rubles ($160 million to $200 million) a year in revenues from their budgets.

casino arbat 2

President Dmitry Medvedev told Federal Tax Service chief Mikhail Mokretsov last month that he would tolerate no delays in moving all gambling to the regional zones. “There will be no revisions, no pushing back — despite the lobbying efforts of various businesses,” Medvedev said on May 5.

But Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov warned Wednesday that the project “hasn’t succeeded yet” because the zones were not ready to welcome casinos. “It is connected to the crisis and other circumstances,” Shatalov said, RIA-Novosti reported. “For example, in the Far East and Kaliningrad, local authorities haven’t decided where the zones will be set up yet.”
caS I

День России! (Day of Russia)

Congratulations to each of our Russian readers on День России! Today is a holiday in Russia. Sort of like the American July 4th, but with a lot less “hoopla.”

day of russia

June 12th was originally named “Russian Independence Day,” marking both the day when Russia declared its independence from the Soviet Union and the day when, exactly one year later, Boris Yeltsin was elected the first president of the Russian Federation. In 2002 the name was changed to “Day of Russia” when it became clear that most Russians did not understand from whom they had declared independence. Russia, as they see it, is simply a third incarnation of a state that has always been and the Russian people have always been autonomous since the Mongols were defeated in the 16th century. The idea that a country that had fought off both Hitler and Napoleon had been bound to the service of a foreign force was considered, understandably, a little offensive. 

day 1

President Medvedev used the day to present the Russian National Awards for outstanding achievements in science and technology, literature and the arts, and humanitarian work. The National Award for achievements in the humanitarian field was awarded to Valentina Tereshkova. The ceremony took place at the Grand Kremlin Palace.

The National Awards for literature and the arts were presented to the Pavlovsk Palace and Park curator Marina Flit, the creators of Smeshariki (GoGoRiki) animated television series Anatoly Prokhorov, Salavat Shaikhinurov and Ilya Popov, director of the Sverdlovsk State Philharmonic Alexander Kolotursky, and chief conductor of the Urals Academic Philharmonic Orchestra Dmitry Liss. 

Later in the day Mr. Medvedev hosted a reception on the Kremlin’s Ivanovskaya Square to celebrate the Day of Russia and honour last year’s 2008 National Award winners.

day 2
In general most Russians still don’t consider the holiday a true holiday (as opposed to just a day off). In a recent poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation, only 20% of respondents said that it held greater meaning. Again, this is reflective of the general opinion that the day does not mark a celebratory event; it in fact can be seen as the day that began a decade of social chaos and economic hardship. Another reason for this apathy is that most Russians played little role in the process of change. While the government may try to conjure up the idea that the Russian people were responsible for the day, the truth is that in the view of most Russians they remember standing in the streets and passively watching in bewilderment as their government crumbled.

But for those celebrating, Happy Russia Day!

Youth–it’s all in a word

Tak (Tak in Russian means “So”), in reading a newspaper article yesterday this writer came across the term for “youth,” only to see it spelled two different ways. There was only one letter difference and this letter is often abreviated.

The headline announced: День Молодежи 27 июня. Следи за новостями!  Naturally of course you understand that to read as “Day of Youth is 27 June. Watch the news!”

Of special note was that the word for “Youth” was spelled in the headline as Молодежи, but later in the article it was also spelled as молодёжи.

That letter ё is often substituted by Russias with е because it’s quicker and easier to write. In fact if you went to a Russian dictionary and found all the words with the letter ё, you’d discover that it’s an amazingly short list.

The problem is, it makes a difference in sound; e is “Yeh” and ё is “Yoh.” Russian is a phonetic alphabet, most of the 33 letters have the same name as their sound. Naturally, Russians know the difference between ё and e by context. The lovely and talented Mrs Mendeleyeva says its simple and easy to recognize by context. Hmm, easy for her to say. 

But it seems that no matter how you write it, Russians pronounce it the same.

Whether молодежи or молодёжи, my ears don’t hear a difference when the word is handled by a native.  That’s good enough for now.

Tak, at least we know that the Russian “Day of Youth” will be on 27 June…just like every year.