Russian opposition sets sights on orbit around Russia

I first encountered Elena Gagarina, Yuri Gagarin’s elder daughter on discovering that she was and remains the director of the Kremlin Museum. Later, my wife would develop a friendship that endures to this day. Elena’s father was the famous Soviet cosmonaut and she grew up in “Star City” the closed city where Russian space explorers lived and trained. Elena remembers when her dad became a worldwide celebrity as the first human to journey into outer space, when his Vostok (восток means “east”) spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961. Yuri Gagarin died during a training mission in 1968. He was 34.

Gagarian monument to space travel.

Today there is a town bearing his name, Gagarin (Гагарин). Formerly called Gzhatsk (Гжатск), in 1968 the town was renamed Gagarin in honor of the first cosmonaut who was born in 1934 in the nearby village of Klushino. Gagarin is near Smolensk (150 miles) and just a 90 minute electric train ride from Moscow. In March’s presidential election Vladimir Putin won 59% of the vote in Gagarin.

The map marks the township (31,000 population) with the Cyrillic spelling of Gagarin.

So a small group of budding protest leaders met at Moscow’s Belorussky Rail Station for the trip out to Gagarin. Minister of Parliament and opposition activist Ilya Ponomarev took them in a (train) car and the group began the ride to Gagarin by handing out flyers to train riders. Upon arriving in Gagarin the group gathered at a park and then began to knock on apartment and house doors in the immediate neighborhood. It was reported that one old babushka (grandmother) was agitated at first but upon learning what the group was doing  was said to have exclaimed, “”We must all work together – radicals and liberals – to build a new system! You are young, you are our Russia! “

Gagarin church near park.

During the afternoon local police stood by but made no attempts to disturb the event. Locals residents seemed pleased to learn more about the opposition they’d watched on television and accepted flyers graciously, many beginning to read and ask questions while standing at their apartment entrances. Some seemed pleased to learn that the Russian protesters are not simply lackey’s on the payroll of the US State Department.

In summation, Gagarin citizens listened and at the end of the day opposition members are calling their latest effort the “All-Russian campaign” to bring their message to smaller towns and communities all over Russia.


What makes Russia so interesting?

Krasnodar (Краснодар) is a city in southern Russia on the Kuban River and approximately 90 some miles north of the Black Sea. Founded in 1794 the town was first named as Yekaterinodar (Екатеринодаp) meaning “Catherine’s Gift” for the Russian Empress. When the Soviets came to power they changed the name to Krasnodar, giving it a revised meaning, “Red Gift,” as if somehow the city was now a gift from the Reds.

Name issues aside, Krasnodar is perhaps on to something. Imagine if you could walk up to a large public fountain and using your cell phone, control the fountain. For a charge on your phone bill of course. You’d be able to control not only the fountain for a minute, but at night you’d have control of the back-lighting too! Disney executives, are you listening?

Control this Krasnodar city fountain with your cell phone!

In Krasnodar a large and popular public fountain has been engineered to allow anyone with a cell phone to control the fountain for one minute. You’re paying for it so go ahead! Simple, just dial the fountain number which is 8-929-849-66-31. After dialing, press the numbers from zero to six. Each of them corresponds to one colour/jet spray option for the back lighting.

Apparently this feature became available on 15 June and so far city officials seem happy about the arrangement. Charging money for controlling public fountain jets and lights–now that is capitalism! What a gift to starving city budgets!  They should change the name of the city to “Fountain Gift” or “Cell phone Gift.”

Lenin and Marx must be spinning out of control in their graves. Hmm, wonder how much people would pay to control something like THAT?!


Orthodox Coptics in Egypt meet new president

Cairo (AsiaNews) – Eygpt’s newly elected President and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Morsi, has promised the nations’ Orthodox and Catholic bishops he will resolve the problems and restore peace among Christians, in a meeting held this morning in Cairo. Yesterday, the president-elect received an official delegation of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

According to Fr. Greiche, spokesman for the Catholic Church who attended the meeting, the statements by the new Islamist president is a good sign for the future of Christians in Egypt. He stresses that the meeting was not planned, but was called at Morsi’s express desire. “He wanted to personally  meet the bishops – he says – and has proved helpful and friendly to Catholics to work together to address and solve the problems of our community.”

Declared president on 23 June with 52% of the votes, Morsi has repeatedly stated in his campaign that he would “become the president of all Egyptians,” not just Muslims. According to analysts, this is merely a tactic to keep the support of the minority Christian population, which has always feared the Muslim Brotherhood accused by many of seeking to build a confessional state based on Islamic sharia. However, Fr. Greiche emphasizes that the statement by the president-elect may contain some truth.

“Today – he explains – Morsi confirmed the possible appointment of a Coptic Orthodox Christian and a woman to the vice-presidency. This would be a breakthrough for the country, but the position must have real power. Otherwise these appointments will become mere ‘window dressing.’

Russia to regulate “extremist content” on the Internet

(From the Moscow Times): Authorities are proposing introducing fines and short prison stays for those placing hyperlinks to “extremist content” on the Internet, media reports said Tuesday.

According to a copy of the proposed amendments on the Communications and Press Ministry website, penalties for including links to extremist content could stretch to 3,000 rubles ($90) or a 15-day administrative sentence, Vedomosti reported. In another amendment, mass media outlets accused of extremist activity could be fined up to 300,000 rubles. Fines for outlets judged to promote terrorism could reach 1 million rubles.

Authorities consider content “extremist” after the Prosecutor General’s Office files a complaint and the Justice Ministry includes the item in the federal list of extremist materials. There are currently 1,256 items on the list of extremist materials. For the most part, leaflets, songs, video clips by nationalists, separatists and radical Islamist groups make up the list.

Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

After Napoleon Bonaparte had retreated from Moscow, Emperor Alexander I signed a manifest on 25 December 1812, for a grand cathedral to be built in honor of Christ the Saviour and “to signify Our gratitude to Divine Providence for saving Russia from the doom that overshadowed Her.”  The cathedral was to be a memorial to the sacrifices of the Russian people.

The original plans laid out a design full of Freemason symbolism. Construction work was begun on the Sparrow Hills, the highest point in Moscow, but the site wasn’t able to accommodate the plans. When Alexander I was succeeded by his brother Nicholas I, the devoted Orthodox Tsar disliked the Neoclassicism and Freemasonry aspects of the project and called for renowned Russian architect Konstantin Thon to create a new design.

Facing the street side of the Cathedral.

Thon used the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (modern day Instanbul) as his inspiration. With the design approved in 1832, the Tsar chose a new site which was closer to the Moscow Kremlin. Work began by removing a convent and church in 1837 and cornerstone for the new church was laid in 1839.  The cathedral took years to build and was consecrated on the day Alexander III was crowned, 26 May 1883.

After the death of Lenin the site was chosen by the Soviets for a monument to socialism known as the Palace of the Soviets. Design of the monument would make it one of the tallest buildings in the world at the time, sitting on buttressed tiers to support a gigantic statue of Lenin at the top of a dome with his arm raised as if to point the way to a future of Communism. With plans for the Palace of the Soviets approved, Stalin ordered the famous Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to be dynamited. State workers took more than a year to clear the debris from the site and marble from the cathedral was used in the construction of nearby Moscow Metro stations. The original marble high reliefs were preserved and are on display at the Patriarch’s Donskoy Monastery in Moscow.

Due to war with Germany Stalin’s plan was never realized and later because of the ultimate infeasibility of the design, Nikita Khrushchev transformed the site by constructing the world’s largest open air swimming pool.

In February of 1990 the Soviet Government granted permission for the Russian Orthodox Church to rebuild the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. A temporary cornerstone was laid and construction funds began to be donated by ordinary Russian citizens. The project lasted several years and the completed Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was consecrated on the Transfiguration day, 19 August 2000. At capacity the cathedral is the largest Orthodox church in the world and able to accommodate between almost 6,000 persons.

Wooden chapel of the Madonna.

A small wooden chapel, dedicated to the Sovereign Madonna (Державной иконы Божией Матери), is located close on the grounds to the rear of the Cathedral. Built in 1995, the chapel became a place to pray for the reconstruction project and for the builders and artists labouring to rebuild the cathedral.

The Cathedral served as the venue when the last Tsar Nicholas II and his family were declared as “Passion bearers” (minor saints) in 2000. After his death in 2007, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin lay in state in the cathedral prior to his burial in Novodevichy Cemetery.

The side facing the Moscow River.

The Cathedral was the site of the official signing and joint liturgy when the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia rejoined the Russian Orthodox Church in full communion and administrative authority.

The interior walls are bronze reliefs listing the names of every Russian soldier who died in the war of 1812.

200th Anniversary of French invasion of Russia

June 24, 1812. Russians call it “The Patriotic War.”

There is so much that could be written on that war of 1812 and we feel badly that we’ve not given it proper treatment on the 200th anniversary. Our apologies.

If you’ve been inside the Kremlin walls, one of the interesting displays are of the cannon lining the southern and eastern walls of the Arsenal. The Arsenal was a live Armoury built in 1701 on the orders of  Peter the Great. It stands on the spot where the Kremlin horse barns once were situated. As you follow the red arrow, just over the walls of the Kremlin (west, left of Arsenal) are the great Corner Arsenal Tower, the famous Aleksandr Gardens, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies along the outside wall, and the monuments to “Hero Cities” from the Great Patriotic War against the German invasion of 1941.

To the immediate right of the arrow along the upper edge of this photo (due north) and moving left to right is the historic Nicholas Tower and just over the Kremlin walls is the tall red State Historical Museum building and the rectangular shape of “Beautiful Plaza” which we Westerners mispronounce as “Red Square” although unseen from this angle.

Trivia: “Red Square” is neither red, nor square, nor named Red Square. The paving stones making up “Beautiful Plaza” are dark grey in colour and the walls of the Kremlin are of white limestone and up until just a hundred years ago or so, were not painted red. In fact, from the period of 1368 when the white-stone walls and towers of the Kremlin were erected, Moscow was called “white-stone” for many years.

In 1812 as the French army retreated from Moscow they left behind more than a hundred cannon in the Kremlin. By 1819, another 875 guns abandoned by the Napoleon’s army at the fields of battle were transferred here to the Kremlin and formed an exhibition of the Museum for the Patriotic War of 1812. Because of damage to the Kremlin interior the cannons were placed on a special base along the front of the Arsenal building.

In 1830 the collection of Russian artillery cannons was placed in front of the Armoury Chamber. Cannon bases were specially made. However, the building was dismantled in 1860 and the cannons were transferred back to the Arsenal.

Today along the Arsenal building there are 25 old Russian cannons from the XVI-XVII centuries, 15 foreign cannons of the same time period and 830 cannons, mortars and howitzers captured from the French during the Patriotic War 1812. Those guns captured from the French Armee are from a collection of European countries such as France, Austria, Prussia, Italy, Spain, and Holland.

Kremlin Arsenal cannon, photo from Brian Morrow collection.

When Napoleon retreated from Moscow, he ordered the whole Kremlin to be blown up and the Arsenal building, several portions of the Kremlin Wall and several wall towers were destroyed by explosions. Fires set by Napoleon’s troops damaged the Faceted Chamber and several of the Kremlin churches.

Napoleon wanted his engineers to dismantle St. Basil’s Cathedral for his war spoils. Saint Basil’s (not it’s real name either) is a complex work of engineering and it could not be easily or quickly dismantled. Legend says that Napoleon then ordered it dynamited but the fuses lit by his men were supposedly snuffed by a sudden rain downpour.

Trivia: The real name of Saint Basil’s Cathedral? Often called Saint Basil’s because it is the burial place for its most famous priest, Basil the Fool for Christ, the real name of this magnificent church is the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Virgin on the Moat. The original name was “Trinity Church” and the design is shaped as a flame of a bonfire rising into the sky. Saint Basil’s is not just one church, there are 8 independent chapels wrapped around a small central church in the centre, thus 9 chapels in one building.

The Faces of Russia: part 3

Part 3 of the series “The Faces of Russia” comes compliments of the Moscow Times.

Ysyakh festivities celebrate nature’s rebirth with dancing, sports and drinking of fermented mare’s milk. More than 15,000 Sakha residents entered the Guinness Book of Records on Saturday, joining hands in the largest round dance ever recorded while celebrating the Yakut New Year.

Yakut dancers from Russia’s Sakha republic.

In an event to open the Ysyakh national holiday in the Us Khatyn district of the Sakha republic, participants formed 36 circles and sang folks songs under the watchful eyes of Guinness Book of Records representative Jack Brockbank, Interfax reported.

Taking part in the osuokhai is meant to symbolize the unity of people and the orbit of the sun, while Ysyakh celebrates nature’s rebirth with dancing, sports and drinking of fermented mare’s milk.

Sakha republic of Russia, Yakut dancers.