150 years ago — Report of Russian secret police

It’s remarkable to me how many of these themes continue to affect Russia, 150 years later.

from De Rebus Antiquis Et Novis:

Since 1827, The Third Section of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Chancellery produced special reports for the tsar, describing the moral and political situation in the Russian society. Four years ago, a large share of these reports was published by the Russian State Archive. Below are some short excerpts from the report summarizing the events of 1860, 150 years ago. Five years had passed since the coronation of Alexander II and only one year remained till the most important act of liberalism in Russia in 19th century (the last three words were, probably, not necessary).

Moral and political review of 1860

On revolutionary projects

For thirty years already, the aggregations of political emigrants in England, France, Belgium and Switzerland have constituted the source of all destructive projects in Europe. The revolutionary propaganda was led by Joseph Mazzini, the tireless advocate of the Italian freedom and the universal republic, in which this dreamer sees the future of the humanity…

The bombs, thrown in 1858 in Paris by Orsini, have proven the extreme danger of the ideas of the emancipation of Italy for the French throne…

Politicians see in the preparations for the popular resistance certain signs of the upcoming merge of the Italian question with the Hungarian, Polish and the Eastern questions. The future may confirm this guess, but it is already clearly seen that the tools chosen for these plans prove their revolutionary and democratic nature.

On Polish expatriates

The Polish emigrants include the expatriates of 1832 and 1848. The former, due to their number and influence, are more important than the latter, who mostly left Poland in young age, because of their inclination to life of leisure, without strict political principles…

According to the directions given in the speech [by Adam Czartoryski], instructions were sent to the Poles in the Tsardom to do nothing till the liberation of peasants […] but that they should make the Polish peasants believe that the Polish aristocrats forced the Tsar to liberate them. Continue reading

The Echo of War

This is from EnglishRussia, a great website. I am touched by these pictures, which are a mixing of historic and contemporary photos. A companion post is here.

Vienna. 1945/2010. Soviet soldiers at the Imperial Palace Hofburg:

Moscow is getting ready for defense. 1941/2009. Gorky and Tverskaya Streets:

Berlin 1945/2010. A disabled tank “Tiger” in Tiergarten park:

Continue reading

Russian Christmas

Here’s a good explanation about Russian Christmas and why it is celebrated on January 7 —

Russian Christmas

Thirteen days after Western Christmas, on January 7th, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates its Christmas, in accordance with the old Julian calendar.  It’s a day of both solemn ritual and joyous celebration

After the 1917 Revolution, Christmas was banned throughout Russia, along with other religious celebrations.  It wasn’t until 75 years later, in 1992, that the holiday was openly observed.  Today, it’s once again celebrated in grand fashion, with the faithful participating in an all-night Mass in incense-filled Cathedrals amidst the company of the painted icons of Saints.

Christmas is one of the most joyous traditions for the celebration of Eve comes from the Russian tradition.  On the Eve of Christmas, it is traditional for all family members to gather to share a special meal.  The various foods and customs surrounding this meal differed in Holy Russia from village to village and from family to family, but certain aspects remained the same.

An old Russian tradition, whose roots are in the Orthodox faith, is the Christmas Eve fast and meal.  The fast, typically, lasts until after the evening worship service or until the first star appears.

The dinner that follows is very much a celebration, although, meat is not permitted.  Kutya (kutia), a type of porridge, is the primary dish.  It is very symbolic with its ingredients being various grains for hope and honey and poppy seed for happiness and peace.

Once the first star has appeared in the sky, the festivities begin.  Although all of the food served is strictly Lenten, it is served in an unusually festive and anticipatory manner and style.  The Russians call this meal: “The Holy Supper.” The family gathers around the table to honor the coming Christ Child.

A white table-cloth, symbolic of Christ’s swaddling clothes, covers the Table.  Hay is brought forth as a reminder of the poverty of the Cave where Jesus was born.  A tall white candle is place in the center of the Table, symbolic of Christ “the Light of the World.”  A large round loaf of Lenten bread, “pagach,” symbolic of Christ the Bread of Life, is placed next to the Candle.

The meal begins with the Lord’s Prayer, led by the father of the family.  A prayer of thanksgiving for all the blessings of the past year is said and then prayers for the good things in the coming year are offered.  The head of the family greets those present with the traditional Christmas greeting: “Christ is Born!” The family members respond: “Glorify Him!”

The Mother of the family blesses each person present with honey in the form of a cross on each forehead, saying: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, may you have sweetness and many good things in life and in the new year.”  Following this, everyone partakes of the bread, dipping it first in honey and then in chopped garlic.

Honey is symbolic of the sweetness of life, and garlic of the bitterness.  The “Holy Supper” is then eaten (see below for details).  After dinner, no dishes are washed and the Christmas presents are opened.

Then the family goes to Church, coming home between 2 and 3 am. On the Feast of the Nativity, neighbors and family members visit each other, going from house to house , eating, drinking and singing Christmas Carols all the day long.

The “Holy Supper” Continue reading

Burton Holmes in Russia

Over 100 years ago,  Burton Holmes (1870-1958) traveled to Russia.  Holmes was an American traveler, photographer and filmmaker, who coined the term “travelogue”.  Travel stories, slide shows and motion pictures were all in existence before Holmes began making his travel films, but he was the first person to put these elements together into documentary travel lectures.

Here are some of the photographs from his book detailing his visit to Tsarist Russia in 1901.

Undiscovered Russia — 1912

I recently ran across a book published in 1912 entitled ‘Undiscovered Russia’, by Stephen Graham, an English traveler.  The quotes by Merezhkovsky are particularly noteworthy.  It’s very interesting to read in light of the tidal wave of revolution that was to break upon Russia just after this was written —


Russian life is not known in England. The Slavonian land is not so far away but that the picture might have been visible had it not been for the dust raised between us in these years.

Russia is not a land of bomb-throwers ; is not a land of intolerable tyranny and unhappiness, of a languishing and decaying peasantry, of a corrupt and ugly Church that at least may be said right away in the forefront of this book.

The Russians are an agricultural nation, bred to the soil, illiterate as the savages, and having as yet no ambition to live in the towns. They are strong as giants, simple as children, mystically superstitious by reason of their unexplained mystery. They live as Ruskin wished the English to live, some of them, as he tried to persuade the English to live by his “Fors Clavigera.”

They are obediently religious, seriously respectful to their elders, true to the soil they plough, content with the old implements of culture, not using machinery or machine-made things, but able themselves to fashion out of the pine all that they need.

But they have all the while been doing this, and have never fallen away as the English have. There is no ” back to the land ” problem in Russia, nor will there be for a hundred years.

The Liberal press and the revolutionaries would like to educate the peasantry to give them a vote. They would at the same time place no restraints on Russian manufacture and the freedom of town life, and so once more betray the country to the town and rush into all the errors of Western Europe. Continue reading


Here is a series of videos with Christopher Hitchens and Robert Service discussing Trotsky, whose actions 100 years ago continue to affect millions (if not billions) of people around the world.  I hesitate to put Hitchens on our site, yet there is value in hearing other points of view. I’ve read quite a few of Service’s books and have enjoyed them.

It’s in five parts —