Monday, January 19, 2015

Emelian Pugachev: a Russian rebellion, meaningless and merciless

Russian writers were fascinated by Emelian Pugachev. A Cossack lieutenant, he assumed the name of the assassinated Tsar Peter III, raised a rebellion which was joined by Cossacks, factory and agricultural serfs, Old Believers, and local indigenous tribes, announced the end of serfdom and religious persecution, and at some point controlled a vast area between the Volga River and the Ural mountains. Pugachev was defeated in 1774 and executed in 1775.

The famous Russian poet and writer Alexander Pushkin wrote a short novel "The Captain's Daughter" and a non-fiction "The History of the Pugachev's Revolt" that describe the events.  

(Eric Byrd wrote a concise analysis of these two works and an essay about them by a modern poet Marina Tsvetaeva on the "3 Quarks Daily")

Pugachev's motley army terrorized the gentry and soldiers. Landowners, officers, and their families were cruelly executed. Alexander Pushkin wrote, "May God preserve us from witnessing a Russian rebellion, meaningless and merciless!" 

German colonies in the Volga district were also attacked.  
 After three days he led his forces down along the west bank of the Volga through the German villages which he left ravaged and in ashes." (Volga Germans )
Alexey Krylov's ancestors owned lands in the area of Pugachev's rebellion. He relates family stories which his father heard as a child from the contemporaries who escaped with their lives.

By the way, about Pugachev. My father was born in 1830, and as a boy, he knew some venerable, elderly men who in their youth saw Pugachev and remembered his march through the Simbirsk Province to the village of Issa in the Penza Province. Among the men was my father’s grandfather, Mikhail Filatov, who died in 1857 at the age of 98. He often recalled how the whole Filatov family, with a convoy of huntsmen, hunters, and whips, was hiding in the Zasursky forests.
Father loved to retell the stories that he had heard from these old men. From my childhood, I have one such story etched in my memory. Marching from Kazan to Penza, Pugachev seized Alatyr. Before doing anything else, he ordered his men to behead the town governor and, the next morning, to drive the town people into the cathedral to swear an oath of allegiance to Pugachev.
People assembled, the cathedral was full, with only a free path in the middle, and the royal doors to the altar were open. Pugachev came in, and without removing his hat, he went straight onto the altar and sat on the communion table. When the people saw this, they fell to their knees. Clearly, he was the true tsar. Everyone took the oath at once, and after that, the “Gracious Manifesto” was read to the people.
To me, a boy of five or six, it seemed that if a man entered the church in his hat, walked through the royal doors, and sat on the communion table, he surely was the tsar, and I did not understand why he was called Pugachev.
I had a chance to read the “Gracious Manifesto” as an adult in the Russkaya Starina, which published it 100 years after the Pugachev revolt. It began thus: “I am granting you the cross, and the beard, and freedom, and land, and homesteads, and forests, and meadows, and fishing rights, and all this without taxes and without compensation…

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Spying or sharing? Russian Navy and the Italian battleship Dante Alighieri

Triple-gun turret of the Dante Alighieri. 
In March of 1913, two Russian ship engineers obtained access to the just-launched Italian battleship Dante Alighieri, the first battleship with triple-gun turrets for the main armament.  They noted a number of original devices and reported them to the naval ministry.