32 Chapters
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9. Johannes Ambrosius Rosenstrauch (1768–1835)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

ALEXANDER M. MARTIN

There are two principal justifications for writing someone’s biography.1 Some people (such as Catherine the Great or Lomonosov) are significant for the individual roles they played in history. Others performed no great deeds, yet if we ask the right questions, they can tell us much about the world in which they lived. This approach—“microhistory”—is especially rewarding in the case of immigrants, religious converts, and others who experienced a change in their social position, for how they exchanged old identities for new ones illumines the wider process by which social identities are formed and maintained.

The life of Johannes Ambrosius Rosenstrauch—immigrant, stage actor, merchant, freemason, religious convert, writer, and pastor—is a case in point. Crisscrossing his native Germany, emigrating to St. Petersburg, making his fortune in Moscow, and finally settling on the Russian steppe frontier, he repeatedly refashioned himself socially, professionally, and spiritually. The only known likeness of him, a painting by Johann Baptist Lampi the Younger that belongs to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and is entitled “Portrait of a Pastor,” dates from the final stage of Rosenstrauch’s journey. By then, as a man of the cloth, he had achieved sufficient public regard that after he died, his grateful congregants could sell an engraving made from Lampi’s painting as a fundraiser. Look closely at that engraving: Does it not seem that alongside the demonstrative air of piety, the artist captured a hint of irony in Rosenstrauch’s expression? There was more to this man, he seems to suggest, than meets the eye.

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23. Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

ALEXANDRA HARRINGTON

Anna Akhmatova is one of Russia’s best-loved and most talented lyric poets. Yet her preeminent position in Russian cultural history rests on more than the quality of her writing. Through a combination of her poetry, the shape of her biography, and the force of her personality she has acquired a legendary status, becoming—even during her own lifetime—a larger-than-life, monumental figure, martyr against tyranny and preserver of prerevolutionary culture, a symbol of persecuted genius, and an example of moral courage. In short, she is a cultural icon. Early in Akhmatova’s career, her contemporary Marina Tsvetaeva crowned her “Anna of all the Russias,” which aptly reflects the fact that her life as a writer was, from the outset, intimately tied to Russian imperial experience. Akhmatova embodied the kind of cultural diversity that is an integral part of Russian identity: she was sympathetic to both Western and Eastern influences on Russian culture and her public image incorporates elements of each. This public image—not wholly invented but nonetheless carefully shaped—was a multicultural one, made up of a Tatar name and “Oriental” ancestry combined with a blend of southern (Ukrainian) and northern (Russian) heritage.1

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10. Imam Shamil (1797–1871)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

REBECCA GOULD

When the Georgian modernist poet Titsian Tabidze decided to commemorate his recent excursion to the mountain village Gunib, the site of Imam Shamil’s surrender to the Russian general Bariatinskii in 1859, it was not necessary to provide much context for his Georgian readers. Written in 1928, the poem was never published in his lifetime, and only made it into his collected works in 1966. Titsian was well aware of his poem’s unpublishability under the conditions of Stalinist rule. The most articulate text produced by a Georgian about the Russian conquest of the north Caucasus, a conquest facilitated by Georgian generals in the Tsarist army, thereby escaped censorship. Thanks to this evasion, the words that have been preserved have not lost their resonance:

I crossed Daghestan. I saw Gunib.

I, an infidel, now a shahid.

My sword is an arrow; it will not bend

Though it may kill me. [ . . . ]

I see the ghost of a nest, ravaged by eagles.

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25. Lazar' Moiseevich Kaganovich (1893–1991)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

HIROAKI KUROMIYA

Lazar' Moiseevich Kaganovich lived for nearly a century: he was born in 1893 in the village of Kabany, near Chornobyl' (or Chernobyl' in Russian), Ukraine, and died a loyal Stalinist in Moscow in July 1991, six months before the Soviet Union collapsed. Perhaps he was fortunate not to witness the demise of the country to which he had devoted his entire adult life. He loyally and unswervingly served the country’s dictator Joseph Stalin (1878–1953) as one of his most trusted associates. Like the man he served, Kaganovich was both extraordinarily energetic and capable, and extremely brutal and ruthless. Unlike Stalin, however, Kaganovich was not capable of independent thinking. If Stalin was a statesman, then Kaganovich was his trusted “vassal.” Even though after Stalin’s death in 1953, Kaganovich was politically discredited by his own erstwhile protégé, Nikita Khrushchev, he remained until the very end of his life a stubborn defender of Stalin. Kaganovich’s devotion to Stalin and the state he had created was such that he was called by another loyal Stalinist Viacheslav Molotov (1890–1986) a “200-percent Stalinist.”1 Of Stalin’s inner circle, he was the last to die. His remarkable life was part of the remarkable history of the Soviet Union, the first socialist state in the world.

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4. Gavril Romanovich Nikitin (?–1698)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

ERIKA MONAHAN

On October 25, 2003, on the cheerless Siberian tarmac of Novosibirsk, Russian authorities apprehended oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s private jet and arrested him on charges of tax evasion and fraud.1 As this goes to print Khodorkovsky serves his sentence in jail and few doubt that his arrest was politically motivated, although whether he should be considered a victim, visionary, or villain remains a matter of debate. Over three centuries earlier, in 1698, another of Russia’s most wealthy businessmen was himself arrested for what looks like politically motivated reasons. That businessman was Gavril Romanovich Nikitin, and this chapter is about him.

Despite the shared circumstances of state heavy-handedness and a national economy undergoing increasing integration and foreign influence, there are many differences between these two inscrutable cases of “riches and ruin.” First, Novosibirsk did not exist in 1698, although the river it sits on today, the Ob, was a crucial byway for Nikitin and his men’s commercial trafficking. Second, unlike Khodorkovsky’s private airplane that zipped through Siberian airspace at blistering speeds, Nikitin’s caravans crossed the Siberian forests and steppes far more slowly and at a time when people—those few who cared about such abstractions—considered the Ob rather than the Urals to be the continental divide between Europe and Asia.2 Third, Khodorkovsky became fabulously rich extremely quickly and mostly as a result of his connections to government. Nikitin’s wealth, however, was slow in coming, and he gained government attention and influence after, rather than before, attaining commercial success. And yet both arrests underscore the critical and sometimes precarious relationship between politics and commerce in the early modern and (post)modern Russian worlds. Moreover, by looking at Nikitin’s life, we are able to appreciate the now largely forgotten experience of the Siberian merchants of his day, whose work involved navigating the tensions between business and politics in what were then distant and diverse frontier environments.

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