Some saw him as a charlatan, others a “saint”, who foretold the fall of the Russian Empire shortly before his own death. His descendants had had to live in the shadow of the ‘tsarist monk’ for years to come – almost all of them succumbing to the same fate.
Grigory Rasputin – a favorite of the Romanov Dynasty, was a man with a very controversial reputation. After his murder in 1916, his image and role in Russian history became subject to a campaign of demonization. By 1933, the Rasputin name was all but erased, with nearly all of his descendants dying under similar circumstances. All of them, but one.
Of Grigory Rasputin’s seven children, only three survived to adulthood: Matrena, Varvara and Dmitry. They lived with their mother in the Pokrovskoye village, some 1,150 km from Moscow, until 1913. When Rasputin’s situation in the Royal court solidified, he decided to relocate to St. Petersburg permanently, along with his daughters, seeking to secure a future for them as upstanding ladies. Having enrolled Matrena and Varvara into a prep school staffed by the best teachers, he began to gradually introduce them to his new circle of friends – the royals.
Nicholas II’s children resembled something akin to delicate china dolls, Matrena would later recall in her memoirs: “The tsar’s children wanted to know everything about me: what gymnasium I study at, who does my hair and dresses me, if I have any mechanical toys, if I’ve seen their yacht yet, what our cow’s name was in Pokrovskoye and so on and so forth!” The girls quickly befriended the Romanov children. Matrena soon swapped her lower-class name for a softer-sounding Maria. However, anti-Rasputin sentiments began to grow after the family’s relocation to St. Petersburg a year later. They reached their peak after his death at the Yusupov palace. Rasputin’s family left town, but only Maria managed to leave the country.
Not long before, she married Boris Solovyev – an officer and loyal follower of her father’s and the royal family. She also acquired new identification papers and left for Europe via Vladivostok, as one couldn’t head westward because of the war. The trains on the Transsiberian often got stuck for months on end. The pair then left Vladivostok on a ferry, which was evacuating a portion of the Czechoslovakian corps. They had to get to Europe by way of Japan, Singapore and the Suez Canal. The journey took all of two years, with Maria delivering her firstborn. The family settled in Berlin, before relocating to Paris four years later. This escape saved Maria’s life – something that couldn’t be said for her brother and sister.
After her father’s murder, Varvara returned to Pokrovskoye to her brother. In 1922, they were stripiped of all rights and accused of being “malignant elements”. In the 1930s, Dmitry, his mother and family were arrested and sent to do labor in the North, where they died of dysentery. Meanwhile, Varvara simply disappeared. One theory claims that she died of typhus in the 1920s.
Daughter Of A Mad Monk
Things weren’t going so well for the only surviving Rasputin daughter in Paris, either. Boris Solovyev opened a restaurant, but the business didn’t take off, with most customers being poor Russian emigrants dining there on open tabs. In 1924, he contracted tuberculosis and died soon after. By then, Maria had already had two children, Marie and Tatiana.
Having been left with nothing, she first worked as a housekeeper for rich families, before taking a job as a dancer at the Empire Theater (her ballet classes helped in that).
Her life would soon change, however. In the 1930s, the famous daughter of the Russian tsar’s favorite monk was spotted by the director of the ‘Barnun’ – an American circus. She got the job on the condition that she would perform in a cage with a lion. “Grandmother, of course, agreed,” her granddaughter (and daughter of Tatiana), Laurence Huot-Solovieff wrote. “Having fled the Revolution, as well as the First and the Civil Wars, a lion cage didn’t produce the same fear in her.”
Her famed surname played a significant role: the public showed great interest in seeing “Maria Rasputina, the daughter of the mad monk, made famous by his exploits in Russia” (as she was advertised on the posters), who, supposedly, had the ability to tame wild animals with nothing but her inherited “Rasputin gaze”. Maria toured almost all of Europe and the United States with that show.
It all came to an end in Miami: she was attacked by a polar bear. Having gone through a lengthy recovery at the hospital, she ended her career as animal tamer. Journalists would later sensationalize the story, writing that the fur of the bear that Rasputin collapsed on after being shot in 1916 was also that of a polar bear.
Maria then worked as a riveter at an American shipbuilding factory. After World War II, she transitioned to weapons factories, where she worked until old age, having received U.S. citizenship in 1945. She died in 1977 at almost 80 years old. Her surviving descendents reside in the West and her granddaughter Laurence Huot-Solovyeva occasionally visits Russia.
Laurence currently resides in a mansion in Paris, which has been outfitted with furniture she inherited from Maria Rasputin. Her bedroom contains photos of her great-grandfather.
For a long time, the Rasputin name was a forbidden topic in the family. “I remember father slamming his fist on the table and demanding that the name never be uttered at home and that the family’s Russian roots never be spoken of,” she told Kommersant daily. This ban on discussion was explained by the name’s dark reputation, which could have influenced the family’s life in Paris. “Here, Rasputin carries a negative connotation, as it is reserved for politicians with a strong penchant for giving advice.”
“Only with father’s passing, my cousin, his nephew, said: ‘We must remember our entire history, everything we know about great-granddad’,” although, even then, the conversation was kept strictly in the family.
Laurence told that story to her friends on the day of her 60th birthday: “Our guests nearly fell from their chairs from shock,” she laughed. Since then, the topic was no longer taboo and she now has a mission to spread the story so as to stop her great-grandfather’s name from being mythologized.
“If anyone thinks that I possess some unusual gifts, I must disappoint them,” Laurence says. “I’m simply a woman. Having been left alone, I worked as a secretary and raised children. I have three grandchildren. Over the past few years, my life has gained a new meaning spiritually… I’m more into Russian history, the history of Orthodox Christianity, I study my roots and spend time with Russian people.”
Laurence works with journalists, takes part in science conferences, but still confesses that some people try to avoid her. “I have friends that say: ‘You know, Laurence, I like you, but I cannot introduce you to my family.’ Simply because I’m Rasputin’s descendant.”
Yekaterina Sinelschikova is a graduate of the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University’s Faculty of Journalism. This article appears courtesy of Russia Beyond.
The featured image shows, “Portrait of Rasputin,” by Theodora Krarup, painted in 1916.
Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, written in 1921, is the ur-dystopia of all modern dystopias. True, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984, both of which this book influenced, get more attention today. In fact, it is nearly a cliché, at least on the Right, that we are heading to some combination of the two, the only question being which our future society will resemble more, if we do not first overthrow the lords of the present age. That is as it may be, but Zamyatin’s novel offers a third future, certainly a future more to the liking of today’s ruling class than either of those other futures. And, crucially, its story ends with a lesson lacking in those other books, even though that lesson is, it appears, universally ignored by those who discuss this book.
I warn you now, this entire review is one big spoiler. We is written as a journal of sorts, the stream of consciousness of a man named D-503. He is a mathematician and the Chief Engineer of a spaceship, named INTEGRAL, being prepared for imminent launch to explore Venus, Mars, and beyond. D-503 is a citizen of OneState, under the absolute rule of, apparently, one man, the Benefactor. D-503, along with other members of the citizenry, has been ordered by the Benefactor to create intellectual cargo for INTEGRAL, to be delivered to inhabitants of other planets in order to propagate the ideology of OneState. He decides to simply record what he sees around him, because what he sees is the “mathematically perfect life of OneState.” To speak of it is to herald its perfection. But D-503’s journal turns out to be, without his intent, a journal of his awakening.
Why does D-503 consider OneState perfect? It is the twenty-sixth century; OneState is two hundred years old, and followed two hundred years of war that killed the vast majority of Earth’s population. OneState is a single city, surrounded by an impenetrable glass wall, the Green Wall. All construction within is also of glass, both a technological achievement and a means of ensuring every citizen may be observed. Nobody ever goes beyond the Green Wall—not because the wilderness is a blasted wasteland, but rather because it is the opposite, an area of uncontrolled growth, a riot of plants and animals.
It is not random that D-503’s rocket is named INTEGRAL. The theme of calculus is shot through this book, and the purpose of the rocket is to “integrate the indefinite equation of the universe”—that is, to subject the rest of the universe to the perfection that is OneState, to turn the natural curves of the universe into the straight line and finite quantity of OneState. It will be, for those unknown peoples in space, “the fiery Tamerlane of happiness.”
OneState aims to order the life of man rationally, in contrast to the disordered irrationality of past ages, that led to war, disease, and suchlike unclean and inefficient happenings. The ideology of OneState is not Communism, or any other modern ideology that actually gained traction in real life. We should remember that Zamyatin wrote in the early days of Bolshevism, and before any example existed of the modern cult of personality. Thus, not only is this book not an attack on Communism, the Benefactor is not an analog of Stalin or other Communist big men. He is not even an absolute ruler, but simply the manifestation of the ruling class that has created and maintained this supposed utopia. Who the others at the top are, how they live, and how power is handed onward, is unclear. It doesn’t matter; what matters is the ideology of OneState, and what that does to the minds and lives of the mass of citizens.
The ideology of OneState is Taylorism, or rather the perfectibility of man through Taylorism, the achievement of his total happiness through a total loss of freedom. Frederick Winslow Taylor, who died in 1915, was, of course, the apostle of efficiency engineering—the breakdown of industrial tasks into smaller tasks and an obsessive focus on completing each such task as efficiently as possible, that is in minimum time with minimum labor. (Very strangely, a translator’s footnote says that the Taylor constantly mentioned in the book was “long thought to be” an obscure early eighteenth-century British mathematician, Brook Taylor, who worked with calculus. How that mistake could be made is beyond me, even with the frequent references to mathematics in the book.) Taylor’s “motions per second” are the underpinning of the Table of Hours, which for each citizen, each Number, is a breakdown of what he is to be doing at any given moment throughout the day, down to “fifty statutory chews of each mouthful.” The story sold by OneState to the citizens, as the narrator tries to remind himself as the truth dawns on him, is that because of the reduction of all action to pure rationality, “the gods have become like us—ergo, we’ve become like gods.” This fake theosis is what the ruling class of OneState offers the regimented citizenry.
Conformity to the Table of Hours is enforced by the secret police, the Guardians. They are needed because not all is as perfect as it seems. In fact, public executions for crimes against the state are common, for such crimes as writing a poem that criticizes the Benefactor. Such executions are a public religious ritual, a type of Girardian scapegoating. Zamyatin describes one, conducted as always through dematerialization by the Benefactor’s Machine. He explicitly analogizes it to the ancients’ “divine service” and the Benefactor to a high priest, who “slowly passed through the stands—in His wake were gentle white female hands raised aloft like branches and a million hosannas in unison,” with the invisible (to the populace) Guardians standing in as angels.
The government’s control over the minutes of citizens’ lives is subject to only one limit: two hours in the day when citizens have Personal Hours, and can occupy their time with what they please, within strict limits, naturally. This highlights the interesting separation between the ideology of OneState and that of Communism, or more broadly the ideology of the Left, of which Communism is merely one branch. Left ideologies desire to control the thought of the people; this is what Orwell got right. To that end they use many tools, among the most important of which are the mutilation of language and the perversion of justice. But even as their thoughts are constrained, citizens can spend their time largely as they please, the opposite of OneState. As Orwell pointed out, in a review before he published 1984, in which both thoughts and actions are regimented, Zamyatin offers a much more realistic dystopia than Brave New World, which would in practice immediately collapse of ennui and enervation. Here, the citizenry has a feeling, even if wholly artificially inculcated, of meaning, unity, and accomplishment, which can continue indefinitely—until the spell is broken.
We should remember that in 1921, all elite opinion, or at least that found in decent circles, West or East, assumed the scientific perfectibility of man, and that is still a core belief of the Left. (This was one reason the Bolsheviks were treated as serious thinkers; there was some small excuse for reasonable people thinking that at the time.) Still, the idea of regimentation under total government control has always seemed undesirable to most of us in the West; that’s why We has always been thought of as a dystopia. Liberty, or now libertinism, sells better. Or at least it did until 2020, when our own governments reacted to the very modest problem of the Wuhan Plague with a grab for total control, aided and abetted by large swathes of the population, ants who were suddenly revealed as eager for safety and the comfort of being regimented.
As I have noted before, there is something in human nature, and in particular in those who climb the greasy pole of political power, that loves an unfettered ability to minutely control others—but they need an excuse to get the people to swallow it, and usually the excuse fails to convince the populace (as was the case with global warming alarmism). Rarely does the populace cooperate, but when they do, climbing back out is not allowed, as we see all over the West today. The desire for control is not purely a Left impulse, to be sure, although because extreme control is needed to allow rule while denying reality, as the Left inherently does, it is necessarily a very prominent trait among all Left regimes. But maybe, if there were any Right regimes, it might be evident there as well. Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, generally center-right and reality-based, has implemented an extremely strict plague regime, which surprises me, and is something I cannot understand, but perhaps this is the answer. After all, virtuous regimes that enforce limited government reach are not thick on the ground of modern history.
Despite the best efforts of the ruling class, peeking through the Taylorized life of OneState are human emotions such as jealousy, and the desire of the woman sexually “assigned” (non-exclusively) to D-503 to have a child, forbidden to her because she is short, and eugenics demands she meet the Maternal Norm for height to be allowed to reproduce. D-503 largely lacks the vocabulary or thought patterns to identify emotions, however, making such things, and any non-rational human behavior generally, an irritation to him, because they are something unquantifiable and therefore disturbing. But, as happens, he falls in love, another emotion that has been supposedly Taylorized out of existence. The object of his love is I-330, a mysterious woman he meets, whose public behavior skirts the boundaries of acceptability, and whose private behavior, smoking and drinking and talking treason, goes far beyond it. The meeting is not coincidental; she has targeted him, because she is a leader of a group desiring the overthrow of OneState, the Mephi, and he is the operational leader of INTEGRAL, which they wish to hijack.
No surprise, falling in love troubles D-503, who cannot understand what is happening to him. When I-330 fails to follow the Table, he knows he should report her to the Guardians, but finds excuses to not do so. He logically concludes that he is sick. This sickness is not just his newly discovered romantic feelings, but all his newly discovered emotions and unbidden thoughts, slowly morphing into the realization that he has been lied to his entire life—a realization against which he struggles mightily. He intermittently tries to retreat into the linear realities of mathematics, which he has always believed are the same realities as those offered by OneState—but even there, reality pursues him.
As he descends into what feels like madness, but is really coming awake, D-503 realizes that the conspiracy of the Mephi is broad, and extends through tunnels to outside the Green Wall, where live wild, fur-covered humans. It even extends to within the Guardians, perhaps. He also realizes that I-330 is, if not wholly using him, at least partially using him. But he doesn’t care. Tension rises in the city as the Mephi begin to move—a mini-riot ensues when a marching citizen (they all march in unison as a matter of course) breaks ranks to try to free a prisoner of the Guardians he sees on the street. The newspapers start to make strange statements: “Reliable sources report the discovery once again of signs pointing to an elusive organization whose goal is liberation from the beneficent yoke of the State.” Then comes the annual Day of Unanimity, where the Benefactor is reelected by the assembled populace, the “We” of the title, who vote publicly to show their devotion. He descends from the sky, explicitly a divine figure—and when the pro forma question is asked who votes “No” to his reelection, thousands of hands are raised, instantly casting the city into chaos, as the Guardians pursue those who have dared defy the power of OneState.
The city is, to a small degree, as the organs of OneState retreat, left free. Yet for every action, a reaction, and only a fool ignores this truth in his battles. The powers of OneState announce “Rejoice! For henceforth you are perfect!” In what way? In that every person is to complete the transition to a machine of flesh, through an operation to burn out the “imagination”—meaning independence of thought, including emotion. (This being allegory, we can ignore that turning a person into a calculating machine might very well result in him calculating that the overthrow of the Benefactor made mathematical sense, even for a purely rational actor.)
Perhaps surprising the ruling class, the Operation is greeted with widespread opposition from the populace at large. Wildfire, disorganized resistance arises. Meanwhile, the Mephi implement their plan to seize INTEGRAL—which is thwarted by the Guardians, who had caught wind of the plan. No matter—fighting spreads in the City, and the Mephi smash through the Wall, something thought impossible, letting in the wild outside, heralded by the appearance of birds of prey in the air. Free men skirmish with Guardians and “postoperatives,” bringing up light arms and then heavy weapons; D-503 perceives his civilization collapsing.
Or does he? The last pages are written deadpan again, without the strained emotion characterizing those immediately before; D-503 has been seized and subjected to the Operation. He then gladly, or rather without emotion, betrays what he knows of the Mephi. I-303 and her compatriots have been tortured and are to be executed the next day. But why tomorrow? Because OneState actually is collapsing. The executions “can’t be put off, because in the western quarters there is still chaos, roaring, corpses, animals, and, unfortunately, quite a lot of Numbers who have betrayed reason. But on Fortieth Avenue, which runs crosstown, they’ve managed to build a temporary wall of high-voltage wires. And I hope we’ll win. More—I’m certain we’ll win. Because reason has to win.”
But of course, reason, with its ever-fluid meaning in the modern world, doesn’t have to win. Reality has to win, and that final sentence reveals the truth—OneState is doomed. D-503’s journal is a narration, though he never realizes it, of the inevitable reimposition of reality. Reality cannot be made to conform to calculation; this is the flaw in all ideologies that purport to perfect mankind, because reality always returns, whatever its opposition. The revolt of the citizens of OneState could, for example, be an allegory of the January 2021 Electoral Justice Protest (which, I just noticed, took place nearly one hundred years to the day after this book was written). The parallels between this book and that event are not coincidental; they are the nature of resistance to the loathsome tyrannies of the modern age, which resistance will always rise in a recognizable shape.
As I say, Zamyatin’s book has of late started receiving more mention on the Right, as intellectuals on the Right try to understand the present moment. Yet they ignore the crucial lesson of the book—that OneState is tottering and about to fall, not because of an inspiring book or pithy article, but because the Green Wall has been breached with explosives, corpses litter the street, and the Guardians have been reduced to cobbling together makeshift barriers to the advance of militia forces. Our Right intellectuals ignore that the road back to reality when oppressed by a pernicious ideology, forward to renewal, is always steeped in blood, because ideologues never give up their power voluntarily. He who denies this lies to himself. Once all men knew this; they will be reminded of it, to their sorrow and pain.
Those on the Right who wail about the coming dystopia, whatever brand they forecast, are entirely right that we have already long passed the foothills of dystopia, though its shape remains to be revealed precisely. But most refuse to countenance that the Mephi are right, and they are wrong, with their Benedict Options and grey-man passivism. In a passage that some say was the cause of Zamyatin being exiled by the Bolsheviks, even though his book was not published in Russia until 1988, I-330 says just as infinity dictates there can be no final number, then “how can there be a final revolution? There is no final one. The number of revolutions is infinite. The last one—that’s for children.” So it is.
What does that imply for us? Does it imply that we should join whatever the equivalent of today’s Mephi is? Not necessarily—though not because things aren’t that bad. On the contrary, they are that bad. Our current state is fully as evil as OneState (with our internet standing in for their ubiquitous glass). It offers less Taylorism, and more of an even fouler tyranny of false emancipation and forced egalitarianism, combined with sedation through catering to each citizen’s emotions and base desires, as long as those emotions and desires are approved ones. These are distinctions without a difference; the control sought by our rulers is the same as the rulers of OneState, as is their behavior. Just ask Derek Chauvin, this week sacrificed in a Left religious ritual, a parody of justice, on our equivalent of the Benefactor’s Machine.
To be clear—our current American state is entirely illegitimate and a criminal organization; it has no moral claim on our loyalty, and actively working for its complete destruction is wholly morally justified, that our children may live decently. Paradoxically, however, the reason it now makes little sense to form or join our own Mephi is because our Brawndo Tyranny is far more fragile than the state Zamyatin portrays. Unlike the Benefactor and his myrmidons, our overlords are incompetent idiots, disunited, fragile, stupid, and cowardly. Perhaps that means they could be pushed over the easier, but cornered rats fight, and why pay the cost if not needed? We can be sure they will begin to fracture of their own accord, or under the pressure of external events, at which point the equivalent of the Mephi will be much more effective, though no doubt the types of costs borne by our Mephi, even then, will be the same as those borne by Zamyatin’s. It is in denying that the Mephi are ever necessary that the error lies, not in refusing to build the Mephi now.
To be sure, this is the easier and safer course, and lays the proponent open to the charge of dissimulating, trying to avoid risk while talking big. Perhaps this is a fair charge. Time will tell, and not much time, either.
Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.
Stability operations initiated by Moscow, whether in the Soviet or post-Cold War era contexts, are peculiar in their own history and methods from all the others set up by the UN, by other international and regional organizations and by the “coalition of the willing.”
Moscow put such military operations on two different levels: ones led by the UN, and those that can be attributed to the Community of Independent States (CIS), and considered by Moscow almost as internal affairs, and thus conceived, directed, and managed as such.
The first such operation began relatively late, in November 1973, with the dispatch of 36 military observers, all unarmed commissioned officers, to the oldest peace operation of the United Nations (UNTSO). The observers were accompanied by a further 36 “interpreters” (or controllers, likely coming from the GRU, the Soviet military intelligence service). The UNTSO, ad hoc expanded, was to operate in support of the troops of the UN interposition force deployed after the Yom Kippur War in Sinai, UNEF II.
The presence of these “interpreters” immediately created a major problem for the UN (which could not give consideration to military observers, given that they had to express themselves and write in English, the working language of the organization) – not to mention the financial, logistical, insurance and legal problems. But all this was in the midst of the Cold War and, only after a long negotiation did the “interpreters” leave, and in this way, the USSR also kept its presence in UNTSO, after the end of UNEF II, in 1979. Until 1991, members of UNTSO were the only Soviet-Russian “blue helmets.” After the liberation of Kuwait and to monitor the truce in Western Sahara, other military observers were sent, respectively, UNIKOM and MINURSO (the latter, even if in reduced strength, is still present).
Since then, there are few UN missions that have not seen a presence of military observers, police personnel, support helicopters and other specialists sent from Moscow, in accordance with the choice of opening to the world of the new Kremlin leadership. This choice sees only some small variations, given the stiff resistance by Moscow of sending formed units abroad, synthesized in a battalion of paratroopers, dispatched to the former Yugoslavia, in the framework of UNPROFOR, between 1992 and 1996; and this only after several requests and with many difficulties.
Leaving aside the presence of the two Russian battalions included in the NATO-led peacekeeping missions to Bosnia and Kosovo (I-FOR/S-FOR and K-FOR), it is useful to summarize, and as far as possible, analyze the role and function of those operating in the peripherical area of the former USSR (or “near abroad” for the new Russia). While the most recent, tasked to monitor the ceasefire line between the forces of Nagorno/Karabach and Armenia on the one side and Azerbaijan on the other is ongoing, most of those missions completed their mandate, and others are presumed to be closed soon.
According to the universally accepted doctrine of stability operations, these operations lack the fundamental principles of stability operations, such as, impartiality between opposing factions, and being a presence mutually accepted by them, with limited use of force and that only for the purpose of self-defense and within the limits of the implementation of the mandate. However, this statement, which comes from Western experts and scholars of stability operations, is partial.
As mentioned, all these operations for Moscow, since the uncertain days of the end of USSR and the more uncertain days of the beginning of the CIS (Community of Independent States, a substitute body for the immediate post-USSR), represented a very critical political value and, as such, were carefully designed and managed; all had the pivotal objective of protecting the interests of the Kremlin, starting with the protection of the Russian and/or Russian-speaking populations, and securing strategic assets and corridors. This pragmatic approach has gradually established a series of mission options, which have a solid political plan and a realistic time-line.
Where the criticism is, however, pertinent is the lack of legitimacy of the emanating body, due to the uncertain and ambiguous role and juridical status of the CIS, perceived as a mere long-arm of Moscow’s interests and objectives.
For example, the agreement which followed the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, covers a period of five years. It may seem long, but it allowed for an exist, from the various weary rituals of renewal issued, often after tedious negotiations, like the annual (or even half-yearly) meetings at the UN Security Council, a phase which put the operations under regular stress, and thus creating or exacerbating tensions on the ground, while raising expectations of the former warring parties.
Also, from observed experiences of stabilization operations carried out by the UN, the Russian forces appeared to be more heavily armed and thus had a deterrent capacity that reduced the potential threats from those who would want to break the truce and confront forces with mobility, self-protection, and hostile fire suppression capabilities far superior to those of “blue helmets.”
This deterrence discouraged the former warring parties to undertake dangerous escalations, making these operations much more effective, as is often the case for UN missions, which facilitate the political dialogue framework, by reducing the space of maneuver and blackmailing of the former warring parties.
Many of these forces (former Soviet and/or initially CIS-led) were already garrisoning in the area from the time of the existence of the USSR and often reacted to the exploding problems, applying Moscow’s guidelines in an average effective manner, given the circumstances.
The disintegration of the USSR, and the formation of 12 independent republics, had great consequences on the stability of the former federation and impacted the new born states, which inherited the distortions of Soviet times.
In fact, in areas where Soviet intervention was particularly heavy with border and population displacements, violent conflicts erupted (like in the Caucasus), as the process of political and economic restructuring of the USSR, begun in the second half of the 1980s by Gorbachov, weakened the repressive apparatus that had oppressed those regions since the mid-1920s.
After the official end of the Soviet Union, which materialized in December 1991, the need to maintain an integrated economic system favored the establishment of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), an interstate body with a vague nature, characteristic and structure.
This community, directly hegemonized by Moscow, was established on 21 December 1991 in Alma Ata/Almaty in Kazakhstan. Despite serious economic and social internal turmoil and institutional re-foundation, already in the summer of 1992, Moscow first re-started a minimum interstate dialogue, trying to circumscribe the various crisis hotspots (Transcaucasia, Central Asia and Moldova), initially using the ex-Soviet forces still in those territories. Second, Moscow established and supported these multilateral interposition contingents, including (and also integrating) military units of the warring parties; thus, creating a conceptual novelty for this type of operation (however entirely ignored in the West). This format was adopted to include and to make accountable the former warring parties and defuse the restart of conflicts.
This choice however was badly perceived by one side, especially when the other side include separatist movements/fractions, as an attempt to legitimize those elements. This was bluntly rejected by countries like Georgia, which saw these forces as a move led by Moscow to undermine the newly reached independence of Batumi.
The CIS-led forces cooperated, to a rather limited extent, with OSCE and UN observer missions. Several of them completed their respective mandates as well, thanks to the massive diplomatic and institutional action conducted by Moscow, which tended to reabsorb these new/old nations (internationally recognized or not) in its political, economic, and strategic orbit.
Although indirectly, the Chechen question, and the brutal (and inconclusive) Russian attempts to overcome the many military crisis, constituted by the tensions within the non-Russian states of the Community which refused to participate to those operation.
This situation resulted in frequent problems between Moscow and the newly formed post-Soviet republics, which were unwilling to accept supinely the exclusive direction by the Russian side of military structures of the CIS (both of the central bodies of the organization and of the stabilization forces that were progressively formed); and the growing perplexity of some states to act as a purely rear area for the Russian and CIS forces, operating especially in Central Asia and consequently, return sic et simpliciter to the orbit of Moscow.
The establishment of these multilateral forces does not in many cases mean the automatic withdrawal from those territories of the Russian (and former USSR) contingents, often supported by large and heavily armed units of the newly constituted CIS Border Guard (the former Soviet frontier guard, a uniformed wing of the KGB).
With gradual stabilization underway in Moscow, and what emanates from it, these formations were progressively transformed into a more stable military presence, thus carrying out a function of protection of the Russian populations residing in those republics through a series of agreements that Russia progressively stipulated with these states which also granted the use of various military bases, freedom of movement and use of airspace.
In addition to military presence, Moscow’s action was accompanied by a process of institutional reorganization, characterized by a relevant ability to mediate between the conflicting needs of the parties and using the lever of the promise of economic aid to mitigate the conflicts (though limited, given the condition of the Russian financial situation).
Moscow’s determination lies in the need to have its peripherical areas as stable as possible, to maintain control over very delicate geographical and strategic junctions (Central-Western Asia, the Caucasus, Black Sea, oil pipelines, etc.), and to protect the Russian populations.
This situation created a droit de regard from Russia out towards the former Soviet republics, despite many protests in international fora and sates, such as, by the US, EU, NATO, UN and the OSCE, which saw their ability to act seriously become limited. In fact, Moscow only agreed to the presence of observation missions and good offices, and placed a very firm veto on the deployment of international military forces.
In January 1996, in the face of continuous requests for clarification by the UN, the CIS, through the Russian delegation to the UN, presented a document that clearly defined the status, nature, tasks and missions of the peacekeeping forces of this body, which until then was rather confused.
The document takes up, with some differences (especially relating to the use of force), the basic concepts of UN peacekeeping operations. It also clarifies the presence and duties of military forces, police personnel, and military observers in these missions. Guidelines were also established for relations between CIS forces and the personnel of other international bodies, such as the UN, OSCE and non-governmental, humanitarian assistance, civil and human rights monitoring bodies.
Even Moscow, in the context of the more general restructuring of its armed forces, initially faced a deficit of predesigned units for this type of operation; but it coped as best as it could by using resources already available, to then build ad hoc units for this kind of operation; and these units were precisely those sent to guard the truce line between the Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, after the conflict in 2020.
Even if CIS was a structure considered by Moscow as a temporary solution (it still exists), it managed all the stabilization operations. But its architecture was also gradually supported by the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) which, established since 1993 and through a long process, lasted more than ten years. CSTO became the long-arm of Moscow in the “near abroad,” even if the participation of some states was fluctuating.
CSTO, among the numerous sub-architectures established (and largely different from CIS, which remained almost exclusively a heads-of-state council secretariat), had a more solid political and military mechanism, dedicated to stabilization (with a force of 3,000 military and police personnel), and which was ready to intervene, according to the decisions of the Council of Heads of State of the organization; or, upon request, to intervene in support of UN-led operations, though thus far it has never intervened in such a capacity (namely, a robust, mechanized infantry formation, able to impose and supervise a ceasefire, monitor road access and protect civilian populations from the actions of irregular elements, by borrowing aforementioned principles).
Between 1992 and 1997, in Tajikistan, during a violent inter-ethnic conflict between non-Russian population components, there were a recorded 100,000 dead and half a million refugees. Since 1992, Russian forces basically present from the Soviet era (the 201st Motorized Rifle Division) had been formally acting as an interposition mandated by CIS, even though the behavior of its personnel was often the subject of criticism. But that was in the darkest days of the post-Soviet era and often salaries and supplies never arrived, and the personnel sold weapons and equipment to the parties.
Beyond these considerations, Russian troops were mandated by CIS to keep order. Since 1993, this decision was translated into an increased and open support of pro-Moscow leadership in the country. In August 1993, CIS gave its full mandate to Russian and some Central Asian republic forces, present in Tajikistan (at that time 25,000 soldiers), to resume forcible disarmament operations of the insurgent formations. In September of that year Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan asked (unsuccessfully) that these forces obtain UN mandate under Chapter VII of its Charter, (and thus also removing the embarrassment of CIS in allowing a one-side operation).
In allowing the UN Security Council to mandate CIS forces, it was decided to expedite the operation of disarmament and solve the issue as soon as possible. The civil war ended in 1997, with an agreement, promoted by the UN, which saw the prevalence of a line in favor of Moscow, and CIS troops gradually withdrew (the operation ended in 2000). In 1997, the Collective Peacekeeping Forces (CPF) numbered more than 12,000 soldiers (the 201st Motorized Rifle Division and three army battalions from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan), as well as 17,000 border guards (mostly Russian, with small contingents of similar Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan forces).
In Abkhazia, the local independence forces, formed immediately after the independence of Georgia, clashed with the army of Tbilisi, newly formed in 1992, and defeated it. Moscow followed its policy of establishing multilateral forces and a mechanism of dialogue and coordination, but with partial success.
On May 14, 1994, after difficult negotiations, held under the aegis of the UN, the parties signed an agreement in Moscow to a ceasefire and separation of forces. The collective peacekeeping forces of the CIS, established by decision of the Council of Heads of State of the Community, included only Russian units, after the failure of the constitution of a joint force that would have included Abkhazian and Georgian elements because of the animosity between the two parties.
The JPKF (Joint Peacekeeping Force), deployed in June 1994, controlled a 24km wide security zone, along the line of contact between opposing forces. The only multilateral forum established was the JCC (Joint Consultation Committee), a consultation body and good offices, chaired by the Russian military.
On 10 October 2008, in accordance with the decision taken at the meeting of the CIS Council of Heads of State, held in Bishkek, the mandate of the JPKF, after 14 years of stay, ended; and a week later the Russian peacekeepers withdrew. Between October and early December, Russian troops replaced the JPKF and established new fortified positions on the side of the Abkhaz-controlled ceasefire line. The last Russian unit left the area in November of that year (after the short conflict between Georgia and Ossetia ended) and Abkhazian forces were deployed directly on the border with Georgia.
Another autonomous region of Georgia—South Ossetia—aspired to political independence in the late 1980s. After the collapse of the USSR, that aspiration turned into an armed confrontation between self-formed local militias against the Georgian army, which was heavily defeated and Ossetia became de facto independent, but closely linked to Moscow (regardless that another conflict opposed South and North Ossetian forces).
After the ceasefire, also reached in 1994, Russian peacekeeping forces, under the auspices of the CIS, were deployed in the conflict zones. This only happened, after a previous unsuccessful attempt, because of the tough intransigence of Georgia to deploy a multilateral force formed by a Russian battalion (700) together with a Georgian battalion (320) and one of South Ossetia (470), also in this case called JPKF.
Afterwards, the situation was substantially stable, despite the permanent hostility of Georgian governments. In August 2008, the Georgian army attacked South Ossetia by surprise, killing 15 JPKF soldiers. Moscow reacted quickly, resulting in the so-called “Five Day War” between Georgia and Russia, with Abkhazia joining South Ossetia. As a result of the operation, South Ossetia and the small parts of Abkhazia that came under Georgian control on that occasion were liberated from the Tbilisi troops.
At the end of August, the two self-proclaimed republics asked Russia to recognize their independence, which was done by Moscow. In October of the same year, the JPKF withdrew and was initially replaced by Russian border guards and army units, which were gradually joined, and later replaced, by elements of the South Ossetian self-defense forces.
The recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan followed an even more violent previous one. Like the most recent, the reason for the dispute was the control of the Armenian populated Nagorno-Karabach enclave within Azerbaijan. This dispute began, in political terms, as early as 1987; and as the authority of the USSR loosened over the whole of Transcaucasia, the conflict became more and more violent, until it led to an open war, in 1990, and caused 15,000 deaths and a million refugees, until the spring of 1992, and which saw a heavy Azerbaijani defeat.
By the summer of 1992, after an agreement between the parties, a Russian regiment was deployed as an interposition force of CIS that separated the regular forces of Yerevan and the Armenian separatists of Nagorno-Karabach from the Azerbaijani ones. However, the mutual mistrust between Armenians and Azerbaijanis did not allow for the deployment of a multilateral force with Russian, Armenian, Azerbaijani and Nagorno-Karabach separatists, as originally envisaged by the JCC (Joint Consultation Committee), a multilateral body, in charge of direction and management of the operation, which was the only one where both sides sat together. So, JPKLEF (Joint Peacekeeping and Law Enforcement Force), in charge of controlling the ceasefire, was formed, but only made up of Russian troops. This force was then withdrawn not only for the stability of the ceasefire, but also due to the decisive rapprochement between Armenia and Russia, which led to the signing of a bilateral agreement in 1997, which also provided for the establishment of a consistent Russian military presence in that country.
On 27 August 1991, Moldova declared independence from the USSR and a few weeks later clashes broke out between the forces of the newborn republic and the self-defense formations of the Russian and Ukrainian populations residing in the Transdniestr region, which declared itself an independent republic on 2 September and called for annexation to Russia.
The clashes continued increasingly violent, and on 6 July, JPKF (Joint Peacekeeping Force) was sent by CIS decision; and in mid-July was deployed to Transnistria. The force (whose composition was the result of intense negotiations promoted by Moscow), under Russian command, comprised 2 Moldovan battalions, 2 Transnistrian battalions and 5 Russian battalions (other sources report instead 3, 3 and 6 battalions respectively) for a total of 2000 units.
Again, the JPKF depended on the JCC (Joint Consultation Committee), which brought together high-level Russian and party political and military representatives, and worked to manage the operation. The presence of the CIS force replaced the very brief presence of a multilateral observation mission made up, following a diplomatic agreement, of military observers, for the control of the truce, from Bulgaria, Turkey, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Transnistria, and decided upon in June 1992, but which obtained no results whatsoever.
By August, the JPKF, after stabilizing the situation, allowed the return of 50,000 refugees, the reopening of the roads between the two territories and substantial normalization. In November 1994, Moscow unilaterally withdrew half of its contingent from the JPKF for budgetary reasons (despite protests from both sides), while the JCC, which cooperated with a similar OSCE mission, remained on site from the beginning of 1993.
In the context of the Transnistrian affair, we must mention the presence in that territory of the Soviet (later Russian) XIV Army, which, despite the task of cooperating with the JPKF, carried out a clear partisan action in favor of the Russian-speaking militias, by supplying weapons and instructors to the local National Guard. By the spring of 1997, following agreements dating back to 1994, between the Moldovan government and the autonomists of Transnistria, the XIV army (in the meantime reduced from 12,000 soldiers to 7,000, while today it only numbers 1,500) began a partial withdrawal. The Russian troops, though reduced by number, continued to be stationed in Transnistria.
The Russian presence in Transnistria was however at the center of constant tensions between Chisnau (which repeatedly asked for their withdrawal), Tiraspol and Moscow. The progressive distancing of Moldova from Russian area of influence made Chisnau’s request for the withdrawal of Russian troops (including the remaining JPKF forces, now reduced to less than 400 soldiers) and the dissolution of the JCC, more vocal. Moscow tried to resist as much as it could, but the gradual rapprochement of Moldova and Ukraine to the EU and NATO made the situation of Russian troops (JPKF and the remnant of the XIV army) in Transnistria increasingly problematic.
The foreseeable solution, sponsored by the OSCE, of the end of secession of Transnistria and its return into Moldova institutional framework in exchange for a vast administrative, cultural, and linguistic autonomy, makes this presence a dossier to be resolved in the near future.
A proper analysis of the stability operations carried out by Moscow must be seen through the lens of politics. Those operations were part of a broader action of Russia to stabilize as much as possible the “near abroad: and not to lose the control of the new republics, and to maintain access to their natural resources, while keeping a strategic depth/buffer zone. Last, but not least, these operations guaranteed the safety of the Russian-speaking population (with the perspective of using them as a tool of influence in better times, while keeping a solid grip on the internal policy-making of these countries).
All these objectives were met, by various ways and means, and in time. But the evolution of the political landscape, with the progressive emergence of leadership in these countries less and less keen to cooperate with Moscow (especially Georgia, as the first example, and progressively followed by Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan)—weakened the Russian-led project which sought to save as much as possible of the gains of the then USSR.
This situation co-existed with the tireless efforts of the EU and NATO to increase their influence there, with specific programmes, like the ENP (European Neighborhood Policy) and EAPC/PfP (Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council/Partnership for Peace).
If these political considerations are not taken into account, the stability operations carried out by Moscow reached a good level of success, allowing Russia to achieve, at least for a period, its political targets.
But, given that the stability operations can be more politically profiled as any other military activity, they also cannot be considered as a fully separated entity or fact.
No doubt, that despite the failure of establishing “collective” (as termed also by Moscow) peacekeeping forces, the presence of Russian troops under the aegis of CIS, those missions did lead to the defusing, at least for a period, of tensions on the ground and blocked a further worsening.
The reliability of the Russia forces involved in the CIS-led operation was widely demonstrated by their reaction against the aggression of Georgian forces in 2008, a reaction which slowed the progression of the Batumi forces, and which gave time to Moscow to deploy more larger forces in the area, which defeated the aggression.
Like all the peacekeeping/stability missions established by other organizations, every operation is a specific case, with its own historical and political background, bilateral/multilateral; and, generally, the ones in the Caucasus went well enough, as well as the one in Tajikistan. The former was a “lesson-learned” mission for other operations for Moscow leadership (political and military).
The main lesson learned was to collocate any operation to the most proper political context (always with the perspective of reaching its own strategic objectives), and having dedicated forces, which could ensure the reach of the stability on the ground, and in parallel protect Moscow’s interests.
Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations.
The featured images shows, “A Letter to the Foes of Russia,” by Vasily Nesterenko, painted ca. 2017-2018.
Every philosopher thinks one thought throughout his life. This thought usually comes in the form of separate words. Therefore, from the rich thought of Andrzej Walicki, I will choose a few words which gather together, I believe, his thinking and his life, together with an attempt to prove that there are no pure concepts, that each of them is “bogged down” by life.
Nineteenth-century Russian thought, as expressed in politics and literature, as well as Polish-Russian relations, is the central theme in the life of Walicki. Before becoming a world-renowned historian of ideas, he studied Russian philology at the University of Łódź, where he found himself, entirely by accident. In 1949, for political reasons, he did not get admittance into philosophy or Polish studies. A year earlier, they had imprisoned his father, Professor Michał Walicki, an eminent art historian, and the children of those convicted, after the war, had most avenues closed to them, in many areas of social life.
In the Walicki house, despite the Bolshevik threat, Russia itself was not hated, for Russia was carefully separated from Bolshevism. More than that, for the young Walicki, Russian literature and thought were an effective antidote to Stalinism. “I felt threatened not by ‘Russification,’ but by ‘Sovietization,’” he recalled in later years. He admired Russia and felt at ease with it. We owe him wonderful works on Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, and so many others. I think that in his creative intent, he sought to teach Russia about Russia. Since the Crow tribe could relearn their own long-forgotten “Sun Dance” from the Sioux, their opponents, so too the Russians can learn something about themselves from the Poles. “I am writing more for Russians than for Poles,” we read in a letter by Walicki to Czesław Miłosz, from December 1960, “although, I know that they will not be reading me. I would be happy if I could help the Russians regain their most valuable tradition, the lost and battered tradition of moral anxiety.” (These letters are known as, “Encounters with Miłosz,” but they have not been translated into English).
I myself have traveled to Russia many times with the same intention. From the Russians, I absorbed things that would take me two lives to assimilate in a book, not to mention that someone would first have to point them out to me. Then I learned to place them within the Russian worldview, which was only possible in Russia. At the same time, I tried to stop them from thinking about their own cultural backwardness within Europe, warning them against the bane of “xero-modernization.”
My friend Yana Brazhnikova—I remember it very clearly—gave a lecture, at a conference organized at the Russian State University for the Humanities, in Moscow, about the national affiliation of philosophers. It was very interesting, but at the same time it detracted me from the great intuitions the lecture contained by frequent mention of the name, “Jacques Derrida,” a name that protruded from every second sentence. When I asked my friends about their concern with this whole postmodern business, I found out that when Derrida visited their university, he seduced them with the confession that it was only in Russia and thanks to the Russians that he understood that the words drug (friend) and durgoi (other) could actually be derived from the same root.
I argued that no postmodernism, or any other “ism,” is needed by the Russians to understand who they are. So sometimes the wonderful culture of Russia must be discovered even in opposition to it, especially against those who prefer others to their own. Such a perception of Russian affairs was familiar to Walicki, who believed that “the Russian intellectual elite cannot directly “jump” from Stalinism to Europeanism; that its heritage is too great and its historical experience too terrible and too important for humanity that it can ignored even for a moment; that Russians should think about fully assimilating their cultural achievements and experiences only when they return to their own roots, and reacquaint themselves with their own culture, only when they ‘peel back’ their tragic history.”
“’Allow me,’ Yevgeny Pavlovitch was protesting warmly. ‘I say nothing against Liberalism. Liberalism is not a sin; it is an essential part of the whole, which without it would drop to pieces or perish; Liberalism has just as much right to exist as the most judicious Conservatism. But I am attacking Russian Liberalism, and I repeat again I attack it just for the reason that the Russian Liberal is not a Russian Liberal, but an un-Russian Liberal.” I think this passage from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot makes the point. There is no such thing as Russian liberalism. And, if there is, it has proved its utter irrelevance in the person of the “non-Russian liberal, Professor Gradovsky, a polemicist when it comes to Dostoyevsky, whom he commemorated in the Writer’s Diary. So, if it weren’t for Dostoyevsky, not a soul would have noticed his presence. Walicki’s textbook is also silent about Gradovsky.
A separate thing is the matter of the law in force in the Russian Empire. It certainly seems to be something different from the legislative regulations adopted in Western Europe. Distrust of the excessive formalism of codes, spontaneity inherent in community behavior of the Gemeinschaft type, chronic disappearance of all forms, which is characteristic of the Russian feeling of reality; and, thus, the lack of any logical discipline.
All these factors have contributed to the formation of a direct bond between Russians, in which only the warmth and beat of the heart is important, and sometimes the antipodes of these states of mind. No wonder that in such conditions, there is no difference between a situation in which someone lends money to someone, and a situation in which it is just given to him. It was precisely this kind of difficulty that a certain Keller, a shady figure, a bit of a boxer, a bit of a drunk, was put before this kind of difficulty by Prince Myshkin. In a word, an adventurer who demanded a loan from the prince on unclear, quite fantastic terms.
Years ago, I read Quentin Skinner’s instructive book Forensic Shakespeare, in which the author analyzes the statements of Shakespeare’s characters in terms of judicial rhetoric. It turned out that many such statements could be applied in court practically unchanged. I think that with no less fascination, I would read the book, Judicial Dostoevsky, if it were written. But what do Lebedev’s passionate court speeches have in common—with the idea of such a book—with the positivist legal system, which was slowly adopted in Russia, in a crippled form? Could the hysterical, “apocalyptic” philippics with which he appeared before the courts have anything to do with the liberal understanding of law as understood by the heroes of Walicki’s book?
There is, however, another good reason why the book With Dostoyevsky at Court could be written. It was indirectly pointed out by Józef Mackiewicz in one of his letters to the editors of Kultura, when he wrote that “Emperor Alexander II, implementing his famous reform of the judiciary in 1864, issued at the same time a ‘publication’ which allowed for the publication of whatever was happening, or spoken in court proceedings, without any deletions. And in the non-parliamentary, deprived of political freedom, autochthonous Russia, there appeared in print such speeches by lawyers, for which, not only in Soviet Union, or the People’s Republic of Poland that they would all be put up against the wall or be sent to prison; and even in Piłsudski’s Poland, inevitably to Bereza Kartuska. Naturally, individual freedoms that existed in the nineteenth century, and under the tsarist autocracy, today, in the age of collectivized thought, it is difficult even to dream of. But it’s not about dreams; it’s about saving the remaining margin.”
Reading Andrzej Walicki’s study on the particulars of Polish patriotism, which he published in 1985, left a permanent mark on my own awareness. I know that the author worked on his thesis at the beginning of the political transformation; but for me his views were perfectly clear already in the 1980s, when I read them, thanks to a brochure printed on a dplicator, the publisher of which was the Solidarity Social Movement, “KRET.”
The old Poles—says Walicki—had the best political system in Europe. It was so perfect that people were afraid to change anything in it. “A nobleman in the farmstead equal to the voivode”—it was repeated—equal before God, but more importantly—equal before the law and against others like him. After all, evil does not sleep, and if there is something as perfect as a system of noble democracy that combines the features of direct democracy with a system of political representation, there will be something or someone that will disturb the smooth functioning of the whole organism. And it was precisely for fear of the inevitable political change that the institution of the veto was introduced in the Republic of Poland. It did not open the way to the madness, as we were persuaded in the People’s Republic of Poland in history lessons. The veto was a means of defense of ancient republican values, taken by Poles straight from the Romans. “The requirement of unanimity prevented this danger, although it also limited the freedom of reformatory actions of the Sejm. But that was also the point. The right of veto was not supposed to guarantee the independence of the court from an individual. On the contrary, it was a guarantee of the inviolability of the system, treated as a perfect expression of the collective wisdom of the nation.”
As many as 10 percent of Poles, mostly identified with the nobility, took part in the political life of the time. Considering that in England it was only in 1832 that the number of those entitled to vote was 3.2 percent, and under the last King Louis Philippe I it was only 1.5 percent of the politically active French, Poland’s position in Europe, measured by the degree of active participation in public affairs was very high. In other words, in the 17th and 18th centuries, Poland was the freest country on the whole continent. And it was freedom “in the state,” which was different from negative freedom, freedom “from the state.” This negative freedom, organizing the space in which capitalism could be born, was incomparably smaller in Poland (only in Russia it was not there at all). In countries such as England and France, ordinary people had more freedom to move from place to place than people in Poland; they also had greater freedom in disposing of their property, and even—due to the media market emerging in Europe, in which the modern citizen was raised—greater freedom in using words.
Rigid adherence to conservative republican values made Poland mediocre, secondary, more primitive, uncompetitive and non-modern. Does that make it worse? It depends on who is looking at what and how they evaluate it. If the correct direction of human activity is to conform to the “emerging,” mercantile values, Poland, through its love of republican freedom, got on the wrong horse and history very quickly condemned it. Walicki writes about it as follows: “There was, however, also the other side of the coin. The republican-democratic tradition existed in Poland without capitalism and without individualist-liberal values favoring capitalist modernization. Poland has not passed through the school of the Puritan work ethos; its nation-building elite (the nobility and then the intelligentsia) did not develop ‘bourgeois’ virtues, such as thrift, frugality, did not learn to treat individual economic activity as a higher calling and to respect the successes achieved in it.”
After all, Walicki forgets to add that the same capitalism, obviously linked to Amalthea’s horn, spat out miasmas that became the source of all modern plagues, with communism and anti-Semitism at the forefront. A state which ignores civic values in its act of self-determination must refer to values alien to the republican spirit—money and ethnos. “Whether we like it or not—we read in the traditions of Polish patriotism—in the 20th century, and especially in its decline, there can no longer be any doubt that all over Central and Eastern Europe, modern nations were formed on a linguistic and ethnic basis—cultural, and not on a historical and political basis, and that Poles are also no exception in this respect.”
With Poland regaining its independence in 1918, everything began to fall apart: the republican love of freedom was transformed into fanfaronade and national megalomania; and 19th-century Polish messianism became an instrument of spiritual and political control over the newly emerging nations with whom Poland used to make the Commonwealth. “Thus, the combination of the heritage of noble democracy with the heritage of Romanticism,” writes Walicki, “strengthened the psychological maladjustment of the Polish national elite to the necessary process of economic modernization.”
My Russian colleague, Taras Szijan, also pointed to the meanderings of Polish patriotism. We had a conversation on this subject while taking the Moscow metro. I told him with nostalgia about the old, strong Poland, which gave the “Russkis” small comfort. A colleague, undaunted by the typically Polish megalomania, replied that there was no Poland back then—there was the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and it was probably not the same. I had to admit he was right. Then, lowering his voice, he began to tell how proud he was to be a Russian and that the USSR was still Russia, maybe a little lame, but still Russia. Then I said something like this: “If you are so proud of it (our conversation in Russian was heard by a few outsiders), why are you whispering it to me?”
In this important and ground-breaking interview, Maria Igorevna Degtyareva, doctoral candidate, discusses her research into the so-called, “Society of Labor Clergy” (1937), which proves how the NKVD (the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) falsified interrogation protocols, then condemned and sent to death innocent people, in many cases. At the same time, the fabricated case of the “Society of Labor Clergy” was used by the NKVD investigators as an exemplary one, and on its basis subsequent cases against believers were fashioned. Maria Igorevna here speaks with Inna Yurievna Fedotova, Head of the Research Department, of the Perm State Archive of Social and Political History.
Inna Fedotova (IF): Maria Igorevna, what was it that appealed to you about this topic?
Maria Degtyareva (MD): It was just by coincidence. The area of my research interests was the history of French conservative thought. I did not imagine that I would have to engage in the study of repression. The topic came to me “as an inheritance” from my mother.
IF: Of course, we knew your mother Natalya Evgenievna. She was a long-time researcher in the collections of our archive.
MD: One of her church obedience was work in the diocesan Department of History and Canonization, connected with the collection of sources. She was a regular visitor at the Perm Archive. A person of exceptional efficiency, dedicated and reliable, her working day often ended at 10-11 pm. After returning from the archive, she would organize and put the prepared copies of documents into folders.
Mom didn’t write anything, but when selecting persons for consideration by the Commission on Canonization, she herself went through the fate of each person, every sentence, and she always regretted that so much would just sit in the repositories. It was she who drew my attention to the fact that repressions against the clergy and believers is a topic that has not been adequately studied, and yet the situation is conducive to that.
IF: What situation are you referring to?
MD: In the 1990s, a whole complex of sources was transferred from the departmental funds of law enforcement agencies for state storage at Perm Archive, including those of value to the Church – the cases of the victim priests.
All conditions for the work of historians were created in the archive, and we are grateful to the previous director of the Archive, Mikhail Gennadievich Nechaev, the current director, Sergei Vasilyevich Neganov – and all the specialists of Perm Archive for the fact that the documents were processed, put in order and placed in the electronic database. Fortunately, the archival collections are open, and restrictive measures function within the framework of Russian legislation.
IF: Was it difficult to change direction?
MD: I understood that addressing a new topic, in addition to studying the historical context of the Church, would also require some real physical effort. I was frightened by the volume of the material. I was sure that it was “not a woman’s job,” and I certainly could never do it.
IF: What made you change your attitude towards this topic?
It’s just that the course of life began to change significantly in Moscow in the early 2000s. It took time to figure it out, to understand something myself and, finally, to discover the new martyrs. A person close to me – a nun of the Novodevichy Convent – brought me to Butovo and introduced me to the history of the shooting range. After a few years, what used to be terra incognita for me became really important.
With the accession to the cathedra of Vladyka Methodius, systematic work began in our diocese to compile its history, the biographies of the confessors and new martyrs of Perm, and specialized publications for a wider audience began to appear. And, at some point, I felt that I was ready to take part in this as a historian. One of the cases requiring professional application was the Perm-Sverdlovsk case of 1937 of the so-called “Society of Labor Clergy.”
IF: How did you envision professional engagement in such work?
MD: Hagiography and source studies have somewhat different tasks. The compiler of biographies is focused on reproducing the spiritual image of the saint, the essence of his Christian service and exploit. And this is important. It is necessary to see and convey characterological traits, the “core” of the personality. However, the source text is often left behind the scenes as it were. The task of the historian is to analyze documents, correlate them with known facts and try to distinguish between the “desirable” and the real, genuine and counterfeit in the case materials.
IF: In other words, the methods of historical science allow you to reveal falsifications in the case materials?
MD: Yes, and this direction is promising.
Significance Of The Case Of “The Society Of Labor Clergy”
MD: Unfortunately, in our society, where are so opposite to what really happened, there is still the opinion that “there were no unjust sentences in the just Soviet state,” and “if they were arrested, it was not without reason.” Even in the context of the Church, I had to hear excuses from supporters of a repressive policy: “They were cutting the forest – chips fly….”
When arguments are not accepted because it is difficult to part with an idealized, familiar image of the past, documents are the only basis for dialogue. When working with them, the methods familiar to professional historians are used: comparative analysis, “cross-examination of sources,” philological analysis, paleography. When we were students, much attention was paid to the methodological aspects of work and auxiliary historical disciplines at the university.
Of course, one can confine oneself to a general statement: “The convicts were rehabilitated posthumously; numerous violations were found in the case materials by the commissions of the following years.” But places with traces of falsifications are the most impartial “witnesses.” I think this is one of the possible ways to change the attitude towards what happened in the 1920s and 1930s in our country. It is important that the rehabilitation of Christians who suffered during the years of repression should not seem to be just a consequence of the “swing of the political pendulum.”
IF: Please tell us about the features and significance of this case?
MD: The case of the Society of Labor Clergy is one of the central ones for our region, in the drama of the investigative processes of 1937–1938 – and one of the first planned “mass” cases of the period of the “great terror” in the country. Its “orbit” involved not only believers – representatives of the clergy, clergymen, children of priests – but also those who were completely outside the Church.
The “scenario framework,” developed by the Sverdlovsk and Perm investigators, put in the position of the accused people of various views, tastes and positions: believers and atheists, apolitical and partisan, “White” and “Red.”
Order No. 00447, Dated July 30, 1937
IF: How was that made possible?
MD: The case was connected with the bringing into force of the notorious operational order 00447 (of July 30, 1937) of the USSR People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs N.I. Yezhov, “On the operation to repress former kulaks, criminals and other anti-Soviet elements,” which was approved by the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, that is, it turned out to be “built-into” an operation of concerted effort to combat all those that were “suspicious” in the country (or against the so-called “crusade front against Soviet power”), and implemented on the eve of the elections to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, scheduled for December of that year. The purpose of the “operation” was to ensure “the smooth running of the elections.”
First of all, the fears of the leadership were caused by the results of the January population census, which showed that the authority of the clergy in society was still high, and the efforts of widespread atheistic propaganda were not bringing the expected results.
Despite the fact that in the Soviet Union there was officially an organization that was given the task of destroying the Church in several “five years” spans, like the “five-year plans” in the economy – the “League of Militant Atheists” led by Yemelyan Yaroslavsky. More than half of the country’s population noted in the census forms that they were believers.
The socio-political background was also unstable. The 1930s in the USSR were marked by famine, against the background of forced collectivization and numerous peasant protests against the coercion to join collective farms and the conditions created in them.
The reaction to the ruthlessness of the strategy of economic development, chosen by the Central Committee, and built on “pumping funds” from one sector of the economy to another, from agriculture to industry, through a deliberate disproportion in price policy – was criticism of the unbalanced policy by major economists and representatives of the party elite (A.V. Chayanov, N.I. Bukharin, A.I. Rykov, M.P. Tomskii).
In addition, the style of Stalin’s leadership caused a split in the highest party echelons. This is how several opposition groups replacing one another came about. An immediate consequence of this was the planned trials of the participants in the “opposition.”
Thus, the general situation filled the top management with doubts about the victorious outcome of the planned voting. In any case, in the case under consideration and similar cases in 1937, the justification for extending the investigation period, and, consequently, expanding the circle of those arrested, was the wording: “In view of the upcoming elections to the Supreme Soviet.”
Already in March 1937, in the Main Directorate of the NKVD of the USSR, a draft order was developed: “On the tasks of the third departments of state security directorates to combat sabotage in the national economy.” It listed the categories of the population that were suspicious of the Stalinist leadership, as it was said, as… possible “agents of foreign intelligence.” Among them – those who studied abroad, former prisoners of war, immigrants, former members of the CPSU, members of opposition parties, former “Whites” and kulaks.
And finally, on July 30, 1937, order 00447 was issued. The document indicated the categories to which the application of “special measures” was applied: former kulaks, “continuing to conduct active anti-Soviet subversive activities,”“escaping from camps and labor settlements,”“hiding from dispossession,” as well as “members of insurgent, fascist, terrorist and bandit formations who have served their sentences,” or escaped repression and “active anti-Soviet elements from the former kulaks.” The same list included “members of anti-Soviet parties”, former “Whites,” officials, “bandits and robbers,” sectarian activists, “churchmen,” and… criminals at large and held in camps.
Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church found themselves in such company (and with an indication of the place allotted to them in the sequence of “subversives”). This was the formal, “legal basis” for the renewal and toughening of the repressive policy towards the clergy and believers.
The listed groups were previously subdivided into “the most hostile” and “less active.” The first were subject to execution, the second – to camp imprisonment for a period of 8 to 10 years. In all regions of the country, special “quotas” or “limits” were introduced for the application of the order. From that moment, the investigation could be carried out in an expedited manner, and the determination of the fate of the accused, including in absentia, became the prerogative of the regional, republican and regional “troikas” of the NKVD.
Throughout 1937, social “purges” were carried out everywhere, but the chronological “framework” of the Perm process and its course indicate that representatives of the Sverdlovsk Directorate and the Perm department of the NKVD were among the “leaders of the great terror.”
“In The Bureau Of Partisans, In Secret”
IF: Please tell us about when and how the investigation began?
MD: Formally, several reasons were used to initiate the “investigation.” Firstly, the trial a little earlier, in January 1937, in Sverdlovsk. in the case of the underground “Trotskyist center,” was conducted as if it had a connection with Moscow. According to investigators, the members of the “Trotskyite-Zinovievist” organization were then people who held high party and administrative posts.
Since they managed to get confessions (how that was done is another matter) from the main accused – the chairman of the Sverdlovsk city executive committee, V.F. Golovin – the investigator Dmitriev was convinced that the new administrative center of the Urals was the place where the “underground anti-government rebel headquarters” was located, allegedly having its “branches” in different cities.
Thus, the old administrative center of the Urals – once the provincial one of Perm – was included in the “list of suspects” of the UNKVD of cities. The fact is that during the Civil War, the old part of our city, unlike the working-class district – Motovilikha, rather actively supported the “Whites.” In Stalin’s own interpretation, in 1935, these events were called the “Perm catastrophe.”
And so. until the Great Patriotic War, when Perm became important as the center of the evacuation of the Union, and carried that service with dignity, Stalin could not “forgive” the city, and its status was “downgraded” to the value of a regional center, that is, Perm was in a “special category.”
And secondly, after Dmitriev gave a general directive to “intensify searches in the indicated direction,” at an operational meeting in Sverdlovsk, officers of the Perm NKVD put into circulation two “signals” [methods] that perfectly met the “job at hand.” Both signals, chronologically, diverged quite a lot from the release of order 0044, and it is obvious that at the beginning of 1937, having taken these signals out of “storage,” it was decided to use them “for reporting.”
The first method is obvious in the set of documents prepared by the sergeant of the Perm NKVD, Alikin. This was the surveillance case opened at the end of 1936 on a group of young believers, mainly from the clergy and children of priests who served in the Red Army, in the 9th battalion of the “rear guard” (in modern terms, in the “construction battalion”).
This group consisted of ten people and was portrayed as pretty ominous. Desperate “dissidents” in conscript service, as evidenced by the characteristics attached to them, not only “refused to read Soviet newspapers,” and “learned political studies only mediocrely,” but also “did not change their opinion on the religious issue:” they read the Gospel, “arranged collective readings of prayers,” observed fasts, “did not interrupt correspondence with the priest-fathers,” and during leave, without bothering to hide, visited Perm churches, and confessed and received communion. And all this – not only right in front of the rather apathetic bosses, but also while they were among their “consciously [politically] aware comrades.”
So, in 1937, after a “request” came from Sverdlovsk to take action on the report of investigator Dmitriev, an episode was recalled which led to the observation of this group. Sergeant Alikin reported that somehow in November 1935 (!), three “rear soldiers” entered the office of housing construction, of the plant named after Stalin, and one of them made an inspired speech, denouncing the mistakes of the leadership’s policy towards the peasantry and the difficult conditions of service in the Red Army for believers.
IF: And the second “signal” [method]?
MD: The second was the “classic” denunciation from a certain citizen named Borisova, who entered the NKVD also in 1935 (!). This was the denunciation at the workplace, by a neighbor in the apartment – of a watchmaker named Nechayev, who, as would be established by a KGB check in 1956, at that time was “listed as a Stakhanovite.”
The denunciation informed the NKVD that the Nechayevs were active parishioners and benefactors of Perm churches, maintained acquaintance with the clergy and bishops. The denunciation expressed “concern” about the political preferences of the watchmaker, who, according to the denouncer, was a “monarchist,” who had fled during the Civil War with the “Whites,” and after returning “sat for gold” [practiced parasitism, likely, “currency hoarding”].
The text of the statement was written with multiple errors, had a peculiar address (“In the partisan bureau, in secret”), and ended with an equally colorful stroke: “What I have signed, Borisova.” Apparently, the curiosity of the “style” of the informant was the reason that at the time of receipt the written denunciation was not taken seriously. However, in 1937, this absurdity was in demand as a “request from below,” to work out the hypothesis of action in Perm, allegedly “well-rooted since the Civil War, an underground anti-government network”.
The inability to establish the identity of the “applicant” and to question her on the merits of her charges did not interfere with the case, and on May 14, 58-year-old foreman Nechayev was arrested. Indeed, he had been on “trail” before – in 1924. he was arrested for a short period on suspicion of keeping currency.
NKVD: Alignment With Perm And Sverdlovsk
IF: Did I understand correctly that this case received some special status?
MD: You see, the investigation in Perm was opened in the spring of 1937, that is, it preceded the issuance of the July order 00447 (and it is possible that it was used to justify the “need” for such an issuance).
In any case, from the very beginning, the Nechayev case was really given the status of being “exemplary.” Perm and Sverdlovsk were then included in the number of “experimental sites,” where methods of building large-scale collective indictments were being worked out.
The falsified protocols of interrogations of those arrested in this case were sent to the Main Directorate of the NKVD, in Moscow, where they were replicated and sent to peripheral organizations as a methodological guide, a kind of “tracing paper.” That is, dozens, and perhaps hundreds of NKVD divisions throughout the country checked their work against them.
As documents of internal investigations of the NKVD in 1939 show, at operational meetings of the special department in Perm and Sverdlovsk in 1937, these protocols, already sent back from the cental headquarters with the very encouraging responses, were presented to the entire officer corps with instructions to “follow them,” and “the methods practiced in the investigation should be widely applied in practice.”
IF: Did the Perm investigators develop any special methodological processes for such work in 1937?
MD: Their “method” was distinguished not only by the abundance and variety of violations, but by a wide range of manipulations. Some of the mistakes, apparently, were caused by the usual “slovenliness,” unprofessionalism. But for the most part, these are quite deliberate falsifications. Before the algorithm, they worked out the so-called “pyramidal scheme” of building collective indictments, with the possibility of replacing “variables” according to the what was required and needed.
IF: Could you give a few examples of false information in the case materials?
MD: Yes of course. The surviving documents of the observation file of Sergeant Alikin indicate that his “informant” – a certain rationer O-v – did not in fact name the Red Army soldier who in 1935 (if you trust Alikin’s report) very carelessly “got into a conversation” in the office of the Stalin plant. On the margins of the sergeant’s report there was an inscription made in red pencil by the hand of one of the leaders: “Who? Gulyaev?”
So, the method and time of verification of this “fact” was not reflected in the case materials; that is, no additional testimony appeared regarding this crucial question of Georgy Gulyaev and his comrades, no confrontations were held. But just below, on the same page, was attached a typescript comment: “The materials available in the Perm NKVD established that in the office of Housing Construction Head, Stalin plant, on November, 1935, there came G.N. GULYAEV. with two of his comrades and carried out agitation in the presence of the rationing manager of the Stalin plant – O. Va. and others.”
Thus, the sanction of the Military Prosecutor Ural region, dated March 17, 1937, for the arrest of Georgy Gulyaev was given without any documented grounds for identifying him with the “author” of the speech which was pretty “cold” by that time.
Soon Sergeant Alikin and his handler – the head of the Perm NKVD civil defense department, captain of state security, Losos – received a very informative answer on the letterhead of the military prosecutor’s office, which contained not a “hint,” but a direct statement: “We forward the certificate and the decision with the sanction of the Prosecutor of URALVO for the arrest of GN GULYAEV. In the materials sent, the criminal crime figure was completely insufficiently identified with the activities of LEBEDEV, KOZHEVNIKOV, YUFEROV and CHUKHLOV. Therefore their arrest by the Prosecutor of the Ural region has not yet been authorized. The investigation in the case of GULYAEV needs to uncover the organized activities of both GULYAEV and LEBEDEV, KOZHEVNIKOV, YUFEROV and CHUKHLOV, and then again raise the question of their arrest. Inform about the progress of the investigation.”
In other words, there was no question of any presumption of innocence in the accompanying document. The question was not whether the “rear militia” believers were really guilty, but that their conversations and “old habits” (that is, religious views) should receive convincing political “framing.” Thus, the newly opened “case of Georgy Gulyaev” became the “cornerstone” in the foundation of the future collective indictments.
The Target Was Christians
IF: That is, it was “criminal” in the eyes of the investigators that these young people were believers?
MD: Yes exactly. The anti-Christian motive was the “core” of the Permian part of the process. And this is not new, the reason for delivering Christ into the hands of the Romans was also once the motive for “political security:” “He who calls himself King is not a friend of Caesar” (John 19:12). Christ was handed over to the pagans as a “political criminal.” From the point of view of the officers of the Perm NKVD, the group of believers in the Red Army was influenced by the “class-alien element” – the clergy, which meant it was “potentially dangerous.”
An important circumstance was the fact that the arrested “rear soldiers” attended services in Perm churches, and this opened up a new wide field of activity for the operatives – the possibility of a “total cleanup” of those who remained at large (after a large “wave” of arrests in the early 1930s under the pretext of a struggle against “opponents of continuous collectivization”) – namely, representatives of the Perm and Sverdlovsk clergy.
And one more example of the “groundlessness” of preparing the accusation, this time – in relation to the clergy. A striking argument in favor of the version of the existence of an “underground anti-government organization” in Perm under the leadership of the clergy was that when the priest of the Zaborsk Church, Father Mikhail Korovin, was arrested, an impressive list of Tikhonov-oriented believers compiled by his hand was seized. The title of the sheet indicated that members of the local parish community were included. The list included several hundred people. So, during the investigation, this document was presented as “material evidence of recruitment into an underground organization.”
Meanwhile, the investigation stubbornly did not notice either that compiling a list of such appointments in the form of a chart, indicating the personal data and actual addresses of parishioners and their relatives, would be complete absurdity from the point of view of “political conspiracy,” nor that the list included mainly elderly and very elderly people. Most were over 50 years old, the oldest of them were 80–85 years old.
At the same time, the investigation did not have any other “material evidence,” such as, leaflets, letters of a political nature, agent instructions prepared for transferring data to “foreign intelligence,” ammunition depots. Nothing but this list.
IF: Why did the investigators choose Georgy Gulyaev?
MD: It is impossible to answer this question unequivocally. In those conditions, one careless word, bravado of dissent, someone’s personal hostility was enough.
But a more serious circumstance cannot be ruled out. Before being drafted into the Red Army, Georgy Gulyaev served as subdeacon to Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov), and who at that time was in the Renovationist schism. During the service, Georgy kept up a correspondence with his bishop. The rupture of Vladyka Dositheus with the “Renovationists” and his return to the bosom of the canonical church structure could be the factor that put him and the people in his circle under attack from the NKVD, which was closely patronizing the Renovationist organizations.
IF: Please explain what the “pyramid scheme” of building a case means?
MD: This is a scheme in which, with the maximum expansion of the “connections” of the accused, the alleged “general leadership” is trying to “reduce to a cone,” closing it on “unwanted” figures – as a rule, very significant.
The arrest of Georgy Gulyaev seemed “promising,” since he led a group of investigators not only to the “rear militia” and Perm priests, but also to the episcopate … And in case of “success” – to the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The investigation was extended several times. The first order to extend it was issued on May 17, 1937, the next two on July 19, 1937. But even when the main part of the case was completed, many people were involved in the process of “additional investigation,” like a “funnel”- several bishops of the canonical subordination and dozens of priests and clergy from “schisms.” In the course of an internal inspection of the KGB in 1956, it is established that in this case and “in conjunction with it” in 1937-1938. more than 50 clergymen were repressed.
At the same time, in Perm and in the Urals, an “inquiry” was carried out against people not connected with the Church – from the leaders of large enterprises and Soviet organizations to ordinary employees, workers and collective farmers. Many of them were charged with having links with the “Society of Labor Clergy,” the “Ural Rebel Headquarters,” or the “Religious and Political Center” (by the way, Muslims from the village of Koyanovo were also be taken up in the general “stream,” and charged with… “connection with Japanese intelligence”).
IF: What, in your opinion, were the motives of the investigators?
MD: First of all, they acted in pursuance of the March and July 1937 orders, that is, they carried out a “purge” according to a social and ideological principle, using denunciations of “political unreliability.” In some cases (this concerns the arrests of officers) personal motives are not excluded, for example, settling scores.
The question whether the investigators themselves considered their version to be really plausible remains open to me. Judging by the recollections of the participants in the events about the “installations” at the internal meetings of the NKVD in 1937, the initiators of this case were very much “part of the makeup.”
Having at their disposal some fragmentary data, they enthusiastically “completed” the picture, inventing not only “missing links,” but also entire “blocks.” The main motive was the desire to satisfy the expectation, to “prove oneself,” that is, career considerations. So, some investigators, for example, Radygin and Zyryanov, according to an internal inspection of the NKVD in 1939, “freely handed” 10 to 15 “confession” protocols per day!
And yet there was further responsibility – to those who drew up and signed orders for large-scale “cleansing,” giving scope to the imagination of local performers.
IF: What were those arrested accused of? What was the version of the investigation, and who developed it?
MD: In the spring of 1937, the “rear soldiers” were suspected of intending to create an organization modeled on the Petrograd Orthodox brotherhoods. Indeed, such a “network” had long operated under the guise of communal apartments. Its participants worked, like all citizens of the USSR, but at the same time lived a liturgical life, that is, they confessed, received communion, and, in addition, read the Gospel and Orthodox literature, provided assistance to those who were subjected to repression or those who had lost loved ones.
It was difficult to identify such communities. In Leningrad, they were only partially disclosed by the OGPU-NKVD. The fact that it was the example of the “Petrograd brotherhoods” that inspired these young people to imitate is indicated by the protocol of the interrogation of the Red Army soldier, Ivan Kozhevnikov.
According to the texts of the first protocols of interrogations of Georgy Gulyaev and his friend Nikolai Lebedev, the young people came up with the name “Society of Labor Clergy” for their future organization. But during internal investigation by the NKVD in 1939, some of the investigators began to falsify the protocols immediately – and so we cannot rely on their texts, from the first protocol onwards.
It is possible that someone in the “center” was worried about the possibility of repeating the “Petrograd” experience in the provinces, and this whole story from beginning to end, and the very name of the “organization” were a figment of the imagination of the “specialists.” In any case, the documents of several internal investigations of the NKVD-KGB contain direct indications that the leaders of the Perm NKVD brigade themselves invented the name for the fictional organization.
From the moment of their arrest, this case did not bode well for the accused, since the confession of “religiosity” immediately received an unambiguous interpretation – it was equated with “anti-Soviet activity.” This was the substantial part of the “confessions” of Georgy Gulyaev, Nikolai Lebedev, Ivan Kozhevnikov and their comrades.
The situation was aggravated when investigators added to this a “note of relevance” in accordance with the upcoming elections to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. According to their version, the Perm priests, Savva Beklemyshev, Mikhail Korovin and others, arrested after the “rear militia,” were supposedly giving “instructions” to their parishioners, including those from the 9th battalion, to use completely legal (!) Conditions in accordance the Constitution of 1936 and “promoting believers in government.” And this was regarded as a “political action.”
At other times, the coming together of young believers (and even their possible discussion of the creation of a Christian community, which cannot be ruled out) could entail administrative measures, but if the case had gone to court, the terms of imprisonment would not have exceeded 5 to 7 years. In 1937, Yezhov’s “instructions” were decisive for the process.
This case acquired greater scope thanks to the leadership of the Sverdlovsk investigator, Dmitriev, and the reciprocal “creative impulse” of the representative of the Perm department of the NKVD – investigator Mozzherin. They can equally claim “authorship” in the development of a general “scenario” and are most directly related to falsifications.
Mozzherin and Dmitriev tried to give the case “conceptual completeness;” and thus the investigation simultaneously had two versions about the serious “ideological leadership of the identified organization.” The first was associated with the name of the Gomel Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov), who left the “Renovationists,” and the second – with the name of the “Metropolitan of Sverdlovsk,” Mikhail Trubin, who remained one of them.
If the investigation presented Archbishop Dositheus in the role of a “resident of Polish intelligence,” then Mikhail Trubin – as “the main ideologist of the anti-Soviet crusade front” in the Urals, allegedly uniting around himself during his visits to Perm, a whole group of bishops of completely different subordination. In this group, there were two canonical ordinations: Metropolitan Peter of Sverdlovsk (Savelyev) and Archbishop of Perm Gleb (Pokrovsky), as well as Metropolitan Peter Kholmogortsev, who was in the schism.
In addition, the Renovationist “Metropolitan” Mikhail Trubin was “identified” by the officers of the Perm NKVD as being “responsible for communication” between the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate and the “Renovationists” and “Grigorievites” who did not recognize it… with the representatives of the AUCPB – the leaders of the “Trotskyist center.” He allegedly provided a “connection” with the former “White Guards,” the leaders of the Osoaviakhim and officers in the ranks of the Red Army, who were “charged with the duty” to provide the “terrorist insurgent organization” with weapons and ammunition.
“Terrorism”, “Espionage”, “Propaganda Of The Fascist Idea”
IF Even for a person who is not very dedicated to the history of the Church, it all looks strange. What were these assumptions based on?
MD: These are not just assumptions. In 1937, they was brought against many people as an official charge: “anti-Soviet and sabotage activities,” “propaganda of the fascist idea,” “terrorism,” “preparation of an armed uprising,” and “espionage” – “transfer of secret information about the products of Perm defense enterprises to the residents of foreign intelligence services” (Polish and Japanese).
I have already noted that the information received by Mozzherin’s group (about the periodic visits to Perm of the Renovationist “Metropolitan” Mikhail Trubin and about his meetings with the participants in the schism, as well as about the private correspondence of the “rear militia,” Georgy Gulyaev, with the Archbishop of the now Moscow Patriarchate Dosithei (Stepanov) were completely inadequate for this kind of construction.
Investigators from the Mozzherin Brigade were in a rush, and Dmitriev’s patronage seemed to ensure their privacy. And they easily attributed to Christians violation of the commandments of the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount, which forbid murder (Ex. 20, 13), violence (Matt. 7, 12; Rom. 12, 21), as well as – the covenants of Christ and the apostles about obedience to the authorities (Rom. 13, 1). Nor did they look back at the fact that in the history of the Orthodox Russian Church there was no case of “espionage” of canonical hierarchs of national origin in favor of foreign (moreover, Catholic) states.
Specifics Of The “Basis Of Evidence”
As for the “basis of evidence” of the charge, traces of rough work are visible in the case file, literally at every step. For example, as “evidence of the connection between Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov) and representatives of foreign intelligence services,” it was indicated that in Gomel he allegedly “maintained contact through agents” with the priest of the local church, Konstantin Andrekus, and also “was familiar with a certain archimandrite, who left for Palestine.” This, according to the interrogation protocols, was “testified” by Georgy Gulyaev. It was as if the bishop himself had “confirmed” all this information under pressure from the investigation.
However, the identity of the mysterious archimandrite was not established. As for the Gomel acquaintances of Archbishop Dositheus, who were indicated as “intermediaries” in his relations with Priest Konstantin Andrekus, some of these people, according to internal NKVD and KGB investigations in 1939 and 1956, were not identified and were not interrogated, and some, though indeed arrested in Gomel, did not testify against him.
The part about “active interaction” of the canonical church structure with representatives of the Renovationist and Gregorian schisms looks no more convincing either. If the “renovationists” who were losing their authority in the pre-war period sometimes sought communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, its position remained unchanged: unification according to the principle of political parties is impossible, it is only possible to unite through repentance to the canonical Church by the participants of schismatic movements who voluntarily severed ties with it.
It should be noted that the materials of the 1956 KGB inspection in this case contain testimonies of several witnesses that in Perm “…the renovationists had no relation to the Old Churchmen, they had no service separately;” and “all church issues were resolved separately by the Renovationists and Old Churchmen.”
And the accusation against the priest of the Zaborsk Church, Mikhail Korovin, who not only allegedly “organized a terrorist and sabotage group in his parish,” but also “became a member of the resident network,” digging up and transmitting information about defense products of Perm factories to Poland. In the “testimony” against Father Mikhail, one can find both the numbers of important sectors and the production rates at one of the closed Perm enterprises. But only an internal investigation of the NKVD in 1939 made it possible to establish that all this information was entered into the protocols of interrogation of “witnesses” personally by one of Mozzherin’s subordinates – the operative Ponosov.
Little by little, Mozzherin and Dmitriev got so into the “game” that they themselves could not bring everything to make sense. The “identified organization” turned out to be “about nine heads” (that is, 9 people were officially held in this case the status of “leader”), and this is not counting the priest Konstantin Andrekus, the “nameless” archimandrite who left for Palestine, and a group of convict Sverdlovsk party members.
At the same time, the two main versions about the “general management of the organization” were never brought to any logical agreement. That is why in 1956, during the next internal check of the case materials, KGB investigators literally knocked themselves off their feet in vain attempts to understand the system of “subordination” and establish which of the arrested, when and by whom was “recruited?”
IF: At the beginning of the conversation, you mentioned that it is possible to reveal falsifications in case materials using the methods of philological analysis…
MD: Indeed, lexemes – typical stylistic turns, peculiar speech “markers” – allow us to see in the interrogation protocols traces of the active participation of the “clerks” of the NKVD, unfamiliar with church vocabulary. These include ideological expressions, cliché phrases from the official press and propaganda, samples of the clerical style of those years. Obviously, a priest and a layman in the Church (and the “rear soldiers” were mostly children of priests and clergymen) could not speak such a language. If the protocols were not drawn up on record, but in the absence of the accused, the “creative gymnastics” of the sergeants and lieutenants of the NKVD, who pored over the documents, are especially noticeable. I will give a few examples as an illustration.
So, Georgy Gulyaev in one case allegedly showed that his comrade – Nikolai Lebedev (a pupil of the Makaryevsky monastery) – was going to “develop religious activities after being fired from the battalion.” In another – that “Stepanov (his bishop), on holidays often, visited the former Tsar Romanov, Nicholas,” and often conducted “politival conversations with his subdeacon,” and the priest Savva Beklemyshev “gave them instructions” to promote their delegates to the authorities in order to “pursue their counter-revolutionary agenda through these delegates.” At the same time, the “rear militia” themselves allegedly planned to contact “the leaders of the religious world in Moscow.”
Ivan Kozhevnikov, according to the text of the interrogation protocol, simply called the Perm priests, whom he knew well, “ministers of a religious cult.”
Then, there is “the praise of Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and other Trotskyists and Zinovievites, as real representatives of the people, fearless people and revolutionaries,” in the minutes drawn up on behalf of Christians, which were given the meaning of an independent streak in the activities of the “Society of Labor Clergy.” The work of “praising the revolutionaries” was to be carried out by the Red Army and “local priests among the civilian population.”
And there are a lot of such “markers” in the materials of this case. For greater effect, imagine someone from the current official speakers of the Patriarchate using such an expressive speech “palette.”
Results Of The “Investigation:” 37 Sentenced To Death
IF: Nevertheless, those convicted in this case received sentences of “capital punishment.” How would you comment on the discrepancy between the number of sentences and the extracts from the acts of execution [records of executions carried out]?
MD: Indeed, on August 25, 1937, by the decision of the Troika at the NKVD of the Sverdlovsk Region, orders were issued to shoot 37 people.
At the end of the 5th volume of this case, extracts from the acts on the enforcement of sentences are kept in a separate envelope. They indicate the date of the execution – August 31, 1937 – and the time – 24.00. Extracts 35. Among them there is no extract from the act of execution of Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov). There is also no extract from execution of Deacon Mikhail Bannov, who belonged to the canonical Church structure.
If documents clearly testify about Father Mikhail – he was tortured and admitted to the Perm psychiatric hospital with traces of numerous traumas, from which he died on September 5, 1937, then in the same documents the situation is somewhat more complicated for Archbishop Dositheus (in the case file he goes under his own worldly name, as Stepanov Gabriel Grigorievich).
The official response to the request of his relatives indicates that he, while serving his sentence, “died of angina on December 15, 1941.” In fact, on March 31, 1956, according to the investigation of the Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Ural region, the fact of the absence of an extract from the act of execution was entered into the “register” of 12 issues requiring clarification in the 1937 investigation.
Unfortunately, checking did not resolve the issues. In the 6th volume of the case, among the documents on the investigation of abuses during the 1937 trial, there is a document under the heading:
“Heard: Stepanov Gavriil Grigorievich, born in 1883, from Khodyasheva former Laishevsky district. Resolved: to shoot. The verdict was executed on 27. VIII. 1937-“
And the signature:
“Correct – ‟23. VI. 1956, Sverdlovsk.”
According to this document, Archbishop Dosifei (Stepanov), for some reason, “was shot” 4 days before the rest of the participants in the case. The date indicated at the end of the document – June 23, 1956 – indicates that this is, indeed, not the original extract from the act. This text combines the content of two documents – the verdict of the “Troika” of the NKVD in 1937 and the missing extract from the act of execution. Thus, the question of why the original extract from the act of execution is missing in the case remains unresolved.
When the KGB of the Sverdlovsk region received a request to verify the data on Stepanov Gavriil Grigorievich for the operational accounting of the First Special Department of the Police Commission of Leningrad (dated June 21, 1957) at the request of his relatives, a tiny form of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Sverdlovsk region appeared in the documents, in the Volume, “Correspondence,” handwritten:
“25 / VIII – 37 convicted tr. UNKVD of the Sverdlovsk region. <…> VMN. There is no information about the execution. Def. VTR Ural VO from 30 / X – 56 solution tr. from 25 / VIII – 37 canceled for lack of corpus delicti. Arch s / d no. c / d in Moscow. sod. in the Perm prison. 12 / VII 57.”
And in the “Conclusion of this issue of August 6, 1957,” it says:
“… was arrested on August 25, 1937 under Art. — of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR by the Troika of the NKVD of the Sverdlovsk region, sentenced to a military service. ‘On August 26, 1937, the sentence was executed October 30, 1956 by ruling No. 1475 of the Military Tribunal Ural region.’”
Taking into account the discrepancy in the dates indicated and the general inconsistency of the information, it is premature to give any comments in this case.
The featured image shows, “Russian priests conveyed to judgment” by Ivan Alekseevich Vladimirov, painted in 1922.
Life, especially in the West, is gradually moving towards the fact that the diverse minorities, taken together, will become a solid and constantly growing majority. But Russia is no exception here. Perhaps this will be the ultimate embodiment of democracy.
In this regard, I recall an advertising slogan from the Moscow metro with a reference to Aristotle: “The city is the unity of the dissimilar.” However, questions immediately arise: where is the measure of this dissimilarity? Or is it immeasurable? And, perhaps, the most important question – is such dissimilarity an end in itself? Is it possible here to recall the “blossoming complexity” of Konstantin Leontiev and rejoice? How blooming is it? Aroma is not yet a sign of a blooming state.
Subculture is not a hobby club or a circle of young pioneers. The fundamental difference is that the values of a subculture are basic for its adherent, more important than all those that are shared by the rest of the surrounding world. A subculture can form naturally – on ethnic, geographic or traditional, religious grounds. However, this is not always the case: a subculture can arise artificially – by way of certain age, carnal, intellectual or “spiritual” interests. These, in fact, have nothing to do with subcultures of the first type; their nature is different, and they arise by the free will and choice of the person himself. This is how sects, gay communities, “hangouts,” and youth subcultures arise. And a person does not come here for an hour – you need to connect your life with the subculture, live by its interests and rules, soak yourself in its spirit. You will have to look at the outside world and at yourself through the eyes of the subculture.
The subculture does not seek to expand its ranks too actively, despite the oft-proclaimed formal slogans to the contrary. It is always characterized by the idea of its own exclusivity, sometimes elitism.
Youth subcultures for Russia are a recent phenomenon. In traditional society, they were none, because there was no “youth” in our understanding. A child – a boy or a girl – immediately grew into an adult with all his duties and behaviors. Usually this was associated with marriage, the time for which in Russia, as in other traditional societies, came with puberty. A woman a little over 30 years old was often already a grandmother and nursed her grandchildren, and her husband (or father-in-law) was in charge of a large family, consisting of several generations of relatives. A 15-year-old boy was getting ready for military service – this is how childhood ended.
Such a society, with its values of conservatism, was extremely mobile – each of its members played an important social role. Moreover, there was no need for some deliberately invented “state ideology” or “national idea” – a sense of responsibility was instilled from the cradle, and it almost always guaranteed against unpatriotic or selfish behavior. “Take care of honor from a young age,” an old Russian proverb said.
Released in 1762 from compulsory service, the nobles, quickly imbued with a sense of their own exclusiveness, nevertheless, did not form subcultures. The estate system generally excluded subcultures: it was built on the subordination of all groups of the population. In Russia, this was also coupled with a pronounced state paternalism.
In addition, the subculture is a predominantly urban phenomenon, while Russia as a whole remained an agrarian society. The farmers were quite divided among themselves. The urban noble society was too much tied to state interests. The public opinion of the nobility was based on ideas embedded in an all-Russian metric – the fate of the country, according to their own ideas, was in their hands and was directly decided by the “first nobleman” – the autocrat.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the young nobility adopted English dandyism, but this can hardly be called a subculture; there were only a few young dandies in the capitals. Pyotr Chaadayev, who became the embodiment of this phenomenon, was an exceptional and unique person. The hero of Pushkin’s novel, Eugene Onegin, is only “dressed like a dandy in London.” There was only the imitation of the Western model.
The disintegration of traditional social relations always gives rise to informal associations. They often have an age-related feature. In Russia, perhaps, the student community could be called the first “youth subculture.” Its final guise took place in the second half of the 19th century. It was not a clearly defined class; the authorities were not able to regulate its life by law; the values of the students were informal.
For these students, it was necessary to be different from everything around – which was deemed “gray and dull.” And the acquired scientific knowledge suggested that the way out lay in a new social reality, in the kingdom of total justice. Radical ideological features were combined with external differences. A real student even in that uniformed era was noticeable by external signs – an emphasized and deliberately provocative neglect of appearance. The student’s uniform, introduced in the 1880s, did not change the attitude of the student: the top buttons were not buttoned, the cap was always worn on one side, and an unkempt lock of hair emerged from under it. Real adherents of the student subculture turned into “eternal students,” their age ceased to matter.
The common people did not like “scubents” and treated them with suspicion. The student “going to the people” ended in complete failure. For example, in 1878, a no less famous and very revealing event took place, typical of that time: students of the Moscow University were beaten by meat merchants for revolutionary propaganda. A rumor spread that the young “gentlemen” had decided to call on the people to restore serfdom – and the butchers would not stand for it. It did not even occur to these butchers that agitation against the monarchy, which liberated the peasants, could have any other grounds, and that the “white collars” could oppose the wealthy strata of society.
Subculture always runs the risk of being misunderstood from the outside. The student subculture disintegrated at the beginning of the 20th century, as its values became widely spread in society. Against this background, the student lost his brightness and originality. And as the dream of social justice began to be actively realized, there were only few of the dreamers who did not drown in the bloody floods accompanying this embodiment.
The basis of any subculture is always utopia – the idea of the possibilities of a certain group of people to unite and jointly turn the world around. It can be a world revolution and a world commune, a technocratic future, or the victory of the national team in the world championship. The question is only in the scale of consciousness; and, as is obvious, that can be expanded in various ways. This is an extremely important task for subcultures.
Students of the 19th century read the latest books, prepared notes and discussed them in meetings, with the aim of immediately introducing the ideas they had read into their daily life. Propaganda or bomb – all a matter of taste and available skills. A century later, it became customary to compose acute social poems or philosophical parables and put them to music. In-between this noble occupation was the taking of certain drugs to stimulate creativity. Sometimes these drugs turned out to be too strong. What was the end result? Charm always ends in disappointment. It is good if, having entered a dead end, a person has the opportunity to get out of it. But what if there is no more time left?
As the horizons become smaller, the goals of subcultures also become smaller. Relaxation gradually becomes the main reference point. But it is dangerous for consciousness to exist in a state of “eternal relaxation” – this leads to its submission and destruction. If you don’t make an effort on yourself, there will always be someone else to do it for you; and he will make the choice for you. Maybe this is not bad? Over time, when a person ceases to be aware of himself, he will express just such a question. And this means that he has already lost himself and everyone who needs his help – along with the opportunity to receive it, such as, the country and its citizen.
And you can spend years or, if you are particularly lucky, decades in self-indulgence – exquisite and not very, “kind and naïve” or aggressive and misanthropic, highly ideal or “pop.” The world will not turn upside down because of all this – only the person himself will turn upside down. His personality will gradually wear out, burn out. An illusory unity with like-minded people will collapse. Others will lose interest; loneliness will be the result. Worst of all, it will acquire a universal character. Who should I call? “My soul, my soul, arise, why do you slumber?…”
Adolescence protracted to old age cannot evoke any other feeling than regret for the missed opportunities of the person himself and his neighbors. It is difficult now to judge what the future holds for Russia. Predictions in this matter are a completely ungrateful thing. One thing is clear – with the dictates of subcultures, there will be no such future at all.
Fedor Gaida is Associate Professor in the Faculty of History, Lomonosov Moscow State University. His research interests include, the political history of Russia at the beginning of the 20th century; Russian liberalism; power and society in a revolutionary era; Church and Revolution.
I recently wrote of the Finnish Civil War, where the Whites defeated the Reds. In the twentieth century, that pattern was unfortunately the exception, with the more common result being seen in the Russian Civil War of 1918–20, where the Russian Reds defeated the Russian Whites. That struggle, though not as forgotten as the Finnish Civil War, does not loom large in modern consciousness, and books on it are rare. This volume, the recently-reprinted war memoir of Peter Wrangel, probably the most successful and certainly the most charismatic of the White generals, addresses that gap. It also carries many lessons, including about what might occur in a twenty-first-century ideological civil war in a large country.
The Whites lost for more than one reason, including poor generalship, inability to work in a unified fashion, and betrayal by the Allies, particularly Britain. We will return to all of these as seen through Wrangel’s eyes. He was a Baltic German, born in 1878 in the Russian Empire, what is now Lithuania. Trained as a mining engineer, he volunteered for Imperial service, and became a cavalry officer in the prestigious Life Guards. He fought in the Russo-Japanese War, and then all through World War I, receiving numerous decorations for bravery. This book picks up in 1916, as the war dragged on for Russia, and as the Russian elite, corrupt and clueless, shattered upon the shoals of destiny.
Wrangel’s memoir, essentially an edited war diary, was first published in 1928, the year Wrangel died, serialized in German in a White émigré magazine. Translated into English the next year by one Sophie Goulston, it fell from view, but was republished in 1957. This second edition added a preface written by Herbert Hoover, but also fell from view. It is not obvious from within the pages of this book why Hoover wrote a preface. It is because when Wrangel died, probably by poison, at only forty-nine, all his papers were sent to the new Hoover War Library, which was aggregating information about the former empires of Europe.
Apparently, to this day the Hoover Archives harbors the single largest collection pertaining to Russian émigré documents, presumably still containing all of Wrangel’s documents. (They also contain much else interesting, such as the archives of the Tsar’s secret police, the Okhrana, a sadly ineffective body.) Thus, what is now the Hoover Institution must have had a connection to Always With Honor being republished in 1957.
Until very recently, therefore, this book was functionally unavailable to the public. You could buy a copy for hundreds of dollars, if you were lucky. But as I have noted before, a new publishing house, Mystery Grove Publishing, has been doing yeoman’s work in rescuing important books with a right-of-center tilt from the deliberate obscurity into which they have been placed, and this book made their list. True, most people today are frighteningly under-educated, so no doubt sales are not in the millions. It doesn’t matter for current purposes; reading the Mystery Grove books allows our future elite to self-educate, avoiding or repairing the indoctrination the Left has used to ruin America.
Other than Always with Honor, there appears to exist only one English-language biography of Wrangel, published in 2010: The White Knight of the Black Sea, by a Dutchman, Anthony Kröner. Although it was blurbed by the Hoover Institution, suggesting an ongoing connection, Kröner’s book is obscure and nearly impossible to obtain. After chasing down leads (Twitter is sometimes good for something), I was able to order a copy from a Dutch bookstore. But it just goes to show that even today, serious, mainstream books can become functionally unavailable – it’s not just books published decades ago.
If there is a defect to this book, it is that you have to know at least the basics about Russian history from 1914 through 1918 in order to understand its contents. Wrangel wrote for an audience that was intimately familiar with that history, and makes no effort to either explain events or introduce individuals; he merely drops them, uncoated, into his own personal story. Wrangel begins in 1916, when World War I had ground on for three years, and there was great turmoil at the top of Russian society.
He saw this first hand, because for a brief time he was aide-de-camp to the Tsar, leaving to return to the front right before Rasputin was killed. Although he only touches glancingly on Russian imperial politics, Wrangel seems to blame the Tsar for not seeing how corrupt many of the men surrounding him were, and for ignoring the needs of the people. He does not offer the details of what was happening as Russia came apart, merely a sketch, along with making two key points.
First, the generals, the High Command, increasingly felt that “things could not go on as they were,” and many sought a solution that involved removing the Tsar—and not only to serve Mother Russia. “Others, again, desired a revolution for purely personal reasons, hoping to find in it scope for their ambitions, or to profit from it and settle their accounts with such of the commanders as they hated.” That is to say, a fragmenting society finds many eager to accelerate the fragmentation. Second, the people as a whole, and the upper classes in particular, acted as if everything was normal, they paid “no heed to the approaching storm.” That is to say, apparent normalcy says nothing about whether a society is about to founder.
In early 1917, after the February Revolution, Wrangel was sent back to St. Petersburg by his superior to remonstrate with the new Minister of War, Alexander Guchkov, who was promoting disorder in the Army, mostly by undermining authority through promoting “democracy” in the Army, in the form of Communist-dominated “soldiers’ committees.”
Arriving in St. Petersburg (after having on the train thrashed a man with a red ribbon for insulting a woman), he was appalled to see the widespread disorder and profusion of Communist paraphernalia, most of all red ribbons and flags. Although officers not wearing a “red rag” were often attacked, Wrangel, all 6’ 7” of him, refused, and seems somewhat surprised nobody bothered him. Wrangel’s aim was to strengthen the Provisional Government’s hand against the expanding power of the “soviets,” that is, groups organized to seize power by the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and the Socialist Revolutionaries, but he discovered the truth for himself – the Provisional Government was utterly incompetent.
Wrangel in passing mentions meeting General Baron Mannerheim on a train, who was leaving St. Petersburg after the ascendancy of the Provisional Government, as Wrangel himself was returning to Petersburg. In fact, Wrangel’s career bears more than passing parallels to those of the Finnish hero. Both were born on the outskirts of the Empire and ably served the Tsar, then fought his enemies after he abdicated. Like Mannerheim, Wrangel was extremely competent and decisive. And both had little patience for politicians, less for bureaucrats, and struggled to balance political imperatives with military dictates. Mannerheim won his struggle against Communism, at least his first one, though, and Wrangel lost.
He describes, from a ground-level view, the struggle between the Provisional Government and the new Petrograd Soviet, including how the Bolsheviks, subsidized by Germany, rapidly expanded their power. It wasn’t just money—they seized whatever property they wanted to use, and the Provisional Government took no action against them.
The new government was eager to suppress the conservative press, but never bothered the left-wing press, which was openly treasonous. Sounds familiar. Guchkov, who had rejected Wrangel’s pleas, was replaced as Minister of War by Alexander Kerensky, and Wrangel went back to the front in June 1917, in what is now Ukraine, as part of Kerensky’s major summer offensive, which he hoped would unify the Russians.
It did not; the unrest Wrangel witnessed in St. Petersburg was merely the run-up to the “July Days,” where the Bolsheviks attempted to seize power and were defeated, but unwisely were not slaughtered. The commander-in-chief of the army, Lavr Kornilov, whom Wrangel knew, assaulted the Petrograd Soviet, in what may or may not have been a coup attempt against the Provisional Government. This failed, strengthening the Soviet.
The October Revolution soon followed, and Kornilov, escaping prison, went on to create the Volunteer Army, the largest military grouping of the Whites. Meanwhile, Wrangel had been discharged by the Provisional Government—he was, no doubt justifiably, regarded as completely politically unreliable. Thus, he went with his wife and four children to Yalta, in the Crimea, where he had a home.
Soon enough, though, war came to him. The postwar events in southern Russia are enormously complex. It was not just the struggle of the Reds to establish power, opposed by the gradually coalescing Whites, but also involved many other players, such as the Ukrainian Parliament, seeking independence but willing to cooperate with the Whites, seeing the Reds as joint enemies, and various Cossack groups, generally hostile to the Reds but desirous of managing their own affairs.
For the Whites, whose internal interactions often featured disunity, one point of unity was opposition to breaking up Russia. Thus, a constant challenge was how to fight side-by-side with groups opposed to maintaining the Russian Empire, or who wanted some degree of independence within the Empire. With the Cossacks, federation was a possibility, given history and their own organization; with the Ukrainians, not so much (as we see even today, though I know little about the modern specifics).
Wrangel joined the Volunteer Army, soon commanded by Anton Denikin. In Wrangel’s telling, much of the blame for ultimate White failure lies on Denikin, whom he faults for bad leadership and terrible strategic decisions, most of all requiring a premature march by all White forces on Moscow, in 1919. “We wanted to do too much and make ourselves master of every position at once, and we [succeeded] only in weakening ourselves and so becoming powerless.”
Wrangel also faults squabbling among the Whites, corruption among their leaders, and a lack of discipline among the men. He admits that “requisitioning” is necessary, but gives constant pained descriptions of how many White officers of all ranks simply engaged in organized looting for personal advantage, turning the Army into “a collection of tradesmen and profiteers.”
He also faults Denikin for inflexibility in coming to terms with the Cossacks and the Ukrainians. His relations with Denikin were further soured by third-party agitation for Wrangel to supplant Denikin. “As is usual in such cases, as one man was more and more discredited, another became dearer and dearer to the people. Unfortunately, this other was myself.”
One of Wrangel’s chief talents appears to have been as a judge of men. I cannot say if his portrait of Denikin is accurate, but it comports with what history I know, and the results Denikin achieved. Nearly every other important person with whom Wrangel meets is judged and given an incisive summary (and Wrangel admits where he made errors, as well).
Thus, in passing, Wrangel mentions that Captain Baron Ungern Stenberg, or simply ‘the Baron,’ as his troops called him, was more complex and interesting. He was of the type that is invaluable in wartime and impossible in times of peace.” This talent to judge men is completely invaluable in a Man of Destiny and completely inborn (though it can be polished with training); it also seems nonexistent in today’s American political leaders, perhaps because they have come to rely on money and the media to achieve their ends, rather than on forming a cohesive and dedicated group of men with the same objectives, on whom they can rely.
The main White armies, including the Volunteer Army, were largely defeated by early 1920. Again, this is an area I am not expert in, and one that does not have a lot of historiography directed at it, although I have ordered what appear to be the two main scholarly works on it, by Peter Kenez, written forty years ago. I don’t know why this is, though certainly most histories of Russia, or of the Russian Revolution, cover the Civil War to some degree. Wrangel then went into exile in Constantinople, and thus ends Part I of his memoir.
But by April 1920, he was back, after Denikin resigned and the remaining military commanders asked Wrangel to be Commander-in-Chief of the remnants of the Whites. Part II narrates two difficult tasks Wrangel had—trying to reverse military defeat while achieving political renewal. His hope was that if he could achieve both, and establish stable White rule in Taurida (the Russian province composed of Crimea and “mainland” Russia north of it, including parts of Ukraine and the Kuban), that could form the “healthy nucleus” of a new Russia. From there, they could ultimately completely defeat the Bolsheviks and rebuild a new version of old Russia.
To win militarily, Wrangel had to reconstruct the shattered White forces, gather new men, and not only resist, but push back, the Reds, most of all from the rich agricultural land of northern Taurida. To win politically, he had to satisfy multiple constituencies—the Army, of course, but also the peasants, terrified of the Reds but desirous of land reform, and the middle classes, mostly also terrified of the Reds but many still holding, stupidly, to non-Communist leftism and hoping for the return of something like the Provisional Government. He had to run a government, as well, with too few competent bureaucrats. These intertwined tasks were monumental (and the strain, combined with the morale crusher of ultimate failure, may, in fact, account for Wrangel’s early death, rather than poison).
To head the government, he recruited Alexander Krivoshein, who had been Minister of Agriculture under Pyotr Stolypin. Krivoshein had a reputation as being competent, fair, and focused on a good deal for the smallholding peasant. His choice was not random—agriculture was everything to Wrangel in his time in Crimea and the Taurida Governate, since not only was solving the political question of land ownership paramount, agricultural exports were critical to obtaining any supplies from abroad, since foreign governments had abandoned the Whites, and nobody would loan them any money, assuming (reasonably) they had zero chance of repayment.
Wrangel promptly issued proclamations not only ordering land reform, but rejecting the earlier White insistence that national minorities abandon all traces of their own nationalisms. His explicit goal was to create the new, improved Russia (he insisted that his was the “Russian Army,” and the Reds merely contemptible “Bolshevists”). Wrangel himself was a monarchist, but he saw the old monarchy was spent, and something new was needed.
For land reform, Wrangel quickly implemented a policy whereby any peasant could buy, over time, the land he farmed, with compensation to the landowners. Decisions were decentralized, with safeguards to prevent either capture by the landowners, or stealing from the landowners. Wrangel wanted, after the disorders caused by war and revolution, to “reinstate the hard-working peasants and set them up on their land again, to weld them together and rally them to the defence of order and national principles.”
Thus, the rural proletariat, wage laborers, would not necessarily receive free land, though they too could purchase land if not currently farmed. It seems like a good system, and crucially, one that recognized that returning to the old system, which had led them all to this pass, was not an option. It never is.
Wrangel was a hard but just man, and a stickler for order and discipline. In June of 1917, when sent back to the front and waiting for the arrival of the division he commanded, other troops in the town (Stanislavov), retreating ahead of the Reds, pillaged widely and engaged in a pogrom. Wrangel put the disorder down with floggings and executions.
Early in the Civil War, he needed to replenish his ranks, and he had captured a sizeable number of Reds. “I ordered three hundred and seventy of the Bolshevists to line up. They were all officers and non-commissioned officers, and I had them shot on the spot. Then I told the rest that they too deserved death, but that I had let those who had misled them take the responsibility for their treason, because I wanted to give them a chance to atone for their crime and prove their loyalty to their country.” No surprise, everyone volunteered, and Wrangel says they became among his best troops. (Elsewhere he notes that later in the war most Red troops were conscripts, and eager to join the Whites. And he faults Denikin for not taking a more capacious approach to recruiting Red prisoners, or those who had treated with the Bolsheviks earlier in the war).
Every several pages, Wrangel notes some execution in passing – for example, of some railroad employees bribed to carry passengers rather than munitions, “I had these three employees court-martialed, and they were hanged the same day.” (Later, though, he stopped public executions, on the basis that “In view of the prevailing callousness, public executions no longer served to intimidate, they merely aggravated the existing state of moral apathy”). Of course, executions are only a small part of the mountains of corpses that appear in this book. Civil war is a brutal taskmaster; nobody should forget this.
Military victory was not to be. Wrangel did get a breathing space as the Russians fought the Poles in 1919 and 1920. The British government had abandoned him, and in fact pressured him to end the war on Red terms equivalent to unconditional surrender. The English, opportunists all, wanted to reopen trade with Russia, and David Lloyd George wanted to pander to those of the British working classes who saw in Bolshevism their own possible, supposedly bright, future.
Wrangel views this betrayal with bitterness, and he views Lloyd George with the greatest contempt – although he gave interviews to British and other foreign newspapers, trying hard to shore up support. But the French found it convenient to offer support, including de facto recognition, in order to assist the Poles. However, when the Poles beat back the Red menace, the French withdrew support, and the Reds were able to concentrate their forces on the southern front, dooming the Whites. Nonetheless, Wrangel organized and conducted one last major offensive; it was defeated by the Reds, who thereupon advanced through Taurida towards the Crimea.
Wrangel and everyone else in the Crimea knew what this meant for most of the population. Therefore, moving heaven and earth, Wrangel organized a massive boatlift, such that anyone who desired to go into exile could, though he made no promises of the future. After himself checking all the ports of embarkation, Wrangel was the last White to step off the shore, on November 14, 1920, ending the dream of Red defeat, at least for the next seventy years.
He himself accompanied the diaspora of the Army, at first initially in Greece and Turkey, then mostly forced out of those places by the English, who wanted the Army disbanded, because the Reds wanted it disbanded. Many moved to Serbia or Yugoslavia. Wrangel notes how he tried to get the Army transferred to Hungary, which had itself just suffered under, then defeated, a Red dictatorship and terror, but the French stopped the transfer, because “anti-Bolshevist intrigues [were] contrary to the true interests of Hungary and of the civilized world.” Typical. He himself lived for several years in Belgrade, heading up an organization he praises and of which he expects great things in a speech given in 1927, attached as the last chapter, the “General Union of Old Soldiers of Russia.”
The truth was much more bitter, as it always is for defeated émigrés, a topic about which I know something, for my grandfather was a Hungarian émigré, who fled Communism in 1945 (and as it happens, I am currently helping edit his own war diary for private, family use). The men were forced to earn their bread any way they could in their new countries, in the Russians’ case, usually by hard manual labor such as mining. Wrangel ends with a lament for this, tempered by the hope “But we are confident the hour of recognition is at hand.” He was wrong. In 1927, Wrangel reluctantly handed over control of the General Union to a Romanov grand duke, and moved to Brussels to return to mining engineering. He died within eighteen months.
I find it hard to get a handle on the last generation of the Russian ruling class. My father was a professor of Russian history, so I was exposed to thought about Russia growing up, but perhaps one has to be embedded in Russia to really understand. Was their time just up? Is it the nature of all civilizations that the ruling class eventually becomes unable to overcome a crisis? Wrangel’s focus, where and when he ruled, suggests that some in the ruling class were capable of reforming their society.
Now, the word “reform” today has a bad odor; like “dialogue,” it is simply a cant word of the Left, used to ease the forcing of their program on an unwilling and unreceptive audience. But it is the nature of all human institutions, because they are human, that they come to require legitimate reform. And it is also in the nature of all human institutions to resist that reform. I suspect there is no way out but to break the society and remake it, which is always a dangerous roll of the dice.
So what does Wrangel’s story say of civil war in America, which more than a few people think is looming? Well, the Whites as a whole certainly show what not to do in a civil war. Other than that, it is often supposed that given the intermixing of Red and Blue America, old-fashioned territory-based civil war is impossible here. (We really need to flip those monikers, so the descendants of the Bolsheviks, today’s “Blue America,” get called what they really are).
The Russian Civil War disproves this. In truth, most people just want to keep their heads down, and will hew to the line of whoever controls the land where they live. Also, complete armies can arise nearly overnight, formed from fragments of an older army, or just organically. Perhaps occupying territory adverse to the occupiers would be harder in America, particularly in heavily-armed Red America (notably, both the Reds and Wrangel made civilians give up their weapons in the areas they controlled).
But maybe even Red America would bow to an occupying force – after all, people here have accepted without revolt the arbitrary and oppressive diktats, issued by modern commissars, tied to the Wuhan Plague. In fact, in other countries, notably recently the Netherlands, they have showed far more resistance. I am just not sure how much resistance Red America would offer an occupying force.
But I am sure that most of all, as Wrangel’s career shows, it’s all about the leadership. I suspect that if Red America perceived the costs of the insane reactions to the Wuhan Plague as higher, and if they had a leader around whom to coalesce, something could be done. Mutatis mutandis, the same is true, but much more true, of the inevitable final ideological clash looming in America. Let’s hope we find that leader soon.
Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.
The featured image shows, “Baron Petr Nikolaievitch Wrangel, by G.M Nedovizi.
As we know, history is one of the oldest sciences in the world. But the benefits of it are far from obvious and have been constantly questioned over the centuries. How was the question of the purpose of writing history, and the tasks of a historian, answered in the past?
Moses, who began compiling sacred history, did not use the concept of “history” itself – there was no need for it. For Moses, the story of creation, humanity, and the people of Israel was not some useful knowledge, but a proclamation to Israel of Israel’s purpose. God, leading the people out of Egypt, gives history to man as a vow of salvation.
Nevertheless, the emergence of history as scientific knowledge is usually associated with ancient tradition, and Herodotus is traditionally considered the first historian (5th century BC). Herodotus saw himself as a collector of “information” about “great and surprisingly worthy deeds” so that they “over time would not go into oblivion.” Herodotus (in his work The Histories, although this name is most likely later, for earlier the work was called The Muses) for the first time appears as an “historian” – an observer and narrator about the events that took place. The goal is not soteriological, but antiquarian.
But it is Thucydides (5th century BC) who introduces a more “scientific” task – he is engaged in “investigation.” In his Peloponnesian War he writes: “As for the events of this war, I set myself the task of describing them, receiving information not by questioning the first person I met and not at my personal discretion, but to depict, on the one hand, only those events, at which I myself happened to be present, and on the other – to analyze the messages of others with all possible accuracy. A thorough verification of the information was not easy, because the witnesses of individual events gave different coverage of the same facts, depending on their location to one of the warring parties or the strength of memory. My research, in the absence of everything fabulous in it, may seem unattractive. But if anyone wants to investigate the reliability of the past and the possibility of future events (which may someday be repeated by the property of human nature in the same or similar form), then it will be enough for me if he considers my research useful. My work was created as an eternal property, and not for momentary success with listeners.”
In other words, the benefits of history are pragmatic, avoiding mistakes in the future. It is also worth making a reservation here: history for ancient and later authors is not some kind of historical process, but a text, a story about events. Later, ancient authors were engaged in similar “investigations” (collection and analysis of information). For example, Aristotle (4th century BC) wrote The History of Animals, which became the basis for the creation of philosophical works on fauna: On the Parts of Animals, and On the Generation of Animals.
A step forward was made by the historian Polybius (2nd century BC), the author of The Histories. He believed that “knowledge of the past, rather than any other knowledge, can benefit people,” since “lessons learned from history most likely lead to enlightenment and prepare for engaging in public affairs,” and “the story of the trials of other people is the most intelligible, or the only mentor teaching us to courageously endure the vicissitudes of fate.”
It was Polybius who spoke about the “lessons of history,” which for him had a universal meaning and concerned every person. In addition, “diligent study of history, enriching us with this kind of experience, can beautify our leisure and provide us with entertainment.” Polybius thus not only raised history to the pedestal of human knowledge, but also gave it moral and entertainment value. The famous phrase of Cicero “history is the teacher of life” was already a repetition of Polybius’s thought. Subsequent ancient historians in different ways repeated what Polybius, Herodotus, and Thucydides said.
The first Christian historians interpreted their writings in an ancient context. Eusebius (4th century AD) wrote about “instructive lessons of history.” However, Sozomen (1st half of the 5th century AD) posed a more significant task: “Since for the reliability of history one must take special care of the truth, it seemed to me necessary to investigate these written monuments as much as possible… The narrator, as has been said, should do everything to serve the truth.” It is important to take into account that in Sozomen’s view truth was of divine origin, and history itself, in his words, is “not a human matter.”
Thus, already early Church historians were gradually beginning to bring their tasks closer to those that were characteristic of Moses. These principles were most clearly formulated by the blessed Theodoret of Cyrus (5th century): “Painters, depicting ancient events on panels and walls, of course, give pleasure to the viewers about what happened long ago; they keep that happening fresh in memory for a long time. But historians, instead of panels used books, and instead of paints – use the color of words, to make the memory of the past even stronger and firmer, because the painter’s art is worn down by time. Therefore, everything that has not yet been included in the history of the Church, I will try to describe: for indifference to the glory of famous deeds and oblivion of the most useful legends, I consider criminal.” He considered writing history to be a spiritual duty and a heroic deed.
The Christian West right up to the Renaissance retained the ancient understanding of history. However, from the end of the 17th century, with the emergence of science in Europe in the modern sense, an idea of the world historical process was formulated, which had its own clear and invariable laws.
Thus, there were the French Catholic Bishop Bossuet (Discourse on Universal History, 1681) and the Italian scientist Vico (Principles of a New Science Concerning the Nature of Nations, 1725) for whom the laws of history were a divine institution, like the laws of nature, and were associated with ethical norms. One way or another, for the first time, it became possible to talk about the “meaning of history,” with attempts to deduce it in the manner of a mathematical formula. Now history had begun to be understood rationally – and man became its hostage, a cog in a grandiose mechanism.
The Age of Enlightenment made its own adjustments here: it began to look at history as a self-developing process. Agnostic Lessing (The Education of the Human Race, 1780) spoke of historical progress and stages of religious and social development (by which he understood paganism, Judaism and Christianity).
Another inevitable conclusion from this idea was the thought of the pantheist Condorcet (Sketch for an Historical Picture of the Advances of the Human Mind, 1794): “If a person can, with almost complete certainty, predict the phenomena whose laws he knows, if even when they are unknown to him, he can, on the basis of past experience, predict, with a high probability, future events. Then why consider the desire to draw, with some plausibility. a picture of the future fate of the human race, based on the results of its history, as a chimerical enterprise?”
Historical science was already beginning to turn into an ideology and predict a happy future. True, Condorcet himself was sitting in a Jacobin prison, while he was writing his work, waiting for the guillotine.
After Hegel, who most clearly formulated the idea of a single historical process, the “philosophy of history,” which became the foundation of political ideology, blossomed in magnificent color. It was understood both in the materialistic “formational” aspect (Marx, Braudel) and in the idealistic “civilizational” one (Danilevsky, Spengler, Toynbee). More often, the first model was adopted by the Left (socialists and liberals), and the second – by the Right.
Later, the liberal “anti-philosophy” of history (Popper) was formulated, which generally denied any meaning in history and placed technical progress at the forefront. The circle of development of European thought was closed, and man was completely lost in the heap of “laws” and the whirlwind of “processes.” Historians, inspired by philosophers, and then experiencing some disappointment from the abundance of groundless schemes, went into “pure science” – into the study of small plots (so-called microhistory) or individual texts (postmodernism).
Perhaps the most profound criticism of the “philosophy of history” belongs to the outstanding theologian of the twentieth century, Archpriest Georges Florovsky. It was the identification of history with nature, in his opinion, that became the starting point of European utopianism.
Father Georges fundamentally opposed the idea of historical progress and human responsibility for history, a certain faceless “cosmic process” and personal “moral creativity.” Instead, history is to be understood as “the mystery of salvation and the tragedy of sin.” It has no other meaning. The historian is complicit in this dilemma because his work should be evidence of it. Proclaiming a “return to the fathers” in theology, Father Georges was faithful to them in his understanding of history and the tasks of a historian.
Following Moses, theologians of the 5th and 20th centuries spoke of history as an event centered on the communication of God and man, feat and salvation. Thus, human history rises above the laws of nature, goes beyond its inherent cyclicality and strict subordination to circumstances, gives each human action the status of unique and unconditionally significance. “If you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18). In this understanding, human history cannot be calculated, put into a mathematical formula, but only in this understanding does it acquire its true soteriological meaning.
Fedor Gaida is Associate Professor in the Faculty of History, Lomonosov Moscow State University. His research interests include, the political history of Russia at the beginning of the 20th century; Russian liberalism; power and society in a revolutionary era; Church and Revolution.
This month, we are greatly honored to present this interview with Professor Andrzej Nowak, a Polish historian and a public intellectual. He is a professor at the Institute of History, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, and is the head of the Comparative Imperial Studies Section at the Polish Academy of Sciences.
Professor Nowak has lectured as a visiting professor at Columbia University, Harvard University, Rice University, the University of Virginia, University of Cambridge, and University College, London. He is also a recipient of the Order of the White Eagle – Poland’s highest order.
He is the author of over 30 books, among them a multivolume history of Poland, Między nieładem a niewolą. Krótka historia myśli politycznej (Between Disorder and Captivity. A Short History of Political Ideas), Metamorfozy Imperium Rosyjskiego: 1721-1921 (Metamorphoses of Russian Empire), and History and Geopolitics: A Contest for Eastern Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe.
He is interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, on behalf of the Postil.
Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): Thirty years ago, when we met, you were a scholar of Russia. You had published several books on the topic. They drew the attention of Andrzej Walicki and Richard Pipes, two well-known experts on Russian history. Now you are writing about the history of Poland. Thus far you have written four out of ten intended volumes. Could you briefly describe your intellectual trajectory? What made you leave Russian history?
Andrzej Nowak (AN): Indeed, my research interests began with an analysis of the concept of the multiplicity of civilizations by Nikolay Danilevsky, a contemporary of Dostoevsky, an ideologue of Russian Pan-Slavism. That was forty years ago.
In recent years, however, I have returned to the history of Russian imperial thought. In 2018, I published an extensive volume of studies on the manifestations of this thought in Russian culture, from the time of Peter the Great to the formation of the group of so-called Eurasianists during the First World War. I am still interested in Russian topics. Not only because it is fascinating in itself, but also because of its numerous connections with the history of Poland to the present day. For Russia, over the centuries, Poland has been the first obstacle on the way to Europe, leading to its subordination.
Marx expressed it succinctly in 1863, when he wrote that “the rebuilding of Poland meant the annihilation of (imperial) Russia, the cancellation of the Russian candidate for world rule” (“Wiederherstellung Polens ist die Vernichtung Rußlands, (die) Rußlands Absetzung von seiner Kandidatur zur Weltherrschaft”). The issue of neighboring Russia and its geopolitical significance has been my concern for a long time; and it is precisely the historical Russian-Polish relations and the comparison of two political cultures that have developed so differently in the two countries.
When it comes to the multi-volume history of Poland, for me it is an attempt to reread the specificity of Polish political culture, its rootedness in the European republican tradition (this issue has been discovered in recent years by such outstanding scholars as Quentin Skinner and Martin van Gelderen).
But has anyone pointed out that the term “Polish citizen” – civis Polonis – appears for the first time in a document from the mid-12th century? I found out about it while writing the first volume of my synthesis. Now that I am on volume five, which covers the 17th century, I wonder about the crisis of the republican system, as well as the geopolitical conditions of its duration (wars with Russia, Protestant Sweden, and Islamic Turkey).
Such issues give me a lot of intellectual pleasure – and also because they allow me to look at the present day, for example, of the European Union, from the point of view of the longest lasting union in the history of Europe: the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1385-1795). Why did this union end up being partitioned by its imperial neighbors? How did they use the mechanisms of republican freedom (veto, applied in the Polish parliamentary system until 1791)? These are not just historical issues. In each case, like a shadow, being a neighbor to Russia brings back the problem of the empire.
ZJ: Russia is fascinating. One reason is Russian literature: Pushkin, Lermontov, Chekov, Gogol, Pasternak, Bulgakov, and, above all, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. No nation, I dare say, can claim to have so many outstanding writers. Yet Dostoevsky stands out among them. He is not just a great writer but a great thinker; one of the most insightful critics of Modernity.
If you want to understand the cultural malaise of the West in the 20th century, you turn to Nietzsche, Ortega y Gasset and Dostoevsky. “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” lays out all the fundamental problems of political and social organization. It is a real tour de force of political theory, which, matches only Plato’s considerations in The Republic. Chapters 7 and 8 of Notes from Underground, on the other hand, is an unsurpassed analysis of the dangers of the nascent scientific mentality, the danger of which was described in the 1950s by Jacques Ellul in his The Technological Society. Aldous Huxley, on the other hand, turned Notes into his Brave New World (1932) – which describes a soft totalitarianism, the world which we seem to be building.
On the one hand, Dostoevsky is a great prophet, who saw the future of the West, a future where the scientific mentality dominated everything and discredited the Past (tradition, religion, hierarchy, custom, history); and, on the other hand, Dostoevsky is the Russian sui generis. He is suspicious of the West, Western ideas, Western Christianity, and, let me add, who passionately dislikes the Poles for Poland’s Western orientation and Catholicism.
Czeslaw Milosz saw Dostoevsky as someone from a backward country, who realized the danger that Western ideas posed, which were flooding Russia at the beginning of the 19th century. Dostoevsky’s literary output is a short history of modern Europe. Do you agree with Milosz? And what is your attitude toward Dostoevsky?
AN: The term “backward country” of course implies that there are “progressive” countries which are the yardstick for the rest of the world. Such an attitude was adopted by Dostoevsky himself, fascinated by the ideas of Saint-Simon and Fourier, which he got to know in the circle of the young intelligentsia in St. Petersburg. The death sentence he was given for participating in this circle, and then exile, certainly came as a shock.
When, after Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War, the so-called “progressive countries” – Great Britain, France and Sardinia, saw a liberal “thaw” in domestic politics, so that Dostoevsky was no longer enthusiastic about following “progress.” He quickly saw that liberalism and the so-called the utopian socialism, which fascinated him earlier, had a common source. And it is a poisoned source – the belief that man can build a paradise on earth on his own, and that the West is close to this paradise; and countries such as Russia should intensely imitate the West, so that one day they may find themselves at least in the vestibule of this paradise.
Imitation of the West will end in the revolution of nihilism, the foretelling of which Dostoevsky already noticed in Russia. He described them in the form of two generations in Demons: the older generation – “rotten” liberals and the younger generation – radical revolutionists.
The same observations were made earlier by poets of the Polish Romantic emigration: Adam Mickiewicz and Zygmunt Krasiński. The latter, in the drama “the Undivine Comedy” of 1833, presented exactly the vision of total revolution as a rebellion against God, as Dostoevsky had done 40 years later. The difference is that for Krasiński, the criticism of the revolution and of the preceding evolution of Western civilization is an “internal” criticism – he mourns this crisis because it is his civilization. He would like to save it, like Joseph de Maistre; he would like the Polish nobility to support the collapsing dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome with their sabers.
Polish Romantic thinkers imagined that Poland could play the role of the last defender of the European classical and Christian moral tradition against the forces of decay.
On the other hand, Dostoevsky, along with a large part of the Russian intellectual elite, took a different perspective: the crisis arises from the very essence of the West, from the rebellion of the West (that is, Catholicism) against the only true faith that has been preserved by the Orthodox Church. This is the perspective of the criticism of the West that continues in Russian thought right up to Solzhenitsyn and contemporary ideologues of Putin’s era. There are also great Russian writers who refer to this tradition today, especially Zachar Prilepin, a contemporary Dostoevsky.
ZJ: However, one can raise the following argument: Poland, as a country, disappeared from the map of Europe in 1795. Polish nobility turned Poland into “a country for sale,” because they invented a political system that made the Polish state (and the regal power) weak. Its downfall was predicted by King Sobieski.
The idea that the Polish nobles can “support the collapsing dome” is – pardon me – a piece of rhetoric, which inscribes itself well within the context of the post-French Revolution world, but it misses the point. How could de Maistre think that one could entrust the fate of Christianity, Catholicism to the people who could not even manage the political affairs of their own country? If one looks for defense of Catholicism or Christianity, a better place than de Maistre, in my opinion, is Chateaubriand’s The Genius of Christianityand Constant essays on religion.
AN: Sorry for the misunderstanding. The vision of the Polish nobility supporting the collapsing dome of St. Peter was written by Zygmunt Krasiński, a Polish Romantic conservative. Yes, he was inspired by de Maistre’s political philosophy, but this was a vision of Krasiński, not of a Savoyard reactionary.
De Maistre saw, for a time, in tsarist Russia the hope of saving the European tradition, until he realized how much revolutionary fuel was in Russia itself. Krasiński’s vision assumed that the Polish nobility most consistently represented the traditions of Roman republicanism, combined with Latin Christianity. As a conservative, however, he considered original sin as the cause of the contamination of all worldly endeavors and projects. That is why he saw in the attitude of defending the traditions of European Christianity a heroic but futile act. Poland’s act is to defend a struggling Christian Europe desperately to the end, just as it fought desperately for the independence of the lost (also through its own fault) Poland. But she will win this fight alone. Only Providence can win this fight. We have a duty to fight; we have no guarantee of victory.
It seems to me that this attitude is absent both in Chateaubriand and in Constant. Their “bland,” more melancholic and cultural view of Christianity presents it as a beautiful adventure of the European past, which may be saved as a kind of museum monument in the modern world. Krasiński, on the other hand, sees the issue of Catholic Europe as a fundamental existential, dramatic choice – against “this world” created by the triumph of liberalism and capitalism.
This is a completely different kind of romanticism than the ethos found in Chateaubriand. I think more realistic – at least from today’s perspective. This does not mean, however, that I believe that “Polish nobility” or Poland simply had some unique opportunities to save tradition.
Poland itself is part of the European community of fate. People who consider themselves in some sense heirs of Krasiński, but also of John Paul II and Saint Faustina (a Polish nun who initiated the world cult of God’s Mercy), must look for those Germans who feel spiritual communion with Pope Ratzinger, those Italians who understand one’s identity in the spirit of the Catholic tradition; Spaniards who still know who Miguel de Unamuno was; the French who understand the choice of Pascal and Antoine de Saint-Exupery; The English who have in their spiritual heritage Thomas More, Cardinal John Henry Newman, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Chesterton. We are all in one boat and we will drown together, or we will keep on going together. We will reach the shore as Providence decides. We have a duty to row, in spite of those who want to sink our boat now.
ZJ: But the fate of a nation, unless we understand it in Oedipian sense, is not sealed. Fate of countries lies either in having a strong culture which gives a people a specific national identity – different from others – or strong political institutions capable of sustaining that culture.
Poland is a unique example. After more than eight centuries, it disappeared from the map of Europe at the very end of 18th century. What happened was more a result of the malfunctioning of political institutions than a lack of national identity, which, let us recall, was forged in the historical process since 966 AD, when Poland became a Christian country. Poland had elected kings and a republican system of government, which led to political weakness.
If you look at the American debate (the so-called The Federalist Papers) how such a new political system should work, the Founding Fathers (Madison and Hamilton) thought of the legislative process as an attempt to reconcile the conflicting interests that take place in a society at large. Representatives of the states are supposed to represent the general attitude of the people they represent; they do not have a mandate to act or vote in a predetermined way. They are not delegates!
The Polish republican experiment was exactly the opposite. It was based on, first, the unanimity principle and, second, the “imperative mandate.” What the result of it was that the Polish Diet was prevented from being a deliberative assembly, like the English House of Commons around the same period.
Such a system left virtually no room for strong central government – the elected king – to govern effectively. The king was stripped of the power to govern, whereas the nobility could claim to enjoy “Golden Liberty.” But this liberty could be had only at the expense of the weak State and submission of the vast part of the population.
The American Founding Fathers, on the other hand, worked on the assumption that the people are free to participate, and the role of the government is to mitigate the conflicts. To prevent anarchy, or impotence of the government, the State – the federal government – had to have considerable power. Polish liberum veto, which made it possible for one person to veto the majority decision, was the opposite of the majority principle.
Can you very briefly explain how such a system came about? Were there any serious political thinkers – like Grotius, Hobbes, Locke – behind it? Or was it something that was spontaneously generated during the historical process?
AN: The system was modeled on a Roman one that lasted only a little longer. And it was not Grotius, Hobbes, or Locke who supported the creation of this system, but much more “serious thinkers” – Aristotle and Cicero first of all.
The founders of Polish republicanism modeled themselves on their works above all. They believed, somewhat anachronistically, that in the sixteenth or seventeenth century their republicanism could exist between Moscow – the “third Rome”- the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Empire and the Protestant military monarchy of the Swedes, the Commonwealth, i.e. the republic – as in Cicero or Aristotle (monarchia mixta), with the Polish nobility as equals, the Seym (the parliament) as a concilium plebis, the senate as the senate, and the king as an elected consul or princeps.
This is how Jan Zamoyski, influential co-founder of this system, imagined an extremely influential co-founder of this system. Zamoyski authored the Latin treatise on the Roman Senate, and was at the same time chancellor and hetman of the Republic of Poland at the end of the 16th century. He was the author of the concept of the free election of a king, in which every noble had an equal voting right. Thus, theoretically, it had the right to vote, active and passive(!), with several hundred thousand citizens of the Republic of Poland (in practice, the election of the king came from 10 to 40 thousand).
The right of veto was to secure the union with Lithuania. Lithuania was smaller than the Polish part of the union; it could always vote in the Sejm. Thanks to the right of veto, the Lithuanians could feel safer as a political minority. For the first time, a single veto, i.e., the vote of one deputy, broke the deliberations of the Seym only in 1652, that is, after a very long earlier period of efficient functioning of the Seym. The election instruction of the sejmik (imperative mandate), which elected a deputy to the Seym, was to guarantee the voting power of the local government.
There is no place here to analyze this system in detail, which was much more complex and effective (for at least 200 years) than the caricatures that Bodin or Montesquieu created on the basis of their ignorance and arrogance, or the ideological enemies of republican freedom, such as, Hobbes or Locke.
ZJ: I want to return to Russia, and explore a bit more the Dostoevsky question. As we said, he was Russian, Orthodox Christian, skeptical of science, which he thought was dangerous for man’s understanding of himself as a man endowed with free will, and thus responsible for his actions. As Dostoevsky observes in Notes, the belief that man’s behavior can be “tabulated and calculated” spells out the end of mankind.
Dostoyevsky understood that scientific thinking was bound to see man as a machine, whose life will be organized by the scientific state. This is the premise of Huxley’s “brave new world,” and, let me stress it, our world. We are daily bombarded by phrases such as “A new study shows…” “New research demonstrates…” Such phrases take away from us the power of making decisions about our individual lives.
Would you agree that for historical reasons, which brought Russia closer to Europe, early 19th century Russia became a focal point of Western civilization, where the problems of the modern West shone with much brighter intensity than in Western Europe. Nowhere – not in London, Paris, Berlin or even Warsaw – writers or philosophers reacted so intensely, as did Dostoevsky, at the thought of where the West was heading.
AN: But all that fascination with Russia, the “depth” of the Russian soul, which 20th century Western European writers discovered in Dostoevsky, can also be found in the great literature of Romantic Europe: in Adam Mickiewicz, Zygmunt Krasiński, but also in Shelley, Keats, and even earlier at Byron. The terrifying pattern of a “brave new world” can be found in the practical idea of the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham.
To illustrate the relationship between the vision of horror, which Western thought was able to perfectly design, and the implementation of this vision, which was possible (for some time) only outside the West, e.g., in the authoritarian system of Russia, let me recall the history of the Panopticon. Jeremy Bentham had a brother, Samuel. Together they created a project of perfect supervision of imperfect humanity. They named it the Panopticon. They created it in Krzyczew (today on the eastern border of Belarus), which was occupied by Catherine II during the first partition of Poland.
Samuel Bentham found employment, like many world reform enthusiasts, in imperial Russia. Krzyczew and several thousand surrounding square versts taken from Lithuanian owners was given by the empress to her favorite Prince Grigory Potemkin. It was for him that the English engineer invented a new factory in the fall of 1786: a building with such a system of corridors and mirrors to be able to observe all its employees from one place. It was not about disciplining simple peasants in the area, but about supervising overseers brought in from England. To have control over every movement of those who are to act as “intelligence,” “professionals,” “elite.” This is the starting idea of the Panopticon.
Jeremy Bentham, who visited his brother in Krzyczew in 1787, was fascinated. He took up his idea and turned it into a project of an ideal prison, under the same name. He was ready to develop other applications of the same idea – apart from prisons and factories, also for hospitals and schools. See and supervise everyone without interruption. The prison inspector, playing this role, could, according to a utilitarian concept, combine business with pleasure: invite guests to his gallery, from which one could admire what the supervised do at any one time. Big Brother watches, controls and provides entertainment.
A union of perfect supervision, with the ideal of social transparency was to make life happy and safe (I recommend the movie The Circle from 2017, which shows perfectly how it works – and therefore destroyed by “right” criticism). Minimum pain, maximum pleasure. In England, the idea of the Bentham brothers was not realized – at least during their lifetime. In Russia, the younger brother did not manage to bring complete the factory: Potemkin sold Krzyczew in 1787 and set out to prepare the way for Catherine II’s triumphal journey from St. Petersburg to the Black Sea.
Samuel Bentham busied himself with the construction of Potemkin villages along the route. He returned to the idea of the Panopticon in 1806, when commissioned by Tsar Alexander I, he built such a school in St. Petersburg. A perfect prison according to the model of the Bentham brothers, including the US and Cuba, was only constructed with the use of electronic surveillance bracelets in Amsterdam, the capital of post-modern utility and pleasure (drugs plus euthanasia), in 2006.
ZJ: Dostoevsky’s suspicion of the West appears to be a distinguishing feature of the Russian mentality. But suspicion can translate itself into a political posture that one country assumes vis-à-vis other countries or civilizations. Suspicion can also produce a mentality which has a sense of its own of mission. Russia, like America, believes that it has a historical mission. Marquis de Custine, a French aristocrat who visited Russia, even prophesized that that the fate of the 20th century would be decided by Russia and America.
Let me quote here the 15th century letter by Philotheus of Pskov, which he wrote to the Grand Duke Basil III of Moscow: “The Church of Old Rome fell because of its heresy; the gates of the Second Rome, Constantinople, have been hewn down by the axes of the infidel Turks; but the Church of Moscow, the Church of the New Rome, shines brighter than the Sun in the whole Universe… Two Romes have fallen, but the Third stands fast; a fourth there cannot be.”
If you take the message of the letter to be an expression of a mind-set, there is Putin’s rule today, in that he sees nothing wrong with 74 years of Communist rule in Russia; he pours tears over the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest disaster of the 20th century. Russia’s aggressive posturing under Putin appears to be more than lack of civility, or even cynicism of a former KGB agent. Russia in Putin’s mind continues to be a country with a historical mission.
Arnold Toynbee, who used this letter in a chapter on Russia in his Civilization on Trial (1948), wrote: “In thus assuming the Byzantine heritage deliberately and self-consciously, the Russians were taking over, among other things, the traditional Byzantine attitude towards the West; and this has had a profound effect on Russia’s own attitude towards the West, not only before the Revolution of 1917 but after it.”
Ultimately, it would appear that today’s world expresses the ideas that go back to the sources of our civilizations: Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) Christianity, Eastern and Western Roman Empires, two different sets of political culture, political institutions. We find the echo of it in Dostoevsky too, in “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor,” in his criticism of Caesaro-papism, don’t we?
AN: Russia is born with a sense of a threat to its civilizational identity; it defends itself against the specter of political and spiritual colonization. This is how the fundamental idea of Russia is formed: Moscow – the Third Rome. Ruthenia linked its identity with Byzantium, with the Orthodox center of civilization. In 988, at the time of Vladimir the Great’s choice of state religion for Kievan Rus, this Byzantine center seemed to be an unchallenged alternative to “Latin” identity. In the 15th century, this center collapsed.
Orthodox civilization was then the basis of identity of only one sovereign political center: Moscow. Triumphant “Latin” pressed on it from the West, and Islam from the South. If Moscow dies, all civilization will die. Civilizational violence threatens the Orthodox world primarily from the West, from the “Latin” side. Byzantium itself succumbed to the West’s temptation just before the fall, accepting the ecclesiastical union in Florence (Moscow rejects this temptation). However, at stake in this game is not only defense against civilizational violence. The fate of the world is at stake, since it is about defending not so much one civilization as such, but the only true religion and its place in the world. Philotheus, the monk of the Pskov monastery of Eleazar, writes about it, puts this thought into words and presents it as an ideal-mission addressed to the power of the Moscow principality.
Laid out for the first time in a message to Grand Duke Vasilii III (around 1514-1521) and elaborated in letters in the years following, the idea of Moscow – Rome III – became the best known and most frequently updated concept of Russia’s special mission from the 19th to the 21st century. Thanks to this, Philotheus can be considered the first intellectual in the history of Russia. He is not an official writing for the state.
He is, in a sense, a man from the margins (Pskov had only just joined Moscow in 1510), passionately experiencing public affairs, the affairs of his spiritual and political community and seeking to rescue it in the face of a new great “civilizational” challenge. He seeks this rescue in the sphere of ideas and suggests it to the authorities. He does not appear as an unconditional servant of this authority, but shows its immense responsibility to protect the great idea it reveals.
Philotheus also shows examples of the betrayal of this idea by the state power – in Rome I and in Rome II (Byzantium) – and the punishment of the inevitable fall that the government’s betrayal of the ideal entails. Philotheus teaches authority: “let him know… let him remember….” He sets the condition: “If you will arrange your empire well – you will be a son of light and an inhabitant of upper Jerusalem, and, as I wrote above, so now I say: beware and note that all Christian empires have joined in yours, that two Romes have fallen and the third is standing. There will be no fourth. Contrary to the widespread interpretation of this text, it seems that it is not an unequivocal expression of faith that Moscow will always remain Rome III, that it will certainly bear the burden of this responsibility. Moscow is also threatened with the “Sodom sin,” an internal apostasy warned against by the voice of a 16th-century “intellectual.”
Philotheus only states that Moscow has no one to replace it, in its great mission to save the truth and the world. If it collapses – Rome will certainly not exist; there will be no more truth and justice in the world. That is why Moscow must not be allowed to fall! This is the pathos of the mission assigned by Philotheus to the Orthodox empire, and thus the pathos of his own, “first intelligence” of the mission.
Combined with Moscow’s heritage of Rome – empire, strength, and Jerusalem – is the heritage of the spirit. And against the world in which “lies in evil.” In practice, to the ”Latin” and Western world, which in the 16th century, after an internal split connected with the Reformation, and which entered the phase of great colonial expansion and became an obvious source of the problem of modernization and, at the same time, Moscow gives models and techniques for solving it. Russia needs to strengthen its empire to save its spiritual identity from the threat from the West, and thus maintain the ability to salvage/save/liberate the whole world. This is how the thought of Philoteus is read by some in intellectual circles and is not without influence on contemporary public opinion in Russia.
ZJ: Hostility, mutual suspicion between the Russians and the Poles is well known. The Polish see Russians as aggressors, the country that dismembered Poland in the 18th century, that erased the Dutchy of Warsaw in the 19th century. The Poles fought the Russians in the 1919-1920 war, after Poland regained statehood in 1918, after 123 years. Finally, it was Soviet Russia which imposed communist rule on Poland after WWII. This is only a handful of historical events that shape the attitude of the Poles toward Russia. Putin’s hostile attitude toward Poland today can be seen as the continuation of “the old story.”
However, looking at Polish-Russian relationships in a long historical perspective, one can see a different picture. If one takes into account the Polish conquest of most of White Russia and the Ukraine – in the 17th century Polish forces came close to Moscow, but were driven out. Russia can see itself not as aggressor but as a victim of Western aggression, of Western or Latin Christianity against the true Eastern Christianity, the Orthodox Church. If you add to it Napoleon’s Russian adventure, then the German invasion, the feeling of victimhood gets more augmented. One could say, Russia’s imperial posture was never motivated by the desire to dominate others but was a defensive posture, a posture that Russia had to assume to save herself and her Orthodox faith. Can such an argument on behalf of Russia be made?
AN: Yes, Russia has for centuries justified its expansion with the need to obtain a “security buffer” that would protect it against aggressive neighbors from the East and West. When Moscow began its expansion in the 15th century, it occupied a territory the size of the state of Utah. She “felt” threatened by her neighbors, such as the Tver principality or the republic of Novgorod – she absorbed these neighbors.
Then she “felt” threatened by subsequent neighbors. In the West, it was Lithuania, which was joined in the 14th century by many small principalities of Kievan Rus (today’s Ukraine and Belarus), emerging from the rule of the Mongolian Golden Horde. Moscow then announced the ideology of “collecting Ruthenian lands” (which had never belonged to Moscow before).
Poland did not make any conquest of the lands of Belarus or Ukraine, but entered into a dynastic union with Lithuania in 1385 – and on this basis (the marriage of the Grand Duke of Lithuania Jagiełło with the Queen of Poland, Jadwiga), a state union was established, which for four hundred years united Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania, including the lands of today’s Belarus and Ukraine.
During these four hundred years, Moscow had been waging a series of wars in which it had finally taken all these territories, except for a small scrap of former Russia which was occupied by Austria as a result of the partitions of Poland.
At the same time, in the East, Moscow “felt” threatened by the remnants of the Mongolian Golden Horde, the Kazan, Astrakhan and Siberian khanates – and conquered them militarily in half a century (1550-1600).
Then, of course, it was “threatened” again by successive neighbors, small khanates, in Central Asia – it took them all by the mid-19th century. It also reached China at the end of the 17th century. And she felt “threatened” by China. However, it has not managed to permanently remove this threat, that is, to conquer China.
In the South, Russia “felt,” from the 16th century, “threatened” by Turkey and Persia, so it began to conquer their possessions, including Transcaucasia – Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, as well as the Crimean Khanate on the Black Sea. It has not yet conquered Turkey itself (although that was the goal of Russian policy from the end of the 18th century). But she still “feels” threatened by Turkey. After the partition of Poland, under Catherine II at the end of the 18th century, Russia became a neighbor of Prussia. Of course, she “felt” threatened by the power of Germany united by Prussia in the times of Bismarck.
If we adopt such a logic of a threat that justifies defensive conquests only. Then let us note that from the 15th century to the end of the 18th century, Russia conquered on average about 60,000 square kilometers each year, combined territories of Maryland and Massachusetts. Each year, Russia was enlarging its territory in this way for over 300 years!
Stalin, in the name of this logic, persuaded Roosevelt to agree in Tehran and Yalta to give Russia (the Soviet Union) a “security buffer” covering all of Eastern and Central Europe, including Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, and including half of Berlin and Vienna. Of course, he still could not “feel” safe. Russia’s security can only mean to bring the whole of Eurasia under its control, from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
You can accept this reasoning only if you see in it an analogy to the American “Manifest Destiny.” But it is worth asking the opinion of the inhabitants of all the countries that first Moscow, then imperial Russia, and finally the Soviet Union, conquered in the name of Russia’s “sense of security” and the right to “self-defense.”
ZJ: Let us talk about 1989, the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, and 1991, the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Eastern European countries rushed to join the EU. Russia, on the other hand, is where it always was. For the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, the citizens of the Baltic states – Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia (former Soviet “republics”) – the motivation was not just economic but cultural above all. One could hear the language of “returning to Europe” after decades of the culturally foreign rule. What prevented Russia from getting closer to Europe after the collapse of Communism?
AN: We need to remember, Russia has formed its political and cultural identity as an Orthodox empire, in contrast, often, against Latin, that is, Catholic Europe. Under Mongol rule for two and a half centuries, it was, as it were, forcibly opened to Asia. Since the 15th century, Moscow, pursuing a policy of “collecting Ruthenian lands,” entered into intense diplomatic and trade relations with European powers: the Habsburg Empire, and the England of Elizabeth, in order to geopolitically surround its immediate neighbors.
However, Russia did not participate in the spiritual life of Europe, in the crucial period of the Renaissance. Only from the Baroque, actually from the end of the 17th century, does Russia interact with the intellectual currents animating European culture. At that time, however, Russia had already made a great march in the opposite direction to the former Asian steppe empires – from the Western end of the Great Steppe, over the Black Sea, it reached the Pacific; in the 17th century it began to border China, Korea, followed by Japan.
Such a geopolitically enlarged Russia could no longer enter Europe, “fit” in it. The intellectual challenge, often fascinatingly analyzed by Russian writers and ideologues, is not “Russia in Europe,” but “Russia and Europe.” Space – prostor – history and religion make up a deeply rooted political culture in Russia. Together they create a “mental map” on which the memory of Tchaikovsky’s ballets, Pushkin’s poems or Dostoevsky’s novels is not “evidence” of Russia’s Europeanness, but a reason for imperial pride, along with the equally grateful memory of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Stalin.
ZJ: Let me go back one more time to 1989. One thing one notices is that the 1989 European dream in Eastern European countries is gone, and to some, the dream became a nightmare. Brexit is the prime example of that. The British sentiment can be said to be this – we did not sign up for that. We did not think our sovereignty would be limited to such an extent. This is what one hears in Budapest and Warsaw.
Recently, I asked a Polish politician – what do you think of a Polish Brexit? To my surprise, he said: “Nothing would make me happier.” Let me stress – this is not a view prevalent among Poles, most of them like where they are. But there is a considerable segment of Polish society which considers it as a serious intellectual option. The reason is the sovereignty of the Polish or Hungarian state, which EU crushes – the sovereignty that Poland was deprived of, first by partition and then the Soviet rule. It should not surprise anyone why Poles (but also others) are sensitive about a bunch of Euro-bureaucrats deciding their fate. You cannot be yourself – English, Polish, French, Italian – you must be a “European,” which means being a total abstraction.
A few months ago, I saw a headline in a major Polish newspaper: “EU must defend its citizens in Poland.” The article concerned so called minorities. According to the liberal Polish newspaper, they are EU citizens and therefore, Polish laws are violations of their rights as EU citizens. One wants to repeat after Bentham, it is nonsense on stilts, yet it is the de facto European reality. Was the post-communist dream false, or did the West change in the last 30 years?
AN: Both. The expectations of the intellectual opposition in Poland towards the West were certainly exaggerated. The image of the “free world” depicted in our imagination in contrast to the gray and openly oppressive world of the “Communist camp” was idealized.
At the same time, however, it must be remembered that the West in 1989 was still the West, politically represented by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and above all – John Paul II was in Rome. Back then in Europe they referred to the so-called founding fathers of the European Union, to their Christian-democratic roots: Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi, Robert Schuman.
Marxism, after the obvious failure of this ideology in the countries under its authority, seemed finished, at least from our perspective. In 2020, you can see how Marxist inspiration fills the longest shelves with philosophy and politics in bookstores in Paris and London. As it dominates universities in Western Europe and our part of Europe, described in a postcolonial way as “new” (“new” democracies, “new” Europe, etc.), it actually follows these trends in a way that perfectly confirms the mechanisms described by some theorists of postcolonial studies.
However, part of the “intellectual layer,” and many so-called ordinary people, in countries with a strong historical and cultural identity of their own, such as Hungary, Poland or the Czech Republic, still keep the memory of the real experience of enslavement by the Communist logocracy, from which today comes the political correctness that dominates in the West and is imposed on us. That is why this new enslavement, this time coming from the West, is met with some resistance here.
However, fears of the real neo-imperialism of Putin’s Russia do not allow countries, such as Poland or Lithuania, to suddenly cut off from the European community, even in its present, disastrous shape. We can try to change Europe, stop this fatal process from within. This is what worries the Brussels, Parisian and Berlin political and intellectual elites. They ascribe to themselves the role of teacher and therapist for a “backward,” “sick” part of Europe (here the most frequently mentioned are Hungary and Poland).
In fact, I see in this attitude also a deep fear that the attitude of the elites currently ruling in Poland and Hungary, in matters of culture, customs, understanding of the European tradition – may turn out to be attractive to many Germans, French, Italians, and Spaniards – who do not necessarily want to run after the “bright future” promised by European progress officials. Many European people are looking to defend their common sense against ideological madness. Some people recall that Europe has always been rich because of its diversity and not of top-down centralization, and not by exchanging arguments about the good life, development models, and not by imposing “just the right approach.”
ZJ: What you have said makes me think of a famous sentence from John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859): “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting the end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion. Until then, there is nothing for them but implicit obedience to an Akbar or a Charlemagne, if they are so fortunate to find one.”
Unlike democracy, despotism or autocracy, with which we associate the Orient and Russia, is not a political system or a theory of government. Rather, it is mode of governing a people. As a specialist on Russia, can you say that Mill’s words apply well to the state of Russian society at that time? In other words, is autocracy a system of government – the only force that could guarantee social and political order?
AN: I would disagree. Aleksander Wat, a Polish futurist poet who passed through nearly 20 prisons of Stalinist Russia during World War II, once gave a very good definition of the Soviet system – the absolute concentration of absolute power on an absolutely large area. An alternative to despotism (i.e., centralism) may be federalism – the development of regional self-government in a territorially large state.
Let me remind you that until the beginning of the 16th century, the Polish-Lithuanian state was larger in terms of territory than Moscow and until the partitions (in 1772) it was the second largest state on the European continent. And it was on such a large area that a system of decentralized authority was created, based on local self-government (district councils), which functioned well from at least the 15th to the 17th century.
As is known in the United States, this system continues. In Moscow, they also showed possibilities of developing a system of representation of the society several times: at the beginning of the 17th century, in the form of the so-called “earthly councils.” The movement of local, that is, earthly self-government, became strong again at the end of the 19th century – this is the self-government in which people like Chekhov and the heroes of his plays could find their place.
The defenders of despotism as the only recipe for the problems of the great state refer to one argument above all: if we do not have a tsar and we do not listen to him – then we will lose the empire. Putin successfully appealed to this argument after the last great experience of the crisis of the empire, which also coincided with the revival of Russian self-government – in 1991.
Ultimately, the dilemma faced by the supporters of this power for Russians (and not only for them) is – either size (grandezza as Machiavelli would say), or freedom – a liberta. You want greatness, give up your (republican, self-governing) freedom. At the same time, a new tone appears in this argumentation – state despotism (meaning the lack of civil self-government) can be reconciled with liberalism – economic and the right to privacy.
In the Russian philosophical tradition of Slavicism, there is such a contrast – the state is a heavy-duty power – and society willingly gives its burden to the people of power, and itself enjoys non-political freedom. And this is probably not only the Russian tradition, but the constantly reviving temptation to organize political life without citizens. There is only the state (and its guardians) – and on the other end – individual consumers.
ZJ: Could one say the same thing about China, and the Chinese leaders’ rhetoric that we have been hearing for about 20 years – that what China fears the most is anarchy. Ergo, the Chinese Communist Party is the sole guardian of social order; and since anarchy is worse than anything, despotism or autocracy is a legitimate way of governing the population. Some 15 years ago, Boris Johnson wrote a piece for the Spectator, where he accepted this view about anarchy in China, which makes me think that Chinese rhetoric works. Today Johnson is Prime minister, and what he thinks can translate into his country’s foreign policy.
AN: China has just adopted the model I outlined at the end of the answer to the previous question. Does this mean that it is the only model that suits the Chinese? After an intense indoctrination lasting for generations, one can get this impression. The Chinese from Hong Kong have a different opinion, however.
Please allow me to express my opinion on Prime Minister Johnson’s view and on Mill’s remark earlier cited. Well, I see them as a reflection of the imperial-colonial tradition, especially strong in the English (later also American) elites. Outside of Great Britain, and maybe even outside the club, which brings together the elite from Eton and Oxbridge, there are actually no gentlemen. There are barbarians all around – at least to the East of Germany are surely the habitats of barbaria. The barbarians living there can be cannibals, if that suits them, we – gentlemen from the club – will not hinder trading with them.
The most cynical example of this attitude I found in the liberal prime minister, David Lloyd George, who in 1920, when he initiated political negotiations with Lenin, said that he did not care about the political principles of these barbarians, let them even have the Mikado – it is their business, as long as they kill other barbarians (this is what Lloyd George meant about the Armia Czerowna – the Red Army – which at that moment was storming Warsaw). And let them get together as they please – this is their freedom. And this is our liberalism that we will not impose our political standards on them. We must reach an agreement with them, if they are so strong that without them it is impossible to establish a global order. This is a specific combination of liberalism (à la Lloyd George) and imperial Realpolitik.
In America, this is the approach of many – formerly Henry Kissinger, now John Mearsheimer. For me, this is a very short-sighted doctrine of appeasement – the false hope that aggressive despotism will feed on victims only from the circle of “barbarians.” Eventually, however, comes the moment when the “barbarians” start eating the gentlemen. Such is the logic of despotic empires. It is perfectly summarized by the saying of Bezborodko, Chancellor of Catherine II – what does not grow, rots. The despotic empire must continue to expand – otherwise it risks imploding. And they know this very well not only in Russia, but also in China. It is good that this has also been remembered in London and Chicago.
ZJ: Now that the Democrat Biden has become president of the United States, we will have a different foreign policy. If you were on the team of Russia advisers to the president, what would you say should be the US policy vis-à-vis Russia?
AN: President Biden will have other advisers. I can only express some concerns based on the historical experience with the presidents of the United States, who over the past three decades came from the Democratic Party and represented a left-liberal ideology. They were, let me remind you, Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama.
The former started with dreams of a “reset” with Russia. Fortunately, Russia was so weak during this period that it could not take advantage of this policy. The disaster happened under Obama, who has the blood of hundreds of thousands of people in Syria on his hands. His complete irresponsibility led to an escalation of the civil war and to the re-installing of Putin’s Russia as a key player in the Middle East.
Obama also made a significant gesture to Putin – he resigned from the project adopted by the previous administration (Bush Jr.) to install the so-called anti-missile shield in Poland. President Obama announced his decision to withdraw from this project, which was indeed very irritating to Putin and which strengthened the sense of security for Poland and the entire region of Central and Eastern Europe, on September 17, 2009. It was exactly the 70th anniversary of the Red Army’s invasion of Poland in 1939.
Putin may have felt invited to a new expansion – and he tried it in Ukraine. At that time, however, President Obama was probably instructed by people who knew the rules of world security better than him – and there was a certain reaction to the aggression in Crimea, and then in the Donbas.
What am I afraid of? That under the slogan of the fight for a “brave new world,” led again by liberal America, the US president will not recognize that it is not good stigmatizing smaller countries that do not accept this ideology and handing them over to Russia as “pariahs of the democratic order.” It does not have to be democratic or liberal, but it is very important to this vision of “restoring order” that it be fulfilled by restoring its former zone of domination (Ukraine? Maybe Poland? Maybe most of Central and Eastern Europe?).
In short, I am afraid of combining the slogans of the ideological “crusade” (actually, anti-crusade) inside the so-called Western community, understood as a community of LGBTQ+ rights and unlimited abortion – with a practical policy of the so-called realism in relations with non-Western empires such as Russia. The costs of such a policy would be paid primarily by the countries of the inter-imperial border, such as Poland, Lithuania, or – on the border with China – Korea and Taiwan.
ZJ: Given what you said about Russia and China, it seems to me to be only proper to invoke here two Frenchmen. In the 1830, they embarked on long trips in two different directions – Alexis de Tocqueville went to America; Marquis de Custine went to Russia.
Not much was known about the two countries. Before Tocqueville published his book, there were, I believe, only three or four books about America. Tocqueville’s and his young companion Beaumont’s books were the first ones to offer an exhaustive view of both the country and, above all, American democracy.
De Custine, on the other hand, was looking for an alternative to democracy. For Custine, in the words of Robin Buss, the English translator and editor of his Letters, “democracy meant mob rule and the dictatorship of public opinion, through rabble-rousing speeches and the press.” Encouraged by his friend Balzac and the Polish Count Ignacy Gurowski, he set out for Russia.
The fruit of his visit is Russia (1839), or The Letters from Russia. By today’s standards, Tocqueville’s book is an international bestseller, and everyone who wants to understand democracy must read it. Given its success in the 20th century, the popularity of Tocqueville’s work is not surprising. However, the 21st century is different.
The rise of China with its autocratic style of government should be of concern to everyone. Russian democracy is a democracy in name only; for all intents and purposes it is a mild form of old autocracy. The difference between it and China is that the Chinese rulers do not hide their contempt for democracy, Xi Jing Ping openly says that the system is a failure. Both leaders share two things – the respective countries’ tradition of autocratic rule (strengthened in the 20th century by the experience of Communism) and the belief that only autocratic rule is capable of preventing a country from sliding into anarchy.
Would you agree that given democracy’s current performance in America and Europe, there is every reason to read de Custine’s account.
AN: People knew quite a lot about Russia in France before de Custine. Let us recall, for example, that the French Grand Army visited Russia in 1812, and two years later France was “returned” by the Russian army (Normandy was a Russian occupation zone for two years). A lot of arguments have already been gathered, both on the side of Russophobia and Russophilia.
The first French treaty stigmatizing the Russian political system as oriental despotism was published in 1771. It was written by Abbé Chappe d’Auteroche who visited Siberia (voluntarily), and Catherine II herself replied to him with a two-volume refutation of his arguments (I write about it at length in my recent book, entitled, Metamorphoses of the Russian Empire 1721-1921). This work, published immediately in French under the title Antidote and translated into English, was not only the defense of Russia’s right to the name of a European power, but also the justification of the autocracy.
As I argue in this book, in such a huge country as Russia, another form of power would lead to disintegration. The Russian system is not despotic, but a noble, enlightened absolutism, motivated by concern for the greatness of the state and the welfare of its subjects. So much for Catherine the Great. And it is so today, until the time of Putin’s apologists.
These arguments excellently convinced the French elite (and not only them). After all, Montesquieu said the same – this is why we should refer to de Custine’s work, because it helps us understand that the nature of the Russian despotic system is not autocracy itself, but above all lies, systematic, omnipresent, gradually disturbing cognitive abilities. The lie of the subjects against the authorities, the lie of the authorities against the subjects, and the systematic lie of the power of the Empire against its foreign partners.
No partner is actually a partner; each one is treated as an enemy to be deceived and manipulated. The KGB school, from which most of Russia’s current political elite hails, has raised this ability to lie to an incomparably higher degree than was possible in the days of Nicholas I and de Custine.
The contradiction of the various “narratives” that this Russian rule presents about itself is staggering. For the right wing, Putin is to be the “eschaton” of the Christian order, the last defender of the Cross against neo-paganism and Islam. For the Left (the propaganda of the Russia Today television station is addressed to this audience) – the last tough opponent of hated America, to some extent heir to Lenin’s Russia. For Western businessmen – a model of a good business partner. And so on. Whoever reads de Custine will understand the genesis of these narratives.
ZJ: Russia is not the only country that created national myths, such as the Third Rome. Other nations have this tendency too: Rule Britannia, the City on the Hill, the Third Reich, and many, many others.
The Poles – very much like the French – are obsessed with national history. They created a myth which is not about ruling the world but saving the Western World from barbarian onslaught. It is the myth of the antemurale chirstianitatis, the Bulwark of Christianity. The origin of it is not Polish. As far as I know, it was coined in 15th century, during the papacy of Pius II. It was Skadenberg, an Albanian Nobleman, who coined the term, which meant that Albania (and Croatia) was Italy’s Christian bulwark against the Ottoman Empire. Poles adopted it; it functions in Poland, but in Poland it means more than the fight against the Muslims or infidels at the battle of Vienna on September 11 (!) 1683, where the Poles defeated the Turks. It is understood as antemurale against the East, Orient, the oriental despotism. It includes Russia as a barbarian force as well. Given the Christian (Orthodox) nature of Russia, is this historical vision justified; and using it against Eastern Orthodoxy, are we not in danger of creating a false historical imagination?
AN: I do not know if Poles are “obsessed” with national history. I have a different impression when I look at the youth which is protesting today in the streets of Polish cities with the most vulgar words, to emphasize their hatred for the Catholic Church, Christian tradition and the historical identity of Poland.
Let me make a comment on this issue. It is difficult, for example, for Belgium to be “obsessed” with its history, since it was created as a completely artificial state entity less than 200 years ago. It is difficult for Germany to express “obsession with history,” that is pride in its tradition, for obvious reasons. Simply put, nations have different histories, of different lengths, and different intensity as to how this history is experienced by social groups of different sizes. No one matches China in this respect. When you compare Poles with Jews, the Jews will undoubtedly turn out to be a nation much more “obsessed with their history.”
And now about the “bulwark of Christianity.” Again – a complete misunderstanding. The idea of a bulwark appears in Polish history in 1241 – during the great Mongol invasion. After the conquest of Ruthenia (Kievan Rus’ or Ruthenia!!! – not Russia), the Mongols moved to Hungary and Poland. On April 9, 1241, the prince of Poland, Henry the Pious blocked the way of the Mongols near Legnica. He led about 7000 – 8000 Polish and German knights, including 36 Templars. The prince was killed, the battle was lost, but the Mongols, having suffered heavy losses (similar to the parallel battle fought in Hungary), turned back.
The mood in Latin Europe at that time was truly apocalyptic. The fear of the Mongols as invaders from a completely different, completely alien world, as if of an invasion of the Martians, paralyzed the will of defense in many, but fired the imagination of no fewer people in the Latin West. Part of the Jewish communities scattered around the cities of the Reich were very excited about the news of the mysterious approaching Mongols. The Jews waited for liberation in the year of 5000 (1240/1241), which was exactly at this time on their calendar. There were also those who expected such liberation to come from the hands of the Mongols. In fact, some even saw in Genghis Khan the Messiah, the son of David.
After the defeat in Legnica, the echoes quickly reached even out to Frankfurt am Main, where the local Jews in May opposed with unprecedented audacity the baptism of one of their fellow believers who had freely chosen Christianity. It ended on May 24 with a terrible pogrom, which brought upon the Jews the fear of the Frankfurters and rumors of favoring the wild invaders from the East by the followers of Moses. The threatened rulers, including the Hungarian king Béla IV, the Czech king Wenceslaus I, Prince Frederick of Austria, and the emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen himself, in letters, called for defense against the Mongols.
This was the context in which in Poland, Henryk the Pious, Legnica appeared, the heroic but lost fight on the Eastern fringes of the empire and Latin Europe. And this was the beginning of not only a myth, but a practical experience, the last (thus far) military act which, in Poland, is considered as having stopped the invasion of Central Europe by the Bolshevik Red Army in the summer of 1920, in the Battle of Warsaw. Legnica 1241 was most often mentioned in the journalism of the time. Will new experiences be added to this in the 21st century? I do not know, but I do not rule it out.
ZJ: Allow me to finish this conversation with a question which has been on my mind for many years. At the beginning of the 1990s, Poles coined the word “lustracja” (from the word “lustro,” mirror) which means “mirroring.” It is a made-up term that describes the process of making former communists, State apparatchiks, secret agents and collaborators accountable for their participation in building socialism. In the post-communist societies people who did not support socialism, who suffered, who were persecuted or prevented from social advancement felt it necessary to expose those who upheld the system, who held power at the expense of the people who refused to participate in the Great Lie.
It was a form of showing the former commies and collaborators that their participation in the system was simply a matter of human indecency.
Unlike Poland, former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Russia have never undergone such a process – no moral or legal punishment for the former communists and collaborators. The old communists and collaborators, KGB agents, like Putin, became the lords of the New Russia. No such thing would be imaginable in Soviet satellite countries.
In your expert opinion, first, how significant has been the lack of “lustration” for the moral health of Russia, and, second, did the Russians realize what Communism did to Russia?
AN: The importance of this issue was best described by James Billington, an outstanding scholar of Russian thought and culture, in his book Russia in Search of Itself. Let me quote a key excerpt from the summary of this book: “There are essentially four ways that a nation can move beyond the fact of massive complicity in unprecedented evil. 1. Remove the problem from public consciousness. 2. Transfer the burden of evil to others. 3 . Evade the problem of evil in society by creating a noble personal philosophy for an elite. 4. Overcome evil by accepting the redemptive power of innocent suffering.”
This book was published in 2004. In 2020, it can be said that the official policy of remembrance in Putin’s Russia is a combination of the first two attitudes. The attitude most consistent with the Christian, Orthodox tradition, listed as the fourth in this list, has been marginalized.
As early as 2004, Billington was able to accurately pinpoint the cause of this state of affairs: “What is missing for this fact to open up broader redemptive possibilities for the Russian people is accountability, or even searching self-scrutiny, on the part of the Church itself.”
I am sorry to note that the lack of full accountability in a part of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Poland, for the cooperative spying of a small minority of priests with the communist police system in 1945-1989, also brings poisoned fruit into my country, Poland.
ZJ: Do you see any similarities between this and participating in all kinds of PC projects today – which is all morally questionable? Many people in the West, especially in academia, sold themselves to the Devil for the same reason that communists of old did. They are willing to justify today’s injustice in the name of future benefits. I am afraid, they, like the former commies will wake up from their dream of the better world, where all are equal and happy – very disappointed.
AN: Conformism, the lack of civil courage, is the most important, established and widespread feature of academia, at least in the humanities and social sciences. The ideology of “emancipation,” which today is the main instrument of the degradation of these areas, works – in my opinion – on a slightly different principle than you presented in your question.
In fact, under the lofty slogans of redressing past wrongs (towards women, animals, sexual minorities, and countries once colonized), professors of sociology, English studies, philosophy, political science, history and similar fields (displaced by new, more politically correct combinations) are ruthlessly fighting for their particular, current interests – for survival in a ruthless struggle. Survival of the fittest – this is the reality of this essentially amoral struggle, in which the stakes are a professorship, appearing on television, or the role of a social media star – and the alternative is the loss of a job, or experience of attacks by the media and environmental campaigns.
Adapt to the ideology currently imposed by the big media and their disposers – this is the method of survival. This is how the cultural revolution unfolds, more and more like the one that swept through China under Mao Zedong. Anyone who does not want the media and groups of students manipulated by it – to put on a “hat of shame” (as was done in China) – must join in stigmatizing colleagues who are still defending themselves against such degradation.
There is no labor camp waiting for them yet, but it is becoming more and more real to hand over those who still have the courage to think “incorrectly” to therapy, into the hands of therapists who will, anyway, remove “wrong” thoughts, concepts, and memories from their defiant heads. .
Probably no one has described the attitudes of intellectuals subjected to terror and the temptation to justify their cowardice better than the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz in his book, The Captive Mind. It is a book written in 1951 about the Polish intelligentsia conquered by the Stalinist diamat (dialectical materialism). This is also a book about the situation today at American and European universities. It is worth reading again.”
ZJ: Thank you, Dr. Nowak for this enlightening conversation.
The image shows, “Introduction of Christianity in Poland,” by Jan Matejko, painted in 1889.
The final phase of WWI was especially bitter and cruel, not only for the grimness of the fight between exhausted warring parties (except one, the US), but also because it became clear that alliance against the Central Powers was a mere façade. The growing Allied division emerged with a peculiar stance toward one enemy, the Ottoman Empire and a (former) ally, Russia.
And in this light, the year 1918 could be considered not only the year of the end of the war, but the beginning of a new era, marked by new dynamics and an attempt to reaffirm the old power structures.
The Allies approach was the re-proposition of “playbook” actions, which had always dominated the policies, mainly of Great Britain and France, since the 19th century, toward these two entities. And to them, with different motivations, may be added Italy, US, Japan, Serbia (with the new formation of Croatia-Slovenia), Greece, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Thus, behind the mask of a cohesive policy, the main target was the demolition and partition, among the winners, of the Ottoman Empire and the re-establishment of a weakened Russia; and, where this was not possible, replicating the planned fate for the Ottomans with the establishment of a galaxy of puppet states.
The strategic target of both Paris and London was multifold: extend their own area of influence (directly and/or indirectly), push back any threat against their own national strategic interests, and stand in front of their allies, especially if minor ones, with an eye on the growing polarization with Italy, especially by France. In this gigantic plan, the personalities of Lloyd George, Churchill and Clemenceau emerged as dominant; and perhaps, like never before, the political use of military force.
The level of Allied forces deployed in the two areas, at least by Western standards, were limited in comparison with the millions of men deployed on the different fronts of WWI. But they were highly influential and played a decisive political role, though a small combat role.
After The “Garden Of Salonika
The fighting along the Macedonian Front in September 1918 might not be as well-known as the Somme, Ypres or Verdun (and certainly less bloody), but in terms of delivering the fatal blow to the German war machine, it was unsurpassed. “It was upon this much-abused front that the final collapse of the Central Empires first began,” Winston Churchill wrote.
Controversy had marked the life of the Allied “Armée d’Orient” ever since it began deploying three years earlier through Salonika, the Greek port city that provided the southern gateway to the Balkans, and after the disastrous French-British attempt to take by force the Straits of Dardanelles which sought to blow up the Ottoman Empire and provide support to Russia. The Allies had great difficulties facing the Germans and the Austro-Hungarians on the Eastern front.
The force (consisting of 600,000 men), formally under French command, included French, British, Serbian, Italian, Montenegrin and Russian contingents; added later were Greek and pro-Entente Albanian units. The management of this army persistently reflected the divergent objectives of the participants.
For example, the British contingent constantly tried to minimize the impact of the French command and directives. Also among the French-Italian contingents, the relations were at best controversial, and the collapse of the Central Powers, following the attack in September 1918, underlined the fault-lines among the Allies, not only political but also militarily.
British troops, immediately after the ceasefire, were sent in to secure the Turkish straits; the Italians went to protect Albania; and the French remained committed to their staunch support of Serbs, with the aim of setting up a South pan-Slavic state in the Western Balkans, under the influence of Paris, and initially also with Greece.
After a visit by Talaat Pasha, the Grand Vizir, to other Central Powers capitals in September 1918, Constantinople realized that there was no hope to win the war. On 13 October, Talaat and the government resigned. Ahmed Izzet Pasha was appointed as Grand Vizir and two days later, he sent the captured British General Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend to the Allies to seek terms for an armistice.
London interpreted that to mean that Britain would conduct the negotiations alone. As of today, the motives of this are not entirely clear, whether it was the sincere British interpretation of the alliance terms; or fears that the French would insist on over-harsh demands and foil a treaty; or, again, there was a desire to cut the French out of territorial ambitions promised by the Sykes-Picot agreement.
Townshend also indicated that the Ottomans preferred to deal with the British; he did not know about the contact with America, or that Talaat had sent an emissary to the French as well; but that emissary had been slower to respond.
The British cabinet empowered Admiral Calthorpe to conduct the negotiations with an explicit exclusion of the French. The negotiations began on 27 October on board of HMS Agamemnon. The British refused to admit to the talks the French Vice-Admiral Jean Amet, the senior French naval officer in the area, despite his desire to join. The Ottoman delegation, headed by Navy Minister Rauf Bey, indicated that this was acceptable, as they were accredited only to the British, not the French (and even less, to the Italian, Greeks, and Serbs).
The French were certainly displeased, and the French Premier Georges Clemenceau, the “Tiger,” complained about British unilateral decisions in so important a matter. Lloyd George countered that the French had the same approach in the Armistice of Salonica, which had been negotiated by French General Franchet d’Esperey, without consultations with the commanders of the other Allied contingents, while Great Britain (and Tsarist Russia) had committed the most troops to the campaign against the Ottoman Empire on different fronts (the Palestine, Mesopotamia, Arabia Peninsula and Caucasus fronts).
As part of the armistice’s conditions, the Ottomans surrendered their remaining garrisons outside Anatolia and granted the Allies the right to occupy the forts controlling the Straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, as well as any Ottoman territory, “in case of disorder,” or if a threat to security occured. Later, this vague and obscure clause was widely used by the Allies for their massive interference in Turkish affairs The Ottoman forces were demobilized, and all ports, railways and other strategic points were made available for Alled use. In the Caucasus, the Ottomans had to retreat to pre-war borders with the Russian Empire. Following this armistice, the occupation of Constantinople and the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire started.
Thereafter, it took 15 months of tough negotiations among the Allies (Britain, France and Italy) to establish which territories each of them would get. As for the other defeated powers, the military clauses were bitter. The Army of the defeated powers was restricted to 50,000; the Navy to a few old ships; and no air force. The treaty included an inter-allied commission of control to supervise the execution of all the military clauses.
The Treaty of Sèvres showed the worst face of the imperialist dreams of the winning powers, not only as in the above-mentioned military clauses, but with the establishment of Zones of Influence, which resulted in an imposition of a kind of multinational protectorate over the defeated country.
Under the treaty, within the territory retained by Turkey (excluding Armenia and Kurdistan), France received parts of Southeastern Anatolia, including Antep, Urfa and Mardin. Important parts of Cilicia including Adana, Diyarbakır and large portions of East-Central Anatolia up to Sivas and Tokat were declared a zone of French influence, garrisoned by troops of the newly established ‘Armée du Levant’ (on 7 October 1918), moving and expanding from their landing spot in Beirut (Octover 11). The first elements of this force came from the former “Armée d’Orient” with the ad hoc established “Division of Cilicia” (consisting of the 12th Infantry, the 17th Senegalese, 18th Algerian Regiments, and the Armenian Legion). A second unit, the “Division of Syria” (consisting of the 415th Infantry, the 3rd Zouaves, the 19th, 21st, and the 22nd Algerian Regiments) was rapidly set up, and tasked to expand French control in the assigned areas, while disarming Turkish and Arab troops in Syria and Lebanon.
Italy was given possession of the Dodecanese Islands (already under Italian occupation since the Italo-Turkish War of 1911–1912,) despite the Treaty of Ouchy, according to which Italy should have returned the islands to the Ottoman Empire. Large portions of Southern and West-Central Anatolia (the Mediterranean coast of Turkey and the inlands), including the port city of Antalya and Konya, were declared an Italian zone of influence. Antalya Province had been promised to Italy since the signing of the Treaty of London; and the Italian colonial authorities wished the zone to become an Italian colony under the name of “Lycia.”
Italian troops landed on 28 March 1919 in Antalya and then occupied Fethiye, Marmaris, Bodrum, Konya, Isparta and Aksehir. The Italian force was limited in terms of figures (13.000 troops with 3 regiments of infantry and support units) to control so expansive an area, which coincided with continuous infiltrations of Greek troops into Western Anatolia from the enclave of Smirna, about which there was complicit silence at the Spa Conference for the “Megala idea” of Venizelos. Independent of this contingent was an Italian infantry battalion in Constantinople, and another one was assigned in April 1919 to garrison Konya under British command. Great Britain did not establish any zone of influence; but within the terms of the ‘Sykes-Picot’ agreement, they took over almost all Mesopotamia, thus reinforcing their firm hand over oil resources of the region, and strengthening imperial control out to the Far East.
On 13 November 1918, the Allies landed in Constantinople with 2,616 British, 540 French, 470 Italian troops, supported by 50 ships (two days later, this grew to 167 ships).
On February 8, 1919, the French general Franchet d’ Espèrey, Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces in the East, officially entered the city on a white horse, emulating Mehmed the Conqueror’s entrance in 1453 after the Fall of Constantinople, thus signifying that Ottoman sovereignty over the imperial city was over.
One year, after the Allies numbered 51,300 troops (27,419 British, 19,069 French, 3,992 Italians and 795 Greeks), garrisoning not only the city but also the neutralized zone of the Straits, largely assigned to units of the 122nd and 156th French Infantry Divisions and 28th British Division.
The Greek and Turkish police and gendarmerie forces operating in neutralized area were subordinate to Allied control; and the Constantinople area was garrisoned by British MPs (in Pera), The French Gendarmes (in Istanbul) and Italian Carabinieri (in Scutari) were supported by Turkish Jandarma personnel.
The Corps d’Occupation de Constantinople (COC) was formally set up on 6 November 1920, after more than one year of de facto occupation, when the drawdown of the Allied forces drastically reduced the level of their strength. Nominally multinational, it was nevertheless a harsh fight between the French and the British.
The COC was assisted by a military committee, formed by the commander of the national contingents and with three High Commissioners (in which, generally, the French and British were military and the Italian a diplomat). The job of the COC was focused on occupation duties and was affected by the bitter and growing polarization between the French and the British, while the Italian presence was little more than nominal.
The growing split among the Allies is widely attributed to the fact that the partition of Turkey had given to France too small a share. The Italians, too, were dismayed to the concession made by London to Athens, at Rome’s expense. This discontent gave rise to Franco-Italian support of the Turkish nationalist movement, both in Anatolia and in Constantinople, even if at the beginning, Paris supported to the end Greek expansionist dreams.
At the regional level, France had strong grievances against Britain, for it felt that British policies were contrary to prior agreements. For example, Britain did not want to share oil exploitations in the Mosul area, and, according to Paris, it stirred up Emir Faisal (the leader of the so-called “Arab revolt”) to attack French troops in Syria. In other words, France labelled the British approach as selfish and imperialist, although Paris applied the same policies in many other regions, like the Balkans, the Baltic Sea, Silesia, Poland, against not only their former enemies, like Germany, but also their present allies like Italy (and Britain).
The Allies had begun to split already in 1919, because of competing interests in Syria, Mesopotamia, Cilicia and the Aegean. TRhus, both France and Italy were eager to dismantle Turkey as a unitary state. But when their interests were undercut, they changed their plans. Also, Italy, because of prevalent domestic issues, confined its imperial aims in Turkey to just seeking out profitable economic concessions.
In the summer, the internal situation in Italy became untenable and Rome started the withdrawal of its troops from Anatolia and abandoned the dreams of territorial expansion in the Levant. The last troops left Anatolia in 1922. This happened mainly for two reasons. First, Italy obtained the Dodecanese islands, and second, there was a growing anti-Greek policy in Rome. But Italy kept small contingents in Constantinople and Adrianople, with a Carabinieri unit in Constantinopole until the general evacuation of foreign troops in October, 1923.
The functionality of the COC was seriously affected by the arrival, in the region, of 150.000 White Russian refugees (the army and civilians who fled after the defeat of General Wrangel in the Crimea), as well as the issue of the remnants of the Tsarist Black Sea Navy.
The other major, and final, crisis of the COC came after the defeat of Greek forces in Anatolia. The Greek-Turkish War saw a major shift in alliances among the Allies. At the beginning, France supported the demands of Greece, as Britain, in order to keep firm control over Turkey, kept out France. Then, Britain supported Greek expansion while. France, of course, along with Italy, moved to helping nationalist Turks.
The crisis was the trigger event of a failed and polarized political alliance, and the military contingents in the neutral zone operated in a disconntected way, reflecting the divergent stances of London, Paris and Rome vis-à-vis the development of the Greek-Turkish war. The final Allied withdrawal came under gloomy conditions, marked by ethno-religious violence between the Greeks and the Turks. When the withdrawal was formally signed into place, it ended the Allied entente of WWI.
The Russian Quagmire
Looking at the issue from an ethical or legal point of view, the Allied intervention in Russia was even worst than it was for the Ottoman Empire, where, at least, there existed a set of documents and treaties. For Russia, there were only ideological fears, old playbook and indolent behavior.
On 23 December 1917, the day after the beginning of the Brest Litovsk talks, delegates of France and Great Britain in Paris concluded a convention for the dismemberment of Russia and the establishment of zones of influence. London looked to the Baltic provinces and the Caucasus (especially its oil); France chose the Ukraine, from Belarus to Bessarabia and Donetz (for the iron, coal, iron and steel basins), as well as the Black Sea shores including Odessa and Crimea.
Soon after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 a three-year Civil War broke out in Russia. The initial phase of the war lasted for one year, and it was marked by rapidly shifting front lines and sporadic engagements by small units. At the beginning, the Bolsheviks generally expanded from the few urban areas in their hands to root out centres of opposition in the periphery of the vast country. This expansion began in the winter of 1917-1918, and it led to the formation of the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army, led by Generals Mikhail Alekseyev and Lavr Kornilov in the Don Cossack region, thus creating the southern front of the war.
Half a year later this was followed by the revolt of the Czechoslovak Legion (despite the name, in reality it was a force of the size of an army corps) on the mid-Volga and Siberia, which assisted the formation of two anti-Bolshevik governments, each with its own army – the Komuch in Samara and the Siberian Government in Omsk.
The Red Army of Lenin’s Bolshevik government was rapidly formed to replace the irregular Red Guard partisan units only at the end of this phase, in the fall of 1918.
The second and decisive stage of the Civil War lasted from March to December 1919. First, the White armies of Admiral Alexander Kolchak in Siberia and General Denikin in Southern Russia advanced resolutely toward Moscow (the last one appeared to be the most decisive push against the Reds). In the Caucasus and Crimea operated General Wrangel (probably the best of the White generals). In the North-West General Yudenich tried to attack Petrograd.
As in many other civil wars, foreign powers intervened in the conflict. Britain played a leading role in this intervention and had a significant effect on the course of the war. Without this foreign intervention on the White side, the superiority of numbers in manpower and weaponry of the Bolsheviks would have quickly overwhelmed their opponents.
British Intervention In Southern Russia, 1918-1920
Despite massive support, the entire British action remained uncertain and split between an ideological battle against Bolshevism and the strategic imperative to protect India and investments in the oil industry in the Middle East (Persia and Mesopotamia). Consequently, the action of Great Britain, while strong in Southern Russia, and massive (two divisions) in the Caucasus and Central Asia – in Northern Russia and Eastern Russia (Siberia) it a lot less intense.
Further, the controversial demobilization scheme, the requirement to keep the public unaware of the extent of the military efforts, and the risk of bolshevism infecting the troops contributed to the incertitude of the British (and French) actions.
From November 1918 the Allies succeeded in supplying regular provisions to the White Armies mainly through the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. The British military mission arrived in South Russia in late 1918, and provided General Denikin’s White army with an enormous amount of matériel. This included full British army kit for half a million men, 1,200 field guns with almost two million rounds of ammunition, 6,100 machine guns, 200,000 rifles with 500 million rounds of ammunition, 629 lorries and motorcars, 279 motorcycles, 74 tanks, six armoured cars, 200 aircraft, 12 500-bed hospitals, 25 field hospitals and a vast amount of signal and engineer equipment. All this was sufficient for an army of 250,000 men and it was much more than Denikin was ever able to use, as the combat strength of his army never exceeded 150,000 men. Ammunitions destined for South Russia also included 25,000 poison gas shells. Churchill had described mustard gas as “ideal weapon against our beastly enemy.” But British personnel were instructed to use it only if the Bolsheviks started gas warfare first.
The British mission also organized the training and equipping of White Russian troops with British weapons. This made the material aid much more effective. Even in small numbers, many of the British instructors, following a personal and ideological commitment, took part in fighting the Bolsheviks, despite the orders of their government.
In real terms, financial and material support from Great Britain pushed Denikin’s army in a far more favourable position than the Bolsheviks in 1919, and very close to being the key element of the victory of the Whites against the Bolsheviks. But the White army of Denikin suffered, like the Tsarist army, of which it was but an extention. This led to serious problems. White officers were unimaginative; their mindset remained obsolete; and they were incapable of organizing the logistics of their army. There were also fundamental defects in the morale of the White troops. These limits affected all the other White armies operating against the Bolsheviks, without mentioning the bitter rivalries among the White generals themselves.
In addition to all the political mistakes of Denikin’s movement and a general inability to adjust to the complex situation in Revolutionary Russia, the Whites suffered a clear military defeat. In South Russia, the Whites were defeated not because of the lack of British aid, but rather despite it; and their defeat was decisive for the victory of the Reds elsewhere.
The British presence in Southern Russia, as mentioned, was limited to few hundred specialists and trainers and non-combat troops (72 servicemen -18 Royal Navy, 41 British Army, 13 Royal Air Force personnel – were killed in South Russia in 1918-1920).
Further, they were scattered over the immense area of Southern Russia, where several White units operated, of which the Denikin one was the larger, but also Wrangler’s that extended to the Caucasus.
The missed arrival of a massive British combat force led to the first rift between the Whites and London. British combat troops were deployed, and in a limited number, only in the South Caucasus to secure the oilfields there (the Baku area); and this situation increased the suspicions of White Russians over the real, future aims of British aid.
The real strategic reason for the massive support of Denikin, who operated mainly in the “zone of influence” assigned to the French, was because of the failure of previous, but also because of the defeat of Admiral Kolchiak’s offensive in Siberia. But lagely these troops came to protect the interests of London over the oil resources in Baku and surrounding region.
After Denikin’s army was decisively defeated at Orel in October 1919 (some 400 km south of Moscow), the White forces in southern Russia were in constant retreat, reaching the Crimea in March 1920. In July 1920, the White forces left Crimea for Constantinople. This ended the British Mission in Southern Russia.
The fate of the British military mission in South Russia followed the fate of the Whites, with constant relocation of the training teams under growing pressure from the Reds. First this progressive impairment, and later the demise of Denikin’s and Wrangel armies impacted the broader plans of London to set up “friendly” states in the South Caucasus – the real strategic objectives of British military expedition in the former allied territory.
At the end of August 1919, the British withdrew from Baku (the small British naval presence was also withdrawn from the Caspian Sea), leaving only 3 battalions at Batum. After a British garrison at Enzeli (on the Persian Caspian coast) was taken prisoner by Bolshevik forces on 19 May 1920, Lloyd George finally insisted on a withdrawal from Batum early in June 1920, thus disbanding the 27th Division (The British Salonika Army was split within Macedonia [22nd Division, disbanded in 1919], the Danube [26th Division, disbanded on May 1919], Turkey (28th Division, disbanded on December 1923], and the Caucasus [27th Division, disbanded in 1920]). Financial concerns forced a British withdrawal from Persia in the spring of 1921.
The French Intervention In Southern Russia
The French intervention in Southern Russia was initiated in February 1918, with 50 million rubles in gold to the Ukrainian Rada. But the first official sign of French preparation for direct military intervention in Southern Russia came on October 7, 1918, when Clemenceau designated General Henri Berthelot to head a military mission with responsibility for operations in Romania and the Ukraine. While an important task of this expedition was to assure the retreat of German and Austro-Hungarian forces from the Ukraine and Romania, Clemenceau’s instructions stressed the need to set up an economic encirclement of the Bolsheviks and help along the fall of the new government in Russia.
However, French intervention in support of the Whites (also in this case for ideological reasons to hinder the path of the Reds) was much shorter and much more confused than by the British – and was shut down only after a few months.
The French expedition had come to Southern Russia under three assumptions, which emerged to be totally baseless: A) that the Whites representing a majority of the people; B) that the Russian people welcomed Allied intervention against Bolshevik; and C) that the bulk of the fight against the Reds would be on the White forces, requiring only moral and technical assistance from the French forces.
In fact, the Ukrainians preferred the Bolsheviks to the Whites; the local population resented Allied intervention; and the Whites had limited capabilities. Disillusionment with intervention increased as officers and soldiers alike realized that the entire population of Southern Russia looked upon their presence with undisguised hostility.
As one officer in Sebastopol declared, Bolshevik propaganda had little effect upon the troops, but the hostile attitude of the local population had a profound impact on troops already exahusted by the tough Salonika campaign.
At initial meetings with Russian Whites, Berthelot promised up to 12 Allied divisions as expeditionary forces in Southern Russia, when in reality only three divisions were in theory available. However, six weeks after first landing in Odessa, the Allied force did not exceed 3.000 ground troops (three infantry regiments [176th, 58th French, 1st Regiment de marche africain, elements from the 10th Algerian Regiment, the 21st Chasseurs Aborigines, the 129th Senegalese Batallion, the Batallion Chasseurs d’Indochine, 4th Chasseurs á cheval d’Afrique]; other support elements [the 19th and 242nd Colonial Artillery, 7th Engineer Regiment]; landing parties of the French naval squadron, augmented by a sizeable Greek contingent, and smaller units of Polish, Romanian and Czech troops). But they did seize Nikolaev, Kherson and Tiraspol, so that Allied forces controlled an arc of territory in the Western Ukraine, along the northern shore of the Black Sea, between the Dniester and Dniepr rivers.
The absence of reinforcements further increased the French command’s skepticism about intervention. But the major problems were the open and tough hostility of the local populations, as a result of Bolshevik propaganda, and the splits among the anti-Reds, the split among the White generals (who wanted to re-establish Tsarist Russia), and local Ukrainian independence movements (split among different factions, running from ultraconservative to anarchist groups).
As among the British, the French also had several dozen advisors and staff personnel, who similar to their British counterparts expressed criticism and doubts about the performance of White leadership and troops and even White military capabilities.
By March 1919, pressure frm the Bolsheviks forced the Whites (and consequently the French and Greeks) to evacuate initially Kherson, and then Nikolaev, putting serious doubt on the validity of the entire operation in the Black Sea. Red attacks over Odessa only grew greater.
The anti-Red coalition was marked more and more by bitter rivalries, which quickly undermined the White armies; Greek forces were more concerned about the safety of the Greek national community there and the beginning of the operation in Asia Minor against the Turks. This weakend further the French-led effort in Southern Russia.
The situation became so untenable that General D’Esperey went urgently to Odessa from Constantinople, realizing that were no other option than to withdraw from there (the evacuation came finally on 6 April). But he did this without consulting the Whites (Denikin was informed ex post facto by Franchet d”Esperey).
The Odessa evacuation left the Crimea as the only remaining area of direct French military intervention. Clemenceau had urged to hold the Crimea as a bastion for future actions in Southern Russia, again creating the impression of a firm French commitment. Yet, from the outset, the French presence in the Crimea had been marked by the same difficulties that plagued the intervention in the Ukraine – but this time, there was the brave White General Wrangel, who could not hold, despite considerable efforts to re-establish good relations with the local populations (that fully supported the Reds). This led him to a desperate evacuation to Constantinople at the end of April.
The withdrawal from Sebastopol was marked by a serious disciplinary situation, especially on board French naval ships operating in the Black Sea. This was the persistent and growing mutinous attitude among the French forces operating in the area.
The Black Sea mutinies have acquired legendary dimension among Marxist historians, largely as a result of André Marty’s somewhat exaggerated claims, and as a result of the “martyrdom” of those sailors condemned by military tribunals. There is no doubt, however, that the mutinies were serious and extensive.
The first uprisings took place among ground troops. On the 4th of February, the 58th Infantry Regiment refused to fight at Tiraspol on the far bank of the Dniester.
On March 8th, two companies of the 176th Infantry Regiment rejected an order to attack at Kherson. April 5 saw the same refusal among elements of the 19th Colonial Artillery Regiment in Odessa, where sappers of the 7th Engineer Regiment fraternized with, and left equipment for, the Bolsheviks. Then, from 10 to 30 April, major mutinies of sailors take place. In Romania, at Galatz, the chief mechanic André Marty planned to seize the torpedo FNS Protet, lock up the officers and rally the Bolsheviks to Sevastopol. The plot was discovered, he was arrested on April 16, and sentenced to twenty years of hard labor.
On April 17, on the cruiser FNS France, protests broke out; four sailors were put in the brig. But two days later, the revolting crew freed them, elected delegates, and demanded the return to Toulon.
On the 20th, the red flag was hoisted on FNS France, FNS Jean-Bart, FNS Justice, along with the singing of the L’Internationale. In the afternoon, sailors who had demonstrated in Sevastopol with the population returned fire of Greek soldiers. Calm returned in the days following; and the delegates, who initially obeyed, saw their role decrease. But FNS Jean-Bart as well as FNS France returned to Toulon and Bizerte.
Another mutiny took place on the 25th on-board FNS Waldeck-Rousseau stationed at Odessa. A committee of sailors decided to revolt, demanded the freedom of Marty and the return to France. In the following days, control was exerted over buildings in Odessa, as well as over all ships in the Black Sea. But the excitement continues into May and June, in the naval bases of Toulon, Brest, Bizerte, Greece (and on board FNS Guichen, led by Charles Tillon) and even in Vladivostok.
As mentioned, the Sebastopol episode marked a climax in a series of mutinies, and rather extensive indiscipline among troops throughout the Ukrainian and Crimean interventions; and the French command was well aware of the low morale and war-weariness among the ranks. Whether this attitude reflected a widespread sympathy for Bolshevism is less clear. The majority of the French soldiers had no desire to fight in Russia and demanded repatriation.
However, some fully supported the Bolsheviks; and the demonstration in Sebastopol revealed a degree of political support for the Russian Revolution that was of considerable significance. But it is not clear that a majority of the soldiers and sailors were prepared to embrace the revolution at this point. Above all, it is an exaggeration to claim that the mutiny in Sebastopol was because of an untenable military situation. Instead, it was because of several factors, already discussed, without mentioning the lack of political support of France from other Allies despite the fury of Clemenceau. The French military intervention in the Ukraine was a sobering lesson in the perils of intervening in another nation’s civil wars.
The action of Allied powers, in the two cases discussed, revealed the persistence of an imperialistic stance of some countries, despite their exhaustion and their formal adherence to the 14 Points Declaration of President Woodrow Wilson.
This contradiction is the result of a wild era which existed well before the breakout of WWI, behind the façade of economic and social developments at the end of the 19th and the beginning of 20th centuries.
Turkish Post-War And Straits Occupations 1918-1923
26.04.1916: Agreement of St.-Jean-de-Maurienne between France, Italy and Great Britain.
16.05.1916: Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and Great Britain.
30.10.1918: Armistice of Mudros: Turkey to cease hostilities, demobilize, open the Bosporus Straits, and repatriate POWs. The Armistice found the British occupying most non-Turkish territory of the Ottoman Empire (Palestine, Mesopotamia, Kurdistan), and Arab insurgents in control of the Hejaz and parts of Syria.
12.11.1918: French troops land in Constantinople.
13.11.1918: British troops land in Constantinople.
08.12.1918: Allied occupation of the Bosporus, the Dardanelles, the eastern coast of the Sea of Marmara, islands of Imros, Lemnos, Samothrace, Tenedos, and 15 km deep into the eastern shores; the zone of the Straits is demilitarized (by Greek and Turkish forces) but garrisoned by Allied forces.
18.01.1919: Peace Conference opens in Versailles.
Jan. 1919: Turkish garrison in Medina surrenders to the forces of the Arab revolt.
03.02.1919: In Paris, Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos demands the entire of East Thrace and the Aegean shores of Anatolia, including Izmir to be annexed to Greece.
07.02.1919: Italian troops land in Galata (Constantinople).
08.02.1919: French General Franchet d’Esperey, commander of the Allied Army (later the Constantinople Occupation Corps), enters in Constantinople mounted on a white horse.
04.03.1919: Damat Ferit Pasha, brother-in-law of the Sultan, appointed as the new Grand Vizir (Prime Minister).
29.03.1919: Italian troops land in Antalya.
08.04.1919: British Foreign Minister, Lord Balfour, proposes Istanbul become a neutral zone under the administration of the League of Nations (also French Prime Minister Aristide Briand proposes the creation of a “free city,” a sort of protectorate under the League. The city of Constantinople would be a first free city in 1920. As such, Constantinople would have its own municipal government, but which would be devoid of any of those functions of government exercised by a sovereign state, such as, defense and foreign relations).
30.04.1919: Sultan Vahidettin sends Mustafa Kemal to Anatolia as Inspector-General.
06.05.1919: Allied powers agree to allow Greeks to occupy Smyrna.
15.05.1919: Smyrna occupied by the Greek army. Journalist Hasan Tahsin shoots a Greek flag bearer, firing the first bullet of the Turkish resistance.
16.05.1919: Mustafa Kemal leaves Constantinople.
19.05.1919: Mustafa Kemal arrives in Samsun. Turkish War of Independence begins.
24.05.1919: Demonstration at Sultanahmet in Istanbul against the occupation of Smyna.
22.06.1919: Mustafa Kemal issues the Amasya Declaration stating that the independence of the nation will be saved once more by the determination and decisiveness of the people.
28.06.1919: Treaty of Versailles signed by Germany.
23.07/07.08.1919: Erzurum Congress. It is decided that there will a struggle with the enemy of the people in the Eastern provinces which are an inseparable part of the homeland.
10.10.1919: Allied forces officially take military control of Western Thrace.
22.10.1919: Inter Allied administration of Western Thrace begins with French General Charpy appointed Governor.
04-11.09. 1919: Sivas Congress. A mutual decision about the “homeland being an indivisible whole” is reached. All the local resistance organizations in the country are united and a “Committee of Representatives” is formed.
01.11.1919: Grand Vizir Damat Ferit Paşa resigns.
27.12.1919: Mustafa Kemal arrives in Ankara.
12.01.1920: Opening session of the last Ottoman Parliament.
10.03.1920: Allied Military Administration of Constantinople and Straits Zone formally established.
16.03.1920: Constantinople officially occupied by Allied forces.
20.03.1920: Italian troops withdraw from Konia.
05.04.1920: Damat Ferit Paşa reappointed as Grand Vizir.
11.04.1920: Ottoman Parliament dissolved by Sultan Vahidettin.
19-26.04.1920: The San Remo Conference of the Allied Supreme Council determines the allocation of the League of Nations mandates for administration of the former Ottoman ruled lands of the Middle East by the victorious powers.
23.04.1920: The Turkish Grand National Assembly opens in Ankara.
20.05.1920: Greece annexes Western Thrace.
22.06.1920: Greek offensive in Anatolia begins.
08.07.1920: Greek forces occupy Bursa.
12.07.1920: Greece moves into Eastern Thrace, setting up Adrianople as headquarters.
15.07.1920: Greek forces occupy Edirne and the entire East Thrace.
10.08.1920: Ottoman government signs the Treaty of Sèvres with the Allied nations. Hejaz, Armenia and Assyria are to become independent. Mesopotamia and Palestine are assigned under mandate to the tutelage of the UK, Lebanon and an enlarged Syria to that of France. The Dodecanese and Rhodes with portions of southern Anatolia are to pass to Italy, while Thrace and Western Anatolia, including Smyrna will become part of Greece. The Bosphorus, Dardanelles and Sea of Marmara are to be demilitarized and internationalized, and the Ottoman army is to be restricted to a strength of 50,000 men. The treaty is rejected by the Turkish republican movement in Ankara.
06.11.1920: The Corps d’Occupation de Constantinople (COC) formally is set up, led by French General Franchet d’Esperey (frmr. CinC of Eastern Allied Forces).
03.12.1920: Ankara signs the Gümrü Peace Agreement with the Republic of Armenia.
09-11.01.1921: First Battle of İnönü. Greek advance inside Anatolia halted.
20.01.1921: The first Turkish Constitution is ratified by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.
21.02/12.03.1921: London Conference. Representatives of both Istanbul and Ankara governments are invited to the conference which aims to revise the Treaty of Sèvres. It does not achieve any results.
16.03.1921: Bolshevik Russia recognizes the new Turkish State.
27-20.03.1921: Second Battle of İnönü. Greek offensive fails.
25.05.1921: Italians troops withdraw from Marmaris.
21.06.1921: Italians withdraw from the Antalya region.
05.07.1921: The city of Antalya is returned to the Turkish government by Italian military authorities.
10.07.1921: Greek forces launch a new offensive;
18.07.1921: The British General Harrington is made CinC of COC, replacing the French General Charpy; the (British) Black Sea Army is re-named as British COC of Constantinople; the 28th British division is dissolved.
19.07.1921: Turkish forces retreat towards Ankara.
10.08.1921: The Allied Supreme Council declares neutrality with respect to the Turkish-Greek conflict;
23.08/13.09.1921: Battle of Sakarya. Greek forces retreat after a failed offensive.
20.10.1921: Peace agreement signed between Turkey and France.
23.10.1921: Treaty of Kars between Turkey and the USSR. Turkey cedes the city of Batumi to the USSR in return for sovereignty over the cities of Kars and Ardaha.
11.01.1922: Mustapha Kemal proclaims the abolition of the Ottoman sultanate and the establishment of the Turkish Republic; Sultan Mohammed VI flees Constantinople on board a British warship.
31.05.1922: Last Italian troops leave the area of Antalya.
05-19.07.1922: USMC troops from the USS Arizona land to guard the US Consulate in Constantinople;
26-30.08.1922: Battle of Dumlupınar. Decisive Turkish victory against the Greek forces.
09.09.1922: Turkish troops take Smyrna; massive killing of Greek and Armenian populations.
15.09.1922: British government appeals to the Dominions for military support in the Turkish crisis, but the Dominions decline; France and Italy also refuse help.
15.09.1922: Greek occupation ends.
16.09.1922: A British force lands at Canakkale, Turkey.
03-11.10.1922: Convention of Mudania; the Allies agree to return Eastern Thrace and Adrianople to Turkey, and Turkey accepts the neutralization of the Straits under international control.
11.10.1922: Armistice of Mudanya signed between Turkey, Italy, France and Britain. Greece accedes to the armistice three days later. East Thrace as far as the Maritsa River and Edirne are handed over by Greece to Turkey. Turkish sovereignty over Constantinople and the Dardanelles is recognized.
20.10.1922: Peace Conference opens in Lausanne.
01.11.1922: The Sultanate is abolished.
17.11.1922: Sultan Vahidettin leaves Istanbul on board the British warship Malaya.
04.02.1923: Talks in Lausanne interrupted because of Turkish protest about the contents of the Lausanne conference.
23.04.1923: Talks in Lausanne resume.
24.04.1923: Treaty of Lausanne signed between Turkey, Greece and other countries that fought WWI and the Turkish Independence War. Turkey recovers full sovereign rights over its territory.
10.06.1923: Turkey takes possession of Constantinople.
24.07.1923: Treaty of Lausanne formally replaces Treaty of Sèvres.
06.10.1923: Occupation forces begin withdrawal from Constantinople.
13.10.1923: Ankara declared as the capital of the new Turkish State.
06.10.1923: Units from the Turkish 3rd Corps, commanded by Şükrü Naili Pasha enter Constantinople.
23.10.1923: Last allies (British contingent) troops evacuate Constantinople.
29.10.1923: The Republic of Turkey is proclaimed.
Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).
The image shows, “The Flight of the Bourgeoisie from Novorossiysk in 1920,” by Ivan Vladimirov; painted in 1920.