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Russia Pines for the 19th Century

Published: August 19, 2014 (Issue # 1824)




  • Photo: Sergei Porter / Vedomosti

Speaking at the opening of a World War I memorial in Moscow earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin noted that victory in that war had been stolen from Russia.

Indeed, after the war, Russia stood to get Galicia and parts of eastern Prussia, effectively restoring rule over Poland. Moreover, France and Britain had agreed that Russia should fulfill its age-old imperial ambition by taking over the Bosporus, along with swaths of land on both banks, and gain the biggest prize of all, Tsargrad (Istanbul).

All that evaporated, however, when Lenin declared "peace without annexations" and took Russia out of the war. In his speech, Putin decried the missed territorial gains as a "betrayal of their own national interests" by the Bolsheviks.

But actually, the Bolsheviks did far more damage to Russia's national interests by taking it out of the modern capitalist system, in which on the eve of World War I Russia had been poised to make significant gains.

In fact, all the preconditions were in place for Russia to overtake the United States and Germany as the world's largest economy and most prosperous country. By far the largest country in the world, it had just began settling and exploring Siberia with the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Russia was the breadbasket of Europe, and its grain exporters helped develop early hedging instruments on the London financial markets. It had vast natural resources feeding its growing industry in the west of the country and in the Urals. Two of the first 10 recipients of the Nobel Prize for medicine were Russians; no Russian has won it since. Russia's educational system, put in place under Nicholas I, was excellent, albeit narrowly based. Still, literacy was spreading: It went from 28 percent in 1897 to 40 percent in 1913, with the urban population already mostly literate.

But in the name of progress, the Bolsheviks not only killed off or expelled the best and the brightest from the country, but threw Russia into some kind of a warped version of the past.

They replaced money, the driving force of capitalism, with loyalty to communist ideals, individual initiative with collectivism, competition with rigid planning, information with lies and openness with the Iron Curtain. Elections were faked and general secretaries ruled for life, much like the monarchs of old. As though to underscore the neo-feudal nature of communism, the Soviet Union was stuck with a vast land empire even as other empires crumbled.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Monday, Sept. 15


Angelic music will ring out in the city during this week’s Third International Harp Competition. Hosted by the Shostakovich Philharmonic in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, the country’s best musicians with 40 to 47 strings will convene to find out who’s best.



Tuesday, Sept. 16


Lenexpo plays host to Tekhnodrev, a three-day convention that focuses on the woodworking industry in Russia. Promoting the latest technologies and trends, the event features not only exhibitors from some of Russia’s largest woodworking companies but representatives of the forestry industry, who will have their own coinciding forum.


Parlez-vous français? We don’t here at The St. Petersburg Times but that doesn’t mean you can’t. Join the British Book Center’s French Club meeting this evening at 6 p.m. in their location near Technologichesky Institut metro station.



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