Sign Up  |  Login

Summer Study Abroad: Update on Recent Diplomatic Events

SRAS Announces Special Moscow-St.Petersburg Summer RSL Program for 2018

Summer Study Abroad: Important Updates

The State of Study Abroad in Russia

Russian Studies Abroad (RSA) Splits Into Two Programs

Join SRAS at NAFSA and Forum

SRAS and SPBGIKIT Language Partnership: The Year in Review

SRAS Site Visit to Irkutsk

Summer Programs Abroad - 2018

Travel Alert for Russian Cities: May 25 - July 25, 2018

Scholarships Available!

Stetson University and SRAS Announce New Partnership

Call for Papers: Vestnik!

Find Us on Facebook

The following information has been on the SRAS site for some time as a series of pop-ups intended to supplement the histories and descriptions in our Regions and Cities section.  We have now placed the information into this one, searchable document to make it more useful.  We are now adding to it on a regular basis.  Suggestions, submissions, and questions are welcome.  

Table of Contents (Clickable)

Abu Ali ibn-Sina
Abu Raihan Biruni
"Beware, Religion!"
The Cossacks
Dvoeverie - "Double Faith"
Dedovshchina - "Hazing"
Explorers, Far Eastern
Frunze, Mikhail Vasilyevich
Gazprom Assets

The Golden Horde Empire
The Golden Man
The Huns
The Jackson-Vanik Amendment
Kravchuk, Leonid
Khmelnytsky, Bohdan
The Manchu
The Ministry of the Press
Muhammad ibn-Musa Al-Khorezmi
Russian-U.S. Joint Statement on Accession to the WTO (2004)   
Panslavicism (as reason for expansion)
Production Sharing Agreement (PSA)
The Scythians
Shevchenko, Taras
The Sogdians
Special Economic Zones
The Staroveri (Old Believers)
The Tulip Revolution
The Volga Germans
Yukos and Property Rights

Questions or comments about this resource?  Contact the author.


Abu Ali ibn-Sina      back to table of contents


Abu Ali ibn-Sina (980-1036) is often better known as Avicenna.  He was an Islamic philosopher, poet, mathematician and, first and foremost, physician.  By the age of 18, he had become a court physician to Samani ruler Nuh ibn-Mansur and by 21 had written his first medical treatise.  His greatest work, the al-Qanun al-Tibb (Cannon of Medicine) was translated to Latin in the 12th c. and served as "the medical bible" of Europe until the 17th c.  Many of his findings still hold true today. Ibn-Sina was born in a village near Bukhara

Abu Raihan Biruni      back to table of contents

Abu Raihan Biruni (973-1046), is often referred to as simply Al-Biruni.  His contributions to mathematics and astronomy are nearly innumerable.  He was one of the first to calculate the radius of the earth and the distance to the moon accurately.  He wrote a treatise showing that the earth rotated as is circled the sun (well before Galileo).  He also wrote books on physics, history, cartography, mineralogy, and medicine, amongst others.  Al-Biruni was born Kwarazm, in modern Uzbekistan. 

Baikal-Amur Magistrate (BAM) Railway      back to table of contents

Construction on the Baikal-Amur Magistrate (BAM) began in the 1930s using GULAG labor.  It was intended as an alternate route to the Trans Siberian Railway.  Construction ended during WWII but began again when Soviet head Leonid Brezhnev made it a top priority in 1974, seeing it as a way to target untapped mineral and lumber resources in the Russian Far East.  People were invited from all over the Soviet Union for its construction. It was proclaimed a Komsomolskaya Stroika (Youth Building Project) and the government offered enticing benefit packages to young people in return for their living in tents in the wilderness and working long hours.  However, even after triple salaries were offered, the need for human labor remained great.  The Soviet government therefore contracted North Korean workers, many of whom still live along the BAM searching for any work that will help them to avoid returning home.  However, the rail line has traditionally been ineffectively used, leading to economic and demographic problems among the communities built along it. 

Today you can ride the BAM and it is truly an adventure, with many tunnels, endless wilderness with small settlements in the middle of nowhere, and beautiful mountain and taiga views. The Severo-Myisky tunnel is the longest ever built in Russia and second in the world. It was finally completed in 2001 after more than 15 years of struggle with the Baikal Mountains. The BAM runs from Taishet, east of the northern tip of Lake Baikal, to the Pacific port of Sovietskaya Gavan.  See also Tinda

"Beware, Religion!"      back to table of contents

"Beware, Religion!” ("Осторожно, религия!") was an art exhibition at the Sakharov Center in Moscow, named for Andrei Sakharov, the nuclear physicist turned human rights champion of the Soviet era. The center's director, Yuri Samodurov, stated that the display was supposed to call for respect for faiths and believers but also to warn against religious fundamentalism and religious encroachments on the state. He asserted that the subject was timely as the Orthodox Church is beginning to wield substantial political power. Among the exhibits was a painting of Jesus next to a Coca Cola symbol and the words "This is My Blood." A few days after the opening, it was vandalized by a group claiming it offended their religion (Christianity). In the investigation, largely at the behest of the Orthodox Patriarch, the group was not charged but rather Samodurov, his assistant Ludmila Veselovskaya, and artist Anna Michaltshuk were arrested on charges of inciting religious hatred, which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years under Russian law. The judge ruled that Smodurov and Veselovskay had knowingly staged a "frankly humiliating and sacrilegious exposition carrying a blasphemous and cynical character" and fined each of them 100,000 RUR (about a half a year's wage for an average Muscovite). Michaltshuk was found innocent. The prosecution had also called for the offending artworks to be destroyed, but the court did not include this in its ruling.
    Positions on the case (in Russian)
    Review of the exhibit (in Russian) 

The Cossacks      back to table of contents

Peasant-soldiers in Ukraine and in several regions of the former Russian Empire who, until 1918, held certain privileges in return for rendering military service. The first Cossack companies were formed in the 15th cent., when Ukraine, then part of the unified Polish-Lithuanian state, took independent measures to defend itself against the devastating Tatar raids. The Ukrainian Cossacks, of heterogeneous background, were chiefly Russians and Poles and included many runaway serfs.

Dedovshchina, "Hazing"     back to table of contents

Dedovshchina (дедовщина) can be translated in English as "hazing," but in Russian refers only to the process of military hazing. It is derived from the Russian word дед, meaning grandfather, as it is senior cadets whose privilege it is to has younger one.  More than 2000 soldiers died from extreme cases of dedovshchina in 2004, many others were injured or mutilated. While most agree the practice has been around for decades, increased instances have called the leadership and organization of the Russian army, and particularly the authority of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov into question. It is also a major reason that most young men will do anything to keep from being conscripted, including paying large bribes and/seeking educational deferments.

Dvoeverie, "Double Faith"     back to table of contents

The term most often used for the interweaving of pre-Christian and Christian elements in the belief and practice of the Russian peasant is dvoeverie (двоеверие), or "double faith." The "double faith" of Christians addicted to pagan rites and superstitions is the brunt of the invective of many sermons of the first centuries of Russian Christianity, and it is the condition to which material collected in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries attest. Of course, it cannot be denied that in Western Europe as well elements of Christianity were grafted onto a pre-Christian heritage. Still the Russian case is extreme. The Russian peasant, more than his European counterpart, was isolated culturally and, in many instances, geographically, from the mainstream of his nation’s development. Moreover, Russia experienced neither the intellectual upheaval of the Renaissance nor the purging of ancient superstitions of the Reformation. As G. P. Fedotov claims in his monumental study of Russian religious thought, the Russian Religious Mind, the peasant lived in the Middle Ages through the nineteenth century. - Linda J. Ivanits, Russian Folk Belief. (New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1992), p. 4.

Explorers – Far Eastern      back to table of contents

Many explorers played an important role in the Russian Far East. Vitas Bering, for example, was ordered in 1725 by Peter the Great to launch an expedition to the North Pacific in hopes of expanding Russia’s naval power. The voyage took twenty years. The first pioneer of the southern territories was Vasily Poyarkov (1643), followed by Semyon Dezhnev, who proved that there is a strait between Eurasia and North America. In 1649, Yerofei Khaborov established the first Russian settlement called Albazin on the Amur River, and in 1647, V. Atlasov added Kamchatka to the Russian empire. Vladimir Arsenyev was the first scientist in the 1900s to describe and document the vast virgin forests of the Ussuri River, the ancient mountains of the Sikhote-Alin, and the habitat of the Amur Tiger. Many of his works and stories are dedicated to native people, especially to his guide, friend and teacher Dersu Uzala, who amazed Arsenyev with his knowledge and his wisdom about how to navigate and survive the taiga. Today Dersu Uzala is a folk hero, a symbol of how a man can live in simple harmony with nature.

Frunze, Mikhail Vasilyevich     back to table of contents

M. Frunze in Bishkek - the statue still stands outside the train station, though the name is removed.Mikhail Frunze was an ethnic Romanian born in Bishkek.  He led striking textile workers in 1905 and spent ten years in Siberia for his efforts.  He later escaped and became editor of a Bolshevik weekly publication called Vostochnoe Obozrenie (The Eastern Review).  His rank rose quickly after 1917, first, as head of a civilian militia in Minsk, then as president of the Belorussian Soviet, and later he gained fame (and infamy) when, as Military Commissar for the Voznesensk Province, he saved the Soviet hold on Central Asia (including his home town) during the Russian Civil War.  Bishkek was named "Frunze" in his honor and Frunze himself was eventually promoted to People’s Commissar of War, replacing the ousted Trotsky.  He died "mysteriously" in 1925 during a stomach operation that Stalin ordered him to have after he had supported Gigory Zinoviev, a rival to Stalin.  His grave can still be seen in the Kremlin Wall.   

Gazprom Assets       back to table of contents

The following is a compilation of Gazprom assets, compiled by Business Week (07/31/06)
For more information on Oil and Gas in Russia, see The Library entry for Russian Resources

The $13 billion acquisition of oil company Sibneft in 2005 was Russia's largest ever, making Gazprom the country's No. 5 oil producer with 7 billion barrels of reserves

Gazprombank is Russia's third-largest bank, engaged in everything from investment banking to retail services

Owns press and television outlets, including NTV, the only major national channel not wholly state-owned

Spent $2 billion to acquire 10% of national electricity concern UES and 25% of Moscow generator Mosenergo in 2004

Owns dozens of former state and collective farms via local subsidiaries, making it one of Russia's largest landowners

Its Sogaz is Russia's fourth-largest insurance company

Acquired a majority stake in Atomstroiexport, Russia's sole exporter of nuclear power, in 2004

Acquired a majority of OMZ, one of Russia's largest heavy engineering enterprises, in 2005

Owns 51% of Sibur, Russia's largest petrochemicals company

Its in-house corporate airline, Gazpromavia, is among the largest domestic carriers, with a fleet of 108 aircraft

Acquired the Zenit St. Petersburg football club in 2005 and is financing the construction of a new $200 million stadium for it

The Golden Horde Empire      back to table of contents

Mongol state comprising most of Russia, given as an appanage to Jenghiz Khan's oldest son, Juchi, and actually conquered and founded in the mid-13th century by Juchi's son, Batu Khan, after the Mongol or Tatar conquest of Russia. The name was derived from the Russian designation Zolotaya Orda, used by the Russians to designate the Mongol host that had set up a magnificent gleaming tent camp along the Volga River.

The empire, also called the Kipchak Khanate, had its capital first at Sarai Batu near Astrakhan on the lower Volga and later at Sarai Berke on the Volga near present-day Volgograd. Its ascendancy terminated the rise of Kievan Rus (Kiev was razed in 1240) and ultimately, although indirectly, contributed to the predominance of Muscovite Russia.

Under the Empire of the Golden Horde, the Russian principalities retained their own rulers and internal administration. However, they were tributaries of the khan, who confirmed princely succession and exacted exorbitant taxes.

The Golden Man      back to table of contents

The Golden Man - Replica, AlmatyThe Golden Man has become Kazakhstan’s symbol of strength and independence.  This suit of more 4000 intricately decorated and fitted gold pieces was found near Esik, about 70 km outside of Almaty.  Its origins are debated.  Officially, it is said to be from the 12th century AD but the latest research places it in 5th century BC.  The artwork, depicting animals both real and mythological strongly resembles Scythian carvings.  There are several replicas of the suit on display in Almaty, including a stone version atop the Monument to Independence in Republic Square, but the original has been deemed too fragile to display and lies in the vaults of The National Bank of Kazakhstan.  

The Huns      back to table of contents

Nomadic and pastoral people of unknown ethnological affinities who originated in northern central Asia, appeared in Europe in the 4th century A.D., and built up an empire there. They were organized in a predominantly military manner. Divided into hordes, they undertook extensive independent campaigns, living off the countries they ravaged. The Huns have been described as short and of somewhat Mongolian appearance. Their military superiority was due to their small, rapid horses, on which they practically lived, even eating and negotiating treaties on horseback.

The Jackson-Vanik Amendment      back to table of contents

The Jackson-Vanik Amendment is contained in Title IV of the 1974 Trade Act. It effectively denies unconditional normal trade relations to certain countries, including Russia, that had non-market economies and that restricted emigration rights. Normal trade relations may be extended, on a conditional basis, to a country subject to the law only if the President determines that it complies with the freedom of emigration requirements of the amendment. Semi-annual reports on continued compliance of that country must be submitted to Congress. The President may also waive the emigration requirements. Since 1994, Russia has been found in compliance with the Amendment's freedom of emigration requirements. It continues to be subject to semi-annual compliance reviews. Ending the application of the Jackson-Vanik provisions to Russia requires legislation by Congress. This is a prerequisite to the extending unconditional or permanent normal trade relations to Russia. 

Kravchuk, Leonid      back to table of contents

Leonid Kravchuk held a position of the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine from early 1980s. He was in charge of ideology. In 1990 he was a chairman of the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Soviet). In August of 1991 he left the Communist Party and supported the Declaration of Independence. On December 1, 1991 he became the President of Ukraine and held that position till 1994.
        Contributed by:  Volodymyr Chumachenko, UIUC

Khmelnytsky, Bohdan      back to table of contents

Bohdan Khmelnytsky is truly the stuff of legends. He was born of Ruthenian nobility and received a solid education under the Jesuits, although he maintained his Orthodox faith throughout. He served the Polish army until he was captured by the Turks in the disastrous Battle of Cecora in 1620 and served two years as a prisoner of war. Upon his release (or perhaps escape) he returned home to find that a Polish nobleman had raided his estate, killed his son and kidnapped his wife. He took the case to court, but because the defendant was Polish, he was favored in Polish court favored him.

Bohdan Khmelnytsky as featured on Ukrainian currencyThe event instilled in Khmelnytsky a hatred of the Poles that would never subside. He continued to lead a Cossack regiment and scored military victories against the Turks and Tartars, and for the French as a mercenary in the battle of Dunkirk. Eventually, he struck an alliance with the Tartars who lent him 4000 cavalrymen and Khmelnytsky rallied his fellow Ruthenians and Cossacks against their oppressors. They swept through the land and brutally tortured Polish nobles, priests, and local Jews, who were seen as social class that did Poland’s dirty work. In the end, the Cossacks had carved out an independent homeland and nearly toppled the Polish government. But when the Tartars went home, Khmelnytsky feared that he would not be able to defend the new homeland, so he sought an ally in Russia. After he had sworn allegiance to the tsar, the tsar informed him that he could not do the same in return. Khmelnytsky had been tricked, but could not go back on his word, nor could he afford not to have military protection from the Poles. Eventually, after a thirty-year period of infighting and warfare collectively known as the "Ruin" and the lowest point of Ukrainian history, Russia annexed almost the entire area of the once independent state and established serfdom there.
     Info from Ukranian Encyclopedia Online 

The Manchu      back to table of contents

People who lived in Manchuria for many centuries and who ruled China from 1644 until 1912. These people, related to the Tungus, were descended from the Jurchen, a tribe known in Asia since the 7th century. They were first called Manchu in the early 17th century. Originally pastoral nomads in Manchuria, the Manchu (or Jurchen) swept into Nothern China in the early 12th century but were forced by the Mongols to withdraw in the mid-13th century.

The Manchu settled in the Songhua River valley and developed an agrarian civilization. Under the emperor Nurhachu (1559-1626) they secured the allegiance of many tribes and increased their territory. The Manchu claim of relation to the Ch'in dynasty of China was the justification for conquering China in the 17th century and establishing the Ch'ing dynasty.

The Manchu tried to keep themselves from being absorbed by the Chinese, but when the dynasty was overthrown in the 20th century, these efforts failed; gradually, they became part of the general Chinese population.

The Ministry of the Press      back to table of contents

The Ministry of the Press is the official governing body for the press in Russia, with the power to close or reappropriate newspapers, television stations, etc. It is also sometimes known as The Ageny of the Press and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation (Russian: Федеральное агентство по печати и массовым коммуникациям).  In its current state, it was created by the Resolution of the Government of the Russian Federation from 17 June 2004, #292.  A small piece of that resolution is translated below. 

I.  General Information
1. The Federal Agency of the Press and Mass Communications is the executive body for providing state services and managing state property in the sphere of the press, the mass media, and mass communications including computer networks, the use of electronic mass media, publishing and polygraphic activity.
2. The Federal Agency of the Press and Mass Communications is under the authority of the Ministry of Culture and Mass Communication of the Russian Federation.
3. The Federal Agency of the Press and Mass Communications operates within the guidelines as set forth by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, federal constitutional law, federal law, proclamations of the President of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Russian Federation, international treaties made by the Russian Federation, normative legal letters of the Ministry of Culture and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation, and also according to the present status and regulations of the country.

Muhammad ibn-Musa Al-Khorezmi      back to table of contents

A monument to Al-Khorezmi in KhivaMuhammad ibn-Musa Al-Khorezmi (780-850) was the chief mathematician in the once-great Baghdad academy of sciences.  Among his accomplishments was introducing the Arabs to the decimal and the zero.  His chief work was a book called Kitab al muhtasar fi hisab al gabr w'al muqubalah which roughly means "a brief introduction to calculating with rules of completion and reduction."  The book proved influential on Europe’s thinkers who corrupted the words for "calculation" (al gabr) to "algebra" and the author’s name Al-Khoresmi to "algorithm" (naming the mathematical concept after him).   Al-Khoresmi was originally from Khorazem, a settlement at the southern end of the Aral Sea, in present-day Uzbekistan. 

Panslavicism (as reason for expansion)      back to table of contents

The push into Central Asia was ostensibly to provide new trade routes, resources, and cheap labor to the Empire and the advance through Bishkek eventually gained access to the Caspian Sea. However, despite that most histories written from inside Central Asia depict this as a ruthless and systematic effort by imperial Russia, it seems to have come mostly as a result of the Russian armies being imbued by the ideals of panslavicism, a philosophy akin to and contemporary with Manifest Destiny in America and British imperial thought.  Panslavicism was a nationalistic philosophy that gained popularity during the later half of the 19th century.  It held that all Slavs should join together to form one great nation (although preferably one nation that would be, basically, Russia) and was instrumental especially in formulating the policies that governed Poland and other sections of the Empire in Eastern Europe.  The idea served wider purposes, however, asserting a certain superiority of the Slavic culture over others and justifying its expansion through, essentially, Social Darwinism. Indeed, the Russian Ministry of Finance rightly warned that the Empire could not afford to expand so quickly, but Alexander II was only powerful enough to acknowledge their warnings and passively applaud his troops' idealistic victories and severe oversteps of their orders.  It was perhaps just this idealism that helped the army hold the empire together, however.

Production Sharing Agreement (PSA)   back to table of contents

A Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) is a commercial contract between an investor and the state, which allows the investor to undertake large scale, long term and high-risk investments. The purpose of the PSA is to define the terms and conditions for the exploration and development of resources by replacing existing tax and license regimes with a contract based arrangement that exists for the life of the project. 

Russian-U.S. Joint Statement on Accession to the WTO   back to table of contents

Signed by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the United States of America George W. Bush on February 24, 2005, Bratislava, Slovakia.

Russia and the United States are committed to working together to complete our bilateral negotiations for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2005. The results of the negotiations will enhance commercial opportunities between our two countries, support economic reforms that Russia has made a priority, and further integrate Russia into the world economy. Our trade ministers have made progress in pursuing our bilateral negotiations, and we have instructed them to accelerate these efforts.

Russia and the United States will continue to work closely in bilateral and multilateral negotiations to resolve remaining issues in ways that benefit both countries. The rules-based system of the WTO will further strengthen our economic relationship in all areas, including agriculture, manufacturing, services, and the improved protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.

We will work to identify areas for progress in our bilateral negotiations that will give momentum to Russia's accession to the WTO and to Russia's economic reform program. 

"Russia2"     back to table of contents

"Russia2" was an art exhibit designed largely by Marat Gelman, a patron of the arts who runs his own gallery in Moscow and is known for scandal. "Russia2" sought to explore the "'other Russia' lying beyond the scope of the para-governmental, officious culture." Among other things, the artwork focused on such images as political and religious leaders and symbols, both past and present, juxtaposing them in shocking motifs. Stating that "the openly confrontational, provocative and scandalous nature of the exhibition does not fit in any account to any understanding of art and has nothing in common with it," nine artists from the Kremlin-friendly Moscow Union of Artists filled a lawsuit against Gelman and the Central House of Artists, which housed the exhibition, charging them with inciting religious hatred and political extremism, which are punishable offenses in Russia. They also sought 175,000 USD for "moral injury." The ruling was largely attributed to the fact that Marat Gelman is still well-connected at the Kremlin as a former political advisor and one of the men sent by President Putin to the Ukraine to assist in the election of Viktor Yanukovych (who was later ousted in the Orange Revolution). The defendants were found not guilty and the plaintiffs then had to pay the 58,000 RUR in court costs. "Russia2" was also shown in New York at the White Box Gallery as an independent counterpoint to the positive image of Russia shown in the Guggenheim's "RUSSIA!" exhibit at the turn of 2006. 
     New York Times article on the exhibit and case. 

The Scythians      back to table of contents

Scythian sword hiltThe Scythians are an ancient peoples of the Black Sea and Asian steppes. While recent excavations have shed light on much of their history, early origins remain a mystery. The earliest significant writing about these mysterious nomads on horseback comes from Herodotus, in 514 B.C., when he describes a strange event as Darius, leading a Persian army of 700,000 soldiers, was forced to retreat in an unusual sequence of events. The Scythians themselves were retreating, and Darius wanted to engage them in fighting. The Scythians, replied with a sort of veiled threat that at the same time prompted a realization on Darius' part that there was nothing to conquer - no buildings, no plunder, nothing but the endless steppe.

The Scythians are traditionally associated with the area between the Danube and the Don, but modern excavations in the Altai Mountains, particularly at the site of Pazyryk, suggest that their origins were in Western Siberia before they moved eastward into the Black Sea area in the early first millennium B.C.

Scythian Stag PlaqueThe Scythian civilization reigned between the 7th and 3rd centuries B.C., the height being the 4th century, under the great king Atheas, who united all Scythian tribes and expanded his territory to the right bank of the Danube. He was killed at the age of 90 in the battle with Philip of Macedon, though the Scythian kingdom survived and flourished. Only in the second half of the 3rd century B.C., when Celts and Thracians moved in from the west, and Sarmatians from the east, did instability set in. Ultimately, the Scythian kingdom was absorbed by other nomadic powers and disappeared from history.

The Scythians are noted for the enormous amount of gold that they wore and used. Archeologists are constantly amazed by the amount of gold that is found in the burial mounds of the Scythian kings. Their art (usually depicting animals) and working of this gold is equally as impressive as the volume. An impressive exhibit of Scythian gold is on display in a special section of the Hermitage Gallery in St. Petersburg. Much of the detail of the gold work you will view under a magnifying glass, causing you to stand in wonder at how this ancient civilization could create such minute detail with simple hand tools and no magnification.

The Scythians were also known for their horsemanship. They were one of the first civilizations to wear trousers. They developed bitted bridles, but not the stirrup, and relied on grip and balance with their saddleclothes. They were formidable in battle on horseback, and as they entered Asia, their techniques were rapidly adopted.

Monument to Shevchenko in Kiev - there are other monuments to him in Russia, Canada, and the USShevchenko, Taras      back to table of contents 

Taras Shevchenko was born a peasant and orphaned at the age of twelve. However, his owner was at least a moderately liberal man and, when he recognized the boy's talents as an artist, he agreed to apprentice him to a St. Petersburg artist. The artist's friends were so taken with him that they raffled a painting to raise money to by their compatriot's freedom. Shevchenko won praise as a painter, but is best known as the Shakespeare of the Ukrainian language – his major works are a collection of poems called Kobzar (named for the Ukrainian bards that once roamed Ukraine’s countryside) and Haidamaky, an epic poem. In 1847, he was arrested for fraternizing with a banned political society and exiled to Siberia for ten years on the grounds that he had written a subversive poem against the tsar. He was banned from writing or painting again. He died in 1861, at the age of 47.
     Info from Ukranian Encyclopedia Online

Sibir      back to table of contents

Former city, southeast of present-day Tobolsk in Western Siberian Russia. Founded in the 11th or 12th century, it became (early 16th cent.) the capital of the Tatar khanate of Sibir, which arose after the disintegration of the empire of the Golden Horde. The Cossack Yermak took the city of Sibir in 1581, thus marking the start of Moscow's conquest of what is now Siberia. The city was abandoned after the founding of Tobolsk in 1587.

Sogdian Trader - statue from China, the little man is hoding up what appears to be a wine gobletThe Sogdians     back to table of contents

The Sogdians were a civilization of Iranian peoples who once ruled land in Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan and surrounding areas.  They are remembered as merchants on the Silk Road (up to about the 8th century), as missionaries (mostly Buddhist, though many other religions were practiced in Sogdiana), and for the Sogdian Rock, a fortress captured by Alexander the Great in 327 BC. In the third century AD, they were conquered by the Scythians and by the late middle ages had been assimilated by the Persians and Uzbeks. 

Special Economic Zones in Russia     back to table of contents

President Putin signed Federal Law #116-FZ "On Special Economic Areas within the Russian Federation" on July 22, 2005. According to Article 2 of this law, special economic zones will be created on by the government and feature special tax regimes to develop the manufacturing and hi-tech sectors of the economy and promote the production of new product lines and the improvement of transport infrastructure... The law also specifies another type of area – Tax Free Zones (TFZ), which give sellers the right to import and use foreign made goods within special economic zones without paying custom fees and VAT.  Additionally,  these goods are not subject to economic sanctions applied according to the law "On State Regulation of Foreign Trade Activity."... Additionally, research expenses are recorded when incurred, which, in fact, decreases the tax base for the period when research was conducted and in the amount of actual expenses. Assets will not be subjected to property taxes for five years, beginning at the moment of a company's registration. This regulation covers only property, which is recoded on the balance sheet of a firm working in a special economic zone.  Interestingly, no limitations are put on the location of assets. Special tax concessions also cover profit taxes for residents of the industrial special economic zones: Accelerated depreciation is allowed, as is the carrying forward of 100 percent of losses. Special tax breaks on the unified social tax are given to technology-promoting zones, where the labor-output ratio is high... (from Alinga Consulting Group)  

The Staroveri (Old Believers)      back to table of contents

Old Believers at Malinovsky Monastery, NovgorodIn 1443, the Tsar declared the Russian Church independent of the Byzantine Orthodoxy in Constantinople, and shortly thereafter a long era of reform among the clergy was initiated. By 1589, the patriarch in Constantinople acknowledged the Russian separation and the Archbishop of Novgorod, Nikon, began implementing the reforms. In 1653, Nikon sent a memorandum to the churches across the Russian State, which instructed them in various revisions of the services and the books. Among the major points contested were: (1) how many fingers would be used to make the sign of the cross; (2) the spelling of Jesus' name; (3) whether "Alleluia" should be sung two or three times; (4) the retention of certain words and phrases in the Creed; (5) the number of hosts to be used in the liturgy; and (6) whether the priests should walk around the altar with or against the passage of the sun. These reforms met with opposition from many of the clergy, which lead to the raskol (split) of the Russian church on many branches. However, common attitudes and practices united the scattered branches of Old Belief, who rejected the reformed service books introduced by Patriarch Nikon. The disputes might have been settled in the course of a few councils, had not Nikon pressed his hand too early and forcefully. He had his opponents flogged, exiled, and even burned at the stake. Among the exiles was the Arch-priest Avvakum, who continued to serve as a spiritual leader for many of the dissenters and was eventually burned at the stake in 1682. For Old Believers, the defense of the old liturgy and traditional culture was a matter of primary importance; for all, the old ritual was at least a badge of identification and a unifying slogan.

Many Old Believers had to flee their homes into Siberia and abroad, with the largest groups settling in China, North and South America. Some of the dissenters believed that the age of the Anti-Christ had come and that the end of the world was near. In the years 1666-1668, numerous fields throughout Western Russia were neglected while the faithful adorned themselves in burial clothes and awaited the end of the world in their cemeteries at night, singing hymns and sitting in wooden coffins. Others set buildings afire where they waited inside to be cleansed and to perish in the flames so that they might join Christ before Judgment Day. Between these and the others who were burned to death by persecutors, it has been estimated that more than 20,000 Old Believers died between 1672 and 1691 alone.

BabushkaFrom those days on to the Revolution of 1917, the Old Believer sects suffered varying degrees of persecution at the hands of henchmen either of the Orthodoxy or various Tsars. Under Catherine II, Paul and Alexander I, they were tolerated and thrived in some areas, but under Peter the Great and Nicholas I, they often had to continue fleeing to outer regions of Russia and other countries to avoid death or imprisonment. During the last half of the 19th century, the position of the Orthodox Church softened with regard to the Old Believer question, and the 1909 Council made the first official conciliations by restoring a few of the decanonized saints which were favorites among the Old Believers. However, another potent socio-political force came in the Revolution of 1919 and later, in Stalin's measures against religious adherents of all stripes.

Religion is clearly central to the Old Believer society. It affects virtually every major portion of their social and inner lives. They base their interpretations of the Word of God on a number of books, which tell them in considerable detail how to live virtually each day of the year.

In the many general histories of Russia, the Old Believers, like a river in the desert, appear at their source, the great church schism of the Seventeenth century, then go underground and thereafter appear only intermittently on the surface of national events. Their numerical strength makes the Old Believers a significant element in the history of Russian society and culture.

The spirit world of the Old Believer is an active one, populated with angels and demons, which constantly engage themselves in an every-day tug-of-war for the souls of people on earth. Demons are said to be particularly sneaky and insidious; they can turn up anywhere. There are specific practices, which the individual is supposed to use for his/her protection against invasion or temptation at the hands of demons. For example, all open dishes should be covered so that a demon cannot hide there and be eaten by the next person to take a meal from that dish.

In the home, every meal and even the preparation of various foods and other household tasks must be blessed. In a prominent corner of the front room of each Old Believer home stands a small altar with the family icon sitting in a small shelter, curtained with an embroidered covering. Whenever a visiting Old Believer enters the home, he is ordinarily to bow three times from the waist before the icon (which is usually at about eye-level) and say a prayer which translates approximately: "O God be merciful to me, a sinner. You, O Lord who created me, have mercy on me. I have sinned without number, O Lord, have mercy on me and forgive me, a sinner." The entering person usually does this before even greeting the individuals whom he has come to visit. This obeisance is also the first act performed upon entering a church.

The chanting or hymns of the Staroveri are sung only by the men during the services. They have their historical and musical roots firmly embedded in the Byzantine chant of Tenth Century vintage. The pitch is relative rather than absolute, but the scale consists of 12 notes lying roughly in the tenor register. The hymns often contain two closely harmonized parts, with intervals consisting mostly of major and minor thirds and fifths.

Upon the death of an individual, the body is washed and prepared for burial by an older man or woman, usually a close relative of the deceased. A few male relatives then build a coffin and cross out of wood, if this has not been done already (some people build the coffins for their parents when they see that their parents have few years left to live). In the meantime, a dinner is prepared and relatives and friends are summoned to the house of the deceased for evening services there. There is then a processional with the coffin to the cemetery, where more prayers are said as the coffin is lowered into the ground. Everyone present has to pitch some dirt over the grave.

Taiga      back to table of contents

Taiga is a Russian word for the massive boreal forest which spans northern Russia. It is the largest terrestrial biome on earth. It extends in a broad band across North America, Europe, and Asia to the southern border of the Arctic tundra. It is also found at cool high elevations in the more temperate latitudes, for example, in much of the mountainous western region of North America. Long, cold winters, and short, occasionally warm, wet summers are typical of this region. The soil is thin, nutrient-poor, and acidic. There is usually only one or a few species in a stand in a particular area. These include different species of spruce, pine, or fir, and often there is little undergrowth present. There may also occasionally be deciduous species present, such as oak, birch, willow, or alder, in a particularly wet or disturbed area. Animal populations are mainly seed-eating squirrels and jays, herbivores such as leaf eating insects and larger browsing animals such as deer, moose, elk, snowshoe hare, and beavers. The typical predators for this area are grizzly bears, wolves, lynxes and wolverines. Many have thick coats of fur to insulate against the cold, and some hibernate. 

The Tulip Revolution      back to table of contents

The Tulip Revolution (sometimes "Pink Revolution") started on March 24, 2005.  It was the "Colored Revolution" that removed Kyrgyzstan’s long-time president Askar Akayev who had held power since Kyrgyzstan’s independence in 1991.  A former liberal reformer, he lost favor after his economic reforms proved unsuccessful and corruption soared.  When, at a low point in his popularity, his supporters mysteriously won 69 seats of Kyrgyzstan’s 75-seat parliament, riots broke out and the presidential palace stormed.  Russia has called the revolt unlawful and has given asylum to the pro-Russia Akayev.  America asserts that it was an expression of the peoples’ will and Russia should accept that, in the words of Condoleezza Rice, "liberalization and democracy around Russia will lead to greater prosperity within Russia."

The Volga Germans      back to table of contents

Inhabitants of a former autonomous republic of the USSR, along the lower Volga River of SW Russia. Its largely German population was descended from the German colonists whom Catherine II had invited to settle there in 1762. The autonomous republic was formed in 1924.

As a result of the German invasion of the USSR, the republic was dissolved (1941), and the entire German population (about 440,000) was deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan. The Volga Germans were then stripped of their citizenship and did not regain their civil rights until after Stalin's death.

Yermak      back to table of contents

Russian conqueror of Siberia; his name also occurs as Yermak Timofeyevich. The leader of a band of independent Russian Cossacks, Yermak spent his early career plundering the czar's ships on the Volga and later entered the service of a merchant family, the Stroganovs. They sent Yermak on an expedition to protect their lands in Western Siberia from attack by local tribes.

Advancing in river boats, Yermak and his band crossed the Urals and with the superior force of firearms conquered (1582) the capital of the Tatar khanate of Sibir; he placed the conquered territory under the protection of Czar Ivan IV and asked him for aid. Yermak was killed in an encounter with the Tatars, and his troops were forced to retreat. However, Russian troops retook the territory in 1586.

Yukos and Property Rights      back to table of contents

Question asked by a member of press: The Yukos affair gave rise to a lot of discussion about the illegitimacy of major industrial holdings that were privatised in the 1990s, on the one hand, and also to talk of insufficient protection of property rights in Russia, on the other hand. Do you think there is a problem with the legitimacy of assets that were privatised in the 1990s, and should some particular efforts be made to settle this problem? And how can we resolve the undeniable problem of providing adequate protection for property rights?

Answer given by Dmitri Medvedev, Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office: I don't know what legitimacy of property means. There is no such concept in law. What's more, contrary to the widely held belief, I don’t think we can say that Russian law provides inadequate protection of property rights. Our Civil Code and other civil laws are among the most modern in the world. The problem, clearly, lies elsewhere. For a start, there is not enough stability in our property relations. We have the laws, but the stability is lacking. This is the root of our problems. To be fair, this problem of lack of respect for property is one of Russia's historic woes. The 1990s privatisations were revolutionary, they took place very fast and the rules were not always thought through. This is why concerns arise that someone will then come and take assets away again under some pretext or other. We need to put an end to these concerns through legally correct means. There is also obvious dissatisfaction with the way the court system works. The Soviet system for defending property rights in court was one-sided and under-developed, while the Russian system is still in the process of formation. Certain commercial disputes in which all possible resources, from official clout to money – let’s be frank about it – were mobilised to protect the interests of rival business groups also had a negative impact on the new Russian system’s development. We need to put an end to all this. We cannot allow any “justice market”. Everyone who was involved in forming it understands this today. A public consensus has now emerged regarding the value of the court system being for everyone. The main thing now is to abide by the rules of decency and not attempt to influence the outcome and decisions. We all need an independent court system – the authorities, business and individual citizens. (from Expert Magazine)


Questions or comments about this article?  Contact the editor.

« back to Politics in Translation archive