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I suppose I should get another Open Thread going before people begin to think I got Mossaded (bearing in mind the topic of the previous post). Speaking of that, a recent poll found that 42% think he was murdered, vs. 29% who buy into the suicide theory. Is this the US general public’s most significant acceptance of a “conspiracy theory” (as defined by officialdom and Vox – “Russiagate” is also a conspiracy theory, but is not considered as such) in modern history?

I am noticing a major uptick in Sinophobic sentiments. They have been building up gradually, in connection with the Uyghur nonsense, but they have been turbocharged by the metastasizing Hong Kong protests. Chinese bots (or people considered to be such) have been getting mass deleted on Twitter. I wonder if this marks the point at which the China hysteria will overtake Russophrenia as the “Great Bifurcation” between the Blue Empire and the Sinosphere accelerates.

I am halfway through Janet Martin’s Medieval Russia, 980-1584. I will imminently have a lot of powerful takes come the review.

Just a heads up that I do not think I will be able to resume intensive blogging for yet another 2-3 days. Apologies for the hiatus.

 
• Tags: Open Thread 
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All elites need some kind of internal disciplinary mechanism for their polity to function.

In traditional societies, it is mainly the aristocracy’s sense of solidarity, noblesse oblige, feudal bonds, the Mannerbund institute. Though I don’t mean to idealize it. It proved completely maladaptive come the industrial age.

In totalitarian regimes, chiliastic ideology and repression/terror plays a major role.

Modern, largely non-ideological populist regimes at odds with GloboHomo – that’s Putin, Orban, etc. – distribute resources or economic “demesnes” to their cronies, creating networks of personal loyalty unbeholden to the global elites – a sort of “counter-elite,” or Dugin’s so-called “patriotic corruption“. One additional “benefit” of such systems is that damning kompromat is available on “defectors” by default. Though obviously this is not the only mechanism. Putinism also has elements of a Mannerbund, as well as more severe punishments.

China has elements of all the above, but with greater load on legitimizing ideology (it is still a Marxist-Leninist state) and on repression.

But how does GloboHomo, Blue Empire, Davos World, ZOG – call it what you will – keep its elites in line?

Western propaganda would have you believe it’s some inherent feature of liberal democracy – the political equivalent of efficient free markets.

Alternatively, the remarkable consolidation of ideology in politics, media, and academia across both the Atlantic and ideological spectrum in decade or two can be explained by requiring some critical number of “Inner Party” members to engage in highly criminal and morally damning “rituals” to advance in station (as Ron Unz has suggested in a recent essay that has suddenly become extremely pertinent). For this mechanism to work, the “rituals” in question must remain strongly taboo. It is rather curious to note that pedophilia is perhaps the one sexual deviation that hasn’t become more “understood” in the past decade, and if anything the converse – even though mutilating children in the name of gender ideology is now all fine and dandy.

The patsy in charge of organizing and taping all this kompromat can enjoy life and be amply rewarded for it, but as we see, he is ultimately disposable so far as the real power brokers are concerned.

They need not worry about exposure. Picus News can be relied upon to divert to Russia. The smol brains on either side will debate whether the #BodyCount is Trump’s or Clinton’s.

 
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This week’s open thread. I am going to Volokolamsk again today – so there’ll probably be an update. 🙂 I will be staying for a day at the Joseph-Volokolamsk Monastery, will also try to swing by the New Jerusalem Monastery in Istra on my way back.

***

@ak

More notable posts since the last Open Thread in case you missed any of them.

***

Featured

  • Epstein chokes on pizza.
    • Michael Tracey: “The popular media definition of “conspiracy theories” is incoherent. They’ve spent three years pushing a debunked Trump/Russia conspiracy, but now will try to denigrate anyone who suggests a sinister explanation for the suspicious, sudden death of Epstein as a crazy conspiracist
    • NBC: “A guy who had information that would have destroyed rich and powerful men’s lives ends up dead in his jail cell. How predictably…Russian.
    • Jim Hoft: “What Censorship? Twitter Removes #ClintonBodyCount with 84,000 Mentions from Trending List After Epstein Death – Replaces with Trump, Barr Hashtags
  • 1 year bond yields <0% throughout Europe

***

Russia

  • The recent US sanctions: Worth noting US only sanctioned foreign currency denominated Russian debt (which Russia hardly issues), not ruble-denominated OFZs.Many US funds invested into OFZ (foreigners make up ~30% of holders) so probably their lobbying at work.
  • Insomniac Resurrected: Myrotvorets Confirms Georgians Piss in the Wine
  • Post of a Russian nationalist oppositionist – his friend suggested the protesters wear St. George’s ribbons, to which the libs replied, “Why not also smear yourself in shit? Or put on a swastika? It’s horrific to just pick it up, never mind to wear it.”
  • Ivan Tkachev: “In Q1 $6.3bn of Russian exports to China was settled in dollars, CBR data imply, while exports of oil and oil products totaled $9bn. This means a large chunk of petroleum exports was settled in currencies other than USD. For the 1st time USD share of 🇷🇺 exports to 🇨🇳 went < 50%.
  • Female protester “melts down.”
  • Ben Aris: “#Ukraine poultry producer is ending its production of foie gras as part of its efforts to improve its #ESG score. ESG is becoming a theme across whole region
    • Is it even possible to avoid the infiltration of Woke Capitalism without going full autarky?
  • Anders Aslund: “The broader implication of Russia’s rising reserves is that Putin prepares for war rather than taking care of his people. The additional reserves imply less investment & GDP growth. Bad for Russia.
    • Is Aslund… Even half sane these days? If you’re actually preparing for war, you’d be drawing down reserves to import foreign resources & capital. What use are they once war starts? Nazi Germany maintained reserves of just two weeks worth of imports from the late 1930s.
  • RT: Russia declares Atlantic Council think tank an ‘undesirable’ organization – what exactly is it?
  • Remember that brouhaha over Putler’s lesbocide a few weeeks ago? Turns out that Elena Grigoryeva’s murderer was a 38 y/o immigrant from Kyrgyzstan with an existing criminal record who killed her in a “domestic conflict” after drinking spirits.

***

World

  • Paul Poast (powerful surname): “But I found one point by @sarahsunnbush to be particularly revelatory: that the coding, regardless of the coding rule, is not consistently applied — US allies tend to receive better scores.
    • Study confirms what I have long claimed – US based “freedom”/”democracy” indices biased in favor of Washington D.C.’s friends & vassals.
  • Steve Hsu on France’s atomic program:
    • De Gaulle: It’s taking forever! … I want the first experiment to take place before I leave! Do you hear me? It’s of capital importance. Of the five nuclear powers, are we going to be the only one which hasn’t made it to the thermonuclear level? Are we going to let the Chinese get ahead of us? If we do not succeed while I am still here, we shall never make it! My successors, from whatever side, will not dare to go against the protests of the Anglo-Saxons, the communists, the old spinsters and the Church. And we shall not open the gate. But if a first explosion happens, my successors will not dare to stop halfway into the development of these weapons.
    • Atomophilia is like a Rorschach test for patriotism.

***

Coffee Salon

***

Culture War

  • Steve Sailer: “Dept. of Strange Bedfellows Squared: Now @yhazony is teaming up with @nntaleb in teaming up with low-brow Science Denialist @AngelaDSaini.
    • Hazony: “Read this important exchange between @clairlemon and @nntaleb . Ignore the rhetoric and follow the argument. Academic papers on population genetics are fueling the rise of a political theory based on racial determinism. Academic freedom isn’t at all the only pressing issue here.
      • Taleb: “Behavioral genetics is largely an intellectual fraud. Resisting promoting them, @clairlemon , even if you like their message.
  • Leonid Bershidsky blocks me on Twitter – looks like he is really attached to his idea that PUTLER dragged Russians into Crimea against their will. A journalist frand suggests this is a touchy topic for Bershidsky – he used Crimea as his excuse to get out of Russia – but his career hasn’t taken off as he perhaps had hoped it would in the West (went from chief editorship of large Russia media sites to a Bloomberg columnist).
  • *powerful take* The German infinity mirror
 
• Tags: Open Thread 
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As commenter Reykur recently pointed out – citing the work of the blogger denalt, there is a rather curious phenomenon occurring in a few ethnic Russian regions, where rural fertility has exploded in the past decade.

There are precisely four of these regions – Arkhangelsk, Komi, Kirov, and Karelia – and they are all located in the Russian North. (These patterns do NOT apply to neighboring & culturally close Murmansk and Vologda).

As you can see from the above graph, there has been a rather strange divergence between rural fertility rates in those four Russian regions and Russia as a whole. Moreover, they even overtook rural fertility in DICh (Dagestan, Ingushetia, Chechnya) around 5 years ago.

Even for a rural locale, a fertility rate of 4-4.5 children per woman is probably almost unmatched in any other predominantly white society in the world today. And yes, just to confirm, those regions are predominantly ethnic Russian: Arkhangelsk – 94%; Komi – 62%; Kirov – 89%; Karelia – 79%.

denalt has termed this phenomenon the “Northern Renaissance”, and suggests that they are the long-sought Russian “breeders”:

In the search for the Russian Haredim we looked into the houses of priests, the villages of the Old Believers, and even the Kazakh steppes, we missed their actual emergence on the historical scene.

I wouldn’t make too much of these figures.

In particular, the urban fertility rates of these regions are actually even lower than for their region as a whole, so as a result Arkhangelsk current TFR (1.58) is barely different from Novgorod’s (1.56). Nonetheless, it is certainly something worth bearing in mind.

In another post, denalt looks at demographic trends in some specific villages of Arkhangelsk oblast. Quite a few of them are undergoing population increase, which is rather remarkable considering (1) the massive amount of Soviet boomers dying off in these areas and (2) massive emigration from these villages. One interesting pattern he notices is that the the growing villages tend to have a church (often either newly built, or restored from disuse since the early 1930s deChristianization campaign). While I don’t know if the Church or the population growth came first, there is clearly a correlation and this suggests that Russia’s church-building spree under Putin is a very good thing.

 
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This is yet another question that excites much heated commentary in the “Ukraine debates.”

There is a “school” of thought amongst the more ideological Russophiles that the Ukraine has completely emptied out. Here is an article by Andrey Fomin in which he argues that it only has 22-24 million people versus the official figure of 42 million. This article is typical of the “genre”.

I debunked such ridiculously low estimates in my “Ukrotriumph” article from last year.

Even so, while the Ukraine has more than 24 million people, it is still way short of 42 million. But by how much?

  • The official Ukrainian figures exclude Crimea, but include all of the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts (including those controlled by the LDNR).
  • The official population of the LDNR is around 3.8M – let’s consider it to be 3.5M in practice.
  • There are approximately 5M Ukrainians temporarily or permanently abroad at any given time (as will be reflected in the next Census in 2020).

So my best guess is that the real population of the Ukraine is currently around 33.5M (official: 42.0M).

More recently, Dean Fantazzini – an economist at Moscow State University – estimated the Ukraine’s population to be 32.0M on the basis of regression of birth data for east and central Europe. As he notes, Igor Kolomoysky recently made the exact same estimate.

The blogger acer120 estimates 32.0-32.5M based on voter rolls.

Incidentally, commenter AP estimates that Ukraine’s real population is 35.0M. So we can see a pretty good convergence of estimates from people all across the ideological spectrum.

For comparison, Russia’s real population is around 150.1M (official: 146.8M). Perhaps the one bright spot (from Russia’s POV) in post-Soviet relations between the two countries is that its population advantage over the Ukraine has increased from less than 3:1 in 1992 (148.5M to 52.1) to almost 5:1 today (146.9M to ~33M). It is ironic that Ukrainian independence has been worse for Ukraine’s population balance vis-a-vis Russia than anything that Lazar Kaganovich and the Nazis did.

And it’s rather likely that this dynamic will continue, especially if the Kremlin continues to make serious steps on my recommendation of vacuuming up Ukraine’s remaining human capital.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Demographics, Ukraine 
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This is one of the main topics of discussion in the endless “Ukraine debates” on this blog, though not one that I usually participate in due to lack of qualification in this subject.

That said, I recently saw a very interesting article that I believe definitively answers the question.

While supporters of the Ukraine’s Polish slant/Western identity often cite the following graph of lexical distance, which appears to show Ukrainian as being closer to Polish than to Russian…

… the problem with statistical analysis of how close words are to each other is that “cultural innovations” in one language can create the appearance of rapid divergence between otherwise closely related languages.

This point is well illustrated by linguist Asya Pereltsvaig in a blog post from 2014, where she explains this in terms that non-specialists can understand.

For instance, based on the names of the different months, one might conclude that Russian is in an altogether different cluster from Polish, Ukrainian, and Belorussian.

The reality, of course, is that Russian adopted Julian calendar terms, while the Poles and White Russians and Little Russians retained the Slavic originals:

However, this view results from an incorrect interpretation of the data. Rather than being testimony for the closer link of Belarusian/Ukrainian to Polish than to Russian, these data result from the fact that Russian adopted the month names of the Julian calendar, while the other three languages generally retained the original Slavic terms… the earlier Slavic names for months “show etymologies … reflecting various aspects of flora, fauna, climate and activity”. For example, the term for February derives from ‘bitter, fierce’ in reference to the typically cold weather of the month. The term for ‘July’ comes from ‘linden tree’; interestingly, Russian has the word lipa for ‘linden tree’ but it does not preserve the month name based on it. Likewise, ‘September’ is the ‘heather’-month, while ‘November’ is the ‘leaf-falling’ month. The other month names that are not shared between the three languages—Belarusian, Ukrainian, and Polish—may come from different roots, but they too have weather- or activity-describing etymologies: for example, the name for ‘August’ in Ukrainian and Polish comes from the word for ‘sickle’ (cf. Russian serp‘sickle’), while in Belarusian it derives from the root for ‘reaping’. Similarly, the names for ‘October’ in Belarusian and Polish derive from two different words for ‘flax’, while the Ukrainian term comes from the root for ‘yellow’. Crucially for our argument, the shared cognates across Belarusian, Ukrainian, and Polish are shared retentions, not shared innovations; lexicostatistical methods often take this sort of data—mistakenly!—to be evidence of common descent.

Russian has borrowed heavily from Finnic and Turkic languages, as well as Old Church Slavonic (the latter, I think, explains its short lexical distance from Bulgarian).

Even so, the three East Slavic languages share phonological commonalities that make them far closer to each other than either is to Polish, or other West/South Slavic languages:

The first such phenomenon is the so-called pleophony. As a result of a complex series of changes, East Slavic languages ended up with sequences -oro– and -olo- (in roots of words), whereas West Slavic languages have corresponding -ro– and -lo-. Compare, for example, the Russian k orova ‘cow’ and z oloto ‘gold’ to Polish k rowa and z łoto. Importantly, Ukrainian and Belarusian follow the Russian pleophony pattern: for example, ‘cow’ in Ukrainian is korova and in Belarusian karova; ‘gold’ in Ukrainian is zoloto and in Belarusian zolata (generally, Ukrainian does not reduce vowels the same way Russian does, while Belarusian does reduce vowels and reflects the vowel reduction in spelling as well; as a result, Russian words are spelled like the Ukrainian ones, while their pronunciation is closer to their Belarusian counterparts).

Another phonological pattern that groups the three East Slavic languages in contrast to Polish (and other West Slavic languages) is the treatment of nasal vowels inherited from Proto-Slavic: in the East Slavic languages these vowels have lost their nasal qualities, whereas Polish has retained nasal vowels. The back nasal vowels, essentially the short and long nasal o-sounds, have been replaced in East Slavic by /u/, as in r uka ‘hand’ and z ub ‘tooth’ (shared by all three East Slavic languages). In contrast, in Polish these have become the nasal e- and a-sounds, marked in Polish orthography by the hooks under the corresponding vowel letters, as in r ęka (pronounced /renka/) and z ąb (pronounced /zamp/). Similarly, the short and long nasal e-sounds have turned into /a/ in East Slavic, as in p’at’ ‘five’ and r’ad ‘row’ (subsequently, in Belarusian the “soft” r-sound has been turned “hard”, as in rad ‘row’). The corresponding forms in Polish feature nasal e- and a-sounds, as in pięć ‘five’ (pronounced /pjenč/) and rz ąd (pronounced /žand/). Once again, Belarusian and Ukrainian pattern with Russian rather than with Polish.

So, Belorussian, Ukrainian – much closer to Russian than to Polish. But superficially appears more distant on account of differential vocabulary borrowings.

 
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Sergiev Posad is a city of slightly more than 100,000 people that is 75 km to the north-east of Moscow. Unlike the other cities on my list, I am not going to say much about Sergiev Posad’s socioeconomic status. I was there for a day, and it was filled up with purely “touristic” things. As in Kolomna, the population has declined by 10% since the end of the end of the Soviet period, when it was called Zagorsk (in honor of the Jewish revolutionary Mikhail Zagorsky, whose main accomplishment seems to have been spreading Bolshevik propaganda amongst Russian POWs in German captivity during WW1). During the late Soviet era, the city was a major center of chemical weapons production, which was shuttered down during the 1990s.

On the bright side, Sergiev Posad appears to one of the major epicenters of Russia’s drive to restore its previously neglected and/or destroyed historical legacy. The churches are in much better condition than they were even just five years ago. Frescoes have been restored or repainted. Dirt paths have been paved over, at least in the tourist areas. And with the ROC now declaring its intention to make Sergiev Posad into the Vatican of global Orthodoxy, we can expect to see these transformations accelerate even further.

***

Our adventure didn’t get off on the very best footing. Our train took us to Fryazino, a small town away in the middle of nowhere, instead of Sergiev Posad, which was 40 km away. This wasn’t our fault, since at least a couple dozen other passengers faced the same problem – it was obviously a screw-up on the part of the people who were manning the information displays in Moscow. To add insult to injury, the turnstiles wouldn’t let us leave the station, since our tickets were for Sergiev Posad; this would have necessitated buying a second pair of tickets right at the station. Nor was continuing by train an option, since there was no route to Sergiev Posad; continuing by rail would necessitate a return trip to Moscow.

Since Russian Railways were too sovok to refund our tickets, to apologize, or even let us out, the stranded passengers also solved things the good old sovok way by climbing over the station fence and across the rail tracks [see photo]. My companion was uncomfortable about climbing that fence, so we stormed the turnstiles instead. Fortunately, Yandex Taxi (Russia’s Uber) is cheap, so we got the rest of the way by car.

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Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius

Entrance to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, the heart of the Russian monastic tradition.

As in Veliky Novgorod, one starkly noticeable thing was the proliferation of Chinese tourists on package tours.

I found it rather amusing that there were signs telling Russians and Chinese to be quiet – the latter in extra large characters – but not for Anglophone tourists.

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The Refectory Church was constructed in the late 17th century. The building was close to a ruin a decade ago. Since then, it was restored, including the indoors frescoes.

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The Trinity Cathedral (1422–1423) [left] is the oldest building in this complex. It houses the relics of St. Sergey of Radonezh (1314-1392), a hermit who played a crucial role in Russian history.

Sergey left Moscow to seek God in the forests outside the city. But his solitude was soon interrupted, as a growing stream of monks trickled out to join him. The community of ascetics in the forests soon developed a settlement (posad) around it.

This would subsequently form a template – a “killer app” of monastic core, armed camp, trading settlement – around which the colonization of the Russian North and beyond would subsequently occur. This was in contradistinction to the old ways, in which monasteries were attached to particular cities.

Sergey blessed Dmitry Donskoy before the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380.

The Bolsheviks closed the Lavra in 1920, and destroyed its bells in 1930. They also wanted to destroy the relics of St. Sergey of Radonezh, but were thwarted in their plans by a conspiracy of Orthodox priests, who hid them away until the Lavra was reopened in 1946. The Russian theological, mathematician, and scientist Pavel Florensky martyred himself to keep the secret of where the relics were hidden.

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The Dormition Cathedral.

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Tomb of the Patriarch Alexis I, who reached a “reconciliation” with Stalin on the permitted role of the Church in Soviet life in return for absolute loyalty to the Soviet state.

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Guest Izba

The “Guest Izba” (Гостевая изба) is a very nice restaurant offering Russian and local cuisine. The windows made from mica are a cool authentic touch (this colored mineral was used instead of glass in windows in medieval Russia).

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Sergiev Posad streets

Here are some typical streets in Sergiev Posad.

The Sergiev Posad Museum-Zapovednik was closed in preparation for an exhibition when we were there, so we went on straight to the Abramtsevo Museum-Reserve (see below). You can easily get there by railway or taxi from Sergiev Posad.

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The Eternal Flame in Sergiev Posad.

The lake close to the Lavra.

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Abramtsevo Estate

The Abramtsevo Estate was a 19th century center for the national/Romantic strain of the Russian visual arts. Its initial owner, Sergey Aksakov, had Nikolay Gogol over as a regular guest. After his death, it was bought by Savva Mamontov, a wealthy railroad tycoon who wished he had had the time and money to master the arts himself, and thus used his wealth to sponsor existing artists instead. Members of the artistic collective that hung round the estate during the summers included Ilya Repin, Mikhail Nesterov, Viktor Vasnetsov, and Vasily Polenov, and Mikhail Vrubel.

The Mamontov family played an active role in many of these artistic creations.

Their ultimate fates were rather tragic. Both of Savva’s sons died in relative youth, as did his daughter Vera (the subject of the famous “Girl with Peaches” painting; while the original is at the Tretyakov Gallery, there is a reproduction at the estate museum). The tycoon himself lived just long enough to see his estate expropriated by the Bolsheviks, who would subsequently portray him as an exploiter for building Russia many of its railways.

The road back to the railway station, recently built to connect it to the Abramstevo estate. (A few years ago this was a dirt track).

 
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The city of Novgorod has played a central role in the emergence of the Russian state since its founding in 862, as per the Primary Chronicle. That was the approximate date of the appearance of the first settlement at Rurikovo Gorodishche, around 2 km south of the present day city: “And so Rurik acquired sole power and came to Lake Ilmen, and founded a city on the River Volkhov, and named it Novgorod, and ruled from thence, and distributed volosts to his retainers and founded cities.” It was the capital of the ancient Russian state until 882, when Rurik’s son Oleg conquered Kiev and named it the mother of Russian cities.

As you might have guessed, despite being one of the oldest Russian cities, its name literally means “New City”. I suppose everything was new at some point.

Novgorod acquired independence from Kiev around 1020, and threw off princely rule in favor of a republic in 1136. Its subsequent form of government that has been described as proto-democratic (liberal historiography) and/or oligarchic (Marxist historiography). Yet despite its “cosmopolitan” status as a highly literate trading hub with strong links to the Hanseatic League, it was also an undoubtedly Russian city, with patriotic and even proto-nationalistic sentiments. The Russkaya Pravda law code famously prescribed much leaner penalties for murdering foreigners than Russians. When the Mongols invaded Russia in 1237-40, it was Novgorod that coughed up the cash to pay off the tribute imposed by the Horde for the sake of “the whole of the Russian land.”

The “interesting” part of Novgorod’s history comes with the end of its independence in the late 15th century, and the end of any lingering autonomies after the massacre visited upon it by Ivan IV (“The Terrible”) in 1570. Henceforth, it would be just another rural, backwater province of the Russian Empire.

Today, apart from its cultural legacy, the city is an unremarkable provincial city of the Russian Federation; my impression was that it was actually rather run down. Many of the less prominent churches are crumbling and abandoned. The roads become rather bad less than 1 km from the center. That said, it’s far from a disaster zone. Since the end of the USSR, the population has only fallen from 235,000 to 222,000 – rather modest numbers for a city that isn’t that far from the gravitational well of Saint-Petersburg. Major employers whose products are widely available include the Novgorod Metallurgical Plant and the Alkon vodka distillery.

If you come to Novgorod, I would recommend the following program:

  • Explore the city, including the Kremlin and the historic buildings across the river. Dependent on how much you like old churches, that will take half a day to a full day.
  • You can visit active excavation sites, which are within walking distance of the Kremlin. They don’t mind tourists walking about the pits.
  • Vitoslavlitsy Museum of Wooden Architecture. Can visit it via bus tour. Half a day.
  • Rurikovo Gorodishche, the oldest/original settlement. Also half a day. I recommend taking the boat trip there.

So to get the full flavor of the city you should really provision for three days, though you can cut it down to two by being less assiduous about the churches and skipping Vitoslavlitsy and/or Rurikovo Gorodishche.

If you stay for more than three days, you can spend the fourth day by visiting the remaining museums (e.g. the Hall of Military Glory on WW2), the more obscure churches, or signing up for an excursion to some other museums and crafts workshops (a good place to start for learning about bus schedules, etc. is at the tourist information center in the Kremlin Park). Alternatively, if you are staying for five days to a week, you can take a day-long bus excursion to Staraya Russa (the second city of the Novgorod Republic) or to the Valdai (a small, scenic town that famously hosts the Valdai Discussion Club).

While I didn’t spend much energy investigating, my impression is that there is no real nightlife as such, and the few establishments which cater to that crowd seemed to be dubious places. Ordinary young people were drinking cheap beer and cavorting outside at night over the weekends.

I should point out that there is almost zero point in visiting Novgorod if you are not interested in its medieval history. Absent its remarkable cultural legacy, it is just another unremarkable and not particularly thriving middling Russian city. Unless you are visiting for Zavod BAR. That’s worth a visit just by itself if time and money are of no object. This might just be the best restaurant I have been to in Russia to date.

Regarding tourist mementos, I would recommend the local birch bark products (e.g. paintings, salt holders) and/or the metalwork plaques of the Novgorod Metallurgical Factory.

My final cultural observation is that there were a stunning amount of Chinese tourists, at least around the most prominent landmarks. I estimate they made up to a fifth all of the tourists there.

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Train tickets are still very cheap in Russia – $30 for a platskart (common sleeping area) and $50 for a four person cabin on an overnight journey from Moscow. It doesn’t lie on the Moscow-SPB route, so there are no fast Sapsan trains.

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Central Novgorod

The main boulevard from the train station to the center is in the imposing, gravitas-laden Soviet style.

It is dominated by the “City of Military Glory” obelisk, surrounded by four steles featuring heroic scenes from the Battle on the Ice, the Time of Troubles, and the Great Patriotic War.

This is the central administrative building for a city of 222,000 inhabitants. I have remarked in the past on how commies from Volokolamsk to Ploesti have this habit of plonking down imposing architectural monstrosities that are wildly out the sync with the local area’s actual demographics.

The central square right before the Kremlin gates is massive and contains the obligatory massive Lenin statue.

On our last day there, it hosted a military/historical recreation event.

Aiming a Dragunov at Lenin’s head in hopes of getting “decommunization” achievement.

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Novgorod Kremlin

Entrance to the Novgorod Kremlin, which contains the Cathedral of St. Sophia (oldest church in Russia), the Novgorod State Museum, and the Sophia Belfry.

This road passes through the Kremlin to a bridge over the Volkhov River, and then on to the great bulk of Novgorod’s historical ecclesiastical architecture.

Occupying pride of place within the Kremlin, the Monument to the Russian Millennium was constructed in 1862 to mark the thousand year anniversary of the genesis of the Russian state.

This is a remarkable work of art; a thousand years of events and dozens of historical figures condensed down to 100 tons of bronze. The Germans dismantled it during the occupation, but were unable to cart it away to Germany in time.

Very powerful balcony.

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Views from the Sophia Belfry and the Kremlin walls along the River Volkhov:

We will now exit the Kremlin and cross the bridge to the eastern part of Novgorod, but we will return here in due course.

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Central Streets, River, & Churches

There is a Great Patriotic War memorial immediately before the bridge and at the south end of the Kremlin.

LDPR backpack.

Monument to the Tourist.

The Saint Nicholas Cathedral was founded in 1113, and is the second oldest surviving building in central Novgorod after the Cathedral of St. Sophia in the Kremlin.

The Church of St. Paraskevi was built in 1207 by Novgorod merchants. The Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin in the Marketplace is to the left, and was founded in 1135.

Ilyin Street leading to…

The Church of the Transfiguration on Ilyina Street, which was built in its present form in 1374.

It has original frescoes done by Theophanes the Greek in the 1370s, most notably the Christ Pantocrator in the dome [top]. This Byzantine expat was the teacher and mentor of Andrey Rublev, the greatest Russian icon painter.

The Znamensky Cathedral was constructed in 1687 to contain the icon of Our Lady of the Sign.

Returning back to the Kremlin.

Top photo shows a lesson on playing the gusli, a traditional medieval Russian musical instrument.

The historic merchant stalls of Yaroslavl’s Court. Wouldn’t it make more historical sense for the peddlers along the streets to set up shop here instead?

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Cathedral of St. Sophia

Constructed between 1045-1050, the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Novgorod is the second oldest surviving Russian church in the world, after its eponymous sister in Kiev (it replaced a wooden church constructed around 989).

The Cathedral was the spiritual lynchpin of the Novgorod Republic, serving as a center of book production from the 11th century and as a burial place for the city’s most eminent political and religious leaders.

Services are regularly held here, and I managed to attend one of them. All demographics were adequately represented, though as usual, attendance was tilted towards older people, women, and families.

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The Sophia Belfry

The Sophia Belfry adjoins the Kremlin walls and has a small museum dedicated to Novgorod’s bells.

Predictably, our Red friends were at it again, doing what they love best:

  • “The greatest damage to the legacy of our bells occurred in the 1930s, when the Communist Party decided to scrap all the bells and sell them abroad, with the exception of those of foreign manufacture. In the Novgorod okrug, some 500 tons worth of bells were destroyed. The Novgorod Museum managed to save only a limited number of medieval bells in the Sofia Belfry, and the campaniles of the Znamensky and Nikolsky cathedrals and the Khuten, Dukhov, and Kolmova monasteries.”

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The Novgorod State Museum

If you are in Novgorod for the medieval history, then you will need to visit the Novgorod State Museum located within the Kremlin.

It is most notable for having the world’s largest collection of birch bark documents.

This is likely a ballot paper.

(The Novgorod Republic was an oligarchic proto-democracy ruled by a popular assembly known as the veche).

Here are the famous scribblings of Onfim, the 13th century schoolboy from Novgorod who dreamed of becoming a knight (like his father?).

It is likely that literacy was widespread at least amongst male craftsmen, which suggests a minimal literacy level of 10%. However, it may have been substantially wider, as there are plenty of birchbark documents written by women and peasants.

There are currently 1,180 birch bark manuscripts in the largest online database on this subject (gramoty.ru). The overwhelming majority of them – some 1,077 – accrue to Veliky Novgorod itself, while another 48 were found at Staraya Russa (the second city of the Novgorod Republic after Pskov gained independence). Within Novgorod, the most productive excavation site is the Troitsky dig, which we will visit in due course.

Why such a preponderance in Novgorod? Probably it is function of three things:

  • It was banally the second largest city in medieval Russia, with a population of at least 50,000 people during the early 13th century, which made it second to Kiev (~80,000).
  • Literacy rates were high for a medieval society (see above).
  • The region’s clay soil is perfectly suited for preserving wooden artifacts.

The very oldest birch bark manuscripts date to the 1025-1050 period. The most amusing of these is a letter written by a guy called Zhirovit to another guy called Stoyan demanding the repayment of a nine year old debt of 4.5 grivnas. Otherwise, he threatened to sue Stoyan and to seek confiscation of his property. According to linguistic clues, Zhirovit is very likely a non-Novgorodian, perhaps from Smolensk, Vitebsk, or Polotsk.

Another early 13th century text is the oldest known document in any Finnic language (it is written in the Cyrillic alphabet).

Despite the unparalleled quality of the collection, it is unfortunately somewhat of a sovok fossil. The descriptions on the narrative placards recount Novgorod’s history almost exclusively in terms of class struggle. It’s as if they haven’t been replaced since the 1980s – and considering that many historical monuments in Novgorod look like they could do with some repair or restoration, I would guess that that is entirely possible.

Here are a few quotes from them to show what I mean:

  • “Medieval Russia had written laws which safeguarded the interests of the feudal elites.”
  • “The development of feudal property relations in the medieval Russian state resulted in sharp class conflict… large protests of the popular masses were chronicled in Suzdal, Kiev, Beloozero, and Novgorod in the 11th century.”
  • “The pirate [ushkuinik] expeditions diverted the Novgorod lower classes from protests against their boyars.”
  • “Huge land holdings of Novgorod were in the hands of the feudal ruling classes – the boyars and the priesthood… The main forms of exploitation of the dependent peasantry was the barschina and the obrok. The exploitation of the peasant masses lay at the heart of the power and might of the Novgorod boyars and the Church.”
  • “One form of class struggle in Novgorod consisted of heresies against the wealth and political position of the Church.”

Amusingly, even Novgorod’s contribution towards the defense of the Russian lands is framed in proto-socialist patriotic terms:

  • “In the hard years of the Tatar-Mongol invasion, Novgorod had to deflect the attack of German and Swedish feudal lords. In 1240, the Novgorodians under Alexander Nevsky dealt a heavy blow to the Swedish conquerors, ejecting them from the Russian lands. On April 5, 1242, there was the famous Battle of the Ice, in which the Novgorodians emerged victorious over the German dog-knights. This victory on Lake Peipus halted the predatory advance of the German knights on the East.

The term “dog-knight” (“псы-рыцари”) is literally borrowed from Marx’s description of the Teutonic Order.

Now to be fair, this is not 100% wrong. There are endless ways of interpreting history, and many of them – historical materialism included – do have some degree of utility. In the loose sense of the world, there has been “class struggle” of some kind of another ever since the emergence of complex societies. But going by the museum’s descriptions, one almost gets the impression that there was nothing else of interest about Novgorod politics and society. Beyond that, there is also a lack of comparative context. For instance, concentrated land ownership has been the default in all agricultural societies, especially during the peak of their “Malthusian cycles” – this has been observed in practically all such societies from Valois France to Qing China. And yet normal, non-sovok medieval history museums don’t make “class conflict” the lynchpin of their history presentations.

The most amusing thing, though, is that one of the Museum’s own placards refutes the Marxist interpretation of Novgorod’s social and political history that it so brusquely propounds.

  • “The history of Novgorod is characterized by sharp conflict. The exploitation of the laboring Novgorod population by the ruling class produced continuous protest, which sometimes boiled over into open revolt… Large revolts were chronicles in 1207, 1230, 1327, and 1359… 1418. One of the more defining characteristics of urban protest movements in Novgorod was the complex interweaving between boyar political struggles and the class conflict. Each district of Novgorod has its own boyar factions, which competed against each other. Consequently, none of these revolts were directed against boyar power in Novgorod as such, but only against one or another representative of this boyar power. As a rule, these revolts were headed by boyars, who diverted the wrath of the masses against their boyar political opponents. This connection between the boyar political struggle and the class struggle divided the Novgorod lower classes and ruled out the possibility of a triumphant revolt.”

So it turns out that the “sharp class conflict” the Museum’s placards keep railing about was just boyars playing at rent-a-mob against each other.

I will also note that, as might be expected of a sovok museum, English translations are few and far between. Though considering the ideologized presentation that might be just as well.

After the end of the republic, the collection becomes more “boring”, dominated by illuminated books, ceremonial gates, and icons, icons, and more icons.

The last section of the Museum concerns the Great Patriotic War, when the Germans occupied the city for almost two and a half years.

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Episcopal Chamber

This 15th century Gothic building served as a meeting place for Novgorod aristocrats and judges until 1478, when Ivan III incorporated it into Russia. The ukaz proclaiming this was read out here.

It became a museum devoted to Novgorod’s treasures – mostly jewelry and precious metalwork, as well as more birch bark documents – in the Soviet period.

I will note that this is a much more “professional”/objective museum than the Novgorod State Museum.

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The Troitsky Dig

There are continuing excavations in the center of Novgorod – this place is just a couple of blocks away from the southern Kremlin walls. Birch bark manuscripts continue to be found near every year, and added to the State Museum’s collection.

Those years during which no manuscripts are found are nicknamed “illiterate years” (since the term for a manuscript is “gramota”, and for literacy it is “gramotnost”).

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Museum of Musical Instruments

This museum is probably my favorite museum in Novgorod. Located on an obscure street in the center, it is the definition of a hidden gem.

It was founded by Vladimir Povetkin, who started his work reconstructing medieval Russian musical instruments in 1975 and opened the museum in 1990.

Although the founder died in 2010, the museum retains a core of enthusiastic staff, who continue to recreate instruments and conduct research into medieval musical culture. It sometimes holds lessons, and study groups from other parts of Russia and abroad.

Although we only stumbled upon this museum close to closing time, the director was kind enough to give us a half hour personal presentation/demonstration of their collection. Pictured is me trying to play the gusli.

The gusli is strongly associated with Novgorod thanks to the bylina of Sadko:

Sadko played the gusli on the shores of a lake. The Sea Tsar enjoyed his music, and offered to help him. Sadko was instructed to make a bet with the local merchants about catching a certain fish in the lake; when he caught it (as provided by the Tsar), the merchants had to pay the wager, making Sadko a rich merchant.

Sadko traded on the seas with his new wealth, but did not pay proper respects to the Tsar as per their agreement. The Tsar stopped Sadko’s ships in the sea. He and his sailors tried to appease the Sea Tsar with gold, to no avail. Sadko’s crew forced him to jump into the sea. There, he played the gusli for the Sea Tsar, who offered him a new bride. On advice, he took a mermaid named Chernava, the last from all of 900 mermaids, and lay down beside her.

He woke up on the shore of the river Chernava and rejoined his wife.

Incidentally, “Sadko” is also the signature brand of Novgorod’s vodka distiller Alkon, whose products are sold all over Novgorod.

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Northern Walk to Dostoevsky Drama Theater

The composer Sergey Rachmaninov was born in Novgorod Governorate. The installation plays his music to passersby. Would be cool if more statues did that.

Avant-garde architecture from the 1920s.

This futuristic “spaceship” – the Dostoevsky Drama Theater – was constructed in the 1980s by a “modern architect”. It turned out to be a white elephant, and is now crumbling for lack of maintenance.

The car park is massive and deserted, apart from some guys who were getting a hot air balloon going.

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Vitoslavlitsy Museum of Wooden Architecture

This museum devoted to traditional northern Russian wooden architecture was opened in 1964. Over the following years, archetypical constructions of the Russian North were brought in from across the region.

It is very similar in concept and execution to the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum in Bucharest.

The kitchen and pantry of a typical lower-income peasant household.

As a rule, in northern Russia, peasant houses were much bigger than in the south. The colder winters made it more rational to concentrate activity in one place, and animals were kept indoors over winter. These large, garage-like spaces also contained sleds and farm equipment.

The niche above the hearth was warm, and served as a sleeping place.

Cradles were hung from all sorts of random places.

Many of the houses had spinning machines, which was a common way for peasant households to make cash income from the late 19th century.

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St. George’s (Yuriev) Monastery

Founded in 1030, this is the oldest monastery in Russia. The original wooden construction was gradually replaced with stonework from the early 12th century.

This is the Church of St. George, constructed in 1130, about a century after the monastery’s founding. Its constructor “Pyotr” was the first named Russian architect.

As with most religious institutions, the monastery’s valuables were expropriated after the Revolution, and it was entirely closed down by 1929. It was returned to the ROC in 1991.

View from the monastery in the direction of the River Volkhov. One can just make out the church at Rurikovo Gorodishche from here.

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Boat Cruise to Rurikovo Gorodishche & Lake Ilmen

Rurikovo Gorodishche was the original 9th century settlement of Veliky Novgorod, located at the approach to present day city from the direction of Lake Ilmen. Its strategic position on the trade route “from the Varyags to the Greeks” made it a desirable location as the center of political and military administration over the region. The settlement at the present day site of Veliky Novgorod only appeared about a century later in 950.

In later centuries, during Novgorod’s republican period from 1136 to 1478, it would serve as the primary residence of the princes of Novgorod. This includes Alexander Nevsky, who spent his childhood here.

The Church of the Annunciation was built by Prince Mstislav in 1103. While the Cathedral of St. Sophia was for the city, this church was to be for the Prince and his court.

Most of the present construction dates from 1343-44. It was closed down by the Bolsheviks in 1930, and mostly destroyed by German artillery bombardment in 1941. Restoration was ongoing when we were there, and was only opened again to the public in April 2019.

This 37 ton rock was erected in 2012 to mark the 1150th anniversary of Russian statehood.

Rurikovo Gorodishche from the direction of Lake Ilmen.

The Perensky Skit was used as a depot for storing Bolshevik loot from the region’s churches during the Civil War.

The boat turned back at Lake Ilmen.

These are the foundations of a railway bridge that was under construction in the late Russian Empire, and was never finished.

Back to the Kremlin.

This is the northern river bridge in Novgorod.

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Novgorod Streets

These are a couple of typical streets closer to the center of Novgorod.

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Our Airbnb was located in this area close to the railway station.

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The area in this and the following photos is about 1 km south of the Kremlin and the Troitsky Dig.

The people living here seem to be rather well off, but the communal amenities seem to be decidedly lacking (just look at the roads). This is distinct from Bryansk, where analogous areas had perfectly good roads.

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That said, I do not want to portray Novgorod as a derelict post-Soviet wreck – as in Bryansk, there are incipient signs of SWPL culture, such as English pubs…

… mini cars…

… and even an Indian vegetarian cafe with a 180 ruble lunch (we did not manage to visit it).

***

Night Walk

This is the northwestern part of the city, about 1-2 km from the Kremlin when taking a circuitous route back to the railway station.

“Pass an HIV test.”

As one can see, this is more of a dreary “dormitory suburb” that could do with a major facelift.

The wine chain “Red & White” (Красное и Белое) hiring positions hints at economic conditions in what is a rather average Russian provincial city as of 2018:

  • 24,000R+ (~$400) for entry level cashier.
  • 29,000R+ (~$500) for entry level cashier/hauler.
  • 42,000R+ (~$700) for administrator.

It’s worth noting that the Novgorod region is slightly poorer than the Russian average. The average salary as of May 2019 was 32,000 rubles (~$500), versus an average of 48,000 rubles ($750) and a regional median of 36,000 ($550) rubles for the Russian Federation.

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Restaurants

As a SWPL-fying town with some limited inflow from the Saint-Petersburg tourist circuit (if a none too prosperous one or well-run one) the restaurant scene hits a very good price/quality ratio.

The ZAVOD-Bar (website) is the company restaurant of the Alkon vodka distillery, which is based in Novgorod and is one of Russia’s biggest vodka distillers.

It was so good that we ended up going there our last two evenings in a row. I do not exaggerate when I say that it was my favorite Russian restaurant to date, with its only competitor being the Cafe Pushkin in Moscow.

How did they manage it?

First, they hired Russian restaurateur Maxim Syrnikov to compile their menu. Along with Vlad Piskunov, he is one of the leaders of a movement of “recreationist” chefs who are researching and restoring the traditional Russian cuisine that was smothered over by Soviet industrial food production, proletarian tastes, and Georgia worship that dominated the past century. (Incidentally, both happen to be friends with our Kholmogorov).

As a result of having an expert compile the menu is that any dish you select at random is a tried and tested culinary masterpiece that cannot go wrong.

Second, they expertly combined their vodka and liqueur products with apperatifs in a series of degustations. Even I, who otherwise hates vodka, greatly enjoyed that.

They also have a shop attached where they sell various Alkon products, from their signature “Sadko” vodka to specialty vodkas and liqueurs that are difficult to find elsewhere in Russia (I particularly liked Древнерусский Бальзам).

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This is the Cafe Chocolat. We noticed that Alkon’s alcohol products are present throughout Novgorod shops and cafes, as might be expected of one of the city’s main enterprises.

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Another notable restaurant apart from ZAVOD-Bar is the Dom Berga (Berg’s House), which once belonged to a 19th century merchant. It has interior decoration to match.

While mostly serving traditional Russian fare, it is perhaps most notable for having bear meat on the menu.

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The Sudarushka is a normal restaurant serving traditional Russian fare at reasonable prices.

You can also get good pies, scones, and other baked products at the Kolobok.

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The End

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In my tradition of rescuing sufficiently fine comments from the relative oblivion that are long comments sections, I am reprinting Thulean Friend‘s detailed comment on Israel’s prospects in the last Open Thread.

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I got into a discussion with Dmitry some time ago about emigration patterns from Israel. His postion was that it was an increasing problem. I was skeptical. Israel has seen rising economic success in recent years, it is far more peaceful than even a few decades ago and pro-Palestinian sentiment appears to be on an ebb, meaning any cultural/social factors (i.e. international shaming that was done in the 1980s against Apartheid South Africa) are also absent. On top of that, the media has been sounding the alarm of rising ‘anti-Semitism’ in the West, which presumably should strengthen the hand of those wanting to stay in Israel.

So I went about researching the issue, purely out of curiosity.

Well, in terms of direction, at least, Dmitry’s instincts were right. The Shoresh Institute, headed up by the former director of the Taub Center (a premier Israeli think-tank), has published a paper on this very topic just a few months ago. The entire paper is great and should be read, but here’s an (inadequate) summary:

What matters in this debate is not the quantity of the emigration per se but the quality of the emigrants and the rate of growth of the latter’s flight from Israel. While Israel has low overall levels of emigration, at 1.1% of the population over two decades, it has a surprisingly high – and rising – rate of emigration of its cognitive class.

Israel is more dependent on the highly skilled than most countries, due to a lower average level of the general population.

Despite the high-tech sector’s success, Israel has in fact falling behind the frontier in productivity. Why?

Turns out that a large part of their success comes from a tiny population. This would support the ‘smart fraction theory’.It is this group, together with academic researchers and physicians, who are emigrating in increasing quantities.

The share of emigrants to the US (the country he focuses on) has been rising. From 1995-2005, the number was 66,000. From 2006-2016, the number jumped to 87,000. Population growth in Israel has been rapid, but he controlled for that.

This means that without continued aliyah in large numbers (and preferably young jews), there is an increasing net brain drain from Israel.

Note that Dmitry talked about not just the US but also the EU. How does it look for the overall share of academic researchers? Just in the recent years, there has been a notable uptick.

A reasonable objection at this stage would be, well, what about returnees? Maybe a lot of them go abroad but a lot come back. Nope:

What about the type of academic emigrant? Turns out that those most critical for Israel’s R&D research in high-tech are also those most likely to leave:

Note the text in the image. It says “graduating from 1980 to 2010”, so this is a long-run stock measurement. It says nothing about the flow, which have gotten worse in recent decades with an acceleration in recent years.

Physicians are also increasingly leaving.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Coming back to my initial observations about Israel not being the conventional success story as often portrayed (outside a high-performing elite doing truly magnificent work in high-tech, academia and R&D) is the issue of wages.

As Ben-David points out, Israel’s low GDP per hour worked (PPP) – a measure of productivity – means that it cannot pay high (PPP-adjusted) wages. This is a primary reason why people are leaving. It seems nationalism is decreasingly important for many young highly educated Israelis, the most critical part of its country’s future economic success.

What does the future hold? This is how Israel did on the 2015 PISA exam.

Note that Haredi boys don’t even take the PISA exams, so we don’t know what their scores are. But it is highly likely that the scores are terrible, given that they quit after 8th grade. They are not going to be equipped to sustain Israeli’s high-tech success. The less said about the arabs, the better. Even Hebrew, non-Haredi speakers’s score, while certainly respectable, is not amazing.

But here’s what worrying if you’re an Israeli policymaker:

This means that the burden to keep up the economy is falling on fewer and fewer shoulders who are actually capable of it.

To add to that, Israel has some of the highest real estate costs:

… and some of the highest prices. That is why it’s PPP-adjusted per capita GDP is lower than its nominal income.

You go forward 2-3 decades and it is not hard seeing an even greater intensification of these trends.

Long story short, Dmitry is correct about these trends and I had underestimated them, because I looked at overall levels of emigration (by which Israeli emigration is low) rather than at the very high-end, where Israeli emigration is substantial. Israel is also a very top-heavy society perhaps more dependent on its smart fraction than most, if not all, other OECD economies as shown by the higher share of tax income coming from the top two declines earlier. So this hits them much harder.

What’s remarkable is the rapidly rising share of populations with essentially low productivity and third-world achievement levels (haredim + arabs) compared to the current prime-age working population. This means that the yawning gap between the G7 and Israel in productivity is unlikely to close and may in fact widen even further going forward.All of this would put further pressure on educated Israelis to contribute even more, leading many to simply pack their bags. And increasingly, many indeed do that.

I’d be happy for anyone to come with additional evidence on this topic.

 
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This week, I will post my impressions of Veliky Novgorod and Sergiev Posad – both are already written, and ready to go. I will also have something about my visit to the KrioRus cryonics facility this week or the next.

Now that I have brought my travel reviews up to date, I will start doing more book reviews in the coming weeks.

TBF I am having an increasingly hard time taking an earnest interest in the ebb and flow of current events (as epitomized in these “protests“). While is just as well since that will leave me with more time for more permanent content.

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@ak

More notable posts since the last Open Thread in case you missed any of them.

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Featured

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Russia

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World

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Coffee Salon

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Culture War

 
• Tags: Open Thread 
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I can’t summon any interest in following the Moscow protests. What was interesting in 2011-12 (when I covered the Bolotnaya protests in detail, and produced what is perhaps the most comprehensive popular English language account of Russian electoral fraud), and a novelty for me personally in 2017 (when I personally attended a couple of those protests in the interests of zoological observation), repeats as farce today. No, this gaggle of marginals isn’t going to overthrow Putin.

If elections were to be held next Saturday, 54% of Russians say they’ll vote for Putin – 1% for Navalny [Levada].

июл.13 июл.14 май.16 авг.17 янв.18 окт.18 мар.19 July.19
Putin 43 64 59 60 70 56 55 54
Zhirinovsky 5 4 4 2 5 5 6 4
Grudinin 6 4 5 4
Zyuganov 10 5 7 3 1 2 2 1
Navalny <1 2 <1 1 1 1
Shoigu 2 1 1 1 <1 <1 1 1
Medvedev 2 2 1 <1 1 <1
Other politician 5 1 2 2 2 3 4 2
Don’t Know 33 22 26 30 15 29 25 31

Moreover, 61% in Moscow agree that unsanctioned meetings should be dealt with as provisioned for by law, even if it involves harsh measures (and 69% in Russia as a whole). [VCIOM]

And yet my feed from foreign journalists in Moscow is chock full of these protests, and they constantly occupy the front page on /r/worldnews (though Hong Kong has largely stolen the thunder). Take from that what you will.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Moscow, Russia 
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Rather interesting article from the FT on Russia’s recent successes in VAT collection, which is soaring thanks to digitization and AI.

This is the future of tax administration — digital, real-time and with no tax returns. The authorities receive the receipts of every transaction in Russia, from St Petersburg to Vladivostok, within 90 seconds. The information has exposed errors, evasion and fraud in the collection of its consumption tax, VAT, which has allowed the government to raise revenues more quickly than general Russian economic performance.

How was this done? Basically, hiring IT nerds and giving them authority.

Handpicked by President Vladimir Putin to run the Federal Tax Service, Mr Mishustin was a technology specialist by background, not a policy expert, and chose to seek to improve revenues by adopting and refining the most cutting-edge systems around the world.

Normally economists and policymakers learn to do technology. Mr Mishustin says, “We built the technology and are now becoming economists.”

I wrote about a seemingly similar reshuffle at Rosstat earlier this year, in which an ageing Soviet-era economist was replaced with a younger IT specialist.

The VAT tax gap between revenue due and revenue collected was about 20 per cent in Russia before its reforms, according to Mr Mishustin, and in a mature economy such as the UK, HM Revenue & Customs estimated it at 9.1 per cent in 2017-18.

To address the leakage, Russia built two huge data centres and legislated so that companies had to submit every invoice between businesses. It also mandated every retailer to buy new cash registers that were linked securely and directly to the data centres.
In real time it can now check every invoice to ensure VAT refunds it pays are linked to invoices where companies have remitted the same money to the authorities. Then using artificial intelligence, it can quickly find patterns in the data and companies which have many broken links, allowing the authorities to target certain companies for a tax audit. Since everything is linked, it can also spot tax officials with a low collection rate from the companies for which they are responsible.

The 20 per cent VAT gap has now fallen to 1 per cent and, as collection has become more efficient, receipts have soared. Between 2014 and 2018, the money collected from VAT rose 64 per cent, compared with a 21 per cent increase in nominal household consumption over the same period.

In connection with this, revenues increased by 20% in 2018, reaching 35% of GDP. So despite a rise of 6% in expenditures, the budget balance actually went from -1.5% in 2017 to +2.7% in 2018.

Together with the pensions reform, that would appear to set Russia’s ambitious infrastructure project for 2019-2024 on rather good footing.

Incidentally, I do wonder if the “formal” quality of institutions may actually become less relevant to economic performance thanks to mass digitization plus AI (that is, if said societies are competent and/or disciplined enough to implement that setup in the first place). Regardless of a society’s cultural or sociobiological proclivity towards corruption, all people respond to incentives, and will stop engaging in it if Inquisitor AI makes it too risky.

“How do you measure inflation in the UK?” the tax commissioner booms. After hearing an explanation of how an army of people with clipboards fan out once a month across the UK checking prices for goods and services, he cries: “Bullshit! That’s bullshit. We can see everything bought everywhere,” says Mr Mishustin, who is showing the system for the first time to an international media organisation.

The Russian authorities are seeking to extend technology-led tax collection into the informal economy, where low-income self-employed people — for instance childminders or workers in the gig economy — earn small sums that have rarely been scrutinised, even though these payments are subject to income tax. Those that sign up to a new smartphone app pay 4 per cent of turnover, deducted automatically from their bank account, on services.

There have been intermittent claims that Russia is understating inflation for political reasons. I have never seen any hard proof for that, and if there actually had been, I assume there’d have been a lot more hay made out of it (as in the case of Argentina).

That said, it is amusing to think that Russian inflation statistics may now be marginally more accurate than even the UK’s.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Economy, Russia, Taxes 
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I am not exaggerating when I say that the Jewish Museum and Center of Tolerance might just be the single best museum that I have ever visited.

This isn’t because I identify with Jewishness, consider myself an outstanding philo-Semite, or am particularly moved by its spiritual gravitas.

I admire it because it does absolutely everything a “national” history museum needs to do, and it does that absolutely perfectly. I would even argue that it is nothing more or less than a blueprint for how history should be taught from the point of view of K-selected nationalism.

The museum has a tripartite structure:

  • First, visitors are treated to a propagandistic 4D film – importantly, one with excellent production values – on themes such as the Jewish Covenant with God, the Promised Land of Israel, and the evil Pharaoh who forced the Jews to build his pyramids (never forget or forgive a grudge). Now yes, in some sense, you may consider this to be just feed for the most r-selected visitors. But I think it plays an important role. It sets the tone for the rest of the visit, invoking pride amongst Jews and sympathy for the Jewish experience amongst Gentiles – at least, it did do something like that for me. This patriotic, semi-mystical approach is the universal foundation to instilling a sense of pride for the nation.
  • The second part consists of the museum’s main exhibit area. While the first section is equivalent to simple historical tropes and slogans, the main section might be compared to a college level history course in its level of sophistication. There is no outright dishonesty, but many issues are skirted over – most notably, the degree of Jewish involvement in Bolshevism – and/or slanted in a way that promotes interpretations that are favorable to Jewish interests and their own self-image.
  • The third part of the museum is a serious historical research center and library. This is for the most committed and K-selected scholars. They uncover new data about the Jewish experience, contextualize it within the existing narratives of Jewish history, and feed their work back into the museum’s other constituent parts – national propaganda tropes and national narratives, respectively – to further optimize and refine them.

Attached to the museum is a “Center of Tolerance”, whose invitees tend to preach a cosmopolitan narrative that is somewhat at odds with the rather more… “particularist” message propounded all around it.

Now I have always been a fan of learning from Jewish wisdom, and the Jewish Museum is no exception. So let’s get started on this virtual tour.

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There is a security check required for entry into the premises.

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The Jewish Museum is located close to the heart of Moscow (just 5 km away from the Kremlin). Consequently, a disproportionate percentage of the people who count in the former Soviet space – one of the Jews’ three “promised lands” (as per Yury Slezkine) during the 20th century – can access it within the space of two hours.

This is part of a general global pattern. There are museums about Jewish culture, history, and especially the Holocaust sprinkled all over the world’s leading metropolises. This is one of several factors that give Jews cultural or “soft” power far in disproportion to their demographic and even economic heft.

This is a lesson that all other nationalists need to bear in mind, at least as concerns their own cities and elites.

If you give premium “advertising” to another nation, should it be so surprising if your politicians come to privilege it over your own?

At 400 rubles ($6), tickets are perfectly priced for the center of a SWPL metropolis – high enough to ward off the riff raff, low enough to still attract a mass visitorship.

***

The Museum is estimated to have cost $50 million. Putin donated a month of his salary towards its construction.

The Council of Trustees is a who’s who of multiethnic business elites close to the Kremlin and the globalist Davos set. This is a rather interlinked grouping, a fact which should make both the Western neoliberals and Alt Rightists who calumny/glorify modern Russia as the PUTLERREICH quite sad (if either of them cared for Russian realities, as opposed to caricatures – they don’t, of course).

They include some of the following:

  • The oligarch Viktor Vekselberg
  • The UK’s richest man and donor to US political parties Leonid Blavatnik.
  • Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration Anton Vaino (and legit weirdo who discovered the so-called nooscope, a “baffling mystical instrument that he claims can forecast and control society and the economy by scanning the universe”).
  • Abramovich’s former wife and DNC donor Dasha Zhukova.
  • A metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church and a Grand Mufti.
  • Lord Browne, who as former CEO of BP was best known in Russia for being an obsequious rug to Putin.
  • French banker David René de Rothschild.
  • President of the World Jewish Congress Ronald Lauder.

It is always a good idea to get high profile movers and shakers to invest their names, cash, and prestige onto your museum.

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The tour begins with a short, Hollywood-esque 4D film about the glorious and tragic history of the Jewish people.

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With a budget that probably exceeds that of every church, museum, and cultural landmark combined in any single provincial Russian city, no expense was spared to make the Jewish museum into an immersive, multimedia experience.

This is important. Just as an expensive palace or luxurious apartment confers prestige upon its owner, so too does a richly decorated and equipped museum confer prestige upon the narratives it propounds. It’s not like people are deep.

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Many Russian museums have only patchy and low quality English translations, and sometimes lack them altogether. This is nothing to be proud about. If something isn’t available in English, it might as well not exist so far as the global discourse is concerned.

As we might expect, everything is made meticulously available in both Russian and English in the Jewish Museum.

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The Jewish Museum’s point of view is put across in a highly diplomatic way that avoids offending the host country, while portraying Jews in the best possible light.

During the Civil War, … the majority of Jews didn’t participate in the battles between the Bolsheviks and their opponents. They only tried to survive in those terrible times. While some Jews joined the anti-Bolshevik forces, a great many more tied their fates to the Bolsheviks. This was in large part forced on them – for Jews, the choice between the Bolsheviks and their enemies was often a choice between life and death.

After all, the anti-Semites were printing a certain unflattering forgery about them (which originated in Paris and saw its biggest print runs in the West after the Bolshevik Revolution).

And yet there is no discussion of less comfortable topics such as the ethnic makeup of the Cheka or the NKVD.

That said, it is still possible to make out many things by reading between the lines.

Anatoly Lunacharsky (1929):

It is with great joy that we view the immense increase in the number of Russo-Jewish marriages. This is the right path. Our Slavic blood still has a lot of peasant malt; it is thick and plentiful, but it flows a little slowly, and our whole biological rhythm is a little too rustic. On the other hand, the blood of our Jewish comrades is very fast flowing. So let us mix our blood and, in this fruitful mixture, find the human type that will include the blood of the Jewish people like delicious, thousand-year-old human wine.

This guy was responsible for education from 1917 to 1929. (Amongst other things, he agreed with Lenin that Russia should move to the Latin script). That explains many things about the early Soviet Union.

Nikolay Semashko (1926):

Anyone who sows national discord and smears Jews – consciously or unconsciously, it doesn’t matter – plays into the hands of our worst enemies.

This acquires a sinister note when we consider that not only was the Soviet Union headed by people such as Lunacharsky, but that anti-Semitism could be punished with the death penalty.

But there’s not that many people who know such caveats, and as befits a national Jewish museum, it doesn’t particularly strive to change that.

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The Center of Tolerance is a special area of the museum where leftist academics and democratic journalists lecture the goyim on how racist and xenophobic they are.

At least that’s my guess based on reading the GloboHomo gobbledygook about it:

Prosperity Through Tolerance

In the Russian Federation, people of many different religious and cultural groups, social and ideological associations, hundreds of ethnicities and nationalities live side by side. We are diverse, and this is our strength. Respect for other people’s cultures, history, and traditions is an essential prerequisite for peace, harmony, and prosperity.

In the Tolerance Center, you’ll have the opportunity to join a discussion about the importance of inclusiveness to our social and cultural enrichment.

***

There is a cafe. Another box checked.

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Last but not least, the Jewish Museum hosts a research center (created by the Blavatnik family) and the Schneerson collection. The latter was the subject of a spat several years ago between the Russian state and American Chabad Jews who wanted it back.

Amusingly, the single boldest thing that Putin has ever said on the “JQ” was intended to justify keeping this collection in Russian hands:

“I thought about something just now: The decision to nationalize this library was made by the first Soviet government, whose composition was 80-85 percent Jewish,” Putin said June 13 during a visit to Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center. …

According to the official transcription of Putin’s speech at the museum, he went on to say that the politicians on the predominantly Jewish Soviet government “were guided by false ideological considerations and supported the arrest and repression of Jews, Russian Orthodox Christians, Muslims and members of other faiths. They grouped everyone into the same category.

“Thankfully, those ideological goggles and faulty ideological perceptions collapsed. And today, we are essentially returning these books to the Jewish community with a happy smile.”

The very best museums are more than just a stale set of exponents gathering dust. They are living and breathing entities that continue to produce original content. This is perhaps especially true in today’s digital age, when people can access many museum exhibits through a browser.

Thanks to this research center and the library, the Jewish Museum passes this test of relevance with flying colors.

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Regardless of what one may think about Jews, it is undeniable that they have an unequalled talent at getting their narrative across, defining the terms of the debate, and acquiring cultural hegemony. The Jewish Museum is an example of this in practice, and an easily accessible one, so one would hope that more nationalists and nationally-oriented patriots make a pilgrimage to it. Again, you can either kvetch about Jewish influence – and be marginalized for your trouble. Or you could try to learn from the Jews and how to emulate their success.

I for one hope that there will come a day when we will se a Russian Museum and Center of Tolerance. Not as an art gallery (as in the eponymous museum in Saint-Petersburg), or as a collection of precious objects and historical chronicles (as in the State History Museum in Moscow). I envision the Russian Museum as a luxurious, multimedia wonderland that presents a moving and internally self-consistent narrative about the trials and tribulations of the Russian people over the centuries – in particular, the stream of physical and cultural genocides committed against the Russian people from 1917-1953 by people who were mostly not Russians. And it will also have a research center that will continuously expand upon this narrative, as well as compiling reports on the state of present-day Russophobia and actively countering hateful language in both Russia and abroad that could over time develop into further genocides.

To the extent that the little recognized Russian genocide has a name it is called “The Russian Golgotha”. The name invokes both a sacrifice (crucifixion), as well as a tomb or catacomb.

Consequently, I can hardly think of a better location for the Russian Museum than Lenin’s Mausoleum:

Toss out the syphilitic mummy, update the inscription, and expand the underground section into a huge bunker that is connected to the Moscow Metro.

If the Jews can build their national museum within walking distance of the Kremlin, then the putative owners of this country should have the right to tell the Russian story at its very heart.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Holocaust, Jews, Moscow, Russia, The AK, Travel 
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So I hear that there have been some protests in Moscow regarding the Electoral Commission’s refusal to register some of the liberal candidates, despite getting the requisite signatures.

TBH this is so banal by now that I can’t even be bothered writing much about them, let alone personally reporting on them as I did in 2017. I have much better things to do, such as looking at cryonic catacombs in Sergiev Posad.

But TLDR:

  • The liberals are probably right (about unfairly not being registered).
  • Who cares.
  • There were about 10,000 people there (0.1% of Moscow) – about the same as in the 2017 protest, and an order of magnitude lower than in the “Bolotnaya” protests of 2011-12.
  • The meetings were unsanctioned, hence broken up. Whining from Western countries that do the same.

The only person I cared about enough to keep track off is the independent nationalist Roman Yuneman and he was successfully registered.

That said, there was perhaps one amusing thing that came out of this.

Please make sure to patronize Teremok if you visit Russia.

This is a Russian chain that uses fresh, local ingredients makes a wide variety of blinys (my favorite is the Ilya Muromets) and their own kvas. Their waiters address you as Sir/Madam (сударь). Their conservative CEO Mikhail Goncharov is sort of like the Russian equivalent of Chick-fil-a’s Dan T. Cathy.

Trolling that illiterate McFaul joker is just the icing on the cake.

 

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Cuisine, Moscow, Russia 
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Bryansk was founded in 1146, just a year before Moscow – at least, that was when it was first cited in a chronicle, which is the standard way of dating Russian cities. Its name, which was originally “Debryansk”, approximates to “wooded hillside” in Old Russian. That is an accurate description of its physical geography, as we shall soon see.

In the Soviet Union, Bryansk was a rather ordinary lower-tier Russian provincial system, based on textiles and some minor metallurgy. It should not have been a success story after the end of the USSR, and I wasn’t expecting it to be – its population had declined from a peak of 461,000 in the early 1990s to 406,000 by 2018, constituting a fall of more than 10%. Frankly, I was expected it to be a dump. So I was pleasantly surprised to the upside. From what I saw there over the course of a couple of days, it is a thriving and friendly city, with very nice roads, an astounding amount of historical renovation (the churches are in better condition than in Veliky Novgorod, despite the latter’s having much more historical significance), and even the beginnings of the SWPL culture that already dominates central Moscow and Saint-Petersburg (e.g. craft beer pubs, girls with dyed hair, etc). Considering that Bryansk is not particularly successful according to statistics – it is, in fact, somewhat below the Russian median in terms of salaries per capita – this suggests very good things for Russia as a whole.

Some other observations:

(1) The Bryansk region was one of the last core Great Russian territories to come under the total suzerainty of the Russian Empire, and as such imbibed considerable Ukrainian and Belorussian influence. Its main monastery held the largest fair in the Russian Empire for several centuries. It would not be an exaggeration to call it the Crossroads of the Russian World.

(2) This extends to linguistics. In the villages, old people would still use phrasings such as “у Брянску” (в Брянске), “иде я нахожуся” (где я нахожусь?), and “поссмащить” (IIRC, to slurp something up, e.g. soup; possible a bastardization of the Ukrainian “посмикать”). The beet is also known as a буряк there (as opposed to the Russian свекла).

(3) The Bryansk people are noticeably more religious than northerners or central Russians, though they are still nowhere near as religious as the Black Earth regions. This was visible even just based on church attendance, in terms of not just how many but also in terms of who attend (e.g. young men).

(4) They are also more patriotic (as suggested by this map I made). There were St. George ribbons everywhere, and one of the burger joints we visited featured a #CrimeaIsOurs burger.

(5) As I have noted on occasion, Southern Russian girls really are prettier than Northern and Central Russian girls. I think you’ll even see hints of this in these photos.

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Bryansk lies 400 km south-west of Moscow. While it took most of the day to get there during Soviet days, that is now down to 4 hours thanks to modern trains.

The Bryansk main train station has some genuinely nice Soviet era artwork, including stained glass windows and a metallic/stone map of rail routes from the city at the far end of the hall.

There is a considerable amount of construction activity going on. While these flats are hardly elite class [top], they are cheap and have all the modern amenities. The other photo shows a typical suburb [bottom].

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The Svensky Monastery was founded in 1288 and, like many monasteries, had a rich military and economic history. During the 17-18th centuries, it hosted the largest fair in European Russia outside its walls.


The view from the top is spectacular, a vast expanse of forests and waterways that once harbored the partisans that did battle with the Nazis and the Lokot Autonomy.

And here it is by daylight.

Unfortunately, the great bulk of the monastery’s buildings were blown up by the Bolsheviks in 1930.

The Assumption Cathedral [above], built in the early 18th century, is a reconstruction of the original that is close to completion.

The Church of Saints Anthony and Theodosius [above] was likewise destroyed by the Bolsheviks, and reconstructed in 2010. The cross commemorates the 100th year anniversary of the start of repressions against Orthodox Christian priests and laity in 1917.

The house where Peter the Great stayed before the Battle of Poltava [bottom]. Also destroyed by Bolsheviks, and recently reconstructed.

There is also a 16-17th century belfry that was destroyed in 1930 and has yet to be reconstructed.

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This wasn’t the only such suspended vehicle on the roads. It appears the road constructors here have a sense of humor.

This is the Bryansk Partisan Museum.

It is worth noting that the Great Patriotic War is every bit as central to Bryansk’s identity as it is to that of Volokolamsk’s or Veliky Novgorod’s. It spend almost two years under German occupation, with the attendant demographic losses to dearth and reprisals against civilians for partisan operations. Shells and armaments are still dug up every year. One local acquaintance reported how he and his schoolmates found a functioning Makarov pistol during the 1960s and played around with it, even to the point of taking it to school. This was a criminal offense, though their school hushed it up (though they did get spanked for it by their parents).

There is an impressive collection of military hardware spanning the 1930s-1970s period.

This is a map of the main zones of partisan activity in Bryansk oblast. It is claimed that the 60,000 partisans destroyed 150,000 fascist occupiers.

Monument to a partisan.

Reconstruction of a partisan camp in the forests [top], and of a partisan dugout [bottom two]. There was some interesting information on how the partisans manipulated their stoves and other equipment to avoid detection.

Wild nature man appears.

Expansion of the museum continues.

The museum contains exponents of partisan weaponry, as well as the diaries of partisans, accounts of Nazi atrocities, etc.

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Now we return to the city of Bryansk.

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This monument to Peresvet is located at the top of a wonderful vantage point with a view over a large part of the city.

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This fountain and the Bryansk Oblast Philharmonic Orchestra in the background [bottom] happen to stand at the site of the New Pokrovsky Cathedral, which was built in 1862 and blown up in 1968.

Ironically, according to the Russian Wikipedia, it was said that there were orders from Moscow not to go through with the explosion the day before, but the zealously anti-religious Bryansk obkom – apparently still in the throes of Khrushchev’s anti-religious campaign – had other ideas and went through with it anyway. When asked to explain themselves, they pretended that they got the countermanding telegram a day late [А. Венедиктов. Взрыв назначили на субботу. / «Брянская Газета», № 12, март 1992 г.]. The destroyed cathedral is commemorated by a small chapel.

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But a city of Bryansk’s size does need a cathedral in post-Bolshevik Russia, and with the New Pokrovsky Cathedral long gone, the Patriarch Alexy II took the decision to construct the Trinity Cathedral in 2005.

As you can see, it’s a rather beautiful building, with no expense being spared regarding interior decorations.

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You can get a patriotic #KrymNash (#крымнаш = “Crimea is Ours”) box at this very fine dining establishment for 225 rubles.

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I will conclude this post with a series of everyday scenes of life from Bryansk:

There were a couple of places I was unable to visit in Bryansk: The local museum (краеведческий), and the Kurgan of Immortality WW2 monument.

That is not a terminal problem, since I would be happy to visit Bryansk again, and there’s a good chance I’ll do so again in one or two years.

***

 
• Category: Culture/Society • Tags: Bryansk, Russia, The AK, Travel 
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It has been a while since I last had an Open Thread with proper links, so… this one is going to be big. And the next one is going to be pretty big as well.

Barring last minute changes, I will be touring the KrioRus cryonics facilities tomorrow. KrioRus is the Russian equivalent of Alcor, a company dedicated to freezing people after their death in the hope that medical technology will one day make revival possible. In the nearer term, I hope that this will make for one of my more interesting Travel posts.

Speaking of travel – in addition to my recent posts on London, Volokolamsk, Kolomna, I will also soon post my impressions of Bryansk, Veliky Novgorod, and Sergiev Posad (these are all written and ready to go). Incidentally, I found a website that ranks the livability of ~1,200 of Russia’s cities. It will be interesting to see how my impressions tally against theirs. Later this month, I also hope to compile a guide to Moscow based on my 2.5 years and counting of experience here. There is a slight chance I will do Crimea this summer (probably not, though) and a good chance I will do Austria/V4 and Serbia around October/November.

I am up to almost 5,000 followers on Twitter.

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Some comments are so good that shouldn’t be allowed to sink in remote discussions threads.

Commenter Vendetta writes on China vs. Japan in the late 19th century:

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The British did not provide any of this assistance for free. Japan had to pay for every weapon and every warship supplied by British yards. Its ability to do so came courtesy of its greater successes in governance and economic modernization relative to China.

European arms dealers and shipyards were every bit as open to business with the Chinese as they were to Japan. In fact, largest and most powerful battleships of the First Sino-Japanese War belonged to China’s Beiyang Fleet.

Not that it did them much good, because Japan succeeded where China failed by investing in the long-term development of institutional knowledge and its own national arms industry.

Japan invested not just in shiny new weapons but in the men who would use them. Japan spent hard currency to send officer cadets to study abroad in European naval academies, to keep observers aboard foreign fleets, and to maintain European military missions training its own sailors at home. These efforts paid off over time by creating a professional officer corps and pool of native military expertise.

Likewise on the industrial side of the military-industrial equation, where there was no direct leap from total dependency on British imports to building dreadnought battleships of their own. Building a native arms industry is a painstaking process that takes decades of sustained efforts and spending.

Japan started making those efforts in a way China never did until almost a hundred years later. They started off small, in the naval sphere learning just to do the maintenance work on the vessels purchased from Britain, then the repair work, then assembling minor components for them, then major components, ordering mostly completed vessels from foreign yards but finishing them off in their own, then building very small ships on their own, then working their way up to larger and larger vessels, building licensed copies or custom designs drafted to order by foreign naval architects. Finally, having accumulated decades of experience and practice in this way, by gradually expanding the share of work contracted to Japanese yards as well as sending observers to study at British shipyards, they were able make the leap to designing entire warships on their own and building them without any foreign assistance.

Japan started this process within years of the Meiji Restoration, and China made no comparable efforts until the latter half of the 20th century, which only began paying off in the last 10-15 years (in a very major way, nonetheless – China now holding third place as global arms producer, miles ahead of any fourth or fifth place contender, a rank Japan didn’t even come close to at its peak).

China’s arms production efforts were scattered, inconsistent, and half-hearted. The Japanese made conscious decisions to spend less on having the best fleet they could right now in order to set aside enough money to invest in being able to build and operate the best fleet 20-30 years from now. China had a similar, if not larger budget to work with than Japan throughout most of this time period – but never maintained as much of a priority on military development and modernization, and when it did it focused its spending on buying the shiniest and most prestigious new toys from abroad instead of investing in native capacity to build these modern weapons or operate them effectively.

To put this in more specific and concrete terms, China had one shipyard that saw any effort to turn it into a modern production center for warships, the Jiangnan Arsenal. For most of this period, operations at Jiangnan never went much farther up the chain of development I outlined above than being able to do maintenance and repair work or produce minor components for warships. Small, obsolete harbor gunboats were the only warships this yard was ever able to build from the keel up until the 1930s, when it was able to deliver its first and only major vessel, the Ning Hai, a small light cruiser that had been built to match its sister Ping Hai – which itself had been commissioned and built at Japan’s (!) Harima shipyard. Work on the Ning Hai was itself being completed overseen at Jiangnan by a team of Harima’s shipbuilders, and progress on the vessel more or less came to a halt once relations worsened and Japan withdrew these experts and their supervision.

Japan, by contrast, developed not just one but four major national yards to the point of being able to produce major warships – Kure, Yokosuka, Sasebo, and Maizuru. This in addition to several smaller yards assembling various weapons and components, not to mention several massive privately owned yards like those of Mitsubishi and Kawasaki which ended up capable of turning out dreadnought battleships of their own, as well as smaller private yards capable of producing lesser vessels as well – Harima, Fujinagata, Uraga, not even going to try listing them all.

Japan not only succeeded in producing a nationally owned and subsidized arms complex capable of producing modern weaponry across the full spectrum of arms, from a hand grenade to a capital ship (a major struggle for any up-and-coming nation), it even managed to develop a thriving system of competitive privately held firms alongside it.

This is not something the British could have just given to the Japanese, let alone something they would have wanted to give them. Vickers had no intention of being shut out of one of its most lucrative markets by creating Japanese competitors.

True, Japan still was dependent on the assistance it obtained from Britain at the time it overcame China and then Russia – but then again, China was just as dependent on European powers to supply its own warships, even more so in that it depended on European mercenary officers to actually run their ships for them, whereas Japan’s were merely manned by Japanese officers who’d been trained by Europeans.

Even Russia, too, was far from fully independent in supplying its own arms – most of the battleships sunk at Tsushima, as well as those commissioned to replace them, having been built in foreign yards or to foreign designs and relying on Britain, France, or Germany to supply critical compinents like their main armament.

What was different about Japan in this time period, however, as opposed to China, was that Japan kept a relentless and steady focus on self-strengthening, whereas China did not, and Japan took advantage of every opportunity that it saw, while China squandered most of its own.

Ah, but you say, Japan had more opportunities because those opportunities were just given to them, by the British, who needed a geopolitical partner in the region.

To that I counter that the Japanese not only proved better at taking advantage of opportunities, but also at creating these opportunities for themselves.

If you look at the bigger picture of British diplomatic history, the suggestion you’re making that the British took a backwater nation like Japan and deliberately turned them into a regional superpower just to have a counterweight to the Russians would be entirely unprecedented and out of character to how they always operated everywhere else.

Perhaps the nearest and closest example would be Britain’s defense of the Ottoman Empire against Russia in the Crimean War and at other times in its long decline. Yes, they did go to war for them – once, and regretted it afterwards. At no point however did they attempt to systematically modernize the Sultan’s armed forces and turn the Turks into a real great power again. On the contrary, they were all too happy take the lead in dismantling the Turkish Empire – shearing off Egypt, encroaching farther and farther in the Arabian Peninsula, and sponsoring the Greeks in the Balkan wars of independence.

This example illustrates a larger and consistent theme of British policy throughout the centuries – Britain had no use for weak allies, and would happily throw any of them under the bus or help themselves to the pickings if they proved too weak to stand on their own two feet.

The Confederate States are another prime example of this policy. Britain had the capacity to turn the course of the entire American Civil War by entering – the Royal Navy of 1862 was an order of magnitude stronger than the Union fleet, and the US arms industry was cripplingly dependent on British imports, down to the point of needing to import rifle barrels from Britain due to the lack of machine tooling capable of making them to a serviceable quality and quantity in the US. Most of the Union Army’s rifles were in fact manufactured in Europe outright, and a British blockade would have cut off these imports and allowed the Confederacy to buy them up instead, with its cotton able to reach the markets.

It could have been that easy for them, and any far-sighted strategists would have recognized the advantage of fracturing the emerging American empire and keeping the US tied down with a neighboring rival. They didn’t do it though, because the Confederacy couldn’t win on its own, and Britain wasn’t a nation in the habit of putting its own interests at risk to do charity for the weak (the Crimean War being a recent and rare exception that was still leaving a bad taste in their mouths).

Likewise with the Dutch, an on-again, off-again ally that had fought several naval wars against Britain but were their key partner in numerous wars against France. The Dutch were eventually conquered and subjugated by Revolutionary and then Napoleonic France. When France was defeated, the British had the chance to restore the Dutch as a bulwark against the French once more (which eventually might have turned into more of a bulwark against Germany).

Instead they took the opportunity to throw the Dutch out of Ceylon, South Africa, and Malaya, and several years later joined the French in preventing the Dutch from putting down the Belgian separatist uprising.

The British don’t get sentimental when it comes to alliances. Their oldest and most famous one is with Portugal. See the Pink Map dispute for how much that counted – Britain threatened Portugal with war over some remote and completely undeveloped wastelands in the center of Africa. Most countries are self-centered and bullying like that when it comes to dealing with their lessers, but have one or two little favorites they’ve got a soft spot for, who they might actually go out of their way to do a favor for. The French had the Poles. The Russians had the Serbs. The British had no one.

Now you’re trying to tell me that these same Brits would go and turn the Japanese into a major power at their own expense, just so they could have an ally against Russia? Ridiculous. Throughout its history, Britain would make alliances wherever it saw an advantage in doing so – but never did they go and try to turn weak nations into strong ones just for the sake of having an ally. They were happy to use the American Indians as allies when they found themselves at war with the Americans, but had no qualms about leaving them to the mercy of the US once that was no longer the case. They never tried to cultivate the Confederacy or Mexico into being long term allies against the US (and in their contingency plans for the case of an early 20th century war against the US, no British army would have been sent to fight in Canada). The Dutch were pilfered of half their colonies and deliberately hobbled from becoming a major power again, the Portuguese were shouldered aside in Africa, the Austrians were thrown under the bus in the War of the Austrian Succession (the Austrians bring ready and more than willing to continue fighting but the British calling it quits first and suing for peace before they had a chance to win back Silesia), and the Turks were plundered and short of various territories by the British, who only acted to keep Russia from seizing its own share of the spoils from them, not to arrest their decline or reverse it.

If you need yet another example, consider the case of Persia, another battleground of British and Russian influence in the same time period as the rise of Japan. Russian expansion into China was indeed a major British concern, but second to that of Russian expansion into India. Persia, then, would have been the more relevant bulwark against the Russians in Asia than Japan, the Royal Navy being more than capable of containing any seaward threat from the Russian Far East.

Why then, was Japan given the privilege of alliance with the British Empire, while Persia was treated like any other third world nation and carved up into spheres of influence with the Russians?

Because the Persians were weak, and the Japanese were strong. Same story for why the Chinese were treated one way and the Japanese another. Japan showed strength, determination, and unity, China showed weakness, vulnerability, and division. The Japanese envisioned a future of themselves as a modern power and worked diligently to build toward that goal. The Chinese mostly imagined the more glorious days of their past, and dithered and quarreled internally.

In Japan the priorities of the state and the people and between all the factions of the elite were in harmony with one another, as they all shared the same goal: make our country rich and strong (and when this happens, I too will then become rich and strong). This is much the same as the case of China today, in the midst of its own comparable golden age of prosperity and development.

In the China of over a century ago, however, this was not the case. Where there was a fundamental divide between the state and the people, as the state was dominated by a minority ethnic caste, where the factions of the elite were united only in the fact that they remained rich and strong by keeping the country as a whole poor and weak, and where the masses hardly had any stake in whether their country won or lost because either way, their lives would still be just as miserable.

Sounds all too much like the America of today, doesn’t it? Complete with the both of them having a massive opium crisis, going hand-in-hand with a failed war on drugs. They do differ in the details; after all, the Russians never sank the US Navy and unloaded crates of Afghan poppies on our shores, instead we invaded Afghanistan ourselves and put the poppy farmers back in business…

But there’s the same fundamental failure dooming the efforts of the China of over a century ago and the America of today to escape these death spirals, which is a failure of the national spirit and will.

Yes, the Chinese were outgunned in the Opium War, on a technological level. They were never going to defeat the British at sea. But that alone doesn’t mean they couldn’t have won the war. Think back to what caused the war in the first place. Britain and Europe had a massive demand for Chinese goods, but China didn’t need anything the British were producing. Pay up in silver or take a hike, you’re the ones who need to trade, not us. Opium was how the British turned the tables, by finding something the Chinese would want from them (and soon, need from them).

The point is, China was self-sufficient. All the British could do with control of the sea was cut China off from foreign trade – and China didn’t need that foreign trade at all. That and the British could sail up and down the rivers and lob shells at all of China’s cities.

There was no stopping that either…but what could that have accomplished, if the Chinese really were determined to carry on the fight? Think about the Vietnamese in their war with the US. There were individual towns in Vietnam that were hit with more firepower by the US Air Force in a day than every British gunboat could have brought to the shores of China in a year. But the Vietnamese persevered through it, year after year, until the Americans got fed up and went home.

Consider the losses that Soviet Russia was willing to endure to win against Nazi Germany, the worst any army has suffered in all human history. Or the Germans themselves, and their Japanese allies, fighting on and on after Allied bombers had burned dozens of their cities to the ground. The Taliban in Afghanistan, who’ve now spent an entire generation fighting the American empire, with no sign of slowing down. The Houthis in Yemen. The Dutch in the Eighty Years’ War. The French in the Hundred Years’ War. Paraguay in the Triple Alliance War. Too many examples to count throughout the ages of people who fought on past the point any sane person would’ve given up hope, because their hearts were set on it. Fight on, no matter what the cost.

The Japanese of this time were a people who had that kind of heart. They only lost it in 1945, once their entire navy was sunk, once every city in Japan was burned to the ground, once the entire nation was brought to the brink of starvation.

The Chinese of this time were not. China lost the Opium War because China as a nation never had its heart set on winning it. They took a few punches to the chin and threw in the towel in the third round. “Oh well, we tried.”

A failure of will that ran from the top of the nation to the bottom of it. A government too detached and alienated from the people to inspire them to make any sacrifice it would take. An elite that stood to gain more from being the middlemen of the drug trade destroying their nation than trying to fight against it (and were ready to quit in any case when a few of their expensive boats and palaces got blown up). A people who had no reason to throw their lives away for a state that if anything despised and abused them far more than the British did.

A system that is rotten like this from the top to the bottom will collapse under pressures that even a far smaller, but more spiritually healthy society, could find a way to endure.

That was China then, that’s America right now. You really believe the country with the most invasive and sophisticated surveillance system in the history of man, satellites in space, and troops in over 120 vassal countries around the world couldn’t figure out where all the heroin is coming from and stamp it out if it wanted to? The fact is though, it doesn’t happen. The elites who aren’t profiting from the situation themselves have more important things on their minds than the millions of people miserable enough to poison themselves for a brief escape from the world they’re stuck in, and the same goes for pretty much everyone else. Ask anyone who pays taxes if they’d pay more if they knew it would go to solving the opium crisis. Okay, you might get a lot who say they would. Then try asking how much more they’d pay for it. Put a price on halting the slow death of their nation. $5000? $2000? $1000? $500? $100? Odds are, not as much as they’d spend on buying a new TV.

If Japan had been as weakened, corrupted, and decayed a society as China, the British would have never offered them an alliance or assistance of any kind. They’d have found it more profitable to run the same scams on Japan and subjugated it in the same fashion as China.

Conversely, if it had instead been China that was powerful and modernizing, the British wouldn’t have hesitated to make an alliance of convenience against Russia with them instead of Japan. If push came to shove, the arms manufacturing lobby had far more clout with the British government than the opium growers in India, and Britain would have more than made up on its losses in the drug trade by selling the Chinese battleships instead.

 
• Category: History • Tags: China, Economic Development, Guest, Japan 
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The joint air patrol between Russia and China – the first of its kind – was a further major development in the strategic partnership between the two countries. These have been getting closer for years, despite Western fantasies about an eventual break.

However, the most interesting thing about this is Russia’s violation of Korean/Japanese airspace over the Dokdo islands, which are disputed between those two countries – and the consequent apology, delivered exclusively to Korea. This means China is implicitly taking taking Korea’s side in the dispute, so the Dokdo overflight is as such not so much a provocation as an endorsement of its claims.

Is this wise? Well, both South Korea and Japan are highly advanced economies – 1st and 6th in terms of knowledge intensity, respectively. They both have the potential to offer a counterweight to Russia’s relations with China should relations with the US-EU deteriorate even further. There are no other countries in the world that quality – India is too backwards, Israel and Singapore are too small, etc.

However, South Korea has some key advantages over Japan. First, it does not have any territorial disputes with Russia, which are a dragnet on Russo-Japanese relations. Second, Korea has much better relations with China, so Russia developing stronger relations will it will not cause consternation in China like doing so with Japan or Vietnam would. Third, Japan’s concern over the rise of China precludes any substantive transformation of its relationship with the US, and so long as Russian relations with the US remain in the gutter – as they probably will – there is little hope for a major opening up in relations with China. Korea had historically good relations with China, the Korean War regardless, and its major goal lies in containing North Korea and perhaps, eventual reunification – it is not invested in the rivalry between China and the US. Finally, of the major three Far Eastern nations, it is Korea that is arguably closest to Russia in a variety of spheres from personality (brusque northern) to economic structure (domination by industrial conglomerates; large role of oligarchs & state control).

I allow that the kremlins decided to put their entire bet on South Korea as their hedge against China’s potential position of dominance on the logic that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

While for obvious reasons I can’t professionally gauge the popular Korean reaction, at least one Reddit user claims the reception is positive.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Air Force, China, Geopolitics, Russia, South Korea 
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Igor Sikorsky was a giant of aviation history. He designed the world’s first heavy bomber (Ilya Muromets), the world’s first mass produced helicopter (Vought-Sikorsky VS-300), and founded a multi-billion worth aviation company that continues making helicopters to this day.

He was also a devout Orthodox Christian and a strong Russian patriot: “My family, which comes from the rural Kiev region, were priests and of pure Ukrainian stock – but we consider ourselves Russians… [the Ukraine is an integral part of Russia], like Texas or Louisiana are an integral part of the United States.

In a normal 20th century in which Bolshevik zealots didn’t take over Russia, he would have no doubt played a central role in creating a world-beating aerospace industry in Russia.

Instead, he was forced into emigration, and only the first of his major engineering accomplishments would serve Russian interests, while the rest would accrue to the benefit of its eventual Cold War rival.

But as they say, it takes a village to raise a child – or create an aircraft. In the final chapter of their magisterial 2003 biography of Sikorsky, Russian historians Vadim Mikheev and Gennady Katyshev analyze the life fates of the 75 leading Russian aviation specialists who worked with Sikorsky, including at the Russo-Baltic Wagon Factory which manufactured the Ilya Muromets*. Here are the shocking statistics – out of Sikorsky’s 75 engineers:

  • 1 died during World War I before 1917.
  • 25 died between 1917 and 1924.
  • 32 emigrated
  • Of the 17 who remained in the USSR, a further 8 were subsequently repressed.

Consequently, including Sikorsky himself, we have the remarkable fact that only 23% of the cream of Russia’s aviation human capital crop survived the Bolshevik Revolution and its aftermath. Further, around half of the rest – including fighter designer Nikolay Polikarpov – were subjected to persecution by the Stalinist state, and severely crippled in terms of their professional potential.

Nor was the aerospace industry some sort of exception – according to the estimates of Dmitry Saprykin, a researcher at the Institute of Scientific History RAN, Russia lost 70%-90% of the most qualified cadres across a range of hi-tech industries**.

We should note that the aristocide of Russia’s best and brightest was entirely intentional on the part of the Bolsheviks:

From pp.302 of Mikheev & Katyshev’s book:

The entire Russian aviation industry found itself in a comatose state. This was partly due to the dark developments in July 1918, when repressions against “counter-revolutionaries” were sharply increased under the Red Terror. According to Nikolay Bukharin, these people included:

“3) Bourgeois entrepreneurs – organizers and directors;
4) Higher bureaucrats – state, military, and religious;
5) The technical intelligentsia, and the intelligentsia in general;
6) Officers.”
(В. Кардашов. Наши разногласия. Ленинградская панора­ма. 1990. № 2. С. 34-35; А. Смолин. У истоков красного террора. Ленинг­радская панорама. 1989. № 3. С. 25-28)

The peak of the repression fell on Petrograd, where the Red Terror was headed by Grigory Zinoviev, called on the workers to deal with the intelligentsia “by its own hands, on the streets.” Thousands of bureaucrats, lawyers, doctors, priests, officers, teachers, professors, and nobles were shot. V.I. Yarkovsky, who had repeatedly refused offers to go abroad for prestigious and well-remunerated work, was arrested for “sabotage” in 1918; despite petitions from major figures in the arts and sciences, he was executed at the Peter and Paul Fortress. M.V. Shidlovsky attempted to flee with his family by way of Finland. At the border, he was beaten to death by Red Guards. G.G. Gorshkov was shot by the Odessa Cheka. Many of Sikorsky’s companions perished, who had made it their life’s work to create and nurture Russian aviation.

More than 75% of Russia’s elite cognitive workers – destroyed or expelled in the space of less than a decade. And just a bit more than a decade later, the mustachioed Georgian BDSM master unrolled yet another wave of bloody repressions against Russia’s cognitive elites.

This might have well been the single biggest human capital destruction event in world history.

I suppose the one nice thing about the above is that the Bukharins and the Zinovievs would eventually get their just desserts in the 1930s.

But this would have been of no consolation to the Russian peasants starved to import German and American technical expertise in the 1930s to replace that which had been destroyed, or who died in much higher numbers in 1941-45 than they should have because so many brilliant men who would otherwise have occupied senior positions in their Armed Forces or Design Bureaus were instead working for the US, or rotting in an unmarked ditch.

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* You can download a PDF of this book (in Russian) here. I have also extracted the relevant 8 page chapter about Sikorsky’s engineers and made it available here.

** Сапрыкин Д.Л.: Образовательный потенциал Российской Империи (2009), see pp.48.

 
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My latest trip to London was to visit the infamous “psychology conference”… and, ofc, to debrief with my MI6 handler. I also used the opportunity to tick off many of the last big museums in London that I had yet to visit, as well as Brighton and St. Albans.

Previous posts:

All my travelogues can be accessed at the Travel tag or this page: https://akarlin.com/travel/

As I explained on the previous London post an hour ago, my England travel posts will be text short and image heavy. I don’t see the need to write about it in any depth – in any case, I have already made all or almost all the “sociological” observations I wanted to make back in England 2016.

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London

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Flight

I know CDG Airport has a poor reputation, but could I just point out that it’s rather beautiful?

Also Air France is great. They are cheap and they have some of the least bad airplane food around, with generous servings of wine. I have been flying with Aeroflot to date but Air France is better for Moscow/London.

Until Wizz Air starts doing 50 GBP flights come this October or so, anyway.

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Churchill’s War Bunker

Very good (if pricy) museum that showcases Churchill’s life, as well as his bunker living quarters during the Blitz.

Allow yourself about 2 hours for a thorough experience.

I will admit that I came away with a better opinion of Winston Churchill after this (modestly positive to moderately positive). He had a very derring-do character that was quite admirable.

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London Mayoralty

This is where Sadiq Khan works.

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London Guildhall

The City of London is like its own state within its state, subject to its own ancient regulations.

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City Police Museum

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Museum of London

This is an excellent London history museum, which is in a rather scenic location along the London Wall.

The collection is rationally arranged and has detailed descriptions.

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Bank of England Museum

 

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National Gallery

Finally managed to visit this place.

The interior is gorgeous:

Some of my favorite paintings there (some known, a couple much less so):

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Imperial War Museum

It was a pretty anodyne museum TBH, nothing much of interest for people already familiar with WW2. But full marks for aesthetics.