It’s not an official holiday yet, but with the Russian Orthodox Church’s beatification of the last Russian Tsar and his family in 2000, the Romanovs do have their own saint day—July 17—the anniversary of the day they were executed in 1918.
Nicholas II, the last Russian Tsar, is a touchy subject in the former Soviet Union. He and his family met a horrifying end at the hands of revolutionaries who banned all religion in Russia except worship of the state. But Russians also recall that Nicholas’s decisions wrought unrecoverable damage to one of the strongest empires on earth.
Nicholas’ reign was troubled from the get-go. Four days after his coronation in 1896, a panic during his banquet festivities in Moscow resulted in the trampling-to-death of nearly 1,400 celebrants. Though not the Tsar’s fault, Nicholas’ decision to attend a ball at the French Embassy that night anyway did not win kudos from the Russian people.
The following decade saw the tragic massacre known as Bloody Sunday, where striking workers and their families hoping to bring a petition to Nicholas II in St. Petersburg were instead gunned down by police. Public reaction to Bloody Sunday led the Tsar to allocate power to the political body known as the Duma.
But the end of his reign must be attributed to his refusal to pull out of World War I, even when his country was on the verge of total political and economic collapse. Mass mutinies led Nicholas to suspend the Duma, but members of the Duma and the Soviet, as well as leading generals, demanded Nicholas’s abdication. By 1917, the Tsar’s most loyal troops were lying under the sod of western battlefields; he abdicated in March.
Russia’s short-lived democratic government shielded the Romanovs in St. Petersburg, but during the October Revolution, that government was ousted by the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks wanted to leave no chance that Russia would return to the old aristocratic system. On July 17, 1918, the Bolsheviks gunned down Nicholas and the entire royal family in a cellar in St. Petersberg, including his wife Alexandra, their four daughters, and their 14 year-old son Alexei.
On July 17, 1998, eighty years to the day after their deaths, the royal family was interred in St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg. They’re considered saints after the 2000 beatification, but not martyrs. To be a martyr of the Church, one’s death must be a direct result of one’s Christian faith. The Romanovs are honored instead as “Passion bearers”—those who met death in a Christ-like way.
“Russia’s First Lady, Svetlana Medvedeva, is chairing a comittee to celebrate July 8th as a Russian “anti-Valentine’s Day”, with emphasis on family, mariage and long-term faithfulness, rather than what she (and many in Russia) considers the shallowness of Saint-Valentine’s celebration of short-term infatuation.
“If this year’s first July 8 celebration of SS. Piotr and Fevronia (two 13th century Russian Orthodox Saints who were married and buried in the same coffin) is a success, Mrs. Medvedev has promised to make it an official public holiday in Russia.”
In the grand saga of the Russian Empire, Russia Day is a relatively new holiday, eagerly burrowing into the Russian consciousness to create roots and establish traditions.
In the early 1990’s it was known as “Russian Independence Day”. June 12th marks the day in 1990 that the Congress of People’s Deputies of the Soviet Russian Republic declared independence from the Soviet Union.
The irony that Russia declared independence from an entity to which it was virtually synonymous in the eyes of the world was not lost on the Russians. So in 1994, the holiday name was changed to “Day of the Declaration of the Sovereignty of the Russian Federation” for clarification, which was ultimately more confusing than the first name.
Finally, in an uncharacteristic Russian push for brevity, Vladimir Putin shortened it to Russia Day in 2002, and the name has stuck.
One Russia Day tradition is the handing out of the “Russia Medals” for achievements in science and culture. But the rituals that seem to have made the biggest headway are sports and racing.
Marathons, drag races and motorcycle stunt competitions will bring Moscow traffic to a stop today. Several running and motoring races take place today, including the final leg of the 1,151 kilometer “Golden Ring” race which finishes up just outside the Kremlin, and the “drifting” contests where drivers basically treat their cars like big roller skates. The weekend also hosts the “Call of Russia” Tournament, the Independence Cup, and the Moscow Sailing Cup.
In general though, the populace has yet to rally around June 12th as a symbol of what it means to be Russian.
“…for some people, June 12 signifies a tragedy because it marks the end of a glorious Soviet era. And for others, the date means nothing at all. What a fitting date for a state holiday!” — Boris Kagarlitsk, Moscow Times
But I love Russia Day if, for nothing else, it gives me an excuse to post one of my favorite pictures.
In Russia and in several of the countries that were formally part of the Soviet bloc (including Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova), today is Victory Day. It celebrates the surrender of Germany in 1945 and the end of World War II in Europe.
France, the United Kingdom, and other Western European countries celebrate Victory Day on May 8, but it was already the following day when the news hit Russia, the only country in the world that spans 11 time zones. And ever since then, May 9 has been celebrated with full Russian military pomp and circumstance. This year (2010) troops from England, France and the United States participated in Russia’s Victory Day parade for the first time.
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Despite a 1939 treaty with Germany agreeing not to attack each other (and to split up Poland instead) Russia found itself cast in the role of Germany’s next victim only two years later. They encountered devastating losses in the first couple of years. However,
“…Russia was quick to learn from its mistakes, quicker than the Germans learned from theirs…Part of this was accomplished by simple attrition: less capable officers and troops were killed off, more capable ones survived. But there was also feedback from the front. Divisions were left in action until fewer than half the troops remained alive and fit for action…The veterans knew that everyone’s prospects of survival increased according to how much of their combat experience could be transferred to the new recruits.”
In addition to its effective armored “Tank Corps” attacks, for which Germany never developed a practical countermeasure, the Soviets made use of their biggest advantage: Europe’s largest population. They overpowered the Germans with sheer numbers and indomitable resilience. The unfortunate result of this strategy was that over 20,000,000 Soviets were killed in the war, nearly half of them civilians.
While France, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. focused mainly on the Western Front…
“the ‘Eastern Front’ was the largest theater of war in history, notorious for its unprecedented ferocity, destruction, mass deportations, brutal weather conditions, and immense loss of life by means of battle, starvation, disease, and massacre…The Eastern front was arguably the single most decisive component of World War II, eventually serving as the main reason for Germany’s defeat.”
Standing out even among the battles of the Eastern Front were the Sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad. Leningrad lasted nearly 900 days and was the deadliest siege in world history. But it was the Battle of Stalingrad that marked the turning point of the war and eventually broke the back of the German army.
“Victory at Stalingrad did not come easily or cheaply for the Russians. Nearly half a million soldiers and civilians died in defense of the city. Almost all of its homes, factories, and other buildings were destroyed. But the Russians had won, and that victory united the Russian people, giving them the confidence and strength that drove them on to Berlin.”
Had Hitler cut his losses at Stalingrad, the war might have turned out differently, but in January 1943, he ordered General Von Paulus:
“6 Army will hold their positions to the last man and the last round and by their heroic endurance will make an unforgettable contribution towards the establishment of a defensive front and the salvation of the Western world.” — Adolf Hitler, Jan. 24, 1943
The final battle of the war (in Europe) and indeed the last major battle on Western soil was the Battle of Berlin. In April 1945, the Soviets plowed into Berlin with 2.5 million soldiers. Hitler committed suicide in Berlin on April 30. Germany officially surrendered on May 8, 1945.
radio (adj.): (1) of, relating to, or operated by radiant energy; (2) of or relating to electric currents or phenomena (as electromagnetic radiation) of frequencies between about 3000 hertz and 300 gigahertz. — Webster’s Dictionary
I turn the switch and check the number
I leave it on when in bed I slumber
I hear the rhythms of the music
I buy the product and never use it
I hear the talking of the DJ
Can’t understand just what does he say?
In the 1940s and ’50s, the Soviet Union established May 7 as Radio, Television, and Communication Workers Day. Today the Russians know it as Radio Day, a commemoration of an event that occurred on May 7, 1895…
“It was on this date that [Alexander] Popov read a paper in the Physics Department of the Russian Physical and Chemical Society entitled, On the Relation of Metal Powders to Electric Oscillations.”
Don’t you wish you could’ve been a fly on that wall?
Apparently, this was like being at opening night of Star Wars. Or maybe more akin to catching an Offspring concert back when they were playing coffee houses.
Either way, Popov’s demonstration of the practical application of electromagnetic signals at the Physics Department’s monthly meeting rocked the house, as evidenced by the official meeting minutes:
“A.S. Popov reported On the Relationship of Metal Powders to Electric Oscilliations… Utilizing the high sensitivity of metal powders to extremely weak electric oscillations, the speaker constructed an instrument designed to indicate rapid oscillations of atmospheric electricity.” — May 7, 1895
Say what you will, the Physics Department of the Russian Physical and Chemical Society knew how to party.
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In Russia, it is a well established fact that Popov invented the radio. That ‘fact’ is, shall we say, less established in the West, where inventors like Guglielmo Marconi and Nikola Tesla got the credit, and more importantly, the patents.
Ultimately, the creation and application of radio technology was made possible by the combined efforts of several scientists who each added vital pieces to the puzzle that would soon change the face of civilization. In 1898, Tesla showed off a radio-controlled boat in Madison Square Garden. In 1899, Marconi sent a wireless signal across the English Channel. Sir Oliver Lodge and Heinrich Hertz also made significant contributions. And in 1906 Reginald Fessenden conducted the first music/entertainment broadcast.
And, as they say, the rest was hysteria.
Just 16 years later, the New Republic predicted…
“There will be only one orchestra left on earth, giving nightly worldwide concerts; when all universities will be combined into one super-institution, conducting courses by radio for students in Zanzibar, Kamchatka and Oskaloose; when, instead of newspapers, trained orators will dictate the news of the world day and night, and the bedtime story will be told every evening from Paris to the sleepy children of a weary world; when every person will be instantly accessible day or night to all the bores he knows, and will know them all: when the last vestiges of privacy, solitude and contemplation will have vanished into limbo.”
Within a few decades of Popov’s first demonstration, parents were already complaining about kids’ brains rotting away from listening to too much radio.
A 1930’s New York Times article describes the general sentiment of an Atlantic City Teachers Association meeting…
“The task of teaching young radio listeners to discriminate and interpret is one of the new responsibilities thrust on the school room by radio’s increasing popularity among children, according to I. Keith Tyler…
“‘Boys and girls are now listening to the radio more than two hours a day,’ he said. ‘Their attitudes are being affected, their tastes altered and their understanding of life developed by this experience with the radio. We must develop their abilities to discriminate and interpret. Our loudspeakers pour out a withering barrage of political, economic, and social propoganda; a flood of verbose sales talk and great quatities of mediocre clap-trap.'” — New York Times, November 1938
So kids, the next time your parents complain about you wasting all your waking hours addicted to mindless drivel spewed by wireless devices, tell them their folks were doing it too! And bonus points for using the phrase “great qualities of mediocre clap-trap“.
As for the next wave of the future, a radio with moving pictures that premiered at the 1939 World’s Fair, the Times didn’t have high hopes for it:
“The problem with television is that people must sit and keep their eyes glued to the screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it. Therefore the showmen are convinced that for this reason, if no other, television will never be a serious competitor of broadcasting.” — New York Times editorial, 1939 [Futuring: the Exploration of the Future]
The scientific breakthrough was originally known as “wireless telegraphy” and “wireless telephony”. Then “radio-telegraphy” and “radio-telephony”, referring to radiating energy (see definition above) like the prefix in radioactivity, and by 1906 the Telegraph Age reported:
“…the British post office…has adopted the word ‘radio’ as the designation for a wireless telegram.” — Telegraph Age, April 1906 (earlyradiohistory.us)
The Motherland hears, the Motherland knows
Where her son flies in the sky
—Russian song whistled by Yuri Gagarin during the first manned space flight
For thousands of years, humans stared at the skies wondering about the composition of the stars, lights that shined through pinpoints in the banner of heaven. It took millennia for our knowledge of the skies to coalesce. And it wasn’t until 1903 that Wilber and Orville Wright appeared to have conquered gravity, albeit briefly.
Yet only six decades after that first flight, a human being transcended into outer space. That man was Yuri Gagarin. The day was April 12, 1961—now celebrated as Cosmonaut’s Day.
The 27 year-old Russian pilot stood only 5’2″, an advantage for the world’s first cosmonaut, crammed into the tiny cockpit of the spacecraft Vostok 3KA. The Vostok launched from Baykonur, Kazakhstan, at 9:07 am Moscow Time. The flight lasted only 108 minutes, but in that time Yuri Gagarin circled the globe, a feat that had taken Magellan’s crew three years.
As late as early April there had been six contenders for the first cosmonaut. Gagarin wasn’t finalized as the pilot of the craft until just two days before the flight. And if some officials had their way, we would be celebrating “Herman’s Night” today instead of “Yuri’s Night.” Herman Titov was Yuri’s backup.
According to Gagarin, the flight went mostly smoothly. He didn’t report an emergency during the mission, but:
“As soon as TDU (breaking engine) shot down, there was a sharp jolt. The spacecraft started spinning about its axis with a very high speed…Everything was spinning. One moment I see Africa — it happened over Africa — another the horizon, another the sky. I barely had time to shade myself from the sun, so the light did not blind my eyes.”
The 20th century Icarus faired better than his Greek predecessor. Gagarin ejected from the crafted at 10:44 am and landed safely.
His post-flight report wasn’t published until decades after the flight.
By beating the first American into space (Alan Shepard) by one month, Gagarin helped the Soviet Union emerge as the apparent leader in aeronautic technology, and the space race was on. Yuri went from complete obscurity to a national hero—perhaps THE national hero for two generations of Russians.
Gagarin legacy far outlasted his life. He died in 1968 in a training flight crash. He was only 34 years old.
Cosmonautics Day was established by the Soviet Union in 1962. Today April 12 is also known as Yuri’s Night, celebrated around the world in honor of the 5’2″ giant who first touched the heavens.