The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Feb 19, 2011

Pushkin Centenary

[Bolshoi Gorod, a Russian magazine, has an irregular series articles on historical photographs, complete with explanatory text. This here is loosely translated from the issue of 7 September 2010. Text: Maria Bakhareva; Photograph: Emmanuel Yevzerikhin. The text numbers correspond to those appearing in the photograph.]

Moscow 1937. The centenary of the death of Alexander Pushkin.

1. The centenary of Pushkin's death. The organisation of the jubilee began two years earlier - in 1935, an All-Soviet Pushkin committee was established to plan celebrations across the country. In honour of Pushkin, many institutions, streets and squares were renamed (for instance, Great Dmitrovka became Pushkin street). Lectures on his life and work were presented at factories and collective farms, and large numbers of books about him were printed. But the main merit of this committee was the publication of the complete works of the poet in 16 volumes.

2. "Izvestia". This was one of the first buildings in the Constructivist style, built between 1925-1927. Its architect, Grigori Bakhrin, originally wanted to install a tower atop it, but these plans were abandoned.

3. Portrait of Pushkin. This was painted by the artist H. Mandelberg, who was responsible for all the festive decorations on the Square of the Passion (now Pushkin Square). The choice of the square was important - 10 February 1937, exactly 100 years after the poet's death, fell on Good Friday (the day of the Passion of Christ), and a solemn rally was held that day, attended by nearly 25,000 people.

4. "Comrade, believe: it rises, the star of captivating happiness, ..., and on the ruins of autocracy they will write our names." The last stanza of Pushkin's 1818 poem, 'To Chaadaev'. In pre-revolutionary edition of the poem, these lines were either discarded entirely, or the word 'autocracy' was replaced with ellipses. After 1917, the verse was claimed as evidence that the poet would have approved of the revolution.

5. The Convent of the Passion. In 1937, this was the Central Anti-religious Museum. This is one of the last photos of the nunnery; it was demolished later that year. Thirteen years later, exactly where once stood the bell-tower of the convent, was installed Pushkin's monument (by Opekushin), which had earlier been on Tverskiy boulevard.

6. 1837-1937. In a special edition of the Pravda commemorating Pushkin's centennial, an editorial said: "A hundred years have passed since the greatest Russian poet, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, was shot by the hand of a foreign aristocratic scoundrel, a hireling of Tsarism. He was entirely our own, a Soviet, because the Soviet rule inherited all that is best of our people. At the end of the day, Pushkin's creation merged with the October Socialist Revolution as a river flows into the ocean."

7. Posters. Posters of book covers of Pushkin's works translated into various languages of the Soviet Union were on display, with a famous quotation:

Throughout great Rus' my echoes will extend,
and all will name me, all tongues in her use:
the Slavs' proud heir, the Finn, the Kalmuk, friend
of steppes, the yet untamed Tunguz.

8. Tram. In 1937, nearly thirteen tramway routes criss-crossed the Square of the Passion. Although many bus routes plied in Moscow, and the first line of the Metro was already operational in 1937, trams were still the chief form of transport in the capital. Their importance began to dwindle only in the 1950s.

9. Bread Van. These lorries became a symbol of Stalinist oppression: Solzhenitsyn in his book Two Hundred Years Together wrote that in 1937, mobile gas-chambers were disguised as bread vans, into the passenger cabins of which was piped their exhaust. The inventor of these murder trucks was Isai Berg, of the Moscow region NKVD. (Well, Berg himself was shot in 1939, not for those evil deeds, of course, but for 'the anti-Soviet conspiracy')

10. Coat. The mass production of clothes began in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Prior to this, they were made either by people on their own, or on order. Wealthier folks depended on private tailors; commoners went to the various ateliers of the Moscowshvey (Moscow State Garment) trust. But by the end of the 1930s, most of these studios had been subsumed by large-scale garment factories.


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