di ALDO C. MARTURANO
I fully agree with prof. Frank Kämpfer of
the University of
who lately in a very beautiful article expresses
his blames to the the European academic world for neglecting too much the
Russian History. I fully agree with the reasons of such an attitude Mr. Kämpfer
indicates in his lecture sincerely and very clearly.
task of the Historian is to narrate.
this activity he may have advantages against a novelist for the historian has
neither fables nor reality-like events to invent: all past events are there!
Before his eyes and they are true, they happened for sure and sometimes they are
One more taks of the historian’s is to narrate in an attractive way
because the reader or the hearer (the historian may write books or hold lectures
and conferences!) nowadays demands more images than writings and surely a film
release would be much more appreciated. Therefore the historian shall narrate
but his actors events and places must reproduce as real as possible, of course
“garnished” with personal standpoints, if he wants to compete TV!
As you may understand narrating involves many a skill! One of the most
weighty responsibility to an historian of the Russian Middle Ages, for instance,
is to be sure that the event happened, why and how it happened, who lived it and
from which past events has been provoked. In fact in the nature of man’s deeds
and facts there exists a terrific and undestroyable causality. Most events
contain the wishes, the expectations of the actor’s and consequently the
historian must do his best to try and imagine what this person of the past had
in mind, which were his views of the world and what people were around him. Only
after this hard screening work which takes along the historian’s life
experiences the narration may begin.
Above all each existing source has to be read and perused. When you are
certain that “your film” has been reeled up properly and you like it, then
you are about ready to tell your tale.
Generally the Middle Ages are very obscure
periods as far as the sources are concerned for they are scanty and stuffed up
with the political religious fantastical etc. ideas of the Chronographer (not
much unlike today’s news reports, indeed!) as Chronography has always been
used for many an intent of political propaganda and not only to amuse the
readers! Sometimes, and this is a frequent case, when you have just one sole
source, when you have no way to compare, you have to ask yourself: Where is the
truth? Shal I or shall I not narrate it?
The Russian Middle Ages arer still more
obscure even because the Western Historiography has given them a marginal
location and very, but very little is published about them. I regret to state
that the main reason for this is the lack of curiosity and the absolute
ignorance of the Slavic languages! In such a situation the layman, as nothing
has been reported hereto upon this subject to him, does not know what we are
talking about mentioning the Russian Middle Ages and he may never imagine that
the European Great North is closely connected with the Russian History.
At this side of
the Alps the Roman Empire ends up with the Fall of Rome during the V cent. A.D. flatly denying the real fact that a couple of centuries before the political and cultural center of Rome had moved to Constantinople (which received the name of Roma Nova when it was founded!) and that the Roman Empire did fall when the Turks conquered this city in 1453! At this side of the Alps the Crusades end when Saladdin conquered Jerusalem
and the fact that the Crusaders continued
till the turn of the XV cent. A.D. to fight the Baltic peoples, the orthodox
Russians who were all considered heretical and scismatic pagans, is simply
After so many years of study I was at this
stage compeled to reflect a little deeper into the matter Russian Middle Ages.
The conclusions which I reached are not always original, I confess it, but still
I do not understand the ostracism dedicated to the old Russian History by our
Slavists (does this word really mean something?) who obstinately, I daresay, lay
the Russian History aside.
Not all laymen know that the Russians have never been a sole people but consist of three or four ethnical entities who speak Slavic languages similar to the one spoken in Moscow or St.-Petersburg instead and moreover that other non Slavic ethnical groups belong to the Russian historical reality. The Russian Middle Ages (I apologize if this term is not liked by somebody but I find it attractive) do not refer therefore only to Russians but also to a vast group of present states and folks that you may be able to trace up in an updated atlas of the Russian Plain. Some belong to the Russian Federation and some are independent Republics...
As a matter of fact the three peoples i.e. Great Russians, White Russians and Ucrainians are culturally dominating even tho this does not exclude the important role played by Ugro-finns, Balts and Turks whose blood is still flowing the veins of those who call themeselves simply Russians!
I think that after all the curiosity to know however a new state could form up from so different societies and folks in the X cent. shall push anybody to investigate the why’s and the how’s even because it was just from that old state the Principality of Muscovy originated. The curiosity to unveil this history nevertheless is completely absent here in the West...
Our historians perhaps obliterated by their Mediterranean or West-loving standpoints make no sensible effort to know more about the East, about the intimate connections this part of Europe had (and has) with the rest of our continent. Those historians think that their views within a judaeo-christian frame are the sole ones which could embrace all Europe and attach it to the universal history. The message is: If you look for a Europeanship you have no need for a Russian History.
It also may be that the truth is somewhere else. It may be that the problem of our historians is that they do not simply master the Slavic languages and therefore they find no admittance to the rich materials concerning Russian History... because they are written in Russian!
We may add, but this is a minor topic, that the Soviet historians, they too, had to move within a narrow frame which prevented them to express freely their interpretations of the old events as soon as this disturbed the bureaucratical and political establishment of the Soviet State. Anyhow the materials are extant, a huge heap of papers that everybody can read and study.
My fear is: If our historians have no interest for this history, how can cultivated people change or efface their prejudices about the Russians?
You can hear everywhere people talking about Russia and saying that they are people from the most cold parts of Europe. Siberia still frightens if you remind others that it was the place where the new martyrs of last century Sovietism were convicted and condemned. On the other hand you are but fascinated by the glamorous beauty of Russian girls apart from their “too free” sexual habits. You wonder at Russian huge cities and you still see the three-nostriled communists in any corner or ask people what could it be the socalled Russian Mafia. In all this we are then forgeting that the Russians in the XIII cent. by a sacrifice in blood and riches have stopped and relented the penetration and the destructions of the invading Mongols from the Far East. We forget that Christianity however in the Orthodox version was brought by the Russians to all folks they met during the Conquest of Siberia as far as the Pacific Ocean, the socalled Dalnyi Vostok, in an epos comparable with the Conquest of the American Far East of much later years.
I wonder why this all must be set aside...
How can we introduce the Russian Middle Ages to a broad readership today?
It is difficult to fix periods and cycles as it requires us to be sure of recognizing the Russians wherever they show up in the history. Today everything changes very quickly but it was not so a few centuries ago when the foreigners started to visit Russia around the XVI cent. Those many visitors were inquisitive and careful and noticed that the folks of Russia were many and diverse...
I, myself, could realize it after 70 years of Soviet policy of brain flattening and laicization of the everyday life. The Soviet society looked very homogeneous at the first glance but it was only an outer whitewashing since entering the Russian countryside, living with the habits and the superstitions of the Russian peasantry, partly isolated from the city’s dominating ideologies, I felt the “Russian spirit” around me. This spirit is difficult to describe... It is something magic and melancholic. You do not feel it if your are too much pressed. At that time I was living with my second wife, a White Russian girl, at my parents-in-law’s and it swang over me, the stranger! I think it was at that date that I decided I should dedicate much more time to the study of the Russian Middle Ages if I wanted to discover where this spirit came from.
So I began. I discovered the multiplicity of the Russian History and its European importance. I discovered the Muscovite State that turned into an Empire of European weight by Peter the Great when Russia woke up.
Then 1917 Revolution followed... However after the first success of Lenin’s reformations, the negative Stalin’s era brought the Russians to fall asleep once again. Nowadays a new dawn opened and Russia is in search of its roots...
Where to find them? I believe they should be here in the Great North provided that we do understand this area as a multiethnical one. The Russian Spirit was born and brewed here. Of course this spirit has also some other ingredients that just depend on the mixture of folks that made up the Russians and among them you may notice the Northern warrior’s attitude, free and ready to fight, along with the Southerner’s patience and anarchical plans. Russians owe their character to the Ucrainian Steppe which ever since has been a shot of new blood into the body of all Europe and here in the Russian Plains.
This is the past... Are we still able to embrace the Russian World that influenced so deeply our lives if we neglect history? I believe we shall not and move as soon as possible to the discovery of the Russian Old Times. To do this, as said, we have to revert to the Russian Historians.
Doing it we will discover that not all Soviet Historians gave for granted what the Soviet system prescribed and some of them have tried to express their opinions and viewpoints but then had to suffer jail, maltreatments etc. such as one of the most important among them: Lev Nikolayevitch Gumilyof (1912 – 1992) whose works have been translated in Italian but only those which the régime allowed to be conveyed to the “capitalistic” world. If you add to physical persecution the fact that they had no easy access to what was written abroad you must accept that the only way to narrate Russian Histiory is to drown into the Russian Libraries and browse up endlessly all available sources.
I have perused hundreds of books up till now and I found many researches in archeology, in translation (the Arab Travelers of the Middle Ages!) and just after that I was able to draw up a fully colored picture of the old Russian History.
I recommend the works of Artamonof, the abovementioned Gumilyof, Kostomarof, Klyutchevsky, Solovyof, Belayef and of course Karamzin, the Court Historian appointed by H.E.M. Alexander I, just to mention a few. Today these authors are being reprinted (I on the contrary had to seek for them in the farthest and most hidden bookshops of the past USSR!) because the demand to know more about themselves thru the works of their historians is increasing in today’s Russians. I do not despise the works of the Russian Historians in exile such as Vernadsky’s or Tchizhevsky’s but what has been translated here in the West is practically nil.
I have to say that when I started this work many years ago I felt like a pioneer scouting a new world but now I am glad that some books of mine have been published and are now available for the broadest circles of Italian readers.
I am glad I could narrate who was Alexander Nevsky and which were his deeds in preserving Europe from the Tatars, to describe the life of saint Olga of Kiev who tried hard to set up the first Russian state against his son’s opposition party. Did you know that Anne of Kiev, one of Yaroslav the Wise’s daughters, was the sole who could write and read at the French Court of the X cent.? If you want to see how she looked like you have to take a trip not far from Paris to the Monastery of Senlis which she founded and where she is represented in a statue. Still I have more to write. Still I have more to fight.
Everybody may talk freely about the Communist Party of the USSR but certainly just a little few know that 98 % of the Orthodox believers in the world are Russians. Who ever knows about the role of the Russian Church in creating the idea of a renovated Russian State in the XIV-XV cent. and in finding her champion in John III (Ivan) of Moscow to realize it?
A few states have been born after the collapse of the USSR: Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, White Russia, Ucraine and the Russian Federation (this latter is still a congruous group of different republics each belonging to the different souls of Russia: Ugrofinnic, Bulgarian, Turkish etc.). All these have no history of their own if they do not refer back to the old Kievan State of the X cent.! For such a reason, apart from the languages spoken in these nations, their inhabitants are just Russian faces!
The USSR has since tens of years turned into a memory of the past but Moscow since 1147 is still there where it has always been even tho she lately tried to transform her complexion rebuilding and renovating her skyline and resembling more and more of the other European Capital cities. As a matter of fact the Russian Capitals were two because St.-Petersburg was founded to be one against Moscow but this latter owns something that the Capital in the North does not: the fascination of the power which she still represents!
Russia is also her grand tragedies: Tchernobyl, the Submarine Kursk etc.but to understand why they happened we have to compare them with old tragedies such as centuries of subjugation to the Tatars, the fall of a great dream in Novgorod, the great battles in the Plains etc.
Once again, to achieve this we have to know their history. The Russian Middle Ages had different issues in their cycles and we may summarize them as follows.
A First cycle closing with the Tanneberg-Grunwald Battle of 1410 where the Teutonic Knights are clamorously beaten by Russians, Poles and Lithuanians.
A Second cycle closing with the “capture” of Novgorod the Great in 1478 by John III of Moscow. And at last the Third which closes with the formal liberation of the Muscovite Principality from the Tatar yoke in 1480 and with the coronation of this Tsar as the Roman Emperor.
I am a European citizen and a fan of united Europe since the very first years and the work I am doing in the vulgarization of the Russian Middle Ages trends just to this: the nearing of the all Eastern to us Western Europeans as there is no Europe without Europeans should they be the Turks of Turkey or the Udmurtians of the Russian Federation.
I hope that many others will join me in these efforts whichever way they may choose!
©2005 Aldo C. Marturano; articolo per un dibattito internazionale sul Medioevo Russo nell'Università di Muenster.