REVOLUTIONARY fever has gripped London. Indeed, Athena has noticed that London is marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution with much more zeal than Moscow. It’s not hard to see why. The revolution may have created the Soviet Union— a great empire that Vladimir Putin’s Russia now apparently wants to reassemble—but it saw the death of millions in prison camps. It also witnessed the destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church, an institution once again close to the state. As a result, the official position on marking the centenary this year, is, well, not to.
President Putin has made some mumbled references to holding ‘academic conferences’, but there is nothing at state level equivalent to the grand show at the Royal Academy, ‘Revolution’ ( page 114). Rather more surprisingly, there is instead a proposal to raise a monument to the victims of Stalin’s terror—specifically to those who died in the labour camps or gulags.
This humility is unusual for the president who recently erected a 56ft-high statue of Prince Vladimir of Kiev, the founder of the Russian Orthodox Church, outside the Kremlin walls, thus identifying himself with the Prince (his namesake) and wedding Russia and Ukraine in a way that many Ukrainians would find offensive.
Yet where the Kremlin has faltered, private initiative has stepped in. Project1917 is a Russian social-media project founded by independent journalist and writer Mikhail Zygar. This shows how the events of the revolution unraveled by releasing dayby-day excerpts from the letters and diaries of hundreds of figures involved a century ago. Through this project, we have recently heard Lenin mistakenly exclaim in frustration ‘We oldsters won’t live to see the decisive battles of the impending revolution’ and the writer Andrei Bely writing of leaving Moscow, but being concerned that he has a slight cold. We also experienced the concerns of those close to the Emperor and Empress as they felt the political tremors coming and the structures around them loosening.
Pushkin House in London, founded by Russian émigrés some 60 years ago, is the English-language partner for this ambitious project. From the middle of February, and 100 years to the day, it’s possible on https://project1917.com to follow these nerve-wracking changes and relive Russia’s 1917 in English on your smartphone as you make your daily commute.
It could be argued that, in some ways, the UK gained culturally from the revolution: it became home to some extraordinary émigrés. Not as many as Paris, but a good number, who went on to enrich our own culture and help us better understand Russia. Today, London is home again to political exiles from Russia and proudly so. Through them and thanks to them, and in spite of the threats of leaders on the global stage, we can deepen our understanding of the country. Athena considers that this has never been more necessary.
‘Today, London is home again to political exiles from Russia and proudly so