понедельник, 26 июля 2010 г.

Fyodor Plevako

13 April 1842 – 5 January 1909
Image from www.all-photo.ru

During his life as a lawyer Fyodor Plevako defended about 200 judicial court cases - and won most of them. He was involved in some of the most well-known and scandalous lawsuits in Russia. His clients waited in a queue, sometimes for a few years. Plevako explained his success by saying, “behind a prosecutor there is a silent, cold and unshakable law, whereas behind a defender there are real people. And they rely on their defenders, climbing on their shoulders. It is scary to slip with this load.”

Image from www.ogoniok.com

As Fyodor Plevako’s friends liked to say, his career as a defense lawyer began in his infancy, when in 1842 he gave his first defense speech while being carried to the river by his mother Ekaterina. The desperate woman was the common-law wife of customs officer Vasily Plevak, who lived in Troitsk (a town in Russia’s Chelyabinsk Region). The couple had four children, all of whom were considered illegitimate, which for those times was an incredible shame. Ekaterina, distressed from being mocked by the community, decided to drown herself together with her newborn son Fyodor, and ran towards a river. Only Fyodor’s sudden loud cry brought his mother to her senses, and saved their lives.

In 1851 Vasily Plevak moved all his extra-marital family to Moscow. He wanted to give his two sons, Dormidont and Fyodor, a good education, and paid a large sum of money for their education in a commercial school. Both brothers finished their first year of study with distinction, but, unfortunately, they were expelled after the school’s administration found out that Dormidont and Fyodor were illegitimate children. The brothers then studied in a gymnasium, and in 1859 Fydor entered the Moscow University Faculty of Law. Upon graduating from the university, he decided to continue his education in Berlin. After four years Fyodor Plevako returned to Moscow and starting working as a secretary for a court chairman. A few months later he made the decision to start his career as a lawyer.

During the end of the 1850s – beginning of the 1860s, the Russian judiciary system was considerably reformed. The old system of closed, written court proceedings was replaced by an open court with people’s representatives, jurymen and a public contest between defenders and prosecutors. Fyodor Plevako was among those who founded and developed the art of court defense and won great recognition and fame as a lawyer. His number of clients grew so fast that Plevako couldn’t do all the work by himself and had to pass orders onto his colleagues and pupils. By the beginning of the 1880s his name soon became a common noun synonymous with the word “lawyer,” and Russian people would sometimes say about their lawyers “I’ve got a bad Plevako, I need to hire a better one.”

Surprisingly, Fyodor Plevako’s first case was very unsuccessful. But his second case was won successfully, and brought Plevako his first fee of 200 rubles that he used to purchase his first tailcoat. Future jobs became increasingly more profitable and gradually the soon-to-be famous lawyer became very wealthy.

Fyodor Plevako was equally respected by both noble and common people. Remembering his previously tough life, Plevako didn’t refuse to defend poor people, and, according to some sources, he didn’t charge them for his services as a lawyer. At the same time, Fyodor Plevako’s rich clients had to pay him very large fees for his services.

Plevako’s defensive speeches became legendary and much talked-of. One example is found in the case of an old priest, who was charged with adultery and theft. All evidence was against the defendant, and it seemed that he could not count on the jurymen’s mercifulness. Present his closing statement, Plevako’s said to the jury: “Right in front of you there is a person who for thirty years has been absolving you of your sins. Now he is waiting for your decision: will you absolve him of his sin?” The priest was discharged.

In another story Plevako defended an old woman who had stolen an inexpensive tin kettle. The prosecutor, knowing of Fyodor Plevako’s sympathy towards poor people, decided to use Plevako’s background against him, and vividly described the hard and miserable life of the defendant that forced her to steal. Still, the prosecutor stressed, private property is sacred and is the main principle of order in the world. When it came time for Plevako to start his defense, he said: “During the thousands of years of its existence, Russia has suffered many misfortunes and trials. It was tormented by Pechenegs, Cumans, Tatars and Poles… Russia endured and overcame everything, and due to these ordeals it only became stronger. But now… an old lady stole an old kettle priced at 30 kopecks. Surely, Russia won’t withstand this crime, and will be ruined forever…” In consequence, the old woman was acquitted.

Plevako took part in a number of much publicized cases, such as the infamous trial of a nun, Mitrofania, the head of the monastery in the town of Serpukhov. She was suspected of fraud, forgery and misappropriation of large sums of money. Fyodor Plevako was the main prosecutor in this proceeding, and during his emotional accusatory speech, he addressed the nun and her accomplices with an appeal: “Build the walls of your monasteries much higher, so that the world can not see the deeds that you perform under the cover of your robes!” The court found Mitrofania guilty and sentenced her to exile in Siberia.

In his speeches Fyodor Plevako covered many critical social issues, speaking in support of workers and peasants who were accused of organizing mass unrest and resistance to authority. Cases of this type were often caused by the unbearable living and working conditions, which compelled poor people to rise up against human exploitation. In this regard, Plevako’s activity as a defender of the lowest tier of society can be seen as truly heroic.

A great speaker, Fyodor Plevako was sharp-witted, resourceful and quick in dealing with his opponents’ replies. He skillfully used sarcasm and irony and often cited quotes from the Bible and world literature. Plevako’s arguments were easy to understand by both professional judges and jurymen, who were not aware of the depths of law.

The most well-known case among those that Plevako didn’t manage to win was related to his personal life. In 1879 Maria Demidova, the wife of a rich manufacturer named Vasily Demidov, asked Fyodor Plevako to help her divorce her husband. Soon after, the famous Plevako and his beautiful client, Maria Demidova, fell in love. However, Vasily Demidov never consented to a divorce and up to her husband’s death in 1900 Maria remained the common-law wife of her beloved lawyer.
For outstanding public service Fyodor Plevako was given a hereditary noble title and the honorary rank of Active Counselor of State.


понедельник, 19 июля 2010 г.

Russia's lotus fields burst into bloom

A field of lotus, or Caspian rose, has blossomed in the delta of the Volga River.
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The three-kilometer wide, 15-kilometer long field is believed to be the largest on the planet, occupying hundreds of hectares of the lateral channels in the lower course of the great river.

The pink flowers can grow to 65 centimeters in diameter and 2.7 meters in height. Tourists are being taken to the field by all sorts of water transport to witness the rare phenomenon and take photos. They are told not to pick the flowers as, once cut, they will not survive longer then two hours. In their natural environment the lotus blossoms will last till early September.

The view of the sea of blue and green leaves with pink flowers that give off a tender fragrance similar to almonds is truly mind-bending. The flowers open with the dawning light and close at dusk, which for many Eastern people means revival, renewal of stamina, return of youth and even immortality.

The lotus has been known to the Volga delta for at least 200 years and its existence in the region is the subject of a long scientific dispute. Some believe it is a relict plant left over from the tertiary period. Others say lotus seeds were brought by migrant birds.

But the human factor is also possible: the Volga delta borders Russia’s Republic of Kalmykia, the only Buddhist territory in Europe, and it is said that Buddhist monks could have brought the lotus seeds and planted them.

The lotus is a part of Russia’s Red Book and is protected by law.


воскресенье, 18 июля 2010 г.

At the «taiga dead-end»

This story became a sensation of the “late stagnation period”. The year is 1982. People line up at newsstands at four o’clock in the morning to get a new issue of “Komsomolskaya Pravda” with an article about the Lykov family. The newspaper’s circulation skyrocketed to 21 million issues.

For more than thirty years, the family of old-believers had lived in isolation from the rest of the world, on the bank of the taiga river Erinat. How can one survive in a wild forest and bear children in primeval conditions? Readers found the answers in essays written by Vassily Peskov, a columnist of “Komsomolskaya Pravda”. “Now I carry moral responsibility for Agafya [the last survivor of the family],” says Peskov. “I visit her every year to see if she needs anything.” His next trip is planned for August 2007. Vassily Mikhailovich will bring greetings to the taiga recluse from the motherland of her ancestors – the village of Lykova, located in the Uporov district of the Tyumen region.

A family of old-believers, the Lykovs hid from the rest of the world behind the spurs of Sayan Mountains: the old Karp Osipovich and his four grown children, two sons and two daughters. Every day of their life was a continuous fight for survival in the severe taiga conditions. They were supported by their faith, by praying together. Contact with the modern world turned out to be fatal for the Lykovs. Over just a few months, they were bombarded by an overwhelming amount of new information. They had not known about electricity, television, space missions. In 1981, three of the Lykovs died one after another.

It is believed that the Lykovs are originally from the Lykova village. On the bank of the Borovaya River stands a sturdy log cabin that once belonged to a family of old-believers. What could have forced the Lykovs to leave this land?

In 1982, grandmother Nenila – who was pushing ninety at the time – told the story that she had heard from her own grandmother: the village was founded by the Lykov brothers. Their kin was prevailing here. They owned five mills on the southern side of the village. They were old-believers who prayed at home. It was a solid family. But then the revolution struck. First the white army would enter the village, then the red army. The Lykovs grew tired of the hectic life. They loaded their belongings into carts, left their house and mills, and set out in search of a better fortune.

However, Vassily Peskov has a different version. The Lykova village was founded by old-believers who had fled from the Russian North. Later, other peasants came here and built houses of their own. The Sorokina village was formed. It is from these neighbors that the ancestors of the taiga Lykovs fled. And those Lykovs that left in the 1920s were the last representatives of the kin. Perhaps they didn’t leave out of their own will – they could have been dispossessed by the communists.

Peskov is hard to disagree with. Now he is enthused with a new idea, to put together a present for Agafya: a scutcher for flax, a spindle, an earthenware pot, a letter from Galina Kolunina (a historian who has researched the origins of the Lykov family), and a lestovka. A lestovka is an old-believer’s rosary, which is used to count bows to the ground. Instead of beads, it has tight-rolled slips of paper containing texts of prayers. Coincidentally, this lestovka belonged to another Agafya: Agafya Zoteevna Yartseva, born in 1896. This coincidence dismisses all doubts: the Lykov family has originated here! The journey to the “taiga dead-end” started in the village of Lykova in Tyumen region. The old-believers fled to protect their faith. Now there are no Lykovs here, no keepers of the “faith of the elders”. Children and grandchildren of Agafya Yartseva no longer know in which hand to hold a lestovka and how to perform the sign of the cross. But even the escape to taiga did not safeguard the old ways. The 62-year-old Agafya is the last branch of the mighty Lykov family tree that still sustains the faith. What feelings will be stirred in her by the old lestovka, a spiritual bridge to the homeland of her ancestors?

G. Kramor
Employee of the Yershov museum


четверг, 8 июля 2010 г.


By Lyubov Tsarevskaya

In the late 17th century Russia faced the need to gain an outlet to the Baltic and Black Sea. The lack of such outlets, the lack of a Navy, was fraught with expansion on the part of naval powers and with the loss of national independence. Foreseeing this, Tsar Peter I set himself the task of regaining the inherent Russian lands on the Baltic coast, which had been seized by Sweden in the early 17th century. The Baltic Sea was the shortest route to Europe, and an outlet to it would be conducive to technical progress in Russia.

Having formed a union with Denmark and Poland, Russia started a war with Sweden in 1700. Called the Northern War, the hostilities continued for 21 years.

At that time Sweden was a formidable opponent. It had the best army in Europe and a powerful navy. So it was not surprising that in the very first battle fought outside Narva the Russian army, which was inferior to that of Sweden, suffered a crushing defeat. Thinking that Russia had been finished with, the Swedish King Charles XII marched on Poland, Russia's ally, and, as Peter I said, got stuck in it.

However the defeat he had suffered did not throw the Russian tsar into despair. On the contrary, he took advantage of the respite, managed to gather a new army and arm it. Soon the Russians resumed military action against the Swedes. Staging minor sea clashes they gradually recaptured territories and conquered Swedish fortresses. In the spring of 1703 they captured the fortress of Nienschanz, which guarded the mouth of the River Neva. Peter I founded the fortress of St.Petersburg, the future capital of the Russian empire, not far from it.

In the meantime, the Swedish king was waging a war in Poland. The upcoming war with Russia did not worry him. He was too confident of his lucky star and of his military genius. But his overconfidence let him down.

Having defeated Poland, Charles XII invaded Russia. His major goal was to capture Moscow. However Hetman Mazepa, who had secretly betrayed the Russian Tsar, urged him to come to Ukraine. Mazepa promised Charles XII to supply him with foods and help him to raise the entire south of Russia against Moscow. But these expectations did not materialize. Having been informed of Mazepa's betrayal, Peter I sent his troops to Baturin, Mazepa's central residence where substantial stocks of food and ammunition were kept. Baturin was conquered and destroyed, and so Charles XII was deprived of the promised aid. The Swedish and Russian troops came to face each other outside the city of Poltava, where a historic battle took place on July 10, 1709.

Fierce fighting raged for two hours. Peter I personally joint the battle. His hat and his saddle were hit by bullets.

Charles was confined to his carriage because of an injured leg. He was amid the ranks of his troops when his carriage was struck by a Russian cannon ball and the king fell to the ground. The soldiers surrounding him thought he had been killed. The Swedish regiments were dismayed and yielded to the onslaught of the Russians, Charles ordered his aides to lift him up. What he saw was general confusion. He cried in despair: "Swedes, Swedes!" But the Swedes fled not heeding the voice of their king.

Victory in the Battle of Poltava was of enormous importance to Russia. Europe was amazed to see how before its eyes an unknown nation in the east was turning into a powerful state.

However Sweden was still strong, and it refused to sign a peace treaty after its defeat in the Battle of Poltava. The war continued till 1721. It ended in signing the Niestad Peace under which Russia received a considerable part of the Baltic Sea coast: the territory of today's Estonia, Latvia, Karelia, St.Petersburg and the adjoining area. So Russia gained an outlet to the Baltic Sea. It joined the community of European nations and received an opportunity to freely communicate and trade with them.

Source:The Voice of Russia

вторник, 6 июля 2010 г.

Russian Kasha: Secrets of Porridge

Porridge is undoubtedly a primordially Russian dish. Moreover, porridge is a cult dish. Following old Russian traditions, on wedding ceremony the groom and the bride necessarily cooked porridge. It is evidently this tradition that brought about the saying: “One cannot possibly cook porridge with him/her”. Even entire history of the Russian state is inseparably linked with porridge. So, Russian porridge can be justly called the most important dish of the national Russian cuisine.

"Muzhik cannot be full without porridge”, as the national Russian proverb goes. It is evident, for example, from N. V.Gogol's famous Dead Souls, the episode with treating at the landowner Sobakevich’. Thus, porridge was often served to accompany schi (traditional cabbage soup) instead of bread.

Historically, Russia has always been an agrarian country. So, grains (and, to a lesser degree, legumes) have been the major product of Russian agriculture. Throughout centuries, and even millennia, the organism of the Russian person was formed and evolved on the basis of structural composition of cereals. In the course of their coexistence man and cereals have formed indissoluble unity.

Porridge is a very useful, nutritious, and tasty product, and at the same time inexpensive, which is quite important. Russians had nearly reverent feeling towards porridge. It was not simply a meal, but a ritual dish. No celebrations or holidays were possible without traditional Russian porridge on the table. It is remarkable that every significant event had a special ceremonial porridge pertaining to it.

Porridge was cooked for numerous events. In ancient Russian chronicles feasts are often referred to as “kasha”: for example on the wedding of Alexander of Macedonia "porridge was made up" twice – first time at the wedding in Troitsa and the second one during national merrymaking in Novgorod. Porridge was necessarily cooked on the occasion of starting an important undertaking. Hence is the expression “zavarit’ kashu” literally translated as “to boil up kasha” and meaning "stir up trouble". Porridge in Russia could even describe human relations. Thus, the saying “One cannot possibly boil kasha with him/her” is applied to an unreliable and uncompliant person.

Apart from cereal and pea porridges, the Russians cooked fish and vegetable porridges. There is also the famous Suvorov’s porridge.

As the legend says, during one of the distant campaigns, commander Suvorov was informed that they did not have enough cereals for porridge: there remained only little portion of different kinds of groats, such as wheat, rye, barley, oats, peas, etc. Then the great commander, without further ado, ordered to cook all the remaining groats together. Soldiers immensely liked "Suvorov’s porridge" and so the resourceful commander contributed to the development of Russian culinary art.

Modern dietology has confirmed that porridge made of several kinds of groats together is more useful, than porridge from one certain cereal, due to general combination of their useful qualities. Popular was the so-called “rejuvenating porridge” made of rye of milky-wax ripeness. It made an extremely delicious and fragrant porridge which had a wholesome effect and rejuvenated the body. There were three sorts of barley groats: pearl barley, when large grains were exposed to little polishing, the Dutch barley - smaller grains ground to white colour, and fine-ground barley of unpolished whole grains.

Fine-ground barley porridges were the favourite meal of Peter the First. He acknowledged it as “the quickest and tastiest”.

Great varieties of porridges were cooked in a very tasty way in Russia. Even on the dinner in honour of crowning of Nicholas the Second in 1883 the guests were served barley porridge, which had been declared by Peter I to be “Romanov’s favourite”. In order to ennoble the tsar’s favourite porridge it was even renamed into pearl porridge in the 19th century.

Another famous Russian porridge is “Gurievskaya kasha”. According to the legend, it was invented by a serf cook of Count Guriev. The porridge was served in the count’s house for dessert and unmistakably evoked genuine admiration of the guests. However its recipe was kept a strict secret. Gradually, however, cooks in many houses of the Moscow nobility learnt to make it, and cookbooks made it known far outside of Russia.

Very popular was smelt porridge, now almost forgotten; it was cooked from small groats made of smelt, or dinkel wheat. Smelt is a half-wild sort of wheat that was very widespread in Russia as early as the 18th century. Actually it grew by itself, and being not fastidious did not require any care. It did not bother about pests or weeds. In fact it supplanted any weeds. Though smelt porridge was rather rough, but very wholesome and nutritious. Gradually "cultural" grades of wheat forced out smelt, because it was hard to polish. It is notable that spelt came to Europe and America from Russia.

So why did Russians honouring porridge so much? It seems that such ceremonial attitude to apparently simple food is enrooted in our heathen past. It is known from ancient manuscripts that porridge was sacrificed to gods of agriculture and fertility in order to ask for good harvest the next year. It goes without saying that gods were always offered the best things. It must be quite a pleasure to eat daily the meal that gods can have only once a year!

When people worked together in artel, porridge was cooked for entire artel. Therefore, for a long time the word "porridge" was a synonym to the word "artel". They used to say: "We are in one kasha" meaning “in one group”, something like the modern “we are a team”.

A huge variety of Russian porridges was first of all due to numerous grades of groats that were produced in Russia. From each grain culture several kinds of groats were prepared - from whole grains to those crushed in different ways.

Buckwheat porridge has always been the most favourite porridge in Russia. It can be justly called a representative of Russian traditional cuisine. Besides unground buckwheat used for friable porridges, there were also smaller ground groats.

For gourmets of that epoch the journal "House-keeper" of 1841 suggested a recipe of porridge made of roses: "Tear off some roses and grind the petals in a mortar until small; add an egg white and potato starch as much as needed to make the a dense dough. Then rub it through a sieve onto a dry board and dry it in the sun. Thus, you will get excellent groats. Boil it with cream to make porridge. You can add a little sugar if it is not sweet enough”.