November 01, 1996

Remembering Past Glories

At a time when it would seem Russians have little in the present to glory in, there is ever more reason for looking to the past.

Fresh from celebrating the beginnings of its 300-year-old fleet, this month Russia remembers another ‘golden age,’ the age of Catherine the Great, who died 200 years ago this month. The bicentenary is made particularly poignant by the fact that almost all of the territorial gains made by Russia in her reign — Belarus, Western and Southern Ukraine, the Crimea and Lithuania — have so recently been lost again. However, while we share in the respect held for the great Empress, we do not glorify her, and in our lead feature this month (A Woman of Substance, p. 4) historian Nikolai Pavlenko paints an honest portrait of Catherine, making no attempt to gloss over the seedier sides of her life.

Vigilant readers may note the omission of one important name among the Empress’ entourage, Grigory Potyomkin. Although he was Catherine’s favorite for two years, his role as a statesman merits more attention than we could fairly give him here. Look out for a feature on the ‘Tauride Prince’ in the coming months.

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