January 24, 2016

On This Day

On This Day
Andrei Sakharov (RIA Novosti/CC)

Each day on the Russian Life website, our database spools out a list of historical anniversaries connected with that day’s date. Quite often, I am intrigued by the juxtaposition of events. It is almost as if there were a thin thread across time, linking things together that one might never expect.

Last Friday, January 22, 2016, there were just four events, and I was struck by how they went a long way to describing a rather wide swath of Russian history. Here they are:

1440: Ivan III the Great, Grand Duke of Muscovy, was born.

1558: Russian troops cross the border into Livonia, beginning one of the longest wars in Russian history (1558-1583).

1904: George Balanchine, choreographer, born.

1980: Andrei Sakharov arrested and exiled to Gorky (present-day Nizhny Novgorod) for criticizing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Begin with Ivan III, the gatherer of Russian lands, the crusher of Veliky Novgorod, the grandfather of Ivan the Terrible. He ruled for 43 years and oversaw the tripling in size of the Russian state, the turning back of the Mongols, and the building of the Kremlin.

Then there is the start of the Livonian War, a decades-long battle that involved Russia’s northern and Baltic neighbors and Poland, and which ended in a defeat for Russia. There are many wars in Russian history, and this one perhaps had less territorial significance than most, but it set the stage for centuries of war to come in the North and West, and is a reminder of how many neighbors Russia has and how their relationships have continually fluctuated between ally and enemy.

George Balanchine, the father of American ballet (founder of the New York City Ballet), can stand as a symbol for the amazing artistic gifts that Russia (and its dominions, in this case Georgia) has bequeathed the world. His life and work also shows the beauty that can come when a genius expresses the experience and traditions of many cultures through his work.

Finally there is Andrei Sakharov, a paragon of decency, honor and human values. A Nobel Prize winning physicist, he was also an esteemed activist and dissident, choosing to follow his conscience rather than the dictates of the State. Sakharov is one of the finest representatives of resistance to, and overcoming, Soviet authoritarianism, but also to the shortfalls of democratic reform in the 1990s.

The On This Day listing shows up on the front page of our website, as well as on our Blog page.


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