I grew up with the Cold War in full force. We feared the Soviet expertise in Space – they had launched a satelite before we did – and that scared and challenged everyone I knew. I had heard of Lenin of course – but growing up in Atlanta didn’t equate to much of a world history orientation.
True fact – I really only knew there was a World History when I hit University. Sad statement on a Southern education circa 1960.
But I digress – I’m here in St. Petersburg – visiting the Museum of Political Life – and walking where Lenin walked in 1917 – 1919. His office was right where I’m currently standing – here in the glorious home of one of the Prima Ballerinas of the time – the Bolsheviks took it over after she fled Russia when the Tsar was arrested. Lenin paced these wooden floors – He opened those balcony windows to address the mobs.
Such is the adventage of travel – that moment when you and history collide.
The museum of Political Life – like most of the museums we’ve visited – is huge. I don’t know how many rooms – but it wraps in and around 3 or 4 different buildings – sometimes I’m walking up or down marble steps, sometimes I think this must have been servants quarters. The exhibits start in 1900 – we’re talking fairly current history here – and focus on the Russian perspective. We start in the latter days of Nickolas II – see his letter of resignation, and stand in the train car that took him and his family into what he hoped would be temporary exile.
The Bolsheviks come to power, the split happens between Lenin and the ‘hard’ liners – Stalin comes to power, things go from bad to really seriously bad. Hitler invades to everyone’s surprise – Stalin had assumed that since he and Hitler shared so much in common – including a love of torturing any one who disagreed with them – that Hitler would leave Russia alone. Wrong.
The war ends with jubilation in the streets of St. Petersburg, but that feeling of new hope, new beginings dies young and the cold water starts. The museum continues thru the Thaw, and ends in 2000 – Yeltsin gives his new year speech announcing his surprise retirement, and Putin takes over.
The exhibits run the gambit from collections of old papers and photographs to multi-media effects – the culmination of which is the side-by-side faces of Yeltsin and Putin on New Years Eve 1999 – one annoucing he is retiring, the other announcing that he is taking over the Presidency of Russia.
I leave the museum not totally sure what hit me – or even how much more I really know about recent Russian History. I do know that in comparison – Canadian History is dull, dull, dull. Thank goodness. I’m reminded of the ancient curse – “May you live in Interesting Times”.
Signing off to consider how little she really knows about history… The Soup Lady