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In progress.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Lake Baikal

In a few hours I go to Lake Baikal, where I will camp for 2 weeks on the shore, as part of a trail-building project of volunteers, both Russian and West European.

I have let the anarchist history-mapping fall a little lately, and instead I've been visiting the Buddhist Monastery, Ingoltsy Datsan, and seeing throat-singing and other nomadic music in Ulan Ude.

So I do of course promise to get it back on track when I return in 2 weeks. For now, I am just thinking of Kropotkin's formative experiences in Siberia, which taught him that the state commands nothing, progresses nothing, cannot be the leader of positive change and reform for people. Read what he said in his Memoirs of a Revolutionist, available here.

Here is one of his experiences of Lake Baikal, which encouraged he and his brother to leave the army:

"Several batches of Russian political exiles had been sent during the last century to Siberia, but with the submissiveness to fate which is characteristic of the Russians, they never revolted; they allowed themselves to be killed inch by inch without ever attempting to free themselves. The Poles, on the contrary, -- to their honor be it said, -- were never so submissive as that, and this time they broke into open revolt. It was evident that they had no chance of success, but they revolted nevertheless. They had before them the great lake, and behind them a girdle of absolutely impracticable mountains, beyond which spread the wildernesses of North Mongolia; but they conceived the idea of disarming the soldiers who guarded them, forging those terrible weapons of the Polish insurrections, -- scythes fastened as pikes on long poles, -- and making their way across the mountains and across Mongolia, towards China, where they would find English ships to take them. One day the news came to Irkútsk that part of those Poles who were at work on the Baikál road had disarmed a dozen soldiers and broken out into revolt. Eighty soldiers were all that could be dispatched against them from Irkútsk; crossing the Baikál in a steamer, they went to meet the insurgents on the other side of the lake.

The winter of 1866 had been unusually dull at Irkútsk. In the Siberian capital there is no such distinction between the different classes as one sees in Russian provincial towns, and Irkútsk "society," composed of numerous officers and officials, together with the wives and daughters of local traders and even clergymen, met during the winter, every Thursday, at the Assembly rooms. This winter, however, there was no "go" in the evening parties. Amateur theatricals, too, were not successful; and gambling, which usually flourished on a grand scale at Irkútsk, only dragged along; a serious want of money was felt among the officials, and even the arrival of several mining officers was not signalized by the heaps of banknotes with which these privileged gentlemen commonly enlivened the knights of the green tables. The season was decidedly dull, -- just the season for starting spiritualistic experiences with talking tables and talkative spirits. A gentleman who had been the pet of Irkútsk society the previous winter for the tales from popular life which he recited with great talent, seeing that interest in himself and his tales was failing, took now to spiritualism as a new amusement. He was clever, and in a week's time all Irkútsk society was mad over talking spirits. A new life was infused into those who did not know how to kill time. Talking tables appeared in every drawing-room, and love-making went hand in hand with spirit rapping. Lieutenant Pótaloff took it all in deadly earnest, -- talking tables and love. Perhaps he was less fortunate with the latter than with the tables; at any rate, when the news of the Polish insurrection came, he asked to be sent to the spot with the eighty soldiers. He hoped to return with a halo of military glory."

"I go against the Poles," he wrote in his diary; "it would be so interesting to be slightly wounded!"

He was killed. He rode on horseback by the side of the colonel who commanded the soldiers, when "the battle with the insurgents" - the glowing description of which may be found in the annals of the general staff - began. The soldiers were slowly advancing along the road when they met some fifty Poles, five or six of whom were armed with rifles and the remainder with sticks and scythes. The Poles occupied the forest and from time to time fired their guns. The file of soldiers returned the fire. Pótaloff twice asked the permission of the colonel to dismount and dash into the forest. The colonel very angrily ordered him to stay where he was. Notwithstanding this, the next moment the lieutenant had disappeared. Several shots resounded in the wood in succession, followed by wild cries; the soldiers rushed that way, and found the lieutenant bleeding on the grass. The Poles fired their last shots and surrendered; the battle was over, and Pótaloff was dead. He had rushed, revolver in hand, into the thicket, where he found several Poles armed with scythes. He fired upon them all his shots, in a haphazard way, wounding one of them, whereupon the others rushed upon him with their scythes.

At the other end of the road, on this side of the lake, two Russian officers behaved in the most abominable way toward the Poles who were building the same road, but took no part in the insurrection. One of the two officers rushed into their tent, swearing and firing his revolver at the peaceful exiles, two of whom he badly wounded.

">Now, the logic of the Siberian military authorities was that as a Russian officer had been killed, several Poles must be executed. The court-martial condemned five of them to death: Szaramówicz, a pianist, a fine looking man of thirty, who was the leader of the insurrection; Celínski, a man of sixty, who had once been an officer in the Russian army; and three others whose names I do not remember.

The governor-general telegraphed to St Petersburg asking permission to reprieve the condemned insurgents; but no answer came. He had promised us not to execute them, but after having waited several days for the reply, he ordered the sentence to be carried out in secrecy, early in the morning. The reply from St Petersburg came four weeks later, by post: the governor was left to act "according to the best of his understanding." In the mean time five brave men had been shot.

The insurrection, people said, was foolish. And yet this brave handful of insurgents had obtained something. The news of it reached Europe. The executions, the brutalities of the two officers, which became known through the proceedings of the court, produced a commotion in Austria, and Austria interfered in favor of the Galicians who had taken part in the revolution of 1863 and had been sent to Siberia. Soon after the insurrection, the fate of the Polish exiles in Siberia was substantially bettered, and they owed it to the insurgents, -- to those five brave men who were shot at Irkútsk, and those who had taken arms by their side.

For my brother and myself this insurrection was a great lesson. We realized what it meant to belong in any way to the army. I was far away, but my brother was at Irkútsk, and his squadron was dispatched against the insurgents. Happily, the commander of the regiment to which my brother belonged knew him well, and, under some pretext, he ordered another officer to take command of the mobilized part of the squadron. Otherwise, Alexander, of course, would have refused to march. If I had been at Irkútsk, I should have done the same.

We decided then to leave the military service and to return to Russia. This was not an easy matter, especially as Alexander had married in Siberia; but at last all was arranged, and early in 1867 we were on our way to St Petersburg"

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Red Ude

Got off the train, both the Finnish and the Russian man came after me to give me the cup I'd left - but which the German had actually borrowed for me. Nice of them.

And I happily found this place on foot from memory of an internet map: although all the dogs round the back streets know me now, coz I didn't come in a quite perfect line. Much scrappier and more like a 'wild east' cowboy dirt street town than the other side of Russia. Feels much more Mongolian, and rather than write turgid dribble I'm gonna wander into the old bit of town having TRIUMPHED in finding my way here alone.

cat's just come for a stroke. 10 pages of now bloody dull war n peace to go.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Bored in Yekaterinburg

One consequence of working out my own tickets has been a 36 hour stopover in this big and, to me, pretty boring city. I've wandered round, read lots of War & Peace (two thirds of the way through, and it isn't getting any better), and briefly gawped at all the statues. My hotel room was plush with a huge view, but I didn't sleep cos of drinking too much coffee. I've also been drinking lots of irn bru - it's amazing how big irn bru is here, and frankly quite odd to see Russian squaddies drinking it.

I've done very little (actually none) writing or drawing here. Too hot. I did find anarchist graffiti at the university, but all I've done is wandered and read.

So again, some odd photos will go up in this post eventually, but for now it's just a post to say I'm here, and I'm leaving here on a 3 day train journey across Siberia, in about 6 hours time.

Kazan and Tatarstan Ravings

Does Tartar sauce come from Tatarstan? I HAVE to find this out immediately after this post.

Kazan was my first breakjourney on the Trans-Siberian.

Actually it's not quite the Trans-Siberian route. I'm quite proud of myself for finding my own route that the old lonely planet guide doesn't mention (which I'm ripping up as I go, and is 10 years old so some crucial stuff is out of date). It seems there may be another alternative route that dips into Kazakhstan, which I might try out on the way back too. Can you really say you've lived if you've never been to Kazakhstan?*

Kazan was dead pretty, and I'll stick up some photos of what was once its pedestrianised mainstreet and central bazaar, but is currently being pulled down, or possibly rebuilt with just the facades remaining from the original. Very beautiful.

I was very sad to find no anarchist graffiti, but you'd hardly expect it in a tourist unesco heritage hotspot. There were swastikas, though.

Actually, swastikas are confusing. Okay in Germany a swastika would be fascist harking back to the Nazis. Probably the case is the same in Russia - it certainly would be in 'european' Russia. But originally the swastika was nicked as an eastern/asian symbol by anti-semitic nutters like Baron Ungern von Sternburg. In HIS case, he reckoned he was a Buddhist war-god bringing vengeance and a new aristocratic/mongolian-Buddhist regime on the atheistic and Jewish commies. Most of his troops were non-european (Mongolian, Chinese, or most significantly the 'non-european' Russians, like Buryats). AND he tried to raise divisions of troops from the fringe ethic groups of Russia, INCLUDING TARTARS. You see where I'm going with this. So the Swastika on his flag, for example, was certainly racist but NOT against the non-european tatars of Kazan. Which means if I see graffiti saying ACAB** with a swastika, I can only be 90% certain it's fascist, and aimed against Tatars by ethnically 'european' russians locally. It remains just possible it could be a weird nutty anti-state pro-asian tradition graffiti!

No, I haven't persuaded myself.

Anyway, a few pictures will follow of the nice buildings here. I wish I'd gone swimming in the Volga but I'm still too nervous about bus tickets.

* Answer: er, yes.
** Universal for 'all coppers are b******s'

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Vic Reeves and Michael Palin

Maybe it's the lack of sleep from them friggin mosqitoes, but I'm having ongoing feelings of deja vu. Like 300 pages into war and peace and I know the story - surely I would have remembered reading it before? Could I have started it as a teenager? I DID read a lot of books back then...

Anyway, the above pictures of Vic Reeves and Michael Palin are not, they are doppelgangers from Russian TV. Somehow I am sure everybody already knows that there are Russian versions of Vic Reeves and Michael Palin, but anyway there they are.

I've watched a lot of crap TV in the last few hotels and here's my conclusions:

- Russian dubbing leaves the original voices in, a little quieter in the background. I prefer it to the French version.

- "Autoglass Repair, Autoglass Replace" uses the same annoyingly catchy jingle in the French and German versions. Each time, the friendly mechanic chappy manages to inject something into the windscreen and the chip danger is averted. But not in Russia. No "szvetjschnlovnrtzta vnshnevsnza" here.

- Family Guy and South Park are unexpectedly successful crossovers to Slavic.

Well that's enough pop-tv crap for now.

I'm leaving St Petersburg today and getting my first trans-siberian overnighter to Kazan, where all being well I will arrive tomorrow afternoon.

Then I get a 2nd overnighter from there to Ekaterinburg where the last Tsars were got rid of by the nasty Bolsheviks (boo! the baddies! boo!). Staying in what's apparently a dump called the Sverdlovsk hotel.

I don't know how I'll fare on these two little journeys with my nonexistent Russian, but they are both short enough that I hope with snacks and a gaumless smile I will get through.

From Ekaterinburg I get on a 3 day train journey, but this time it's the posh 'Rossiya' train which should be well used to internationals and who knows, I might even get to have a conversation.

So then, trusting all this works out, I turn up in Ulan Ude 3 nights early on the 15th, and I've decided not to leave myself the chance of pushing on to Chita for a day, but rather I've booked into the GBT hostel to hopefully recover/replenish stores before the beach camp.

So if there's no more blog/emails till then, there should be on the 16th.

Some bits of Switzerland I missed out - Zurich, Geneva and Bern

Zurich was my last stop in Switzerland, but it was Bakunin (and Kropotkin)'s introduction to the Russian exile & student community and the various radicals amongst them.

I didn't stay in Geneva, or Lausanne, because of setting off two days later than planned.

But Bern, where Bakunin went to die, was the last stop in Switzerland.

Bern is sick, keeping captive bears because when some aristocratic tosspot decided to make his HQ there, he said he'd name it after the first thing he'd kill. A bear it was, Bern got named after it, and ever since then, bears have been tortured to sustain this invented identity.

Mosquito Enemy


The Winter Palace

In the Hermitage, I went for the Siberian bit while everyone else went for the art. I'm not quite sure where all these particular artefacts were from, but they cover reindeer, shamanism, wolves and mountain sheep.

Then I drew some of Gauguin's faces of Tahitian girls. He paints in a cartoon style already. Gaps and shading etc.. to be completed at some point in the future.

The Peter & Paul Fortress

From the beach beneath the fortress walls.

This wedding photo was actually just over the water, but they were at the fortress too.

Stories of various of its prisoners to follow - Nechaev, for example, and an anarchist terrorist who ironically called himself 'Tolstoy'.

St Petersburg in the heat

DAY ONE: Not sure how readable that is (I may have found a tinternet cafe with free usb ports, but being able to lighten/resize pictures is still not possible.

and DAY TWO. One would imagine that day three would follow at some point.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Through Poland and Belarus

My first big train journey. 2 days on board. This is how it went:


war & peace

cabin to myself

Belarus countryside


I've come off a train in which I'd hoped to mix with other international travellers, haggle for food on the platforms, play cards in the restaurant wagon etc.. I'm so naive - I'd even asked at Berlin what money I was able to use in Poland and Belarus.

As if I'd get a chance.

But no, no restaurant car and I was scurried after the one time I tried to walk up to other carriages. A cabin luxuriously to my self for two days, but just local(ish) families and the provodnik/provodnitsa in charge of our two sleeper carriages.

We stopped plenty of times, but only in sidings to shunt back and forwards, changing wheels and banging things with a hammer. I'd brought snacks for the journey, but had assumed I'd get more options down the line. Nope.

The one place I definitely knew we'd stop for a bit was Minsk, but on day two when I walked out on the platform, the train was half a mile long with no 'booths' or babushkas selling owt to be seen.

So it was just me, 'war and peace', and the occasional cup of coffee I blagged off the provodnitsa. Good job I don't get hungry in the heat.

Those two days in isolation have at least made me really enjoy the crowds in St Petersburg, which is a very easy city to hang out in. But they make me less confident about the next batch of train journeys - equally as quarantined and enclosed? But without the privacy (which was great, actually).

MP3 tracklist wonderful - Nev Clay, New Model Army, Kath Williams, Richard Dawson, Cranes, all evocative of the Newcastle gig scene and past memories of company!

OK, Schlusselburg is now Shlisselburg, and 35 km east.

Kronstadt is 30 km west.

Buses allegedly go near each, but in this heat I think I'll pass up on the possibility until I return in September. Just getting across to the Peter & Paul fortress was exhausting.