Lesson Notes

Unlock In-Depth Explanations & Exclusive Takeaways with Printable Lesson Notes

Unlock Lesson Notes and Transcripts for every single lesson. Sign Up for a Free Lifetime Account and Get 7 Days of Premium Access.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Transcript

Oksana: Здравствуйте.
Eddie: Eddie here. All about. Lesson 8 - Russian History In A Nutshell. Hi, my name is Eddie, and I am joined here by Oksana.
Oksana: Hello, everyone and welcome back to RussianPOD101.
Eddie: In this lesson, Oksana and I are going to tell you a little bit about Russian history. So how did it all begin?
Oksana: With the Slavic tribes. These tribes were the ancestors of Russians. But their first rulers were the Vikings.
Eddie: The Vikings! How come?
Oksana: It was the time when they started adventuring further to the south for pirating and trading, and eventually they founded the first East Slavic state.
Eddie: Which was called “Kievan Rus”.
Oksana: “Киевская Русь” in Russian. But unfortunately it didn’t manage to stay united for long. It consisted of a number of small states, each of which was ruled by “князь”.
Eddie: Who?
Oksana: Well, a prince. In Russian they were called “князь”.
Eddie: So what happened?
Oksana: The princes kept fighting with each other for power and were not really interested in helping each other as far as outside enemies were concerned. So eventually “Kievan Rus” was invaded by Mongols and stayed under their control till the late 15th century!
Eddie: That’s what happens when you practice the philosophy “every man for himself”!
Oksana: Yes, and fortunately they later understood that.
Eddie: I think the princes of Moscow started gathering Russian lands together at some point.
Oksana: Exactly. This helped them get rid of the Mongol control and create a very powerful state with Moscow as a capital.
Eddie: And that’s when Ivan the Terrible comes to the scene. Was he really terrible?
Oksana: Oh yes, he was. Whenever he didn’t like someone, he’d just send them to exile or even kill them! Do you know the story of St Basil’s Cathedral?
Eddie: Is it the cathedral on Red Square? The really colourful one?
Oksana: Yes. It was built during the reign of Ivan IV.
Eddie: Ivan IV was Ivan the Terrible.
Oksana: Yes. But the tsar actually ordered to the architect who created the project to be made blind so that he could never create anything as beautiful again! He wanted St Basil’s cathedral to be the most beautiful cathedral ever.
Eddie: Oh my God! That was a terrible thing to do indeed. Another Russian tsar I heard of was Peter the Great. Did he blind anyone too?
Oksana: Not as far as I know.
Eddie: He ruled at the beginning of the 18th century I think.
Oksana: That’s right!
Eddie: So why was he so great?
Oksana: Well, he really wanted Russia to be more like Europe. He organized the government according to Western models. He even made noble people wear western clothes and ordered them to shave off their beards!
Eddie: I suppose they didn’t like it much.
Oksana:They didn’t like it at all, but no-one asked for their opinion.
Eddie: He also founded Sankt-Peterburg, right?
Oksana: He did, and he also made it the new Russian capital!
Eddie: So what happened after his death?
Oksana: Not much till Catherine II came to power forty years later.
Eddie: What was she like?
Oksana: She was a German princess. She actually agreed to have her husband killed to become the ruler herself because she thought he wasn’t competent enough!
Eddie: Blimey!
Oksana: Well, she probably WAS more competent than him. She managed to extend Russian borders even further by a number of successful wars.
Eddie: And what about internal politics?
Oksana: She was totally ruthless I’m afraid. She created laws that made life even more difficult for lords’ serfs. There was a major rebellion but it was suppressed and its leader was executed. Actually, they quartered him.
Eddie: So she was terrible too!
Oksana: She stayed in the history as Catherine the Great, however, I think you are right. She’s also famous for her expensive dresses and countless love affairs.
Eddie: So when did she die?
Oksana: At the very end of the 18th century. Which brings us to the 19th century and Napoleon campaign!
Eddie: Which wasn’t a great success as far as I know.
Oksana: Indeed. I would even go as far to say that it was a great failure.
Eddie: But Napoleon’s Army was so good!
Oksana: It was. But they didn’t take Russian climate into account! The French were not used to such cold weather and they eventually retreated, chased by the Russian army. Many French soldiers died of cold and hunger.
Eddie: And when was the serfdom abolished in Russia? It was quite late, right?
Oksana: Yes, in 1861.
Eddie: I suppose it was a great change for peasants. They got the freedom!
Oksana: Yes and no. Officially they were free, but their life didn’t get much easier. It actually got more difficult for many of them.
Eddie: I see. So when did the monarchy end in Russia?
Oksana: In 1917. The last Russian tsar was Nicholas II. His reign was a disaster in many ways. For example, Russia got involved in the First World War which contributed to general discontent, and eventually he had to abdicate.
Eddie: And he was executed later.
Oksana: Yes, with his wife and all his children. His youngest son, Aleksey, was only 13. There is a legend that one of his daughters, princess Anastasia, managed to escape, but I suspect it’s just something people wanted to believe.
Eddie: How sad. Well, that takes us to the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union.
Roxanna: After Nicholas II’s abdication, the “provisional government” that was formed was unable to solve the downward spiralling economic crises.
Eddie: This became the beginning of what was known as the October Revolution!
Oksana: The Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin, whose real name was “Ulyanov” seized the power and civil war broke out.
Eddie: Goodness, what a busy time.
Oksana: That’s certainly one way of putting it! Lenin’s death in 1924 resulted in a power struggle. Eventually Joseph Stalin whose real name was “Iosif Dzhugashvili” managed to get rid of all his political rivals and came to power.
Eddie: You wouldn’t have wanted to get in his bad books then!
Oksana: Did you know that his assumed name “Stalin” comes from the Russian word 'сталь’ which means “steel” – hence, “strong as steel”.
Eddie: I didn’t know that. That was a difficult time era, it saw tens of thousands of Soviet citizens face arrest, deportation and execution.
Oksana: It’s difficult to imagine, people lived in constant fear of being arrested for no reason at all.
Eddie: Somehow, despite all of this, Stalin managed to create the personality similar to a cult leader both for himself and Lenin, and so people who grieved his death likened it to the death of a family member.
Oksana:You know, there were positives during this time.
Eddie: There were?!
Oksana: Yes, Stalin’s economic policy based on heavy industrialization had remarkable results which revived the Soviet economy.
Eddie: Well, I’m not sure if the term “every cloud has a silver lining” is appropriate but I see what you mean, yes.
Oksana: Then in June 1941 German troops swept across the Soviet border. The German army seized Ukraine, laid a siege of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), and threatened to capture Moscow.
Eddie: They were thrown off in a successful counterattack.
Oksana: Then in 1942-1943 the Soviet Union managed to reverse the situation by defeating Germany in Stalingrad and Kursk.
Eddie: By the end of 1944, the front had moved beyond the Soviet frontiers into Eastern Europe, and Soviet forces drove into eastern Germany, capturing Berlin in May 1945.
Oksana: What a turnaround!
Eddie: I know. So when did Stalin die?
Oksana: He died in, 1953 when Nikita Khrushchev came to power. At a speech to the closed session of the Twentieth Communist Party Congress, Khrushchev shocked everybody by denouncing Stalin's dictatorial rule and attacked the crimes committed by Stalin's closest associates and thus initiated "The Thaw", a complex shift in political, cultural and economic life in the Soviet Union.
Eddie: That was another significant moment as it included some openness and contact with other nations and more tolerance towards criticism.
Oksana: Khrushchev did attempt a number of reforms, not many of which were successful.
Eddie: Really? Much like some of the world’s leaders today then?!
Oksana: After a visit to the USA, he insisted on creating massive plantations of corn in the URSS.
Eddie: That sounds ok doesn’t it?
Oksana: It certainly “sounds” OK, but then when you take into account the climatic differences between Russia and the southern states of the USA…
Eddie: Ahhh, then it all goes very wrong and you don’t get much corn!
Oksana: Eventually, Khrushchev was accused of “hasty decisions and actions divorced with reality” and was voted out of office.
Eddie: This made him at the time the only Soviet leader who didn’t stay in office until his death.
Oksana: Except for Gorbachev whose leadership ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Eddie: Yes. After Khrushchev retired, Leonid Brezhnev came to power.
Oksana: This period is commonly known as 'Застой’ – “the period of stagnation”. Perhaps surprisingly, many Russians recall this time with nostalgia, as it was time of great political and economic stability.
Eddie: I guess compared to the time before it makes sense. What happened after Brezhnev's death?
Oksana: Well, several leaders succeeded at the head of the Communist Party but none of them stayed long because of poor health, and eventually Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and proposed a vast program of reform.
Eddie: Yes, he initiated his new policy of ‘перестройка’ – “reconstruction”, and ‘гласность’ – “freedom of speech”.
Oksana: He also sought to improve relationships with the West and was largely hailed abroad.
Eddie: Perhaps not surprisingly, he was much less appreciated in his own country where his economic policy brought the country close to total disaster.
Oksana: It isn’t really surprising, there were severe shortages of basic food supplies.
Eddie: So it really isn’t surprising that this unstable situation, coupled with the freedom of expression, resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Oksana: It almost seems inevitable doesn’t it.
Eddie: Quite. Isn’t that when Boris Yeltsin was elected?
Oksana: Yes, he was the first President of Russia and his government started wide-ranging reforms. Price controls were abolished and it was the beginning of privatization.
Eddie: With the prices essentially being set loose came hyperinflation.
Oksana: For example, a loaf of bread, that cost 20 kopecks, which was 0,2 roubles in 1989, cost 2000 roubles in 1996!
Eddie: Wow! The mother of all inflations!
Oksana: Unfortunately, the salaries and pensions didn’t follow so inevitably the majority of Russians were plunged into poverty.
Eddie: Gosh, how awful. To make things worse, as part of the privatization process, many enterprises were sold at incredibly low prices to groups of individuals with inside connections in the Government and the Russian mafia.
Oksana: And many of those that weren’t sold in such a manner were simply closed and people working there lost their jobs.
Eddie: This really was a time, around the mid-1990s, that saw extreme lawlessness, rise of criminal gangs and violent crime.
Oksana: Then on 31 December 1999 President Yeltsin resigned.
Eddie: This handed the post to the recently appointed Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin.
Oksana: Many reforms made during the Putin presidency have been criticized by Western governments as being undemocratic.
Eddie: True, however, Putin's leadership resulted in a return of order, stability, and this progress won him widespread popularity in Russia, which resulted in Putin’s re-election in 2004.
Oksana: More recently, in 2008, Dmitry Medvedev was elected President of Russia, whilst Putin became Prime Minister. People often joke that Putin is still the “real” president of Russia and controls everything but, of course, no-one knows if there is any truth in it.
Eddie: I’m sure that sort of sentiment is echoed in many countries around the world, either other politicians or leaders’ wives and husbands.
Oksana: So if you were president could I control everything?
Eddie: Wow you don’t waste anytime do you!
Oksana: Absolutely!
Eddie: Thanks for listening everyone, we hope that this brief coverage of Russian history with RussianPod101.com has given you an insight in Russia’s rich past.
Oksana: This is all part of learning a language, understanding the culture and people.
Eddie: That just about does it for today.
Oksana: Remember, you can leave us a comment on this lesson.
Eddie: So if you have a question, or some feedback, please leave us a comment!
Oksana: It's very easy to do. Just stop by RussianPod101.com, click on comments...
Eddie: ...enter your comment and name and that's it!
Oksana: No excuses. We're looking forward to hearing from you!
Eddie: Ok, thanks for listening. Bye!
Oksana: Всем пока!