View from the Hermitage. St Petersburg Style
Summer is a time of endless events. Almost all of them, in some or other way, relate to the Palace Square. On the one hand, it can be noted that it is difficult to live so. On the other hand, it is easy to see that events become somewhat regular. I think the Hermitage affects this process.
I remember three events that seem especially important to me: the International Economic Forum, the Red Sails celebration and the opening of Picasso’s exhibition.
Unfortunately, the forum paid little attention to cultural issues. But the concert timed to it and held at the square met all the requirements that are usually imposed by us. The performing group was not the most interesting one and this question refers to the concert organizers. By the way, they came from the capital. The Red Sails program was much more interesting.
As a result of several years of struggling the Hermitage reached mutual agreement with those who organize celebrations at the Palace Square. Let me remind you that we request from them the quick installing and de-installing temporary structures, the third party insurance and the light not exceeding the allowable level. As I said, everything is getting normal.
Another important plot is Picasso’s exhibition. We had many exhibitions of this artist since the first one held in 1956 but not like this. I am glad that everyone realized it. You can walk in the Winter Palace and see how much we managed to create in huge parade halls a dialog that only an artist such as Picasso may sustain.
The economic forum, Red Sails and the exhibition are called events of the capital’s level. It is so. Though in respect to St Petersburg discussing the theme of capitalness is a manifestation of internal lameness.
What is St Petersburg? It is a city created by its founder for reforms. After Peter we had no major reforms but revolutions and unsuccessful transformations by Alexander II. Reforms are being carried out now.
Speaking about capitals has no sense for St Petersburg. The city allows us to live calmly, without any inferiority complex. For this there is no need to endlessly call it a capital. Here is an example with Staraya Ladoga of which there is a dispute whether it was a capital of Rus or not. Archaeologists who work with Novgorod disagree. Their colleagues who carry out excavations in Staraya Ladoga insist that it is a capital.
Staraya Ladoga is an amazing monument. It shows us how Scandinavian and Russian cultures co-existed on this land. This monument disapproves statements that there were no Normans here. Whether this place was called a capital or not is not important. The important thing is that Staraya Ladoga is a progenitrix of St Petersburg.
The situation with St Petersburg is not simple either. Peter did not issue any edict that it is a capital. He gradually brought everything here. In unofficial documents St Petersburg started to be referred to as a capital and so it went on. St Petersburg was Russia’s main city by its essence, not its name. Same as the Hermitage is Russia’s main museum and one of the world’s main museums. Though such status is not recorded anywhere. Sometimes it is remembered, sometimes it is not.
St Petersburg kept is significance, and when the formal capital was moved to Moscow in 1918 the city, renamed to Leningrad, continued to so. A new name raised its status in people’s souls. It is no coincidence that there are such notions as Leningrad character, kindness, responsiveness, culture.
Our city is a cultural phenomenon. It is special and acclaimed. Sometimes it brought about the bursts of the superior human spirit. In the sieged city people worked, painted triumphal arches and contemplated about how they will celebrate the victory. Everything ended, as we remember, with the Leningrad Affair. The city acquired such significance that it had to be belittled.
St Petersburg is often referred to as the northern capital, the second capital. I believe this word should not be repeated on any occasion. The curiosity with the cultural capital is known. The phrase “cultural capital” was devised by Anatoly Sobchak and Vladimir Yakovlev. There is a cultural capital in Europe where it always changes its address. The idea occurred to create such a mechanism in Russia and begin with St Petersburg. The name got attached to it. But there can be one capital. St Petersburg is valuable on its own.
We celebrate successes of economy, build bridges, tunnels... But it is very important to preserve what is peculiar only to this city. It keeps diplomatic traditions of the former St Petersburg. That is why the economic forum suits our format so well. Russia’s image of a European face should be further developed. It is a place where a European, a man of the world, feels comfortable to arrive to, in particular, due to imperial traditions.
Our city, more than any other city, provides a good example of co-existence of different religions. It’s worth walking along Nevsky avenue to see churches of all confessions. They are located next to each other and get along well. It is the only city in the world where a mosque with minarets was built not far from the main cathedral in early 20th century. It survived and did not disturb anyone as it was made elegantly. Everyone understood: it is a symbol of the empire. The empire in which the Islamic source is also present, though in a lesser extent than the Orthodox one. It should be remembered that the main cathedrals of St Petersburg were the monuments of statehood and belonged to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. And that also makes the city special.
I have spoken about the peculiarities of our museums for many times. St Petersburg has imperial, emperor’s museums: the Hermitage, the Russian Museum, the Navy Museum, the Artillery Museum, the Military Medical Museum… This is the capital’s legacy. Moscow has wonderful museums but they have a different, democratic air about them. The Tretiakov Gallery is a museum created by a private individual and carries his name, his spirit and taste. The Pushkin Museum was created as educational, and it is also associated with a private name, a private individual. It is one of the capital’s features. Differences are interesting. It is important to preserve this difference. There is no good in copying each other. Each has its own face, an attractive face. The Hermitage keeps the memory of the Russian statehood. So does the Kremlin in Moscow. The Kremlin has St Basil’s Cathedral and we have the Alexander’s Column. Two symbols of the empire.
Remember our suburbs. Among the main one in Moscow is Arkhangelskoye, the Yusupovs’ estate surrounded by other estates. We have Peterhof, Tsarskoye Selo, Gatchina... Strict and imperial. It is our face. So is the Mariinsky Theater. It has always been not like Moscow’s Bolshoy Theater, smaller but not the least monumental.
St Petersburg style is about being special but not main. We have special institutions. The Constitutional Court fitted well here. Earlier so did the Registrar of Shipping and the Armorial Service.
Special things get interweaved into St Petersburg’s “wreath”. The sieged deed is a confrontation to the evil, a mythical thing. It is only ours. The Red Sails can only be with us, on the Neva.
We have a specific set of names and stars in the history of St Petersburg culture. To begin with pop music, suffice it to pronounce: Shevchuk, Kurekhin, Grebenschikov. Three names and there is no need to speak of something else. Any other city of the world can give dozens of different names. But these names can only belong here. The same applies to Tovstonogov, Temirkanov, Gergiev, Dodin. They felt and feel the peculiarities of this city.
There is a reason that prevents St Petersburg to be one of the main cities. It has an honorary title, the capital of Russian province. We do not have any province. Russian cities such as Irkutsk, Kazan, Novosibirsk, etc are close to St Petersburg in many things. There is no province but there exist the provincial psychology and provincialization.
The provincialization manifests itself in a desire to say and show that one is bigger and more significant than in reality. It has its symptoms. For example, I never pronounce and cannot bear hearing the word Piter. For me Piter means outskirts and suburbs. It is another city that has nothing in common with the gorgeous St Petersburg.
Constructing the Gazprom Tower applies here. People want to assert themselves. To assert oneself, one can construct the Alexander Column or the Gazprom Tower. Two ways of self-assertion. Constructing a high building and thus demonstrating the capitalness is a lame, provincial idea. The creeping provincialization is one of the major hazards in our life. Sometimes it arises from a lame pride. Let’s do not worse than others do.
We need not what others have. We have all that we need.
A favourite topic to discuss in St Petersburg and Russia: the brain drain, the removal of talents. But so is the capital’s nature. The city not only attracts but also shares much internationally. There is nothing wrong with it as long as we are able to replenish the losses.
St Petersburg is an entire country, entire world. First everyone moved here, then from here moved to Moscow. Artists were leaving but there have always remained as many talents. Then we sent politicians to Moscow. These were people prepared by the local tradition to establish an order in the country and carry out reforms. Politicians are still available here and some more will appear. The city continues to attract people. Those who are living in Moscow feel drawn to St Petersburg. It is because our city is special and it proves its capabilities to everyone: it produces personnel, keeps traditions, continues to be a reference of taste. It is a subtle thing of what can be done and what cannot be done.
The Palace Square, as well as the entire St Petersburg, seems to be a testing range. The testing range for developing the supreme taste in politics, culture, everything. Do you remember what happened when a skating rink was arranged on the square? It was clear right away that it is inappropriate there. In Moscow it has been arranged at the Red Square for many winters, and it is fine. Here it cannot be done.