Ivan the Not So Terrible?


Bogdan (Karl) Venig - Ivan the Terrible and his old nanny, 1886.
Bogdan (Karl) Venig – Ivan the Terrible and his old nanny, 1886.

In the latest edition of monuwars (monument wars): the monument to Ivan IV aka Ivan the Deplorable Terrible in Oryol. Here’s a few quick thoughts on the subject.

People tend to project their political views on histrorical figures. What’s apparent in case of Ivan IV and his monument is that we are dealing with his image, which exists in the Russian collective consciousness. So the discussion is actually centered around the image of ‘Ivan the Terrible’ not the real Ivan IV.

It’s clear what two extreme viewpoints on the monument are: Russia’s Cargsternizers (cargo cult + Westernizer) say that he is literally Hitler Stalin because he grabbed pussy riot established oh, preach, Nina! oprichnina, slaughtered people of Novgorod (I was not surprised this summer when citizens of Novgorod told me that they are no fans of his), sent his wives to a monastery and even allegedly murdered some of them, as well as his son, etc.

Alexander Litovchenko - Ivan the Terrible Showing His Treasures to [the English ambassador] Jerome Horsey, 1875.
Alexander Litovchenko – Ivan the Terrible Showing His Treasures to [the English ambassador] Jerome Horsey, 1875.

‘Borshcheviks’ (i.e. unhinged patriots or klyukvified scarecrow types needed to make our Western partners more appeasable) sing variations of the Ivan-did-nothing-wrong tune and mock (ultra)libs that he ‘killed a gazillion of innocent babies and drank their blood’. Thus, the authorities are tertius gaudens in this situation: calming down the most deranged persons on the opposite sides of the political menagerie.

Grigory Sedov - Ivan the Terrible admiring Vasilisa Melentieva (1875).
Grigory Sedov – Ivan the Terrible admiring [his wife] Vasilisa Melentieva, 1875.

Let’s take a look at the pro- and anti-monument points.

Pro-monument points:

  1. He founded Oryol where the monument stands.
  2. He was an outstanding Russian statesman who did much for his country (e.g., the conquest of Kazan and Astrakhan). He made Russia great again indeed!
  3. The negative side of his rule affected Russians centuries ago. Moreover, keeping in mind the negative, we shouldn’t forget about the positive. It’s hard to separate historical myth from reality here. Nowadays it’s more of a popular culture image (‘Evil Ruskie Tsar’) that influences and/or warps our general understanding and attitude to Ivan IV as a historical figure.
Klavdy Lebedev Tsar Ivan the Terrible asks hiegumen Kornily to admit him into monks, 1898.
Klavdy Lebedev – Tsar Ivan the Terrible asks hiegumen Kornily to admit him into monks, 1898.

Anti-monument points:

  1. Ivan IV was a cruel leader (which – to be fair – was not an exclusive Russian thing given the context of the time when he was in power).
  2. He is a polarizing figure in contemporary Russia. This is even more important due to the recent phase of confrontation with our Western partners when less turmoil and more social solidarity is needed.
  3. The monument itself is likely to be used by our Western partners’ media in order to portray the ‘primordial totalitarian nature of the Russian character’.  So the timing is also far from being perfect.

[Note: the last point is ambiguous because if taken at face value it puts Russia in conceptual bondage as the entity always looking for West’s (dis)approval while outsourcing Russian worldview].

Thus, imho it’s 50/50. The truth is out there.

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2 thoughts on “Ivan the Not So Terrible?

  1. I understand that the Russian word associated with Ivan IV is ‘Grozny’. The translation into English as ‘terrible’ uses an archaic definition of that word, which we would nowadays translate as ‘stupendous’ or ‘awe-inspiring’. Sadly, many who translate don’t even know their own language properly.

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