A Little Lapta, Anyone?

The Moscow Times buys the “Cossack” myth hook, line and sinker:

“The Cossacks are an ethnic group within Russia with a strong military tradition. They often take on roles as police or security guards to maintain peace in Russia’s streets.”

In this frame from video provided by Anapa Today, Cossacks throw milk at opposition leader Alexei Navally, center right, at the Anapa airport, southern Russia, Tuesday, May 17, 2016. A group of Cossacks attacked Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his associates outside an airport in southern Russia Tuesday, injuring Navalny and six others, his spokeswoman said. (Dmitry Slaboda/Anapa Today via AP)
In this still from video provided by Anapa Today, “Cossacks” throw milk at opposition leader Alexei Navalny, center right, at the Anapa Airport in southern Russia, Tuesday, May 17, 2016. A group of “Cossacks” attacked Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his associates outside the airport, injuring Navalny and six others, his spokeswoman said. Courtesy of Dmitry Slaboda and Anapa Today via AP. (The quotation marks are mine – TRR.)

Maybe there are real cowboys left in the US, but wearing a cowboy hat does not make a you a cowboy, even though lots of Americans do just that: put on a cowboy hat and imagine they are “cowboys.” The same thing goes for the “Cossacks” flooding and terrorizing Russian public space the past several years.

Meaning, it has recently became fashionable for violent pro-regime thugs or recovering alcoholics or just plain old security guards to dress up as “Cossacks” and behave dreadfully or just gad about looking anachronistic and as if they are in charge, although no one put them in charge of anything, and if the police had any moxie they would haul them away to the hoosegow on sight.

I’ve seen such “Cossack” security guards with my own eyes slouching around Our Lady of Vladimir Church, in my hometown of Petersburg, the achingly lovely church where Dostoevsky was a parishioner in the later years of his life.

Another thing I have been told at least three dozen times by various folk in the Motherland over the years is that lapta—an alleged Russian bat-and-ball game not played by anyone for at least two centuries and that no one (least of all, the folks telling me about it) has ever seen played by anyone—is the “Russian equivalent of baseball.” Some even claim it inspired the invention of baseball in the US.

Young people pretending to play lapta so there would be a picture of people playing it for the relevant Wikipedia article
Modern young people pretending to play lapta so there would be a photograph of modern young people playing it to put in the Wikipedia article on lapta. Courtesy of Wikipedia

I think an actual nationwide lapta fad would be a great way of diverting the aggressive energies of all the thugs, alcoholics, and security guards currently pretending to be “Cossacks.” We should see if we can make it happen.

Of course then maybe the ex-“Cossacks” would start running around whacking Navalny & Co. with their new lapta bats. It’s a risk we’ll have to take.

Sources: Moscow Times, Wikipedia

Welcome to Nyen, Capital of Ingria

map of nyen

Leonid Storch
Facebook
March 26, 2016

This is one of my favorite maps. Drawn up between 1635 and 1645, it is a snapshot of my hometown seventy years before it was supposedly founded by Peter the Great. In reality, it has been founded by the Swedes way back in 1611 and consisted of the town Nyen (i.e., the Swedish name for the Neva River) and Nyenskans Fortress, situated on the right bank of the Neva. In the late seventeenth century, Nyen’s population had climbed to two thousand. It had a town hall, a hospital, and two churches (Swedish and German). On the other side of the Neva, where the Smolny Monastery is now, there was also an Orthodox church. Nyen had a number of good sawmills, and sturdy ships were built in the town. Merchants from all across northern Europe came to Nyen for the traditional three-week fair held in August. Rye, oats, peas, pork, beef, bacon, butter, salmon, tar, resin, hemp, flax, and timber were brought here from Novgorod, Tikhvin, and Ladoga. The Oriental fabrics (silk, plush, damask) that were all the rage in Europe, as well as skins, leather, fur, and canvas, came via Novgorod. Metals (iron, copper, lead) were shipped from northern Europe, as well as mirrors, English and Dutch cloth, German wools, velvet, and hats.

The Greater Nyen area encompassed forty villages, both Izhorian and Russian, and several Swedish estates. The village of Hirvisaari was situated on Vasilyevsky Island, where I grew up, on the shores of the Little Neva River. We can assume that by the time Russian imperial troops showed up, the population of the Greater Nyen  area was at least four to five thousand people, which was quite a lot at that time.

Russian historiography has preferred to efface ninety-two years of the city’s history and has presented the matter in such a way that, when the Russian imperial troops arrived, the Neva estuary was a deserted “forlorn shore,” on which stood Peter, who, “rapt in thought,” had decided to found the capital city of Sankt-Peterburkh there. Despite the “desertedness” of the Neva’s shores, the newly arrived Russian nobles settled in homes previously owned by the local Swedish aristocracy (e.g., the estate of Swedish Major Eric Berndt von Konow was turned into the Summer Garden); the bricks used to build the Peter and Paul Fortress had been produced right there, in Nyen; and produce was delivered from the villages of the Greater Nyen area.  Subsequently, Peter ordered Nyenskans destroyed, apparently in a bid to destroy his rival in the battle over historical primogeniture. The remains of the fortress were unearthed during archaeological digs in the late 1990s in the vicinity of Krasnogvardeyskaya Square.

The paradox lies in the fact that every city tries to find the roots of its origins and takes pride if it is able to prove its lineage was even a dozen years more ancient than had been previously thought. On the shores of the Neva, however, an entire chapter of the city’s history has been pitilessly expunged, robbing it of ninety-two years of life, at least. Personally, I refuse to recognize 1703 as the year the city was founded. The founding of the Peter and Paul Fortress by the Muscovites in 1703 was an event no more meaningful than the founding of Nyenskans Fortress by the Swedes in 1611.

P.S. The map is aligned from south to north (as was customary in those days) or, to be more precise, from northeast to southwest. To make it easier to recognize the locale, I realigned the image. Thus, in order to read all the inscriptions on the map, you must turn the image around again [as I have in fact done, aboveTRR]. You can find Russian translations of the Swedish inscriptions here. The same website also contains a description of the maps’s history and the principles by which it has been dated.

P.P.S. For more information about Nyen and the pre-Petrine history of our city, see also [in Russian]:

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to the nearly indispensable Comrade AK for the heads-up