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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Not Everyone Values Tsereteli's Peter the Great

It is unclear whether Peter the Great would have liked the 56-meter monument that is being built to honor him in the center of the capital, but not all Muscovites are delighted by the work of the master Zurab Tsereteli.

He became the official court decorator after the death of the chief architect of the capital, Mikhail Posokhin, who began to build the complex at Poklonnaya Gora. At the time, Tsereteli was considered the "artistic heir" of Posokhin. But his predecessor would hardly have decided to "mend" the Orthodox church there with embossed icons in the traditional Georgian style. Far from all priest agreed with such an interpretation of Russian Orthodoxy. But after long disputes, Tsereteli managed to get the blessing of Patriarch Alexy II.

According to most of the art critics we spoke with, he is an extremely weak sculptor. True, all the critics decided on having their names withheld. The main secret of his popularity, they say, is that he knows how to make agreements with people, including those in power. Moreover, Tsereteli is an excellent organizer. If he is commissioned to do a work, you can be sure that everything will be done on time -- quickly and cheaply and through intermediaries.

After he receives commissions, Tsereteli hires as many people as are needed. For this he has a special "production union," which he himself manages. As a rule, Zurab Konstantinovich draws up all the sketches of the project, and such details as modeling are left to other sculptors. All his sculptures are cast in one and the same factory in St. Petersburg. Peter is being brought from St. Petersburg to Moscow in small fragments in guarded special cars.

Tsereteli will soon being regaling us with his work on the trellises and doors of the Christ the Savior Church. His co-workers say they will be strictly following drafts that have been preserved after the destruction of the old church.

Komsomolskaya Pravda, Nov. 15.

Baroness in Russia

Some excerpts from an Izvestia interview with Baroness Carla de Vos van Steenwegk, the wife of the current Dutch ambassador, who first came to Russia under Stalin with her diplomat father.

I came first came to this country in May 1950 and left the U.S.S.R in February 1953, two weeks before Stalin's death. I remember the time well, since I myself was affected by its severe customs -- I was 14 or 15 then. It was very difficult to be here as a teenager. I was doomed to solitude. None of the diplomats risked bringing their children here and I was the only embassy child.

There was a time when the West only heard rumors about the massive scale of Stalinist repression.

We knew about the gulag, but had no idea of how many people were held there. There was an atmosphere of repression that I would say could be felt during the years I lived there.

Keep in mind that the level of trust between Russians and other allies in the anti-Hitler coalition increased after the war. At the time, foreigners serving in the embassies or working at various newspapers often married Russians. But after 1948, the authorities prohibited Soviet women who married foreigners from leaving the country.

This isn't the worst thing that happened to them though. I believe there were 14 marriages between Soviet women and British subjects who were working in Moscow as diplomats and journalists in 1948.

Their wives began to disappear one by one. In 1950, there were only three remaining of the original 14. By the time we came to the Soviet Union, the tragedy of the Russian wives had approached its final outcome. They were literally hunted down. In the end, two of them were kidnapped. The last of them was kept under constant observation of British escorts. When she left the embassy grounds, she was always accompanied by her husband and another Englishman. Once we happened upon them at the Bolshoi Theater with her never-changing escorts. The next morning we found out that on that very night, as they were leaving the theater, she was forcibly kidnapped by unknown assailants.

From the second half of the 1960s to the second half of the 1980s, the Dutch embassy represented Israel's interests in the Soviet Union.

Every day, huge lines of hundreds and even thousands of people formed at the embassy's doors. It was very difficult to organize the process of granting such massive numbers of Israeli visas. The militsia questioned people to find out if they had invitations. During those years, Yelena Bonner would go to Israel and return with suitcases packed full of invitations, which she would then bring to our embassy. In the mornings we would hand them out to those who had been waiting in line for days.

Izvestia, Nov. 14

Favorite Anecdotes

Gennady Zyuganov, Communist Party leader: An American ship and a Russian ship cross paths in neutral waters and the American captain asks the Russian captain: "What's all the noise coming from your ship?" The Russian captain replies, "Someone threw his felt boot into a missile launcher." The American then boasts: "Things like that never happen in America." To which, our captain answers: "Of course not, your America doesn't exist any more; all the missiles have been launched. I'm just trying to get to the bottom of who is misappropriating government property."

Anatoly Lukyanov, chairman of the State Duma Legislation Committee: Two former classmates bump into each other -- an engineer and a New Russian. The engineer asks: "How did you ever become a businessman and get so rich? You were always a D student in mathematics." "It's very simple," answers the New Russian. "See this pack of cigarettes? I buy such things abroad for a dollar a pack and sell them here for $3, and live on the extra 2 percent."

Vladimir Zorin, chairman of the Duma Nationalities Committee: A Chechen is walking down the street behind his wife when a neighbor asks in astonishment: "Haven't you read the Koran? Why are you letting your wife walk ahead of you?" The Chechen answers: "When the Koran was written, the roads weren't mined. Keep going Fatima!"

Moskovsky Komsomolets, Nov. 12