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The Warrior Brides of the Great Russian Knights of Old (Great Illustrations)

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About the authorFor lovers of Russian culture, folklore, and history, Kotar’s work is a treasure. The grandson of White Russian immigrants, the 34-year-old is an author of epic fantasy novels inspired by Russian fairy tales. You can see his four books here on Amazon.

He is also a deacon of the Russian Orthodox Church, a professional translator, and choir director at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, where he lives. Here is his bio from his blog, where he writes about many aspects of Russia. We highly recommend following it and subscribing to his email list to get exclusive material.

He has an excellent Pinterest page, and you can follow him on Facebook. Here is an archive of his work published on Russia Insider.


As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I’ve been slowly hammering away at a screenplay based on the life of St. Olga of Kiev. There aren’t many historical records about her, but the ones that we have paint the picture of a complicated, strong, self-willed woman who was ultimately remarkable not for her manly strength, but for her wisdom.

As I was writing the first scene, I got a little hung up on showing all this in as direct a way as possible, so that the viewer could at least get the hint of what’s to come. Without getting too far into the details of it, I basically fell into a cliché set by contemporary pop culture. The “warrior babe who swoops in at the last moment to save the day.”

My fellow writer read it and said, “You’ve got such a compelling character here. Why reduce her to a caricature?” And he was right. As much as people rightly complain about the damsel in distress trope, just flipping the roles isn’t all that satisfying either. Turns out, there’s a rich tradition of warrior women in Russian folk tales and epic poetry. And what’s so amazing about them is that they’re as comfortable in the kitchen as in the battlefield. Though they often have the strength to defeat ten men, they are just as likely to win a battle of wits or refrain from fighting at all.

I’m fascinated by the idea of the warrior woman, not least because I think every Russian woman (no exaggeration) is a warrior at heart. They’ve had too difficult a history, and too often they’ve had to take up a sword to protect the hearth. But they never lose their femininity either, befuddling many Western-style feminists, especially when they write articles like this.

Anyway, if you’ve read my books you know that I don’t write about domesticated women. Even though one reviewer called me a sexist pig once and recommended I get sensitivity training, the fact remains that strong women fascinate me. The source of that strength and the many ways that strength is expressed—that’s great fodder for stories.

So today I’ll share my translation of an article about the most famous warrior women from Russian tales and epic poetry. You can find the original Russian article here.

RUSSIAN VALKYRIES: MORE THAN A MATCH FOR THE LEGENDARY BOGATYRS 

It wasn’t easy for Russian bogatyrs to get married. Not every young maid could stand having a hero around. And so, it was often women warriors who captured their hearts. Except, more often than not, these women demanded a wooing equal to the bogatyrs’ most difficult labors.

Women warriors were such typical characters in Russian folklore that the word “bogatyrka” (woman warrior) is even included in the definitive 4-volume dictionary of the Russian language compiled by Vladimir Dal’. The folklorist Afanasiev includes in his collection a story that sounds like Wonder Woman—a garden filled with apples of youth is defended by a nameless druzhina of women warriors. But not all of them were nameless. Here are some of the most famous.

NASTASYA MIKULISHNA

Dobrynia Nikitich, one of the legendary “three warriors,” is famous for his defeat of the giant dragon Zmei Gorynich. But what happened afterward was less glorious for him. He met his future wife, Nastasya Mikulishna, on the way home. She challenged him to a battle and beat him soundly. It’s not enough that she beat him, but she even grabbed him by his golden curls, pulled him off his horse, and stuck him in… her pocket!

Only later did she decide what to do with him. She pulled him out again and decided to see what he looked like. If he was pleasant to look at, she’d marry him. If he was so-so, she’d chop his head off. Lucky for him, he passed the test, and they got married.

In another of the tales, Dobrynia was called to join an embassy to the Golden Horde. Nastasya waited for him to return for twenty years, then received a false report about his death. Prince Vladimir forced her to get married again, this time to Aliosha Popovich, the youngest of the three warriors. She reluctantly agreed. But during the wedding, Dobrynia returned, dressed as a jester, and she recognized him and ran into his embrace.

VASILISA MIKULISHNA 

Nastasya’s siter Vasilisa was no less impressive. She was married to a boyar of Chernigov named Stavr. In a scene reminiscent of The Taming of the Shrew, during a feast, Stavr started to boast about his wife’s many talents. The problem was that he unfavorably compared Prince Vladimir and his warriors to his much more impressive wife. The prince got angry and imprisoned him.

Finding out about this, Vasilisa came up with a cunning plan. She pretended to be a Tatar youth, brought her warriors with her to Kiev, then demanded the payment of tribute and a princess as her bride. The last was a barb directed at Vladimir, for whom it would be shameful to give a Christian princess to a heathen.

The princess in question suspected that the youth was no youth at all, and she expressed her doubts to Vladimir. So the prince arranged a test of strength, wit, and bravery. Of course, she bested everyone, forcing Vladimir to go through with the marriage. But during the pre-wedding feast, the Tatar “youth” sat gloomy at the table. Remembering that the boyar Stavr was an excellent musician, Vladimir called him to perform. AT that point, he recognized his wife. Vladimir was forced to admit that all Stavr’s boasting about his wife was nothing short of the truth.

NASTASYA KOROLEVISHNA

The story of Nastasia Korolevishna, the wife of Dunai Ivanovich, is especially dramatic. Dunai traveled to Lithuania with Dobrynia Nikitich to arrange a marriage between Apraksa, daughter of the Lithuanian king, and Prince Vladimir. Dunai, a hothead, said something rude to the king during their time there, and the king imprisoned him. But Dobrynia gathered an army and threatened the kingdom, at which point the king was forced to give him both Apraksa and Dunai.

Apraksa had an older sister, Nastasya. A while before, Dunai had wooed her and nearly paid for it with his life, but she bought the executioners off, giving him time to run away. However, when he returned to take Apraksa back to Kiev, he paid absolutely no attention to Nastasya. She was so mad, she decided to make him pay.

Finding him on the way back to Kiev, she challenged him to single combat, dressed as a foreign knight. Dunai defeated her soundly and was just about to finish her off with a knife when he recognized her. He was so impressed, that he took her back with him to Kiev, where they got married.

The end of the story is pretty horrible, as such tales often are, so I won’t translate it here. If you’re curious about it, email me and I’ll tell you.

THE FAIRY TALES

The most famous woman warrior in Russian fairy tales is Marya Morevna, whom Ivan the Prince wooed after being impressed with her military prowess. Interestingly, though she was probably the better warrior, he still had to rescue her from Koschei the Deathless. Still, this had less to do with his fighting ability, and more with the fact that he needed to atone for his mistakes.

Many historians think that the image of the warrior woman in Russian tales has to do with the early battles between Rus and the Polovetsians. All Polovetsian maidens had to be good with the sword, and their wedding rites included single combat between the groom and the bride. As I mentioned in a previous article, Russian princes often took Polovetsian maidens as their brides, first getting married in the Polovetsian style, then baptizing their brides and getting married the Russian way.

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Spanish architecture: The story of Madrid’s abandoned ‘beach’ for its working class | Culture

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La Playa de Madrid was just 15 minutes from the Spanish capital’s Puerta del Sol square when it was inaugurated. Nine decades later, the distance is the same, but the premises developed by the architect Manuel Muñoz Monasterio in 1932 to create a “beach” in the landlocked city are in a state of complete disrepair.

The great leisure project for Madrid’s working class on the banks of the River Manzanares now houses fetid mattresses, crumpled beer cans, rank swimming pools, tattered tennis courts and facilities that are at risk of disappearing altogether.

Owned by the state agency Patrimonio Nacional, which manages Spain’s national heritage, La Playa de Madrid has been closed for six years. Defaults in rent payments forced it to close, and it subsequently became the target of vandalism. “There is no longer even any security,” says Juan García Vicente from the green group Ecologists in Action, who is upset by the state of dereliction of a site with social and architectural significance in the city’s history.

Madrileños enjoying their "beach" in 1934.
Madrileños enjoying their “beach” in 1934.Revista Arquitectura

The access point to the “beach,” which borders La Zarzuela racetrack on one side and the Puerta de Hierro Sports Park (previously known as Parque Sindical) on the other, has not been opened since the authorities evicted staff and members at the end of October 2014. The company running the complex at that time, which belonged to the former president of the Spanish employers association CEOE, Arturo Fernández, received a court order to vacate the premises as it had failed to pay rent or any tax despite operating the five swimming pools, 11 tennis courts, four paddle courts, one roller-skating rink, four frontón courts, the cafeteria, the restaurant and the parking lot.

Arturo Fernández has left a hole in the National Heritage agency’s accounts to the tune of €867,006, which will have to be paid as soon as his company’s bankruptcy is resolved. The 3,000 Playa de Madrid members who had paid their fees were also denied access. Fernández’s contract had been renewed in 2011, despite the fact that he was already €466,831 in arrears. It was a sum that, according to the Court of Auditors, “he paid a few days before signing the new contract.”

The Playa de Madrid tower was used as the backdrop for a famous 1936 shot of two militiamen by war photographer Robert Capa.
The Playa de Madrid tower was used as the backdrop for a famous 1936 shot of two militiamen by war photographer Robert Capa.INMA FLORES / EL PAIS

To add insult to injury, EL PAÍS has learned that on July 30, National Heritage filed a complaint in court in a bid to evict the new company running the complex, Centro de Eventos Playa de Madrid, which is also behind on payments.

“It has not paid even one month’s rent and has run up a debt of €530,523,” says a National Heritage spokesperson. The new contract went into effect on October 17, 2017, after the president of National Heritage at the time, Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán, decided to lease the 184,800 square-meter property to a company that not only failed to pay rent, but also reneged on a commitment to invest €3.2 million to renovate the complex.

Meanwhile, under the National Heritage’s current president, Llanos Castellanos, an initiative is underway to revamp the more than 22,000 hectares of green spaces owned by the institution throughout the country, including the Playa de Madrid complex, which will be finalized when the judicial process ends. “The aim is to turn it into a sustainable property that is financially self-sufficient, and to make sure that what has happened does not happen again,” says Castellanos.

The Playa de Madrid facilities as they are today, after the premises were completely shut down six years ago.
The Playa de Madrid facilities as they are today, after the premises were completely shut down six years ago.INMA FLORES / EL PAIS

The phony beach was fashioned from a shallow river, from which “a beautiful arm of the sea” was created, to quote an ad from that period. But the dam that stored up the water to create a 300-meter shoreline was dismantled this January by the Tajo Water Confederation so that the river could follow its natural course unimpeded, according to García Vicente.

“It was a very interesting dam because it still allowed the water to flow and remain clean,” says Alberto Tellería, a member of the Madrid Citizenship and Heritage Association, who still remembers the complex’s dance floor and the announcement of a design competition for cheap evening dresses in 1934.

The “beach” was very popular among the working classes during the Second Republic, before Francisco Franco’s air forces razed it. And it was there that the photojournalist Robert Capa constructed his iconic image of of two militiamen greeting each other under the lighthouse tower.

An aerial view of the facilities in an archive photo provided by the Spanish Air Force.
An aerial view of the facilities in an archive photo provided by the Spanish Air Force.Ejército del Aire-Colección Anmogon

But unpaid dues and ignored commitments have proved the ruin of the site, which is these days trapped between two highways. “These are public facilities of extraordinary significance,” says Juan García Vicente, who has been fighting for years for a path that will connect Madrid with El Pardo, on the left bank of the river.

This path should be ready in a couple of months and access to the “beach” will be reserved for pedestrians and cyclists. Meanwhile, the dignity of the complex is still to be restored, which according to Carlos Ripoll, a member of the Madrid Architects Association (COAM), has an “impeccable” language all of its own.

The simple and modern lines of the structures designed by the creator of the Las Ventas bullfighting ring and the Santiago Bernabeu soccer stadium are hidden behind pines, cork oak and poplars, and they are reminiscent of the international tone set by Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Muñoz Monasterio, who sided with the regime after the civil war (1936-1939), carried out the post-war reconstruction in 1948, refurbishing it according to Franco’s taste, with slate roofs and spires. But the subsequent inauguration of the nearby Parque Sindical (now known as the Puerta de Hierro Sports Park) and water contamination ended Madrid’s dream of having a beach.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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Russians’ Alcohol Consumption Drops 80% in 7 Years

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Alcohol consumption has been reduced by 80% over the past 5-7 years in Russia, Minister of Health Veronika Skvortsova stated at a working breakfast during the Gaidar Forum today, reports RIA-Novosti.

The Gaidar Forum is an annual event in Moscow hosted by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, which brings together economist, Nobel Prize winners, leading professors, and representatives of the Russian and foreign elite to discuss the most acute problems of the day, especially as concerns Russia’s position and strategic role in the world.

“We have managed to reduce the consumption of alcoholic beverages by 80% per capita…” Skvortsova stated. Meanwhile, “the number actively engaged in sports has grown by more than 40%.”

She also noted that smoking among adults has dropped 22%, and has been reduced thrice over among children and adolescents.

According to a 2012 report from the World Health Organization, the number of Russians who drink several times a week had by then declined to 5%, and the number who drink several times a month to 33%. Russian citizens were found to drink about as much as citizens of Denmark, Great Britain and Croatia.

The Russian Orthodox Church has played a key role in reducing the amount of alcohol consumption in the country. There are more than 500 active anti-alcoholism projects in Russia today under the auspices of the Church.

“One of the Church’s most successful works in the sphere of temperance education is the celebration of the All-Russian Day of Sobriety on September 11,” stated Valery Doronkin, head of the Coordinating Center for Combating Alcoholism and Endorsing Sobriety of the Synodal Charity Department.

Special prayers are added to the Litany of Peace and the Litany of Fervent Supplication on the Day of Sobriety. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill stated on this day in 2016:

By decision of the Holy Synod in 2014, the day of the Beheading of St. John the Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist is deemed the Day of Sobriety, because precisely the mad state of Herod, drunk on wine at his banquet, was the cause of such a frightful order which he gave—to behead the holy prophet.

We know what terrible sufferings drunkenness has brought our people in the past, and which continue today: the destruction of families, the birth of sick children, people, losing the meaning of life and health, called to the fullness of existence, becoming invalids in youth only because they didn’t have enough strength to turn from sinful attractions and stop drinking.

According to the primate, not only the health of the nation, but also “the very existence of our people and state” depends upon this question.


Source: Orthodox Christianity

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G7 countries accused of prioritising military spending over climate action

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G7 countries “are stuck in the 1970s and 1980s” and avoiding profound societal changes needed to address the climate crisis, while embracing “the ruse of net-zero” carbon emissions, according to leading climate scientist Prof Kevin Anderson.

Speaking at a briefing on climate issues at the summit of the Group of Seven leaders, comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States, in Cornwall, Prof Anderson said: “Net zero is the latest ruse that we’re using to avoid making profound social changes and to avoid the rapid and just phasing out of our existing oil, gas and coal industries.”

The former director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK said this was also avoiding the adoption of challenging policies and the huge transformation of infrastructure required.

Net zero was “a way of passing the buck to future generations”, he said at the event hosted by the COP26 Coalition – the campaign group seeking greater climate justice commitments at the United Nations climate conference in November.

“We need leaders now who are prepared to grasp the enormity of the climate challenge but also the wider ecological crisis – rather than the eloquent, simple greenwashing of ‘business as usual’. And that’s what we’re seeing currently.

“Despite ramping up of good news stories in advance of COP26, the reality is that the gap between the necessary action and actual cuts in emissions for both 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees is just getting bigger. Playing into this ongoing failure is the ubiquitous language of ‘net zero’, under which almost any organisation, region or country can claim to be aligned with the Paris commitments,” Prof Anderson said.

“But dig a little deeper and claims of net zero are often little more than a ruse whereby immediate cuts in actual emissions are substituted for future speculative ‘negative emissions’, offsetting and other forms of mitigation denial,” he said.

Military spending

Niamh Ní Bhriain of the Transnational Institute’s war and pacification programme said prioritisation of military spending, costing almost $2 trillion (€1.7 trillion) a year, was an issue that “must be brought into the room in discussing climate justice and global poverty”.

A total of 57 per cent of that spend on military, security, intelligence and borders came from G7 countries, she added. “This is a political choice. This is a question of political will; that we’re spending this much on the military.”

Unprecedented spending on borders by rich countries of the global north to prevent migrants coming to their shores was part of a militarised response to migration, which she predicted would become even more prevalent when parts of the world became uninhabitable as the climate crisis deepened.

COP26 Coalition spokesman Asad Rehman of War on Want said G7 countries, who bear the greatest responsibility for fuelling crises that threaten the lives and livelihoods of billions, could no longer make empty statements or hollow promises to act. “Leaders must listen to the millions of people in every corner of the world who are demanding a justice transition.”

As a first step the G7 must commit to doing their fair share of emissions reductions by 2030 to limit warming to well below 1.5 degrees, he said, and commit “to unlocking the trillions needed to build a sustainable economy of the future – one that guarantees universal public services, living wages and puts people before profit.”

Rising sea levels

Meanwhile, Extinction Rebellion Ireland have been staging theatrical displays along the coast of Ireland calling on G7 leaders to take adequate action against sea level rise.

The UN estimates there could be anywhere between 25 million and 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, with many of those on the move because of the effects of sea level rise, an Extinction Rebellion Ireland spokeswoman said. “These estimates envisage flooding of Irish coasts; meanwhile, other island nations around the world are already suffering,” she said.

Off the Down coast Extinction Rebellion Northern Ireland members dress as red rebels and serve tea at a table half submerged in the sea to highlight rising sea levels
Off the Down coast Extinction Rebellion Northern Ireland members dress as red rebels and serve tea at a table half submerged in the sea to highlight rising sea levels

“Since signing the Paris Agreement in 2015 these nations have utterly failed to meet their commitments to reduce emissions and mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Greenwashing and empty promises won’t stop the sea levels from rising; our crops from failing or the entire ecosystem on which our lives rely on from collapsing. 2021 is a critical year and the decisions made by the G7 are make or break,” she added.

In Dublin, activists formed the Extinction Rebellion and G7 logos on the beach of Sandymount Strand, capturing the large-scale visual by drone camera.

In Cork, protestors used a tape measure to mark the rising sea levels and highlight the risk of flooding that coastal communities face. Off the Down coast Extinction Rebellion Northern Ireland members dressed as red rebels served tea at a table half submerged in the sea.

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