Nikolay Gumilyov, Anna Akhmatova and their son Lev Gumilev , His first publication were verses I ran from cities into the forest Я в лес бежал из городов on September 8, In he published his first book of lyrics entitled The Way of Conquistadors. In his new collection Romantic Flowers appeared. While in Paris, he published the literary magazine Sirius, but only three issues were produced. On returning to Russia, he edited and contributed to the artistic periodical Apollon.
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More than dignitaries fill the room in their costumed finery: sleek designer suits, minority nationality headdresses, lacquered towers of hair, Chanel gowns, cassocks, turbans, shoulder-boards, braids of all sorts and absurdly tall peaked caps. Sitting awkwardly on small, white, hard-backed chairs, the assembled dignitaries know they are in for three hours of gruelling oratory.
As the president takes the stage, the applause from the audience is rapturous and sustained. Kremlinologists watch to see who is seated next to whom. Journalists hope Putin will say something threatening or off-colour he frequently does , and this will become a Twitter hashtag within seconds.
And in December , everyone was watching to see if Putin, who had limped noticeably during a meeting with Israeli president Shimon Peres and who was rumoured to be in ill health, would make it through the speech. It was a way of announcing in deniable terms what Putin probably could not say outright — that certain circles within the state enjoyed his understanding and support. Ideas that might, just a few years previously, have been considered marginal or even barking mad were suddenly the anchor of his most important speech of the year.
And these ideas would make themselves clearer 15 months later, in March , when Russian soldiers quietly seized airports and transport choke points across Crimea , starting a domino effect that would lead to war in eastern Ukraine. Instead of the polite, non-ideological civic patriotism of the previous two decades, Putin was extolling chest-thumping nationalism, the martial virtues of sacrifice, discipline, loyalty and valour. It was a word with allusions to the New Testament and the crucifixion, that had been dreamt up by Gumilev during his 14 years in Siberian prison camps.
In , while digging the White Sea Canal and daily watching inmates die of exhaustion and hypothermia, Gumilev invented his theory of passionarnost. The defining trait of greatness, he would write in Ethnogenesis and the Biosphere, the book that established his ideas written in and circulated in samizdat form until , was sacrifice.
Observing inmates forced to behave like beasts in order to survive had taught him that the virtues of society, friendship and brotherhood were not a mark of human advancement but an instinctual urge, common to all humans at all times, to distinguish us from them. Their history did not record the progress of enlightenment and reason but rather an endless cycle of migration, conquest and genocide.
The victors in these struggles were not the societies that led the world in technology, wealth and reason. To Gumilev, this was passionarnost. In this idea was the germ of a new Russian nationalism. In his later years, Gumilev celebrated Eurasianism, a theory developed in the s by Russian exiles. Nostalgia for their homeland and the trauma of the Bolshevik revolution had led them to reject the idea that Russia could ever be western and bourgeois.
Instead, they wrote, it owed its heritage more to the fierce nomads and steppe tribes of Eurasia. The Enlightenment, in the form of advanced European social theories, had brought Russia to genocide and ruin, while there was a harmony in the wildness of the Huns, the Turks, the Mongols.
The steppe lands and forests of the inner continent had traditionally been prone to rule by a single conquering imperial banner. The Russians, they — and now Gumilev — wrote, were the latest incarnation of this timeless continental unity. It is something of a paradox that the vision for a new union has been supplied by someone who suffered so much at the hands of the old one. For 17 months his mother waited in queues and wrote letters to police officials beseeching them to tell her the fate of her son.
Each was a heavy weight for the other to bear. Akhmatova knew that any transgressions by her would rebound on her son, and so his very existence shackled her artistic freedom: she could not help but see him as an enormous responsibility and a curb on her poetic gift, which — for his sake — she refused to use for decades. This was her paradox: the unrelenting publicity she gave to her private life.
Nothing more. He was also intensely jealous of her other husbands and lovers after the death of his father. He adored his mother. All the names that would become synonymous with modern Russian poetry — Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandelstam, Marina Tsvetaeva — were close friends of his mother and father. But for Gumilev it was his acquaintance with Mandelstam that was to prove the most fateful. Intellectuals, already living in isolation and penury, began to live in fear.
That year, Mandelstam composed a poem so lethally funny and insulting about the dictator that he decided not to write it down. Instead he had his wife and Gerstein commit it to memory. Later, in a series of journal articles and interviews, he spoke with great interest and a somewhat odd detachment about watching men interacting with each other as they plummeted closer to the primordial state of survival.
What types of relationship did men form in a state of pure competition to survive? Camp life was his laboratory. And he gradually came to understand that, while brutal and violent, life among inmates was not entirely Hobbesian — a war of all against all. Gumilev noticed that the zeks, irrespective of background, education or cultural level, all displayed a tendency to form into small groups of two to four people. The composition of such a group depends on the internal sympathy of its members for each other.
This process of distinguishing order from chaos was, he noted, universal. The emergence of social order from chaos that Gumilev witnessed made a profound impression on him, and formed a core part of the theory of history that would make him famous.
As he continued to fell logs in the permafrost, watching fellow inmates die of exhaustion and hypothermia, he slowly became fascinated by the irrational in history. One example he often referred to in later writings was the march of Alexander the Great across Eurasia. Suddenly, it occurred to me that something had pushed him, something inside himself. It was revealed to me that the human has a special impulse, called passionarity.
The emergence of social order from chaos that he witnessed formed a core part of the theory of history that would make him famous Freed in after two stints in Siberia, Gumilev went to work for the Institute of Geography at Leningrad University. His first publication was a trilogy on the history of the steppe nomads: The Xiongnu, about the nomads who terrorised Han dynasty China, and Ancient Turks and Searches for the Imaginary Kingdom, about the Mongols.
For decades, he never tired of telling people about his breakthrough, the biological impulse that drives men to irrational deeds. His theories were at best unorthodox, and at worst quite eccentric.
He believed one could actually calculate it with impressive equations and plot it on graphs. He even assigned it a symbol as a mathematical variable: Pik. What distinguishes an ethnos from a jumble of languages, religions and historical experiences is a common purpose, and the willingness of members to sacrifice themselves for it. His theory was met with strident criticism from the Soviet academic establishment, which saw in his ideas a biological explanation for social phenomena, an unacceptable approach because of its links to Nazism.
To be fair to Gumilev, he was not devising a racially or ethnically tinged theory of nationalism, but stating only that the urge to identify with a nation is so pervasive that it must be an essential part of human nature.
One of these was Lev Voznesensky, whose father, as rector of Leningrad University, had allowed Gumilev to defend a dissertation in before he was himself purged. But the most powerful friend Gumilev made, one who would time and again intervene on his behalf in his frequent brutal fights with rival academics, was Anatoly Lukyanov, a future hardliner who in the mids held a high-ranking post in the presidium of the Supreme Soviet.
He would eventually rise to become chairman of the central committee and then chairman of the Supreme Soviet. Gumilev had met Lukyanov through Voznesensky. When I met Lukyanov in Moscow in , he reminisced over tea and cakes at the Pushkin restaurant about his friendship with Gumilev — a staunch anti-communist — and the paradox this appeared to present.
In the s, Lukyanov was an up-and-coming Soviet bureaucrat who would play a major role in the coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev. It destroyed his political career and sent him to jail. But he was a complex man. Though a hardline Marxist, he idolised Akhmatova. Fights with the academic establishment were sometimes solved by a phone call from the presidium of the Supreme Soviet or the central committee.
He considered that all the influences on the Russian people — from the Polovtsians, the Chinese and the Mongols — only enriched us. Among real communists, the ones who knew Marxism at first hand, Lev Gumilev did not have enemies.
He has been championed both by Russian hardliners and by breakaway republics. Georgian, Kyrgyz and Azeri nationalists have all claimed his inheritance.
This is a huge territory. The climate is very severe, so the individual, the western individualist, would find it impossible to live here. So there was a collectivism — a special relationship. Like many of his fellow prisoners, he later became possessed by an odd patriotism — an inexplicable loyalty to the homeland and even the regime that had stolen his health, his years and his friends.
It was a type of Stockholm syndrome that produced some singularly odd scholarship. In life, Gumilev had been a complex figure, resisting all facile ideological pigeon-holing. But in death, his legacy was transferred to the side of those who would use his wonderful and fanciful history books for demagoguery.
He spent most of his childhood with his paternal grandmother Anna Gumileva at Bezhetsk, in the Tver Region halfway between Moscow and St. His father, a staunch monarchist, was arrested and executed in for his involvement in the counter-revolutionary conspiracy. His mother, having little interest in him and poor skills as a mother, visited him only in summer. Yet in the Stalinist years to come, when Lev was arrested on various charges and deported to the GULAG, she repeatedly risked her life for him.
Lyuvov Tsarevskaya Lev Gumilev, a prominent Russian historian and ethnographer. Source: Press Photo marked the birth centennial of a remarkable man, Lev Gumilev, a prominent Russian historian and ethnographer, who lived an extraordinary life. During the Second World War, he volunteered for the Red Army and served in an anti-aircraft artillery regiment. He fought bravely and took part in the liberation of Poland and the Battle of Berlin. After his parents divorced, he lived with his paternal grandmother in her estate in the Tver region, where he spent most of his childhood. A voracious reader, he developed a passionate interest in history. Being the son of well-known poets was both a great joy and a heavy burden that caused plenty of suffering to him.