Siberia conjures up an image.
! a Land of Banishment ! a Prison of a Country ! a Hell on Earth !
Here Exiles and Troublemakers and Inmates fall off the face of the Earth. Here in Labour Colonies and Concentration Camps and Psychiatric Hospitals they expire. Here in the World’s Worst Weather they chop wood, lay railway tracks, work in mines and build factories.
Yet all we see Here is a Land of Plenty ! Plenty of Wheat ! Plenty of Sunflowers ! Plenty of Water ! Plenty of Animals ! Plenty of Colour ! Plenty of Beauty !
So where is this insufferable hell-hole?
We read …
… Russian peasants flee east to Siberiain 1610 and take with them alcohol & disease. The first Jewish criminals (their crime being ‘Jewish’) arrive in the 17th century. Old believers seek religious sanctuary in 1653. The Tsar, Nicholas 1, deports the Decembrists to Siberia after a failed coup in 1825. Stalin expels his many enemies to his notorious Gulag camps. The Gulag population grows from 30,000 in 1928 to 8 million in 1938. Heavy industry shifts to the east for safety reasons in ww2. German prisoners of war follow to build heavy industry and cities. And now they want to banish Moscow’s gamblers to Siberia…
… The story of General Volkonsky and his Princess of Siberia enthralls me. He is one of the 125 ‘Decembrists’, key figures in the first liberation movement of Russia. Tsar Nicholas deports them to Siberia after their failed coup in ‘December’ 1825. Volkonsky receives a sentence of 20 years; hard labour. His wife, Maria is one of 11 wives who request to follow their husbands. The Tsar first offers to annul their marriages so they can remarry. Eventually he concedes and lets them go to Siberia but without their children! Maria leaves behind their 2-month old firstborn son. These women become the Florence Nightingales of Siberia. They deliver food parcels, shame guards into reducing jail brutality, communicate with the families of prisoners and start charities. This forms a core for civil society in Siberia. In 1845, the Volkonsky’s receive permission to move to Siberia’s capital, Irkutsk. Here Maria dazzles the urbane in Irkutsk and becomes known as the Princess of Siberia. She holds cultural events, musical recitals and debates and is visited by many well-known Russian novelists, poets, musicians and intellectuals. The Volkonsky’s only receive amnesty in 1856 …
We meet the Off-spring!
We meet the Off-spring of these Exiles and Troublemakers and Inmates in countless country villages and a few large cities.
And, overnight, their Land of Plenty disappears!
YESTERDAY … A Season of Mist and Mellow Fruitfulness! TODAY … The Winter of our Discontent!
Siberia has no spring. Autumn lasts a week. Winter temperatures dip to -50 degrees Celsius in February.
It is a country-full of prison sentences that re-new every year. Today, Siberia brings down the gavel. We hear the prison doors whine open. Soon they will slam shut. Steel clangs and keys jingle.
All around us, everybody-everywhere, is chopping wood again! It’s serious. It’s frantic. The idle do not survive this annual incarceration.
And now we see where all that Plenty is off to! Plenty of Hay, Wood, Food, Vodka! It is off to IN-DOORS, all of it. Siberia still banishes everything, every winter.