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June in Russian History
Compiled by Maria Barleben

June 1, 1965: Mikhail Sholokhov is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. June 6, 1957: Detsky Mir store on Lubyanka Square opens.

The great Russian epic And Quiet Flows the Don originally appeared in serialized form between 1928 and 1940. The novel is often compared to Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Like the Tolstoy novel, And Quiet Flows the Don is an epic panorama of Russian life during a period of political and military crisis and examines it through the lens of a romantic view of everyday life. Parts of the book were written when Sholokhov was in his mid-20s, and it is speculated that he could hardly have been able to write such an unbiased account of the Russian Revolution. Since there is a rather huge gulf in quality between this masterpiece and his other works, Sholokhov has been accused of plagiarism. Nevertheless, Sholokhov was given the prize, making him one of only five Russian writers to be so honored. The others are Ivan Bunin, Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

The first Detsky Mir [Children’s World] store was opened in 1947 as part of the TsUM department store, and the famous building on Lubyanka Square was built 10 years later as the largest store in Moscow. The store enchanted children with its vast displays of toys and the magical sundial that opened its “eyes” every hour. In 1985, the Soviet government began a policy of opening a Detsky Mir in every large city in the country.

June 7, 1883: The Cathedral of Christ the Savior is consecrated.

When the last of Napoleon’s soldiers left Moscow in 1812, Tsar Alexander I decreed that a cathedral in honor of Christ the Savior be built “to signify Our gratitude to Divine Providence for saving Russia from the doom that overshadowed Her.” After many years of construction, the cathedral was consecrated on the coronation day of Tsar Alexander III, although the decoration of its interior continued for another 20 years. Following Lenin’s death in 1924, the spot on which the cathedral stood was selected as the site for a planned monument to socialism to be known as the Palace of Soviets. The structure was to be capped by a giant statue of Lenin with his arm raised in blessing. It took several dynamite blasts to destroy the church and more than a year to clear the debris from the site. Once construction work on the Palace of Soviets began, it was plagued by problems with flooding from the nearby Moscow River. The project was abandoned and the flooded foundation stood empty until it was made into a public swimming pool. With the end of Soviet rule, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was rebuilt.

June 12, 1991: Russia Day is established.

Russia Day is a holiday of national unity celebrated in Russia on June 12. On this day in 1990, the Russian parliament formally declared its sovereignty. The holiday was established by Boris Yeltsin and was initially named Independence Day. The holiday was first renamed the Day of the Adoption of the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Russian Federation before receiving its current name in 1991.

June 13, 1912: The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts opens.

The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts is the largest museum of European art in Moscow. It was founded by Ivan Tsvetaev (father of the poet Marina Tsvetaeva), who saw Moscow’s need of a fine arts museum and realized his dream in 1912, when the museum opened its doors to the public. Its first exhibits were copies of ancient statuary, thought at the time to be indispensable for the education of art students. After the Russian capital was moved to Moscow in 1918, thousands of artworks were transferred to the Pushkin from other museums. Its collection includes paintings by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, and Matisse as well as the gold unearthed by Heinrich Schliemann on the site of what is thought to be ancient Troy and taken by the Soviet Army from the Pergamon Museum in Berlin at the end of World War II. Pushkin’s name was appended to the museum in 1937 when the Soviet Union marked the centenary of the poet’s death.

June 22, 1941: Nazi Germany invades the Soviet Union.

The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II remains the largest military operation in history. The Soviet Union was reeling from the Winter War with Finland, which had unexpectedly infl icted heavy casualties, and Stalinist repression had depleted the ranks of experienced military leaders. As a result, the Red Army, dispersed and unprepared, was at a severe disadvantage. Despite repeated warnings of an impending German attack, Soviet border troops were not put on full alert and were sometimes forbidden to return fi re when attacked. Facing roughly 3 million Wehrmacht troops, the border fortress of Brest in Belarus was expected to fall within hours but held out for weeks. Heroic resistance by the Soviets, who proclaimed a Great Patriotic War in defense of the Motherland, was much more fierce than the German high command had expected.

June 25, 1910: Igor Stravinsky’s first ballet premieres in Paris. June 29, 1754: Building of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg begins.

The Firebird was Stravinsky’s first ballet to achieve international fame. Commissioned by dance impresario Sergei Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes and choreographed by Michel Fokine, it is based on the Russian folk tale about a magical glowing bird that is both a blessing and a curse to its captor. The ballet has historic signifi cance not only as Stravinsky’s breakthrough work but also as the beginning of a collaboration between Diaghilev and Stravinsky that would produce two other masterpieces, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. Today Stravinsky is considered one of the most influential composers of the 20th century.

Designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the Rococo green-and-white palace was built in St. Petersburg between 1754 and 1762 as the winter residence of the Russian tsars. Catherine the Great was the first imperial occupant. After the February Revolution of 1917, the Winter Palace became the headquarters of the Russian Provisional Government until the assault on the palace by Bolshevik forces marked the official start of the October Revolution. Today it is part of a complex of buildings known as the State Hermitage Museum, which holds one of the world’s greatest collections of art. As part of the museum, many of the Winter Palace’s 1,057 halls and rooms are open to the public.

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