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November in Russian History

November 1-4, 1612: Russian troops recapture Moscow.

During the Time of Troubles, an interregnum between the Rurik and Romanov dynasties, Russia was suff ering. Several years of famine and a vacant throne had rendered the population vulnerable and the state weak. By 1611, Polish-Lithuanian forces had occupied Moscow and other Russian cities, but in the autumn of 1612, Prince Dmitri Pozharsky and Novgorod merchant Kuzma Minin led an uprising in Moscow against the invaders. On November 1, Russian forces succeeded in recapturing the Kitai Gorod area of Moscow, ultimately forcing the occupiers to abandon the Kremlin and retreat from the city. The resurrection of a Russian Moscow marked the beginning of the end of the Time of Troubles. Today, the leaders of the fight to liberate Moscow are commemorated by a statue in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, and the event is celebrated in Russia on November 4, the Day of National Unity.

November 9, 1985: Garry Kasparov becomes the youngest World Chess Champion in history.

November 11, 1821: Fyodor Dostoevsky is born.

Baku-born Garry Kasparov showed enormous promise as a chess player from the earliest age, rising quickly through the turbo-charged Soviet chess establishment to dominate the international tournament circuit. The 1984 World Championship culminated in a marathon final match between Kasparov and reigning champion Anatoly Karpov. But after nearly 50 games, the head of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), concerned about the players’ health, terminated the match, leaving the tournament inconclusive. In the scheduled rematch in 1985, the 22-year-old Kasparov defeated his countryman to become the youngest World Chess Champion ever. He maintained the title until 2000 and retired from professional chess in 2005. Since then Kasparov has become active in Russian domestic politics, mounting an unsuccessful campaign as an opposition candidate for the Russian presidency in fall 2007.

Dostoevsky was born at Moscow’s Mariinsky Hospital, where his father was a doctor. In May, 1849, he was arrested for participating in a liberal intellectual group and held in prison for six months until, on November 16 of the same year, Dostoevsky was sentenced to death for anti-government activities. At the last moment, as Dostoevsky stood before a firing squad, the sentence was converted to hard labor in Siberia, and it was after returning from this exile that his literary career began in earnest. His final novel, The Brothers Karamazov, was published in serialized form and completed in November 1880. The creator of Raskolnikov and the Underground Man is one of Russia’s great gifts to world literature and a towering figure in the Russian cultural firmament. Today a statue of the master stands outside the Russian National Library in Moscow.

November 14, 1263: Alexander Nevsky dies.

One of the most venerated figures in Russian history, Nevsky may be most familiar as the namesake of St. Petersburg’s central boulevard, Nevsky Prospekt. As the prince of medieval Novgorod, Alexander defended the city and its environs from invasion by Swedish and German forces. His victory at the Battle of the Neva in 1240 spared Russia from the hands of the northern invaders and earned him the name Nevsky. In the 16th century, Nevsky was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church, which celebrates his feast day on November 23. In the 20th century, the story of Nevsky’s defense of Russia against Germanic military threat became the subject of an epic film by legendary Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein. In 1938, Eisenstein’s vision of the Battle of the Neva in Alexander Nevsky, scored by Sergei Prokofiev, reified the medieval figure as a symbol of Russian and Soviet resistance on the eve of World War II.

November 15, 1933: Moscow’s first trolleybus hits the streets.

As the population of the city of Moscow swelled and the city expanded outward, the need for cheap, quick public transportation grew more pressing. In November 1933, Moscow introduced its first regular trolleybus lines, becoming the first Soviet city to do so. The first line ran from what is now Belorussky train station to what is now the area around the Green Line’s Sokol metro station. Even after the opening of the city’s first underground metro line several years later, the convenience of the trolleybus — which, unlike the metro with its stops located 2-3 kilometers from each other, can deliver its passengers within a block or two of their destination — has preserved it as a fixture of the city’s landscape over the decades. Today, Moscow’s trolleybus network is the world’s biggest, although advocates regret that the expansion of trolleybus routes has not kept up with the city’s growth in recent years.

November 23, 1957: Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago is published.

After the manuscript was rejected by a Soviet publishing house, an Italian publisher smuggled it to the West, where it was published in Italian in 1957. In 1958, an English translation appeared, and the novel became an immediate best-seller throughout the English-speaking world. In October 1958, Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he ultimately declined, under duress from Soviet authorities. Pasternak died in 1960, after having been expelled from the Soviet Writers’ Union (which reinstated him posthumously in 1988). Although earlier samizdat editions of the book had circulated around the USSR for a number of years, Doctor Zhivago was officially published in the Soviet Union for the first time in 1988.

November 27, 1705: Peter the Great orders the creation of a Russian navy.

Peter’s love affair with the sea and ships is well known, so it should come as no surprise that the founding of the Russian navy is traceable to him. In November 1705 (the 16th according to the Julian calendar used in Russia at the time and the 27th according to the Gregorian calendar in use today), Tsar Peter I issued a decree “On the Establishment in Russia of a regiment of naval soldiers,” and thus the Imperial Russian Navy was born. Throughout imperial and Soviet times, the nation’s various naval fleets, from the Baltic to the Pacific, were instrumental to its defense and commercial activities. In today’s Russia, the day is a holiday honoring the navy fleets and all who have served in it.

November 28, 1943: Tehran conference of Allied leaders begins.

In the midst of World War II, the three main Allies, the Soviet Union, the United States, and Great Britain, met in Iran, to discuss war time cooperation and strategy. The first of three meetings attended by Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill, the focus of the conversation in Tehran was the opening of a second front in Europe through an Allied invasion from the West, known as Operation Overlord. It was here that discussions of the shape of the post-war world political order began. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, emboldened by recent Soviet victories, pressed his British and American counterparts for concessions. Among those Churchill and Roosevelt granted was agreement to allow the Soviet Union to extend its post-war sphere of influence to Eastern Europe, an arrangement that set the stage for the Cold War.

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