A Contemporary but Difficult Topic

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A perfect English summer's evening saw the Tarvin Meeting Point meet outside to discuss a very complex and troubling topic — Russia. The group regularly look in depth at a foreign country and, having gained some knowledge of its history and culture, read a novel by writer from that country.

Not only is Russia the world's largest country covering 1/8 of the world's land mass, but it has a rich and diverse history. The earliest state of Rus had Kiev as its capital before centring on the small Duchy of Moscow in the late 13th century. From there, successive Tsars extended control across Siberia and into the heart of Asia. But it was the fate of Russian borders in the vast plains of Eastern Europe that the discussion focussed upon. A more detailed look was taken at Ivan the Terrible, whose excesses were balanced by many sound legal reforms. We also heard that he was in regular correspondence with Elizabeth the First and sought, unsuccessfully, to make a lady called Lady Mary Hastings his sixth, or perhaps seventh wife.

A discussion of the career of Stalin — whose name means Steel in Russian — tried to understand how a desire to modernise and protect the fledgling new Soviet state in the 1920s lead to such an overwhelming totalitarian system that executed and imprisoned millions. There was also a reminder of the devastation suffered during WW2 by the Russian population which might explain the stubbornness with which his complex and disturbing legacy still affects Russians today.

After this gloom it was a pleasure to be reminded of the hope that Gorbachev brought to both Russia and the world with his policies of Glasnost and Perestroika. The meeting also remembered the giants of Russian literature, art, music and poetry whose works had become part of the western cannon and also looked at some modern Russian writers whose works are now becoming better known in Europe.

The meeting finished with some personal reminiscences of visits to Russia and visits from Russian groups. The evening should help to give members a greater understanding of the country when reading the almost daily press reports currently covering so many of the aspects of Russia and its puzzling President Vladimir Putin.

The group decided not to tackle War and Peace or Crime and Punishment for their choice of novel for a future meeting , but instead chose Snowdrops by A D Millar, a story of an English lawyer working in Moscow during the boom days of the 1990s.

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