Reflections on private museums of Russia

Our God is one. On the ride to Moscow, all the way to Vytegra, we were driving on a broken, bumpy, and flooded road, so it took us 3 hours to drive 60 kilometers. All I could think about was how not to dent the oil sump. After Vytegra, it got a bit better, we took an asphalt road to Vologda, then to Yaroslavl, and finally, arrived in Moscow. Why am I talking about the road? We traveled thousands of kilometers, as did every participant of the Exhibition of private museums. They were driving, thinking, waiting, and suffering if you please. Moscow is the capital city, for the provinces, it remains a church top, a stove, a unicorn in the one big house that is Russia.

The organizer of the exhibition, the collector of The Talents of Russia Alexey Yurievich, came up to me holding a cup of coffee, I guess. “You can put your soldiers wherever you want”. He suggested some possible locations and added: “No pressure, it’s up to you”. I was just a country boy, seeing Moscow for the first time in my life, but I was very aware that all the bread, potatoes, salo came from the country, so I thought to myself: “How could he speak to me so casually, so matter-of-factly, sipping from his glass? He should bow to every village!” I knew nothing then about the habits of the citizens, and I still know nothing today, but we don’t behave that way in the country. We don’t do that. It happened at seven o’clock in the evening. The Talents put their hidden treasures on display.

The next day, on the first day of the two-day exhibition,  Alexey Yurievich came over.

“Yes, you’ve placed your soldiers just right.”

“You know, Alexey Yurievich,” I started asking him, “we drove all the way here wondering where were we going, what game are you playing with us and other museums?!”

“Why do you call me Yurievich? Just call me Alexey!”

“I’m from the country”, I said, “that’s why! Now answer the question!”

“There is no game. I wanted to see and to show the provinces. To understand the people’s perspective on museums. Not some educated and distinguished people, but simple folk!”

His words made my heart tremble. But I couldn’t believe him so quickly. I’m a country boy, a tough nut to crack! All the private museums on the exhibition largely overlap with the state museums. “Take my soldiers, Moscow already has one Poklonnaya Hill!” I told him, trying to play dumb. Alexey Yurievich listened, squinting his eyes at me: “You keep horses—” (“He even knows about the horses,” I thought to myself.) “—each troika has a forehorse, a leader in the team. I tried my best to find such leaders all across the country and bring them to Moscow, those who know the road and the land. Those who spent their lives working in the field, not staying in the stable. That’s what sets these museums and these people apart.”

Have I come to trust him? I guess so. He spoke so clearly and I agreed with every word.

So, what happened on September 7 and 8 at the All-Russian Exhibition of Private Museums? Let me tell you. The Immortal Regiment of Valaam was the first one to greet the visitors! This exhibition should have been held in the Manezh, not in the back of a park. The government itself should have taken care of that!

Here is a comment left by Nina Sergeevna on September 7, Moscow: “The Soldiers of Valaam should be shown everywhere and installed in every city, in every village!» She’s in her late 70s. She’s been to Valaam, seen the soldiers, she was crying: “They were brought there. No arms, no legs! We were just shocked, we were all sobbing when we left the island. I think this exhibition should tour the country.  So that the young people can come to see them and to feel the horrors of war. Can you believe it? They were so young, with no arms or legs! I bow my head!”

The TVC channel made a short video with her telling all this. Of course, they didn’t air it. They aired the hat parade instead. They want to believe that the Russians can maybe shake their hips as the Papuans. It breaks my heart.

“People, have a good look — our Russian strength is right here, in these lives, faces, and hearts. Signature. 07/09/2019.

“There are so many museums dedicated to the Great Patriotic War, but the regiment of disabled soldiers is special, it rips my heart. Brings me back to life.” Alexander. Moscow. 07/09/2019

I have only visited some museums, not all of them, and I regret it… A man from the Museum of Samovars from Kirov was telling me how samovars were made in the old days, and he kept saying “Baska, baska!” (I thought this word was not in use anymore.)

“It’s all baska over there!” said Ilya (meaning “nice”, “good”).

So the literati of Moscow have not yet completely ruined Russian words, those very words that confirm our Russianness.

In a corner, a man presented his museum from Udmurtia, I think, printed on large sheets from the 1890s telling about the dangers of drinking and smoking… And that what came from Europe wasn’t any better… It makes me think of F. M. Dostoevsky’s “Baal” – anyone who has read it knows what I mean. Even in the last century, people knew that it was drunk Europeans who had brought booze to Russia. Van Gogh, as a clergyman, gave away his meager salary to the miners in Silesia, I believe, where people worked all day and drank all night. Year after year. But today everything is turned upside down. They say, that Russian men are drunkards and always have been.

It’s a pity that I didn’t visit all the museums. Private museums are not just unusual… They have a spirit, a vector! That’s very different from the normative state view. I don’t know if the organizers of the exhibition could predict this outcome, but they did achieve it.

So who are the so-called Talents of Russia? Collectors and keepers of the language, traditions, life habits, and customs… Looking at any historical event, we can

learn that such-and-such princes and such-and-such nobles took part in it, but there never seem to be any peasants or soldiers mentioned. When you enter a state museum in a provincial city, you can see Prince so-and-so, Boyar so-and-so… Those boyars and princes accounted for 5% of the total population or even less. So why should we learn the history of Russia through that 5%? Maybe it’s time to turn around and watch the people more thoroughly to learn about their history, their life, and their character. And thoughts! Ask people for their thoughts on Russia, you’ll see the real Talents of Russia.

I really loved the museum of Grandma Maria from the Voronezh region. Everyone who entered the house found something from his childhood. I suddenly remembered the mousetrap, which we had set between the wall and the stove. It’s an ordinary house of an ordinary grandmother, but it speaks to every soul. That’s the outreach, that’s the scope.

On September 8, on the last day, in the late afternoon, a woman in her 70s approached me. She was a teacher at an art school, a professor. “There is a celebration in Moscow today”, she said. “A Dagestani athlete became the world champion! But he’s not a hero. To punch someone in the face is not a heroic action. That’s not how we were raised”, the old lady said. “You are the heroes, you made and saved it. Didn’t sell it for money and didn’t sell out. That’s so easy nowadays!”

Who are the Talents of Russia? I read from the guest book.

“It shook me to the core, brought me to tears. Thanks for bringing back the forgotten feelings.” (Elena Grigoryeva)

“Not just an exhibition, but a whole life. Better than any Hermitage exhibition! ” (signature)

“Thank you for restoring human dignity in our poor country!” (Yana Podoeva, Moscow, 08/09/2019)

“Let it start a fire that will light at least a small spark in every visitor!” (Alla. Signature.)

The author of the film and the text — Ivan Ivanovich Martsenyuk
Mobile Museum of Memory “The Immortal Regiment of Valaam”