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Russia and Scotland: Age-Old Links Under the Saltire.

From the Middle Ages to the twentieth century a multitude of Scots flocked to the most immense and powerful country history has known. They came from every neuk of Scotland and their field of action was RussiaТs whole expanse from the Baltic to Alaska, from the Arctic to the Chinese frontiers. They knew that for sheer vastness and potential she was unsurpassed as the land of opportunity. She sheltered and fostered many a braw lad, and some of them became the most famous men of the diaspora. One need only recall the names of Peter the GreatТs principal advisor, General Patrick Gordon;pages for you Prince Mikhail Barclay de Tolly, commander-in-chief in the Napoleonic wars, or Mikhail Lermontov, the poet whose forebears sprang from county Fife. It was not a one-way street, and we must not forget Russian visitors to Scotland. More of these have pursued the road to the isles than could be expected, including members of the Romanov dynasty and major figures like Princess Yekaterina Dashkova, the writers Alexander and Ivan Turgenev, Admiral Fiodor Lü tke, revolutionary Prince Piotr Kropotkin, chemist Dmitry Mendeleyev and philosopher Vladimir Solovyev, to name a few.

But the flow in the opposite direction was by far the mightier. Hundreds of Scottish names became distinguished in Russian history, industrial development and culture. They often stood for families of many generations, veritable clans. An envious English engineer observed in 1805 that "to come from the North side of the Tweed is the best recommendation a man can bring to this city [St.Petersburg], the Caledonian Phalanx being the strongest and most numerous, and moving always in the closest union". Besides, a substantial Scottish element abided in Moscow (the local British church is consecrated to St.Andrew), Kronshtadt, Archangel and Riga as well as in missions in the Caucasus, Crimea, Astrakhan, Orenburg and Selenginsk near lake Baikal.

Scottish soldiers made a promising start already in the reign of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, and, significantly, RussiaТs first serious military reform was entrusted to the supervision of a Scot: Alexander LeslieТs unparalleled recruitment drive of the early 1630s imported thousands of men and arms from the West. In the half century between the 1650s and 1700s alone there were fifteen Russian generals of Scottish provenance, and two of them (George Ogilvie and James Bruce) reached the supreme rank of field marshal. No other contemporary foreign party can match this record. Given their weight, it does not come as a surprise that the principal Russian order of knighthood and the saltire chosen by Peter the Great as the banner for his nascent fleet bear an obvious resemblance to Scottish prototypes. The debt is plainly acknowledged in the original statutes of the Russian Order of St.Andrew. On the other hand, as ancient legend has it, the Scots originated from "Greater Scythia", i.e. the steppes of Southern Russia, so that the veneration of St.Andrew the Apostle was inherited by both the Kingdom of Scotland and the Tsardom of Russia.

The string of Russo-Scottish army generals is rivalled by an equally brilliant line of marine commanders. First place among them undisputedly belongs to Samuel Greig of Inverkeithing (1735-1788), full admiral, reformer of RussiaТs Baltic Fleet, victor at Chesme and Hogland. Some celebrated naval dynasties were established; all four of GreigТs sons followed in his footsteps, and his grandson ended up Minister of Finance. All told, nearly thirty Russian Scots achieved flag ranks before the destruction of the Imperial Navy in 1917.

Scottish entrepreneurs and engineers, with their proud technological traditions, had ample chances to shine. Charles Gascoigne and Charles Baird created their own industrial kingdoms in St.Petersburg and beyond. Baird owned a wharf where in 1815 he devised and launched RussiaТs maiden steamship, the Elizaveta. In 1856 Murdoch Macpherson founded his giant Baltic Works and Shipyard, still running today at the mouth of the Neva.

Scholarly and artistic contacts also prospered from the early eighteenth century onwards. James Bruce and Robert Erskine, the most learned men in Petrine Russia, bequeathed their unique libraries and collections to the St.Petersburg Academy of Sciences. The architects Charles Cameron, Adam Menelaws and William Hastie stand on a par with any European master of their time. Scots doctors made an extraordinary contribution, directing Russian medical bodies, publishing novel essays and practising modern methods of treatment. Probably the most eminent of them was James Wylie, who rose from regimental surgeon to personal doctor of three Emperors, President of the Medico-Chirurgical Academy and RussiaТs sole baronet.

William Carrick pioneered photography among the townsfolk and peasantry of Russia; a Scot named Denbigh engaged in fur trade, fishing and processing "sea cabbage" on the island of Sakhalin; Alexander Bisset introduced and supervised tea-planting and manufacture in Georgia, and in the 1890s football kicked off in St.Petersburg largely thanks to the Scottish labour force who formed the bulk of the first champion side.

It is little known that Sergey DiaghilevТs first exhibition was mainly devoted to paintings by the Glasgow Boys. In 1901-2 two great masters of Art Nouveau, Fiodor Shekhtel and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, held an exchange of their work in Glasgow and Moscow; ShekhtelТs fairytale "Russian village" in Kelvingrove Park, built by 200 Russian carpenters, drew millions of visitors and won him the diploma of the showТs best architect. The first British production of a Chekhov play was also staged in Glasgow ("The Seagull", 1909).

A certain, nay, a deep affinity seems to exist between Scots and Russians in terms of national character. Perhaps no other nation in Western Europe is so like us. Both peoples dwell in a Northern environment with a difficult climate, both are Christian sharing a common Patron Saint, both are polyethnic and culturally diverse, both had to wage fierce and protracted struggles for self-determination, both exerted an enormous influence over large areas of the globe, and both societies have a strong sense of kinship. What one writer describes as "the fiery imagination, incisive intellect, tough stoicism and gentle affection that are aspects of the Scottish character" can be applied to the Russian nature too. Then there is the famous fighting spirit; experts would doubtless agree that few nations make better warriors than Scots and Russians. On the gastronomic plane both prefer simple peasant fare, good (and neat!) grain spirits and plenty of sweets. This closeness, which certainly requires a fuller examination, can account for the tremendous popularity of Ossian, Burns, Scott and Stevenson in Russia. It is also part of the answer why Scots settled there in great numbers and, by and large, felt very much at home.

Today, after a long hibernation of the Soviet era (though we were comrades-in-arms in WW II, and Burns Suppers already took place in the USSR) Scotland-Russia ties are as vigorous as ever. Not least thanks to the Moscow Caledonian Club whose main goal is to carry on our contacts in every possible way.


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