Kronstadt, Russia

The Autumn of the Russian Island-City of All Crossroads

Stepan Makarok Towards Victory
navy ceremony
autumn parade
post wedding
the sailors
October wedding
Channel to the Gulf of Finland
sailors on land
Saint Nicholas Cathedral
Path through Autumn
by the bridge outside
Orthodoxy Summit
The Lady of the Bouquet
Founded by Peter the Great, it became the port and naval base protecting Saint Petersburg and northern Greater Russia. In March 1921, it rebelled against the Bolsheviks it had supported during the October Revolution. In this October we're going through, Kronstadt is once again covered by the same exuberant yellow of uncertainty.

Like the year, the day passes, well into its second half.

When we enter the heart of Kronstadt, immune to time, the statue that praises the oceanographer and admiral of the Imperial Russian Navy, Stepan Makarov points forward, towards the future and towards the enemy.

The same destructive course followed by the torpedoes that, still in the XNUMXth century, was the first commander to launch.

At that time, with the local autumn blazing, Kronstadt lives its usual double life.

Kronstadt and the New Sailors of Great Russia

In front of the entrance of the orthodox and naval cathedral of Saint Nicholas, a kind of ceremony of commitment of honor of the new cadets takes place, little more than teenagers, boys and girls with hair, also autumn, in black-gold uniforms that make the skins even whiter.

A veteran commander coordinates the training in which his pupils prepare to be photographed and, in official closing, to hear the Russian anthem.

They once again sustain this annual demand for the next “Makarovs”, the Fatherland, in the form of a white-blue-red flag held between drawn swords.

And the orthodox church, lacking a flesh-and-blood priest with a long beard to bless the young sailors, represented by the images of saints grouped in symmetrical niches on the façade.

City dwellers pass by. One after the other, tamed by their lives. They are no longer impressed or moved by the recurring pomp and naval ceremony.

We all seem to be the opposite of the amazement we were in, used to the surreal yellow-and-beauty scenery of Ravine Park, around the cathedral and its square.

The Wedding Autumn of Ravine Park

A few festive souls break the formality and gradual anesthesia in which Kronstadt was seen. Even though it was Thursday, two of them were newly married. A friend, an occasional photographer, three or four adults and children, formed an enthusiastic entourage.

Even if remedied in terms of equipment, the photographer was aware of the landscape privilege with which Nature gifted her and the bride and groom.

Accordingly, he makes them descend to the middle of a slope surrounded by trees full of autumn leaves, but which had lost enough of them to cover the grass on which they sat.

Right there, the friend with a knack for photography commanded a production that, as we saw it, was doomed to success.

On the dazzling vegetable carpet, the bride and groom hugged, kissed and threw leaves into the air and over themselves. Dissatisfied, the photographer plays two of the auxiliary kids.

One on each side, in sync, they start throwing leaves at the couple.

Under this renewed autumnal rain, the couple resumes the poses, kisses and other preparations that seal, in the digital memory of the mini-camera, the immaculate memory of their love.

Kronstadt and its Secular Genesis, at the Gates of Saint Petersburg

Over its more than three centuries of existence, Kronstadt has confirmed itself as a bipolar city, inhabited by people, their businesses, lives and deaths. At the same time, always military, a fortress-island tasked with fighting and resisting.

Until 1703, this same island was Swedish. It had the name of Kotlin. In the context of the Great Northern War that opposed the Russian Empire to the Swedish Empire, the former took it.

Aware of its strategic importance, Peter the Great immediately had it fortified and molded.

From that year on, under the newly appointed Governor Menshikov, on the gulf of finland frozen, thousands of workers sacrificed themselves to the almost northern winter.

In those months of atrocious cold, men were forced to carve openings in the ice that they delimited with huge frames made of logs.

When they managed to stabilize them, they filled them with stones brought by horses.

One after another, these geological patches gave rise to channels and new islands, most of which were used to expand the fortress and reinforce its defensive power.

At that time, in opposition to the current reality of Russia, Peter the Great was inspired by the best of the flourishing civilization of Western Europe and its wonders.

To the point of having named a fugitive veteran of the Scottish Royal Navy as later governor of Kronstadt.

The Gradual Internationalization of Kronstadt

Peter the Great seduced merchants from the main naval powers to, via Hanseatic League, open warehouses at the gates of greater St. Petersburg.

The British, in particular, became so many and so well established that, when the reign of Catherine the Great arrived, many had already become naturalized Russians and controlled the mercantile flows in that region.

There was such an unusual symbiosis when, in 1854, the Crimean War made the Russians enemies of the British, who were allies of the Ottoman Empire and France. Nicholas I, found himself with plenty of reasons to resume the expansion and reinforcement of Kronstadt.

Back on the southeastern tip of the island of Kotlin and in the orthodox domain of St. Nicholas Cathedral, the wedding celebration is set to last.

Meanwhile, two of the bride's friends had joined the entourage, both in red skirts, protected from the afternoon chill by fur coats and scarves.

The photographer gets help from the kids. Under the whirlwind of leaves that they generated again, she photographs the bride and her friends, between big smiles irrigated by champagne.

The cadets, these, had already been ordered to be released. We see a majority returning to their academy quarters. A few infiltrate Ravine and Petrovskiy Parks.

They are enveloped in the predominant yellow and gold. And they photograph themselves and their pride, at that time, undisguised, of being part of the powerful Russian Navy.

And yet, in Kronstadt's long history, the autonomy and irreverence of its commanders and sailors became unquestionable.

To confirm this, first of all, we have to go back to the troubled period of the Russian Civil War.

The Kronstadt Rebellion and Today's Unknown

Infected by the strength and promises of the Bolshevik Movement, the sailors of Kronstadt joined the red faction of the Revolution and even executed their officers.

After three or more years of imprisonment and, soon, the execution of the last Tsar Nicholas II, the sailors of Kronstadt already shared the same frustration with the dictatorial and Machiavellian course in which the Soviet government led the expanding nation.

Then Minister of War Leon Trotsky sent the Cheka secret police and the Red Army he also led to the island of Kotlin, with the mission to suppress the rebellion. Trotsky achieved it. He did not prevent a massacre which, like the deaths and suffering, however perpetrated in the Gulags, the Soviet Union and its successive dictators failed to erase.

In 1930, Kronstadt became home to the Soviet Baltic Fleet. It became providential in terms of training sailors from the four corners of the USSR and also as a shipyard in the Baltic.

World War II entered the scene. The Germans bombed Kronstadt and its fleet countless times, causing the destruction of several ships and fortress structures, as well as dozens of its sailors and workers.

It is recognised, however, that, largely due to Kronstadt's power of resistance and response, the Nazis failed to conquer Leningrad (Soviet name of St. Petersburg). One of Kronstadt's rewards was the title of "City of Military Glory” that preserves.

At a time when the nostalgic government of the great USSR and Putin's Imperial Russia challenges supposedly sister nations and much of the world with military aggression and violence, the number of men fleeing Russia is exponentially increasing.

Faced with the distressed stampede of a large part of his population, the dictator is preparing to close borders.

In October 2022, as in 1921, Kronstadt marks the most fortified point in the northeast of Russia, on the verge of Finland, Sweden, the Baltic States and Poland that more and more Russians disagreeing with the Kremlin sought to achieve.

In this short autumn, in which the cooling of relations between Russia and the West is worsening and which precedes the freezing of the sea around the island of Kotlin, we remember with nostalgia the day we spent in golden-yellow Kronstadt and the contagious happiness of its engaged.

We wonder what the young sailors we have seen lined up will think if the Russia they now serve does not already give them the opportunity for a new rebellion.

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