Art and Politics in Occupied Crimea

Simferopol_crimea_theater_21Dimiter Kenarov at VQR:

Crimea has fascinated the Russian imagination for centuries. Once governed by the powerful and terrifying Crimean Khanate, a Turco-Mongol vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, the peninsula became part of Russia in 1783, when it was annexed by Catherine the Great. If St. Petersburg was the empire’s modern “window to the West,” Crimea was the southern casement overlooking the classical world, an ancient land of fairy tales and oriental myth. With its verdant mountains rising out of a wine-dark sea, Crimea, along with the Caucasus region a bit farther down the coast, became a locus of inspiration for the Russian Romantic movement. It was an “enchanting region” and a “spot of fairy dreams,” as Alexander Pushkin wrote in “The Fountain of Bakhchisaray,” a long poem about the tragic love of a Crimean khan for one of his Christian captives.

Drawn to its romantic aura, noblemen and artists slowly began to transform the region into a bohemian playground dotted with palaces and elaborate villas, casinos and bathing establishments and fashionable promenades that ran along the rugged coast. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Crimea had become “the garden of the empire” and “the Russian Riviera.” Peace was briefly interrupted in the 1850s by the Crimean War, in which Leo Tolstoy fought as an army officer.

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