Friday, 3 July 2015

National Pride

How do we define national pride?

We certainly feel it when our flag is raised (especially in triumph) or when the anthem is played. We kvell at gold medal ceremonies, and we weep with military families when a local hero is returned home to rest. But, I have been wondering quite a bit this week, whether those outward expressions, most certainly appropriate, can be seen as the most accurate measure of our national pride or should we attempt to delve deeper. 

Certainly here in St. Petersburg, Russian pride is at the core of every one of its citizens, and it is audible in their voices as they excitedly show off their national treasures and talk of their collective survival. The cultural heart of Russia has been rebuilt from the ground up following the devastation of the Nazi siege, followed immediately by decades of Soviet indifference. The history and legends of the Romanoffs and their exploits are told with accented flair and some small measure of the story-teller's embellishment, but it is all in the name of preserving their national heritage. 

As we wound our way through the streets, canals, palaces, and monuments of the city that Peter the Great built as his legacy and his heirs perpetuated, we became very aware that not only were we viewing some of the most opulent and ostentatious architectural marvels in the world, but that we were truly in the presence of artistic genius. The stunning and whimsical gardens and fountains of the Peterhof Palace; the gilded beauty of the Catherine Palace; the ornate tombs that mark the resting places of the Tsars at The Peter and Paul Fortress; and the unbelievable collection of European masters assembled by Catherine the Great and now on display at the Hermitage Museum; all serve to unite this community. These are a direct and straightforward people. This is the best that the world has to offer and they want visitors to leave with that message. 

I must say that I am rarely enamoured by churches, (Sorry, but it just isn't in my DNA.) but the story of The Church of The Spilled Blood captured my attention. It is built on the site of the 1881 assassination of Alexander II. Alexander was beloved by the people because of his reformations, particularly the abolition of serfdom. When he was murdered, the peasants collected funds to build the church. No amount was too small. The meticulous ceramic mosaics and dramatic exterior are testament to the will of the people.

The will of the Russian people to carefully restore the beauty of their history and share it with the world is one of the greatest displays of national pride that I can think of. The financial commitment and collective determination has been nothing short of miraculous. This city was truly on the brink of extinction some seventy years ago, but today it is a crown jewel of culture and a stunning example of Russian pride. 

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