A new TV series was aired in Russia, a series about the famous Russian tsar, who has been so much defamed both abroad and then domestically. I was critical in anticipating this series, and it seems my fears were well-founded to a point where watching it would be inadvisable. In a way the vibe of “Grozny” series appears to be somewhat akin to HBO’s “Chernobyl” angle.
As I wrote in the article with the translation of the documentary Black myths about Rus – From Ivan the Formidable until our time, “Grozny” actually translates as “Formidable”, while from the set go a mis-translation of his by-name was adopted in England, implying something terrible. We see the same pattern with every Russian leader throughout history, who did something great for Russia (and, often, the world) – they’d be maligned, while a weak leader, who worked towards destruction of Russia, would be celebrated in the West. Sadly, the tune, started in the West would later get foothold in the Russian minds, thus weakening Russian self-perception.
Alexander Rodgers is a journalist and blogger with many astute analytical articles in the economic and political spheres. Below is my translation of his review of “Grozny” TV series, titled “Hard tsar or hard times. A truthful lie. The analysis of ‘Grozny’ series”. His analysis echoes my own perception based on the documented accounts. The original Russian version can be found at Kont and at the author’s LiveJournal page.
Watching the TV series “Grozny” leaves one with a very depressing feeling.
Although some of the participants in our discussions of this series wrote “We liked it”, it is rather to the same tune as “There were no evil NKVD officer in this film about the war, so it can already be considered a masterpiece.”
Only 90%, and not 100%, of dirt in a show does not make the show clean.
Ivan Vasilyevich the Formidable is shown in the worst traditions of the Pikulev’s authorship.
Valentin Pikul is such an unscrupulous author, who for his many years of “creativity” poured mud on many characters of Russian history. And he devoted a whole trilogy to denigrating Grozny.
At the same time, he never worked in the archives and did not even try to rely on historical sources, but wrote as he saw fit, like another similar writer – Vladimir Sorokin (the latter also likes to attribute his homoerotic fantasies to historical characters).
In general, many Russian historians from the time of the Russian Empire and till present time still assess the reign of Ivan the Formidable not based on facts, but however fancy takes them.
But let’s start analysing the eight-part series itself.
The fact that the territory of Russia doubled during the reign of Ivan the Formidable (translator note: and its population grew by 1.5x) is not mentioned at all.
Three minutes of serial time are devoted to Kazan campaigns and the capture of Kazan.
The Astrakhan campaigns and the capture of Astrakhan are not mentioned at all.
Although these two conquests – Kazan and Astrakhan – not only increased the country’s territory, but also created new trade routes, as well as secured the territory of Russia, ending the history of several centuries of predatory raids by steppe nomads.
The war with Sweden (which was started by the Swedish King Gustav I Vasa and in which he was defeated) is not mentioned at all. Although it opened up sea routes for Russia to trade not only with the Hanseatic League, but also with Britain.
The conquest of Siberia by Ermak is not mentioned at all. And in general, a bunch of self-styled historians will now tell you that Ermak conquered Siberia “despite” the tsar’s will. Although he received reinforcements from the tsar in the form of detachments of archers, artillery and gunpowder – but all this does not count, because Ivan the Formidable should exclusively be portrayed as a cardboard operetta villain.
In general, some chronicles of the sixteenth century directly indicate that a number of European rulers were very concerned about the strengthening of the Muscovite Kingdom and tried in every possible way to prevent it from establishing stable diplomatic and trade relations with the countries of Northern Europe and the Hanseatic League, for which, in particular, they diligently denigrated Ivan Vasilyevich and portrayed him as a bloodthirsty tyrant.
That is, we can say that nothing has changed much in the last five hundred years.
Meanwhile, by this time the Russian state already had a sufficiently developed bureaucracy (which, in particular, was previously caused by the need to pay a poll tax), and the documents of that era allow us to have a fairly accurate picture not only of the general demographic situation in Russia of the time, but also to know almost by name all the victims of Grozny’s repressions.
All in all, the chronicles and censuses give us a total number of about 2400-2500 convicts and executed during the reign of Ivan the Formidable.
Given that, on the one hand, he sometimes had to suppress riots and quite real (and not fictional, as some authors try to convince us) conspiracies, and on the other hand, only in Paris, more than 20 thousand Frenchmen were killed during one Bartholomew’s Night (and significantly more throughout France), the real historical Ivan Vasilyevich appears to us as a very gentle and merciful ruler.
Both considering the harsh circumstances in which he had to live and rule, and the bloody morals of the contemporary European rulers.
Though who is surprised? The modern United States has killed one and a half million Iraqis and almost four hundred thousand Afghans, but Russia and China are still the aggressors.
But let’s plough on through the story about Ivan the Formidable.
The distribution of bread to the poor in lean years, which prevented thousands of starvation deaths, is shown during one minute of screen time.
The introduction of a border quarantine for visitors (one of the first in the world!), which did not let the Plague that raged in Europe into Russia, is also shown in passing and almost as the foolishness of a mad tyrant.
The fact that metallurgy in Russia was rapidly developing under Ivan the Formidable, and Russian cannons were considered the best and sold throughout Europe is not mentioned even with a single word
Complete silence about the Ecumenical Councils and Grozny’s church reforms.
They are trying to show us that Ivan Vasilyevich, the first Russian tsar – is a mentally ill paranoid man with delusions of persecution, who sees traitors and conspiracies everywhere.
A contemporary of those events, Staden, in his notes directly wrote: “Many noble nobles gathered a considerable party in Lithuania and Poland and wanted to go up in arms against their tsar.”
As we can see, there are indeed conspiracies and traitors, and numerous in numbers, but this is not a reason to consider Grozny to be an adequate ruler! One can thus talk to a point saying that the West wishes Russia ill, and is not seeking to bring it the molecules of democracy.
Kurbsky is a real traitor, the Shuisky family really tried to control young Ivan as a puppet, Repnin and others negotiated with Lithuania and Poland to support a foreign invasion and overthrow Ivan, the Novgorod “elites” really wanted to defect to Lithuania – but Grozny is paranoid, paranoid, paranoid!
Such persistent attempts to portray Ivan the Formidable as a mad tyrant are more akin to hysteria.
In addition he has on his hands the Livonian War in the north and the Tartar raids in the south, while [he’s being portrayed as] grieving for five years over his poisoned wife. Hopelessness, and decay, and dementia.
Let’s look objectively.
- The creation of Archery regiment (Streltsy) is one of the first attempts in Europe (if not in the world) to form a regular professional army. And quite successful one at that. This is despite the fact that in most of Europe of that time, peasant militia and baronial squads were continued to be used.
- The All-Land Gathering (Zemsky Sobor) lays the foundations of parliamentarism.
- The Judicial Codex (Sudebnik) limited arbitrariness of the Boyars (similar to Counts), who before were free to judge and execute as they please anyone on their territory. Creation of a unified legislative system and a system of state courts.
- The Hundred-fold Gathering (Stoglavy Sobor) is a restriction of the power of the church.
- A system of state ministries (Prikazy) has been formed.
This is by far not the limit to the list of reforms of Ivan the Formidable.
And here we come to one of the most important innovations of Ivan – The Oprichnina.
Oprichnina is not just some medieval NKVD or KGB.
Oprichnina is, first and foremost, the introduction of the concept of “sovereign lands”. Not just the “patrimony” of the counts, but lands of the State, from which taxes are collected, in particular for the maintenance of regular troops. As well as for other needs, starting with the upkeep of “tsar’s men” (officials) and ending with a special tax for the ransom of Russians who were taken into slavery.
In fact, Ivan the Formidable introduced a two-fold economy. Something similar was introduced in Prussia by Frederick II, who received the nickname the Great for this. But Friedrich introduced it two hundred years after Ivan…
And, as a consequence of the introduction of sovereign lands, Grozny abolishes the “feeding” and introduces the Code of Service.
By the way, Grozny is such a tyrant-tyrant that during his reign several neighbouring territories voluntarily asked to be part of Russia. Apparently, there was a great lack of repression in their bodies.
Wait… after all, even now Pridnestrovie (Transnistria), Abkhazia, Ossetia, Donbass want to join the “tyrannical Russia”… how come?!
In fact, the entire reign of Grozny is not only a campaign of conquest, but also a constant struggle with feudal fragmentation and the formation of a centralized state. Oftentimes his reforms were ahead of their time.
Name us a country that would have passed this stage without the most powerful civil strife and even civil wars. We don’t know them.
But the series doesn’t tell us anything like that. Instead, we are obsessively told that an inner beast and darkness lives inside Ivan the Formidable, with which he copes for a while thanks to his wife and wise mentors from among the priesthood. But the wife is poisoned, and on the basis of grief, Grozny goes mad, executes the mentors or exiles them to Solovki.
Oh, and by the way! Grozny also founded the Printing Yard and helped the First Printer Fyodorov to start mass printing of books. But he does this, too, only under the wise guidance of silent mentors.
And then the Oprichnina begins, and it’s bad, bad, bad!
Basmanov and Vyazemsky are schemers who play on the tsar’s paranoia to rob the poor and unhappy Boyars.
In general, in this part of the series, the authors clearly relied on Kurbsky’s writings “The Story of the Grand Duke of Moscow”. Having fled to Lithuania, the traitor Andrey Kurbsky could not realize his huge ambitions, and therefore he took petty revenge on his former fellow citizens, carefully pouring mud on them (today Kurbsky would have clearly been a participant in the Open Russia forums in Vilnius).
So the authors of the series first portray Fyodor Basmanov as a homosexual (the girls look at him, but he does not look at them). There is no historical evidence for this, except for the writings of Kurbsky, who wrote to the point that he said that Basmanov was the lover of Ivan the Formidable (this is despite the fact that Grozny was a famous womanizer who actively played on the female field).
And then they reproduce the myth that Ivan forced the imprisoned father and son Basmanovs to fight each other, promising the winner life. Again, apart from Kurbsky’s writings, this is not confirmed by any other sources.
Kurbsky by this time had been living in Lithuania for several years, he did not have the Internet, and he could not know what was really happening in Moscow. Therefore, personally, we consider his nonsense a stupid lie of an offended figure. But why do the authors of the series rely on such dubious sources is a big question.
In general, from about the beginning of the fifth episode, it becomes extremely difficult to watch the series. Because the feeling of hopelessness of the narrative is simply off the scale. Everything is bad and will only get worse and worse. Crazy Salieri kills Mozart! Oh, sorry, it’s from another KVN performance…
Grozny is going more and more mad, the schemers around him are more and more insidious, the repressions are more and more senseless and bloody. The level of “truthfulness” is increasingly off the scale and is approaching the one from Solzhenitsyn.
The evil tyrant even orders to hide his library in a secret place, and Malyuta Skuratov kills all his subordinates who helped him hide it. That’s what a tyrant he is!
Although the real library of Grozny had most likely burned down during one of the many Moscow fires. But that would not be as interesing, a lot of people have been pretending for decades that they are looking for it and are about to find it soon – getting grants and scientific degrees.
Oh, yes! For the whole of Russia, there is exactly 1 (in words: one) supernindja. He, it appears, went behind the enemy lines (where-where?) during the Kazan campaign. And he worked as Adashev’s personal superagent. And he intercepted the messenger of Staritsky’s mother, preventing a civil war. And he stole a bottle of holy water from Skuratov. And he caught the murderer Grozny’s son, Dmitry. And he single-handedly dispersed of thirty Livonians, saving a particularly valuable German paper for Fedorov. And he got information about the movements of the Tatars. And he killed the leader of the Tatars.
In general, as Comrade Gogol wrote, “My grandfather was a liar, but he pales before your prowess.”
At the same time, judging by the general clumsiness of movements, the actor who plays him took about zero fencing lessons in his life. Luka Bondarev is the savior of Russia. Ivan the Formidable is a tyrant and despot.
And the battle of Molodi was won by the Russians – in the best modern tradition of “correctness” – “despite of” Grozny. And it does not matter that Archer regiments and Oprichnina troops, created by Ivan the Formidable, and led by guardsmen Vorotynsky and Khvorostinin are fighting there.
Again, Kurbsky wrote from his burrow in Lithuania that Vorotynsky was accused of trying to bewitch the tsar and burned. But at the same time he is not mentioned in the “Synod of the disgraced” – the list of those repressed by Grozny. And the count died a natural death.
So it turns out that judging the times of Grozny by the writings of Kurbsky is like judging modern Russia by the deliriums of Slava Rabinovich.
And allegedly Ivan the Formidable wanted to defect to Britain. There is no historical evidence for this, but why not throw in a lie about it as well?
In general, the series once again shows us that the whole history of Russia is darkness and horror, repression and death, Solovki and the GULAG, bloody decomposition. Pay and repent, repent and pay.
There are not enough people with brooms and dogs for such “creators”. To be gnawed out and swept out.