The Cult of Ivan the Terrible in Stalin's Russia

The Cult of Ivan the Terrible in Stalin's Russia

The Cult of Ivan the Terrible in Stalin's Russia

The Cult of Ivan the Terrible in Stalin's Russia

Synopsis

Ivan IV, the 16th-century tsar notorious for his reign of terror, became an unlikely national hero in the Soviet Union during the 1940s. This book traces the development of Ivan's positive image, placing it in the context of Stalin's campaign for patriotism. In addition to historians' images of Ivan, the author examines literary and artistic representations, including Sergei Eisenstein's famous film Ivan the Terrible, banned for its depiction of the tsar which was interpreted as an allegorical criticism of Stalin.

Excerpt

Ivan IV (1530–84) is probably the most controversial figure in Russian history. The enduring popular image of the tsar, both in Russia and in the West, is that of a cruel tyrant, but his conventional epithet Groznyi, traditionally translated as ‘Terrible’, has connotations in Russian which are better reflected in English by terms such as ‘awe-inspiring’, ‘formidable’ or ‘dread’. Present-day historians' images of Ivan range from the statesmanlike ruler, pursuing the maximization of his power by ruthless but rational means; through the crazed despot with no coherent political aims or strategy, randomly eradicating real and imaginary enemies; to the mere figurehead for a court oligarchy which operated behind a facade of autocracy. To some extent these conflicting interpretations reflect the incomplete and problematic character of sixteenth-century sources, but they also derive from divergent understandings of the nature of the Muscovite political system.

The facts of Ivan's biography may be briefly summarized. He succeeded to the throne at the age of three, and his childhood witnessed a power struggle among competing boyar clans at court. In 1547 he was crowned with the new imperial title of ‘tsar’; in the same year he married Anastasiya Romanova, the daughter of one of his boyars. The decade of the 1550s saw the Russian conquest of the Tatar khanates of Kazan' and Astrakhan' on the Volga, and a series of administrative and judicial reforms which were implemented under the guidance of the tsar's closest advisers, Aleksei Adashev and the priest Sil'vestr. Ivan embarked upon the Livonian War (1558–83) in the hope of acquiring a foothold on the Baltic, but after a number of initial gains his armies became bogged down in protracted and costly campaigning. The defection to Lithuania in 1564 of Prince Andrei Kurbskii, a military commander who was one of Ivan's closest associates, constituted a major personal and political blow to the tsar. In 1565 – in the most perplexing move of his reign – Ivan created the oprichnina, a part of the country which was directly

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