Sunday, July 27, 2008

Marvelling at Russian Wonders

Russia is a wondrous country. To this most Russians themselves as well as foreigners would agree. Still, as the new seven wonders of the world were chosen by an international vote in July last year, no Russian landmark found its way onto the top list. Appauled by this obvious feat of ignorance, Russian travel magazine Vsemirny Sledopyt arranged its own vote on the Seven Wonders of Russia, beginning in August last year. Still, as events has shown, it would not be Russia if the process since had not make one wonder.

That Vsemirny Sledopyt in a PR-coup used Russian indignation to boost sales of its magazine is perhaps no wonder, using each issue to present a new candidate for the top seven. However, closing in on the end of its year-long campaign it was to meet with unexpected competition to the Internet-voting initiative it had set up.

Thus, in February this year, a consortium of mighty media moguls opened up its own competition on the Seven Wonders of Russia. During spring, a number of qualifying heats were undertaken, to nominate 49 wonders representing the seven federal districts of the country. For the final vote, conveniently decided for the 12 June independence celebrations, the number of nominees were down to 14. In the end, 25 million votes were cast, outnumbering Vsemirny Slepotyt's vote by some 100 times.

So, which are the seven wonders of Russia? This is where it becomes interesting. On its part, Vsemirny Sledopyt's competition ended with the following results:
  1. The Kazan Kremlin together with its Qolsharif Mosque and the Orthodox Annunciation Cathedral, Kazan;
  2. Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery, Pechora;
  3. Palace Square and Winter Palace, St. Petersburg;
  4. Kizhi Museum Reserve, Karelia;
  5. Tobolsk Kremlin, Tobolsk;
  6. Vyborg Castle, Leningrad region;
  7. Novgorod Kremlin and St. Sophia Cathedral, Veliky Novgorod.

Turning to the bigger competition - the media managed independence day vote - results came out somewhat differently:

  1. Mount Elbrus, Kabardino-Balkaria;
  2. Geyser Valley, Kamchatka;
  3. Lake Baikal, Irkutsk region;
  4. Columns of Erosion, Komi Republic;
  5. Peterhof, St. Petersburg;
  6. Mamaev Kurgan and the Statue of the Motherland, Volgograd;
  7. St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow.

Whereas all the wonders on Vsemirny Sledopyt's list are historical architectural landmarks, the four at the top of the independence day vote are natural phenomena. So, is it a fact that most Russians prefer nature to history when it comes to the things they are most proud of their country for? That is undeniably the impression one gets if judging from the larger independence day vote. Instead of choosing man-made wonders representing how the Russian nation was forged, the overwhelming majority of the 25 million Russians in the vote - almost a fifth of the population - opted for politically and historically neutral natural phenomena.

Still, that is not necessarily a correct conclusion, as the results might as well reflect the process of picking out the candidate wonders. Initially basing it on geographical representation instead of e.g. population density, the list of candidates gets distorted from the outset. Population centres naturally have more landmarks than sparsely populated areas, so setting these on an equal footing may well eliminate otherwise competitive candidates. Take for instance all phenomena in proximity to St. Petersburg as an example. On Vsemirny Sledopyt's list, five out of seven wonders are within a day's trip of this city. Consequently, if departing from regional representation, all but one of them might have been eliminated almost from the outset in the larger independence day vote.

Turning to Vsemirny Sledopdyt's list of the seven wonders of Russia, there are also some interesting results. Heading the list is the Kazan cathedral in the capital of Tatarstan, which - despite the historical significance of its conquest by Ivan the Terrible in 1552 - remains a centre predominantly of Tatar and not Russian history and culture. Another example is Vyborg castle, constructed by the Swedes in the 13th century. Still, what is even more interesting is that the list misses any representative of Muscovy - the hub of Russian national history. Instead, it seems as if it is dominated by places representing the country's historical expansion or locations that once lay at the perimeters of the empire.

So, are there any conclusions to draw from the two competitions on the Seven Wonders of Russia? What both lists illustrate is perhaps why no Russian landmark ended up as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Far too many Russian wonders on the two toplists are next to unknown internationally. How many foreigners have heard of Kazan or Mount Elbrus in comparison to e.g. Indian Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, or the Colosseum in Rome? As for the results of the two Russian votes, they portray an image of Russia as unexpected for itself as for the world. Is this Russia as we see it - whether Russian or foreigner? Do they represent the nation, its history, culture, geography or identity - how and to what extent? Lacking proper answers to these questions, both lists of the Seven Wonders of Russia remain as wondrous as the wonders themselves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The results were falsificated thru programs of voting in internet.