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How the personality cult of Napoleon Bonaparte appeared in Russia
How the personality cult of Napoleon Bonaparte appeared in Russia

200 years after the death of Bonaparte, he remains one of the main figures on the stage of the Russian historical past. How did it happen?

"Napoleon mowed the grass, the Poles sang with cranes" - the French emperor usually appeared in the life of a Russian child with this saying. And behind him and Kutuzov - the winner of Napoleon. For over 200 years, these heroes have often become the first historical characters that Russian children get to know. But how did the French emperor, besides, the enemy of the Russians, get into the ranks of the heroes of the Russian past?

In 1806, by the definition of the Holy Synod, "the enemy of peace and blessed silence" Napoleon Bonaparte was numbered among the persecutors of the Church of Christ. This happened against the background of the formation of the Third Anti-Napoleonic Coalition and the clearly impending clashes between the Russian army and the French. In these conditions, Russian ideologists decided to give the future war a sacred character. But in 1807 Russia and France made peace in Tilsit, and up to 1812 official Russia seemed to have “forgotten” about Napoleon the Antichrist - but not the people.

The poet Pyotr Vyazemsky recorded a conversation between two Russian peasants about the Tilsit meeting of the emperors, which took place on a raft in the middle of the Neman. "How is it that our priest, the Orthodox Tsar, could decide to converge with this infidel?" - said one. “But how can you, brother, do not understand - our father ordered that a raft be prepared for that first, in order to baptize Bonaparte in the river, and then let him before his bright royal eyes,” answered another.

The genius was imitated, the enemy was hated

Meeting of Napoleon I and Alexander I on the Neman on June 25, 1807

At the same time, the older generation, who still found the friendship with Napoleon of Emperor Pavel Petrovich, appreciated the Frenchman for their own reasons. For them, Napoleon, who considered the French Revolution of 1789 to be the main event of his life, was the restorer of the French monarchy, the personification of strong autocratic power. In the estate of the elder relatives of the poet Athanasius Fet, the portrait of Napoleon has been hanging since the end of the 18th century, and only after 1812 was it removed to the closet.

In general, for the Russians of that time, the image of Napoleon had two facets. As the veteran of 1812 Ilya Radozhitsky (1788-1861) wrote, being "the enemy of all the nations of Europe", Napoleon was at the same time "a genius of war and politics." Therefore, "the genius was imitated, and the enemy was hated."

End of victories! Glory to God!

The infernal state has overthrown:

Slain, slain Napoleon!..

- wrote in 1814 Nikolai Karamzin. "Disappeared like a terrible dream in the morning!" - as if 15-year-old Alexander Pushkin continues after him in the poem "Memories in Tsarskoe Selo".

However, over time, Pushkin's attitude to Napoleon changes. In 1824, Pushkin called Bonaparte "Wonderful Visitor of the Earth". Finally, in Eugene Onegin (1823-1830), Pushkin gives the emperor a final assessment: “We honor everyone with zeros, // And ourselves as units. // We are all looking at Napoleons; // There are millions of two-legged creatures // There is only one weapon for us …"

Pushkin in his work vividly reflected the change in attitudes towards Napoleon in Russian society. This was largely influenced by the last part of Bonaparte's life - the image of the prisoner of the island of St. Helena pretty much added romance to this story. After the death of Napoleon (May 5, 1821), the features of the "villain" in his image began to fade away.

Russian cult of Napoleon

Figurine "The Last Days of Napoleon"

In an era when, according to the memoirs of the famous lawyer Anatoly Koni, Italians organ-grinders walked the streets of St. Petersburg, whose instruments were decorated with figures of Napoleon dying in bed and generals crying around him, the very name "Napoleon" becomes a household name. The writer Alexander Druzhinin calls Goethe "the mental Napoleon of our century", Alexander Herzen wrote that Byron is the "Napoleon of poetry" …

Already in 1897, the historian Vasily Klyuchevsky writes: "nowadays you often meet a schoolboy who walks with the expression of Napoleon I, although he has a score book in his pocket, where everything is two, two and two." Moreover, the main events of Bonaparte's biography also acquire the status of memes - for example, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky in the novel War and Peace, written by Tolstoy in 1863-1869, asks: "How will my Toulon be expressed?" The siege of Toulon (September-December 1793), which was defended by royalist forces with the support of the British, was the first major feat of the previously unknown artillery captain Bonaparte. Since then, the word "Toulon" has become a metaphor for the moment of a brilliant start to a career.

Napoleon during the siege of Toulon, 1793

At the same time, the study of the main campaigns of Napoleon, according to the memoirs of General Alexei Ignatiev, "was based on the academic military education" in the Russian army at the turn of the XIX-XX centuries. Knowledge of the main stages of Bonaparte's biography becomes a necessary element of the education of any cultured person.

Finally, Nicholas II himself, as the historian Sergei Sekirinsky writes, “talking with the French ambassador Maurice Palaeologus in the Tsarskoye Selo library, at the table on which lay a dozen books dedicated to Napoleon, admitted that he had a“cult for him”. And this was in 1917, when the collapse of the Russian Empire was virtually inevitable! The tsar's fascination with Napoleonism led the tsar far.

One of the few who opposed the exaltation of Napoleon in those years was the artist Vasily Vereshchagin. In 1895-1896, exhibitions of his cycle of paintings "Napoleon in Russia" were held in Moscow and St. Petersburg, in which Vereshchagin strove "to show the great national spirit of the Russian people", as well as "to bring the image of Napoleon from the pedestal of the hero to which he was brought."

In the paintings of the cycle, Bonaparte is shown not at all as a triumphant hero. He unsuccessfully hopes to get the keys to Moscow, in a gloomy stupor awaits news of a peace treaty in the Petrovsky Palace, or, comical in a Hungarian fur coat and hat, wanders with a wand in front of the retreating once great army. "Is this Napoleon we used to see?" - the audience asked in surprise. The perspective taken by Vereshchagin did not find much popularity - there was not even a buyer for the cycle of paintings among wealthy Russians.

Only on the eve of the anniversary of the Patriotic War in 1912, the tsarist government, under public pressure, bought the entire series from Vereshchagin.

“On the high road

In the era of the February Revolution of 1917, the Napoleonic myth - the restoration of monarchical rule by a previously unknown hero from the people - was revived in the image of Alexander Kerensky: “And someone, falling on the map, // Does not sleep in a dream. // It breathed like Bonaparte // In my country”- wrote Marina Tsvetaeva about him. Russians, living their revolution, could not help but associate it with the most famous revolution of the past - the Great French, hence the surge of interest in the image of the first consul.

The revolutionary Boris Savinkov and one of the leaders of the White movement, Lavr Kornilov, aimed to "Napoleons". As Alexander Blok reported in those days, "The rightists (cadets and non-party people) prophesy Napoleon (some of the first, others of the third)."

However, the October Revolution and its consequences did not fit into the Napoleonic myth in any way, and for a long time it was forgotten. It was decided to revive the image of Bonaparte in Stalin's times.

Napoleon in the USSR

Vladislav Strzhelchik as Bonaparte in the film "War and Peace"

In 1936, the book of the historian Eugene Tarle "Napoleon" was published, which to this day remains one of the most popular biographies of Bonaparte in Russia. Abounding in historical assumptions and inaccuracies, Tarle's work again revives the romantic and even mystical image of Napoleon, a hero who, as if by fate, was predetermined by world fame. “Everything, both large and small, developed in such a way that they irresistibly carried him to the heights, and everything that he did, or that happened even outside of him, turned to his advantage,” wrote Tarle.

Sergei Sekirinsky directly calls this book a "political order" - after all, it was after its release, despite the devastating reviews, that Tarle, who was in disgrace, was returned the title of Academician of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

With the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the image of Napoleon, of course, again began to be mentioned in the context of the aggressor, but already "not terrible" - the vanquished, and the comparison of Hitler with him was intended to inspire and reassure the people and army personnel. “This is not the first time our people have to deal with an attacking, arrogant enemy.

At one time, our people responded to Napoleon's campaign in Russia with the Patriotic War, and Napoleon was defeated, came to his collapse. The same will happen with the arrogant Hitler, who has announced a new campaign against our country,”said the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov in his speech on June 22, 1941, the day the war began.

"Before Moscow, waiting for the deputation of the boyars"

Later, the counteroffensive near Moscow in 1941-1942 was compared in official propaganda with the defeat and retreat of Napoleon's troops in the fall of 1812. In addition, in 1942, the 130th anniversary of the Battle of Borodino was celebrated. War and Peace has once again become one of the most re-read books. This comparison came to mind, of course, not only to the Russians. German general Gunther Blumentritt (1892-1967) wrote that near Moscow in 1941 “the memory of Napoleon's Great Army haunted us like a ghost. There were more and more coincidences with the events of 1812 …"

Hitler himself saw fit to respond to such sentiments in his army. Speaking in the Reichstag on April 26, 1942, Hitler, wanting to prove that the soldiers of the Wehrmacht are more powerful than Napoleon's army, emphasized that Napoleon fought in Russia at a temperature of -25 °, and the soldiers of the Wehrmacht at -45 ° and even -52 °! Hitler was also convinced that it was the retreat that killed Napoleon - and the German army had strict orders not to retreat. German propaganda sought to "detach" from the Napoleonic history.

Marshal Georgy Zhukov

And in the USSR, after the war, the Bonapartist myth was again criticized. The figure of Georgy Zhukov, the protagonist of the war, was too dangerous. In her diary, the artist Lyubov Shaporina, admiring Zhukov, this "greatest military leader of Russian history," wrote bluntly: "Will we live to see Brumaire 18?" (March 10, 1956), hoping for the restoration of the old "bourgeois-democratic" order by the hands of Zhukov.

It is not surprising that the accusations brought against Zhukov by the party leadership in 1957 repeated the words "Bonapartism" that had already been addressed to him in 1946. "Brumaire" did not happen - Khrushchev's opal became the last for Zhukov, he never returned to political activity. And what about the image of Napoleon?

In the years of the late USSR and post-Soviet Russia, the French emperor finally settled on bookshelves - in porcelain busts and historical works. Neither official propaganda, nor any opposition ideologists actively used the image of Bonaparte - which cannot be said about copywriters who continued to successfully exploit him as an integral part of Russian historical consciousness.

The last major appearance of Napoleon on Russian screens was the use of his image in a series of commercials “World History. Bank Imperial”, filmed in 1992-1997 by Timur Bekmambetov. Two of the commercials, which have become classics of Russian advertising, exploited the image of Bonaparte, both in a complimentary manner. In the first video - "Drum" - the emperor demonstrates composure and fearlessness on the battlefield.

In the second - "Napoleon Bonaparte" - the creators pay tribute to Napoleon's ability to accept victory and defeat with dignity. The video shows the inglorious flight of Napoleon to Paris after crossing the remnants of his army across the Berezina. “I just wanted to see my emperor,” an elderly French woman says to Napoleon, catching up with him at the carriage. In response, Bonaparte gives the woman a coin with his portrait and says: "I look much better here."

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