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A Window on Russia

An interview with one of the worlds leading scholars on Russian history sheds light on Peter the Great.

Published: March 20, 2013 (Issue # 1751)



  • One of the engravings that will be used to illustrate Waegmans book.
    Photo: for spt

  • Professor Emmanuel Waegemans has written numerous books on Russia.
    Photo: for spt

One of the leading experts in Russian-Dutch relations in Europe, Professor Emmanuel Waegemans, teaches Russian Literature, the History of Russia and Slavic Civilization at the respected Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.

Author of more than 200 books and articles about Russian history and literature, this scholar has devoted special attention to Peter the Great, who is featured in several of his extensively researched works. Waegemans expertise is valued not only in Western Europe but also in Russia, where the reforming tsar is almost openly worshipped and many people find it hard to assess Peter the Great objectively. Professor Waegemans spoke to The St. Petersburg Times about his upcoming book about Peter the Greats second trip to the Netherlands, which is to be released later this year.

Q: What aspects of Peter the Greats second trip to the Netherlands do you focus on in your work?

A: In my book, I not only create a detailed account of Peter the Greats visit to Holland in 1717 but also go on to reconstruct the Russian tsars network of contacts, and the circle of people he was meeting on that journey. Readers will get to know the kind of Dutchmen who kept Peter the Great company, who worked for the tsar and actively promoted his ideas; the people who recruited specialists for him, who purchased guns for him, and who were on the lookout, on his behalf, for paintings by the Flemish and Dutch masters.

Q: What is the main difference between Peter the Greats first visit to Holland, which is known as the Great Embassy, and his second trip to the country?

A: On his second trip to Holland, Peter the Great expressed a greater interest in the arts and architecture, and made more trips to palaces and parks. While gathering material for the book, I have come across a number of literary works about Peter the Great, including a few pieces of satire, as well as several odes that praised the great reformer and his initiatives aimed at bringing innovations to Russia.

The book has many illustrations. In general, I would say that I have employed a complex approach to telling the story of Peter the Greats trip. The book covers the diplomatic aspect of the visit, and, in particular, the intricate and convoluted diplomatic games that went on at The Hague. It covers family matters, such as the birth of his son Pavel and the dramatic escape of his son Alexei; the folklore element, which is researched through studying the style of the Russian receptions that were held; the ceremonial side of such festivities, and traditions of firing shots from a cannon; and also the literary aspect. Peter the Great was featured in a number of literary works and I cover the historical and cultural sides of this very important state visit.

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Thursday, Apr. 17


Expocenter Eurasia at 13 Ulitsa Kapitan Voronin is the sight of Goods on the Way, a five-day event starting today showcasing the latest in the industrial products industry. Bags, backpacks, swimsuits and much, much more will be available to attendees hoping to update not only their style but their accessories for the upcoming summer.


Friday, Apr. 18


Teachers and students alike shouldnt miss the opportunity to establish lasting contacts with Russian and foreign institutions during the 21st Education and Career Fair at LenExpo, beginning today and finishing tomorrow. Learn more about education in Russia and connect with your fellow scholars.


The Tromso International Film Festival, Norways largest, brings a short festival to St. Petersburg for one day only during Scandinavian Oddities, starting at 7 p.m. today at Rodina Cinema Center. Tickets for the event are 100 rubles ($2.80).


Sunday, Apr. 20


Celebrate Easter at Pavlovsk during the Easter Fair that begins today and continues through next Sunday. Visitors will have the chance to paint Easter eggs and children can take part in games as well as help decorate a tree in honor of Christianitys holiest day.


Today is one of the final days to see the exhibit Cacti Children of the Sun at the Peter the Great Botanical Garden. Starting Apr. 17, budding botanists will marvel at the variety and beauty of the deserts most iconic plant.


Monday, Apr. 21


Improve your grasp of Neruda, Bolano and Marquez at TrueDAs Beginners Spanish Lesson this evening at their location on the Petrograd Side. An experienced teacher will be on hand to help all attendees better understand the intricacies of the language and improve their accent.


Tuesday, Apr. 22


SPIBAs Breakfast with the Director event series continues as the association welcomes Andrei Barannikov, general director of SPN Communications, to the Anna Pavlova Hall of the Angleterre Hotel this morning at 9 a.m. Attendees must confirm their participation by Apr. 21.


The AmCham Environment, Health and Safety Committee Meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. this morning in the their St. Petersburg office.