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A Window on Russia

An interview with one of the world’s 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 Waegman’s 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 Great’s second trip to the Netherlands, which is to be released later this year.

Q: What aspects of Peter the Great’s 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 Great’s visit to Holland in 1717 but also go on to reconstruct the Russian tsar’s 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 Great’s 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 Great’s 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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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Oct. 24


SPIBA’s ongoing “Breakfast with the Director” series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at “Sounds of the Universe,” a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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