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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

Wednesday, Apr. 23


Problems facing the elderly are in the spotlight at Senior Generation 2014, an international forum at LenExpo beginning today that focuses on drawing attention to and providing information about some of society’s most vulnerable members. An exhibition combined with a trade fair will help those interested be better equipped to help this demographic.



Thursday, Apr. 24


Learn more about Denmark during the Danish Business Delegation’s visit to SPIBA this evening starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Danish Culture Institute. Danish Consul general Klaus Sorensen will be in attendance and the buffet following a presentation on Danish companies in Russia will be the perfect opportunity to network with the assembled businessmen.


AmCham’s Human Resources Committee Meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. this morning in their St. Petersburg office. Check their website for more details.



Friday, Apr. 25


Light Music presents the main events for their Cultural Kitchen project at Loft-Project Etagi today. A B2B event that focuses on Finnish food, arts, travel, music and design, the evening will conclude with a dinner by chef Jyrki Tsutsunen and dancing to music by Aino Venna. The event, which began yesterday with presentations by tourism and cultural institutions, concludes today with a preview of Finland’s Flow festival and other musical events. Invitations are available from www.culturalkitchen.fi.



Saturday, Apr. 26


At 6 p.m. this evening, stylist Liliana Modigliani offers 50 simple ways to up your style quotient with beauty tips at the Galeria shopping center on Ligovsky Prospekt. The event is part of the final day of the shopping mall’s Fashion Saturday sales event, this week focusing on top brands located on the ground floor as well as presentation from fashion experts on sprucing up your spring look.



Sunday, Apr. 27


Families shouldn’t miss Childhood Planet 2014, the trade fair that started yesterday and concludes today at LenExpo. Not only will goods and services be provided for children and families but the event hopes to promote Russian brands and eco-friendly products using the latest technology available in the childcare industry.



Monday, Apr. 28


The Hotel Indigo will be the site of SPIBA’s Acting Skills for HR and Other Managers master class this morning starting at 9 a.m. The event will begin with coffee before moving on to the class itself and conclude with a tour of the recently opened hotel. Confirm attendance by Apr. 24.



Tuesday, Apr. 29


Improve your English at the British Book Center’s Interactive English Lesson tonight at 6 p.m. Students at pre-intermediate and intermediate levels are welcome discuss topics that are selected to help learners master the more difficult aspects of English grammar and vocabulary.