Rasputitsa

Rasputin

People who like Robert Frost’s poetry have read about it. Our friends up North in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, are living through it.

This is Mud Time. That’s what we call it here. But in over in Russia, it’s Rasputitsa.

That’s the time of year, in both spring and fall, when heavy snow or rain make the unpaved roads of that vast country impassable.  Rasputitsa did much to defend Russia from invading hordes led by Napoleon and Hitler, sucking horses’ hooves, wagon wheels, truck tires, and tank treads into gooey mire.  People of Russia – at least those who’ve been allowed to learn their country’s true history – must have an appreciation for Rasputitsa, even as they hunker down and eat borscht until their roads dry up.

If you think ”Rasputitsa”  sounds like the surname of that shadowy figure Gregory Rasputin, you’re right.  But the word itself probably came from the Russian root “put,” which means “road” or “way.”  A “rasputye” is a place where roads converge. “Rasputitsa” came to mean “muddy road season.”

Some people mistakenly believe that Rasputin’s surname means “licentious.” That’s not true, though the guy who is popularly called “the mad monk” was almost certainly that, in his dealings with women of the Court and elsewhere in St. Petersburg.  A similar Russian word, “rasputny” does carry that meaning, and its noun form, “rasputnik,” describes a man who might be described nowadays as a lecher.

Nicholas II

Rasputin is a common name in Russia. But as for the man himself – he was a mysterious character who held mesmeric sway over Alexis, the hemophiliac son and only male heir of the hapless Czar Nicholas II.

Rasputin arrived in St Petersburg from Siberia around 1905. An itinerant preacher, he had a reputation of being able to heal people through prayer. Doctors of the Imperial Court had been unable to help the lad, who was great grandson of Queen Victoria. Rasputin was able to make Alexis feel better, every time the boy hurt himself or began to bleed. It was probably through some form of hypnosis. He may also have used leeches, and he said to stop using aspirin – a good move because aspirin is an anticoagulant that made matters worse.

The Czar called Rasputin as “our friend” and a “holy man.” The trust that built up for him gave the guy a lot of personal and political influence at the court. Local nobility and the Orthodox Church leaders couldn’t stand him, of course, but had a hard time of it because he became an official of the Czar’s administration.  He was accused of many things – unbridled sexual predation, undue influence over the royal family among them.  These allegations were largely accurate.

Czarina Alexandra, of German-Protestant descent, thought God spoke to her through Rasputin.  Rasputin spoke of salvation as depending less on the clergy and the church than on seeking the spirit of God within. He also claimed that yielding to temptation – which for him meant sex and alcohol – was needed to proceed to repentance and salvation.

During the years of World War I, Rasputin’s drunkenness, sexual promiscuity and willingness to accept bribes and having his critics dismissed from their posts showed what kinds of guy he was.  He became the focus of accusations of unpatriotic influence at court. The unpopular Czarina was accused of spying for Germany.  Rasputin was against the war effort; he claimed that he had a revelation that the Russian armies would not be successful until the Czar personally took command.  The bumbling Nicholas did so, with dire consequences.

Alexandra

While Nicholas was away at the front, Rasputin’s influence over Czarina Alexandra increased. He persuaded her to fill governmental offices with his own handpicked candidates. He also cohabited with upper-class women in exchange for granting political favors.  At that same time, Russia’s economy was declining rapidly. Many people blamed Alexandra and Rasputin. A group of conspirators finally murdered him in December 1916 after several attempts – he had been poisoned, shot, beaten, and finally drowned in an icy river.

You know the rest of the sorry history. Russia withdrew from the war, the Bolsheviks seized power, the Czar abdicated and was eventually murdered in the cellar of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg. There followed nearly a century – and counting – of profound evil, mass murder, plunder, pillage and assorted human tragedy wrought by Lenin, Stalin and so many of their successors.

Gregory Rasputin is a bit player on history’s grand stage. But was he really? Nicholas, the wrong man to come to power at an especially wrong time, probably would have screwed things up anyway.  Still, I can’t help but wonder how things might have been different had the imperial court’s doctors been successful in treating the poor little Czarevitch, and if Gregory Rasputin remained out on the steppes, just conning peasants out of their money and their honor. Rasputin may well have influenced the history of the world much more than he deserved to. We’ll never know.

If this story and era are of interest to you, I recommend Nicholas and Alexandra, by Robert K. Massie. The author also had a hemophiliac son, and he decided to research the story of Russia’s last imperial family. It is a good read.

So next time your car is bogged down in the mud of a northern New England spring, remember that it’s just Rasputitsa.  You’ve got it bad for the moment, but it could be worse. Warm days will come, the roads will dry, and you’ll be on your way to the gorgeous scenic vistas of the Green Mountain and Granite States. They’re worth the effort.

And one final editorial comment. The Ipatiev House, a grand edifice in a backwater town in the Urals, remained standing until 1977 when bozo Russky premier Leonid Brezhnev ordered it destroyed, lest it become a revered place and shrine to the Romanovs.  Like most bad guys throughout history, Brezhnev was a craven coward.  He would have fled from a fistfight with Granny Clampett. But what he most feared was the light of truth.

No matter how painful the truth may be – truth from history or in the present day – we must never fear it.  And we must never cease our search for it.

Truth will set us free. It still has not yet set the people of Russia free. But it may yet – and let us hope it does.

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