This Month in History
Compiled by Maria Barleben and Annet Kulyagina
April 3, 1975: Bobby Fischer refuses to play in a chess match against Soviet chessmaster Anatoly Karpov, giving Karpov the world champion title by default.
When the World Chess Federation rejects Fischer’s proposals for rule changes in the championship matches, the eccentric American chess whiz withdraws from the competition, ceding the title to Karpov. Although Fischer resigned his title, he insisted he was still the true world chess champion.
April 7, 1917: Vladimir Lenin’s April Theses are published in Pravda.
The Bolshevik newspaper publishes Lenin’s text in which he outlines the fundamental principles of a proletarian revolution in Russia. Known as the April Theses, the document becomes the ideological foundation of the Bolshevik program and is often considered the official start of the movement that would become the October Revolution.
April 9, 1699: Russian Tsar Peter I issues a decree “On observing cleanliness in Moscow and on the penalty for throwing litter and dung into streets and lanes.”
Tverskaya is flooded by stinking streams of effluent that run into Okhotny Ryad. The Kremlin is full of noisome garbage. Recognizing the healththreat that unsanitary conditions pose to the Russian capital, Peter the Great addresses the problem with a decree establishing special areas for the disposal of refuse, and the public garbage can is born. Soon after, a sewage system is constructed in the city.
April 7, 1994: RUnet’s birthday.
Starting in the mid-1980s, the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy spearheaded a campaign to connect major Soviet scientific institutions by modem. In the autumn of 1990, the first Soviet Internet domain was registered: .su. By 1994, the Soviet Union had collapsed, prompting the establishment of the new .ru Internet domain. The first site registered in the .ru domain — www.1-9-9-4.ru — is still online!
April 12, 1961: Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human to travel into space.
Gagarin’s flight into the “final frontier” is a watershed event in the history of human scientific achievement. It takes the Soviet cosmonaut 108 minutes to orbit the Earth in the Vostok space capsule before returning safely to the USSR’s Baikonur Cosmodrome. The Soviet Union proudly broadcasts its news around the world; the United States responds to the Soviet success by redoubling its efforts at rapid technological advancement. A few weeks after Gagarin’s voyage, U.S. President John F. Kennedy announces to a joint session of Congress the nation’s goal to put an American on the moon “before the decade is out.” Yury Gagarin remains a hero in Russia.
April 14, 1930: Soviet poet Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky commits suicide.
April 15, 1956: Moscow’s Sovremennik Theater premieres Viktor Rozov’s play Forever Alive
Mayakovsky was found shot in his Moscow apartment, located at 3 Lubyansky Proezd. Known for his rhythmic prose and declamatory recitation style, the 36-year-old poet had been the voice of the Revolution and his work at the avant-garde of both art and propaganda in early Soviet Russia. Today he is buried in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery (see story, page 14), and the square and metro station near Triumfalnaya Ploshchad in bear his name.
A group of young Moscow Art Theater graduates’ staging of the work is considered to be the beginning of the Krushchevera thaw (in Russian, ottepel). In a departure from the dictates of Stalinist Socialist Realism, Rozov’s play offers a truly realistic view of characters experiencing such tragedies of Soviet history as war and persecution. In 1957, the play was immortalized in a screen adaptation directed by Mikhail Kolotozov, The Cranes are Flying.
April 19, 1563: Work begins on the first printed book in Russia.
In 1553, Ivan IV, also known as Ivan the Terrible, orders the construction of a building in Moscow dedicated to book printing (today a plaque marks the spot on Nikolskaya Street near the Kremlin). In April, 1563, Ivan Fyodorov, considered one of the founders of Russian printing, commenced work on the first known printed book in Russian. The Acts and Epistles of the Apostles took nearly a year to complete. Its publication on March 1, 1564, marked the beginning of a long tradition in Russia of love and respect for the printed word.
April 22, 1870: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin is born.
Born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, the extraordinary politician and revolutionary, took the name Lenin in the 1890s when he devoted himself to the revolutionary movement. The main leader of the October Revolution in 1917 and the first leader of the Soviet Union, Lenin was a supremely familiar, if not always admired, figure for generations of Soviet citizens. In the Soviet Union, Lenin’s birthday was marked with reverence, and it imparted a solemnity and importance to events chosen to take place on the day. For example, it was on April 22 each year that outstanding candidates for the Soviet youth organization the Young Pioneers were inducted.
April 26, 1755: Moscow University opens.
In January 1755, Russian Empress Elizabeth, at the behest of one of her favorites, Ivan Shuvalov, issued an order to create a university in Moscow. Three months later, the institution opened in the building just off Red Square that today houses the State Historical Museum. Quickly outgrowing these premises, the university soon moved to the yellow stone building that we know today on Mokhovaya Street.
April 26, 1986: Chernobyl Tragedy
Reactor Number 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explodes, sending tons of radioactive material into the air. The scope of the tragedy was impossible to conceal and thus became an important test of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s commitment to his policy of glasnost, or openness, which allowed for greater freedom of expression in the USSR. For a profile of the town of Chernobyl today, see “Chernobyl: A Visit to a City Preserved in Radiation” on page 14 of Passport’s March 2008 issue.