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This Month in History
Compiled by Drew Ingersoll

July 3, 1996: Boris Yeltsin defeats Gennady Zyuganov in a run-off of the Russian presidential election.

Heading into the June 16, 1996, presidential election, incumbent Boris Yeltsin’s chances for reelection looked slim. The skyrocketing infl ation and disintegrating social services that had made life more difficult for most Russians helped presidential challenger and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov garner popular support with a strong grassroots campaign. When the first round of balloting left neither candidate with the absolute majority required for victory, a run-off election was scheduled. The Yelstsin campaign secured the backing of key players who bankrolled his campaign and guaranteed positive media coverage. Yeltsin also received a boost from the announcement of a $10 billion loan to the Russian government from the International Monetary Fund. In the run-off on July 3,
Yeltsin won 53.8% of the vote to Zyuganov’s 40.3%, with the remainder of voters casting ballots “against all.” 

July 3-5, 1917: July Days Riots in Petrograd

The spontaneous pro-Soviet demonstration occurred on the streets of Petrograd when discontented workers started protests against the Russian Provisional Government. The news of a failed military off ensive on the World War I battlefield infl amed the already intense anti-war feelings among the populace. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, took the opportunity to stir support for the revolution, promising “peace, land, and bread” under a communist system. The insurrection came to an end, however, when troops loyal to the Provisional Government were dispatched. Following the end of the riots, arrests of leading Bolsheviks were called for, prompting Lenin to flee to Finland.

July 13, 1762: The Russian Imperial Guard seizes power from Peter III, declaring Catherine II Empress of Russia.

After marrying Grand Duke Peter in 1745, Catherine proved to be a powerful political figure in Russia, gaining many political allies. In July 1762, her husband, Peter, now tsar, committed the political error of retiring to Oranienbaum, leaving his ambitious wife in St. Petersburg. In a bloodless coup that was supported by the Imperial Guard, Peter was deposed and Catherine installed as ruler of Russia. Her accession manifesto justifi ed her succession by citing “unanimous election” by the nation. During her reign, which lasted from 1762 until her death in 1796, Catherine the Great was an example of the “enlightened despot.”

July 15, 1904: Anton Chekhov dies. 

July 17, 1918: Tsar Nicholas II is executed.

“If Medicine is my lawful wife, then Literature is my mistress,” said Anton Chekhov, who began writing short, humorous sketches and vignettes of contemporary Russian life to support himself and his family while attending school. After becoming a physician, he made little money, often dispensing treatment to the poor free of charge. He began to focus on writing, and aft er being commissioned to write his first play, Ivanov, he went on to author many other classics including Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard. Always modest, Chekhov could hardly have imagined the extent of his posthumous reputation. Ovations for The Cherry Orchard in the year of his death demonstrated the heights to which he had risen in the esteem of the Russian public — he had become second in literary celebrity only to Lev Tolstoy.

 By the spring of 1917, Russia was on the verge of total collapse. The country was in the grips of hyperinflation and open dissent against the tsar. After Nicholas’ forced abdication in March 1917, he and his family were placed under house arrest by the Provisional Government. In April 1918, the family was imprisoned in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg. As the counterrevolutionary White Movement gathered strength, leading to full-scale civil war by the summer, Nicholas, Alexandra, their children, their physician, and three servants were taken to a basement room and shot at 2:33 a.m. on July 17. An official announcement appeared in the national press two days later. In 1981 Nicholas and his immediate family were canonized as saints by the Russian Orthodox Church. 

The Cherry Orchard
Royal Lyceum Theater, England
Courtesy of stage designer Colin Winslow


July 20, 1942: Dmitri Shostakovich is featured on the cover of Time.

Shostakovich had finished his Seventh Symphony in October 1941, during the siege of Leningrad by the Nazis. Depicting a heroic struggle against adversity that Shostakovich described as the “victory of light over darkness, of humanity over barbarism,” the “Leningrad” symphony was adopted in both the USSR and in the West as a symbol of Russian resistance during WWII. Thus, in anticipation of its July 26, 1942, premiere in a United States that was by that time also at war, the news magazine put the composer on its cover. The work was not Shostakovich’s only contribution to the war effort, however. He also served as a fire warden, delivering radio broadcasts to the Soviet people. After the war, Shostakovich continued to compose and taught at the Leningrad Conservatory until his death in August 1975. Today he is regarded as “the most popular composer of serious art music of the middle years of the 20th century.”

July 24, 1959: The Moscow Kitchen Debate

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon exchanged angry words at the model kitchen exhibit of the U.S. Trade and Cultural Fair in Sokolniki Park, Moscow. The debate, intended as a discussion of ideas about evolving technologies such as color television and modern household conveniences, quickly dissolved into name-calling from both sides. When Nixon proclaimed, “In America, we like to make life easier for women,” Krushchev retorted that America’s “capitalistic attitude toward women does not occur under communism.” Nevertheless, Khrushchev ended the debate urging the two sides to seek agreement. The exchange was part of a period marked with rising Cold War tension that began with Sputnik in 1957 and reached a peak in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

July 28, 1966: Portugal 2, USSR 1

Coached by Nikolai Petrovich Morozov and led by Lev Yashin’s stellar goalkeeping, the USSR dominated its fi rst-round pool in the 1966 FIFA World Cup, winning all three of its matches. After defeating Hungary in the quarterfinals, the Soviet team was upset by West Germany in the semis. A loss to Portugal in the third-place match left the Soviet Union with a 4th-place finish, Russia’s best to date.


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