How Kazan Aged Two Centuries in 28 Years
This year, Kazan celebrated its 1000-year anniversary -- and the fruits of that celebration are apparent everywhere. Churches, monuments, shops and hotels have been painstakingly renovated. A brand new subway system opened its doors in August. And busloads of tourists chug around downtown, past billboards proudly proclaiming the jubilee.
So we were surprised when Vladimir Muzychenko told us that in 1977, Kazan had planned its 800-year anniversary. "I even have a couple of souvenir pins," he told us. The celebration was ultimately canceled, but a question remained: how did Kazan manage to age two centuries in 28 years?
The answer seemed filled with intrigue. Some people suggested this was a political "gift" from Russia to Tatarstan -- complete with financial help in sprucing up Kazan. The fact that President Putin allowed Kazan to celebrate being 150 years older than Moscow, we were told, was a political concession unthinkable in Soviet times. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev "figured out how to make all this happen," Vladimir told us. "It's good for Putin, and good for him."
But we heard a more prosaic -- though no less interesting -- reason from Niyaz Khalitov, an archaeologist at the Kazan Kremlin. In the mid-90s, he told us, "we found two coins dating from the 10th century, one from Central Asia, and one Czech coin that was totally unique -- the only one of its kind in the world." From those coins, the archaeologists deduced that Kazan was at least a thousand years old.
Khalitov did admit that the exact year of the city's founding was unknown. "Kazan is probably even older, but a decision was made to mark it as 1000 years," he told us. "It would have been nice to have the celebration in 2000, but it took time to clean up the city and make souvenirs. Then, we thought we might do it in 2003, but St. Petersburg was celebrating its 300-year anniversary that year. So we decided on 2005."
The couple we're staying with here, Roman and Nelya Kupriyanov, have been dream hosts. They've fed us, given us separate rooms to sleep in, and left us alone when we've been hunched over our laptops. Nelya speaks English very well, and they even have cable TV with the BBC. Wow.
I've even gotten some free counseling from Roman, who's a psychologist. This morning, I was telling him about the flame war that has erupted in readers' comments to the blog. It seemed ironic that just as I've been writing about how well Tatars and Russians get along, they've been tearing each other up in the comments.
"People here don't talk openly about these kinds of things," he told me. "It probably helps to maintain stability not to talk about it. Perhaps the fact that you're asking so openly brings up difficult feelings for people." He summed up with a proverb: "Don't scratch if it doesn't itch."
Tomorrow: An update on the family of Zhenya Mamykin, a young soldier who died in Chechnya in 1995.
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