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Isolated Russia celebrates the tsar who opened the ‘window on Europe’

#Isolated #Russia #celebrates #tsar #opened #window #Europe

More than three centuries after he tried to bring Russia closer to Europe, Russians on Thursday celebrated the 350th birthday of Tsar Peter the Great, with the country deeply isolated over the Ukraine conflict.

Inspired by the time he spent abroad, Peter made great efforts during his reign from 1682 to 1725 to modernize his vast and underdeveloped nation, most notably establishing Saint Petersburg as Russia’s “window on Europe”.

To mark the anniversary of Peter’s birth on June 9, 1672, celebrations are being held in his eponymous city and in Moscow, with President Vladimir Putin attending a new exhibition in the capital called Peter the Great: The Birth of the Empire.

With relations between Russia and the West shaken by Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, authorities downplay Peter’s affinity for Europe, focusing instead on his role in expanding Russian territories and consolidating state power.

“As an outstanding statesman, military leader and patriot, he dedicated his whole life to serving the fatherland,” Putin, himself a Saint Petersburg native, said in a statement marking the anniversary this week.

Traveling to Europe as a young man inspired Peter to transform Russia into a major European power.

During his reign, he implemented far-reaching political, military, and social reforms aimed at westernizing Russia, turning the country into a naval power, and vastly expanding its territory.

He also tolerated little dissent, brutally crushing a rebellion in 1698 by torturing and publicly executing more than 1,000 rebels.

“Peter I can be an emblematic figure for both supporters of European-style liberalism and supporters of the ‘strong state,'” Petersburg historian and journalist Daniel Kotsubinsky told AFP.

“The current authorities will emphasize his role as a strongman of the state,” he said.

– ‘Close the window’ –

The conflict in Ukraine, in which Moscow sent troops to the pro-Western country at the end of February, has left Russia more isolated from the West than at any time in its history.

Flights to the European Union have been banned, sanctions have cut off Russians from Western imports and Western retailers, from McDonald’s and Starbucks to clothing retailers H&M and Zara, have closed their doors.

Ahead of the anniversary on Thursday, Russian social media was awash with comments asking what happened to Peter’s vision.

Memes doing the rounds feature photos of the tsar, sometimes in a montage with Putin, and slogans like “Peter, I’ve opened the window to Europe, Putin will close it” or “Close the window to Europe, the view is terrible.”

Asked recently about the anniversary, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, insisted that the window remain open.

“No one is planning to close anything,” he told reporters.

For the Russian historian Boris Kipnis, “regardless of the historical circumstances, if we leave the path taken by Peter I, we will ruin the country and the people.”

“Russia is a European country,” he said.

Despite the tensions, Saint Petersburg native Svetlana Stepanova, 47, said she plans to enjoy Thursday’s celebrations.

“Peter I made Russia a great power, Putin also wants to see a great Russia,” she said. “That’s the most important.”

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#Isolated #Russia #celebrates #tsar #opened #window #Europe

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