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#31 - JRL 2007-88 - JRL Home
Kennan Institute
April 2, 2007
event summary
Vladivostok: Russia's Window to the East

In the case of Vladivostok, we need to take in not just the warts but the whole face, said Birgitta Ingemanson, associate professor, Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures, Washington State University, at a Kennan Institute talk. To understand Vladivostok (or Russia, for that matter) it is necessary to see a holistic picture and not allow ourselves to be content with oversimplified, extreme impressions, she explained. Vladivostok, Ingemanson continued, is often perceived either as a mysterious, closed fortress or as a wild, salmon-consuming, merry place, but it is neither one nor the other, exclusively. It is a blenda complex city full of conflicting characteristics.

Ingemanson then described some of Vladivostoks less well-known characteristics. For example, the city is located right at the junction of two extreme and opposite climates. This meeting of climates brings with it contrasting weather such as typhoons and cold that is often colder than Moscow winters, she said. Ginseng, lotus flowers, and elm trees share the same forests in the surrounding areas, Ingemanson noted, as do bears, elks, tigers, and leopards. The architecture of the city is also interesting, juxtaposing Gothic, Art Noveau, and Old Russian Style buildings.

With all of Vladivostoks extremes, however, it is easy to overlook aspects of everyday life in the city, without which we would miss the fuller picture, Ingemanson warned. From diaries, interviews, and letters, including 2,100 letters written by an American woman living in Vladivostok from 1894 to 1930, she cited select excerpts to piece together a closer view of Vladivostok. The letters reveal glimpses of real life in Vladivostok such as: a German-speaking child asking for chocolate during a religious ceremony in the Lutheran Church in the early 1900s; the destruction of the Nikolai Arch; children playing in the remaining shell of the closed Assumption Cathedral in the early 1930s; the averted suicide of the daughter of a so-called Enemy of the People in 1937; elderly women scolding children for picking flowers in the central square in the late 1940s; the announcement of Stalins death coinciding with a boys 13th birthday in 1953; and teenagers excitedly congregating for dances at the Railroad Workers Club in the late 1950s.

Through this small sample of letters, Ingemanson showed a diversity and richness of Vladivostok that would otherwise remain unknown. Vladivostok has a rich history and unique character, and the very fact that it is located at such a great distance from the western part of Russia contributes to this, she asserted. Although far from Western Russia, Vladivostok is firmly rooted in the middle of the world of China, Japan, and the Korean peninsula. Much can be gained from taking a closer look at Russias Window to the East, Ingemanson concluded.