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New Left Review 14, March-April 2002

Tony Wood on Laurence Kelly, Diplomacy and Murder in Tehran. The strange career of Alexander Griboyedov, Russia’s satirist playwright and predator envoy to Persia.



In the confused interregnum following the death of Tsar Alexander I in December 1825, a group of conspirators dedicated to the introduction of a liberal constitution decided their moment had come. Members of the ‘Northern Society’—largely officers from the Imperial Army’s elite regiments—persuaded the men under their command to refuse to take the oath of allegiance to the future Nicholas I, and a crowd of 3,000 soldiers assembled on Senate Square in St Petersburg. There followed the tragic debacle of what came to be known as the Decembrist rebellion which, after several of its leaders lost their nerve or fled the scene, was rapidly and forcefully crushed by the new tsar; two weeks later a rising orchestrated by the ‘Southern Society’ in the Ukraine, in belated and ill-informed support of the revolt in the capital, was similarly despatched. Five of the ringleaders were executed; over a hundred of the conspirators were sentenced to hard labour or exile in Siberia; still others, who knew one or more Decembrists from the officers’ clubs, literary salons and theatres of St Petersburg, Moscow or Kiev, were dragged in for interrogation in the dank cells of the Peter and Paul Fortress on the Neva.

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Tony Wood, ‘Woe to the Victor’, NLR 14: £3

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