Historama, July 28

Tonight’s Historama discovers how the Russian Empire spent the money it had received from the sale of Alaska and why Soviet security agents were so fond of poetry.

Alaska found and lost

Today in 1741, Vitus Bering, the Danish explorer in Russia’s service, discovered Alaska.

Read more about Virus Bering on Russiapedia

Peter the Great had ordered an expedition to Russia’s eastern borders – and Bering was assigned to find trade routes to Japan.

Instead, however, he stumbled upon Alaska.

Russia never fully colonized Alaska, so the outpost was never very profitable.

Almost 130 years later, it was sold to America for just 7.2 million dollars, which was the price the Russian Empire had to pay for abolishing serfdom: the money from the sale of Alaska went to compensate landowners for losing their serfs.

Read more on this event in Russian history

Security agents and poetry

On this day in 1958, a statue of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky was unveiled.

Read more about Vladimir Mayakovsky on Russiapedia

It was erected on Triumph Square, now also known as Mayakovskaya Square.

Even before the statue was put into position, Triumph Square was a popular meeting spot. Young people would gather there to read poetry. Later, underground philosophical and political discussions were held there, as well.

However, every third person present was a state security agent. In the early 1960s, the KGB arrested activists at the statue for spreading anti-Soviet ideas. They were sentenced to five years in prison camp.

Read poems by Mayakovsky in our “Russian Literature” section

­“Not a step back!”

On this day in 1942, during the WWII, Soviet command issued order number 277, known as “Not a step back!”.

Later this phrase became a slogan of Soviet resistance against fascists.

The order forbade any commander to fall back without an order. It followed to sad defeats near Kharkov and Rostov-on-Don, which could break the “martial spirit” of the Red Army.

The order introduced sanctions against soldiers who fled the battlefield – they could have been shot dead by specially created “blocking detachments” or forced to join penal battalions.

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