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Ålena Gagarina  Director of Kremlin Museums

This year, for the first time in history, museums of Moscow Kremlin celebrate their 200th anniversary, since the day when they were founded in 1806 by order of tsar Alexander I. Merging of The Mint, The Chamber of Crafts and The Chamber of Weapons became the basis for the national Treasury of Russia. Since then, - notwithstanding devastating fires, wars, political overturns, - the collection has been growing more precious and unique, thus making Kremlin a stronghold of the world culture. However, during some two or three years of Revolution the collection was on the verge of elimination. Commissars of the new historical period had their own plans how to use the pride of the tsars’ epoch. And only timely interference of some people who understood the true value of each object saved the museum from being sold. Now the strategy of accumulating more objects and reclaiming the lost ones remains without changes. In 2001 there was introduced a position of the General Director of Kremlin Museums; and the whole burden of responsibility for managing the complex was put on Elena Yuryevna Gagarina. That was another step to making one of the most guarded objects of Moscow available to all people.
DE I understands that all the secrets of the treasury will never be revealed. However, we feel honoured that we could make a portrait of the person in charge of national property.

DE I: Do you have any preferences about any museums or exhibitions, which you would like to bring to Russia?

E.G.: We have got a number of contacts today, and due to these contacts we now have various opportunities to bring very interesting exhibitions here. Every big museum is famous for its particular collections; however, that what we offer to our partners, as a rule, isn’t any less interesting for them than what they can offer to us.

DE I: Tell us, please, about some legends connected with your exhibits.

E.G.: There are many of those. For example, we’ve got the whole wardrobe of Peter II who was noted for his death from an unknown disease: either pneumonia, or small pox. When somebody wants to choose things for an exhibition, our people usually say: “Do you know what he died from? I would not touch his things if I were you…” Or course this is just a legend. However, our place is genuinely unique. It is here, in the main Russian cathedral, all the coronations were held. From here, after the liturgy, all the great military campaigns started, and here they would come back. All tragedies of the state and struggles for power were also happening here.

DE I: Did it ever happen that an employee of the museum would take an exhibit in order to use it for a while?

E.G.: This is absolutely inadmissible. Certainly, we can take a sabre or a pistol in our hands, but each employee understands that the exhibits are works of art; we are obliged to preserve them and are responsible for their safety.

DE I: Did it ever happen that a government member would express a wish to try the tsar’s clothes on?

E.G.: Such a thing never happened.

DE I: Which collections are preferred by women, and which – by men?

E.G.: Faberge is interesting mostly for women, and the exhibition “Tsar’s hunt” is, quite naturally, interesting for men. We are lucky to have gathered our own audience, who understand that we are not just showing a part of the collection, but we are expressing certain ideas. For example, the present exhibition explores a theme, which was never raised before: the connections of emperors with the Chamber of Weapons. A guest can follow the story, how each governor made his or her personal contribution to this collection. Peter I wanted the trophies of his victories to be here, and Empress Anna Ioannovna, who loved hunting, mostly gave weapons.

DE I: In your opinion, what kinds of objects should be included in the collection today?

E.G.: I think that here should be objects directly associated with the tsar’s court and ceremonies. But for development of the museum, we certainly need some modern collections. It seems to me that there are two guidelines here: modern signature weapons and jewellery masterpieces. We are also creating a collection of new Russian orders of merit. Unfortunately our traditions get always interrupted, and we have to restore them again and again in a completely new environment; still a museum is a guardian of traditions. A museum is a rather conservative structure. Knowledge and skills of preserving things are passed from one generation to another; therefore the rules of a museum should remain unchanged. On the other hand, it is certainly necessary to keep up to date and introduce new technologies.

DE I: What do you consider to be your main task?

E.G.: We made a complete electronic catalogue of exhibits of Kremlin Museums, and we’ve already started publishing the general catalogue of our collection. It is a very complex work taking a lot of time and effort, and it will take us many years to do it, yet it needs to be done. Such a piece of work was once accomplished in XIX century, but then there were only 9000 exhibits in the collection; now we have some 100 000 items in storage. To assemble and systematize all the collections, and to publish the results of recent scientific researches with proper explanations is extremely important both for me and for my colleagues. We will do our best. I may say, this is that we want to leave behind.

DE I: What are your other interests beyond your main professional activity?

E.G.: A lot of things. For example the relationship between people and ways of behaviour of different people, in unexpected circumstances. I am interested in people’s reactions, people’s perception and the parallels they try to draw. I enjoy observing all this from a distance, and I try to analyse. For example, our scientists may suggest a completely new view of seemingly well-known historical events. I am also interested in how various values are understood in different cultures.

DE I: You, probably, have a very special attitude to symbols?

E.G.: Guests often ask to explain, what is a symbol. Actually everything around us is soaked with symbols and the Kremlin itself, like any medieval construction, is a symbolic place. In fact, any piece of art, starting from the earliest ones, contains its own symbolic code. Every flower on a picture, every animal or bird - are deeply symbolical, and their interaction in the frame produces a whole plot. I think that any event that happens to a person is not random. A person is given a chance to change his or her fate in this life, and various signs are sent with a purpose; signs which this person can notice if he/she wants. We have to take decisions, and we should understand how they affect our life and our way of thinking. Though, it is impossible to foresee everything one hundred percent, but one should not ignore these things either. That’s why, before undertaking an action, I observe everything that is going on around me; yet, keep this in mind, I am not at all a mystic.

DE I: Does it mean that you think that everybody needs to know symbols?

E.G.: Of course. The more a person knows, the easier is his or her life. The division into male and female halves in the humankind is not coincidental. Men, as everybody knows, think logically, and women think intuitively. Philosopher Bocle used to say that a perfect human being should use both ways of thinking. But for a man to start thinking intuitively there should be strong female influence in his life. By the way, there are many historical examples of such people: Emperor Octavian Augustus, Isaac Newton, Dmitry Mendeleyev – all of them were under strong influence of women. So, they took their decisions using intuition, and then they were checking it by means of logic. An insight always comes through intuition, and the logical analysis of the idea begins later. Unfortunately, a modern man doesn’t see symbolical events, because he doesn’t participate in ceremonies. Even during new historical time there were symbolic ceremonies going on: parades on the Red Square on November the 7th and on May the 9th. Now the state is hardly showing its power, not only the power of suppression, but also the power of care about its own citizens. Another thing is that such events unite people. Nowadays it is important to not only speak about something, but also demonstrate it.

DE I: What, in your opinion, should be the national idea of Russia?

E.G.: Why do we have to find the national idea? Russia always was an empire with one strong power in the centre, and we don’t have to look for anything better. Now people often speak about development of culture as the national idea. It is, surely, an important issue, but it is not fit for playing the role of a unifying principle for a whole nation. To feel secure is much more important for people, than to have a national idea. The power of the state is estimated by the quality of life of children and old people. And here we are far from ideal. First of all, social programs are important, for a hungry person will never go to a museum, nor will he be interested in culture. Still, I didn’t mean to say that first everyone should be fed, and only then taught. But, first of all, people need to feel safe and to be cared for by the state, and to feel involved into what’s going on. In spite of the fact that history often repeats itself, in these very times of repetition it might take, all of a sudden, a completely different turning.

© DE I / DESILLUSIONIST #-1.  “Interview with Director of Kremlin museums Ålena Gagarina”

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