Click on the link below for a great excerpt from "Dreams of a Great Small Nation" to which the journal added their own great maps and photos that do not appear in the book.
"Radio Prague" broadcast two English-language interviews of me, both of which can be accessed with the two links below, which lead to both audio and text files of the interviews.
"Russian Life" magazine publishes an excerpt from the book in its May/June 2016 issue on the inadvertent role of the Czecho-Slovak Legion in Moscow's decision to murder Tsar Nicholas II and his family.
The photo above shows me on a hydrofoil on the Amur River at Khabarovsk, on the Russian-Chinese border, in the summer of 1993, during a trip across the Russian Far East on the Trans-Siberian Railway, during which I first learned about the Czecho-Slovak Legion. Significant fighting between the legionnaires and Red Army forces occurred in 1918 along the Trans-Siberian at Khabarovsk. The Chinese call the Amur River the "Black Dragon River," the title of a new book by Dominic Ziegler (Penguin Press, 2015). The new Russian flag flutters behind me, a novelty in that Russia wasn't eager to rid itself of Soviet statues and insignia. I purchased an old Soviet flag as a souvenir but it was ripped from my grip by the fierce winds atop another hydrofoil speeding across Lake Baikal; my beloved Soviet souvenir lies at the bottom of the lake.
At Urusha station, I posed with the engine that pulled our 23 cars roughly 2,000 miles eastward from Irkutsk, near Lake Baikal, to Khabarovsk, along Russia’s borders with Mongolia and China. One hundred years ago, “Red” and “White” forces battled for thousands of miles along the Trans-Siberian in the Russian Civil War, which followed the Bolshevik seizure of power and was immortalized in Boris Pasternak’s novel, Doctor Zhivago. The Czecho-Slovak Legion was the strongest armed unit of many Russian and foreign forces deployed across Siberia in a confusing welter. One of my strongest memories is of station stops in the dead of night, when Stalin-era loudspeakers barked and crackled boarding instructions, which echoed eerily through the rail yards, prompting baggage-laden Russians to run for their trains, footsteps crunching wildly on the gravel rail beds.
Soviet insignia remained affixed to our olive-green cars, though I noticed newer Russian emblems on some trains. Ironically, most if not all of the engines and cars of the Trans-Siberian Railway came to be made, during Soviet times, in Czecho-Slovakia, the nation founded by the legionnaires who seized the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1918. From the windows of the train, one spotted some arresting images, such as the lone soldier, an AK-47 resting on his shoulder, standing guard at a very primitive wood-and-barbed-wire gate standing between two mud-rutted roads that appeared to lead nowhere. Primitive homes of peasant families dotted the lonely landscape, surrounded by endless green or golden fields hosting mounds of hay, men slicing its golden shoots with long wooden scythes, and smoke from crumpled chimneys curling upwards to meet the soft, white clouds descending from low mountains.
A view of Lake Baikal, near the mouth of the Angara River (toward the right). Baikal’s four-hundred-mile-long, crescent-shaped gash in Siberia’s tectonic plates holds a lake whose surface is larger than Belgium. Its depths hold one-fifth of the world’s fresh water. Baikal drains the Russian heartland, swallowing all of the 336 rivers and streams that feed it, and only the Angara River drains it, sending Baikal’s waters roaring past the city of Irkutsk into the western interior. The original Trans-Siberian Railway burrowed along the southwestern shores of Lake Baikal – seen in the distance in this photo – through 39 tunnels, which Soviet forces began to dynamite as they fled the advancing legionnaires.
Along the shore of Lake Baikal, an elderly man carries water past St. Nicholas, the small Russian Orthodox Church in the village of Listvyanka. Here and in nearby Port Baikal, fierce fighting took place between Soviet forces fleeing eastward, and the legionnaires, who were in hot pursuit.
In 1993, this was the only kind of “fast food” available at stops along the Trans-Siberian Railway. While wealthier people, tourists included, enjoyed a dining car, these babushkas, who were photographed outside the small town of Arkhara, just north of the Chinese border, sell basic produce to the Russians who tend to occupy the majority of Trans-Siberian cars, which have no eating accommodations. Walking through these cars, I spotted a young Mongolian man, shirtless, devouring a complete, raw fish, its head and tail in his hands, his mouth covered in shiny silver scales. Most of the babushkas used old baby carriages to move their produce to and from the stations. The longest stops were 15 minutes; many were 5 minutes. Veteran riders never wandered far from the trains.
A woman who was likely a government employee reads a newspaper inside a museum in Khabarovsk, a city of about 600,000 that dominates the northern banks of the enormous Amur River, south of which lies China. This museum was devoted in part to the glories of the Bolshevik coup and subsequent Russian Civil War, which led to the triumph of Soviet power across the old Russian empire and beyond. Helped along by decades of Soviet-sponsored "history," many people still confuse the genuine Russian Revolution of March 1917 (February under the old Russian calendar) with the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks the following November (October in Russia).
Another woman illustrates a different way to spend one’s time, with a different set of idols. This church is located inside the Znamensky Monastery, outside of Irkutsk, near the juncture of the Angara and Ushakovka Rivers. At a nearby stone prison, the White “counter-revolutionary” commander, Admiral Aleksandr V. Kolchak, was imprisoned, interrogated, and executed at dawn on February 7, 1920, to the wails of his mistress. His body was shoved into a hole in the ice of the Ushakokva. Today, a statue of Kolchak stands outside the monastery. The monastery has long hosted a stone memorial to Grigory Shelikov, the Irkutsk native and “Russian Columbus” who established a fur-trading post on Kodiak Island in 1784 and later served as the first Russian governor-general of Alaska.
A typically picturesque carved window on a home along one of the older streets in Irkutsk, known for its charming wooden homes. Russian playwright Anton Chekhov is said to have called Irkutsk "the Paris of Siberia," but perhaps his sarcasm did not translate from the Russian. Josef Stalin was only the most famous of the many persons to have been banished here before the revolution, Soviet forces fled this city ahead of advancing Czecho-Slovak legionnaires in 1918, but as they subsequently retreated eastward toward Vladivostok, Admiral Kolchak was taken into custody by Soviet forces here in 1920.
A more modern street in Irkutsk, whose only charm at this time emanated from the pre-revolutionary buildings lining the road. Note the lack of stores or signs of any kind. Not yet two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the streetscapes retained a basic and dreary look. Outside of the downtown, Soviet-style apartment blocks created an even bleaker landscape. Yet Irkutsk lies on the Angara River, the one tributary which drains beautiful Lake Baikal, about a 45-mile drive east.
Perhaps drawn by the cars and trolleys bouncing along nearby streets, a bourgeois-looking Vladimir Lenin persistently tries to hail a cab near the intersection of Marx and Lenin streets in Irkutsk, seemingly never discouraged by the lack of interest. Every town and city had at least one Lenin statute, and this pose was a favorite, despite the fact that the figure looks like he just emerged from the smoking room of the finest club of imperialist exploiters.