Saint Petersburg wasn’t really the headliner of my trip to Russia, and perhaps that was a mistake due to the hastily planned nature of my excursion. Looking back, I knew little of the city, but I would argue I knew little of pretty much everything else; therefore, it wasn’t all that unusual. Regardless, I did know a couple of things about the place before my arrival from Moscow by the Russian high-speed rail, Sapsan.
Thanks to the general male pre-occupation with war history, I learned that Saint Petersburg used to be called Leningrad during the communist era. "World War II in Colour" on Netflix conveyed the city's dire circumstances of being surrounded by the Germans during the Second World War. The condition was predictably horrid and it was one of the most devastating siege of a city in modern history. During my unguided tour of the city, I didn't notice any physical wounds of the war, but perhaps, I was simply ignorant to the signs. The city reverted back to the name of Saint Petersburg after the end of the communist regime in Russia.
Another interesting Saint Petersburg fact actually had to do with a Hollywood movie. One of my favourite childhood movies, The Hunt for Red October, is actually linked to the city. If you haven't seen the movie, I would request that you administer 10 lashings to yourself before proceeding. You are definitely missing out! In the movie, a state-of-the-art Russian nuclear submarine was under the command of a captain who was intending on defecting to the West. The movie follows the treacherous and riveting journey of the submarine and its crew. The Hunt for Red October started its life as a Tom Clancy novel, and the story was actually inspired by a true event.
Soviet frigate Storozhevoy was seized in 1975 by the ship's political commissar, Valery Sablin. Sablin, a strong believer in socialist values, planned on taking the warship to Leningrad. Once in port, he wanted to moor the the frigate next to the Aurora, which was a symbol of the Russian Revolution. Sablin would then broadcast his message stating his belief that the "... motherland were in danger; that the ruling authorities were up to their necks in corruption, demagoguery, graft, and lies, leading the country into an abyss; that the ideals of Communism had been discarded; and that there was a pressing need to revive Leninist principles of justice." Sablin believed that the "Soviet system to have essentially sold out", and he was hoping to incite a revolution to overthrow a broken system. Sablin did not succeed and was later executed.
As I looked over the water, it was hard not to think of the city being the intended destination of Storozhevoy, and what could have potentially happened if he made it there. Would the world still be the same place today? Sablin believed he was doing the right thing and he gambled his life on the cause. The pessimist in me believes that regardless of whether the system was the Leninist principles at the time, the modern the communist regimes, or even the self-absorbing western democracy, all system corrupts by the simple virtue of entrusting the administration to the power-hungry elites. Unfortunately, we too, should witness the Sablin of our own in time.