Berezowsky, Rizal’s Russian friend
After checking the weather in Moscow (cold and rainy), and reading up on the capital’s history (bloody and exciting), I looked up early Russian-Philippine historical relations as conversation starters with students and academics at Moscow State University and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, where I am to deliver lectures on Philippine history as arranged by our Ambassador Carlos D. Sorreta and his charming wife Consuelo.
By force of habit, I turned to Rizal, even if I knew he had never visited Russia. But, since he had traveled to so many countries and places in the West, with stopovers in Singapore, Hong Kong, Yokohama, Colombo, Aden, Eygpt, and other exotic destinations off the beaten path for even today’s Filipino tourists and OFWs, surely there must be a Russian connection, even a footnote, to be found somewhere in the 25 volumes of his writings.
Rizal did meet and befriend a Russian named Berezowsky on a trip from Marseille to Hong Kong from Oct. 18 to Nov. 20, 1891. I do not know the Russian’s first name, but I have seen his calling card along with the many Rizal artifacts received and kept over the years. It was in Cyrillic, and Rizal or Berezowsky wrote the name on the card in the Roman alphabet.
On Nov. 1, 1891, a Sunday, Rizal wrote in his journal: “Last night I had a conversation with a Russian naturalist about the political condition of my country. He asked me if I am a patriot. Not much, I said. He asked if my country is unfortunate and I answered him by asking what constitutes the misfortune of a country, if his own was unfortunate. He said: ‘The Russian is unfortunate for lack of education; he does not cultivate his land well for lack of education.’ We talked about the socialism of Leo Tolstoy. I asked him what end he pursues and he said to me that it seems he oscillates, that he is a man of vast talent but he has no direction yet. Speaking about the difference in character of the Europeans in the colonies and those in Europe, he said to me: ‘Of course, for they (the Europeans in the colonies) think only of filling their pockets.’ He said that socialism has ideas but the others none. I told him that I would prefer to attack the defects of a government to those of a race.”
We all know how Rizal ended up, and after my short trip to Russia, I hope to be able to report a bit more on this Mr. Berezowsky.
There were only a handful of Russians who visited the Spanish Philippines in the 19th century. Two left travel accounts: Fedor Petrovich Lutke, who visited Manila as part of a trip around the world from 1826 to 1829, during the reign of Tsar Nicholas I, on the frigate Seniavine; and Ivan Goncharov, whose 10-day visit to Manila in 1854 formed part of a travelogue titled “The Voyage of the Frigate Pallada.”
Pierre Dobel, one of the French traders in Manila who served unofficially as the Russian consul, published in 1838 a small book titled “Seven Years in China: New Observations About this Empire, the Indo-Chinese Archipelago, the Philippines and the Sandwich Islands.” It was translated from the original Russian into French by Prince Emmanuel Galitzin.
From an obscure Russian navigator named V. M. Golovin who visited Manila in 1817 on the ship Ne Tron Ménia, to the most important Russian visitor, Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich Romanov of Russia, supreme commander of the Russian Navy, who visited in 1891, there is a lot that needs to be researched and written up after my trip. I have held on to archival documents on the visit of the Russian Grand Duke for many years, and now is the time to read them.
All I know is that the Grand Duke made a short trip outside Manila — to Sulipan, a now obscure town by the river that forms the natural division between Bulacan, where eggs are called itlog, and Pampanga, where eggs are called ebun, the misspelled Tagalog word for bird.
Alexei was invited to a now legendary ball thrown by Capitan Joaquin Arnedo (1815-1897), whose rather ordinary narra sectional dining table was recently sold at auction for a tidy sum, solely on account of this imperial footnote. In gratitude, Alexei gifted Arnedo with a French monogrammed table service, now displayed at the DLSU Museum in Cavite.
So if one were to scratch the surface of Russian-Philippine historical relations, you will find a lot.
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