Posted by abu ameerah on Saturday, September 8, 2007
A historical look at the intersection between mental instability and true religious fanaticism. Ivan Vasilyevich IV, or “Ivan the Terrible” as he later came to be known, plunged Russia into one of its darkest periods in history. Ivan IV gained notoriety, and infamy, for being Russia’s first Czar (Tsar) as well as one of the most brutal rulers in its history. Ivan’s cruelty toward his enemies, and his own people, almost seems something of legend. After all, history is indeed full of countless dictators and ruthless leaders.
However, Ivan the Terrible’s “iron fisted” rule seemed to take tyranny and human savagery to rarely (before) seen depths in early modern times. With disturbing precision, Ivan personally oversaw the torture and execution of tens of thousands of Russians that he percieved as his enemies. Ivan’s bloodthirstiness only grew with each day of his nightmarish reign and the executions he participated in turned more and more into sadistic orgies of violence, torture and brutal inhumanity. Ivan’s “purges” of Russia were cruel, yet calculated, and were designed to instill the utmost level of fear into his subjects. Enemies weren’t simply slated for execution by the Czar…but they were to be tortured and so violated that Ivan would forever be regarded as something more than a mere despot or iron fisted ruler. Ivan would ultimately be regarded — by many of his terrified subjects & political rivals — as the bringer of death for 16th century Russia.
His enemies, which included an enormous list of nearly every cross section of 16th century Russia, were eliminated in some of the most horrendous ways. Ivan’s tortures seemed to be rooted in his obsessive reading of the Bible. One might even argue that, in a strange way, his Biblical tortures were an affront to the very religion he claimed devout adherence to. In that sense, Ivan the Terrible’s awful reign presents us with a number of contradictions. What is certain though is that Russia was never to be the same after the death of Ivan Vasilyevich IV.
A few thoughts I was left with after watching these videos:
1. Ivan the Terrible comes across as more than histories “usual” despot. Rather he seems more like what we might describe today as a serial killer. Only this serial killer had the legitimacy of political rule.
2. Ivan’s seige of Kazan marks one of Russia’s earliest campaigns against Muslims. I could be wrong here.. and I probably am. However, I am correct in stating that Ivan IV was the first Czar to have ever fought against Muslims in any territory.
3. The striking similarities of Ivan’s reign compared with the brutal grip on power held by the Communists during the Cold War. While there are similarities that I will briefly mention in a moment…there is at least one basic difference (I think). Ivan IV’s reign of terror over his subjects reflected, to some degree, his sadistic personal desires. Ivan, after all, was known to not only have personally participated in the gruesome torture and execution of his victims — but he was known to take pleasure and delight out of it as well. The Communists on the other hand, though equally as ruthless and brutal as Ivan, saw executions as something more political and routine in nature. Theirs was a job that involved the elimination/extermination of any, and all, enemies of the state as part of a national duty (or broader national strategy) and not necessarily as part of any personal agenda (this may be a point of contention for some who will raise the spector of Joseph Stalin whose paranoia and ruthlessness seems to have rivaled that of Ivan). Communists’s saw their role in forever silencing all opposition as part of a noble goal — the establishment of a utopian Socialist society in Russia (formerly USSR) and beyond. ANYWAY…I could ramble on…here are the possible similarities:
a. The employment of a secret force to eliminate political opposition…
b. The use of “purges” to eliminate any, and all, opposition…
c. Paranoid leadership…
d. “Iron fisted” rule…
Ivan the Terrible – Part 1
Ivan the Terribe – Part 2
Ivan the Terrible – Part 3