There have been few exhibitions more justly dear, in every respect, to the hearts of the French than the Russian exhibition: it consisted of a very varied and interesting section at the Invalides and the Champ-de-Mars, a section called "Asie Russe" at the Trocadero and the Finnish Pavilion. Thanks to this broad participation, France no longer had to ignore the treasures of its great friend.
The arrangements for the organisation of a Russian section had been concentrated, as on previous occasions, in the Department of Trade and Manufactures, under the immediate direction of the Minister of Finance, State Secretary Serge de Witte. The execution of the measures to be taken was entrusted to a commission chaired by the Director of the Department, Privy Councillor Kovalevsky (now Deputy Minister of Finance), and composed of delegates from the various competent administrations and officials of the Ministry of Finance. The two vice-presidents of this commission were Prince Tenicheff, general commissioner of the Russian section of the World Exhibition, and Mr. Arthur Raffalovich, member of the minister's council; Mr. Basil de Wouytch was the deputy general commissioner and deputy; Professor Konovaloff, head of the groups of the Ministry of Finance, had been entrusted with organising the functioning of the jury, as far as Russia was concerned. The agent for Finland was Mr Robert Runeberg.
Russia was one of the first to be ready, and the inauguration of its Russian-Asian pavilion at the Trocadero, built by the Russian architect Mr. Meltzer, struck the crowds with its solemnity and cordial character. The President of the Republic presided over this ceremony, which should be described in broad terms.
The palace was built in the old Russian style, in the form of a kremlin surrounded by turrets decorated with gold and bright colours. In the dungeon, below which were the Russian restaurant and the amusing Trans-Siberian Railway carriage restaurant, the bells of a carillon were ringing.
The President of the Republic devoted an entire morning in May to visiting this palace.
We shall recall the main features of his visit. General Bailloud, in uniform, M. Combarieu, M. Poulet and an officer of his military house accompanied the President.
Wooden barriers surrounded the Russian pavilion. Behind these barriers were massed all the Russian workmen, who had worked so well that everything was ready, that not a polar bear skin remained to be put in place. On the steps were waiting the Russian ambassador, the staff of the embassy and the administration of the Russian General Commissariat and some distinguished guests.
In front of M. Loubet went to receive him the Russian General Commissar, M. Del-cassé, Minister of Foreign Affairs, M. Millerand, M. Picard, etc.
Prince Ouroussouf came forward and bowed to the President of the Republic to whom he welcomed him. The President passed between two hedges of Russian guards and sailors in uniform who gave the military salute. He was immediately led up a staircase that began to the left of the vestibule, into a room on the first floor, where the precious stone map of France, a gift from the Tzar (it was later moved to the Invalides section), was displayed.
The map of France was placed at the back of the room with its ogival vaults illuminated with drawings. It rested on an ermine carpet, surrounded by the tricoloured flags of the two countries. This map is made of pieces of marble of all colours and precious stones. The marble determines the departments. The names of the cities and rivers are drawn with precious stones. A frame, sober of ornaments to leave all its value to the jewel which it protects, has only its corners slightly excavated with the chisel.
This room contained nothing but the Emperor's gift, plants and flowers. Rich carpets were laid out on the floor.
The President stopped in front of the map and admired it. The Ambassador said to him, having at his side the present State Councillor M. de Mostovenhoff, who had been sent by His Majesty the Emperor specially from Russia, to bring this card:
"Mr. President, I have the honour to offer in the name of the Emperor this card to the Government of the Republic and to France. The Emperor had the thought of giving a souvenir to your country as a new pledge of the friendly relations which unite our two governments and our two peoples.
The President of the Republic replied with emotion:
"I beg you, Mr. Ambassador, to convey to His Majesty my thanks for the superb gift he is making to the Government of the Republic and to France. I am very touched, the country will also be very touched by the thought that the Emperor has had of giving us this new token of friendship. And I am sure that this pledge will contribute to establishing even more cordial and fruitful relations between the two peoples.
This map of France is a real work of art. The place it will occupy is apt. It will appear in the Louvre, among our masterpieces, because it must be seen and admired by everyone.
These kind words were exchanged in a tone of great simplicity. The Commissioner General then explained to the President that a team of skilled workers had been working for two years to execute this map which had been commissioned by the Emperor.
After this visit, the President went down to the ground floor of the palace. The peristyle, the courtyard, all the rooms were filled with guests. The entire Russian colony was there, as well as a number of foreign commissars-general. On a platform set up in the courtyard, Russian musicians in uniform played the Marseillaise, which was listened to bareheaded.
The President of the Republic then went through all the rooms in the section, and then stopped in the inner courtyard to listen, in great silence, to the Russian National Anthem, played by the music.
The bells chimed joyfully to greet the exit of the Head of State.
There remained to be seen what was called the Russian village, which was a creation of the Grand Duchess Serge, wife of the Governor General of Moscow, and where the small objects of popular industry were exhibited, near the Trocadero staircase, on the right as you climb the hill.
At the door, the President of the Republic was received by Mr. and Mrs. Jakountchikof, who had organised this annex by order of the Grand Duchess.
Mrs. Jakountchikof offers the President bread and salt at the entrance to the village. The bread is a round cake that resembles our king's cakes. It is placed in a white napkin on a silver tray. The salt is contained in a crystal salt shaker inlaid with gold. The offering is accompanied by a short speech of welcome by Mrs Jakountchikof.
Mr Loubet, when she had finished speaking, took the tray and passed it to a footman who carried it into the car. The President then thanked Mrs. Jakountchikof and asked her to present to the Grand Duchess his tributes and compliments for the part that Her Imperial Highness had taken in the success of the Russian exhibition.
After this traditional ceremony, the small halls were visited and Mrs. Jakountchikof honoured her guest by showing him the work of the Russian peasant women.
The President retired amidst further expressions of sympathy. He was accompanied to his car by the Ambassador, the Commissioner General, his deputy, the members of the Embassy, the Ministers and Mr Picard. He shook hands with everyone and congratulated the Russian ambassador, telling him that his country's exhibition was admirable.
This praise from M. Loubet was well deserved: the palace of Russian Asia was, by the diversity of its rooms, an exquisite amusement, an enchantment of the eyes.
In the great hall which opened behind the façade, heaps of carpets and fabrics, in powerful tones, were applied to the walls, which were lined with large panels executed by the painter M. Korvine, and on these were placed the paintings of the artist M. Korvine, and on these hung brilliant weapons, multicoloured embroideries, costumes, horse harnesses, musical instruments, while at the bottom of these trophies were arranged chests, vases, ewers, a thousand objects precious even more for their artistic interest than for the intrinsic value of the materials used to make them. The eye stopped in amazement at these riches, which seemed to be thrown in at random. And the filtered daylight, which filtered through the diaphanous fabrics that served as blinds, clung to the sharp edges of the
the sharp edges of the chiselled gold, and the inlaid gems, forming sparkling mosaics.
A whole unknown civilisation was thus asserting itself in an art of a strange exoticism, where Persian traditions and Chinese inspirations mingled in an extraordinary originality. Above all, one admired the private collections of the Emir of Bukhara, with weapons chiselled like jewels, and these ceremonial clothes, these khalats, made of gold cloth, embroidered silks and embroidered silk, and these silk velvets, with melted designs, which resembled our carpets, but with a brilliance, a depth of colour, a meticulousness of detail, a delicacy and a harmony of colours which made them into dreamy materials.
And there were the copper dishes of Karchi, the tchilem, pipes made of a gourd studded with turquoise, and those singular ornaments worn by Teke women, which consist of precious stones, coins of all kinds, gold and silver ornaments, so that the head of the woman, clad in this carapace, appears as if it were framed in a shrine of goldsmith's art.
Towards the back of the room, cooling the air, rose a thin stream of water, which fell into an earthenware basin cluttered with flowering plants. It was a setting of unparalleled grace, and formed a foreground to the grand view of the medressé of Bibi Khangin, one of Tamerlane's wives (1388), which occupied the back of the hall.
Further on, in other rooms, there were domestic objects, hunting weapons, Siberian products, a Samoyed sledge with its dog team, and the horse-drawn mail.
Then opened the room where the whole oil industry was expressed in pictures showing us the aspect of the Apcheron peninsula, near Baku, the city of fire, and the oil fields, their gushing fountains and the elevating derricks as far as the eye could see. And still more models of wagons and tankers for the transport of naphtha and its derivatives.
This Russian-Asian region is extraordinarily rich in natural treasures. The mineral wealth of the Urals includes gold deposits in veins and sands, platinum and its accompanying rare metals, such as iridium, rodium, osmium; rich copper mines and the best malachites in the world, chromium, manganese, nickel. The iron ores of the Urals are renowned for their richness and quality (Blagodatt Mountain). Finally, there are rich deposits of precious stones in the Urals, the best known of which are the Murzinsk, Shaitansk, and Tokova River deposits. Precious stones found in the Urals include beryls (aquamarine and emerald), true topazes, zirkons (hyacinths), rubies, sapphires and the rare ruby-sapphires, the best amethysts in the world, as well as stones peculiar to the Urals, such as phenaquites, chrysoberyls, pink tourmalines, green garnets.
Asian Russia has many other riches. Apart from the gold-bearing veins, which are still little exploited, gold-bearing sands cover vast regions of Siberia, the northern slopes of the Altai ramifications, the reverse sides of the Kuznietzky-Alatau mountains and the Salaïr range; the gold deposits of the Yeniseisk government are in the Angara and Podkammennaya Tugutska basins; the Be-russa deposits in the Nizhny Udinsk and Kansk circle, the rich Olekminsk group.
All this was shown to us here and there in the palace, and told us how much confidence we can have in this country, whose finances, moreover, reflect its prosperity.
Since 1889, in fact, with the sole exception of the year 1891, marked by an insufficient harvest and a real famine, the ordinary budget of the Russian Empire has always been paid with a surplus over expenditure; this surplus, which was 18 million in 1892, was 287 million in 1898. During this period Russia carried out a whole series of large conversions which lightened the burden of its public debt; it carried out the monetary reform (monetary law of 7 June 1899). The financial policy of a large country must aim at keeping the instrument of exchange stable: stability is essential for the normal development of the economic and financial state. From 1892 to 1899 the Russian gold stock increased by 660 million roubles, at the same time as nearly 500 million credit notes were withdrawn.
At the present time the financial situation of this great country is very clear from the last report on the budget for 1901, which has just been published by Mr. Serge de Witte.
This is the ninth time that Mr. S. Witte has submitted to the Russian Emperor the budget of the Empire, accompanying it with a report which is more than a mere commentary on the annual figures. In the report devoted to the financial year beginning with January 1, 1901, as in those which preceded it, one finds clear and precise indications of the views which guide the Minister of Finance in economic, financial and fiscal matters; but one also encounters indications of a more general and higher scope on Russian policy.
The annual reports of the Minister of Finance have often contained an affirmation of the peaceful sentiments that have animated the Russian emperors, both Emperor Alexander III and his successor Emperor Nicholas II. This year, it is in speaking of the sacrifices in men and money, imposed by the troubles in China, that Mr. Witte finds the opportunity to insist: "These events," he says, "have brought out with striking clarity the sincerity of the sovereign's peaceful feelings. His august words, calling everyone to peace and proclaiming Russia's peaceful intentions, were a great work, a Christian work. In the difficult situation created by the troubles in China, all the thoughts of the supreme leader of the Russian nation have been directed towards the maintenance of peace. But it is not at the price of voluntary isolation or abdication of its influence that Russia is working to maintain peace. "The role of the state is not limited to administering the interests of the country at home. The political destinies of a first-class power like Russia closely link its life to that of other nations. Serious events, regardless of the countries whose immediate interests they affect, almost always have their aftermath in Russia. "Sometimes they depend directly on the attitude we adopt; in other cases they lead us to take certain measures to ensure that our fatherland maintains its position in the world.
Under these conditions, unless he is at the mercy of unforeseen events, is obliged to sacrifice political interests or is led to borrow without taking into account market conditions, the Russian Minister of Finance is obliged to build up pecuniary reserves, to take care to conserve available resources. These pecuniary reserves, constituted for the most part with the surpluses of the ordinary budgets, have made it possible to complete almost entirely the great trans-Siberian railway; thanks to them, the navy has seen an increase in the number of its warships and the troops have been provided with new armament; It is thanks to them that twice during the last ten-year period the rural population has been helped during food shortages; these same savings have provided the means to repay the non-interest-bearing debt to the Bank of Russia and to reorganise the monetary regime.
The very important and absolutely unforeseen expenses required by the events in China, 62 million roubles necessary to put on a war footing in the Far East an army of two hundred thousand men and to transport a considerable part of them to immense distances, were charged against these same resources. Without these resources, a loan would have been inevitable and, in the weak state of the financial market, it is probable that the conditions would have been rather onerous.
On 1 January 1901, the Treasury's available funds amounted to 123 million. The budget for 1901 provides for a deduction of 57 million for extraordinary expenses: there remains an available balance of GG million, largely sufficient to meet the military expenses that the troubled situation in the Far East may still require.
The Minister of Finance, with the approval of the Emperor, was able to meet the expenses of the Chinese campaign in 1900 out of current revenues, without having recourse to credit, without borrowing abroad. We can see today why he was able to deny it so vigorously and in such good conscience. In.1901, again, unless there were completely unforeseen circumstances, Russia did not have to resort to credit for budgetary needs.
At the Russian Exhibition of 1900 again, let us not forget to mention, in the fiscal field, the great reform of the beverage tax, one of the main objects of which was to diminish the abuse of alcoholic beverages and to combat drunkenness. The Régie des alcools had a special pavilion on the Champ-de-Mars, near the Eiffel Tower.
©Paul Gers - 1900