The tale of Russian families being separated from each other by historical events and then discovering, years or even decades later, that they have family in other parts of the world, has become an all too familiar narrative. Larisa Leonidovna Drozdova has personal experience with this very cycle of events: a Russian woman, Larisa, who has been living for the past decade in France, recently discovered she has family in other parts of the world—namely Greece.
The feeling of being connected, of being reunited, of learning that you have family in a new place, has led many people, such as Larisa Drozdova, from everywhere in the world, on a historical quest to seek greater knowledge about their “new” homeland. Greece is an unsurprising place for Russian family reunions such as that Larisa Drozdova has experienced to occur: the two countries have a long-standing historical friendship and because they are religiously aligned (the majority of Russians and Greeks are of Eastern Orthodox faith), Greece and Russia have maintained friendly foreign relations and enjoyed a diplomatic brotherhood.
Larisa Drozdova’s experience of being separated from extended family members throughout the course of history is not uncommon among Russians. President Putin has called the USSR’s collapse “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century,” and like all catastrophes, the toll on humanity can be witnessed by taking an honest look at what these historical fissures have done to countless Russian families. Accordingly, Russian television features a show called “Zhdi Menya,” or “Wait for me,” a popular and cherished TV program whose mission is to reunite loved ones by researching Russia’s Twentieth Century history and “the scars it left on the lives of ordinary people.”
In perhaps the wildest reunion story of them all, news reports in February 2008 ran headlines about a Russian couple that was separated for 60 years and then reunited in their hometown. Anna Kozlov and her husband Boris Kozlov kissed goodbye just three days after their wedding when Boris left to rejoin the Red Army. Anna was soon exiled to Siberia when Boris returned and the couple was reunited 60 year later coincidently, when both of them were visiting their home village on the same day.
For Larisa Drozdova, the passage of time has proven fruitful in discovering a new cultural and familiar hearth in Greece, where family values are so durable that elements of tradition and culture transcend generations. And, as with the case of Larisa Drozdova, extended family bonds transcend national divides as well.
Contrary to popular belief, the art of collecting dolls — a hobby seen by some onlookers as quaint — can often be a window into history and culture. What Larisa Leonidovna Drozdova and other individuals versed in the art of doll collecting know is that countless museums across the globe showcase dolls not just as children’s toys or pretty objects, but as relevant artifacts that tell important stories about the culture from which they come.
In Switzerland, doll collectors often visit museums such as the Alexis Forel Museum in the medieval town of Morges. The museum features more than 150 exquisite dolls spanning the Eighteenth Century to 1950, a large number of which have origins in France and Germany.
A long-time doll collector based in France, Larisa Leonidovna Drozdova enjoys visiting her daughter and grandchildren in Switzerland, which also gives her a chance to see additional doll collections such as the one housed at the Spielzeug Welten Musem in Basel. The Spielzeug Welten Museum emphasizes what Larisa Drozdova and other doll collectors already know: that these artistic creations were not always intended for child’s play.
Take the Philadelphia Doll Museum in America, for instance. This museum acts as a resource library that tells the story of how black people have been perceived throughout history, with a collection that includes dolls from Africa, Europe, and America. In the context of African culture, dolls are not seen as playthings for kids but as objects with ritual and religious associations reflective of their communities.
Collectors point out that prior to the manufacturing of dolls during modernism, dolls made in France and Germany were seen as healing objects and were often made of basic materials: bronze, wood, clay, and straw. Going back even farther, the earliest documented dolls were found in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and were associated with spiritual values. According to Antonia Fraser’s 1973 book, Dolls, Greek and Roman girls who got married would dedicate their dolls to a Goddess.
Often misperceived as a woman’s hobby, today even successful businessmen have become avid doll collectors. Jian Yang, a 33-year-old man, is a director of strategy at leading advertising company Omnicom Media Group. He is also a Barbie fan who has more than 9,000 dolls in his remarkable collection. “When you meet me outside of this, I’m not that kind of guy, Mr. Yang told Reuters. “I’m not what you expect from a guy that collects dolls.”
What doll collectors who are as refined and sophisticated as Larisa Leonidovna Drozdova and as avant-garde as Jian Yang suggest is that dolls function as cultural symbols of their time. And they are something no culture can afford to forget.