Och aye, Dmitri: Russian 'Scots' find their roots

Scots, like Cornishmen and weak beer, have a reputation for penetrating parts that the rest of the planet doesn't reach, but even they are about to break new ground. Today sees the first Highland Games ever to be held on Russian soil. Stranger still, locals - who are part-Celt - will be taking part.

The venue is the small Znamensky stadium in Moscow, once the arena in which Soviet athletes displayed their skills. Today's gathering is altogether more exotic: from noon, Muscovites will hear the unfamiliar strains of bagpipes floating across the rooftops, followed - the organisers hope - by thunderous applause for caber tossers, stone putters, weightlifters, hammer throwers and Highland dancers.

Some 50 people from Nairn and Dufftown in the north-east of Scotland have been invited to take part, alongside a similar number of their expatriate countrymen and Russians. They will welcomed by a bearded Russian piper who, though in full regalia, is no more Scottish than Boris Yeltsin.

The event throws light on a story that is still unfolding in Russia, as it recovers from more than seven decades in which the Soviet authorities placed large chunks of its history in refrigeration. Many here are beginning to discover that the two nations have more in common than a lively temperament, a willingness to live in horrible climates and a fondness for strong liquor.

"I always thought my father was the only Scot in the whole of the Soviet Union," said Alexei Karadanov, a 71-year-old part-Celt part-Russian, whose father was an emigre who worked at a motor plant under Stalin. He was addressing a meeting of the Caledonian Club, a society with more than 50 members, mostly Russians who are now delving into their Celtic roots.

Mr Karadanov (he took his mother's surname to avoid problems with Soviet officialdom) may have been right about his dad. Brought up in Poland, his father was lucky: being a foreigner was often enough to ensure a place in a labour camp or death during the worst phase of Stalinism. But there are plenty of part-Celts like him around.

Clarks, Moffats, Leslies and Collies have cropped up across the land. A register has been compiled of some 450 surnames that can be traced back to Scotland, (including a gentleman from Rostov-on-Don called Igor Stewart and a Moscow philosopher called Andrei Yurivitch Melville).

All of this is proving of intense interest to some Russians. Just as more and more are tracing their family trees back to former nobility, so others are exploring their foreign roots. "There is a trend afoot," said Professor Paul Dukes, of the University of Aberdeen, who specialises in Russian history. "Before, especially under Stalin, this sort of thing was quite dangerous. Now that it's pretty open, genealogical societies are cropping up everywhere."

Russian history has a scattering of prominent Scots including Patrick Gordon, Peter the Great's top general; Mary Hamilton, a lady-in-waiting to Peter (later beheaded), and the designer of the first Russian steamship, Charles Baird, the owner of an industrial empire in 19th-century St Petersburg. The poet and novelist Mikhail Lermontov was descended from a Scottish mercenary.

But most were ordinary Jocks who left in search of a better life. "There is evidence that from the 11th century, Celtic monks penetrated into Russia," said Dr Dmitry Fedosov, a Russian historian who is fast making the Scotland-Russia connection his life's work.

He says there was a gap after the Mongol invasion of 1240, but once Ivan the Terrible was installed in the 16th century, the flow of Scots continued until the 1917 revolution, driven away by anti-Catholic laws and economic need. "There were preachers, craftsmen, jewellers, merchants, doctors, architects, engineers, industrialists and many more."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Arts and Entertainment
Darrell Banks’s ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
Detective Tam Bui works for the Toronto Police force
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Technician

£35200 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Engine...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing specialist merchant co...


£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £50k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 bus...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'