Russian decorations, old or new?
The Soviet Union/Russian Federation has a long tradition of issuing postal stamps depicting decorations. The very first one came out in 1933 with the Order of the Red Banner.
In the beginning of 2016 the Russian Federation issued a sheet of stamps with eighteen ‘state decorations’ (from now on referred to as the Block).
The purpose of this article is to compare the ‘state decorations’ with the decorations from the Imperial era and the period of the Soviet Union.
Even though the names are the same, I will try to explain why they can be considered as ‘new’. During its existence the shape and/or the ribbon of a decoration may change.
For instance many different models of the French Légion d’honneur are known, but the basic model has always remained the same. In 1918 the ribbon of the Victoria Cross for the Navy was changed from blue to Crimson.
When these kinds of changes occur do not consider the decoration as new. However, when the appearance of the decoration changes considerably, for instance from a breast star into a medal hanging from a ribbon, or when the reason for awarding the decoration changes, the change is significant enough to consider the decoration to be ‘new’. The orders and decorations of the Russian Federation can be divided into clusters. The first cluster is formed by heroes and honorary titles. In the Block there are two hero decorations.
The next cluster of four covers the orders for civilians and military. For military commanders and officers there is a cluster of six orders. The Order of Courage stands at its own. Next in the sequence is a cluster of two orders for merit. The last three orders are for citizens of the Russian Federation. In this article will specify the different clusters.
Cluster 1: The Heroes
In the period of the USSR heroes were divided into three groups: the heroes of the Soviet Union; the heroes of socialist labour and the mothers heroines. Two of these titles reappear in the Russian Federation; these are the ‘heroes of the Russian Federation (Gold Star Medal) and ‘the heroes of labour of the Russian Federation’. Both hero decorations are the first two in the
Block. When one compares the USSR heroes and those of the Russian Federation one can conclude that these orders are old, although the ribbons have been changed. The badge of the Gold Star Medal is the same as in the Soviet period, but the star of the Hero of Labour looks different because of the new State Crest instead of the hammer and sickle. The kind of reason for bestowing them is not much changed at all The decorations belonging to the honorary titles (e.g. Honoured Military Navigator of the Russian Federation) are not in the Block and therefore not further mentioned. The system of these honorary titles is the same as that of the Soviet Union.
Cluster 2: Orders for civilians and military
This cluster consists of the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle the First-Called, the Order For Merit to the Fatherland, the Order of St. Catherine the Great Martyr and the Order of Alexander Nevsky. All these orders have their roots in the imperial period.¹ The Order of St. Andrew the Apostle the First-Called was Imperial Russia’s highest ranking order and it was bestowed upon heads of state and royalty, but sometimes also awarded for great accomplishments in war. The new Order of St Andrew consists of two divisions: a civil and a military division. The military division has two crossed swords under the crown and the chain of the orders has been changed. The new order from the civilian division is depicted on the stamp. The order has clearly been renewed.
¹ In the Block the 4th decoration is the Order of St George, which I put in cluster 3.
The Order For Merit to the Fatherland is inspired by the Imperial Order of the White Eagle.² The badges are different, the name is not the same and the ribbon has a different colour. This too is a new order. In the Soviet period there used to be a similar order called the Order for Service to the Homeland (in the Armed Forces of the USSR) but there is no connection between these decorations.
The Order of St. Catherine the Great Martyr has the same name as the Imperial Order for Ladies. The new order was established in 2012 to honour Russians and foreigners for outstanding contributions toward peacekeeping, charity, humanitarian efforts, and the preservation of cultural heritage. The badge and the ribbon have also been changed, so we are looking at a new order.
² The Polish Order of the White Eagle was in 1831 incorporated in the Imperial Russian system of awards.
The Order of Alexander Nevsky has a long history – from the Imperial times, the Soviet Union and the present Federation. Its shape during the Imperial period and the present one are very alike; the plaque from the Soviet period has no common aspects. In the Imperial period this was a one class order and at present its ribbon is used to recognise long and faithful service of government employees by a roman cipher. This means this is a new order.
Cluster 3: Orders for the military
This cluster consists of the Order of St. George, the Order of Suvorov, the Order of Ushakov, the Order of Zhukov, the Order of Kutuzov and the Order of Nakhimov. The Order of St George relates to the order of the same name from the Imperial period. The shape of the badge and the ribbon are the same. The reasons for bestowing it are also roughly the same. This means the order is old. During the Soviet period the ribbon (black-orange-black-orange-black) was in use for the Order of Glory. This ribbon can be found on many stamps related to the Second World War.³
In the Soviet period the Orders of Suvorov, Ushakov, Kutuzov and Nakhimov were established.4 The badges of these orders were breast stars, which varied according to their classes. The present orders are single class orders and are now worn hanging on a ribbon, also the reasons for bestowing the orders have been changed. These four orders are therefore new.
³ After the recent occupation of Crimea, Russians were wearing this ribbon.
4 Count Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov was a field marshal, so was Prince Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov. Therefore the orders with their names are meant for army and airforce officers. FyodorFyodorovich Ushakov was the most illustrious Russian naval commander in the 18th century, Pavel Stepanovich Nakhimov was an admiral during the Crimean War. Therefore the orders with these names are for naval personnel.
The Order of Zhukov was established as a new order in 1994, it has no relation to a former decoration and is therefore new.
Cluster 4: The Order of Courage
The Order of Courage was established as a new order in 1994. It is therefore new. In 1988 the Soviet Order of Personal Courage was established. The reasons for bestowing it are roughly the same as for the present order, but the badge and ribbon are very different. This order was never depicted on a stamp.
Cluster 5: Orders for merit
There are two orders for merit: the Order For Military Merit and the Order For Naval Merit. Both orders were established after the Soviet period and bear no relation to an older decoration. They are new.
Cluster 6: Orders for citizens
In this cluster we find the Order of Honour, the Order of Friendship and the Order of Parental Glory. The Order of Honour is a continuity of the order from the Soviet period named Order of the Badge of Honour. In the Soviet period the name of this order was changed into Order of Honour and the badge was attached to a ribbon. The present badge and ribbon however are completely different and the reason for bestowing this order is different too, so this is a new order.
The Order of Friendship is awarded to Russian and foreign nationals for special merit in strengthening peace. Its predecessor, the Soviet Order of Friendship of Peoples, was an order for individuals and for organisations. The ribbon and the badge are different, therefore this too is a new order.
The Order of Parental Glory is definitely new. It is the successor of the Mother Heroine. The new order differs from the old one because it is now
be awarded to both parents, who now only need to produce seven instead of ten children to qualify.
The number of Russian orders is considerably larger than that of most other countries. No doubt the Russian Federation will continue to issue stamps depicting decorations, as they have been doing in the last few years.
With my thanks to Jan van den Brink for his useful comments.
Récompenses d’Etat de la Fédération de Russie, Valblor F67400Illkirch 2014
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List of orders, decorations, and medals of Russia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orders, decorations, and medals of the Soviet Union
This article was previously published in the magazine Decorare nr.36
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