Persuasive communication

Centre for Language Studies | Faculty of Arts | Radboud University Nijmegen

Dutch-Russian Communication: From Ship-Building to Communism

Every week this site features a contribution of one of our researchers about communication in research and practice. This week: Yana Tarnowskaya, about the history of communication between Russia and the Netherlands.

The Dutch-Russian trade relationship takes origin in the 10th and 11th centuries, with the trade route from the Vikings to the Greeks. It has strengthened over time, becoming not only mutually rewarding but also significant for the culture, economy and politics of both countries. Meanwhile, it is possible to speak about the beginning of established economic relations only since Russian tzar Peter I visited the Netherlands first in 1697, after that in 1716. The good start shapes the whole process –this saying can be regarded as an epigraph to the Dutch-Russian communication over centuries.

It is common knowledge that in the 17th century, Russia was a country with unlimited natural resources, but lack of knowledge in the economical and ship-building spheres. This is exactly why the young and energetic Russian tzar Peter I was fascinated not only with the architectural regularity and elegance of Amsterdam, but mostly with the power of the Dutch fleet and their high standards of engineering development. He realised the importance of navigation and open sea routes, but on the other hand, he needed the support as absolute monarch. He invited Dutch engineers and Navi officers who have built, commanded and developed the Russian fleet over the 17th and 18th centuries.

It is interesting to mention that the first attempt to publish a bilingual dictionary in 1717 was done with a Russian-Dutch dictionary and signal guidance for Russian Navi officers were first published in Dutch. The Dutch language became an obligatory language in Russia in the 18th century. However, the cooperation was also rewarding for the other part. Indeed, due to the end of 9 years war between Holland and France in 1697, Dutch Navi officers lost their job and the Russian fleet was regarded as a new field of implementing their knowledge and expertise. At that time, drafts of ships did not exist in Dutch ship-building practice; all processes were in the head of the lead engineer. Having scrutinised the ship-building process, Peter I composed the guidance for Russian workers supplemented with the first ship drafts; the notice was written in Russian, but ship-building terms stayed in Dutch. That was the starting point of a long life of ship-building terminology in the Russian professional Navi jargon. In return with the help of the Russian tzar, the ship drafting entrenched in the maritime industry and first published in Rotterdam. The Dutch-Russian dialogue in ship-building sphere started from borrowing expertise from Dutch engineers developed into the fast growing communication channel, which is illustrated by the fact that in the late 1800s, trade ship building for Dutch merchants were performed in Arkhangelsk on «Вавчутская верфь» (Dutch werf), Vavchutskaya shipyard where production costs could be hardly compared with the costs of the similar process in Holland or England. The idea of new engineering capital was more than controversial at that time in Russia, where religion played the first fiddle over centuries. However, with the help of Dutch engineering expertise, Peter I managed to build the civilised city Saint Petersburg in 1703. If we think about the fact that the centre of a «new Amsterdam» became the engineering site, i.e., Admiralty building, rather than a religious building or a palace, we realise the importance of the Dutch-Russian alliance. The picture shows three main streets heading to the Admiralty building in Saint-Petersburg.

The story of Dutch-Russian communication is the story of a dream of a genius Russian tzar which coincided with political interests of both countries. It successfully started in the late 17th century in the sphere of engineering, and continued further on in trade, gastronomy (e.g. herring), religion (the Dutch reformed church), architecture (regular planning of Saint-Petersburg, first stone buildings), fashion tends in interior design of palaces (Delft tiles), and diplomacy and politics (communist party, Russian flag).

Making the bridge to the new stories of this blog, we could just recall the fact that communist party movement played an important role in Dutch society in the 20th century, giving inspiration to many of those Dutch who followed the ideas of a communist future. Below you can see the photo of demonstration of the Communist party in Amsterdam in 1952.


Materials of V International Peter’s Congress. Saint-Petersbourg, 7-9 June 2013 – Publishing house «Europeisky Dom»., ISBN 978-5-8015-0337-0., 2014

Leave a Reply