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by Elena Shevchenko
President of International Felinological Association (Russia)
During the Soviet times there were no cat shows, no clubs that would take care of selection work with cats. Of course, soviet people heard about super expensive Persian cats, and many heard that there are white fluffy cats – Angoras, fluffy cats of a stripy colouring (mostly black stripes) were called Siberian cats. In the end of 60es, artist Obraztsov brought first “Siamese” cats to Moscow. Of course they didn’t have pedigrees, just house cats of Siamese colours.
The first cat show in the USSR in 1987 was a chock, a bomb! People were standing in lines for five or six hours to see… two-three Persians from Czechoslovakia, a few shorthaired cats and a big number of fluffy “Vas’kas” and “Murkas”. But the experts committee combined of enthusiasts (instructors of dog clubs, journalists, vets, just enthusiasts) were trying to find a matching race for each cat: were found and recognized as race cats – Angoras, Siamese, Russian Blue, and of course Siberians. Don’t judge or criticize those people, they were the first ones who were brave enough to take cats out of the basements and prove that those animals are worthy of respect and love.
After that show, clubs started to form, other exhibitions started to take place, experts were invited. The first judges in the USSR (they represented FIFe) were Czechs (B.Mahelka, I.Kitlerova, Y.Knieva, and others). The contingent of cats they had to work with in 90es was almost this: Persians (from Czech Republic, Poland), very few short haired with unknown origin. By that time (time of active organizing of shows with expertise) enthusiasts of Siberian breed already made a few variants of their standard. We must notice a priceless help of famous western experts, who showed to inexperienced clubs the difference between aboriginal cats of Scandinavia, America, and Russia. Let’s thank a well-known expert from Holland, Maas Jean Paul. His big experience in semi long group, patience and attention to the cats, helped us a lot.
So, in the beginning of 90es there were standards for Siberian breed already, determined precise differences of the new breed from Norwegians and Main Coons, laid the fundament of breeding, breeding with other races is prohibited, important characteristics of the exterior of the breed are noted in the standard (fur quality, type). It was a time of truly golden days of the breed! Almost half of the cats represented in the shows were Siberians! They received nominations; the press was writing about them, kittens from catteries found their buyers.
In the parallel with development of the aboriginal breed from cats with unknown origin, there was also another process. Experts of FIFe and independent clubs tactically explained to the breeders that there is no sense to try to invent “Russian Blue”, “Siamese”, “Balinese”, out of house cats. Race cats of “cultivated” breeds must be purchased from catteries, with pedigrees, to do a competent breeding, instead of inventing a “Russian bicycle”. But the fame of “race” cats (and money for sold kittens “with documents”) already twisted heads of some breeders. How? Admit that their cat is “just a house one”? “It has a certificate and a prise from the exhibition!” To the honour of presidents of many clubs, let’s say, that many clubs tried to explain to such breeders, that the time of competent breeding has come and if they are interested – must get race cats from catteries. First Siamese, Orientals, first Balinese with pedigrees were brought. The owners of “Siamese” and “Balinese” without pedigrees, but registered after first shows, had to leave the podium. But luckily for them, energetic madam O. Mironova from Leningrad (St.Petersburg) found a “niche” for them. Instead of explaining to people the basics of breeding and standards, she simply made up new breeds for them. Ex “Siamese” became “Thai cats” and ex “Balinese” became “Neva-Masquerade”. Enterprising madam Mironova even told a story of the beginning of breed (Brazilian serials are nothing in comparison to that!). After the WWII in 1945, Leningrad was straggling from invasion of rats (let’s remind that the city survived a terrible blockade and hunger, all the cats and dogs had been eaten! It’s one of most tragic pages of our history). In order to save the wonderful city on Neva River, from all over the country, by railroad in carriages, people started to bring cats to Leningrad – which were collected in cities and villages, all they had found. Now, it turns out they were – not only Siberians, but Siamese (!!!!!!!) and Persians (!!!!!!!) and so on, and so on… That’s how the breed formed exactly in Leningrad, exactly like this – fluffy cat with pointed colour.
Te truth is simpler and more prosaic: in 90es there were brought Persian cats to Russia, including colour-point coloured. Owners of fluffy house cats, no matter what, were breeding their cats with them. They got “half-Persians” – luxurious, big, with wonderful Persian fur kittens. Such kittens were easily sold at the animal market, not many could afford a real Persian, but such mixed kittens had excellent price.
Further, everything is clear – carriers of Siamese gene were bred among each other, according to Mendel’s law, semi long haired cats with Siamese colours were “pinched out”. This is the first way of establishing of “Nevas” – such lines are distinguished by round head, round eyes, big sizes, massiveness, Persian structure of fur.
Another way of formation of semi long haired cats of colour-point colours – is received from “Thai” cats. Indifferent breeding of brought cats with Siamese colours with semi long haired house cats gave “Nevas” with lighter type – they are more likely “Thai Balinese” – wedge like head, strengthened profile, longer body, there is mostly upper coat, often without undercoat. In 90es, such cats were registered as Balinese in their pedigrees.
The standard for Nevas was accepted under pressure of “Leningrad’s” party of judges and breeders, and was almost equalized to the one of Siberian cats. To my deep sorrow, my protest was like a voice of the crying in the desert! I was bringing arguments and profs but all unsuccessfully… It was achieved. The standard was accepted at the conference of Russian clubs (of different systems).
Nevertheless, position of IFA (International Felinological Association) stays the same, differentiated from the one of the WCF clubs (World Cat Federation). IFA considers Neva-Masquerade cats a different breed and doesn’t recommend breeding them with Siberian breed. It’s impossible to persuade experts of WCF that these cats are different (little example: the only cattery in Russia that has Norwegian Forest cats from Norway, at the shows with judges WCF gets low points, because these are “wrong cats” in opinion of judges Ovchinnikova L.K., Bobina T.P., Bakalova T., and other best friends of WCF. Best Norwegian which wins at the podiums of WCF Norwegians from Norway becomes …cats from cattery “Tomasin’a” – that have origin from… new class – cats without pedigrees. The owner of the cattery now is – expert WCF in semi long group!)
Therefore, with the blessing of madam Mironova, Neva cats started their procession to the shows. More modest, naturally coloured Siberians started to “get lost” on the background of huge, massive, Persian-like dressed “Nevas”. Siberians become nominated at the exhibitions more seldom, interest of breeders and public is getting lost – era of “Neva-Masquerade” has come. Siberians and Nevas are bred among each other already (to improve a Persian fur of Nevas), active breeders of Nevas expand propaganda of “national” breed.
So then, Neva breed — is not an aboriginal breed, but cultivated mixed cats based on semi long haired house cats with addition of blood of colour-pointed Persians or Thai cats. Why such breed can not be called aboriginal? Aboriginal breed develops on the base of animals found in particular geographical zone, constantly living there in particular climate, whose phenotype matches the conditions of particular place. They must be “endemic” – peculiar only to these conditions and living nowhere, except this area. In this – is their value, originality and beauty. Cultivated breeds are not bred into aboriginal breeds – allowed, for example, interbreeding of Persian and Scottish Fold (for receiving a new colour), but crossing Persian with Angora, Main Coon, Korat, Siberian – is not permitted
From what is told above, it doesn’t mean that I’m against Nevas in general. No, the question is posed differently; it’s needed to separate Nevas into a different breed, admit that they were created with crossing of other breeds, judge with a separate standard, and not allow the interbreeding with Siberians – the true aborigines of Russia. (Created in 1994 International Felinological Association, uniting clubs of Russia, Moldova and Kazakhstan, considers Neva cats as independent breed and doesn’t allow their crossbreeding with Siberians. There are many examples possible to bring of the RADICAL differences of Nevas from Siberians, and it’s not just about the colour, there are essential differences in the structure of fur (Nevas have thin, soft, tangling fur), in the form of head, type, etc…
Recently there appeared a real discussion about this problem, seminars took place, articles were published in the main national magazine “Drug” (“Friend”), and passions were hitting up in the Internet forums. Arguments of supporters of Nevas with “Siberian origin” touch:
But, alas, supporters of theory “Russia – homeland of elephants” can’t bring
Modern condition of Nevas and Siberians in Russia is different. SIBERIANS IN RUSSIA IS A DIEING BREED! Rubbed away at the exhibitions of “Association of Siberian Cats” (to be correct – association of NEVA cats), with a loss of prestige and popularity, they survive only because of true lovers and enthusiasts of this breed. Percent of their participation at the cat shows is small, it’s hard to sell a kitten, and there is no advertisement of the breed. It is sad. Paradox of these breeds is also in following: even the most unsophisticated in felinology citizens of Russia, Ukraine, White Russia and other countries, by looking at Siberian cats with our beloved “stripy” colour will say: “It’s a Siberian cat — like at my grand mom’s place in the village.” By looking at Nevas, the same people will wonder: “What a strange cat! Such cats don’t run in the streets! Probably it’s a race cat.” Visitors of the cat shows get very surprised when they are getting explained that such cats with masks on the muzzles, fluffy soft fur and blue eyes – are our pride, primordially Russian SIBERIAN cat.
But still – why supporters of Nevas are so devoted to the idea of “Aborigine” of their breed? Why simple replicas about separation of Nevas from Siberians create a storm of indignation, and even anger? Nobody of the supporters of the separation is saying that one breed is good and another is bad. They are DIFFERENT! Why breeders of Nevas clutch at the title of “national” breed? The answer is simple – “label” of national breed is useful when selling kittens, especially abroad. Who would want to buy a Russian “Rag Doll”, a cultivated breed? But a national pride – it’s a different thing! By the way, we have many of such “patriots” from felinology – Russian Blue also became “national” !!! breed already, even though this breed is created in England, and there are Holland’s, Belgium’s, England’s lines are used in breeding… Standards of all organizations prohibit interbreeding of cultivated breeds to aboriginal breeds – it’s not allowed to breed Main Coons and Norwegian Forest cats of colour-point colours, of lilac and chocolate as well. When breeders of America decided to get a semi long haired cat of colour-pointed colour, they made a Rag Doll, and didn’t start to cross Persians to Maine Coons with a purpose to get a “Hudson-Festival”.
But for our multipliers nothing is a decree – neither genetics, nor standards, nor experience of breeders from other countries. That’s how there are marching at the exhibitions – half-Persians, half-Balinese – the national “pride” of Russia. The requirements of FIFe for the standard are also forgotten – but according to the rules of this organization, Siberians were not even allowed to have diluted colours (blue, cream), and white – all because of the condition of the type.
There are many different aspects in this problem and I don’t want to put the entire fault for DIEING OUT of Siberians only on the breeders of Neva cats. There is also a fault of the breeders of Siberians – they must work actively, generalize experience, recommend their cats. Let’s believe that the newly established Association of Aboriginal Siberian Cats will work on that. Because it may happen like with Russian Swifts – will buy from abroad producers of Siberian breed!