Sunday, April 29, 2007

Yeltsin and Rostropovich: two giants

I fell behind in my blogging to record my frustration that so many of the first canned obituaries for Boris Yeltsin that were trotted out subtly underplayed his contributions to a free press and a free political process in Russia ... and found myself overtaken by Mstislav Rostropovich's death.

The Washington Post had a great vignette from Slava's life in the USSR after he had stepped over that bright line to protest Solzhenitsyn's exile. As a persona non grata, he was no longer allowed to play at the best venues, forbidden to travel, etc. Yet when he did play, as he did to a Moscow audience once in the 1970s, he inadvertently gave them an opportunity to engage in political protest--for when they stood to give him a 10 minute ovation, who was to say they were not honoring the magic of his music rather than the magic of his courage in standing up for his dissident friend?

Stories like this make me both incredibly sad for and proud of the Russian people, and chagrined. Chagrined that perhaps we overestimated the passion of the Russian people for a day when they could openly celebrate someone as courageous as Slava and rely on the institutions of civil society to keep people like him in the public eye--perhaps a roomful of music lovers in a Moscow concert hall are just not enough to stand up to the ineluctable forces that seem to be gathering around Putin today.

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