Russia remembers Lincoln as it marks the freeing of the serfs

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Here's Abraham Lincoln on Bolshaya Pirogovskaya Street, larger than life, shaking hands with Czar Alexander II. They are the Emancipator and the Liberator, joined together in a new work by sculptor Alexander Burganov. They're looking jolly, these men who, half a world apart, presided over the freeing of serfs and slaves.

Behind them, in the building of the Russian federal archives, an exhibit opened Tuesday that looks at Lincoln's life, and Alexander's. In this season of sesquicentennials, Russia is marking the liberation of 20 million serfs on March 3, 1861. That was one day before Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th president, assuming powers that he would eventually use to bring American slavery to an end.

"We are here to celebrate two remarkable men and their time," said James Symington, the 83-year-old former congressman from Missouri - but not before he had sung, in Russian, the line from an Alexander Pushkin poem that goes, "I remember a wonderful moment . . . "

Symington, whose great-grandfather was John Hay, Lincoln's personal secretary (and later secretary of state under Theodore Roosevelt), said he first came to Moscow in 1958 and picked up songs while strumming his guitar in the park. He called the president from Illinois and the emperor of all the Russians "two friends who never personally met but were together in spirit."

And of the fanciful statue by Burganov (who also did the statue of Pushkin that's on the campus of George Washington University), he said, "We can't wait to put them up in Washington somewhere." Sticklers for accuracy will notice, beyond the handshake, that although the Czar-Liberator was tall, he was still about three inches shorter than Lincoln, a discrepancy in height that's not immediately apparent in Burganov's work.

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