Putin’s Dead Poets Societytags: Russia, Vladimir Putin
Masha Gessen is a journalist in Moscow. Her next book, Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot, will be published in March.
MOSCOW — When President Vladimir Putin had finished talking, Tolstoy took the floor. He thanked Dostoyevsky, Lermontov, Sholokhov and Pasternak. Unfortunately, he said, Pushkin had fallen ill and could not fly in from his home in Belgium. “Pushkin is in the hall,” said Tolstoy, meaning that he was with them in spirit.
Vladimir Ilyich Tolstoy, a fourth-generation descendant of the great writer, was referring not to Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, considered the greatest Russian poet of all time, but to Alexander Alexandrovich Pushkin, the poet’s great-grandson and the husband of Maria-Madlen Durnovo-Pushkina, the poet’s great-great-great-granddaughter. Alexander Alexandrovich and Maria serve as the co-founders of the A.S. Pushkin Foundation and for this have received many honors, including Russian citizenship, the Russian Medal for Devotion and Love, and, of course, the Pushkin Medal. But on the day of Nov. 21, they would be missing the All-Russian Literary Gathering at the University of the Friendship of the Peoples in Moscow.
Some 500 people — writers, editors, educators — did attend. Among the honored conveners were Natalya Solzhenitsyna, the widow of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and many relatives of long-deceased writers: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (died in 1881), Leo Tolstoy (died in 1910), Boris Pasternak (died in 1960) and Mikhail Sholokhov (died in 1984). There was also Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov, whose name, patronymic and surname are identical to those of the famed Russian poet, who died in 1841, at the age of 27 and childless....
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