Galina Vishnevskaya has passed away — iconic soprano and celebrated Soviet dissident married to the equally famous cellist and conductor Msitslav Rostropovich. There is a touch of nostalgia here, since she and Rostropovich had been forced into exile by the Soviet authorities just the year before my arrival in Moscow in 1975 on my first posting.
The Moscow air was full of the consequent excitement that such a drastic decision could trigger. The couple’s condemnation of the Soviet intervention in the then Czechoslovakia was bad enough. But the nadir was reached as far as the authorities were concerned following the celebrated couple’s friendship with Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Solzhenitsyn himself was exiled in 1974. Oh, what a time! Nikita Khrushchev’s “thaw” had by then run its course. The refrain was that the Soviet Union was advancing toward the highest form of socialism! The wheel has come full circle. Galina died in Moscow.
Mikhail Gorbachev had allowed her to return home. But what struck me today is President Vladimir Putin’s tribute to her. Russia always gave pride of place to its cultural luminaries as the finest blossoms of its national genius. (Reserve an entire afternoon for yourself, take a wander alone in the compound of the Novedevichy Convent and Cemetery and brood over the names inscribed on the tombstones if you truly want to understand Russia. )
Unsurprisingly, Putin’s tribute goes far beyond the usual presidential message that the occasion demanded. He has laid claim to Galina’s affections – no matter what had happened — solely and absolutely for Russia. It is a testament to the changes that have come over this sad country with a disproportionate share of sorrows in history.
Which is why US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was talking “nonsense” (as Putin said) when she assessed that a process of “re-Sovietization” is under way in Eurasia. Simply put, no former Soviet republic will allow a “re-Sovietization”. Russia has its hands full already with countries such as Azerbaijan or Uzbekistan and Moscow is savvy enough to know that.
The big question is, knowing all that herself, what prompted Clinton to say what she did. To my mind, she quite probably aimed a barb at President Barack Obama because it questions the raison d’etre of the White House’s handiwork of the US’s “reset” with Russia, which is attributed to Obama and which he claims as a rare success of the foreign policy during the past 4-year period.
Clinton could be marking her distance already as she sets out on a long journey with her own bid for the 2016 presidency. After all, she spoke while in Ireland, and she did take time out to woo the Irish-American constituency, which also has no other meaning than the burning ambition to occupy the Oval Office.
– December 12, 2012