Even Shakespeare, or a dictator, could never command such mammoth
The 200th anniversary of the birth of Russia's most beloved poet,
Alexander Pushkin, has prompted an extraordinary outpouring of
emotion, commercialism, worship, and events.
His dusky face adorns tattoos, ketchup labels, vodka bottles,
billboards, shopping bags, chocolate wrappings. His verses hang in
The occasion June 6 has been used to maximum advantage by Moscow's
publicity-conscious Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. City Hall spent millions of
dollars to stage theater, opera, balls, bands, plays, poetry
recitals, folk songs, and art exhibits. The Russian bard's life and
works have been dissected in endless articles, new books, and TV
Even foreign stars got into the act. Spanish tenor Placido
Domingo appeared on Red Square this past Sunday to sing from an
based on a Pushkin story, "The Queen of Spades." Brooding
heart-throb Ralph Fiennes stars in a new film version of Pushkin's
masterpiece "Eugene Onegin."
But as the celebration continues, literary figures ponder this
remarkable reaction. Was the celebration clever marketing by
profiteers out to make a buck? Could another writer have prompted
such mass adoration? And does poetry still hold a special place in
the hearts and minds of what are some of the planet's best-educated
"He is the most-loved figure in Rus-sian history and culture,"
answers Vladimir Gusev, head of the Moscow Writers Union. "At a time
when we feel we are living in bedlam, he emerges as a sane person
opens the door and brings in sunlight."
Indeed, well before anyone uttered the word "Pushkinmania,"
adulation of this icon bordered on canonization. Ask enthusiasts -
and there are maybe 146 million among Russia's 147 million people -
about Pushkin and you will get a starry-eyed response. They will
enthuse about the elegance of his verse, his love of his homeland,
and his individualism.
It seems that Pushkin offers something for everyone. He presents
few intellectual barriers - and is more accessible than the dark
Dostoyevsky or philosophical Leo Tolstoy. Pushkin was even co-opted
by the Communists, who emphasized his sympathy for the 1825
For romantics, there is his life story, which reads like a novel
itself. A nobleman with an Ethiopian forebear, Pushkin was
alternately adopted into the csar's court and sent into internal
exile for his liberal writings. He died tragically in 1837, after a
duel provoked by rumors that his wife was unfaithful.
Lovers of literature lament the early loss of the man who
transformed the Russian language, marrying spoken and written words.
Scholars say it is impossible to properly translate his verse, thus
explaining perhaps Pushkin's lack of appreciation abroad.
But ask anyone here - from a taxi driver to a schoolchild to a
banker - and you will find they can recite at least a few passages
from "Eugene Onegin" or the epics "Ruslan and Lyudmila" and "The
At a time when the nation is drifting in search of a post-Soviet
ideal, people seek familiar reference points. That's where Pushkin
"He is a pillar of Russian culture," says Andrei Pushkov, a
commentator for the ORT television channel, which was saturated in
recent days with Pushkinia. …