The Pushkin Festival
The Moscow Pushkin festival in the spring of 1880 has been remembered by posterity largely because of the sensation created by Dostoevsky's impassioned apotheosis of the great poet. At the time, however, the event assumed considerable importance because of the tense and ominous social-political climate in the country, which imparted a political coloring to any large manifestation of public opinion. In this instance, the cream of the Russian intelligentsia gathered in the ancient capital (as well as in other major cities) to eulogize a poet who had incurred the displeasure of Nicholas I, had been sent into exile, and had close friends among the revolutionary Decembrists of 1825. Such a celebration was in itself unprecedented and, indeed, was felt as an implicit demand for a liberty of expression still lacking in Russian literature and society.
Even more, the initiative for this enterprise had come from private individuals (a group of Pushkin's surviving classmates from the lycée in Tsarskoe Selo), and funds for the statue had been raised by private subscription. Eventually the project was approved and even patronized by the crown, and the Moscow Duma agreed to pay the expenses of all the invited guests; but participants did not feel they were taking part in any official function. Instead, as one observer put it, here “for the first time a social longing was displayed by us with such broadranging freedom. Those who attended felt themselves to be citizens enjoying a fullness of rights.” 1
Moreover, the official acceptance of this independent endeavor was seen positively as the augury of a new era in the relations between the tsar and the intelligentsia. Indeed, as a testimony to the influence that the educated class had begun to exercise, Count Loris-Melikov instructed the government of Moscow not to require preliminary approval of the speeches to be given after the unveiling. “Here in Petersburg,” Dostoevsky complains to Yuriev, “at the most innocent literary reading … every line, even one written twenty years ago, "has to be" submitted … for advance permission for reading…. Will they really allow one to read something newly written without someone's advance censorship?” 2
1PSS, 26: 442.
2 Ibid., 30/Bk. 1: 153–154; May 5, 1880.