Accessibility links

Breaking News

Bridges Of Greatness Above The Transient

Yury Shevchuk and DDT played with Georgian and Ossetian musicians.
Yury Shevchuk and DDT played with Georgian and Ossetian musicians.
The preservation of cultural ties just might be a life preserver when relations between countries are broken beyond repair. It is a truism that cultural figures -- civil, contemporary people who understand the difference between national interests and the friendship of nations -- always remain friends and, what is more, outside the realm of politics. The recent concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg by the rock group DDT with the participation of Georgian and Ossetian musicians are a bright example of relations founded on common human values.

Could any Russian politician (or Georgian or Kyrgyz or any post-Soviet leader) ever in his wildest dreams imagine that at his country's independence day celebration, at the key moment of the festivities, the music of American composer Leonard Bernstein was played? Or how about George Gershwin? Or "Yankee Doodle"?

But this year, the highlight of the July 4 celebration in Washington, D.C., was a massive fireworks display. And the musical accompaniment was Pyotr Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," perhaps that composer's most overtly patriotic composition. And in the program for the event it was noted that Tchaikovsky wrote the piece "for the occasion of the consecration of the Christ the Savior Cathedral."

In this piece of music, Tchaikovsky used the melody of the anthem "God Save The Tsar!" with lyrics by Aleksei Lvov. It's clear that the overture is intended to confirm the unity of Orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality. But the United States is a democratic, multinational, multiconfessional country. But one fact remains: the global superpower bowed its head before this brilliant work of art. And it wasn't a bunch of intellectuals or musicologists, but the country's pragmatic political elite.

In a speech at a festival of Russian culture in New York recently, Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted that Russians had given the world the helicopter, television, and Google. He even mentioned the creators of these wonders by name -- Igor Sikorsky, Vladimir Zvorykin, David Sarnov, Sergei Brin. Of course, no one forced Bloomberg to say this.

This reminds me of the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow in 1958. The judges of the competition had to ask Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev whether it would be all right to award the top prize to American pianist Van Cliburn. Reluctantly, the country's leading corn expert bowed to an overwhelming wave of public opinion and agreed. And good for him!

In the run-up to the five-day war between Russia and Georgia, a senior Georgian official appearing on a talk show here in Tbilisi spoke with an air of contempt about the work of novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky and advised that it would be better "to read F. Scott Fitzgerald instead of him." In the wake of the war, the instinctive efforts of some Russian and Georgian cultural figures to mix politics and culture into one heap seem unbecoming. Greatness towers above the transient.

Yury Vachnadze is an RFE/RL Russian Service contributor based in Tbilisi. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL