Thursday, August 9, 2007

Pushkin and Tsarist Russia

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837) is the father of Russian literature and the greatest Russian poet of all times. It is impossible to encapsulate in words his legacy. Indeed, he was and will remain the biggest icon of Russia. His character is legendary because of his endless struggle for liberty and political reform in Tsarist Russia. His participation in major political rebellions was well-known to the Tsar, who, fearful of the popularity of Pushkin, did not take up too serious measures. Still, Pushkin was sent away from the capital to the Caucasus and the Crimea and then to Northern Russia... After the Decembrist uprising in 1825, where Pushkin was a major participant, he could not write and publish without censorship. He had to resort to clever metaphors and folktales to express his views... Often he would burst out in flame and openly criticize the political atmosphere in Russia. The most painful to him was the oppression of the people and he dedicated most of his work to inspiring people to wake up and rebel. He was also critical of the customs and hypocrisy of the aristocracy in Russia. He was in seclusion most of his late years, suffering from angry jealousy over his infidel wife. His wife was to cost his life. Her alleged lover challenged Pushkin, who called him out to duel, where he was shot fatally. A miserable end to the life of the greatest man. He wrote:
"And I will be favored by the people for long,
Because I awakened kindness with my muse,
and in my cruel age fought for freedom,
and called for mercy for the fallen."
Alas, the English translation could never really give the flavor of his poetry. When people today study the history of Russia and wonder whether Russia could ever become really democratic, they should examine the work of Pushkin. When they argue that the Russian culture does not accept liberal ideals or principles of democracy, it is apparent that they do not really know the Russian culture.

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