by Lindsay Dow
On the 150th anniversary of writer Anton Chekov’s birthday, President Dmitri Medvedev himself has paid a visit to Taganrog, a small seaport in the Southwest of the country and Chekov’s birthplace. As Medvedev laid flowers on the writer’s memorial, held a meet and greet with local actors, and visited the shack-cum-museum that once served as Chekov’s living quarters, Americans might consider the cultural difference that this lovely reverence belies. After all, we can hardly imagine president Obama paying his respects to Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams unless he just happened to be in the area.
In fact, the more Russians one meets, the more apparent becomes the value of literature and poetry in Russian culture. Most have memorized numbers of poems, like our cab driver in Moscow who quoted full stanzas of Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin” on demand. A custom we might expect only of a literature professor or a fanatic is common and expected in Russia. Literature sits at the heart of Russian culture almost as the Declaration of Independence occupies the heart of ours.
As Medvedev concludes his visit to Chekov’s hometown, he is torn between tradition and progress. Chekov’s spirit, he remarked, is still tangible in the small city: “On the one hand, [this] is good. On the other hand, it points to the fact that probably everything does not change so quickly.” We certainly must hope that change will not come at the cost of eradicating Chekov’s spirit.
Lindsay Dow is a sophomore History major in Timothy Dwight College