Thursday, June 24, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Svetlana Medvedeva Visits ‘Little Outpost’ of Russian Empire in San Francisco

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 24 – Even as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev toured Silicon Valley and talked about modernization, his wife, First Lady Svetlana Medvedeva, visited two “little outposts” of Russia’s imperial past, San Francisco’s Russian Cultural Center and the editorial offices of that city’s Russian-language émigré paper.
In doing so, Medvedeva was not only behaving as the spouses of leaders typically do, following a cultural program during a political visit, but also promoting her own interests in and support for Russian history, the Russian Orthodox Church, and Patriarch Kirill’s notion of an international “Russian world” (
At the Cultural Center, which last year marked its 70th anniversary, Medvedeva watched a program put on by the institution’s kindergarten and then visited the center’s displays on the history of the Russian emigration in San Francisco, something that makes that museum in the words of its creator “a little outpost of the Russian Empire.”
The Russian first lady was shown a rare portrait of Admiral Kolchak, who led the White Movement in Siberia before being executed by the Bolsheviks in 1920, and she was led through a special exhibit devoted to Fort Ross, the Russian fort in California whose survival had been at risk until recently because of financial difficulties.
Those appear to be at an end as a result of an agreement between the California government and a group of companies, and “Vesti” reported that the employees of the museum presented Mrs. Medvedev as a gift the plans for the restoration of the lost bell of the Fort, the kind of project she has supported in Russia itself since her husband became president.
The Russian First Lady was also shown a collection of Russian medals, after which her guide told her that “the Russian diaspora in San Francisco is distinguished by three things organization, responsibility, and responsiveness,” noting that it was in that city that the idea of charitable balls for Russian invalids of the Civil War was born.
In response, Mrs. Medvedev presented the Russian Cultural Center with photographs and drawings of Joseph Brodsky, the Russian poet who lived in emigration. She noted that “we now are on the path to creating in St. Petersburg an apartment museum of the great poet” who was forced to leave his homeland by the Soviet authorities.
The Russian First Lady gave the Center a collection of records. She said that she was especially glad to present it with those “devoted to the new holiday which already for the third year will be celebrated on July 8th. That was created in honor of the Orthodox Saints, Petr and Fevroniya, but it is celebrated by all confessions because Russia is a multinational country.”
And then she gave a picture of Veliky Ustyug in Russia, noting that under her husband, “we have a program by which we send out young artists to various corners of Russia and abroad and they draw the great Russia.” She said she was happy to leave “one of these works” with the Russians of California.
After leaving the Cultural Center, Mrs. Medvedev visited the editorial officials of “Russkaya zhizn,” the émigré paper that was often attacked in Soviet times for its anti-communist line. The paper’s current editor, Vladimir Belyayev, told her that its current task is “to tell readers more correctively and objectively what is taking place in Russia.”
The editor asked the Russian First Lady to convey to her husband President Medvedev and “all the Russian leadership” the Russian diaspora’s “gratitude for what they are doing for the rebirth of Russia. We approve, love, value and believe in you and would like to help in this great task.”
And Belyayev added that “from myself, I would like to thank you for your concern about the restoration of the Naval Cathedral in Kronshtadt,” a project that Svetlana Medvedeva has long been involved in. In response, Mrs. Medvedev says that she very much appreciated the work the Russian diaspora has done and is doing.
“You are doing important and necessary work,” she said. “The spiritual life of Russia is now being reborn and we are grateful to you for the fact that you have preserved the culture, spirituality, integrity and what is most important the love” characteristic of Russians. “For you,” she concluded, “the doors of our country are always open.”

No comments: