Putin's Power Ploys
Vladimir Putin, Grave Robber

As part of a propaganda campaign to portray himself as the heir of a continuous, unbroken tradition of strong Russian leadership, Vladmir Putin has begun repatriating the remains of imperial heroes exiled by the Soviets. It’s a sort of funereal form of reconciliation—and at least one target’s family is having no part of it. RFERL reports:

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s great-great-granddaughter says that not only are Moscow suggestions that his gravesite is neglected in the United States “categorically false,” but she also stresses that the Russian-American icon of classical music fled the Soviet Union because “the Russia he once knew and loved no longer existed.”

The comments by Susan Sophia Volkonskaya-Wanamaker to RFE/RL’s Russian Service further challenge a narrative, which Russian officials have long appeared eager to push, that portray Rachmaninoff’s legacy as somehow misappropriated by his adopted home, the United States.

Rachmaninoff was exiled by the Soviet Union and lived the last two and a half decades of his life in the United States. His will clearly states that he wished to be buried in New York.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated trend. A recent article in the New York Review of Books by Masha Gessen illustrates the extent and significance of the reburial movement:

A recent propaganda film called “President,” a two-and-a-half-hour review of the victories Putin has won for Russia, included the exhumation and reburial, in 2005, of White Guard general Anton Denikin, (who died in Ann Arbor in 1947), nationalist philosopher Ivan Ilyin (who was exiled from Russia on Lenin’s orders in 1922, and died in Switzerland in 1954), and their wives. Putin himself laid flowers at their new Moscow graves for the cameras. For the propaganda movie, the country’s most successful film director, Nikita Mikhalkov, explained that the reburials were the “real end of the civil war” that had followed the Bolshevik Revolution.

Fortunately, Rachmaninoff’s family are still around to fight for his wishes. Hopefully the State Department will resist the Kremlin’s effort as strongly as they would for any other American citizen, which Rachmaninoff was. In the meantime, here’s a recording of Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, played by his friend and fellow Russian exile Vladimir Horowitz. Happy weekend, everybody.


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