"Deathly" silence fails to bury Tolstoy centenary

Tue Nov 30, 2010 12:03pm EST
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman and Yana Soboleva

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Russian Orthodox Church refused to rehabilitate him and the state chose to ignore him, but the official silence surrounding the 100th anniversary of Leo Tolstoy's death has not muffled praise or quelled debate.

Unlike the 150th anniversary of writer Anton Chekhov's birth this year -- which prompted an emotional outpouring from President Dmitry Medvedev and spurred a nationwide festival -- the November centenary of one of Russia's most universally acclaimed writers has been met with surreal silence.

Neither Medvedev nor Prime Minister Vladimir Putin mentioned the "War and Peace" author for the actual centenary on November 20th, the Culture Ministry planned no events in his honor and there were no major programs on state television -- Russia's favored outlet for tributes.

"There was a deathly silence...Tolstoy is a reminder of greatness, of humanity and their significance. And that is why we prefer not to remember," popular novelist Dmitry Bykov wrote in business magazine Profil earlier this month.

In a veiled swipe at the government, Bykov added that in today's Russia "not a single law has remained, nor honesty, nor conscience...It is better for today's Russians not to think about this."

Russia is peppered with museums to Tolstoy and his vast countryside estate, Yasnaya Polyana, about 190 km (120 miles) south of Moscow, is visited by thousands of Russians ever year.

But the white-bearded, prolific writer -- revered the world over for addressing war, love, God and family in epic novels such as War and Peace and "Anna Karenina" -- is still considered a touchy subject in his homeland.

"He was a dissident in every sense of the word and I think the government and church shivered a bit when Tolstoy raised his voice," Andrei Konchalovsky, co-producer of film "The Last Station" depicting Tolstoy's tumultuous final year, told reporters on Monday for its Russian release.   Continued...