Russia honors freedom of serfs, American slaves

Fri Feb 25, 2011 5:57am EST
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - They wrote letters to each other, were both assassinated in public, and led separate campaigns to free large swathes of their countrymen.

Czar Alexander II and President Abraham Lincoln now share the spotlight in a new exhibit, which Russia and the United States opened Tuesday in the State Archive in Moscow.

"This is a chance to bring to life a marvelous relationship," said James Symington, a former U.S. congressman who heads the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation, which co-sponsored the exhibit.

Designed to coincide with the 150th anniversary last week of Alexander II's emancipation of the serfs, the exhibit features 200 items including the two liberators' clothing, bayonets, pictures and most importantly -- their writing tools.

Alexander II's ink-stained quill with which he scribed the 1861 emancipation sits in a glass box opposite the metal nib pen Lincoln used to free the slaves in 1863, both forever changing the political landscape of their countries.

"Here are two friends who never met personally but were together in spirit," Symington told reporters before a brass band clad in Russian imperial regalia opened the exhibit.

Nineteenth century prints of the Czar congregating with joyous serfs -- he emancipated 23 million of them -- hang on the pastel pink walls of the secretive State Archive next to whips and shackles American slaves were subjected to.

During the middle of the U.S. Civil War, Lincoln's Emancipation of Proclamation freed around 4 million slaves.   Continued...