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Russia's universal artist

By Other Views: Washington Post
Published May 1, 2007


In a rare venture into eloquence, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke last week of the late Boris Yeltsin as "a person of a scale and soul inherent to Russia." This was true of Yeltsin. But if spoken of another Russian giant - cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, who died Friday at 80 - these words would be understatement. For Rostropovich transcended nationality and culture. He represented the true greatness of Russia, a country from which he was exiled, with which he reconciled and which he chose, in his last days, as the place where he would die.

He fostered and fought for that outward-looking spirit that embraces openness, understanding and, above all, liberty.

It was not an easy fight, but it was one in which freedom had no better friend. Throughout the period of ideological idiocy that stifled not only Russia's political life but its music, literature and all other forms of artistic expression, Rostropovich stood by his embattled friends, defended them and risked his own standing in doing so.

In America, as in Russia, what Rostropovich stood for was far greater than ideology or propaganda. It was freedom of expression and a passionate devotion to the arts and to the universality of the idea of political liberty that allows the arts to flourish.