Azerbaijan International

Summer 2005 (13.2)
Pages 28-29

Intellectual Responsibility

When Silence is Not Golden
Conversations with Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007)
and Galina Vishnevskaya by Claude Samuel

Other articles about Rostropovich
(1) "Rostropovich: The Home Museum" by Gulnar Aydamirova. (AI 11.2, Summer 2003)
(2) "Rostropovich: Happy 75th Birthday. World-Famous Cellist Celebrates in Baku." (AI 10.1, Spring 2002)
(3) "Rostropovich & Galina: Celebrating Their 50th Wedding Anniversary" by Betty Blair and Sheyla Heydarova. (AI 13.2, Summer 2005)
(4) "Famous People: Then and Now. Mstislav Rostropovich - Cellist and Conductor (1927-2007)." (AI 7.4, Winter1999)
(5) "Rostropovich Celebrates 70th Jubilee in Baku." (AI 5.2, Summer 1997)
(6) "Philharmonic Reopens: Renovation of Baku's Prestigious Concert Hall," by Abid Sharifov, Deputy Prime Minister. (AI 12.2, Summer 2004).

mstislav rostropovich

galina vishnevskaya

claude samuel

Editor: What is the responsibility of intellectuals to other artists and thinkers whom they know are being repressed by their respective governments in other parts of the world? What can they do? What should they do? And does it matter?

The following is an excerpt from conversations wtih music critic Claude Samuel and world-famous cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife, Bolshoi Opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya. Rostropovich was born in Baku. The home in which he was born was recently converted into a home museum and the street named after father and son cellists - Leopold and Mstislav.

The observations about how intellectuals should be active grew out of their own personal experience in assisting Russian composers Prokofiev and Shostakovich whose works were censured for a period of time under the restrictive Soviet regime. But then the spotlight was turned on Rostropovich and Galina themselves in 1970 when they befriended dissident writer Alexander Solshenitsyn (author of "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" and later the three volume "Gulag Archipelago" describing the horrors of the prison camps in Siberia, which he himself had survived and had lived to tell the story).

mstislav rostropovich
Left: Mstislav Rostropovich, World renown cellist, painted by Tahir Salahov. On display in Baku at the Rostropovich Home Museum in Baku, where the musician was born.

Rostropovich invited the writer and his family to spend the winter at his dacha outside of Moscow, as he had no place to live. Then the musician wrote an Open Letter in support of the maligned writer. But his humanitarian gesture brought on retaliation. Soviet authorities turned the spotlight on the musicians and revoked their citizenship and stripped them of all the music honors and privileges while they were on a two-year tour in the United States. This meant the Lenin and Stalin medals, which were the ultimate awards bestowed in the Soviet Union by some of the most respected and highly qualified musicians and music critics in the world. It's an understatement to say that Rostropovich and Galina were shocked by the decision.

Here, Galina and Rostropovich with French journalist and renowned music critic Claude Samuel discuss the responsibility of artists and intellectuals when they learn that fellow artists are being repressed by their governments. Although the conversation took place in 1983, it is as relevant today as it was back then. The silence and passiveness that Rostropovich speaks of during the Soviet period, is no less pervasive and tangible today, and not just in the republics of the former Soviet Union. Their words offer a challenge to Western artists and intellectuals.

The following excerpt is from the book: "Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya - Russia, Music and Liberty.

Conversations with Claude Samuel." Pages 122-126. See book cover, opposite page.

Samuel: What is the responsibility of intellectuals to their fellow artists in other parts of the world who are being repressed?

Galina: An artist living in a totalitarian country can do nothing or - as you well know - he will be immediately arrested. Sakharov went on a hunger strike, but do we have the right to demand such heroism of everyone? On the other hand, an artist who lives in the free world cannot compromise. He has all the power and, therefore, the obligation to speak, to express his opinions, and to protest.

Below: Russian dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn with his wife and Galina (left) in Washington DC, 1995. It was because Rostropovich befriended the writer that he and Galina were stripped of their own citizenship and superlative music awards.

galina vishnevskayaRostropovich: I have another question to pose. Sakharov went on a hunger strike because Lise, his future daughter-in-law, couldn't join her fiancé who had already defected to the West. Now, nobody in the Soviet Union needed Lise. One more or one less Lise among 260 million inhabitants: of what importance could it be? Everybody can understand that - above all, Sakharov's two hundred academic colleagues, who were cultivated men and great scholars.

But I would like to know who among them stood up to defend Sakharov, their colleague, who was on the brink of the abyss. Not that they would have spared their gold to erect a monument to his glory. But they never had occasion to spend it. No one stood up, though everyone knew that Sakharov was right. In the Soviet Union, everyone understands that.

Galina: When I was living in the Soviet Union, I already thought, and I think more than ever today, that the academicians and scholars should have assembled and marched down the street together shouting, "Enough of this tyranny!" They wouldn't have been shot!

Samuel: Why didn't they do it?

Galina: Because they were afraid! They're afraid in different ways. One is afraid he won't be able to get permission for his next trip abroad, another is afraid he won't get his raise...

Rostropovich: ...and someone else has a son finishing his secondary schooling who would like to enter the university...

mstislav rostropovich, galina vishnevskaya
Left: Available for purchase on the Internet: "Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya-Russia, Music and Liberty. Conversations with Claude Samuel." Reinhard G. Pauly, General Editor. Amadeus Press: Portland, Oregon 1995, 223 pages. ISBN 0-931340-76-4. Translated from French by E. Thomas Glasow. Copyright 1983 as "Entretiens avec Mstislav Rostropovitch et Galina Viechnevskaia" by Editions Robert Laffont, Paris. AI: Highly recommended. Lively and Insightful.

Galina: Yes, what do they fear? Petty things! Under the system, people have become so small-minded that all ethical behavior has been eradicated. Their only concern is getting a better loaf of bread than their neighbor's, gaining access to a store that is closed to other people, and buying a piece of sausage there while the neighbor has to wait five hours in line for the same amount of sausage! That's how they live, and that's why they haven't denounced the injustice.

Samuel: What a great victory for the Soviet regime: the intellectuals are reduced to silence!

Rostropovich: It must be said that it was accomplished at the cost of tens of millions of human lives!

Galina: Millions of people who were physically exterminated, and others whose spiritual existence was stifled.
Samuel: As for the silence of the composers...

Rostropovich: The composers? Do you think my great friend Shostakovich who wrote some works especially for me, my close friend Khachaturian, or a composer like Kabalevsky didn't know what I was going through when I was being persecuted? They knew! Shostakovich and Khachaturian saw me weeping several times. Couldn't they all have gone together to see the members of the government, to tell them, "You know, Rostropovich is an artist who can still serve Soviet music; he can be of great musical use to us, so don't dismiss him! He has numerous students, and you're apt to weaken our cello program - "?

None of them tried that approach because if they had stepped forward, Brezhnev would have raised his eyebrow and, with one eye shut, would have murmured, "Yes, he might not be a bad musician, but he isn't on our side! How could you think of pleading his case? How could you make such a mistake?"

Galina: And, the following year, as a result of their behavior in the matter, one of them might not receive the Lenin Prize!

Rostropovich: However strongly Galina and I describe the situation to you, we really feel it's difficult to explain it all to you in words. But when you live over there, when it's your skin on the line, it's a different matter!

Galina: Future generations will be appalled by the Soviet regime's misdeeds, but won't they be even more appalled at the silence of the free world? Here, anything is possible. Mouths, ears, and eyes are open, but the people don't want to understand what's happening over there. They don't want to. And that's an international refusal. You can scream all you want, they plug their ears. When you tell them, "Look, I'm bleeding, I'm being skinned alive!" they answer, "No, it isn't true!"

Samuel: What can someone who is a Soviet dissident do in the West?

Rostropovich: My duty is to explain what I know, honestly, everywhere, to tell what I myself have endured.

Galina: And if we don't use this opportunity, it's a crime against all those who remain over there.

Rostropovich: If we had come to the West as Soviet artists on tour, we wouldn't have been able to say half of one word of what we are saying today. Because we would have left our children over there, and we know very well that half a word would have been enough: from the moment we returned to Russia, our lives would have been over. I understand all the Soviet artists who remain silent. If I were still a Soviet artist, I would be silent too. We all kept quiet.

Samuel: Today [1983], on the contrary, one of your ambitions is to put pressure on Western governments.

Galina: We tell the stories, we speak of everything that we endured, everything we know, and the people themselves must draw their own conclusions.

Rostropovich: We're not trying to tell anyone what to do, whether they are our friends, or kings, or presidents.
Galina: But when people question us, we tell the truth.

Samuel: Don't you think that the silence of the West might be justified by the necessity of peaceful world coexistence? Being silent - to live in peace?

Galina: That was already done under Hitler, and that was enough! That method had been tried. Now maybe we should try another approach: force or disobedience!

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