The Winter Olympics in Sochi ended this past Sunday. I posted several entries related to the Olympics, but here are some leftover reflections about the ceremonies that I did not fit in elsewhere. Like most leftovers, they lack an elegant presentation but hopefully contain some sustenance.
I really enjoyed the opening and closing ceremonies. The suspension mechanism and the floor image projection were amazing—especially the latter, as I have never seen anything like it before. I also liked the child’s dream narrative, which started with an alphabetical exploration of Russian history and culture. Д is for Dostoevsky! In the closing ceremony, we even got to see Fyodor Mikhailovich in the flesh (the actor looked just like him) along with other greats of Russian literature. The ballet performances were exquisite—War and Peace in the opening and a showcase of the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky in the closing. There were also the obligatory—and immensely appreciated—compositions by Tchaikovsky, including music from Swan Lake. It may not be the classical snob’s favorite piece (because the polloi fancy it so), but I have loved the Swan theme since infancy. That is no exaggeration. Swan Lake was probably the first music that I heard over and over as a baby that was not a lullaby. I still get goose bumps (swan shivers?) every time that I hear it. The melody calls deep into my soul.
The wicked Western press made an inordinate fuss about the opening ceremony’s ring malfunction—really the only problem in the program. So, it was quite amusing when the Russians made fun of themselves in the closing ceremony as performers temporarily recreated the malfunction in human form. Self-deprecation is disarming.
I was impressed by the way the opening ceremony’s historical exposition handled the twentieth century; it treated the revolution and the Second World War in a very tactful manner. The presentation also made an argument of which intellectuals often need reminding—that human life is not absolutely consumed by ideology. We thinking types tend to reduce epochs to their ideological content, and it is important to reflect upon world views and how they shape the societies that hold them. However, most people in every time and place are not intellectuals, and though their lives are influenced by the reigning ideas, they are not totally dominated by them. Depeche Mode is right—people are people. They care about the little and great things that make up one’s day. The ceremony’s depiction of Soviet life was not all hammers and sickles—but students and bobby socks and guys in cruising cars and mothers and the baby boom and strolls through the park on a Sunday afternoon. This is important for us anti-Communists to understand as we consider how the Russians reflect upon their past. Should the Russians have repented of Communism? Indeed. However, generations of Russians grew up in the Soviet Union, and they remember much of their life dearly. For it was theirs. One’s nation is like one’s family. Indeed, a nation is a rather extended family, as Steve Sailer likes to remind his readers. And families are sometimes dysfunctional. But your family remains your family, even (especially) in bad times, and you love them despite their shortcomings. Similarly, the Soviet period involved extreme evils and political perversion, but seventy years of human life cannot be reduced to Marxist ravings. It is for such a reason that I empathize with the Russians who wanted their old Soviet national anthem rather than its short-lived replacement in the nineties. Yes, it was Stalin’s song. Yes, it was the anthem of a vicious regime. However, it was the most patriotic song for millions of Russians, and it is understandable that they loved it.
Besides, it is a sweet anthem—one of if not the best among national anthems. The Sretensky Monastery Choir did it justice during the opening ceremony. Beautiful!
As a side note, I shared soup (borscht, of course) with those young men who sing in Russia’s best choir. During their tour of the United States, the Sretensky Monastery Choir sang for four and a half hours at a liturgy in D.C. It was awesome. Following their feat, the men dined with parishioners in the church hall. They earned their хлеб that day.
Anyway, I think that we need to keep in mind the human factor when we consider Russians’ ambivalence toward their Soviet heritage. We traditionalists rightly despise many things about contemporary America (“America 2.0” as named by Lawrence Auster, which featured prominently in Chevrolet’s commercials during the Olympics). Yet, who among us does not think fondly of so many aspects of our culture—even national elements that have been marred by the evil times? What American wouldn’t feel pain to witness the U.S.A. vanish? A father might be a worthless scoundrel, but his son may still remember him with love and grieve at his passing. Such is the reality captured by the red balloon at the end of the opening ceremony. It was not a red-washing of Soviet horrors. Rather, it was an endearing reminder of the everyday, everyman dimension of life.