Poets and authors make up the biggest group of winners, and Mikhail Lermontov, Russia’s second most beloved poet after Alexander Pushkin, was the biggest vote-getter, garnering the support of 367,681 in the Caucasus, not far from where Lermontov died in a duel. Pushkin’s name went to Moscow’s biggest airport, Sheremetyevo.
These choices largely show healthy preferences for local heroes, people of courage and larger-than-life figures – like Pushkin or Peter the Great – who have transcended the changes in propaganda lines. But they also show the disappointing degree to which the great Russian culture, the country’s biggest claim to the world’s respect, is irrelevant today. Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Kazimir Malevich, Pavel Filonov, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky – none of these greats made short lists anywhere.
Russia’s corps of heroes as formed by the airport vote reflects a peace-loving, pedestrian country with strong local identities. That’s not the Russia of today’s news stories – but perhaps the Russia of today’s public opinion polls, which show a growing disconnect between the people and their government and a diminishing trust in the propaganda pushed by national television. It’s a gray country that’s not too proud of itself.
Even though Putin will make the final renaming decisions, including on airports where winners weren’t picked or the same patrons won as elsewhere, this Russia clearly resists the imposition of any single ideology. As in late Soviet times, Russians are killing the state in themselves. Though there will be no Letov airport, the rocker may still have the last word with his 1988 song.
Leonid Bershidsky is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering European politics and business. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website Slon.ru. The views expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Moscow Times.