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Unpopular Thoughts on Moscow’s Celebration and London’s Tragedy

Part 1

Two urns by Jove’s high throne have ever stood,
The source of evil one, and one of good;
From thence the cup of mortal man he fills,
Blessings to these, to those distributes ills;
To most he mingles both.

This translation from Homer’s Iliad (XXIV, 663–667) by Alexander Pope was quoted in a letter of August 1, 1816 from Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, Virginia, to his friend and colleague (also former US President) John Adams in Quincy, Massachusetts, in letters exchanged between them concerning “Grief” (a word, more commonly used at the time, meaning deep personal “sorrow”, perhaps even what we mean today with the word “suffering”), and the measures of pleasure and pain in the life of mankind. On theater facades there are the smiling and crying masks: comedy and tragedy.

In Moscow and London, Saturday, September 6, 1997 was coincidentally the day selected for public participation in very different occasions in the two cities: celebration and funeral. And the realities, relations and contrasts of these two “urns” give some insight into what we in the English-speaking world sometimes call “the human condition”.

The Myths of Prince Dolgoruki and Princess Diana

Monument of Prince Yuri Dolgorukiy in Moscow
Monument of Prince Yuri Dolgorukiy in Moscow

However Prince Yuri Dolgoruki actually appeared in life on that unmomentous day sometime in 1147 (September 5–7 is merely selected for social convenience) when he founded today’s city of Moscow on the banks of the two rivers, he and his steed certainly did not look really much of anything like “his” noble, heroic visage and stance, to be seen in the statue on Tverskaya Square where it has stood for all the many years since 1954. Contrariwise, it is highly doubtful that the world would ever have known of, nor come so widely to mourn, Princess Diana’s life and death, if the world had not known, even daily, how lovely she looked – even during many moments of her life that she had begged to keep private. Yuri, “the Founder of Moscow” (ca.1090–1157) had no idea that he, eight and a half centuries later, would be the center of Moscow’s great 850th celebration in 1997; Diana, Princess of Wales, wished, often in despair, that she was not at all such an important celebrity to the world. And the public festivities in Moscow, and the somber (almost) “state funeral” ceremonies in London – by chance on the same day – showed much more about “the human condition”, in comedy and tragedy, than about the centuries-old Prince, or the young, troubled Princess. For neither were really what the public mythologized them into being.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines “myth” as “traditional narrative usually involving supernatural or fancied persons, etc., and embodying popular ideas on natural or social phenomena, etc.” And Prince Yuri Dolgoruki and Diana, Princess of Wales, were persons which public fancy had indeed embodied with its own social ideas. Poor Prince Dolgoruki could not quite articulate his own opinions at conditions in the city (which the street banners told everyone to “love”, “believe”, “trust”, that it is “the best city in the world”, the “heart of Holy Russia”, etc.) which he may have disapproved. Perhaps Dolgoruki, there on his noble steed, thought that the ca. $50,000,000 reportedly spent on the great festivities was a bit untimely, inappropriate and unkind to many of the (like him) older, pensioned Russians who in the past Soviet time had helped to build the Moscow, people should so love today. Or would he also think that opening as many McDonald’s in Moscow as possible, is the best for his city? Surely at the ceremonial center of the 850th anniversary of Moscow – with its flag, besides the Prince’s statue, going up and down at the beginning and at the end – the Prince was conveniently quiet . . . no matter what was said for or about him or his city. Princess Diana could truly hardly utter a word, or do a single activity out-of-doors, without its being reported, factually or falsely, warmly or maliciously, on the front pages of the “tabloids” and other more “serious” newspapers around the world. Prince Yuri had to silently suffer whatever the current rulers of Moscow wanted to say before him (and then to endure the overly loud, mediocre pop music, and sometimes indecent dancing). Princess Diana, with, at times, vehement, and, at other times, imploring protest, had to often suffer being the unwanted topic of print, photo and gossip for millions of unknown people around the world.

Moscow’s New Triumvirate

Moscow, September 5, 1997, 7–8 p.m.

Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov, President of Russia Boris Yeltsin and Patriarch Alexy II at the ceremony of Luzhkov’s inauguration, 21 June 1996
Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov, President of Russia
Boris Yeltsin and Patriarch Alexy II at the ceremony
of Luzhkov’s inauguration, 21 June 1996

The energetic Mayor of Moscow (“Monarch” – or King – of Moscow seem somewhat closer to the facts), the increasingly “baby-faced” looking, aging “President” of the Russian Federation, and the Russian Patriarch, are the main “triumvirate” at the “Official Opening Ceremony”. The “Monarch of Moscow” speaks, in his characteristically forceful manner, of the great celebration of the great city in great Russia which is about to begin. And with the great Yuri Dolgoruki, the Founder of Moscow, pointing downwards, the “President” and Patriarch add their predictable comments concerning the great celebrations about to begin what they describe as the (for them rather convenient) center and heart of all Russia (political, or “Holy”). But as the “Monarch of Moscow” sat next to the “President” of the Russian Federation and the Patriarch of Moscow and All (the remaining) Russia, images from old films and photos of the last Russian Tzar, Tzar Nicholas II, with then bishops of the Church could easily be called to mind. Clearly, after the time of the “Bolsheviks” and the USSR, the Tzar was no longer present amidst the new rulers of Russia – that traditional social institution had neither survived, nor been revived, and the people both on and off the dais did not seem to miss him much. He had been replaced by the political President and Mayor (President-in-preparation?). The Russian Tzars and Tzarina had claimed – as had the other, now mostly-fallen dynastic rulers of Europe – divine right to rule. So, if Tzar Nicholas II (theoretically) had God on his side, above and supporting him, what was above and supporting the astonishingly popular political Mayor? His “democratic election”? The US$ and German DM? The new plutocratic, nomenclatural structures of Moscow? (Is that some sort of Masonic necklace he sometimes wears?) Though this opening ceremony was clearly not for average Russians, or the rabble – such crowds were kept safely blocks away, or in front of their TVs, but only for those special people with special invitations issued by the rulers of the celebrations, apparently the Russian people did not require, or much miss, the Tzar as ruler. He was replaced by a President and Mayor; but how had the Patriarchy returned after Communist rule to the dais? For there it clearly was, in the person of the crafty-eyed, current Patriarch. The Tzar left history’s and the ruler’s stage, apparently not to return; would the Patriachy sometime also be left behind in history? Certainly the huge chorus aside the multimillion dollar (“Possessors’”) replicated 19th century Church edifice Saturday night seemed to assure a prominent, visible (politically-desired) social presence for years to come. (Does the Patriarch really, personally, in his soul and mind, believe all the doctrine he represents – it could heretically be wondered? Is he intellectually troubled by the world’s religions contrasting claims of truth, God, etc.? Does he also just accept and believe the Russian Church’s teachings and rituals? Because they are Russian tradition, the true (Russian Orthodox) single doctrine of Truth on God’s earth? In any case, he, of the new post-Soviet ruling triumvirate on the dais there, clearly claims to have God above and supporting him.) The Tzar is gone, yet the renewed (?) Church and new political State seem clearly to need and love each other deeply.

So Prince Yuri Dolgoruki looks on, as the current rulers of Moscow preside over the (many exclusive) ceremonies of the 850th Anniversary of Moscow celebrations. What does he think of it all?…

The Divine Uncertainty

Humanity today is too spiritually and culturally small, too confused, temporal and historically-ignorant, to genuinely celebrate (perhaps it should be mourned!?) eight and a half centuries of human life, death, suffering and joy, culture and history . . . . It is illusory, pretentious, exaggerated and/or disingenuous, to imagine today that we are adequate to celebrate such a great reality today. Most of the public events of the new Moscow celebrations – to which public were permitted attendance – were little more than common stage shows (hardly distinct, in much of any special way, from the rather low, common culture one usually sees here on TV, or at other “great celebrations”). There were also sincere, though somehow really unconvincing parades, acts, performances and pageantry galore. Yet the fact is that all of our human life, society and globalizing civilization today is pervaded by a deep and profound – if ignored or poorly-recognized – Uncertainty. Somehow we know and feel (even if very seldom clearly, and preferring not to admit it individually or collectively) that the God we most all hope and pray exists is “dead” – dead not of course in fact, but to us, in our lives, our society, our souls, our confused culture(s), intellectual life, our troubled daily multinational, multi-religious civilization. Nietzsche’s famous cry (“God is Dead”), made now more than a century ago, may be unknown and distant to many common people today (be they Russians or Americans), but the “divine Uncertainty” he (with others) discerned, named and suffered, is nonetheless present at the core of our culture, in the troubled, missing heart of our civilization, and in our daily lives. But, as it is said in America, “The show must go on!”, and whether London be in mourning, or Calcutta in shock over the inconveniently-timed death of Mother Teresa (born on August 26, 1910, as Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia), or Muscovites unsure what they are really celebrating, the spectacle of the celebratory events in Moscow must go on!

London, England (and reports say portions of the USA and elsewhere) on Saturday were said to be in mourning – silent crowds, solemn ceremonies – at the very same time that there were cheers and songs in Moscow, Russia. Moscow cheers; London cries. The “urns” of Jove present and meeting in an age and world of mass communication – so that it was possible to watch the street parade in Moscow on TV while at the very same time listening to a BBC radio report of the London funeral cortège of Princess Diana. (How to feel, in celebrating Moscow, London’s pain; how, in London, to be joyful of Moscow’s anniversary events? And Calcutta?) “The show must go on . . .”; parades, loud sentimental music and songs, fireworks, traditional Russian dances, laser shows, clowns, crowds – the “masses” on the streets of Moscow, millions standing crying in the streets of London as the funeral march passes by, Diana’s body en route to its final burial place (reportedly on an island – peacefully inaccessible to the public!).

In Moscow, how could anything really be enjoyed in such crowded conditions – except at the quiet, orderly exclusive events by a special invitation only? Someone should study and compare the faces of Muscovites in films from, say, 1913, 1917, 1921, 1933, 1945, 1947, … 1997, to see whether Moscow should celebrate 850 years. The visages on a walk down Tverskaya Street on Saturday afternoon, the sixth of September 1997, suggested that Moscow and Russia should rather have been mourning – or at least serious worry and reflection.

Especially to let there be abundant action.
They come to look, for they wish to see.
Let plenty happen right before their eyes,
So that the crowd can gape in wonder,
Then you have easily won them over,
And are thus the much-loved man.
The masses can only be convinced by the massive,
And each in the end finds a little something for himself.

(The Director, “Prelude to the Theater”, Faust, lines 89–96)

Celebrating a great city’s anniversary in the USA, where so many of the “big events” were closed to the common citizens – unless at least an open public fair lottery, for a good number of public seats had been held – could easily cause city riots and pandemonium. (Doesn’t Moscow want to have a “normal” city life?) The (“elite”?) participants in new, international, cosmopolitan Moscow, at the 6 or more exclusive “big events” of the three-day celebrations, seemed quite unbothered and undisturbed by the otherwise crowded streets and events – and to enjoy their celebrations.

The Sophia of Lasers

Orthodox icons projected onto the façade of the Moscow State University in Jean Michel Jarre’s laser show, 6 September 1997
Orthodox icons projected onto the façade of the Moscow State University in Jean Michel Jarre’s laser show,
6 September 1997

The closing ceremony provided an impressionistic, grand spectacle of a review of Moscow’s past – probably impressive, if one were inside Luzhniki to see it. Is Moscow – as the “Monarch of Moscow”, the President of Russian Federation, and the Patriarch repeatedly said – the “heart” and “center” of Russia? Or is not the United States dollar and huge multinational corporations and banks not the real, new, social force in Moscow and Russia today? In a lecture in Moscow in 1992, I said that the economic, dollar life in the West, if it ever came to Russia, would change every single aspect of life here. Yet the city’s paid social advertisements, of quotes by Pushkin and Chekhov on wonderful Moscow, and how it should be loved, make me wonder whether Moscow was not indeed really wonderful in the 19th century! For how much there is in that звук . . . 7 proud McDonald’s hamburger restaurants (and more are coming – hoorah!); illuminated street-signs advertising transnational corporations enlightening the renewed life of the city (with Pepsi, Philips, Bayer, Heineken, Coca-Cola, Samsung, etc., ad infinitum); many Mafia Mercedeses polluting everywhere; money mania; Hollywood’s Chuck Norris, Schwarzenegger, Stallone, et al, all visiting bringing their low American culture to many eager, welcoming Russians; “US$” and “DM” signs on every corner . . . surely Pushkin and Chekhov would approve and love (Москва, я тебя люблю!) the post-Soviet, Dollar Moscow of 1997! – as also assuredly would Prince Dologoruki, the great Founder of the great city of Moscow (hell-bent as it is on copying the major cities of the West).

The closing ceremony’s dances of the “modern” Russian period, reminded one of the earlier “pagan” dances, far more than the intervening dances devoted to Christian “Old Holy Russia”.

It was reported in the papers that an image of Mary (as a protectress of a city) was projected into the air over Luzhniki during the closing ceremonies, as a blessing for Moscow. But rather than the Biblical “Woman Clothed with the Sun” (Revelation, Ch. 12) (the core idea of Philotheus and his idea of “the Third Rome”), or the mysterious spiritual figure of the “Sophia” (hinted at with the Vladimirskaya, and the pursuit of many Russian philosophers and writers), a high-tech, three-dimensional, laser-image of Mary was a substitute for any spiritual reality – towards which some few in Russian and the West for more than a century have said that Russia has a special historically-destined relationship in the history of mankind.

Part 2

Global Gossip about the Fairy Tale

And London (founded by the Romans as Londinium in the 1st century AD), was in mourning for Princess Diana, who, though she was often reported as being a mere “commoner” who married into the Royal Family, came in fact from a four centuries-old aristocratic English family line. One must here say, more, the poor Princess of Wales, for she was truly, as her brother spoke during the ceremony in Westminster Abbey, hunted and hounded perpetually by the press and photographers. She had even recently spoken publicly of wishing to leave England which turned out so many people to mourn her death. Just days before her death, the BBC had had another program which discussed the “Di” phenomena, and mentioned her deep frustration, and anger, at being always and constantly hunted by photographers. A British newsman even stated frankly that she would face this problem for the rest of her life!

Funeral procession of Diana, Princess of Wales, 6 September 1997
Funeral procession of Diana, Princess of Wales,
6 September 1997

Millions in the world – not only Great Britain and the USA – were eager to read any private tidbits about her private life – especially boyfriends, lovers, problems, passions, illicit photos, and all such. It was global gossip, before it lead to her death. (Had she not been subject to such abnormal conditions, had she not become an “icon”, a “myth” to the public, she would have been able that evening, or any other, to ride peacefully in a chauffeured automobile to wherever she desired.) Common British people – after her shocking death – time and time again in interviews the week after her death said that they loved her because she was “just like them”: a royal who acted like common folks, she was warm and friendly, and not stuffy and formal like the other “Royals”. (Americans contrariwise, having no royalty, were interested in her for being a beautiful Royal.) But if she had not married Charles, Prince of Wales, in an age (unlike Jesus’, whose special birth and death were witnessed by few) of mass communication, few of the millions worldwide who would come to weep for her after her death, would ever even have known of her. The “fairy tale” wedding – the shy, lovely, young woman marries the Prince, and becomes a Princess. (But fairy tales always have messages; so what is the lesson of this one? Do the millions ask, or care?)

The average British “commoner” seems to have been raised to feel inherently inferior to the “Royals”, and so to feel that a saint walks among them, when a “Royal” acts “common”, and is kind to them. But what is the human condition when millions throughout the world are so upset and devastated by the tragic death of a woman whom they could only have imagined they knew through TV and the press? Wasn’t Diana, to most people around the world, sort of a mixture of Hollywood celebrity, beauty, and Royalty? And worshipped and gossiped about like a special Hollywood “star”? Princess Diana is also not the only “Royal Family Member” or European aristocrat, to speak out for the poor, troubled, unfortunate and downtrodden in the world; and if she had not been so lovely and shy (as a “fairy tale princess”), would she have been so troubled by intrusion into her private life? What does the “myth” of “Di” say about the millions who wanted to believe in it, to gossip about it?

Saint or Celebrity?

Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1986)
Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1986)

Mother Teresa died (inconveniently) on the night before Princess Diana’s funeral, but people’s woes and mourning for the saintly Teresa would have to wait for later (Diana was already the main news event, and emotion, for now). Listening to the emotional comments and praises that British and other people continually made during the week after Diana’s death (before the public funeral ceremony), one is forced to ask: who was really closer to a “saint”, Diana, Princess of Wales, or Mother Teresa of Calcutta? And if Mother Teresa had been as beautiful and “Royal” as Diana, and nonetheless done such work as she did among the poorest of the poor of Calcutta and elsewhere . . . well, she would probably (irrespective of the absurd, bureaucratic Catholic Canonical requirements for post-mortem miracles to be investigated by committees and proven) have been proclaimed a saint, by universal acclaim, even before her death.

Crowds are, most often, stupid places. And, en masse, men and women today – in so far as they are a part of the crowd, of the masses, are fickle – of whichever “urn” they may partake – and even often ridiculous and dumb. The life and funeral ceremony for “Princess Di”, was indelicately and thoughtlessly compared and contrasted in size, numbers-attending, character, significance, etc., to that of Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Onassis, et al (but not at all Stalin or Mao!). But what are we to understand by such except that the minds, lives and souls of millions are too determined by the mass media and its indelicate “mind”?

Diana, Princess of Wales, was more a celebrity than a saint (even though she did good works); Mother Teresa was more a saint than a celebrity (even though she was well-known, and reportedly knew how to use the media to her advantage). As Diana’s brother stated impolitely at her funeral ceremony in Westminster Abbey of London about the paparazzi, and the Islamically-hunted Salmon Rushdie wrote in a recent New York Times piece, in which he said that everyone who read the “tabloids” and newspaper stories about “Di” are implicated and partly guilty of her death – it is fair to say that global gossip helped kill her.

Apparently millions believed, like children, in her “Fairy Tale”; clearly millions worship celebrities, and need to hear gossip about the most private and intimate aspects of their lives. Yet, the family Spenser, to whom Diana belonged, is older than the first recorded English-language usage (1627) of the word “gossip” to mean not a person, but the act of “talk[ing] idly, mostly about other people’s affairs”. But what knowledge do those who so “loved” Diana have of her family’s long history in England? And how much more were they interested in her love affairs?

The marriage, life, loves, and problems of Princess Diana were to millions a myth; but the “fairy tale” had an unhappy ending! Had she not – as unfortunately happened – died in the senseless car crash on August 31, and an illicit photo of her, say, partially nude, and with her Egyptian boyfriend, been published on the evening of September 5th, what would have been the emotions and public expressions related to Diana seen on the streets of London on Saturday September 6 by many of the very same people who were so upset at her death?

Diana, Princess of Wales, was a good, perhaps even a noble soul, but she was not the “icon”, the great, wonderful, angelic “myth” that the millions and the press made of her. (And even if she was, she begged to be left alone.) Her “fairy tale” wedding in St. Paul’s Cathedral could also suggest that one reflect on poor St. Paul. He was persecuted and killed for his beliefs, and attempts to bring Christianity to the “Gentiles”; but his name was spoken thoughtlessly, a mere flat fact: the name of the Cathedral in which the wedding took place. At the funeral ceremony the famous Elton John sang his sentimental song (originally written for, or dedicated to, someone else famous: Marilyn Monroe), as if a “candle in the wind” could last for even ten seconds. Diana’s agony was the public’s unwanted intrusion into her private life; she suffered from people’s desire to gossip – and then they come and weep for her! (Forgive them?)

Diana, Princess of Wales in 1995
Diana, Princess of Wales in 1995

Several individuals (prominent and not so) have said that ‘we all killed Diana’, by our reading about the private parts of her life. Voyeurism of a sort. And they claim that if people really loved and cared so much for Diana, that they would, after her death, refuse in the future to buy and read any such cheap Tabloid papers (which had invaded her life, till it not only tormented her emotionally, but helped kill her physically!) They suggested that these mourning millions should have a change of heart (St. Paul’s metanoia), renouncing such low occupations and interests in the future – in honor of her who they loved. But, as Salmon Rushdie stated in a BBC interview about his piece on Diana’s death in the New York Times, and other commentators agreed with him on this – there is about as much chance of such a inner, societal change (in the millions worldwide who read avidly about “Di”, and then were so moved over her tragic death) as for a kernel of popcorn to not pop in hell. The great public mourning for Diana (should it have been self-reflective shame, and pleas for forgiveness?) which silenced the tremendous crowds on the streets of London on Saturday (and was watched by a Guiness World Book of Records-breaking billions around the world) says much more about “the human condition”, than about the hunted, desperate Princess Diana. Frankly, in a year or two, will there not be some other celebrity pursued by the same now-chastened, repentant press, photographers, and gossip? The exaggerated statements made about the 2.5 million people round the world watching the funeral ceremonies (poor Jesus Christ “superstar”, and St. Paul, had no mass communication) – for a woman, lovely, Royal, sensitive, whom they could not really know as a person, does not augur well for human society or culture. But such worries are not new. Perhaps they are as old as mankind. On September 2, 1813, John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson on “aristocracy”:

Now, my Friend, who are the ἄριστοι [“aristocrats”]? Philosophy may answer “The Wise and Good”. But the World, Mankind, have by their practice always answered, “the rich, the beautiful and well born.” And Philosophers themselves in marrying their children prefer the rich, the handsome and the well descended to the wise and good.

What chance have Talents and Virtues in competition with Wealth and Birth? And Beauty?

In the previous American Reflections, written before the Moscow 850 celebrations, I described the celebrations as a pseudo-event. I am not a Russian – neither of the crowds on the streets of Moscow those three days, nor a cultured intellectual, and certainly not one of the invited participants with special invitations – so I cannot say how it felt as a Moscovite or Russian; but nothing I saw changed my opinion. It was all rather predictable as a “celebration”. The “Director” in Goethe’s Faust seems to have described the Moscow celebrations most truly. I am also not one of the many millions who were enchanted by the “Fairy Tale” wedding in London some 16 years ago; nor have I cared overmuch about the intimacies of the life of the “icon” Diana, Princess of Wales since; so I cannot say just what her admirers and mourners felt – and why – in their tears. But I do find ridiculous, the ways in which they seem to prefer to feel, rather than to think, or reflect even on their own personal relation to her tragic death.

Dragon Killing, and Mass Confession?

The coat of arms of Moscow with Saint George and the Dragon
The coat of arms of Moscow
with Saint George and the Dragon

Saint George killing the Dragon in Moscow (seen everywhere in August and on September 5–7) – would be great. Yes, that would be an event worth celebrating; perhaps even Prince Yuri Dolgoruki would assist – and agree. Had the grand Moscow celebrations intended and attempted to elevate the human soul and society, rather than just to entertain and distract them, then truly the 850th anniversary would have been a great social event worthy of world admiration and acclaim. Had the “Moscow Triumvirate” spoken of the deeper meanings of “St. George Killing the Dragon” – relating to the defeat of the forces of the dragon within each person, and the call to a higher, inner life of the heart, soul and society – then Moscow’s celebrations might have been more than the exaggerated party (of which “the Director” in Faust would have been proud) that they were.

Had Londoners come out in millions to admit their complicity, their human weaknesses manifest in their popular passion for gossip (and disrespect for Diana’s own distressed, personal pleas for privacy), the fact that they had lived lives “lower” than they should, by reading about the most private details of Diana’s life, that would be a mass confession far more encouraging than the millions merely emotionally mourning her.

Moscow and London, September 6, 1997. Great celebration and great sorrow – in each city a manifestation of “the human condition” from the two “urns” of Jove. Both events seem to me to be somewhat false and unreal, and neither to show much hopeful of high in “the human condition”, but considering most reports and comments in the mass media, such thoughts are, at least in numbers, unpopular.

First published in the magazine English, #39, October 1997, p. 1-14; #40, October 1997, p. 14.

See also the essay Sleep and Pain, and Anniversaries at 220 and 850? (English, #35, August 1997).