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Must Read Paragraphs From Sunday’s Newspaper

April 29, 2007

Winston Churchill said something to the effect that Russia is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.  That is why reading Russian history can be exciting, and also so very frustrating.  A friend of ours who majored in Russian language and literature speaks often of how hard it is to crack open the mind of the Russian people with their  many layers of complexity.   So it was with those thoughts that the best Sunday newspaper paragraphs today are below not so much for the news they impart, but for the images they convey about that amazing country and their past.  Link.

After hesitating in the hours after his death on Monday, as if unsure how exactly to respond, the Kremlin employed the full power of the state’s servile television networks to transform Mr. Yeltsin’s beleaguered image into the religious, patriotic father of the political system he bequeathed to the current president Putin.

The funeral was the first the Russian Orthodox Church has officiated for a head of state here since the next-to-last czar, Aleksandr III, died in 1894. It took place not in the Column Hall of the House of Trade Unions, where Soviet leaders lie in state, but rather in the Christ the Savior Cathedral, the gold-domed city landmark destroyed on Stalin’s orders and rebuilt on Yeltsin’s.

He was buried not along the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, with Stalin, Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko, but rather in the historic Novodevichy Cemetery, with thousands of actors, artists and writers, cosmonauts, explorers and scientists.

When the white-robed priests completed their incantations, a military band played the old Soviet national anthem, which Mr. Yeltsin abolished but Mr. Putin reinstated, albeit with new lyrics.

The Orthodox Church’s resurrection in Russian society is now firmly established, but the striking tableau of Mr. Yeltsin’s coffin, draped in the Russian tricolor, accompanied by a military honor guard and presided over by bearded priests, embodied symbols of a new Russia — state, military and church — very much like the Russia of old.

Mr. Putin embraced Mr. Yeltsin the way Stalin embraced Lenin, appropriating his legacy by transforming him “into the realm of state propaganda” to be used for other ends.

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