Dmitriy Likhachev Biography
It is a great regret that our esteemed and revered co-chair, Academician Dmitriy Likhachev, died on the last day of the pilot program, on September 30, 1999, in St. Petersburg. His support throughout his terminal illness made the Russian Leadership Program (RLP) a success. Often called the Conscience of Russia, he gave the program deep legitimacy; he personally participated in the nomination and selection process; and he embodied the spirit of the strengthened U.S.-Russian ties that the RLP sought to build. We at the Library dedicate whatever praise and success the program has enjoyed to the memory and spirit of the 92-year-old Dmitriy Sergeyevich Likhachev.
Born in St. Petersburg on November 28, 1906, Academician Dmitriy Sergeyevich Likhachev witnessed the 1917 Revolution as a youth. Arrested for participating some years later in one of the student discussion groups then in vogue, he was sentenced to five years of hard labor at the former Solovki monastery in Russia's far north, which became the first prison camp of the notorious GULAG penal system. He emerged strengthened by the experience, writing that "the inconveniences, the deprivations, and even misfortunes that a person may have to endure because of his convictions are nothing by comparison with the torments of spirit and soul which are inevitable should he abandon his principles." Likhachev outlived the Soviet period, never betraying his deep religious faith and patriotic love of Russia. More than anyone else, he created and exemplified a Russian identity that combined healthy patriotism and a rich appreciation for all aspects of Russian culture with a full openness and understanding of western and other non-Russian cultures, including the many minority cultures that were embedded in Rus and in Russia long before Peter the Great's establishment of the more westward-looking city of Petersburg with which Likhachev's life is so closely identified.
A member of the Russian National Academy, Likhachev headed the Department of Ancient Russian at the Academy's Institute of Russian Literature (the "Pushkin House") in Leningrad/St. Petersburg. Not only was he the greatest scholar of his time of Old Russian culture, but also he was one of the strongest voices for the humane and democratic reconstruction of Russia. Following the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, Likhachev became one of the most revered figures in his own country to ordinary people seeking authentic links with the scholarly and spiritual traditions that had been so deeply violated in the Soviet era. He was a cultural and historical advisor to the Gorbachevs. He served notably in the Soviet parliament. He gave one of the most moving speeches at the time of the attempted putsch in August 1991 when the future of Russia hung in the balance, noting that speaking out only had true moral meaning when the outcome itself was in doubt. Later on, he persuaded President Yeltsin to participate in the controversial burial ceremony of the remains of Tsar Nicholas and his family on July 18, 1997. He also helped to write the president's moving eulogy.
Likhachev served as honorary co-chairman of the U.S. congressionally funded 1999 Russian Leadership Program. He passed away on September 30, the final day of the program. Likhachev's personal commitment to the program -- he personally vetted all nominees despite his already seriously declining health -- and his unique and revered status in Russia inspired many Russians to participate in the RLP. Dmitriy Sergeyevich Likhachev was, in large measure, the conscience of Russia and the voice of the great Russian tradition of faith and the moral role of literature and culture in human life generally.