It is an honor and a pleasure to write in commemoration of Academician Dmitriy Likhachev on the occasion of what would have been his 100th birthday. He played a special role as honorary co-chairman with me during the first year of the existence of the Open World Program in 1999. This program has been in many ways a tribute to his vision as well as to that of the Congress and its Library, which have carried on the program since his passing.
I first met Dmitriy Sergeyevich nearly 45 years ago when I wrote the lead article for a scholarly roundtable on Old Russian culture sponsored by the Slavic Review. He and the great Russian theologian Georges Florovsky were my esteemed commentators. I met Academician Likhachev in person shortly thereafter in Leningrad and saw that this deep scholar of Old Russian culture also exemplified the best in 20th-century Russian culture. Listening to him later as the oral examiner of a doctoral candidate, I understood that the erudition and graciousness with which he had commented on my article was not simply politeness to a young foreign scholar, but an innate quality expressed even more fully in his dealings with older Russian humanists working in the difficult confines of a reactionary Institute of History in Moscow.
In the Gorbachev and Yeltsin eras I began working with Dmitriy Sergeyevich on bridge-building through the universal language of culture. During President Reagan's second term I came to play something of a role in the cultural dimension of relations with Russia while Dmitriy Sergeyevich was playing a far more direct and important role as a culture adviser to both Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev. I saw him with increasing frequency, and he accompanied Mrs. Reagan and me on our visit to Leningrad at the time of the Reagan/Gorbachev summit in the late spring of 1988. On the flight back with Mrs. Reagan and Mrs. Gromyko to Moscow for the state dinner, he seemed to embody as well as explain the best qualities of Russian culture.
In the summer of 1990, as vice-chairman of the International Congress of the International Association of Teachers of Russian Language and Literature in Moscow, I listened to Likhachev read a marvelous paper showing that even his beloved Old Russia was a multi-ethnic society closely linked with Western and other outside influences-countering the prevailing chauvinistic view of Russian history. That evening I went with Dmitriy Sergeyevich to a stereotypically staged folklore presentation for the conference. Having eloquently described the real pluralism and multi-ethnicity of a supposedly monolithic Old Russia earlier that day, Dmitriy Sergeyevich decried to me the artificial Soviet kitsch that the waning Communist authorities were still superimposing on scholarly gatherings.
For the Bush-Gorbachev summit in Washington, I arranged with Dmitriy Sergeyevich to put on an exhibition of the book culture of the Old Believers at the Library of Congress. Dmitriy Sergeyevich came to Washington for the opening, and he guided Raisa Gorbachev through the mix of Old Believer books that had been brought by immigrants to the United States in the early 20th century, with new books produced in the remote regions of Russia in the same manuscript style as the older books.
Through these and many other encounters with Likhachev in this time of great change, I became aware of the extent to which this very old student of Old Russia was revered by the very young generation in the emerging post-Soviet Russia. He was, in a way, the last great representative of the high culture of old Petersburg, and at the same time a new version of that historic Russian phenomenon: a voice of conscience that speaks truth to power. He was, in effect, the Gorbachevs' family tutor in the glories of the culture that preceded the Soviet regime. It is a tribute to the Gorbachevs that they valued him, and it is a tribute to Likhachev that he never became simply another house ornament of Russian leaders.
In his characteristically gentle but firm way, he defended the wholeness, and at the same time the variety, of Russian culture and he extolled its power to help transform a society deeply corrupted by totalitarianism. He never received the recognition abroad that he deserved, but he deeply believed that openness to the West was also important in creating a healthy future for Russia. One of the last of many visions he shared with me was his hope to create a university with different faculties in different countries as a true vehicle for international understanding.
Dmitriy Sergeyevich believed that post-Soviet Russia must both recover its own moral, artistic, and spiritual culture and, at the same time, discover the more open political and economic practices of the West. He did not see any contradiction between the two. When he received two years after Anna Akhmatova an honorary doctorate at Oxford, he had a long and moving visit with Isaiah Berlin, whose famous conversation with the persecuted poetess had so enraged the Stalinist establishment. Both participants confirmed to me how heartwarming the meeting was. It seemed to represent symbolically a new bridge between Russia and the West, Christian humanism and Jewish enlightenment.
Dmitriy Sergeyevich in his last years wrote letters to the Russian Patriarch calling for more open acknowledgment of the failings of the Orthodox Church hierarchy in the Soviet era and to President Yeltsin opposing the initial war in Chechnya. He lived to see the first Soviet Gulag in the Arctic archipelago of Solovki, where he had been imprisoned as a young man, turned back into a monastery and forward into a center for environmental study.
He was influential in the composition of one of the best and shortest speeches that Yeltsin ever gave: at the reburial in St. Petersburg of the remains of the last Tsar and his family. For all his love of tradition and his horror at the assassination of the royal family, Likhachev emphatically rejected any return to monarchy and enthusiastically backed democratic reform.
Seeing him in his modest apartment and dacha as the 20th century expired, I was deeply impressed by the thick piles of letters this old man was receiving from young people all over Russia. Like Likhachev himself, a new post-Soviet generation seemed to be simultaneously looking back to pre-Communist Russian culture and forward to postwar Western experience. He seemed to be a beacon and a magnet for many young Russians.
I like to believe that the Open World Program, which the Congress of the United States embraced in 1999 and has continued to support, expresses some of the hopes of this noble man whose centennial we are commemorating in 2006. He graciously consented to be honorary co-chairman with me of Open World in the last months of his life. I have always believed that his death on September 30, 1999, the last day of the first year of the program, was a providential sign that this program had been successfully launched-and might become a living memorial to him in the new century that he never lived to see.