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Addis Ababa celebrates the great life of Alexander Pushkin

Zela Gayle

The Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Addis Ababa is preparing to commemorate the birthday anniversary of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, who is considered the founder of Russian literature and to whom the centre was named after.

Established in March 1945, Emperor Haile Selassie I inaugurated the centre as a permanent exhibition illustrating Russian achievements and to bring to Ethiopia elements of Russian culture. Russia has maintained friendly relations with Ethiopia already from the late 18th century, providing medical aid during the battle of Adwa and was one of the few great powers who supported the stand for the freedom of Ethiopia at the UN, then known as League of Nations. 

Long before the battle of Adwa in 1896, was however the legacy of Pushkin whose life spanned from 1799-1837, and still seen in Russian Society as the genius of Russian literature.

In what would have been Pushkin’s 213th birthday, the celebrations at the Russian Culture centre will run from the 4th June – 9th of June 2012 alongside a week dedicated for Russian language. On the actual birthday of Pushkin on 6th June delegates from Russia will lay flowers on Pushkin Square, named after him in 2000 with a small monument of Pushkin which was later removed for renovation.

Most of the birthday highlights will take place on the 4th of June at the opening ceremony with a recital of Pushkin’s most famous and celebrated poetry in Russian, Amharic and English. Directed by an Ethiopian playwright Dereje Fikeru, a short drama of 15 minutes, featuring the death of Pushkin, will be performed by the Russian Cultural Centre theatre group.

According to the Center aA Russian Balailaika player will also play the traditional Russian instrument at the opening to welcome the guests associated with the Culture Centre.

An exhibition on display will show contemporary Moscow city that has monuments of Pushkin with restaurants of various cuisine dedicated to Pushkin’s time.  Guests will experience the Pushkin style Cuisine, A Russian tea ceremony called Samovar served with assorted Russian cookies.

Great grandfather’s legacy

Pushkin’s great grandfather, Abraham Hannibal, is a celebrated person especially at events during the Black history month in America and Europe. Legend has it Abraham Hannibal was born in Ethiopia and taken captive in his boyhood and transported in 1705 by a Russian emissary from the court of the Turkish Sultan and presented as a gift to Peter the Great who had young Abraham baptized and made him his Godson.

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Seeing Abraham’s open mindedness, Peter gave him a job as his personal secretary. As part of his crash program of modernizing Russia, he then sent Abraham to France to study military engineering.

Upon his return to Russia, Abraham married a Russian Princess and enjoyed an exceptionally long life. He survived six Tsars, rose to the rank of general and was granted nobility and estates for his distinguished service.

Along this line is Pushkin, who was born out of a Russian noble family and kept his writings in Russian while most of his contemporaries at the time wrote in French. Just as Russia defeated Napoleon, Pushkin was considered the Golden Century of classic and writing in French was no longer a fashion.

Pushkin’s African roots have often been passed over in silence though they have never lain very far beneath the surface. Many African American writers and intellectuals took inspiration from Pushkin’s poetry and from his pride in his African roots.

Speaking to this magazine, Vyacheslav A. Konnik, Director of the Russian Cultural Centre and first secretary of the Embassy of the Russian Federation, says “the compiler of the big Russian dictionary use to take sentences out of Pushkin, he was the genius of Russian language so reading the dictionary was like reading Pushkin.”

Mr. Konnik added 20,000 Ethiopians have graduated from Russia in the past thirty years, “so there is a strong connection of Russian cultural diversity.”

It comes as no surprise that the rich heritage of literature and cultural legacy will be celebrated in Addis Ababa, marking the 175th year since the death of the great life of Alexander Pushkin.

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