President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Dear friends,
It is a great pleasure to be here with you today.
Chance plays a big part in all of our lives. In my life, for example, it so happened that my parents had at home Chekhov’s complete edition. At that time it was not so easy to buy books in the Soviet Union. Essentially, we read whatever we happened to have at home, and so it was a piece of good fortune indeed to own, say, an author’s collected works.
The twelve volumes of Chekhov’s complete edition, including his correspondence which was in the last few volumes, became my bedside reading. I started reading these books at the end of my fourth year in school, and I ended up reading the entire set.
What grabbed my interest most at first were the humorous stories Chekhov wrote under the pen-name Antosha Chekhonte, and then I moved on to his more serious stories, and finally to his plays. To my own amazement I even started reading his correspondence, though this was hardly a genre fitting the interests of someone of my age back then.
To be honest, I am very pleased that this chance came my way, because had I not read these works then I do not know when I would have found the opportunity to do so later. Chekhov was, I think, one of the greatest writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and not just a great Russian writer, but a writer who unites everyone here today, everyone involved in theatre.
I am also very pleased that we are spending the first half of this day celebrating Chekhov’s anniversary here in his hometown, and that we have this chance to dip into the provincial charm of Taganrog. The town retains its provincial charm, but at the same time is changing too, of course. But this area of one-storey houses still resembles quite closely, no doubt, the Taganrog where Anton Chekhov lived and went to school. I don’t know what your feelings are, but for me this is a little event too, and a very good event at that.
On my way here in the plane I read the memo and noted that practically everyone taking part in today’s meeting, not just our own outstanding directors and actors, but our foreign friends too, have all drawn on Chekhov in one way or another in their creative endeavours, staging his works or acting in his plays. This is a strong bond that we all share, because we are all part of the vast world that Chekhov created, a world that reflects the little man, and at the same time is so universal in its reach, despite the fact that many of you here have only read Chekhov in translation.
I would like to discuss with you today not just Chekhov’s anniversary but also talk about the theatre in general. As president, I do not get the chance [to go to the theatre] very often, but I do sometimes go to our Russian colleagues here today. I would be most interested to hear your opinions, because the theatre is something very particular, and this is becoming especially clear now at this time of the global information explosion, which raises the issue of how the arts in general are going to develop, what will happen to theatre, and to what extent theatre can compete with new forms of creative expression. These questions are eternal, no doubt, but at the same time they are relevant today, because we really are living in the global information age.
So, let’s talk about the issues on your minds. I thank you sincerely for coming to Russia, for being here today in Taganrog, for this chance to celebrate together the 150th anniversary of Chekhov’s birth.
Anniversaries are a curious thing, sometimes provoking sad reflections on what we have accomplished and what we have not yet managed to do. I was thinking about all that Chekhov accomplished in his life, when the not very cheering thought suddenly occurred to me that Chekhov died at the age of 44, the same age as me now. When I read his works as a child I imagined him an old man, something almost like Leo Tolstoy, only Tolstoy had a bigger beard, but this old fellow was also wearing pince-nez and had a beard. And now the thought comes to mind that Chekhov left this life having created immortal works that we enjoy to this day. This is also something worth reflecting on.