AT THE the Olympics opening ceremony in Sochi, Russian cultural heritage was presented through a list of celebrated figures or achievements arranged by letters of the Cyrillic alphabet. The list included: Sikorsky, the helicopter designer; Diaghilev, the ballet impresario; Nabokov, the author; Kandinsky, the painter; and Zworykin, the inventor of television. All were refugees who fled repression or were exiled from 20th century Russia.
I was waiting toward the end of the alphabet for the letter “sh.” Sure enough — up came the name of the artist Marc Chagall, a Jewish emigre from what is now Belarus. And the Olympic flame was lit to the strains of “The Firebird” by Stravinsky, another refugee. Many others could be added: Brodsky, the poet; Baryshnikov, the dancer; Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, etc.
Russia is making progress by recognizing its former outcasts, but until it changes to attract top talent instead of driving talented people away, it will be stuck in the past, nostalgic for those it forced to emigrate. Judging by the fact that Andre Geim and Ari Konstantin Novoselov, Russia’s most recent Nobel laureates (in physics), have settled in the West and are not planning to return, things are not changing there.