Between Muse and Politics: Pushkin Museum-house in Chisinau and the (Un)Making of Heritage

[label shape=”” type=””] Anastasia Felcher [/label]


Citeşte acest articol în română.

Last year on October 18, I happened to visit Tsarskoe Selo (Tsar’s Village), a town 24 kilometers to the south of Saint Petersburg. Former royal summer residence and one of the major tourist destinations in the area today, Tsarskoe Selo is equally as popular as Peterhof with its golden fountains. Called Detskoe Selo (Children’s Village) from 1918 to 1937 as a conscious attempt on the part of the Bolsheviks to erase imperial topography, since 1991 the town has been part of the World Heritage Site Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments and contains the State Museum-Preserve (since 1992). It embraces the beautifully restored 18th century Catherine Palace with entrancing spacious English-style parks. Since 1937, as a way to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of the ‘first’ Russian poet[1], the town holds the name Pushkin. That day I was visiting the Lyceum Museum. Also recently restored, it was totally overcrowded by visitors, reaching up to 60 people in each guided tour instead of the allowed maximum of 40 people. The museum staff was in a good mood and the festivity program for the annual festival ‘Tsarskoe Selo Autumn’ was ready. The next day, on October 19, public readings of Pushkin’s poetry and mass pilgrimage by high school students took place. They were preparing to celebrate the ‘All-Russian Day of a Lyceum Student’.

This made me recall how I myself once passively participated in that very same festivity, but in Moldova, in 2002, as a student of a Russian-speaking high school in Chisinau. It was not long ago before this that my regular high school gained the status of lyceum, which made celebrating ‘the Day of a Lyceum Student’ and performing the dedication ritual to be an important ‘invention of tradition’ technique. As the school was still in the process of transition to twelve-year education, it had both lyceum and general high school classes. So only ‘the chosen ones’ – those who decided to opt for a twelve-year experiment – were dedicated to ‘the Lyceum Students’ as followers of Pushkin’s legacy. The rest were allowed to watch. Then the newly initiated went to an obligatory visit to the Pushkin museum-house across the city, conducted by the Russian Literature teacher. Those who had not opted for the experiment were allowed to follow at will. At the museum the bust of young Pushkin – ‘as he was in the Lyceum’- was demonstrated to the new ‘members of the club’ and the tale of the poet’s supremacy, geniality and ‘organic’ link with Moldova was told[2]. To 15 year-old me the narrative felt familiar and ‘natural’. It was precisely the existence of the museum as a destination for civic pilgrimage that made the whole ritual ‘sound’. Only long after, already trained as an anthropologist, I realized that ‘the Day of a Lyceum Student’ has never existed in Moldova as an officially institutionalized holiday.

Instead, in Russia it was introduced to the list of official festivals in the 1990s, following the tradition of nostalgic gatherings by the graduates of the actual ‘Imperial Tsarskoe Selo Alexander Lyceum’. An elite educational institution for noble boys, it was opened by Alexander I on October 19, 1811 next door to the Catherine Palace[3]. The Lyceum as an institution functioned until 1918, and public access was re-established to the authentic building in its new status as museum already in 1949. It was done to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Pushkin’s birth and was possible thanks to immediate post-war reconstruction started in Tsarskoe Selo. A great amount of monuments there have been severely damaged due to the siege of 1941-45 and by now details and achievements of a careful restoration process are highlighted at every museum site within the preserve almost as emphatically as the actual artifacts that form the exhibition are. The very fact that in such a short time after the war and the siege the lyceum and the surrounding objects have been musealized and opened to the public indicates not only the spread and power of the cult of Pushkin in the USSR and its political use. It also clearly shows the symbolic significance attached to heritage restoration as a sign of post-war justice and peace recovery. And the fact that the practice of the celebration of the ‘Day of a Lyceum Student’, not being institutionalized at the state level, has been successfully incorporated to the selected habitat in Moldova without let or hindrance, indicates both the aftermath of top-down cultural transfer and its output through authentic heritagization at the local level[4]. Indeed, as many studies have emphasized, the spread of the Pushkin cult was that significant and influential precisely due to the incorporation of top-down intentions with grassroot aspirations and emotional involvement[5]. This, of course, doesn’t exclude the cases when the latter would confront the former[6].

The topic Pushkin in Periphery, which incorporates Pushkin in Moldova, deserves a much more detailed study, as it reveals the cultural aspect of Sovietization from 1945 and subsequent degradation of ‘Russian culture’ as a ‘player’ within the post-Soviet cultural scene after 1991. However, in what follows I will only briefly outline the story of the Pushkin museum-house in Chisinau as a subject of the (un)making of heritage.

The paradox of Pushkin in Moldova is that although the commemoration of the poet’s presence in the province has deep local roots and was initiated ‘from below’, due to overemphasis of the subject within the Soviet cultural canon, after 1991 the topic gained negative connotations on an ethnic basis and the museum premises remained functioning at the edge of neglect.

Memoirs about Pushkin’s presence in ‘southern exile’ as well as fiction about this subject with Pushkin as a hero constitute a valuable piece of material for those willing to understand the way Bessarabia has been imagined, promoted and romanticized as a new province within the Romanov empire in the early 19th century. Moreover, well before officially approved activities to commemorate the presence of the poet in the province (around 1899) several local authors have lamented in the press that the traces of Pushkin’s presence in Bessarabia were vanishing with the connivance of the authorities and the public (since the 1850’s). Recognition of Pushkin-related sites in the city was discussed within the heritage rhetoric – as sites containing both local and universal value. The small house that later has become the museum-house (and that hosted the poet for a short period in 1820), in the 19th century was among several sites that were claimed for their significance for this topic. In fact, preference initially went to the two-story house of collegiate assessor Iordache Donici that hosted both Pushkin and general Inzov. The poet lived there from late 1820 to late 1821 and a number of memoirs refer to that very house in relation to episodes of Pushkin’s Bessarabian life and his ‘adventures’ or ‘pranks’[7]. However, the decisive role in designating the ‘Pushkin house’ as heritage for future generations played the level of the objects’ preservation. The two-story house by Donici suffered heavily from several earthquakes and further neglect. It was still to an extent intact in the 1840s, but laments about its turning into ruins appeared in the 1850s, and by the 1860s only the walls remained. By the 1870s only a wasteland has been on the site where the house had previously stood, and later on the stables for Lubny Hussars have were been built nearby. Instead, a small stone structure in the old, or ‘lower,’ part of the city, an outhouse of an inn owned by the merchant Ivan Naumov, where Pushkin lodged for short time in 1820, remained intact. This house has also appeared in the local press within the ‘heritage narrative’. For instance, memoirs about it are cited in the book by Alexander Yatsimirsky ‘Pushkin in Bessarabia’ (1908). After introducing a nostalgic narrative about the house, the memoir claimed knowing its location, but lamented its neglect.

The grassroots character of the initial commemoration initiative in Bessarabia is also embodied by the fact that the money for the bust authored by Alexander Opekushin and installed in the Chisinau city garden in 1885 was collected via fundraising among the local public. This initiative was a reflection for the famous ‘Pushkin days’ in Moscow in 1880, known for inaugural speeches given by Turgenev and Dostoevsky[8]. The fundraising process went on for several years. Later on this stood the Soviet Pushkin scholars in good stead and was repeatedly reconstructed as an egregious example of the imperial authorities’ persecution of the people’s memory about the freedom-loving poet, ‘a political exile and ardent fighter against autocracy’[9]. Later, in the middle of 1950s, the bust was taken from the side alley to the heart of the Alexanrovskii park, which was also renamed in honor of the poet after the war. Further on, Chisinau public space was ‘marked’ by Pushkin in all possible forms, including a number of cultural and educational institutions (for instance, the first opera theatre, built in 1954, was denominated in honor of the poet in 1957)[10]. One of the central city streets, Gubernskaia, gained Pushkin’s name in late 19th century.

The Moldovan musical and dramatic theater „Al. S. Pushkin”, Chisinau, 1953 (after 1990, renamed „Mihai Eminescu”).

Indeed, starting from the late 1930s (peaking in 1937 as celebration of the 100th anniversary of the poet’s death) within the Soviet canon Pushkin gained high significance not only as a man of letters, but as a symbol of a high-brow Russian culture, aesthetic and taste, with significance for both the center and the periphery. For instance, Alexei Shchusev, a Chisinau born architect and four times the winner of the Stalin Prize, referred to Pushkin in public on October 5, 1947. It was the speech devoted to a variety of issues related to post-war urban reconstruction and to an aesthetic of a ‘Moldovan style’ in architecture. Shchusev delivered the speech at a meeting of the members of the Union of Soviet Architects in Chisinau and spoke about the joy of rehabilitation after the war and the importance of post-war reconstruction. As to the ‘national originality of architecture in Moldavia’ Shchusev referred to the existence within it of two directions in the city. The first was deemed ‘classic brought by the Russians – this being Pushkin, the era of the Varfolomey house[11]. The Classicism of Chisinau has specific Moldovan features’. The second direction, according to the architect, is ‘the people’s Moldovan folklore’[12].

The building located at Columna street 92 in Chisinau known as ‘the Varfolomey house’. It mistakenly contains a memorial plaque about Pushkin visiting this particular house in 1820-1823 and the bust of a poet (installed in 2003). However, most probably the house was built in 1874, which makes it 37 years after Pushkin’s death in 1837.

Pushkin in Moldova and an argument for safeguarding the material heritage related to his presence in Chisinau and around indeed was made to help legitimize the Soviet claims to the territory. The opening of the museum-house to the public as early as in 1948 was inseparably linked with the process of Sovietization of the area. The latter presupposed the adoption of Soviet-like institutions, laws, customs, traditions and the Soviet way of life. Introduction of a network of institutions related to academic studies of Pushkin and inclusion of the subject to a wide-spread network of similar institutions across the USSR contributed to those as well. Similar museums were functioning in Kamenka, Odessa, Gurzuf, Vilnius and of course in Moscow, Leningrad and former Pushkin family estates around Pskov. Another concern was appropriating the story of Pushkin’s stay in Bessarabia as a component of a ‘usable’ past.

Within several decades of 1948 the Chisinau museum-house managed to incorporate in it three related, but at the same time separate functions: a heritage site (and a tourism attraction and destination point); a museum with educational activities; and a center with an academic ambition that contained a growing library.


The core argument for the value and importance of the house in Chisinau was its authenticity and the fact that, in spite of reconstruction interventions, the building remained intact. The most commonly shared argument is that ‘across the world there have survived only two original houses in which Pushkin lived: the poet’s last apartment in Leningrad and the house in Chisinau. The rest (constructions in Mikhailovskoe, Boldino, Kamenka, etc.) are the rebuilt ones’[13]. Thus the structure in the periphery where the poet temporarily lived up to several weeks, when interpreted through the lens of heritage, got equated with his last house in the metropolis. The promotion of the subject may be traced via the short ‘advertising’ movie produced in 1960s about Chisinau. At ‘one of the picturesque cities in the south-west of our country’ the Pushkin museum is shown first among ‘historical sites and monuments’, and only after it the monument to Stephen the Great is mentioned[14]. Promoted as a ‘sunny and blithesome city’ that reminds one of a ‘flourishing garden’, Chisinau was also turned into the ‘industrial center of the republic’. The post-war reconstruction of the urban infrastructure that made the city ‘significantly transform in the recent years’ was also one of the legitimizing narratives of the Soviet presence in the area. At the same time, the local culture has been promoted in the form of folklore – as the exhibition at the Museum of Local Lore and by the performances of folk dance groups. Pushkin appears in the movie two more times – as a monument in the park called after him and in connection with the Opera Theater, which indicates the preponderance of the canon in the city’s public space. Moreover, in the 1980s Robert Kurz, honored specialist, chief architect of Chisinau in 1940-1951 and scientific secretary of the Society for Protection of Monuments of History and Culture of the MSSR in 1975-1980, designed a project that aimed to turn the area around the museum into a preserve zone called ‘the Kishinev of Pushkin’. The project would have kept a large area in the ‘lower’ city intact and would reconstruct the atmosphere of the 19th century, making it a hub for tourism. This, however, has never been realized.


‘The heritage argument’ – its neglect and urgent need for safeguarding – has been used as a major one for the creation of the museum. The ‘championship’ of the structure’s discovery, its rehabilitation and creation of the museum has been awarded to Boris Trubetskoy, a graduate of the Institute or Russian Literature of the USSR Academy of Sciences (Pushkin house) in Leningrad. Trubetskoy, author of the ‘classical’ monograph Pushkin in Moldavia, which has been repeatedly republished up until the 1990s, has been transferred to work in MSSR in 1944. In the book Trubetskoy joined ‘a cry’ one meets in the book by Yatsimirsky (from the early 20th century) claiming that ‘in early September 1944 [which means right after the completion of the Jassy–Kishinev Operation of August 20–29, 1944 – A.F.] the locals showed me the ‘Pushkin’s house’, as they called it. The condition of this house […] was terrible. The roof failed, the doors, windows and floors were dilapidated, [inside and around] there was mud and ruins of nearby buildings […] Urgent measures were needed to save this house’. This resulted in actions. Already in 1946, two chairmen of the newly established MSSR Writer’s Union, Emelyan Bukov and Andrei Lupan, put forward an initiative to organize the museum-house in honor of Alexander Pushkin. The official decree in support of the initiative has been taken immediately and promoted as an expression of the will of ‘the republic’s working people’. The decree no. 498 from May 31, 1946 ‘On the opening of the A.S. Pushkin museum-house in the city of Kishinev,’ issued within the cultural and educational Committee at the MSSR Council of Ministers, clearly outlined the main goal and mission of the museum: not only to preserve the unique architectural monument and memory of Pushkin’s stay in Bessarabia, but to develop research and educational activities[15]. The building was renovated in 1946-48 and opened to the public on February 10, 1948, at the 111th anniversary of the poet’s death. The first exposition contained 53 objects that were made-to-order by the Institute or Russian Literature of the USSR Academy of Sciences (Pushkin house), imitating in miniature the exposition of Pushkin’s Museum in Leningrad. While displaying the selected exhibits, museum-house keepers tended to emphasize the issues of morals and ethics, implicitly of socialist and revolutionary value. The initial exhibition contained three halls: ‘Pushkin’s life before the southern exile’; ‘Pushkin in Moldavia’; and ‘Pushkin’s life after his departure from Moldavia’. The museum successfully functioned as an educational center – for 6 years, from its opening until 1954 there were organized 750 excursions and 200 public lectures, which were visited by more than 7 000 people in sum.

1.Exhibition of the Pushkin museum-house in Chisinau in the 1960s, a screenshot from ‘Stolitsa Moldavii. Ocherk-ekskursiya po Kishinovu 1960-kh gg.’ [The Capital of Moldavia. An Essay-Excursion at Chisinau in the 1960s] short movie.

Exhibition of the Pushkin museum-house in Chisinau in the 1960s, a screenshot from ‘Stolitsa Moldavii. Ocherk-ekskursiya po Kishinovu 1960-kh gg.’ [The Capital of Moldavia. An Essay-Excursion at Chisinau in the 1960s] short movie.

The exposition existed almost unchanged until 1985, when its redesign was followed by instauration[16]. The redesign was explained by the ‘obvious necessity to display the Pushkin in Moldova topic in a more detailed manner’. This enterprise met the case of obvious need for the exposition design renewal[17]. It also brought a certain re-branding of the topic in general, which coincided with the signs of the demarcation process, initiated closer to 1970s by Pushkin scholars of local origin.

Academic Ambition

The establishment of the museum has been followed by the raise of Pushkin on the South as a legitimate branch of academic Pushkin studies. The issue not only got permanent coverage in the media, including newspapers and literary magazines, but immediately became subject of scholarly monographs. Major books on the topic were published within 5-7 years[18]. Starting from 1954, in Chisinau and Odessa were held numerous scholarly conferences by Pushkin scholars ‘from the South’, organized by Pushkin committees and the Odessa scholarly house. The proceedings published in 1958 and 1961 brought the issue to a large audience. At first, the majority of ideological claims of scholars (called pushkinists) from Kishinev and around coincided with those published in Moscow or Leningrad. Such a narrative must have worked in support of the discourse of continuity of Bessarabian presence under Russian rule, but at the same time denunciation of ‘czarist fawners’ must have been in every text. It was highly important to sustain this branch of Pushkin scholarship, as the issue of funding was on stake. Funding and the flow of tourists were guaranteed as long as local institutions were incorporated in the broad network of the Soviet ones. Still, Pushkin in Moldavia as an academic focus in fact has been the only possible niche for scholars working in MSSR and was the concern of professional competence and competition. Closer to 1970s the Pushkin scholarship originating from the MSSR became much more focused on the local environment, society and the folk influence on the poet’s personality. In the practical terms it made sense to emphasize the importance of the Moldovan branch of Pushkin studies among the immense number of publications about Pushkin all over the USSR, as well as to raise the visibility of local academic achievements. The paradox here comes with the fact that the instrument chosen to downplay the well-established hierarchy was a strong emphasis on ‘localism’.

Coperta cărţii lui Boris Trubeţkoi, "Puşkin v Moldavii" (Puşkin în Moldova), 1947.

Cover of Boris Trubeţkoi’s book, „Puşkin v Moldavii” (Pushkin in Moldavia), 1947.

In 1964, an affiliated branch of the museum-house was opened in the country estate of a famous local boyar family in a hamlet called Dolna, subsequently renamed into Pushkino (after 1991 the site got back its original name). The estate has been opened for public visits since June 6, 1949 and in the 1970s the estate has been significantly restored in order to house the museum. The main exhibition was devoted to Pushkin, who spent some short time in the estate in the summer of 1821, but the house that eventually hosted the museum has been built long after his visit. The monument has appeared there in 1972 in addition to natural heritage sites ‘the Spring of Zemfira’ and ‘the Meadow of Zemfira.’ The site was surrounded by a highly romanticized escapist narrative about the poet’s supposed affair with a Roma girl at the local campsite, which, as the legend says, by 1824, inspired him to write the famous lyric poem Tsygany (the Gypsies).

It was precisely the carefully built link of associations of Pushkin with the national genius of Russian people, openly praised in the MSSR, that played a cruel joke on the poet and the management of museum facilities and scholarship related to him after 1991. Prioritizing the non-Russian cultural component and its penetration into public space, the labeling of Russian culture as the one related to post-1945 occupation, and the break of the established institutional network brought the downfall of the maintenance of Pushkin-related heritage sites and scholarship related to the subject. Ironically, this coincided with the phenomenon of ‘deconstruction of an idol’ and ‘withdrawal from the pedestal’ in relation to Pushkin that started within Russian intellectual circles since the 1980s[19]. In Chisinau, in its turn, there started discussions about the appropriateness of Pushkin’s presence in the public space, both as the monument at the head of the ‘Alley of the Classics’ in the park at the city center and as the name of one of the central streets in the city. These debates started again in 2009 after the death of Grigore Vieru. And in 1994 it was the set of articles in the weekly newspaper of the Union of writers in the Republic of Moldova ‘Literatura si Arta’ that accumulated dissatisfaction with Pushkin not only as the poet of Russians, but as a youngster not showing respect towards the local environment and for behaving as a ‘sexual aggressor’[20]. Although it was the geniality of Pushkin that has ‘traditionally’ been used in excuse of his sometimes inappropriate behavior throughout historiography, the author in ‘Literatura si Arta’ downplayed this very geniality by pointing out that the poet was an ungrateful, narrow-minded, cynical, inadequate person and suffered from mental retardation.

The illustration for ‘Pushkin and Bessarabian Gypsies’ topic entitled ‘Hello, a happy generation!’, taken from Tymchishyn, V. ‘Pushkin in Moldova’. Chisinau: Timpul, 1973: 36.

The illustration for ‘Pushkin and Bessarabian Gypsies’ topic entitled ‘Hello, a happy generation!’, taken from Tymchishyn, V. ‘Pushkin in Moldova’. Chisinau: Timpul, 1973: 36.

The unfavorable position of ‘Pushkin in Moldova’ in the 1990s and the preference of Romanian high-brow cultural canon ‘heated’ the atmosphere of debates around literature and identity in the area. The ‘de-Pushkinization’ of public space in Moldova and the neglect of museum facilities in terms of proper maintenance have been made a subject of a documentary produced in 2003[21]. It used the famous expression ‘the Bessarabian exile of Pushkin’ in reference to persecution of the poet, although not in the 19th century, but in post-1991 Chisinau (use of the ‘classical’ rhetoric). Two illustrative examples have been used – the renaming of the park in honor of Stefan cel Mare [Stephen the Great] (reversed use of the ‘heritage argument’) and Pushkino back to Dolna. These episodes were interpreted as attacks on the poet’s honor and dignity, which he himself has been always bravely defending during the lifetime. The movie also cited the above-mentioned articles in ‘Literatura si Arta’ and interviewed a member of the Union of writers in the Republic of Moldova, a Dolna-born writer Gheorghe Budeanu, who explained the ‘natural’ feeling of an insult that appears when the local people see a Russian poet as the head of ‘Alley of Romanian writers’. Budeanu also used ‘the heritage argument’ while arguing for having a Ralli-Arbore museum instead of a Pushkin one in Dolna. Having a Pushkin museum in Dolna, argued Budeanu, is denationalizing the essence of the village, as well as the nation and the country. Having a Ralli-Arbore museum instead would have brought it much closer ‘to the locals’ and would bring reparation of the local logistic and economic infrastructure. As a counter argument the movie then cited a peasant woman from Dolna, who told the story of the ‘indigenous’ will of having a Pushkin museum instead. This narrative also emphasized the role of the team working in museum premises in Chisinau and Dolna as dedicated keepers of the sacred memory in times of confusion and unrest. Although the maintenance of both the sites and the allowance of the staff were indeed sorrowful, one should not underestimate the indoctrination potential of the above-mentioned argument. In conclusion, the episode with the speech of then-president Voronin was inserted, who expressed his support and appreciation of Pushkin’s legacy and a promise to safeguard it. Culture and heritage, thus, again, have been instrumentalized within political aspirations. The reconstruction of the Dolna museum and former Ralli estate took place in 2002 and 2014 with the financial support of a commercial enterprises related to Russia.

The break of institutional network related to the functioning of ‘Pushkin in Moldova’ as a topic, brought the degradation of scholarship about and a significant reduction of audience for publications and conferences. Several editions of ‘Bessarabskaya vesna’ [Bessarabian Spring] conferences took place since 1993 and the theses were published. However, none of these publications has ever been equal to the Soviet editions of ‘Pushkin na yuge’ [Pushkin in the South] conferences.

Another striking feature of the museum’s functioning in post-1991 Moldova is that in spite of its proclaimed mission ‘to enlighten, to instruct, to comfort and to bring delight’, over the 2000s it has gradually turned into an institution not easily accessible for external researchers. The access to the museum’s library, provided to me in 2004-2005, had not been renewed by then-director in 2013[22], and no access to the museum’s archive has ever been provided, it being claimed that its holdings exist only for internal use.

At the same time, certain isolation allowed a particular interpretation of Pushkin to be uncritically introduced into the ‘approved’ narrative. For instance, the former director of the Chisinau museum-house Alexandra Stakanova has been argued for the existence of ‘a particular spirituality and sacredness of Pushkin-related sites in Moldova’[23]. According to her, Pushkin’s metaphysical role within Moldovan space was in preserving the Russian spirituality[24]. At one of the visits to the museum with my colleagues in August 2013, the director led the guided tour by herself, emphasizing prophetic features of the poet’s personality interpreted within the framework of Christian mysticism. Stakanova’s dismissal in 2015 was, however, related not to the ‘unorthodox’ (or, vice versa, ‘Orthodox’) interpretation of Pushkin’s person, but because of suspicions of embezzlement.

A well-known scandal from 2011 related to the museum indicates the chaotic character of present-day construction in Chisinau and a truly vague interpretation of heritage from an institutional perspective. Construction of an eight-storey house was being undertaken when the museum staff ‘sounded the alarm,’ claiming that the construction damaged museum premises. The episode indicated the aloofness of local authorities in the case. The intervention of the Russian embassy eventually contributed to the interruption of construction. However, the scandal never gained a national status. The damage caused by the construction (cracks on the walls and ceiling) has been ‘incorporated’ into the exhibition. The guided tours since then used to start with the demonstration of the damage in the intact structure of the museum premises.

Emergence of new agencies, such as ‘The Russian Centre of Science and Culture’ and its sustainable presence at the local cultural scene, has been marked by the introduction of a wave of Pushkin’s presence in Chisinau’s public space, such as the emergence of the International festival of Russian literature ‘Pushkinskaya gorka’ (Pushkin Hill)[25]. The first annual event was timed for the 215th anniversary of the poet’s birth and the second took place one year later. The event is organized by several institutionalized bodies related to Russian culture[26] and, as one would expect, involves the ‘classical’ premises related to Pushkin in the country, as well as the building of the Russian Drama Theatre named after Anton Chekhov, which since long ago has gained high symbolic significance as a flagman of high-brow Russian culture in Chisinau[27]. In terms of visual range the Pushkin museum-house remains to be the most representative site for the topic. In the musical film ‘Pushkin. 215’ issued in 2014 for the 215th anniversary of the poet’s birth, musical compositions made out of or based on the poet’s verses by various bands and musicians with local roots are filmed being performed first inside the courtyard of the Chisinau museum-house and then in other locations[28].

The recent crisis within the museum-house related to the dismissal in 2015 of the director on suspicion of embezzlement, the appointment of a new director bypassing the open public contest, protest of the museum staff and accusations towards the Ministry of Culture, all indicate several problems. First, that the authorities responsible for culture in post-1991 Moldova have failed to interpret Pushkin as part of local heritage and incorporate the topic within the national heritage concept. Second, that so far there exists neither a platform for cooperation between the top level functionaries in culture and the actual museum functionaries, nor the desired level of transparency of their actual interaction. And third, as long as the culture and its targeted audiences remain divided along the threshold of ethnic belonging, literature and heritage will continue to be torn between muse and politics.



[1] Alexander Pushkin (1799–1837), a hereditary nobleman and author of the Romantic era, is generally known as the reformer of Russian literary language and one the greatest rhymers of the epoch.

[2] Then-museum director Alexandra Stakanova informed that the practice of dedication to ‘lyceum students’ has existed in Moldova since 1992 and reached up to 700-800 students yearly, see ‘Pushkin v Moldavii. Poslednyaya duel’ [Pushkin in Moldavia. The Last Duel] directed by Serghei Tkach (P&P Studio, 2003).

[3] Which, in its turn, has been first musealized at 1918 and most recently newly restored by late 2000s.

[4] I have previously discussed the Pushkin cult in Moldova and its aftermath for local cultural milieu in the conference paper ‘Ambiguity of a Cultural Transfer: Adoption of the Russian National Poet’s Cult in MSSR’ at the 5th Annual Graduate Conference in European History ‘Transfers and Demarcations’ at the European University Institute in Florence on April 28-30, 2011.

[5] See Paul Debreczeny, Social Functions of Literature: Alexander Pushkin and Russian Culture. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997; Stephanie Sandler. Commemorating Pushkin: Russia’s Myth of a National Poet. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2004.

For the spread of meanings of the poet for present-day Russia see the documentary ‘Pushkin Is Our Everything’ directed by Michael Beckelhimer (Michael Beckelhimer Productions LLC, 2015), details here

[6] See Karen Petrone, Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades: Celebrations in the Time of Stalin. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press 2001, c2000; Wendy Slater. ‘The Patriots’ Pushkin’ // Slavic Review (Vol. 58, No. 2, Special Issue: Aleksandr Pushkin 1799-1999 (Summer, 1999), 407-427.

[7] Also the fruitful creative period coined by Chisinau-based scholar Victor Kushnirenko ‘the Bessarabian Spring’ (the spring of 1821) took place while Pushkin was living in that very house.

[8] See M.C. Levitt, Russian Literary Politics and the Pushkin Celebration of 1880. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989.

[9] Ivan Injevatov. Pushkin I moldavslii narod [Pushkin and Moldovan People]. Kishinev, 1949, 92.

[10] The theater changed its function into a drama theater after the new opera house was built in 1980. It was then renamed after Mihai Eminescu (the idea first appeared in 1988) and holds this title by now. On the building see

[11] Shchusev referred to a currently non-existing two-story building that used to stand in the very city center (at Alexandrovskaya street) – the so-called ‘Governor’s House’. The building has been constructed in 1823-1825 for the local boyar and a tax farmer Iordache Varfolomeu, but after he sold one, the house served as the residence of the governors of Bessarabia and later hosted military commander of Bessarabia, see The building that by present day is known as ‘the Varfolomey house’ and that contains a memorial plaque about Pushkin visiting it in 1820-1823 and the bust of a poet (installed in 2003), most probably has been built in 1874, see

[12] See K.N. Afanasiev. A.V. Shchusev. Mastera arkhitektury [Shchusev. Masters of architecture series]. Ripol Klassik, 1978, see part 2, chapter 5.

[13] Although that very argument I heard in 2015 at the guided tour in the Pushkin Memorial Museum-dacha (opened in 1958) in the town of Pushkin – it was claimed that the wooden structure of that summer house was the second surviving intact structure in the world where Pushkin lived, while the museum in Chisinau has not been mentioned at all. This reveals both the competition for audience between numerous Pushkin museums and a break in the network of these and related institutions in Russia and abroad since 1991.

[14] ‘Stolitsa Moldavii. Ocherk-ekskursiya po Kishinovu 1960-kh gg.’ [The Capital of Moldavia. An Essay-Excursion at Chisinau in the 1960s]

[15] Poeta tikhii dom… Kratkaia letopis’ doma-muzeea A.S. Pushkina [The Quiet House of a Poet.. Short Annals of A.S. Pushkin Museum-House]. Chișinău: Pontos, 2008, 4.

[16] Ibidem, 5.

[17] For the exhibition as it looked in 2007 see and

[18] Wim P. van Meurs. The Bessarabian Question in Communist Historiography: Nationalist and Communist Politics and History-writing. The University of Michigan (East European Monographs), 1994, 281-282.

[19] This phenomenon included numerous texts, fiction, but also contributions to visual culture. As an example of mocking the cult of ‘the Great Russian Poet’ see the movie ‘Bakenbardy’ [the Sidelocks] directed by Yuri Mamin (Lenfilm, 1990). I am grateful to Andrei Gherciu for introducing me to the film.

[20] Teodor Cojocaru. ‘Românii în optica lui Puşkin’[Romanians in the Pushkin’s vision] // Literatura şi Arta (no. 23 [2547], 2 iunie 1994), 3; (no. 25 [2549], 16 iunie 1994), 3; (no. 27 [2551], 30 iunie 1994), 3; (no. 28 [2552], 7 iulie 1994); (no. 30 [2554], 21 iulie 1994), 8; (no. 32 [2556], 4 august 1994),3; (no. 36 [2560], 1 septembrie 1994), 8.

[21] See ‘Pushkin v Moldavii. Poslednyaya duel’ [Pushkin in Moldavia. The Last Duel] directed by Serghei Tkach (P&P Studio, 2003),

[22] As it was claimed – due to technical reasons – as in absence of the librarian no access to the public may be provided in any circumstances.

[23] See Stakanova’s interview in Astakhova, Irina. ‘Vernite nam Pushkina’ (Give us Pushkin back) // Nezavisimaya Gazeta, issue from April 30, 2013

[24] See the documentary produced with the support of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Moldova ‘I budet milo mne ego vospominanje’(‘And so the memory of it will be dear to me’) directed by Serghei Tkach (Association of Producers of television programs ‘Telefabrika’, 2009), I am grateful to Lilia Felcher for introducing me to this documentary.

[25] ‘Pushkinskaya gorka’ is the area in Chisinau where currently the museum is located; it indicates the ‘the historic’ part of the city and reflects local connotations. At the same it indicates the reference to Pushkinskie gory, or ‘the Pushkin Hills’ – the administrative center Pushkinogorsky district that contains Svyatogorsky Holy Assumption Monastery – the burial place of Pushkin. ‘Pushkin Hills’ is also a title of English edition of Sergei Dovlatov’s famous essay ‘Zapovednik’ (Counterpoint, 2014) about an unsuccessful writer and an alcoholic working as a tour guide at the Mikhaylovskoye State Preserve.

[26] These are ‘The Russian Centre of Science and Culture’, ‘A.S. Pushkin Museum-house in Chisinau’, ‘The Association of Russian-speaking Writers’ with the participation of ’The Russian Community of the Republic of Moldova’ and with the support of the Russian Embassy in Moldova and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Moldova.

[27] It is, however, telling that initially, in 1913, the building has been constructed as the city Choral synagogue. In 1945 the building has been given to the Russian Drama Theatre named after Anton Chekhov. Following this decision in 1966, the building has been rebuilt and the internal layout has been changed completely. It is only after the war that the building acquired the ‘identity’ related to Russian high-brow culture. It is also telling that the Jewish component is totally absent from the narrative of ‘Pushkin in Moldova’. Although within Pushkin’s own texts from 1820-1823 and the texts of his ‘surrounding’ one meets some episodes with participation of local Jews and the area where the museum-house stood had high density of Jewish population, ‘the heritage narrative’ related to Pushkin totally excludes the Jews as legitimate actors within the story. By now the only reminder about former ‘identity’ of the area in relatively close proximity to the museum house is the building of former Ilyinskaya synagogue.

[28] The movie has been authored by Constantin Starysh and directed by Natalya Anisimova and produced with the financial support of the ‘Russkyi Mir Foundation’, the Municipal Directorate of Culture of the city of Chisinau and the University ‘High Anthropological School’(MediArt Dialog, 2014). See the full movie here


Background picture: see the source.

Despre autor

Anastasia Felcher

Anastasia Felcher is an independent scholar who lives and works in St.
Petersburg. She holds PhD degree in Management and Development of
Cultural Heritage from IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca. She
studied History at Central European University in Budapest and
Anthropology at the University High Anthropological School in
Chisinau. As a researcher, she is primarily interested in dilemmas of
Jewish cultural heritage in post-Holocaust age, heritage of minorities
in plural societies, and literature and politics in East European

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