An extraordinary political salon has been created in Moscow by a woman who trusts intuitionby Edward Skidelsky / March 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
Published in March 1999 issue of Prospect Magazine
It is a pity, although perhaps inevitable, that the Russia presented to us in the pages of the British press is populated entirely by bandits, political mountebanks and crank spiritualists. Unnoticed go the vast majority who merely want to live out their lives undisturbed by public events. Unnoticed, too, go the small group of liberal intellectuals who strive to make this possible.
A prominent member of this latter group is Lena Nemirovskaya, founder and director of the Moscow School of Political Studies. It is hard to know how to describe this institution without making it sound turgid and worthy, as its own official literature does. The nature and purpose of the school evades attempts to capture it in manifestos, constitutions or reports. It is perhaps best described as a salon for the jet age. Its membership extends over the whole of Russia, Europe and the US, and embraces all professions and political opinions. Yet its governing principles are those of a salon: friendship, conviviality, good manners and a commitment to the art of conversation. Like the salons of old it strives to create a “space of merry liberty.” Like the salons of old it could only be run by a woman.
The origins of this huge network lie in a small kitchen in the Brezhnev era. “It was not just a boring era,” says Lena. “It was something inhuman-without any feeling of time. You lived and you didn’t live. Time stopped.” What sustained her spirit during those years was her membership of the small circle surrounding the philosopher Marab Marmadashvili. Still almost unknown in the west, Marmadashvili was a passionate espouser of intellectual freedom. Lena met him in 1971, and he introduced her to Yuri Senokossov, the man who was to become her husband. Through her membership of this “family,” Lena’s orbit widened. Marmadashvili had many friends in the west and the flat’s kitchen became a meeting place for Russian and western intellectuals. “We had a lot of problems with the KGB. Maybe we were saved by perestroika. But I never belonged to the dissident circles. The dissidents were another sort of party. They really were a party, completely opposed to the Communist party, but with the same hierarchy. To live our private lives we could not belong to this party.”