- Venue: Temple Israel of Hollywood
- City: Los Angeles, CA
- Type of Event: Music
II International Bulat OKUDZHAVA Festival presents: Boris Lvovich, Veronika Dolina, Yuli Kim, Larissa Gerstein, Alexander Mirzoyan, Leonid Sergeev.
Bulat Okudzhava wrote his poem about the Israeli-born female soldier on Eduard Kuznetsov and Larissa Gerstein's kitchen table in Jerusalem. It was in 1996, a year before his death, during one of his visits to Israel. "Your collar is thin/ dark-skinned sabra girl/ you carry a weapon./ But in your eyes is the look of a lady," wrote the Russian poet, as Gerstein feverishly typed the words on a typewriter, simultaneously setting them to music. It can be assumed that it was more the feminine appearance than the military look that touched the soul of the pacifist poet who loved women. When Gerstein played the song on the local Russian-language Reka radio station immediately after the lethal bombing of the Dolphinarium, the studio was inundated with dozens of calls from soldiers' mothers. All of them were crying. What Bulat Okudzhava did for millions of Russians suffering under the yoke of the Soviet regime he continued to do here for a million Russian-speaking immigrants.
A festival dedicated to Okudzhava is a second annual festival in USA, with participation of well-known Russian poet-singers, including his student Veronika Dolina. It would be hard to overstate the importance of the event among the Russian-speaking community here. Okudzhava, like other "bards" over the generations - the Russian troubadours who were characterized by political and social statement, such as Vladimir Vysotsky, Josef Brodsky, Yevgeny Klatchkin and Aleksandr Galich - is a major figure in Russian culture.
The vast majority of Russian bards are not entirely Russian. Some are Jews, a few are half-Jews. Okudzhava himself was Georgian (although he is not a favorite of the Georgians, who consider his outspoken Russianness to be an act of near-treason). Presumably, the identity of the bards is not coincidental. Perhaps it was more natural and more easy for these individuals, whose ethnic identity preserved a certain foreignness, to break free of the ethos of the Soviet ruler. A few, like Vysotsky, who was a popular stage actor in his time, prospered in Soviet Russia. Brodsky was persecuted by the authorities, a fact that earned him a sarcastic comment from the well-known poetess Anna Akhmatova, "What a glorious biography they are creating for this fellow." Okudzhava, a literary editor in a prestigious magazine, was extremely cautious. He had good reason to be so: his father was murdered by the authorities under Stalin. Although they may not have been persecuted, the bards were always under the watchful eye of the authorities. Nevertheless, or perhaps precisely for this reason, the bards expressed, to the sounds of a guitar, the most closely guarded emotions of the Soviet citizenry, and rebelled against the enlisted art. They gave birth to a style of quiet protest - the lone man and his guitar, the individual who feels a deep urge to express himself while pushing slightly the boundaries of what is permissible. In private homes and in the forests around the large cities, masses of people would gather to sing the songs of the bards, and songs composed by the participants.
Brodsky is considered a complex poet, Vysotsky a more socially minded writer, anchored in the Soviet context. Among this group, Okudzhava is simply the most human, and therefore the most universal of them all. He articulated an outbreak of true feelings, in a reality in which the lie had been consecrated. For this reason, his simple poetry has survived the changing times and changes of regime.