On the fortieth anniversary of the Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring, comes news of a Russian celebration, in occupied South Ossetia, of the rape of Georgia.
Valery Gergiev, who is the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and who has conducted in this country at the Metropolitan Opera and at the Kennedy Center (and who is an ethnic Ossetian and godfather to one of Vladimir Putin’s children), led a concert in the ruins of Tskhinvali.
In front of the blackened shell that once acted as the breakaway region’s rebel headquarters, Gergiev, who was born in Moscow but is an ethnic Ossetian, raised his baton to cheers and applause.
From a specially constructed gantry an audience of 300-odd Ossetians enthusiastically waved Russian flags as Gergiev led St Petersburg’s Marinsky Orchestra in concert.
The program was specially designed to combine pomp, grandeur and defiance with pathos and grief.
Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony, written on the orders of Stalin to rouse Russians against the Nazi invasions, was followed by the delicate strains of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique symphony.
Russian soldiers perched on the top of armoured personnel carriers, straining for a better view, as Orthodox priests, Jewish rabbis and even an imam passed through the audience granting benedictions to a self-proclaimed nation united in victory.
As the strains of Shostakovich filled the air, fresh smoke and sheets of flame from burning Georgian villages in South Ossetia rose from the hills – the latest sign that while the war may be over, the plight of civilians is not.
Yet Russian officers refused to acknowledge what was going on before their eyes. “What fire?”, one snapped before striding off.