The focus of a major national celebration to mark the bicentenary of the birth of one of Russia’s greatest poets, shifted to Earlston on Friday.
The Scottish festival to commemorate the birth of Mikhail Yurievitch Lermontov, began with a reception at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday.
On Friday, the celebrations moved south to Earlston, or Ercildoune as it was once known, home of Thomas the Rhymer, progenitor of the Learmonth surname from which the Lermontov family is descended.
The day commenced with an informative tour for invited guests, but which anyone was welcome to join, of the local historic sites associated with Thomas the Rhymer.
This was followed by a civic reception at Scottish Borders Council headquarters in nearby Newtown St Boswells.
The unveiling of a bronze bust of Lermontov, albeit temporary until planning consent is granted for a larger-than-life sized statue, took place in the centre of the village.
The bust was designed by Russian sculptor Stefan Mokrosov and the plan is for the head to eventually be incorporated into the full size statue.
The bust has been gifted to Scotland in acknowledgement of the link between the Learmonth and Lermontov families and it is hoped that an annual gathering of the two families will now take place in Earlston.
Unfortunately, the current conflict in Ukraine and its resulting international sanctions against Russia, saw the original Russian sponsors of the project pull out earlier this year.
It means a major fund-raising effort has now had to be launched, but Gwen Hardie, chairperson of the local Friends of Thomas the Rhymer group which is co-ordinating the project as part of a partnership with the Sco-Rus Organisation and the Lermontov family, is confident the necessary funding will be found to allow the erection of the life-sized statue of the poet, to be erected on The Green in Earlston at some point next year.
“The events on Friday went very well, it was a fantastic day - despite the weather,” she told us. “The civic reception hosted by Scottish Borders Council at its headquarters in Newtown St Boswells was first class and the unveiling and reception were attended by a number of guests, including 35 from Russia.”
Among the Russian contingent were the country’s deputy minister of culture and the vice-consul from Edinburgh.
From Scotland, the guest list included well-known Scottish art impressario, Richard Demarco, and Gerald Maitland-Carew, Lord Lieutenant of Roxburgh, Ettrick and Lauderdale.
“The event was designed to be cultural only, with no political overtones,” explained Gwen. Russian television crew filmed the events and these were broadcast on Friday evening to a large audience in Russia. Hopefully the event has helped forge new links of friendship between the ordinary people of Scotland and Russia.”
However, the project has not had its woes to seek. As well as the original sponsors backing out, the first choice sculptor, the renowned artist Viktor Sirotin, also dropped out after planners made it clear the usual scale of one of his trademark massive sculptures would overshadow the nearby village war memorial.
And it fell to third choice sculptor Stefan Mokrosov to save the day, creating and casting the bronze bust in little over a week, as well as helping cover the costs involved.
The bust only arrived in Earlston on Friday morning: “But it seems quite fitting that Lermontov returned to the place of his dreams on the date of his birthday,” added Gwen.
“I think that is a good omen that, hopefully, marks the beginning of a long relationship and friendship.”
Speeches given at the Earlston gathering included one by Mairi Koroleva, representing the Lermontov family, and were followed by entertainment portraying Scottish and Russian culture.
Though just 26 at the time of his death, Mikhail Lermontov is rightly deserving of the title of Russia’s greatest poet after Pushkin.
Two poems epitomise his desire to visit Scotland, namely, ‘Ossian’s Grave’ and ‘Yearning’, both of which can be found online.
It is a fitting tribute that, in the Year of Homecoming and the bicentenary of his birth, Mikhail Yurievitch Lermontov, direct descendant of George Learmonth, one of Scotland’s sons, has finally come home.