16
Jun
09

On This Day, June 16: Nureyev Defects

June 16, 1961

Russian ballet star Nureyev defects

Rudolf Nureyev, the young star of the Soviet Union’s Kirov Opera Ballet Company, defects during a stopover in Paris. The high-profile defection was a blow to Soviet prestige and generated international interest.

Nureyev became a star of Russian ballet in 1958 when, at barely 20 years old, he was made one of the Kirov Opera Ballet’s featured soloists. The Kirov and the Bolshoi ballet companies were two of the jewels of Soviet cultural diplomacy, and their performances earned worldwide accolades and respect for the arts in the USSR. In June 1961, the Kirov Company finished a run in Paris. On June 16, just as the company was preparing to board a flight home, Nureyev broke from the group and insisted that he was staying in France. According to eyewitnesses, other members of the troupe pleaded with Nureyev to rejoin them and return to the Soviet Union. The dancer refused and threw himself into the arms of airport security people, screaming, “Protect me!” The security officials took Nureyev into custody, whereupon he asked for political asylum. The Kirov Company fretted over the loss of its star and Soviet security guards fumed over Nureyev’s defection. Eventually, the troupe flew back to Russia without the dancer.

Nureyev’s high-profile defection was a double blow to the Soviet Union. First, it detracted from the quality of the Kirov Company, which had featured the young prodigy prominently in its performances throughout the world. Second, it severely damaged Soviet propaganda that touted the political and artistic freedom in Russia.

Nureyev continued with his career after his defection. During the next 30 years he danced with England’s Royal Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. He was in great demand as both a dancer and choreographer, and even made a few films (including a disastrous turn as the silent film star Rudolf Valentino). In 1983, he took over as ballet director of the Paris Opera. In 1989, he briefly returned to the Soviet Union to perform. He died in Paris in 1993.

“Russian ballet star Nureyev defects,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2700 [accessed Jun 16, 2009]

On This Day

0455 – Rome was sacked by the Vandal army.

1815 – Napoleon defeated the Prussians at the Battle of Ligny, Netherlands.

1858 – In a speech in Springfield, IL, U.S. Senate candidate Abraham Lincoln said the slavery issue had to be resolved. He declared, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

1897 – The U.S. government signed a treaty of annexation with Hawaii.

1909 – Glenn Hammond Curtiss sold his first airplane, the “Gold Bug” to the New York Aeronautical Society for $5,000.

1922 – Henry Berliner accomplished the first helicopter flight at College Park, MD.

1932 – The ban on Nazi storm troopers was lifted by the von Papen government in Germany.

1952 – “Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl” was published in the United States.

1958 – Hungarian prime minister Imre Nagy was hanged for treason. He had been the prime minister during the 1956 uprising that was crushed by Soviet tanks.

1963 – 26-year-old Valentina Tereshkova went into orbit aboard the Vostok 6 spacecraft for three days. She was the first female space traveler.

1977 – Leonid Brezhnev was named the first Soviet president of the USSR. He was the first person to hold the post of president and Communist Party General Secretary. He replaced Nikolai Podgorny.

1989 – Hungarian prime minister Imre Nagy was reburied. The funeral brought at least a quarter of a million people to the streets of Budapest. Nagy had been prime minister during the 1956 uprising that was crushed by Soviet tanks. He was hanged for treason on June 16, 1958.

June 16, 1999

SLA member captured after more than 20 years

On this day in 1999, Kathleen Ann Soliah, a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), is arrested near her home in St. Paul, Minnesota. Soliah, who now calls herself Sara Jane Olsen, had been evading authorities for more than 20 years.

In the mid-1970s, the SLA, a small, radical American paramilitary group, made a name for itself with a series of murders, robberies and other violent acts. They were most well-known for the 1974 kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst, who became a member of the group. In April 1975, members of the SLA robbed a bank in Carmichael, California, and, in the process, killed one of the bank’s customers, Myrna Opsahl. According to Patty Hearst, who served as the group’s getaway driver that day, Soliah took part in the robbery.

Four months later, in August 1975, Lost Angeles policemen discovered a bomb where one of their patrol cars had earlier been parked. Though police believe it had been designed to explode when the car moved, it had failed to detonate. Soliah was indicted for the crime in 1976 but by then she had already left town, and did not return, becoming a fugitive for nearly 23 years. Soliah eventually settled with her husband, a doctor, and three children in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she continued to advocate for various causes under the assumed name Sara Jane Olsen.

In the spring of 1999, however, Soliah’s case was featured on an episode of television’s America’s Most Wanted; she was arrested several weeks later. In 2002, as part of a plea bargain, she pled guilty to two counts of planting bombs and was sentenced to five years and four months in jail. The Board of Prison Terms then changed her sentence to 14 years. After pleading guilty to the attempted bombings, she was arraigned for the Opsahl killing and was later convicted and sentenced to another six years.

In 2004, a judge threw out the adjusted 14-year term, saying the board “abused its discretion” in changing the sentence. Olsen remains in prison in California.

“SLA member captured after more than 20 years,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=1038 [accessed Jun 16, 2009]

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