One day when I was twelve perhaps, our English teacher said: "We are going to have a Robert Burns club". We had no idea who Robert Burns was, but I guess that was the point. To begin with, we found out all about Scotland, which was just as real as Alfa Centauri. We admired post stamps with Burns on them, on envelopes we got from a school in that mysterious country. We learned and recited poetry. Burns was acceptable for the regime because he supported the poor. He was the poet of the people. We liked his love poetry. We didn't understand all the subtleties, and I am sure that not even our teachers understood all the dirty things, but it was about love and on the border of the forbidden.
I found and read a 500-page Burns biography, written by a great Russian translator and scholar of British literature. At the age of twelve, the number of Burns' illegitimate children nade a great impression on me.
Yestesday I experienced my first Burns Night. (Somehow I missed it last year). In my old-old country, great national poets were celebrated officially, with the authorities' support. It's wonderful to see people who do it voluntarily and with such genuine engagement.