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Rostropovich returns to conduct in Moscow

MOSCOW - Exiled from the Soviet Union more than a decade ago as an "ideological degenerate" and a "renegade to the motherland," the renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich returned to Moscow this week unrepentant - and victorious. "When we left, the Soviet Union was an island of lies, big lies," Rostropovich said, recalling how he had gone abroad to work in 1974 and then been stripped of his Soviet citizenship four years later. "Now the Soviet Union is cleansing itself. ... Our country is regaining its integrity, its honesty. It is now learning what truth is and what it means in life."

Director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington since 1977, Rostropovich returned to Moscow on Sunday to conduct three concerts and play at a fourth after 16 years in painful, bitter exile.

With him was his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, for 30 years a soprano at the Bolshoi Opera and even a more caustic critic than he of the Soviet government.

Rostropovich is the latest in a series of writers, musicians, artists and other cultural figures to return from exile as President Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms change the cultural as well and political landscape here. He will conduct the National Symphony today in Moscow and perform on Wednesday.

Depicted in the Soviet press throughout the 1970s as a traitor, Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya were accused of defaming the Soviet Union and becoming hirelings of Western propaganda by shelterering and defending Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who had won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970 but become the fiercest critic of the Soviet regime.

They had then compounded this by their own statements on the political, economic and social failures of the Soviet system.

Rostropovich on Monday demanded the government continue its rehabilitation of those who suffered for their views while the late President Leonid Brezhnev was the party leader. He quoted Solzhenitsyn as telling him just before this trip: "I will return to my people, of course, but I will come back only when every person has a chance of reading my books, buying them or borrowing them from libraries."