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NIKITA KHRUSHCHEV, ANDREI VOZNESENSKY, & THE COLD SPRING OF 1963.

DOCUMENTING THE END OF THE POST-STALIN THAW

WHEN ANDREI VOZNESENSKY CAME to the University of Oklahoma in April 2000 to participate in a symposium titled "Russian Literature and Social Change," he brought with him a homemade audio CD. "I want you to hear the tirade Khrushchev directed at me in March of 1963 at a meeting of government and Party leaders with writers and artists in the Kremlin," Voznesensky told those of us who had assembled to hear him speak and read his poetry. "We did not know until recently that a recording of the meeting had survived. It was found in a secret government archive in Penza several months ago."

The sound system clicked on, and Khrushchev's voice filled the auditorium. For two minutes we listened as the Soviet Premier bellowed and sputtered with rage, loosing a barrage of accusations and threats at a twenty-nine-year-old Voznesensky. In the section of the recording which we heard, the young poet sounded startled, frightened, and unsure of how to respond. Each time he attempted to speak in his own defense, Khrushchev quickly shouted him down, interrupting with another barrage of threats.

"It was all," Voznesensky later explained, "so unexpected. We young artists revered Khrushchev as a progressive, and when he turned against us, we had no idea what to think. It was Khrushchev, after all, who had delivered the famous `Secret Speech' denouncing Stalin's crimes at the 20th Party Congress in February of 1956 and spearheaded the de-Stalinization campaign which followed the 22nd Party Congress in 1961. Thanks to his policies, it had become possible to speak more openly about our society and history. Even when the central press printed articles attacking certain artists and writers for `excesses,' we continued to have faith in Khrushchev. We thought that, if he went along with these campaigns, it was only at the insistence of more conservative party leaders. We believed that, in his heart, Khrushchev remained committed to a program of gradual liberalization, and we continued to look to him for protection. That is why his behavior at the meeting in the Kremlin came as such a shock."

The March 1963 meeting which Voznesensky recalled during his visit to the University of Oklahoma is often regarded by both Russian and Western intellectuals as an important historical turning-point. Convened a day after the tenth anniversary of the public announcement of the death of Joseph Stalin, it quite literally brought a decade of great hope and progressive change to an end. Between March of 1953 and March of 1963, the Soviet Union had undergone an enormous transformation, emerging from the long winter of 1 into a kind of fragile cultural spring known generally as the Post-Stalin Thaw. During these years, Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin's crimes and the return of survivors from isolated labor camps forced Soviet citizens to reexamine their nation's recent history. Censorship restrictions gradually eased, making it possible for publishers to print works that touched on a wide variety of contemporary issues and problems. A whole new generation of writers emerged on the cultural scene, including Voznesensky, Bella Akhmadulina, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Vladimir Voinovich, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Unafraid to speak out on controversial issues and to experiment esthetically, they attracted large numbers of admirers. Poetry readings had to be held in soccer stadiums to accommodate the crowds; significant new publications like Solzhenitsyn's 1962 novella One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich sold out instantly and circulated hand-to-hand. The whole country seemed to have suddenly come alive. Caught up in the excitement, Soviet citizens sat up late at night around kitchen tables, discussing politics, literature, and art.

Khrushchev and his supporters in the government had helped to set all these changes in motion in the first years after Stalin's death. Communist Party leaders had lived through the horror of the purges just like their fellow countrymen. All but the most conservative recognized the need for some reform: they wanted to relax certain controls, allow a measure of free speech, and perhaps permit greater contact with the West. Party officials were, however, easily frightened by the thought that the liberalization campaign might get out of hand. As Khrushchev noted in the memoirs he dictated before his death: "We were scared -- really scared. We were afraid the thaw might unleash a flood, which we wouldn't be able to control and which could drown us. How could it drown us? It could have overflowed the banks of the Soviet riverbed and formed a tidal wave which would have washed away all the barriers and retaining walls of our society. From the viewpoint of the leadership, this would have been an unfavorable development. We wanted to guide the progress of the thaw so that it would stimulate only those creative forces which would contribute to the strengthening of socialism."(1)

Crackdowns occurred periodically throughout the 1950s and early 1960s as a result of these fears. In 1954, Andrei Voznesensky, Nabokov, videom, 1991 after the first wave of important Thaw publications, Alexander Tvardovsky, the editor of Novyt Mir (New World), the leading literary journal of the time, was summarily dismissed. After the Hungarian uprising in 1956, censorship restrictions grew much tighter for a time and a number of Soviet writers received stern reprimands. Cultural policies did not really relax again until 1961, following Khrushchev's speech at the 22nd Party Congress.

The members of the creative intelligentsia who gathered in the Kremlin's Sverdlov Hall on 7 March 1963 to await the start of the two-day "Meeting of Writers and Artists with Government and Party Leaders" may well have felt inclined to reflect on the events of the last ten years, remembering both the setbacks and the great achievements. For months there had been signs that another crackdown on artistic freedom might be imminent. In December of 1962, at an exhibit of contemporary art at the Moscow Manege, Khrushchev had launched into a long, violent tirade against abstractionism, denouncing the nonrealist canvases on view as "shit" that was fundamentally "alien" to the Soviet people.(2) Two weeks later, at a meeting with members of the creative intelligentsia in the Lenin Hills, he had warned all those in attendance that the Communist Party would ultimately decide what constituted artistic merit and which forms of self-expression would be tolerated in the Soviet Union.

It was widely understood that at the 7-8 March meeting, Khrushchev and the other members of the Presidium planned to clarify the Party's position on cultural issues, outlining a new official policy in the arts. Artists and writers waited nervously to find out how much of their independence they stood to lose. The most optimistic hoped that all the ominous developments which had taken place in recent months, Khrushchev's tirades and pronouncements, presaged nothing more than another minor retrenchment, a brief retreat to a more conservative social policy that would ultimately be followed by a new wave of progressive changes.

By the end of the second day of the meeting, it was clear that something far more serious was taking place. Khrushchev's blistering attack on Voznesensky, his paranoid references to traitors and informers, and the closing speech in which he spoke at length about Stalin's positive qualities left little doubt that the Thaw was essentially over.

After the March meeting, Voznesensky fled the capital. As he writes in his 1998 memoirs: "For a year I wandered about the country; I hid in all sorts of places. The rumble of meetings where I was held up to reprobation reached my ears; I heard about the demands that I repent and about the abusive articles. One of the poets who denounced me from the rostrum at a meeting of the Writers Union demanded that my `partners in crime' and I receive the penalty meted out to those convicted of high treason ... death."(3) Eventually the scandal subsided and Voznesensky was able to return home. For years after the meeting, however, he remained under a cloud of suspicion and had trouble getting his work into print.

In this issue of World Literature Today we publish English translations of two key documents pertaining to the March 1963 Meeting of Government and Party Leaders with Writers and Artists: an excerpt from the memoirs of Mikhail Romm, a prominent Soviet director; and a transcript of the recording which Andrei Voznesensky played at the University of Oklahoma in April of 2000.

EXCERPT FROM FOUR MEETINGS WITH N.S. KHRUSHCHEV IN MIKHAIL ROMM S TALES TO TELL(4)

I arrived at the Kremlin and went into the Sverdlov Hall.... I saw many familiar faces, but I also caught glimpses of young people in modest dark suits with neat collars whom I didn't know at all. The atmosphere was extremely formal. The hall was set up as an amphitheater with benches for seats and, opposite them, an elevated platform for the Presidium and a dais for the speaker. It was beautiful, neatly decorated, and cold.

Everyone sat down. It was clear that this was going to be some sort of sequel to the meeting in the Lenin Hills. No one expected anything particularly good to happen. The unfamiliar young people also found seats, distributing themselves throughout the hall. Wherever you looked, one of them would be nearby, neat and attentive.

We sat and waited for a while, and then the Presidium of the Central Committee stepped out onto the stage: first Khrushchev and then the others. Kozlov was easy to pick out with his neatly curled gray hair and his cold expression. I also noticed Ilichev.(5)

We all stood up and applauded one another. Then we sat down again, and it got very quiet, as though we were all waiting nervously for something. We waited.

Khrushchev got up and started to speak: "We decided to meet with you once again. I am very sorry that we couldn't set up a banquet for you this time. We will have to get by without drinks and appetizers. We wanted to hold this meeting in the Lenin Hills, but the hall there is too small. It won't hold more than three hundred people. We made the decision to organize things today so that more people would get to hear us. So, we have to meet here. During the breaks, though, we will put out some refreshments, so please help yourselves....

"They say the weather is not so good now, unfortunately. This kind of winter dreariness does not help to create an atmosphere of cordiality, but that is all right: we will be able to speak more seriously. We plan to hold our next meeting in May or June. It will be sunny; the trees will be green; there will be grass -- then we'll be able to meet cordially, our conversation will be more cheerful. For now, though, we'll have to put up with having things a little wintry. That's how things are."

Khrushchev fell silent. He loved to call upon the weather for assistance when he spoke. It always helped him, sunshine or no.

He fell silent for a while and then suddenly, without any transition, said: "I ask all those who have volunteered to serve as informants for foreign agencies to leave the hall."

Everyone was silent. We looked at each other in consternation. What informants?

"I repeat: all those who have volunteered to serve as informants for foreign agencies, leave the hall."

We were silent.

"Let me explain," said Khrushchev. "Last time, after our conference in the Lenin Hills, on the very next morning the entire foreign press printed extremely detailed reports. That means there were informants present, lackeys of the bourgeois press. We don't need lackeys. So, for the third time, I am warning you: those of you who have volunteered to serve as informants for foreign agencies, get out! I understand: you feel uncomfortable getting up right away and showing yourselves, so just leave during the break when we all go to the refreshment bar. You can pretend you need to go to the bathroom and slip away. You had better not be here after the break, is that clear?"

That was how the meeting started.

Well, from that point on, things really got going. It was just like it had been in the Lenin Hills, except perhaps worse. No one dared to object any more. Shchipachev wasn't given the floor.(6) Maltsev tried to blabber something about the Party Committee at the Writers Union, which was a particular target for attacks, but he kept getting interrupted(7) He was essentially chased from the stage and not given the chance to speak.

Ehrenburg sat silently; everyone else sat silently.(8) Only the Gribachevs and Sofronovs, the Vasilievs and others of the same ilk talked.(9) They talked,

thanking the Party and the government for their help. They thanked them for at last bringing some order to the art world and for dealing with all of these "bandits" (that is how they invariably referred to the abstract artists and young poets). One of them said: "Wherever we go in Europe, we always see the affects of the trips these young people have been making. They have been circling the globe, babbling who-knows-what, and doing all sorts of damage to our cause."

Ermilov said something hastily after that, and then some other people spoke.(10) Many of the speakers emphasized a common theme: the notion that in our country the young and the old really did not represent opposing forces, that the generations worked together amicably, and that anyone who claimed there were differences between the generations was a bastard. For the most part, the people who said this were older; most of those being ground into hamburger were young. That is how the meeting went.

Sholokhov stepped out onto the stage.(11) He was a small but well-proportioned man who was beginning to put on weight and had a mean, insignificant face. After a few moments of silence, he abruptly said: "I fully concur. I have nothing more to add. I welcome you." Then he turned around and sat down.

To be honest, I do not remember which speeches were made on the first day and which on the second.... One [key speech] was made by Korneichuk's wife -- what was her name.(12) Vanda Vasilievskaya?(13) She made an extremely proper denunciation to the Party, couching everything she wanted to say in the most noble terms. She reported that her Polish Party comrades had informed her w with great indignation -- that Voznesensky had given an interview along with a group of young poets while he was in Poland. During the interview, he had been asked how he related to the older generation, what relations were like between the generations in literature. She said that he had answered: "I do not divide literature horizontally into generations, but rather vertically: I believe that Pushkin, Lermontov, and Mayakovsky are my contemporaries and belong to the younger generation." To the names of Pushkin, Lermontov, and Mayakovsky, he had added the names of Pasternak and Akhmadulina. Because of that, an enormous scandal had erupted. I think that was on the second day....

It had been announced in advance that after Vasilievskaya, Nalbandyan would say a few words.(14) Apparently, however, it was decided that it would be good to follow up on the denunciation of Voznesensky immediately, because, as soon as Madam finished her high-minded speech, Khrushchev got up and said: "Nal-bandyan was supposed to speak at this point, but perhaps we should beg his pardon and put off his speech for a while. Why don't we listen to what Comrade Voznesensky has to say now instead?"

Nalbandyan said, "Please, go right ahead."

Nalbandyan's speech was very simple. He finally delivered it at the very end of the day after it had been postponed about seven times. He just wanted to thank Nikita Sergeevich for the fact that his "fetters" had been re-moved. These fetters consisted of the fact that he had once painted Stalin and, for that reason, had always felt guilty. Now at last his fetters had been removed and he no longer felt guilty. Thank you.

As if in corroboration of the fact that he no longer felt guilty and that his fetters had been, so to speak, removed, Nalbandyan spent the entire time while he was waiting to deliver his speech making separate sketches of the Presidium, first of Khrushchev and then of each of the people who came up to speak. He was evidently preparing a great new canvas: the meeting of the intelligentsia with the Party and the government. He never managed to complete it, however, because Khrushchev was prematurely ousted from power.

So, Voznesensky stepped up onto the stage. This was the culmination of the program. I find it difficult even to relate exactly what took place. Voznesensky immediately felt that the affair was a bad one and for that reason began timidly, without much self-assurance. Khrushchev instantly interrupted him very curtly, even rudely. He got himself worked up to the point where he was screaming and began to yell at Voznesensky. All sorts of things were said: "slander," "slanderer," "What are you doing here?" and "If you don't like it, then get the hell out!" "We aren't trying to keep you." "If you like it abroad, if you have patrons there, then go! Get your passport and we'll take care of the paperwork in two minutes. Is Gromyko here?"(15) -- "Yes, he's here." "Get his passport ready, let him get out of here."

Voznesensky said, "I want to live here!"

"If you want to live here, then why are you slandering us? Why the outhouse perspective on Soviet rule?"

And so it went. It is hard even to remember all of the shouting, because I had not expected such an outburst. Who had? It was all so sudden. It even seemed to me that it wasn't quite in earnest, that Khrushchev was purposely working himself up, getting himself all wound up. Then, suddenly, in the midst of one of a whole series of skirmishes, when Voznesensky was trying to say something in his own defense, Khrushchev stopped trying to interrupt him. Instead, he turned his attention to someone seated in the back row of the auditorium and shouted: "You, why are you grinning? You, in the glasses, over there in the back row, in the red shirt! What are you grinning about? Just you wait, we'll hear from you too, your turn will come! Who is that?"

Someone shouted, "It's Aksyonov."(16)

"Ah, Aksyonov! Fine, we'll hear from Aksyonov. You can continue," he said, turning back to Voznesensky.

Voznesensky, who had no idea what he was supposed to continue doing, said: "I am an honest man. I am for Soviet rule. I don't want to emigrate."

Khrushchev dismissed him with a wave of his hand: "Those are just empty words. Rubbish."

Voznesensky said, "If you will allow me, I will recite my poem `Lenin'."

"We don't need your poem."

"Please let me recite it." " Go ahead."

Voznesensky began to recite the poem "Lenin," but he wasn't able to collect himself enough to read it properly. Khrushchev was seated behind him, shifting his fists back and forth across the table. The cold Kozlov and Ilichev sat next to Khrushchev. Ilichev was whispering something into the premier's ear.

Voznesensky finished reading his poem, and Khrushchev again dismissed his efforts with a wave of his hand: "That is no good. It is totally worthless. You don't have any skills and you don't know anything. That is what I have to say to you. How many people are born in the Soviet Union each year?"

Someone answered, "Three and a half million."

"There you have it. Until you, Comrade Voznesensky, recognize that you are nothing, that you are just one of these three and a half million, nothing good will come of you. Carve this into your forehead, so you won't forget it: you are nothing."

Of course, Khrushchev did not know, when he said this, that he was repeating one of Hitler's most famous pronouncements almost word for word, a slogan which had appeared on postcards and in albums during the Third Reich: "Du bist nichts, dein Volk ist alles" (You are nothing, your people is everything). So, Khrushchev repeated Hitler's words and then suggested that Voznesensky carve them into his forehead so that he wouldn't forget them.

Voznesensky didn't say anything. If he did mumble something, I don't know, I don't remember it. Khrushchev concluded by saying the following: "This is what I advise you to do. Do you know how it is in the army when a new recruit joins the ranks who is worthless, who doesn't know how to do anything, who is incompetent? An `uncle,' someone older and more experienced, is assigned to keep an eye on him. In the old days it used to be a junior officer; now it is usually one of the more senior enlisted men. I suggest that you get yourself that sort of `uncle.' Take Gribachev as your uncle. He is a true `soldier' in the service of the party. He will teach you how to write poetry; he will teach you some sense. Comrade Gribachev, will you take on the task of training Voznesensky?"

Gribachev called out from where he was sitting: "I certainly will!"

"There you have it. Take Gribachev as your uncle, and remember what I have said to you. You can go. Now, you over there in the back, the one who was gritting his teeth, in the glasses, come up here."

A person seated in one of the last rows of the auditorium got up: "Me?"

"Yes, you!"

The person moved down the aisle to the front of the hall. He was wearing glasses as Khrushchev said and had on a red shirt topped by a sport coat, with no tie. No one knew who he was. He was quite thin.

The tirade Khrushchev had directed at Voznesensky left the members of the intelligentsia who were in the audience in a strange and almost savage state of excitement. Tolstoy described this phenomenon very well in War and Peace in the scene where Rastopchin called for the death of the merchant's son and the crowd, as cruelty spread from one man to the next like an infection, at first hesitated and then finally began to carry out the sentence.

As the young man walked down the aisle, people began hurling abuse at him. Someone yelled, "Good-for-nothing! Wearing a red shirt to a meeting with the Central Committee!"

He responded, "It is the only shirt I own."

"Get up there and answer for what you have done!"

From every direction, Smimovs, Vasilievs, and other ugly mugs popped up.(17)

The young man stepped up to the podium, and Khrushchev asked him, "Are you Aksyonov?"

The young man answered, "No, I am not Aksyonov."

"What? Not Aksyonov! Then who are you?"

"I ... I am Golitsyn."

"What, Prince Golitsyn?"

"No ... I am not a prince. I ... I am the artist Golitsyn. I am a graphic artist.... I am a realist. Nikita Sergeevich, if you like, I have some of my work here with me. I can show,it to you...."

Khrushchev froze for a second in confusion and then said, "That will not be necessary. Say what you have to say."

The young man asked, "What should I say?"

"What do you mean? You stepped up to the podium, so say something."

"I don't know what to say.... I ... I didn't plan on speaking."

"Yes, but now that you've come up here, you'd best say something."

The young man remained silent.

"Well, do you understand why you were called down to the front?"

Golitsyn answered, "No ... I don't."

"What do you mean, you don't understand? Think about it."

The young man answered, "Perhaps because I applauded when Comrade Rozhdestvensky read his poetry or when Comrade Voznesensky spoke?"(18)

"No."

"Then I don't know."

"Think about it, and you will understand."

Golitsyn was silent.

"Say something."

Golitsyn volunteered: "Perhaps I should recite some poetry?"

"What poetry?"

"Mayakovsky,'" said Golitsyn.(19)

At this point hysterical laughter resounded in the hall, perhaps because the nervous tension had become unbearable. The scene had become almost surreal. It was unbelievable: this graphic artist who didn't know what to say, and then Khrushchev, who had at first mistakenly thought that the artist was Aksyonov and was shouting at him.

Finally, when the artist said "Mayakovsky," Khrushchev replied, "That won't be necessary, you can go."

Golitsyn started to head back to his seat, but suddenly stopped, turned around, and asked, "May I continue my work?"

Khrushchev said, "You may."

Golitsyn left the stage, and Khrushchev said,

"Aksyonov! Excuse us, Comrade Nalbandyan, for postponing your speech. Get Comrade Aksyonov up here!"

Golitsyn had been sitting next to Aksyonov. That is what had caused all the confusion. Khrushchev had noticed a smile on Golitsyn's face and started shouting. People thought he was shouting at Aksyonov, but he called Golitsyn up to the stage.

Well, at this point Vasia Aksyonov stepped out onto the stage. Without more ado, Khrushchev started in on him: "So, you don't like Soviet rule?"

Aksyonov answered, "I just try to write the truth, what I think."

"Was your father a victim of the purges?" asked Khrushchev.

Aksyonov replied, "My father was posthumously rehabilitated."

"Was he the one who taught you to hate and cast slander upon Soviet rule?"

Aksyonov said, "I never heard my father say anything bad. My father was a member of the Party and a true communist."

I don't remember how Aksyonov concluded his speech. Khrushchev kept getting more and more agitated as the meeting wore on, and every ten minutes or so a silent young man came out onto the stage and quietly placed a glass in front of him which was covered with a napkin and contained some sort of liquid. Khrushchev kept drinking the stuff, and I began to wonder: could they be giving him stimulants?

Nalbandyan's speech kept getting postponed. I remember one more thing that Khrushchev said that day: "What did you want to do, create another Club Petofi?(20) That won't happen! Do you know how things got started in Hungary? Everything started with the Writers Union. That is where the Club Pet6fi was, and then there was an insurrection. There won't be any Club Pet6fis here. We won't allow it."

Another of Khrushchev's remarks is worth mentioning. At one point, Khrushchev suddenly said, "Do you think we have forgotten how to make arrests?"

Finally, Nalbandyan got the chance to make his speech. He put aside the sketch he had been working on, thanked Comrade Khrushchev, and then sat back down. After that it was time for Khrushchev's concluding remarks: THE MA-AIN EVENT!

He began, as I recall, by apologizing for having gotten so worked up, for having yelled. He said, though, that we shouldn't take it amiss: the matters we had been discussing were important and it was alright to get worked up over them.

Then he began to tell us what constituted good art, providing concrete examples....

VOZNESENSKY AND KHRUSHCHEV: TAPED TRANSCRIPT(21)

ANDREI VOZNESENSKY: Like my favorite poet, my teacher, Vladimir Mayakovsky, I am not a member of the Communist Party. But, like Vladimir Mayakovsky ...

NIKITA KHRUSHCHEV: That is nothing to brag about.

AV: But like Vladimir Mayakovsky, Nikita Sergeevich ...

NK: That is nothing to brag about, so why are you advertising it? I am proud that I am a member of the Party (applause) and will die a Party member (applause). "I am not a Party Member! ..." You're issuing a challenge! We will rub you out! Everything that is blocking the path to communism, we will rub out! If you want a fight, we will fight. We can fight! We have a forum. Are you representing our people or are you disgracing them? I cannot quietly listen to the toadies of our enemies! I cannot! I cannot listen to agents! You will say that I am suppressing criticism. You will say that I am first and foremost a secretary, a chairman. First and foremost, I am a person, first and foremost a citizen of the Soviet Union. I am a worker, a member of my class. I am a friend of my people. I am their soldier, and I will fight against every kind of abomination. We have created conditions filled with possibilities, but that does not mean that we have created conditions for anti-Soviet propaganda. We have not created them, and we never will give the enemy the field. Never! Never! Oh, that's the sort you are! "I am not a member of the Party!" That's the sort you are.... He wants to create some kind of Party of Non-Party Members here! Not be a member of the Party! At least not of the Party which I belong to! Not a member of the Party....

AV: Nikita Sergeevich ...

NK: Comrades, a historic battle is taking place. For that reason, there is no place for liberalism here. Mr. Voznesensky!

AV: Yes!

NK: You can say whatever you like here. There are the agents standing here. There are two young men who keep giving people certain looks. And when they applauded Voznesensky, they really shot a look at us too. I don't know who they are. There they are, the two of them. One in glasses, the other -- sitting over there without glasses.

AV: Nikita Sergeevich, excuse me, I didn't finish my sentence.

NK: That's a lie! A lie!

AV: It's not a lie.

NK: It's a lie! A lie! That is what Vanda Lvovna said.... You said it.... That is slander against the Party!(22) A son may not slander his mother! No! That's enough! Quite enough! You can say now that this is no longer a thaw or a light frost but rather a truly bitter frost. Yes, for people like you it will truly be a bitter frost! We aren't the ones who were involved in that Petofi business, but we are the ones who helped the Hungarians to defeat those bands [of rebels]!(23)

AV: Nikita Sergeevich, what I said was true, and this is backed up by every word I have ever written.

NK: People aren't judged by their words but by their deeds, and your deeds show you to be anti-Party, anti-Soviet. For this reason, you are not our friend.

AV: Nikita Sergeevich ...

NK: He's going to lecture us.... Just you wait! We'll reeducate you and you'll thank us for it. Oh what a little Pasternak! Do you want Pasternak?(24) We invited this little Pasternak to this hall so that he would leave the country. Do you want your passport tomorrow? We can give it to you today. Leave! Leave, damn it! Go join your own kind! Go visit them and get an eyeful. Do you want to get your passport today? We'll give it to you. I'll issue the order right now! I have the right to do that! Leave!

AV: Nikita Sergeevich, I am a Russian person....

NK: Russian! Not everyone who was born on Russian soil is Russian! Don't you want to go? Get moving.... Take your passport and leave. We won't send you to prison. You like the West? Then you can have it! We'll stuff your passport between your teeth and send you packing.

Book Excerpt and Tape Transcript

(1) Khrushchev Remembers: The Last Testament, tr. & ed. Strobe Talbott, Boston, Little, Brown, 2974, P. 79.

(2) Roy Medvedev, Khrushchev, tr. Brian Pearce, New York, Anchor, 1963, pp. 217-18.

(3) Andrei Voznesenskit, Na virtual'nom vetru: Moi dvadtsatii vek, Moscow, Vagrius, 1998, p. 85.

(4) Mikhatl Romm, Ustnye rasskazy [literally, "Oral Tales"], Moscow, Kino-Center, USSR Cinematography Union, 1991.

(5) Frol Kozlov was a member of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CC/ CPSU). At one time he was widely viewed as Khrushchev's probable successor. Leonid Ilichev, Secretary of the CC/CPSU, served as one of Khrushchev's most important advisors on art and ideology. He was generally viewed as a hard-line conservative.

(6) Stepan Shchipachev, a Russian poet and pedagogue who served on the Board of the Soviet Writers Union and of the Writers Union of the Russian Federation.

(7) Elizarii Maltsev (real name: Pupko), a Soviet prose writer.

(8) Ilya Ehrenburg, a prominent Russian writer. In his novel The Thaw (1954-60), Ehrenburg coined the term which came to be used as a popular designation for the brief period of political reform and cultural permissiveness which followed Stalin's death in 1953.

(9) The reference is to Nikolai Gribachev, Anatoly Sofronov, and Arkady Vasiliev, three writers who were notorious for their willingness to do the Party's dirty work. During the Stalin and post-Stalin years, Gribachev participated in so many officially organized campaigns of abuse and innuendo against other Soviet writers that Khrushchev once dubbed him one of "the Party's machine-gunners." See John and Carol Garrard, Inside the Soviet Writers Union, New York, Free Press, 1990, p. 105.

(10) Vladimir Ermilov, a member of the Board of the Soviet Writers Union and of the Writers Union of the Russian Federation. Ermilov worked as a journalist and literary critic.

(11) Mikhail Sholokhov, the Nobel Prize-winning author of And Quiet Flows the Don. He was a member of the Board of the Soviet Writers Union and of the Writers Union of the Russian Federation. In 1961 he was made a member of the CC/CPSU.

(12) Alexander Korneichuk, a Ukrainian playwright who remained in the good graces of the authorities so consistently that he received the Stalin Prize five times (1941, 1942, 1943, 1949, 1951) and the Lenin Prize once (1960). In 1959 he became Secretary of the Soviet Writers Union.

(13) Vanda Lvovna Vasilievskaya, a left-wing Polish writer and journalist who emigrated to Lvov in 1939 and assumed Soviet citizenship. She became a member of both the Soviet and Ukrainian Writers Unions.

(14) Dmitri Nalbandyan, a socialist-realist painter who produced many canvases in the 1930s and 1940s in which Stalin and other Party leaders appear as central figures. In 1945 he won a Stalin Prize for his portrait Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin.

(15) Andrei Gromyko, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

(16) Vasily Aksyonov, at the time a promising young writer.

(17) Vasily Smirnov, another writer who behaved unscrupulously during the Stalin years, participating in attacks on other members of the Writers Union.

(18) The young poet Robert Rozhdestvensky.

(19) The great Russian poet and graphic artist Vladimir Mayakovsky, a leading member of the Russian futurist movement. Although Mayakovsky took pride in flouting literary conventions throughout his life and published some extremely avant-garde verse, after his death in 1930 he was praised by Stalin as one of the founding fathers of Soviet literature. Dubbed "the poet laureate of the revolution," he became part of the official literary canon. In the cultural debates of the post-Stalin Thaw, liberals often pointed to Mayakovsky, arguing that the poet's legacy proved that an artist could be stylistically innovative without betraying the ideals of the October Revolution. See, for instance: John and Carol Garrard, Inside the Soviet Writers Union, p. 67; Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers: The Last Testament, p. 80.

(20) The reference is to a debating club known as the Pet6fi Circle, which was formed within the Federation of Working Youth in Hungary in March of 1956 and was named after the noted nineteenth-century Hungarian poet Sandor Petofi (1823-49). It quickly evolved into a hotbed of anticommunist political activity and, like the Hungarian Writers Union, played an important role in the events which led up to the anticommunist revolt of 1956. See Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century, London, Routledge, 1994, p. 293.

(21) This translated transcription of the Khrushchev-Voznesensky exchange appears with the permission of Andrei Voznesensky. A draft version was read by Emily Johnson to the audience gathered at the University of Oklahoma in April 2000 to hear Voznesensky's presentation and poetry reading.

(22) Vanda Lvovna Vasilievskaya. See note 13.

(23) Khrushchev is referring to the anticommunist revolt which took place in Hungary in 1956 and was brutally suppressed by the Soviet army. The Petofi debate-club meetings which took place in the spring of 1956 are generally viewed as important precursors to the revolt.

(24) Boris Pasternak was Voznesensky's mentor. The two met when Voznesensky was still an adolescent and quickly became very close. They spoke and met regularly until Pasternak's death in 1960. In the last years of his life, following the publication of Doctor Zhivago in the West in 1957, Pasternak became persona non grata in his own country and was repeatedly subjected to vicious attacks at public forums and in the press. By calling Voznesensky a "little Pasternak," Khrushchev is no doubt hinting at the torments that the state could inflict upon disobedient poets.

EMILY JOHNSON received her Ph.D. in Russian from Columbia University in 2000. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics at the University of Oklahoma and a WLT Contributing Editor.

MIKHAIL ROMM (1901-71) had a long and distinguished career in the Soviet Union as a film director and screenwriter. His most famous films include a 1934 adaptation of Maupassant's Boule de suif, the socialist-realist classics Lenin in October and Lenin in 1918, and the 1965 documentary Ordinary Fascism. In the last decades of his life, Romm taught at the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography in Moscow, where he helped to train Andrei Tarkovsky, Nikita Mikhalkov, and Andrei Konchalovsky in the art of directing. The memoirs which Romm dictated before his death appeared in print in Russia in 1991. They offer a revealing glimpse of the Soviet cultural establishment in the Stalin and post-Stalin years.
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Author:JOHNSON, EMILY
Publication:World Literature Today
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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