Day: May 15, 2013

Soviet Dissent – 3

In her discussion of the Soviet dissident movement Alexeyeva places an initial emphasis on two central points:

1) The movement is properly defined as a правозащитное движение – literally, “rights (or law) defending movement”. This name was entirely new and original: Alexeyeva notes that it came neither from the Russian traditions of constitutional democracy as practiced by the pre-1917 KD (Kadets), nor from the international human rights movement – instead, it described the experience and aspirations of people who had spent their lives in conditions of “lawless actions (беззаконий), cruelty and the trampling of the individual in the ‘interests of the collective’, or for the sake of ‘the bright future of all mankind’.” The situation and actions of the rights defenders were characterized by Andrei Amalrik as the expression of “something brilliantly simple: they began to behave as free people in a country that was not free and by doing so to change the moral atmosphere and the tradition that governed the country.” [my tr.] Thus, the rights defending movement was not a political movement, but a moral one. This enabled it to encompass national, ethnic, social, economic and religious borders and to reach out across them to the USSR as a whole and to the world beyond.

2) The movement had its roots in Russian and Soviet literature: the work of authors like Vladimir Dudintsev, Ilya Ehrenburg, Alexander Tvardovsky and Boris Pasternak created the moral and aesthetic context for much of the writing that appeared in the journal Novy Mir throughout 1960s, including the work of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Of primary importance, however, were the home-produced, clandestine publications of samizdat, which embraced not only civic texts but also many literary works, both Russian and foreign, that were banned from official circulation. The output of samizdat contained a strong component of poetry, which took its inspiration from an earlier twentieth century tradition of инакомыслие centering on poets who included Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetayeva and Osip Mandelstam. While figures like Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Andrei Voznesensky dominated the official poetry scene, with occasional nods to the dissidents, the work of Iosif Brodsky was perhaps the best-known part of an enormous underground proliferation of poems by many different and often anonymous authors. Because of the relative conciseness of the medium of poetry, these texts could easily be committed to memory, thus bypassing the need for typing and printing. The poems were also frequently set to music and sung to the accompaniment of a guitar, which extended their availability and popularity. This literary work was able to express and convey the ideals of the rights defenders in a form that was far more attractive than the texts of civic documents.

Soviet Dissent – 1
Soviet Dissent – 2