Russian literature

Brodsky Anniversary

It’s exactly 50 years since the poet Joseph Brodsky was attacked in the pages of Vechernii Leningrad as “A Pseudo-literary Parasite”, in an article that led to his trial, imprisonment and exile.

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

Son of the Caucasus

Kavkazskii uzel notes that on January 29 events were held in a number of Caucasian republics and regions, including Armenia, Azerbaijan and Krasnodarsky Krai to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Anton Chekhov. The most extensive celebrations were held in Taganrog, Rostov Oblast, the writer’s birthplace, with more events to follow throughout 2010.


RFE/RL’s Sofia Kornienko has interviewed the Georgian composer Giya Kancheli at his home in Antwerp. The interview is remarkable for the insight it gives into the nature of the relationship – and the disconnection – between the arts, including music, and political thought and action. In a series of what amount to reflective miniature essays, Kancheli expresses his sadness at the terrible events of August, which in addition to killings of civilians and ethnic cleansing have included apparently gratuitous acts of calculated nihilism, like the torching by Russian forces of large areas of beautiful Georgian forest land. Kancheli also expresses bewilderment at the actions of his Ossetian friend and colleague the conductor Valery Gergiyev, “who didn’t — as he should have — dedicate his performance of Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky to fallen Ossetians and Georgians as well.”

One or two excerpts from the article and interview:

The following is a note the 73-year-old composer included in a dedication to Mariinsky Theater director Valery Gergiyev on his 50th birthday:

“Dear Valery,
“Our creative and personal relationship, which has endured many years, has filled me with hope that the powerful energy you possess will travel the globe and return, like a boomerang, to the symbolic circle Bertolt Brecht called ‘the chalk circle of the Caucasus.’ This piece, which I have dedicated to you, I named an Ossetian word, ‘Ouarzon,’ which means ‘love.’ When I transcribed this word in Latin letters it turned out, to my surprise, that it sounds like ‘war zone.’ Unfortunately, this transcription reflects the reality of events transpiring in the Caucasus. It is commonly known that the difference between love and the creation of a ‘war zone’ is just one poorly thought-out step. The way back, on the other hand, is long and difficult.”I embrace you,

“Giya Kancheli”

That was in May 2003.

– – – –
I cannot go there [to Russia] because people who were very close to me have believed this propaganda, and it’s very unpleasant for me. But my attitude toward these people has remained the same, because they are innocent! I repeat this over and over: if these people had had the power to decide, then everything would have been all right.

I can see before my eyes scenes of Georgians being expelled from Moscow, transported out like cattle. I saw that giant military plane land and open its rear entrance, and people walked out, after having stood for two hours because there were no seats. Just like they transport cows, so they deported the Georgians from Moscow.

And in spite of all this, relations between ordinary people remained normal. They are still normal, and they will continue to be. They definitely will be! But some time has to pass, that’s all. Some time has to pass, and I think something will change in Russia. Won’t there be a time when Russia will go down the path of civilized life?


Kancheli: You know, since Pushkin’s time it has been a bit freer in Tbilisi for all the great men who have come there, and lived there. I won’t list them. I would only like to recall the surnames of recent geniuses who could not live without Tbilisi, like Pasternak.
RFE/RL: What do you think he would say right now?
Kancheli: You know, when I saw what happened, when I felt it, I thought, “How lucky are those who did not live to see this and left life before it happened….” Boris Leonidovich Pasternak is among those fortunate ones. I don’t think any of them could have imagined it. But it’s normal: Pasternak could not imagine what Vladimir Vladimirovich imagines.