8. In the 70s, Village Prose flourished, as its leading writers Victor As-tafiev, Vasily Belov and Valentin Rasputin succeeded in establishing an independent school under the banner of "patriotism".
9. Village Writers were seriously alarmed by the Jewish influence on Russia's fate. Their unique brand of racism was shaped by a historical desire to shift the blame for all national misfortunes onto "them".
10. The real test for what we build will be when it comes face to face with foreign products and finds itself in competition with the unofficial hire network which passes the films on from hand to hand.
1. The worst floods to hit Mozambique in years have made the province of Gaza a disaster area. One of the first countries to respond to appeals for aid was Russia. Gifts of food, medicines and other essentials from the Russian Red Cross are now on their way to Africa aboard the motor vessel Sretensk.
2. The "burka", or shepherd's cape, that looks so exotic to the average Russian, but is still worn all over the Caucasus, now comes ready-made, produced in the city of Stavropol. This traditional garment, long, voluminous and warm, is pure wool felt, and has always served its wearers well, for besides looking romantic, it sheds rain and snow; also oddly enough, it is good protection against the hot sun in the summer time.
3. The Hilok Taiga, a vast area of coniferous forest in Eastern Siberia, has long been known for its cedar pine, that produces a delicious edible seed, the pine-nut. Special protective clothing, food supplies and log cabins have been provided for the teams that will come here to collect the pine-nut harvest this season. This season's target was a hundred tons, but local experts believe there will be considerably more.
RIDE IN A TIME MACHINE
The passengers got into the carriage, settled themselves in their seats and travelled to ... the past. From Petersburg to Strelna along the famous iron road of Oranela we rumbled on the first of the new excursions.
The old tram pulled away from the stop on Admiralty Avenue. This is the cradle of the Petersburg tramway. Our excursion along the Oranela, one of the first lines, has become the second tram route into the past. For five years now people can see this eajly 20th century tram running along the roads and avenues of Petersburg.
With its elegantly inscribed sides saying: "Passengers must not alight whilst the carriage is in motion", it runs regularly through the city's streets. Only the experts could tell the difference between it and the real Bresh trams brought from England in 1907.
The first line to be opened was not very long, just a little over a mile and a half. When the inaugural banquet heard the toast "To the Petersburg workers, the builders of the Petersburg tramway!", control of the driver's handle was taken by engineer Heinrich Osipovich Graftio (the builder of the Volkhovsk electrical station and the Oranela) who took the tram for a trip of about two miles.
Five years ago the old tram was brought out of retirement by the workers of the Leonov Tram Park and the City Excursion Bureau. They were aided in their project by the Volodarsky Tram Park.
"In 1912 they started laying the rails from the Narvsky Gates to the Ora-nienbaum (now Lomonosov)", explained our tour leader "Mr. Lazarev whose idea it had been to open up these routes for tourist excursions. "Unfortunately the First World War meant that the Oranela, which is short for Oranienbaum Electric Line, was not finished. The tram started running as far as Strelna and that is the route of our new excursion. We are planning a third route, past the Nevsky Gates".
The driver for the first trip along the Oranela was Igor Timofeevich Skvortsov. It was he who five years ago brought the old Bresh tram out of its place of retirement in the tram park and all this time had been driving it along a tourist route. On the eve of the anniversary of the Petersburg Tramway I went to see the man responsible for this "time machine".
I opened a metal "gate" and mounted the platform from where I could glance into the driver's cabin, just as it had been years ago. Compared with today's cabins, it is rather Spartan. The usual control handle for the left hand is there, but here all similarity ends. There isn't even any seat, which was to appear much later. The cold and dust, rain and snow were for a long time the enemies of the driver, until the advent of the electric heater in the cabin.
In the carriage running the length of the ceiling above the long wooden benches there are metal bars with leather straps hanging from them. The straps were for the passengers who used to hang off them in clusters right up until the 1960s, when the last trams of this design finally disappeared from the streets of Petersburg.
The very first carriages were divided by a barrier into two compartments, first and second class. Tickets cost six and four kopecks, respectively. The door to the first class compartment was operated by the conductor who sat in one comer. When the tram was crowded he could flip up his seat and carry on with his work standing up to make more room.
The regulations on the old tramway were stricter than they are today. It was strictly prohibited to "Smoke and Dirty" the carriages. Trams were off limits to "chimney sweeps, herring salters, millers, painters and persons in a state of inebriation". People entered by the rear doors and left through the front. Some passengers were permitted to enter through the front doors. For a long time it was a special privilege. There were even reduced price tickets, which, said our guide, were given to people like the ballerina Galina Ulanova.
Next to the conductor was a mark on the wall, measuring one metre from the ground. Children who were shorter than this were allowed to travel free. The kids of those days who couldn't afford to travel inside the tram had their own special "privilege" — they could hang on outside.
Our tram uses a disused ring line. Tourists from Moscow, from the Urals and the Ukraine come here to study it. They are all especially interested in the famous footplace that people used to perch on outside.
It was not an easy going for the tram in Petersburg. It was introduced here quite a long time after other cities. The City Duma wanted a tramway but could not get permission to lay rails along the streets as this was in the power of the horse tramway owners to grant and they of course did not want a'ny-thing to do with the "electrical competitor".
Although the very first tram did appear in Petersburg in the 19th century, it ran over the iced-up Neva River in winter, the first one to run on dry land did not appear until this century.
The tram is a hard worker. It carries freight and to this day works between the factories on Vasilevsky Island. It has carried millions of passengers. The Petersburg tramway is a fighter too, having worked throughout most of the Siege taking troops and munitions to the Front. It only stood idle from December 1941 to March 1942 when there was not enough electric power in the city. On April 15, 1942 it restarted its passenger service.
Today there are more than a thousand comfortable trams plying over 60 routes in the city. If all the rails were laid end to end, they would reach Moscow. These are the sort of statistics that come to mind at anniversaries. The rest of the time our friend the tram does not get from us as much as a word of thanks.
RUSSIAN LITERATURE — PAST AND PRESENT
There is Russian Soviet poetry and prose, just as there is poetry and prose of the other peoples living in the USSR. It is an illusion, however, to talk about Soviet literature as a single entity somehow uniting all these various literatures. For many years writers, simply to survive, were forced to compromise with their conscience. Moreover, they compromised with their writing, which was equally destructive. Some managed to adapt well, other sold out (neither the former, nor the latter were saved from the Russian roulette of Stalinist terror), still others committed suicide. But the grief brought by this torture coupled with the arms twisted by the censor could hardly serve to cement the Tower of Babel of Soviet belles lettres.
This tower was erected on orders from above instead of collective compromises. The orders demanded that writers adhere, not honestly but blindly, to the general line. It zigzagged incessantly, appearing like some joke on its most orthodox believers. These constantly changing orders tested the extent of the believer's baseness rather than the strength of his conviction.
Soviet literature was the child of the Socialist Realist worldview reinforced by the weakness of writers dreaming of the good life, fame, and preserving their standing with the State authorities, which were anointed, if not by God himself, then by a Universal Idea. In the opinion of the early 20th century philosopher Vasily Rozanov there were several elements that lay at the foundation of Soviet Literature. The power of the State and the weakness of human nature, for one. Also, the social complexes underlying Russian literature and the orgy of loutishness that followed the Revolution and was embodied in the Utopia of a "cultural revolution". When they cleared the "scaffolding" away in the 1920s, there was good reason to gasp at the result.
This grandiose tower of Soviet Socialist Realism designed according to Stalin and Gorky's blueprint was a baroque structure with plenty of room for all. It survived for several decades and even reproduced itself in other neighbouring Socialist cultures.
In the last years of its life, having recovered from the Stalinist shock, Soviet Literature existed in three main currents. These three trends were "Official", "Village" and "Liberal" prose. Each of them was in the grip of a crisis. Official literature operated according to the principles of "Party Spirit" established in the 1930s and 1940s. In its essence this literature passionately strove towards goals that were outside of literature. Its most infamous task was the construction of a "New Man". Socialist Realism taught the reader to view reality in the process of revolutionary transformation. It preferred the future to the present, oriented itself towards overcoming the hardships of everyday life, and was full of grand promises.
During the Brezhnev period corruption infected all society. It pervaded Socialist Realism as well. If during the Stalinist years the writer served Socialist Realism, then under Brezhnev Socialist Realism began to serve the interests of the writers. This shift was not so apparent from outside, but to those caught up in it, it undermined the very idea of selfless service. Moreover, it contributed to the relentless degradation of the entire system that eventually forced society to seek another societal model. In this way, the womb of senile Brezhnevism conceived the preconditions for Perestroika.
In those days the question of how far a Brezhnev-era writer such as Georgy Markov believed in what he wrote was never asked: it seemed indecent. Such questions were not discussed. Moreover, they were not even thought about. Because of social schizophrenia there appeared a peculiar kind of writer who was a spokesman for State thinking at his writing desk and an adherent of the consumer society at his country house. But what has this to do with literature? A great deal. It is not entirely insignificant that Official Literature had a readership of hundreds of thousands. It formulated their tastes, even to the extent of manipulating their way of thinking. In a closed society, the scope of each citizen's rights is a function of his social position. The elite echelon of official writers (known as literary "Nomenklatura") often speculated on forbidden or semiforbidden themes. This brand of Official Literature is referred to here as "Secretarial'Literature". Only influential secretaries of the Writers' Union could produce it, since they occupied positions secure from both critics and censors.
These taboo subjects included: Stalin, the determinants of the Russian national character (here Official Literature overlapped the conservative flank of Village Prose), the collectivization of agriculture, the dissident movement, emigrating, youth problems, and so on. It goes without saying that Official Literature deliberately distorted these themes and intentionally misled the reader. It monopolized these themes in the censored press which appeared side by side with the piquant themes of Soviet intelligence abroad or the Af-gan war. The mass reader, starving for information, devoured these "secretarial" works with genuine enthusiasm. He found satisfaction in partaking in forbidden and "hot" issues, even though he ended up with a muddled head for his labours.
With the advent of Perestroika Official Writers themselves grew confused. They viewed Perestroika as some kind of Party maneuver whose hidden meaning ^hey were unable to decipher. .Above all, Perestroika stripped Official Literature of its ideological role and its inviolability. The child of a closed society, Official Literature was able to exist only in a hermetically sealed environment. Now, however, liberal critics had grown courageous
enough to deride it frequently, pointing out how feeble, shallow, and stereotyped it was.
Official Literature became an intransigent opponent of change. One proof of this opposition were speeches by the writer Yury Bondarev. Bondarev likened the new forces in our literature to the Nazi troops who overran the Soviet Union in 1941. On the lips of a former front-line soldier, Bondarev's comparison was a pretty sharp accusation.
As Official Literature was falling into decay, it could have well taken as its theme the Shakespearean tragedy occurring among the older generation. Some people in their 70s had suddenly grasped the futility of their earthly existence. Enlightenment had come too late. They had wasted their lives in worshipping false ideals, while scoffing at belief in any metaphysical values. However, Official Literature was too weak to cope with genuine conflicts. It preferred its trusty weapons of political intrigue and the old-comrade network. Official Literature thus found itself miscast in the role of an opposition, a role it could not fulfill, for it was essentially devoid of principles and operated only on others' authority. However, it was prepared to search for new paths, by aligning itself with the Russian nationalist movement — which, in fact, it had always secretly favoured. As it made advances to the nationalist camp it appeared rather ludicrous — after all it once sang the glories of Internationalism! Yet, even while laughing at its misadventures, one had to remember that should the process of reform be halted, it would be hard to imagine more zealous ideologues of counter-reformation than "Secretarial" writers.
To be sure there remained the path of repentance, but it was chosen only by a handful of official writers, and hardly the most representative ones. Others preferred another version of self-justification. They argued that they took part in the persecution of dissident writers — from Pasternak down to the participants in the "Metropol" almanac — on "orders" from above. Official Literature broke up into sections and decayed but this actually had little relevance, if any, for the future. However, as it declined, this resulted in tangible changes in the literary-social hierarchy of values.
The degeneration of Village Prose had greater significance for literature, as it involved more gifted and socially important writers. Village Prose arose in the post-Stalinist years, describing the horrific conditions in the Russian countryside after it was subjected to ruthless collectivization and the miseries of WW II and the post-war period. It created portraits, sometimes brilliant ones, of village eccentrics and home-spun philosophers, bearers of popular wisdom, and it contributed to the revival of national self-consoiousness. The central figure of this literature was the Pious Woman who despite all the hardships of Soviet life remained true to her religious instincts. She was to be found, for example, in Solzhenitsyn's story "Matryona's House".
In the 1970s, Village Prose flourished, as Victor Astafiev, Vasily Belov and Valentin Rasputin succeeded in establishing an independent school, under the banner of "Patriotism". Precisely this patriotism attracted Official Writers, although it was not sufficiently pro-establishment and this often led to misunderstandings. Nonetheless, Official Prose tried to draw Village Writers into its ideological ranks and coerce them into joining in the fight with the West. Establishment showered them with State prizes and medals. It did not always work; Village Prose had its own religious and political agenda, even boldly taking part in the ecological movement.
In time, however, things began to change. The shift began even before Perestroika, but with its arrival it became more profound. Soviet Society took a pro-Western turn in its development. This happened spontaneously and without official sanction. It also determined the social basis for reform and brought about a clash between the Village Writers and society. Village Prose began to expose and condemn rather than to extol. It had three "sworn enemies".
Strangely enough, the first new enemy was woman. Whereas before the female figure was a positive heroine as the "Righteous Woman", now, in the role of a sensual and even promiscuous wife, she was portrayed in the spirit of the old Orthodox doctrine, as "Satan's seed". The second enemy was youth and youth culture. Village Writers bristled with a pathological hatred of rock 'n roll ("spiritual AIDS"). They regarded aerobics with equal venom. Village Prose, much like ancient folklore, demarcated "us" and "them" — two categories of people who dressed, ate and thought in entirely different ways and were ontologically incompatible. "Them" included Jews and Non-Russians in general. This was a delicate topic for Village Writers. They discussed it in soft tones, ambiguously and evasively, but incessantly nonetheless, just as the "Pamayat" society did it in its declarations. Village Writers were seriously alarmed by the Jewish influence on Russia's fate. They had a unique brand of racism which was shaped by a historical desire to shift the blame for all national catastrophes onto "them". They wanted to find an enemy and through hatred to sublimate their own national inferiority complex.
In other words, Village Prose was not so much a thematic school, but a way of viewing the world. Traditionally in Russia, as in other countries with a large farm population such as Canada and Poland, this literature was infected with a messianic spirit. This disease was a strange combination of a national superiority complex, bred on ethnic and religious exclusiveness and an inferiority complex. Its language was saturated with dialecticisms. At the same time it was highly impassioned and induced a headache even when it described the real tragedies of the Revolution and Collectivization. The Village Writers appeared to reject "Soviet" values, but their apocalyptic tone drowned out everything else, exhausting the reader with its total lack of taste.
They saw their saviour in the foggy, romantic monarchist-religious dream of a theocratic order. They would replace Socialist Realist fantasies with the no less monstrous idea in which hatred reigned over love. It was no accident that this literature was in decay. As was demonstrated by literary history, a literature bitten by hatred inevitably destroyed itself, either scaring off or amazing the unbiased reader.
One serious problem of Russian literature has always been hypermoral-ism, a disease which exerts tremendous moral pressure on the reader. It can be found even in Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy and other classics of the 19th century. It had often been considered the distinguishing trait of Russian prose. No doubt the foreign reader viewed this hypermoralism as amusing and exotic. Yet even to me, it is something alien: that is the demand that writers be socially committed grew so great that it all too often distracted Russian literature from aesthetic concerns and drew it into the realm of sermonizing. They often assessed literature by the acuteness and social significance of its topics.
Village and Liberal Prose, each in its own way, suffered from this hyper-moralist disease.
Liberal Prose, the child of the Khrushchev Thaw, is an honest movement and has always been. Its main concern was to tell as much truth as possible in its fight with the censor, who tried to permit as little truth as possible. Censorship was a formative influence for this Liberal school. It fed an addiction among Liberal Writers to an obtrusive reliance on allusions. Similarly, readers grew addicted to a "treasure-hunt" for hints, to seeking out places where the writer had his tongue in his cheek. The result was that writers got carried away with all this tongue-in-cheek parody and forgot how to think.
Liberal Prose hailed the advent of Perestroika and played, at least at first, the role that it had always sought: that of public prosecutor judging society by the laws of morality and common sense. But that joy was short-lived: unlike Khrushchev's Thaw, Perestroika proved to be a bottomless well, in which many works that not long ago seemed remarkably bold sank without trace.
Curiously, a large proportion of Dissident Literature originated in Liberal Prose, which had over-estimated the softness of post-Stalinist censorship. In other words, many works fell into the dissident category by accident. Yet, having shed all censorship restrictions under the aegis of Western publishers, the significant majority of these writers suffocated from too much oxygen. Logically speaking, the Liberal Writers should have blessed their comfortable bondage; in fact, the more intelligent ones did just that.
But now, with freedom at home (albeit still incomplete), the boldest works of literature aged with amazing speed. Examples of such works are Anatoly Rybakov's "Children of the Arbat" or Mikhail Shatrov's liberal dramas.
An enormous number of works intended to be "Liberal" died, carrying away decades of writing by talented writers. I remember the dramatic moment when poet after poet stepped up to the "first" open microphone, in a Moscow literary club to recite their beloved liberal poems written in great secret during the Brezhnev era. It turned out that the young audience didn't need these poets, they simply hounded them off the stage with an ironic flood of applause.
"A poet in Russia is more that just a poet", Yevtushenko, a liberal Soviet poet, once remarked, hoping to extol the poet's role here and not understanding that actually a poet in such conditions is less than a poet, because he eventually degenerates. In general, a writer in Russia had to fulfill several functions at once: to be priest, prosecutor, sociologist, economist, mystic, and expert in matters of love and marriage. While he was busy being everything else, he was least of all a writer. He was often unable to feel the particular texture of literary language or of a writer's figurative and often paradoxical way of thinking. He would rent out a style for each particular job as one rents a car, it was nothing more than a vehicle to reach his social destination.
This is why Russian critics were rather suspicious of irony, seeing it as violating the serious view of literature as a social enlightener. This is why literary functionaries were annoyed to see any playfulness in art, just as they were annoyed by Solzhenitsyn's political sedition. The socially-oriented literature of resistance, both in its liberal and dissident varieties, completed the social mission which literature, alas, was forced to assume during the era of a closed State. But in the post-utopian Russia, it's time we returned to literature as such.