"The Sun of World Poetry": Pushkin As a Cold War Writer

Olga Voronina


The Spell of the Spectacle: The Pushkin Celebrations of 1949

The festivities dedicated to the 150th anniversary of Pushkin's birth, lasting from mid-April through early July 1949, were the second-greatest mass spectacle of the early Cold War after the Victory Parade. Echoing the sumptuous Pushkin Celebrations of 1937, the postwar jubilee was well rehearsed and artfully engineered. It included such preliminaries as an All-Union Pushkin Conference at the Institute of Russian Literature of the Academy of Sciences; a Joint Session of the Academy's Literature and Language, and History and Philosophy Departments; the reopening following the restoration of the Pushkin memorial apartment, and the laying of the foundation of the Pushkin monument in Leningrad; the post-renovation inauguration of the Pushkin estate in Mikhailovskoe, in the Pskov region; and the opening of a Pushkin obelisk in Zakharovo, near Moscow. In the course of three months, Pushkin scholars around the country reportedly delivered 219 public lectures, while Leningrad curators conducted 300 excursions around the Pushkin Museum. Twentyseven thousand people took part in these activities; 10,000 more gathered for a meeting at the Pushkin monument in Moscow a day before the poet's birthday. These statistical data were documented in the Proceedings of the Anniversary Celebrations published by the Academy of Sciences. According to Konstantin Simonov, then laureate of four Stalin Prizes and editor-in-chief of Novyi Mir, the scope of the jubilee underscored the greatness of the "Stalin era, which for the first time in the history of humanity made [...] Pushkin's oeuvre the common property of all the people."[1] Although this was a common trope regarding other pre-revolutionary writers as well, Simonov's speech had distinctive political relevance. He delivered these words on 6 June 1949, at the Pushkin Session at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, with Stalin present. Sitting in the presidium, the Generalissimo again was the obvious other hero of the occasion. And yet there was a big difference between 1937 and 1949 concerning the nature of Stalin's "glory." After the war, Simonov and other speakers addressed their eulogies to Stalin the winner, laying words at his feet like the Victory Parade soldiers had laid the banners of the conquered enemy.

     War rhetoric permeated the Pushkin Celebrations of 1949. But however productive it is to consider the jubilee a spectacle of national recovery from war wounds,[2] it was the Cold War that served as its underlying “trauma” and informed the speakers’ and journalists’ choices of arguments and tropes. Speaking of Pushkin’s “significance for the entire world,” Stalin’s ideologues, first and foremost, were referring to the geopolitical delineations recently established on a global scale. They also took into account the ongoing campaign against “servility toward the West” (nizkopoklonstvo pered zapadom),[3] which was aimed at rooting out fascination with foreign arts and literature among Soviet citizens and curbing their awareness of Russia’s indebtedness to the Western cultural heritage. Seeking to detect and destroy the new “inner adversary” in Soviet society, the “servility” campaign had erected a wall between the Soviet intelligentsia and the people. My goal is to trace rhetorical outlines of these ideological boundaries and compare them to Pushkin’s ideas about Russia’s relationship to Europe and a writer’s place within his or her society.

     Two keynote speakers at the Pushkin Session at the Bolshoy, Simonov and Aleksandr Fadeev, evoked Cold War alienation paradigms in their presentations. The first to speak, Fadeev attacked the “enemies of our socialist country, the enemies of their own nations, the lackeys of bourgeois culture, who […] cover their […] dependence on their coaches, the imperialists, with shrieks about ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy.’”[4] These words, borrowed from newspaper editorials, were a standard contribution to the Soviet project of defining the external Cold War enemy. The other object of Fadeev’s concern was the Soviet intelligentsia, whom he believed to be exceptionally fortunate but not always vigilant or politically zealous. Only in the Soviet Union, Fadeev said, “do the people treat the intelligentsia so kindly and surround them with such love.” He summoned writers, artists, scientists, and other workers of the cultural front to repay this affection by being always prepared to set off against ideological aggressors:

Forward, sons and daughters of the people! Attack all the world’s forces of oppression and enslavement, no matter whether they have masked themselves or acted openly. Forward! Put up an extended front, armed with truth and wisdom, under the victorious banner of Lenin and Stalin![5]

Although Fadeev placed the Bolshevik leaders, rather than Pushkin, on the standard of his army of vigilant intellectuals, he turned the poet into their political and ethical role model. “The people now have the right to size up [the intelligentsia] with a great Pushkin measure,” said the General Secretary of the Writers’ Union. How “unkindly” the people would treat those who did not conform required no explication. The number of people incarcerated in camps and prisons during 1946–49, the peak of the “servility” campaign, was comparable to the number of inmates in 1928–32, the years of repressions against the kulaks. In the early 1950s, the GULAG imprisonment statistics reached their highest level in history.[6]

     Overall, Fadeev’s text seems a throwback to the 1937 Pushkin speeches, with their panegyrics to the national and social unity of the Soviet people. Simonov’s address, convergent with Stalin’s foreign and domestic policies of the late 1940s, appears more up-to-date. Soon after the German invasion, thousands of readers fell in love with his sincere and romantic poem “Wait for Me” (“Zhdi menia”), but after the war, the generosity of Simonov’s emotion gave way to political calculations. The writer had just been nominated for the Stalin Prize for his made-to-order play The Other’s Shadow (Chuzhaia ten´), based on the proceedings of the “honor trial” of Kliueva and Roskin.[7] Speaking at the Pushkin Jubilee, Simonov condemned the “servility toward and reverence for everything foreign, which has been a habit among certain circles of the old Russia from the times of Peter I and which has been profitable for everyone except Russia and the Russian people, […] the preaching of Russians’ inferiority and second-ratedness.”[8]

     The “servility” campaign was Stalin’s brainchild. After the war, the dictator repeatedly urged the Party’s propagandists to deal with the “sense of inferiority” that the people allegedly developed after the Petrine reforms had opened Russia up to Western influences. In a heart-to-heart with Simonov, which took place on 13 May 1947, Stalin delivered a famous diatribe against foreigners, “pants-shitters,” and the harmful control they had always exercised over Russian intellectuals. Simonov diligently recorded the monologue:

“But there is a topic of topmost importance,” Stalin said, “and we need writers to get interested in it. That is the topic of our Soviet patriotism. If we took our middle intelligentsia, our scientific intelligentsia, professors, doctors, […] the sense of Soviet patriotism has not been cultivated in them enough. They have an unjustified reverence of foreign culture. They all still feel themselves under age, not a hundred percent [competent], [they are] used to considering themselves in the position of eternal students. This tradition is backwards, it comes from Peter. Peter had good ideas, but soon too many Germans clambered in, it was the period of servility to Germans. Just look how hard it was to breathe, to work, for Lomonosov, for example. First there were Germans, then French. There was servility to foreigners,” Stalin said and, all of a sudden, squinting his eyes in a mischievous manner, rhymed in a barely audible sputter, “pants-shitters” [zasrantsy]. [Then he] smirked and became serious again.[9]

     In his speech at the jubilee, Simonov was quoting Stalin’s diatribe back to its author. He denounced Soviet critics who had dared to point out Pushkin’s borrowing from Western authors such as Lord Byron and André de Chénier. Sacrificing style for pathos, he called Pushkin “a fighter in the literary arena, who struggled with foreign influences and, sooner or later, overcame this adversary.”[10] According to Simonov, Pushkin’s greatness consisted in his aptitude to influence Russian and world literature, and not in his ability to be impressed by others.[11]

     The dismissal of Pushkin’s indebtedness to Western culture easily converted itself into a commentary on the political situation of 1949. Simonov talked about the threat posed to the Soviet state by the “camp of warmongers and misanthropes […] who, in order to achieve their black goals, wish to awaken in people the most savage of instincts.”[12] As if unaware that Dostoevsky had proclaimed his loyalty to Pushkin in the famous “Pushkin Speech,” delivered in 1880 in Moscow after the unveiling of a monument to the poet, Simonov contrasted the two writers by describing the new geopolitical enemy of the Soviet state as lovers of Dostoevsky, and not of Pushkin. The “camp of misanthropes,” which “collects all of the lies, all the poison, all the black pages scattered through the history of world literature […] has taken from Russian literature only Dostoevsky’s darkest, most slanderous pages,” Simonov asserted. Concluding his address, he drew a clear line between the Soviet people and their foes, the Anglophone nations, who in his opinion had no moral right to associate themselves with Russia’s greatest poet:

There is no need for those who hang Negroes to commemorate Pushkin! There is no need to commemorate Pushkin for those who burn wheat in front of the hungry! Those who want to buy a nation’s conscience for powdered eggs should not commemorate Pushkin! […] He is their enemy, the enemy of their every thought, their every word, their every vile act […].[13] 

     Simonov’s denigration of Dostoevsky as a representative of “dark forces,” however ridiculous it may sound now, harmonized with the image of Pushkin as “the sun of Russian poetry,” that commonplace of all Pushkin celebrations of the past. But the quoted passage did more than just inventively recycle old ideological platitudes. It contained two hidden references to current political events, neither of which could be missed by Simonov’s audience, chaired by his supreme addressee. One of them was the segregation and persecution of America’s black population, which by the late 1940s had become a cornerstone of Soviet anti-American propaganda.[14] More specifically, the “hanged Negros” and the “burned wheat” of Simonov’s speech referred to Ilya Ehrenburg’s scathing “Law of Nature” editorial, published in Pravda on 1 May 1947:

When they pour fuel over a Negro in Mississippi or Georgia and then burn him, some murderers hoot, others pray, still others talk about the triumph of justice, while the daughter of a venerable racist, who spared a gallon of gasoline for such a case, performs a sentimental song.[15]

     Ehrenburg wrote the essay after a trip to the United States made together with Simonov on Stalin’s orders. It is hard to overestimate the importance of this and similar articles for the masterminds of the Pushkin Celebrations. Only two American citizens were allowed to participate in the jubilee: the African-American singer and actor Paul Robeson[16] and Peter Blackman, whom the Proceedings described as a “Negro poet.”[17]

     The other Cold War reference in Simonov’s speech was somewhat less transparent. Making reference to the “powdered eggs,” the writer was commenting on the American and British humanitarian aid to German citizens that was delivered by air during the Berlin Blockade of 1949. Lifted on 12 May—when the preparations for the Pushkin Celebrations were in full swing—the Blockade signified a failed attempt by the Soviet government to impose greater military, political, and ideological control over the rest of Europe. In the winter of 1948–49, the main food allowance of Berliners consisted of canned meat, dehydrated potatoes, and the egg powder mentioned by Simonov.[18] Like other complicated propaganda arabesques of the Cold War, the mixing of Pushkin with eggs verged on absurdity, if not subversiveness. Even if the Anglophone world had indeed tried to “buy the conscience” of the German nation by supplying it with food, the Soviet government had attempted to starve those whom it was planning to conquer.

     Simonov took the risk of bringing up the Berlin Blockade because he knew that the Pushkin Celebrations were taking place at the peak of the propaganda campaign aimed at justifying to domestic audiences the postwar Soviet expansionism in Europe. For three years, the central newspapers had been asserting that only the Soviet people had the right to protect Europe from the Anglo-American “barbarians,” who were prone to militarist and cultural invasions. Ehrenburg was eloquent as usual when pounding this message into the heads of the Pravda readers in 1947:

We are now the most steadfast, most disinterested protectors of European culture. For the enlightened bourgeois (who are now few), culture consists of museum collections. But for us it is a living source of inspiration. Not only do we respect it, we continue it as well. This does not mean that we are ahead of all in every sphere of arts and sciences, but this does mean that we are ahead of everyone in the most important thing—in building the new society, in creating a new man. […] This is why all that is vibrant, great, and truly innovative beyond the borders of our fatherland, the peoples of Europe, their flower, the greatest scientists, writers, and artists, have joined us. And who is against us? A savage, who, tempted by big profits, suggests hurling the bomb at the Old World. Let all the people of Europe know who is encroaching upon their gardens, their antiquities, their children, their culture. Let all Americans know toward what dark and horrifying deed they are being pushed by their belligerent speakers and journalists.[19]

     This quote throws together the major Cold War paradigms of ostracism and alienation, including the metaphor of the “savage” that the former allies began to use against each other in propagandist discourse as early as the summer of 1945. Himself a “belligerent” journalist, Ehrenburg managed to blur the divide between domestic and foreign propaganda by simultaneously discussing the enemy and the ally, the crème de la crème of European culture and the suggestion that the stratum was nearly extinct. Perhaps aware of the sarcastic and yet deferential treatment given to his other Cold War publication by Time,[20] Ehrenburg spoke to “all people of Europe” and to “all Americans” while addressing the Soviet reader, the only audience primed to accept his labeling of Americans as “savages.” Curiously, in order to prove that the Soviet people had earned the right to “protect” Europe, Ehrenburg evoked not only Pushkin, but also the concept of the “universal responsiveness” of the Russian people to other cultures, introduced in Dostoevsky’s “Pushkin Speech” (and intentionally ignored by Simonov in his speech about Pushkin). Contrasting the sheer greediness of American “imperialists” with Soviet self-sacrifice for the sake of the “great heritage of humanity, ours as well as that which belongs to others,” the journalist insisted that the new “saviors of Europe” were protecting cultural treasures of the past from the “vandals” whose main goal was to unfold the third world war. For Ehrenburg, American “savagery” was the result of the nation’s inability to appreciate the arts and literature of the Old World. The Soviets, however, were up to the task, because “people who cherish Pushkin know how to understand Hugo and Byron.”[21]

     When Dostoevsky spoke at the Pushkin gathering organized by the Society of Lovers of Russian Literature, he aspired to redefine not so much Pushkin as the idea of Russian nationhood, which had for decades stirred contention between Slavophiles and Westernizers. Pushkin’s ability to embody the genius (perevoploshchat´sia v genii) of other nations, Dostoevsky said, was an original and endearing Russian trait. According to Dostoevsky, “the Russian soul, the genius of the Russian people, was perhaps the most capable […] of accommodating the idea of a universal unity of humanity, of brotherly love, of the sensible outlook which forgives what is alienating […].”[22] Considering how extrinsic this idea was to Bolshevik ideology—with its basic principles of social delimitation and enemyseeking—Dostoevsky’s expulsion from the Soviet literary canon comes as no surprise. What is surprising is Ehrenburg’s underrating of the incompatibility as well as his disregard of the “servility” campaign with its anti-Western pathos. In order to prove that the Soviet people were morally superior to their enemies, he talked about their ability to understand and appropriate European culture at the time, when the Party began to consider the appropriation of Western cultural norms and values antipatriotic and even criminal.

     Ideological nearsightedness was atypical for Ehrenburg. Moreover, he was not alone in arguing that the Soviet people’s love for Pushkin implied that they were ready to embrace European cultural heritage as well. On 30 January 1946, for example, Vladimir Ermilov declared on the pages of Izvestiia that “Our people fought for world culture against fascism; our soldiers struggled both for Pushkin and for Dante.”[23] The slow unfolding of the “servility” campaign, which, for a while was the matter of inner Party examinations and “honor trials” conducted behind closed doors, helps to explain this inconsistency. Another explanation may lie in the fluidity of ideological constructions per se. The rift that Stalin imagined between an intelligentsia “contaminated” by “servility towards the West” and the people, in the eye of an interested, but detached onlooker, such as Isaiah Berlin, turned into a split between the intellectuals who had “developed friendly neutrality towards the state” and a “small and decimated but still distinguished Parnassus, oddly insulated, living on the memoirs of Europe.”[24] Neither the dictator nor the intellectual historian, later knighted for his contribution to the humanities, doubted that Soviet “responsiveness” to Western culture was far from “universal.” Paradoxically, though, the former was willing to wipe out his country’s rapidly vanishing Europeanized stratum while aggressively invading Europe under the banners of “the unity of humanity” and “brotherly love.”

     In other words, in the first two postwar years the definition of ideological dissent was still rather vague. By June 1949, however, the campaign had gained enough momentum to make the people’s love for foreign authors a questionable virtue. Ehrenburg got caught in its vortex. Around that time the Kremlin had started to supplement the “servility” rhetoric with the rhetoric of “rootless cosmopolitanism,” piling blame on Jewish intellectuals as the new “fifth column” within Soviet society. In February of 1949, Ehrenburg, a Jew, was dismissed from journalistic work. The Bureau of Propaganda and Agitation suspended publication of his collection of American essays, The Nights of America. Ehrenburg was a member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, some of whose representatives had already been murdered; he too would face even more severe forms of persecution.[25] On 20 March, he complained in a letter to Stalin that he “was feeling like a soldier stripped of weapons in the midst of a battle.”[26] Simonov’s allusion to Dostoevsky as a representative of “dark forces,” made in June, advanced the official line. It also rebuked Ehrenburg as a less-than-vigilant member of the intelligentsia, who equated the people’s love for Pushkin with their ability to appreciate Western authors, such as Hugo and Byron.

     Simonov’s lunging at Ehrenburg could also have been aimed at the remark he made in 1947, right after Molotov’s speech in commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of the October Revolution. Although the “servility” campaign was then being conducted mostly clandestinely, Molotov condemned all forms of “servility toward the West” publicly.[27] Ehrenburg immediately voiced his disagreement, stating in an article in Novoe vremia that “One cannot be servile (nel´zia nizkopoklonnichat´) to Shakespeare or Rembrandt. No matter how low one bows, the bow won’t humiliate the person.”[28]

     Ehrenburg’s outspokenness, as well as his recent falling out of favor, could be a weighty enough reason for Simonov to dig at his fellow propagandist. But it is not their relationship alone that makes the attack so riveting. Simonov denigrated Dostoevsky in order to withdraw the idea of the “universal responsiveness” of the Russian spirit from the postwar Pushkin discourse. Associating Dostoevsky with the forces of political evil, he dismissed the writer’s understanding of Russians as a nation that imported, rather than exported, cultural influences. Simultaneously, Simonov implicated those members of the Soviet intelligentsia who, like Ehrenburg, had been shaped by Dostoevsky’s idea and could not let go of it easily. If, according to Marcus Levitt, Dostoevsky had managed to settle the decades-long argument between Slavophiles and Westernizers by elevating aesthetics “to the central field of philosophical and moral inquiry,”[29] the dispute between Simonov and Ehrenburg presupposed no reconciliation. By 1949, the centrifugal Soviet aesthetics had been completely subordinated to the Party’s political agenda.

     The postwar Pushkin spectacle aimed to reinforce the idea of the Soviet “salvation” of Europe, propelled in several media campaigns of 1945–46, and embed it the context of Stalin’s new domestic and foreign cultural policies. Following Stalin’s imperative to debilitate the intelligentsia as the least reliable social group, the Kremlin team of propagandists rejected Pushkin’s indebtedness to Western cultural prototypes, completely dissolving him in amorphous, sourceless Russianness. Simultaneously, the Party claimed that the cultural influence of Pushkin, and, consequently, of Russia, was potentially without borders. Calling Pushkin the “Sun of World Poetry,” it attempted to demonstrate that all friendly “people’s democracies” in Eastern Europe, and possibly the Western European nations as well, shared the Soviet people’s fascination with their most lauded poet. These efforts brought to life a new monumental literary cliché. Instead of a Pushkin who had previously resembled Byron, Hugo, or Dante, there emerged a Pushkin who completely subjugated his European predecessors. Even Dostoevsky would have found it difficult to invent such a disproportionate double.


Pushkin as a Justification of Postwar Expansionism

     Like other Soviet attempts to put the Russian literary canon in service of state ideology, the Pushkin celebrations of 1949 mixed metaphors freely and unabashedly. Symbolic of this approach are the anniversary issues of Izvestiia, which relied on the sun imagery both to extol Pushkin as an international poetic luminary and to portray him as Russia’s shiny ideological weapon.[30] Like the literature-bred paradigms of the “servility” rhetoric, which become self-contradictory and even irrelevant when returned to their original contexts, the discrepancy between the two meanings comes to the fore when analyzed in view of a broader understanding of Pushkin’s poetry and biography. Reading “To the Slanderers of Russia” (“Klevetnikam Rossii”; 1831) against the postwar Soviet presentation of Pushkin as Europe’s common poetic heritage provides an edifying example of such flawed counterpoint.

     The idea to frame Pushkin as “our everything” (nashe vse) belongs to the writer and theater critic Apollon Grigor´ev, who wrote in 1859: “And Pushkin is our everything. Pushkin is a representative of all that belongs to our soul, of all that […] will remain part of our soul […] after all the clashes with what is alien to us, with the other worlds.”[31] Without acknowledging Grigor´ev’s contribution, the postwar celebrations relied on his definition of Pushkin to draw the line between the spiritually and culturally united “people’s democracies” and the hostile world beyond the boundaries of their union. On 5 June 1949, Izvestiia ran articles by Armenian, Latvian, Moldavian, Lithuanian, and Czech writers, all of whom spoke about the special intimacy between their people and Pushkin. At a time when Soviet punitive brigades continued to enforce a reign of terror in the formerly independent Baltic states, Lithuanian writer K. Korsakas extolled Pushkin as a light of freedom and justice that had already penetrated “the thick of the Lithuanian nation.” Korsakas’ article, entitled “The Sun of World Poetry,” concluded with the words, “The sun of Pushkin’s poetry, which rose on our skies a long time ago, will now shine brighter and more intensely to the Lithuanian people marching hand-inhand along the luminous path with all people of the brother republics.”[32]

     Korsakas’s metaphor echoed the words of Vladimir Odoevsky, who was the first to liken Pushkin to the sun. In an obituary published in Literaturnye pribavleniia on 30 January 1837, he exclaimed: “The sun of Russian poetry has set! Pushkin has passed away, in the prime of life…!”[33] Disregarding the tragic connotation of Odoevsky’s image, Korsakas attempted to emphasize the poet’s global magnitude. The figure of speech that he created, however, had a tendency to shift its meaning in accordance with the ideological agenda of the day. A “sun” of world poetry, Pushkin was supposed to shine to all nations, in spite of their political affiliation. But the intensity and brightness of the “sun’s” radiance obviously depended on the people’s commitment to the Soviet Union—the only state with which Pushkin was now firmly associated.

     Other writers’ rhetorical tropes supported this association. Zdenek Needly, who was reporting from Prague, claimed that after the war Pushkin’s poetry had made his people “excited and passionate” because “what Pushkin had only foreseen, and what he had struggled for, finally became a reality” in Czechia.[34] At a meeting at Pushkin’s memorial estate on 12 June, Needly’s compatriot, Jan Drda, said: “Almost 120 years ago, in 1825, when Pushkin lived in Mikhailovskoe, his poems were already read in the Czech language in our poets’ translations. But they never sounded as powerful as on 9 May 1945, when the Soviet tanks […] liberated Prague, when we understood most clearly what the poet’s words about freedom meant!”[35]

     Pushkin’s most famous words about freedom came from his epistle to the Decembrists, “Vo glubine sibirskikh rud…” (“In deep Siberian mines retain…”; 1827). In the poem, Pushkin addressed his friends, buried away in Siberian katorga, and called freedom “grief’s constant sister” who toiled in “dungeons, black and dreary.”[36] Perhaps Drda did not intend to sneak in, with Pushkin’s help, a hidden allusion to penal servitude. But even if he did, his whisper of political insubordination could not muffle the collective voice of East European writers forced to emphasize the complete and unanimous appropriation of Pushkin by their recently “liberated” nations. On 7 June, Izvestiia published a half-page spread, “The Pushkin Celebrations Abroad,” which aimed to demonstrate the cultural unity between the Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian, Polish, Mongolian, as well as Austrian, Dutch, and Danish nations, and the Soviet people, solidified by Pushkin.[37] On 7 June, the same newspaper printed a front-page report on the Grand Session at the Bolshoi, peppered with quotations from East European speakers, who, like the Polish writer Kruchkowski, expatiated upon the “universal, all-national cult” of Pushkin in their countries.[38]

     Needless to say, these speeches and articles, as well as other materials about Pushkin’s presence in Eastern Europe published in Pravda and Izvestiia in the spring and early summer of 1949, contained no groundbreaking political argument. Drda and Kruchkowski only embellished the ideological structures built by Party propagandists during the first four postwar years. When Ehrenburg, in 1947, asserted that everything “vibrant, great, and truly innovative” in Europe was supportive of the Soviet case, he helped introduce Pushkin as a cultural and ideological denominator shared by the expansionist Soviet state and its new satellites. At that point, even Dostoevsky became the Party’s ally. In “The Consciousness of Humanity,” Ermilov quoted Alesha Karamazov’s answer (“Shoot him!”) to Ivan’s question about the fate of a bloodthirsty landowner who set his dogs on a little boy. The quotation helped Ermilov assert that “only the people whose soul was alive with the understanding of their great historical predestination could create literature permeated with such passionate longing for merciless truth and such implacable severity of moral judgment.”[39] An unlikely literary context for Cold War propaganda, the exchange from the Brothers Karamazov framed the opposition between the righteous Soviet people and the “American predators.” At the end of his article, Ermilov maintained that “hungry, tortured, scared Europe” considered the Soviet Union the sole guarantor of its peace.[40]

     With the years, this thesis grew in several directions. One of them, which the East European participants in the Pushkin Celebration helped develop, propagated the idea of Pushkin’s ethical and aesthetic perfection as a sign of the moral and cultural superiority of Russia, which its poetry-loving “brother nations” were supposed to recognize and respect. Party ideologues insisted on Pushkin’s “accessibility” to all Slavic peoples as well as to the Russian diasporas within the newly occupied non-Slavic states. The asseveration of this idea was an important component of the jubilee Pushkin conferences and the scholarly articles published in 1949.[41] A quotation from a paper by K. N. Derzhavin, who made a significant contribution to the discourse, summarizes the key ideological aspects of this “Slavic Pushkin”:

The Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945 brought freedom and independence to all Slavic peoples who had previously suffered under the German-Fascist yoke […]. In the liberated Slavic countries, […] Pushkin became the first name among the names of classical Russian writers to whom the broad masses of readers turned after they had been rid of fascist censorship. […] Modern Slavic democracies conscientiously associate Pushkin’s name with the grandiose Communism construction in [the poet’s] fatherland, with the new Soviet culture and with the new Soviet man, who is now a lawful heir to the great cultural values created by the Russian people in the past.[42]

     In this short but capacious passage, Derzhavin managed to merge the Pushkin of pre-revolutionary Russian culture with his twentieth-century surrogate, the Pushkin recreated and owned by the “new Soviet man.” By associating the appropriation of Pushkin by the Slavic nations with their “liberalization,” the critic substituted the fact of the newly formed political bondage between Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union with the fictitious proof of their cultural dependence. Unlike the pro-Slavic ideological campaigns of the Crimean War and the First World War, the postwar popularization of “the people’s brotherhood” was complicated by the doctrine of Bolshevik internationalism. The Kremlin could not simply refer to the shared blood ties or Orthodox Christian unity of the East European nations. Thus, with his African heritage and a near-native fluency in French, Pushkin became a striking paradox of Soviet Cold War propaganda. He supplemented the missing link in the legitimization of the postwar geopolitical order by becoming the new blood and the surrogate religion of the forced coalition of Slavic peoples.

     In the late 1940s, the Party pushed its idea of the Soviet state as a “guarantor of European security” under several rhetorical guises. Just as in 1937, it found it useful to present Pushkin as a weapon against enemies of the people: the aggressive foreign “vandals,” backed up by the “servitors” and “cosmopolitans” entrenched at the domestic front. But the anti-American and anti-British propaganda produced by the Celebrations of 1949 went further than simply insisting that the Anglophone world had no cultural or, consequently, moral authority to claim the Soviet Union and Europe as their spheres of influence. Like other ideological campaigns, the Pushkin Jubilee used historical and cultural precedents to reinforce contemporary ideology. Stalin’s newspapermen and public speakers found Pushkin’s commentary on the Polish November Uprising of 1830 especially appropriate in this respect. Evoking Pushkin’s own understanding of Slavdom and quoting his input in the nationalist rhetoric of imperial Russia, they argued that Russian writers, the nation’s “consciousness,” defended their country’s European expansionism.[43]

     Pushkin wrote “To the Slanderers of Russia” in 1831 as a reaction to French attempts to support the Polish insurgents, which reminded him of the French invasion of 1812. The poem was quoted and reprinted throughout the Celebrations. Most noticeably, two stanzas appeared in the 7 June issue of Izvestiia as a caption to a cartoon by Boris Efimov, Stalin’s favorite caricaturist. Efimov’s Pushkin was based on Orest Kiprensky’s famous portrait (1827). A shiny globe of the sun, slightly veiled by an unspecific banner, backed the poet up, producing an off-center halo around his head. Unlike the Kiprensky prototype, Efimov’s Pushkin looked to his right. There, in the darkened corner, lurked the grotesque, gloomy mugs of Russia’s contemporary enemies. It would not be hard for Izvestiia readers to identify these faces. Slightly reminiscent of Churchill and Hitler as portrayed in other cartoons of the period, they came across as “capitalist moneybags” and “warmongers.”[44]

     The caption read:

…И ненавидите вы нас…
За что ж? Ответствуйте: за то ли,
…не признали наглой воли
Того, под кем дрожали вы?
За то ль, что в бездну повалили,
Мы тяготеющий над царствами кумир
И нашей кровью искупили
     Европы вольность, честь и мир?

… And why is it that you hate us?
Pray tell, is it because…
… we did not defer to the brazen will
Of him, before whom you trembled?
Is it because we cast the idol that oppressed
All the realms into the abyss
     And bought, with our blood,
     Liberty, honor and peace for Europe?

     The Izvestiia excerpt derived from a forty-six-line poem, but editors managed to distort even the short quotation with ellipses. Their reasons for choosing this particular stanza are obvious, since its final lines matched to a tee the Soviet “salvation of Europe” doctrine. The ellipses are more interesting. They stand in for the phrase “on the ruins of burning Moscow” (na razvalinakh pylaiushchei Moskvy). Had the lines been preserved, they would have hinted at the disastrous organization of the defense of Moscow in 1941, as well as transported the reader from the ideologically convenient Second World War context to the history of the first Patriotic War, when Moscow, indeed, was surrendered. The short censorial operation, however, allowed Party propagandists to project Pushkin’s condemnation of the French onto the Cold War aggressor, whose main weapon was not an invasion, but rather “slander” itself.

     In addition to the quotation used in the cartoon caption, Izvestiia published another reference to the poem. It was cited in the speech of the Ukrainian academician Palladin, run on the first page of the Jubilee issue:

We, the Soviet people, cherish Pushkin’s patriotism, his love for his Fatherland, for his nation, for its heroic history. We share Pushkin’s indignant protest against the foreign politicians’ interference in Russian affairs, declared in his wrathful poem “To the Slanderers of Russia.”[45]

A slogan-like summary of Pushkin’s sentiment, Palladin’s words were to provide a direct equation between the poet’s patriotism and the Soviet understanding of Russia’s geopolitical mission. But even this parallel seemed to be insufficient. Along with Palladin’s monologue, Izvestiia’s transcript of the Grand Session at the Bolshoy contained a record of a speech by Kruchkowski, the Polish writer who announced the “universal, all-national cult” of Pushkin in Poland. Not only did Kruchkowski speak about his co-citizens’ fascination with Pushkin, he also attempted to ground this emotional attachment in the historical “friendship” between Pushkin and Adam Mickiewicz. As a Pole, Kruchkowski had ample reason to mention the relationship, but his interpretation of it was strained to the utmost. Although the acknowledgment of the connection could help the speaker assert the firmness of the two nations’ cultural bonds, introducing Mickiewicz in an issue citing “To the Slanderers of Russia” as a proof of the Soviet right to “redeem” Europe and save it from a new aggressor had a potentially subversive meaning.

     “Pushkin and Mickiewicz were sons of brotherly Slavic nations,” Kruchkowski said. “They loved each other with the love of brave and freedom-loving people. [...] Theirs was a great historical friendship, which had outgrown their era and remained living in centuries. It was a friendship that left a trace in the history of nations and burned in the imagination of future generations. It was the friendship of geniuses [...].”[46] As was typical for propaganda’s forays in literary history, this false statement replaced the complexity of the relationship between Pushkin and Mickiewicz with a sugared and distorted simplification. But while Kruchkowski’s dismissal of the poets’ creative rivalry and aesthetic differences could be explained by the primitiveness of the celebratory context, his omission of Mickiewicz’s condemnation of the Russian government’s suppression of the November Uprising in Warsaw was a calculated move to deceive the audience. As Kruchkowski must have known, Mickiewicz replied to Pushkin’s anti-Polish poems, including “To the Slanderers of Russia” and “The Borodino Anniversary” (1831), with a contemptuous afterword to his poetic drama A Forefathers’ Eve (Dziady):

[…] Innych może dotknęła sroższa niebios kara;
Może kto z was urzędem, orderem zhańbiony,
Duszę wolną na wieki przedał w łaskę cara
I dziś na progach jego wybija pokłony.
Może płatnym językiem tryumf jego sławi
I cieszy się ze swoich przyjaciół męczeństwa,
Może w ojczyźnie mojej moją krwią się krwawi
I przed carem, jak z zasług, chlubi się z przeklęstwa.

Others, perchance, endure a fate more dire
Someone, perhaps, seduced by gifts of state,
Betrays his free soul for the tsar for hire
And bows today on the thresholds of the great.
Perchance with venal tongue he lauds the tyrant,
And revels in the martyrdom of friends;
Smeared with my blood, he curses the conspirant,
And boasts of horrid deeds as worthy ends.[47]

     In this bitter excerpt, Mickiewicz portrays Pushkin not as a friend of the Polish people, but as a corrupt ill-wisher. What Pushkin defined as a familial “argument of the Slavs between each other,” Mickiewicz interpreted as a “heavenly punishment” (“fate more dire” in Kirkconnel’s translation). For him, Poland’s “bows” to the oppressors were forced and nonreverential, while Pushkin spoke in a “venal [mercenary] tongue” (płatnym językiem), which Mickiewicz found contemptible. The chauvinism and bellicosity of Pushkin’s interpretation of the Polish events were so pronounced that even his friends disapproved of them. Viazemsky, for example, echoed Mickiewicz’s sentiment, comparing Pushkin’s endorsement of the Russian oppression of Poland to a sycophantic composition by a Stateemployed “poet in an overcoat” (shinel´nyi poet).[48]

     The only reason why Kruchkowski and the Izvestiia editors might have felt safe popularizing “To the Slanderers of Russia” while referring to the relationship between Pushkin and Mickiewicz would be their belief in the readers’ ignorance. The Soviet audience was mostly unaware of the poetic exchange quoted above, just as it was left in the dark about Stalin’s refusal to assist the rebels during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.[49] By recontextualizing Pushkin’s poem, the Party could safely put an equals sign between the Soviet “liberation” of Poland in 1944–45 and Russia’s stifling of the Polish rebellion in 1830. Pushkin’s labeling the latter a “family affair” allowed the propaganda to present both events as historically beneficial to the Polish nation.

     In an interview with Felix Chuev, Molotov narrated an anecdote about Stalin’s negotiations with Churchill regarding the postwar partition of Poland. Having refused all of Churchill’s suggestions to modify the new border, Stalin obstinately insisted that the line would remain where he had drawn it. “But Lviv never was a Russian city!” Churchill exclaimed. “Warsaw was,” Stalin replied.[50] The perverse logic of this exchange transpires through the Soviets’ use of the poem “To the Slanderers of Russia” to justify the postwar Soviet expansionism in Europe. The Russian government, indeed, put down the national liberation movement in Poland, but if Pushkin approved of the oppression, it could be considered an act of benevolence rather than terror.

     Karen Petrone, whose analysis of other cases of Pushkin’s Sovietization is deep and convincing, considers the prewar rendering of “The Monument” (“Ia pamiatnik sebe vozdvig nerukotvornyi...”; 1836) an example of the Party’s exploitation of the poet’s “affinity with pre-revolutionary imperial aims.”[51] But while, according to Petrone, the Jubilee of 1937 associated Pushkin with “Europe, culture, and progress,”[52] the Celebrations of 1949 split this field of reference into two different orders. “Culture and progress” were now the markers of the Russo-Soviet civilization historically predestined to spread territorially and politically. And “Europe” stood for the Russian territory previously lost but reclaimed.

     This split becomes even more pronounced when seen in light of the confrontation between the official Soviet presentation of Pushkin and the vision endorsed by the Russian émigré community. When celebrating the Jubilee of 1937, both groups insisted that Europe was Pushkin’s terrain. The Soviet propaganda then promoted Pushkin’s European status by asserting the poet’s equality to Shakespeare, Dante, and Goethe. The émigré writers, on the contrary, discussed the ambivalence of Pushkin’s contribution to European culture. Thus, critic Vladimir Veidle reversed the idea of Pushkin’s “universal responsiveness” by describing the poet’s borrowing from great European writers not as an attempt to “embody the genius of other nations,” but as a project of returning to Europe its cultural treasures. Arguing with what had already become a staple of the Soviet critical discourse—the idea of Pushkin’s “democratic spirit” and anti-autocratic inclinations—Veidle portrayed his hero as “free from the main defect of late Westernism: the deference [poklonenie] to the latest imprint, the replacement of Western culture with a Western newspaper.”[53] According to Veidle, Pushkin had absorbed, reinterpreted, and retold the greatest European authors of the Renaissance, becoming in the process a European writer himself. Sadly, Veidle claimed, this transformation had gone unnoticed. By 1937, Pushkin was no longer comprehensible to Europe, because “Europe had changed and could not recognize itself in him.”[54] 

     Soviet propaganda neglected the multidimensional richness of Veidle’s reasoning. It did, nevertheless, follow up on the idea of Europe’s cultural transformation. Ehrenburg’s exclamation, that “The people who cherish Pushkin know how to understand Hugo and Byron,” was partly based on the assumption that Western readers had lost interest in their own classical heritage. A lover of Picasso and Sartre, the Izvestiia correspondent knew full well what “culture and progress” meant for his friends in Paris. His Soviet handlers, though, continued promoting Pushkin and nineteenth-century aesthetic ideals to domestic and Eastern European audiences by insisting on their superiority over the ideological and moral “degradation” of Western art. It did not matter that Europe “could not recognize itself” in Pushkin or that it might not be willing even to attempt such recognition. The postwar Pushkin was both Russian and European, imperial and revolutionary, conservative and progressive. Spreading territorially, the Soviet state was, with Pushkin’s help, also expanding the limits of time.


“Pushkin Is Alive!”: The Metaphysics of the Postwar Border Delineation

     Proclaiming Eastern Europe a sphere of cultural influence of the Soviet state, the Kremlin had to take into consideration the tragic consequences of the Second World War as a destroyer of lives, relationships, and cultural treasures. The Celebrations of 1949 reacted to the unprecedented traumatic events by adding a metaphysical dimension to the image of Pushkin. Described in gory detail, the destruction of Pushkinian haunts and artifacts at the hands of recent aggressors allowed Party ideologues to turn a national literary monument into a war memorial.[55] The Soviet propaganda also emphasized Pushkin’s capacity for survival, which surpassed that of an ordinary man. Portrayed as a superhuman, the Cold War Pushkin could expand in an untrammeled, almost spontaneous way, helping his heralds make claims on all of the cultural space as “legitimate” Russian (and, consequently, Soviet) territory. And yet Pushkin’s own metaphysics, as well as his definition of Russia’s border with Europe, refuted this metamorphosis. Unlike Stalin, who condemned Peter I for letting Europe loose upon Russia, the poet welcomed the tsar’s venture westward. In The Bronze Horseman and other works of the 1830s, he depicted Peter as an omnipresent and potent deity. Having set the elements free, Pushkin’s “marvel-working builder” continued to dominate Russia’s cultural and political landscape. At the same time, describing a monument “not built by hands” in his poem “The Monument” (1836), Pushkin contrasted the image of another border-shifting ruler, Alexander I, with that of himself as the national poet who was able to develop new territories and assimilate their languages without resorting to coercion and violence.[56] In the following decades, some of the non-conformist Soviet writers adopted Pushkin’s vision of Russia’s cultural foray into the West, with its key metaphor of “the window on Europe,” and used it as a starting point for the demolishing of the rhetorical partitions of the Cold War.[57]

     In the country that put the mummified body of its political progenitor in a mausoleum, the godlike nature of state leaders was an open secret. To place Pushkin on the same footing with Stalin, as it was done in 1937 and 1949 alike,[58] was to declare the immortality of both. But although Andrei Bitov is convinced that the 150th anniversary of Pushkin’s birth and Stalin’s 70th birthday “rhymed,”[59] the statement “Pushkin is alive,” which was frequently repeated in the postwar mass media, implied no direct correlation between the longevity of the state leader and the descriptions of Pushkin’s metaphorical “death” and miraculous “survival” during the war. The Celebration’s immortality rhetoric used the image of Pushkin to present the hierarchical model of the Soviet order as imperishable, due to its wondrous capacity to recover from fatal blows. Pushkin’s ability to “die” and then come back to life reinforced that of the political system that had proclaimed him an archetypal Russian poet.[60]

     In the 5 June issue of Izvestiia, the statement “Pushkin is alive!” was repeated at least six times. Like several other articles in the jubilee issue, the grand finale of M. Ryl´sky’s essay “In Our Ranks” (“V odnom riady s nami”) concludes with a declaration of Pushkin’s presence among the living: “Pushkin is alive! He is standing in our ranks, [surrounded by] the people of Stalin’s great era. He is the glory and pride of our nation, the noble example to all progressive humankind. His voice summons the world toward the victory of light and reason.”[61] Ryl´sky’s Pushkin lives in the present and shapes the future. History is unimportant, because the immortal poet does not belong to the past. The pathos of this paragraph, however, with its allusion to Pushkin’s “Bacchanal Song” (1825),[62] was overshadowed by the materials that surrounded Ryl´sky’s article. In the middle of the page Izvestiia published a photograph of Opekushin’s monument to Pushkin. The photo evokes associations with immobility, reflective passivity, and hugeness. But the idea of the gigantic bronze statue lining up with the Soviet people to fight in a battle did not seem to bother the editors. On the same page, they placed a poem by Mikhail L´vov, “Our Pushkin” (“Nash Pushkin”), which was supposed to reinforce Ryl´sky’s statement. The poem’s proximity to the photograph invited multiple interpretations. The reader could either think about the eternal life of the poet or ponder the possibility of his statue coming to life:

Он славен и в Москве, и на Урале,
Его шаги не позабыл Кавказ,
В каком бы мы краю не побывали,
Его бессмертье всюду встретит нас.
Он жив в названьях улиц и районов, 
Библиотек, колхозов и садов,
В мильонах книг, в сознаньи миллионов,
В живом звучанье собственных стихов.
Мы это имя с детства полюбили,
И нам дано в сердцах своих сберечь
В первоначальной свежести и силе 
Пленительную пушкинскую речь.
Он с нами каждой каплею живою
Своей души, волнений и страстей.
До нас дошел он каждою строкою,
Дождался нас, наследников, друзей.
Наш день сияньем солнечным пронизан,
Грядущего мы видим торжество.
И мы берем с собою в коммунизм
Его стихи, бессмертие его.[63]

He is famous in Moscow as well as in the Urals,
The Caucasus has not forgotten his steps,
Wherever we go to visit,
His immortality greets us everywhere.
He is alive in the names of streets and districts,
Of libraries, collective farms, and parks,
In millions of books, in the minds of millions,
In the live sound of his own poems.
We fell in love with his name as children,
And we are allowed to preserve in our hearts,
The captivating Pushkin speech,
In all its pristine freshness and power.
He is with us with every live drop
Of his soul, his excitement, and his passions.
He reached out to us with his every line,
And we, his heirs and friends, have come to him.
Sunshine permeates our [every] day,
We foresee the triumph of the future.
And we are taking his poems, his immortality,
With us into Communism.

     These five artless stanzas, written in five-foot iambic with alternating feminine and masculine rhymes, attempted to formulate an ideologically correct response to “The Monument,” which had been the master text of all Pushkin celebrations of imperial and Soviet times. But whereas Pushkin declared that only the spiritual constituent of his being would survive (“Not all of me shall die! My secret lyre shall show it / And make my soul outlive the dust and fly decay”),[64] L´vov attempted to establish the poet’s everlasting existence by enumerating every aspect of his presence among the living. Having substituted Pushkin’s “lyre,” the metaphor for poetic voice, with the “live sound” of Pushkin’s poems, a somewhat more utilitarian trope, “Our Pushkin” proceeded to list proofs of the bard’s metaphysical essence. Just as Pushkin’s “every line” could be preserved in its “pristine freshness,” the poet’s emotions and “passions” also continued to exist in this world, absorbed by his “heirs and friends.” A place-name that consecrated institutions and loci, Pushkin would become familiar not only to millions of readers, but to everyone who inhabited the Soviet space. And, finally, the immortal Pushkin would continue to dominate years yet to come, with Communism as the ultimate goal of socialist progress.

     The latter statement is revealing. A stylistic clone of other court odes of late Stalinism, L´vov’s doggerel is remarkable not as much for its hyperbolic exuberance as for its denial of the natural progression of time. This particular Pushkin was unable to perish. L´vov achieved this effect by blending Pushkin’s immortality with the timeless ending of the Soviet utopia. In vein with the beloved Soviet tradition of commemorating famous people through celebrating the locations they inhabited or went to see, he also insisted that Pushkin’s “eternity” resulted from his association with the Caucasus, which loved and remembered him. But while L´vov’s intentions were probably confined to the rhetorical limitations of the genre, the profusion of tropes and images on a single newspaper page led to strange intertextual clashes. For example, the Opekushin monument looming in the background created an additional context for reading the “Caucasian” lines of L´vov’s poem. The image of the statue helped to evoke one of Pushkin’s favorite archetypes: an effigy coming to life to wreak havoc among the living.

     Although Pushkin did not describe the actual “steps” of the Commodore’s statue in “The Stone Guest,” Byron mentioned the “awful footsteps regular as rhyme” when narrating his Don Juan’s encounter with the supernatural visitor.[65] The image of the statue’s steps was also perpetuated in Blok’s “Steps of Commodore” (1917)[66] and in The Bronze Horseman, where the sound of the “ponderous hoofs” of Peter’s steed reverberated through St. Petersburg like a “thunderclap.”[67] While it would be nearly impossible for L´vov’s reader to “hear” the tread of Pushkin himself traveling in the Caucasus, the steps of the Opekushin monument were easy to imagine. (Mayakovsky did so, in his “Jubilee Poem” (1924), which ended with the lyrical hero’s offer to help Pushkin climb back to the pedestal.) Incomparable to Pushkin’s drama and narrative poem in all matters stylistic, “Our Pushkin” hitchhiked on those works by obliterating, in Jakobson’s words, “the boundary between life and immobile dead matter.”[68]

     L´vov’s contribution to the “Pushkin is alive!” discourse of 1949 helps to reveal an interesting pattern. Throughout the Celebrations, Pushkin’s immortality was heralded first of all as a material presence, and only secondly as a function of the poet’s unfading glory. A partial overlapping of the Jubilee with the postwar restitution campaign might have been one of the reasons behind this choice. In late November 1945, when Pravda and Izvestiia began publishing reports from the Nuremberg Trials, material compensation for the war losses was one of the main questions on the agenda of Stalin’s mass media. At that time, journalists were demanding payment for the Soviet citizens’ “blood and tears” from Germany and its allies as the war aggressors. Descriptions of deaths, torture, and deprivations suffered by Soviet citizens alternated in those articles with images of the ruined countryside and torn-apart industrial areas. Stories of Pushkin and Mikhailovskoe devastated by the Germans were meant to supplement the picture of the enormous emotional and economic toll the war had placed on society. Only in the spring of 1946, when the main clauses of the restitution had been settled, did the Soviet mass media begin substituting the image of desecrated Pushkin haunts with the idea of “resurrected” parks and estates. On 26 April the poem “Pushkinskii park” (“The Pushkin Park”) by Vsevolod Rozhdestvensky, published in Izvestiia, depicted the grounds of Pushkin’s school, the Imperial Lyceum, coming to life after the devastation:

Мы сберегли тебя для новых поколений,
Чтоб, раны залечив, старинных лип верхи
Шептали в полусне лицейские стихи,
Чтоб мудрой старости и юности беспечной
Шумел ты широко и возраждался вечно,
Наполнен славою и дымом боевым,
Как юность Пушкина, сиял непобедим!

We have preserved you for the new generations,
So that the crowns of ancient lindens, having healed their wounds,
Would whisper in their slumber the Lyceum verse,
And so that you, filled with glory and the smoke of war,
Could rustle broadly and be eternally resurrected,
Shining victorious, like Pushkin’s youth,
To the wise old age and to the lighthearted youth alike![69]

     Overall a poet of merit, Rozhdestvensky on this occasion sacrificed his lyrical prowess for the assertive recitative of a proclamation. His sevenline poem consists of a single sentence, stretched to the utmost by the fancifulness of its underlying idea. Apart from its obvious pitfalls, such as the grammatically impossible “eternal resurrection” for the sake of young and old (“Chtob mudroi starosti i iunosti bespechnoi […] vozrozhdalsia vechno”), the poem offers an image of a noisy, rustling park filled with “smoke” and “fame,” the two mirror components of a Russian idiom, “fame is smoke” (“slava—dym”). The trope’s awkwardness is underlined by its reference to Pushkin’s “The Conversation of the Poet and the Bookseller” (1824), in which two interlocutors discuss the futility of poetic glory.[70] Moreover, the “Conversation” itself refers, by means of Pushkin’s direct commentary, to Zhukovsky’s Svetlana: “Slava, nas uchili—dym; / Svet—sud´ia lukavyi” [They taught us that glory was smoke, / That society was a cunning judge].[71] Although Rozhdestvensky might have been aware of these allusions, the awkwardness of his metaphors does not warrant further parallels with Pushkin.

     For the Party propaganda the lameness of the poem was an excusable vice as long as it delivered the appropriate message. The rhetorical trope of the “eternal resurrection” of Pushkin’s park grounded the poet’s immortality in the everyday reality of the postwar reconstruction. The park’s resilience to destruction stood for the steadfastness of the Soviet state to the same degree as it did for Pushkin’s invincibility to death. It is worth noticing that the same newspapers that had just months ago published descriptions of cities and farmsteads destroyed by the Nazis now pushed these parallels with passion. The Pushkin-inspired immortality discourse gained absolute ideological potency in the fall of 1946, when even a slight deviation from the optimism endorsed by propaganda became punishable. The destiny of Akhmatova’s poem “Moi gorodok igrushechnyi sozhgli…” (“They burned my toy town…”; 1945), published in the first issue of Zvezda for 1946, illustrates this shift:

Мой городок игрушечный сожгли
И в прошлое мне больше нет лазейки.
Там был фонтан, зеленые скамейки.
Громада парка царского вдали.
На масленой – блины, ухабы, вейки,
В апреле – запах прели и земли,
И первый поцелуй…

They burned my toy town,
And there’s no way back to my past.
There was a fountain there, green benches,
The tsar’s huge park in the distance.
At Shrove-tide, there were pancakes, pits and bumps on the road, Finnish coaches,
In April there was the smell of mold and earth,
And the first kiss…[72]

     Writing about Tsarskoe Selo as the city of her adolescence, Akhmatova laments the physical destruction of her beloved haunts, all the while affirming their survival in her memory. In January, in the wake of the Nuremberg Trials, Pushkin’s capacity for mnemonic endurance led to a publication. In August of 1946, however, the same censors who gave the permission to print pounced on this jewel of a poem, with its alternating, lilting feminine rhymes, reinforced by interior alliterations. Aleksandr Egolin and Georgy Aleksandrov, citing “They burned…” as an example of “decadent” and defeatist poetry in their eight-page memorandum on Akhmatova, gave Zhdanov yet another reason to persecute the poet.[73] After the “Resolution” had been made public, literary critics, too, discovered
in “They burned…” proof of Akhmatova’s anti-patriotism and hostility. Most remarkably, the Party and its loyal chorus disapproved of Akhmatova’s nostalgia while completely ignoring her stylistic mastery—through which Pushkin’s poetic legacy, and, in a broader sense, Russian cultural heritage, continued to survive. “Akhmatova’s sympathies and attachments are on the side of the past,” Egolin wrote in an article published in the October issue of Zvezda. Her poem emanated “a longing for times long past,” suggested another reviewer.[74] L´vov’s asseveration of Pushkin’s existence only in the present and the future, delivered three years later, resonated with these statements. In a sense, the acceptance and then almost immediate denial of “They burned…” by Soviet ideologists serves as a mark of transition made by Party propaganda from lamenting cultural war losses to promoting the idea of the imperishability of Russian culture. While Akhmatova’s description of the devastation suffered by the native city of herself and of Pushkin invited reflections about the fragility of the material world in its poeticized intimate dimension, the Soviet state pushed for the collective denial of loss, mass resistance to the “decadent” yearning for the past, and the dominance of endless future over time, that supreme destroyer of everything.

     Akhmatova’s penchant for cutting across the ideological grain was a notch above that of Pushkin, who had had his share of trouble with the authorities. When she became overnight persona non grata of Soviet literature, the Party denigrated even her canonical wartime variation on “The Monument,” “Muzhestvo” (“Courage”; 1942), as ideologically impure. In a condemnatory article in Leningradskaia pravda, Tatiana Trifonova claimed that Akhmatova in “Courage” “remained apolitical and talked only about the preservation of the ‘mighty Russian word’ [velikoe russkoe slovo].”[75] The “only” was quite telling, for it demonstrated a major oversight on the reviewer’s part. For Akhmatova, the “word” remained the sole cultural denominator shared by the Soviet people beyond the reaches of the Party’s ideological apparatus and secret police. By placing an equals sign between the victory and the saving of the Russian language from captivity and contamination, she, author of the then-unpublished “Requiem,” could not help thinking of other prisons where thousands of her cocitizens had already perished.[76] A twentieth-century rendition of the generations-long discourse on nationhood and cultural regeneration, “Courage” established the political power of common, uncensored, and poetic, uncontrollable speech above the heads of its critics. Akhmatova’s solemn proclamation transformed Pushkin’s idea of individual poetic survival into the concept of Russia’s ultimate survival through its language.

     “Courage” owed its initial success to the fact that during the war and shortly thereafter the Soviet government, indeed, would embrace any rhetorical contribution that could impel the nation to come together, multiply its war effort, or die in battle. In 1946, however, the Party could no longer allow a pariah poet to speak in the voice of all the people. It was more convenient for propaganda purposes to return to the prewar interpretation of the “Monument” as Pushkin’s appeal to future generations to preserve the immortality of their national poet.[77] Moreover, Soviet ideologists preferred to associate “the mighty Russian word” not with the people in their entirety, but with writers who were canonized by the state.

     Placed at the top of the country’s poetic hierarchy, Pushkin was alive both because of the continuous regeneration of the “new, unfamiliar tribe” of his young admirers, and because he died repeatedly and often in a new and different fashion. Two examples, one from 1937 and another from 1949, demonstrate that the multiplicity and variety of deaths were essential for the Soviet project of keeping Pushkin immortal. During the centennial of Pushkin’s death, the poet was also repeatedly proclaimed alive. At that time, however, Party propaganda focused on the circumstances of Pushkin’s actual demise, asserting that he was “killed by the hand of a foreign aristocratic hireling”: “But Pushkin belongs entirely to us and other times; he is still alive and will live on in future generations. Pushkin, the glory and pride of the great Russian people, will never die.”[78]

     In the late 1940s, Pushkin as depicted by propaganda died many a death at the hands of foreign invaders. The cruelty of “executions,” described in detail, invested appeals to bring Pushkin to life and preserve him for the future with particular passion and urgency. Adjustments were made to the hagiographic motifs that had dominated the prewar Pushkinian discourse. First of all, as a means of justifying postwar Soviet expansionism, the Cold War Pushkin no longer represented “the glory and pride” of the Russian people alone. And secondly, his association with language, or the “word,” became more grounded in material, earthly objectivity. A striking example of such transformation is provided by Elena Bragantseva’s essay “Brotherhood” (“Bratstvo”), which tells the story of a Belorussian family whose life during and after the Nazi occupation was consecrated by Pushkin.

     Bragantseva begins her essay with a sketch of a provincial Belorussian museum. An emaciated old woman is walking through it, in a hurry to perform an errand. Suddenly the visitor halts “as if stopped by some force”: “A familiar portrait of Pushkin was hanging in front of her, but it was blinded, with dark holes from fascist bullets where there used to be eyes.”[79]

     The woman, Bragantseva tells her readers, reacts as though the Pushkin portrait had been “executed by shooting”: “Her face went pale, she pressed her lips, her eyes became those of a very insulted person.”[80] This emotional response reminds the author of another, much more optimistic, war narrative, to which she proceeds in a hurry, leaving her character suspended in disbelief and horror. Now Bragantseva describes a family of Belorussian farmers who had managed to preserve their Pushkin by literally burying him in the ground:

Stefan Yashchuk dug a hole in the earth. He hid his most treasured possessions in it. And on top of everything, he put a large book wrapped in an embroidered Belorussian towel. The Belorussian was burying from the enemy the bright free word.[81]

Later the Yashchuks would become partisans and fight the enemy to the victorious end. During the war the family suffered severe deprivations, including the loss of several members. But when the liberation came, Bragantseva writes, Stefan Yashchuk unearthed his Pushkin and passed it on to his grandson to study and cherish:

A little boy who looked very much like his grandfather entered the hut. It was the youngest of Yashchuks, Nikolai. He stood at the old man’s side as if expecting something. The [grandfather] got up, took a large book out of the desk drawer, and put it on the table. He said:
     “You see, we have saved this book. There were no schools under the Germans, but now schoolchildren need books. And this is a very good book—Pushkin.”[82]

     By contrasting two emotionally charged narratives—the “burial” and “resurrection” of the book by the Yashchuks, and the desecration of the poet’s portrait by the Germans—Bragantseva turns the very Pushkin whose aliveness she takes for granted into inert substance. Just as the book and the portrait metonymically represent the poet-cum-nationalsymbol, the rescued Pushkin stands for all of Russia’s “bright free word.” The journalist’s mention of the towel and the earth pit as attributes of a burial, and her reverent description of the old man’s transfer of the preserved Pushkin to the young boy underlines the motif of an inanimate object coming back to life by dint of its association with a worshiped figure of almost sacral power. Contrary to Akhmatova’s appeal to all the people as keepers of “the mighty Russian word,” Bragantseva’s funereal motifs suggest that “the word,” Pushkin, is a material object that can be manipulated by the people.

     The rhetorical transformation of the national poet into a sacred, but tangibly material, object, performed during the first postwar years leading to the Celebrations of 1949, may be seen as a logical continuation of the Russo-Soviet tradition of “monumentalizing” Pushkin. The novelty of the postwar discourse consisted in the Party’s insistence on Pushkin’s immortality as a symbol of the invincibility of the Soviet state. Contrary to Pushkin’s understanding of life after death as a resonance, evoked by the poet’s word across borders and national tongues, the Soviet government endorsed a metaphysical vision of the national poet as a timeless being whose repeated deaths and resurrections demanded endless worshiping. Just as Communism was envisioned by the Party as an everlasting apotheosis of the socialist utopia, the image of Cold War Pushkin offered an eternal aesthetic ideal. The devotion of Soviet readers, shaped by Stalinist values and cultural practices, guaranteed that Pushkin would become an immortal martyr in the timeless future. The expansion of the Communist “brotherhood” ensured that other nations would also eventually join the worshipping.

     Pushkin could be “executed,” Stalin’s ideologists said, but he could never perish. This metaphysical imperative was a complete reversal of the revolutionary pathos of the Russian avant-garde, emblematized by Mayakovsky’s cry to “throw Pushkin off the steamboat of modernity.” But it was also a follow-up to the avant-garde project of dissolving the artist and his audience in a unified aesthetic space, which was expected to spread and win new acolytes along with the spread of the revolution. Not only did Pushkin now remain imperturbable, the steamboat itself had finally come to a halt. From the viewpoint of Cold War propaganda, which had to ward off ideological and cultural offensives from the Anglophone West on Soviet territory as well as in Europe, timelessness had replaced modernity, while Pushkin was becoming everybody’s “everything” for ages to come.


Bard College


Download: Voronina, Olga. "'The Sun of World Poetry': Pushkin As a Cold War Writer." Pushkin Review 14 (2011): 63-95.

[1] “Prazdnik sotsialisticheskoi kul´tury,” in A. S. Pushkin, 1799–1949: Materialy iubileinykh torzhestv, ed. S. I. Vavilov (Moscow-Leningrad: Izd-vo Akademii nauk SSSR, 1951), 5–24. Simonov’s speech is quoted on p. 19 of this edition. All translations from the Russian, unless otherwise indicated, are mine—O.V.

[2] This idea belongs to Stephanie Sandler, who also aptly describes the Pushkin Celebrations of 1937 as a traumatic and trauma defying ritual. Sandler, Commemorating Pushkin: Russia’s Myth of a National Poet (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004), 107, 116.

[3] The campaign against “servility toward the West” is often considered part of the campaign against “rootless cosmopolitanism” (bezrodnyi kosmopolitizm), which raised latent Soviet anti-Semitism to the level of state policy. There are reasons to believe, however, that the campaign against “cosmopolitanism,” defined as an “amoral indifference to one’s birth-place and place of residence, characteristic of representatives of global imperialism,” had a different ideological denominator. Originally developed as a propaganda attack on “capitalist encirclement,” the enemy that allegedly threatened the Soviet state from the outside, it unfolded parallel to the “servility” campaign and continued after it had ended. The majority of anti-Semitic accusations were made within the rhetorical framework of “cosmopolitanism,” with the implication that the Jewish intelligentsia associated themselves with the Jewish people abroad, rather than with the Soviet people. The most aggressively anti-Semitic phase of the “cosmopolitanism” campaign fell in the two-month period in the winter of 1948–49. The “servility” campaign lasted from 1936 until 1949; the “cosmopolitanism” campaign began in 1945 and lasted until Stalin’s death in 1953. See D. G. Nadzhafatov, “Vvedenie,” in Stalin i kosmopolitizm: Dokumenty Agitpropa TsK KPSS, 1945–1953, comp. Nadzhafatov and Z. S. Belousova, ed. Nadzhafatov (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnyi Fond Demokratiia, 2005), 7–17; Konstantin Bogdanov, “Nauka v epicheskuiu epokhu: Klassika fol´klora, klassicheskaia filologiia i klassovaia solidarnost´,” Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie 78 (2006): 86–124.

[4] Vavilov, ed., A. S. Pushkin, 1700–1949, 13.

[5] Ibid., 14.

[6] Anne Applebaum, GULAG: A History (New York: Doubleday, 2003), 463.

[7] Simonov strongly disliked the play and confessed, after Stalin’s death, that it should have never been written. Konstantin Simonov, Glazami cheloveka moego pokoleniia (Moscow: Agentstvo pechati Novosti, 1989), 148. Established in 1947, the “honor courts” were a new form of the Party’s struggle with dissent. They consisted of long discussions of the actions and the political and moral outlook of the accused by his or her colleagues and Party officials. See Nadzhafatov, ed., Stalin i kosmopolitizm, 108–16; Vasilii Soima, Zapreshchennyi Stalin (Moscow: OLMAPRESS, 2005), 429–52.

[8] Konstantin Simonov, “Velikii poet velikogo naroda,” Izvestiia, 8 June 1949, 2.

[9] Simonov testifies to Stalin’s hatred of foreigners in the same record of their private conversation on 13 May 1947, where he mentioned foreign magazines freely available to the close circle of the Soviet dictator. Simonov, Glazami cheloveka moego pokoleniia, 129. The quote appears in many sources, including Geoffrey Roberts, Stalin’s War: From World War to Cold War, 1939–1953 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).

[10] Simonov, “Velikii poet velikogo naroda,” 2.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] In a rampant anti-American and anti-British media campaign that unfolded in the Soviet mass media in the fall of 1946, Pravda and Izvestiia journalists presented “racial intolerance” and “slaveholding” in the United States and British colonies as quintessential characteristic of the “Anglo-American bloc.” See, for example, Il´ia Ehrenburg, “V Amerike,” Izvestiia, 16, 17, 24, 25 July and 7, 9 August 1946; P. Gornyi, “Ob odnoi filosofii rasovogo gneta i chelovekonenavistnichestva,” Pravda, 16 May 1947, 4; Iu. Semenov, “Fashistskaia teoriia ‘geopolitiki’ na amerikanskoi pochve,” Pravda, 12 June 1947, 3.

[15] Il´ia Ehrenburg, “Zakon prirody,” Pravda, 1 May 1947, 3.

[16] Liza Knapp, “‘Sometimes I feel like a motherless child’: Paul Robeson and the 1949 Pushkin Jubilee,” in Under the Sky of My Africa: Alexander Pushkin and Blackness, ed. Catharine Nepomnyashchy, Nicole Svobodny, and Ludmilla A. Trigos (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2006), 302–11.

[17] Vavilov, ed., A. S. Pushkin, 1799–1949, 11.

[18] Helena Schrader, The Blockade Breakers: The Berlin Airlift (Stroud, UK: History Press, 2008).

[19] Il´ia Ehrenburg, “Golos pisatelia,” Pravda, 4 September 1947, 3. Ehrenburg’s eloquence requires a clarification. In 1946, the Soviet propaganda machine began to compare the United States, its former ally, to National-Socialist Germany, its former foe. Soviet denouncers of “American fascism”—the dogma which remained in circulation until the early 1960s—attempted to establish ideological proximity between American politicians, businessmen, and opinion-makers, and Hitler and his clique. Portraying the new “fascists” as greedy and ruthless slave-owners, they insisted that the American government would be willing to resort to any kind of pressure, the atomic bomb included, to subjugate Europe and rid it of Soviet influence. See, for example, “Sovetskii narod v dni voiny i mira. Rech´ A. Ia. Vyshinskogo na mitinge, organizovannom Sovetom amerikano-sovetskoi druzhby v Niu-Iorke 2 dekabria 1946 g. v oznamenovanie 29-oi godovshchiny Velikoi Oktiabr´skoi sotsialisticheskoi revoliutsii i 13-oi godovshchiny ustanovleniia diplomaticheskikh otnoshenii mezhdu SShA i Sovetskim Soiuzom,” Izvestiia, 7 December 1946, 2; “Na mezhdunarodnye temy,” Izvestiia, 6 October 1946, 3; A. Georgiev, “Amerikanskie advokaty fashizma,” Izvestiia, 16 June 1945, 4.

[20]Time reacted to Ehrenburg’s “Zakon prirody” article with an editorial quoting its juiciest bits; it also called Ehrenburg “one of the Soviet government’s snappiest journalistic terriers.” “The Perfunctory Venom,” Time, 12 April 1947, 28–29.

[21] Ehrenburg, "Golos pisatelia," 3.

[22] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “Rech´ o Pushkine,” in A Writer’s Diary, trans. Kenneth Lantz (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1993), 2: 1291–92. I have made small changes to this translation—O.V.

[23] V. Ermilov, “Literatura naroda-pobeditelia,” Izvestiia, 30 January 1946, 2.

[24] Isaiah Berlin, “The Arts in Russia Under Stalin,” in The Soviet Mind: Russian Culture under Communism (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2004), 10, 13.

[25] Joshua Rubenstein, Tangled Loyalties: The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg (New York: Basic Books, 1996), 253–76.

[26] Il´ia Ehrenburg, Na tsokole istorii… Pis´ma 1931–1967, ed. B. Ia. Frezinskii (Moscow: Agraf, 2004), 351.

[27] Viacheslav Molotov, 30th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution; Speech of V. M. Molotov delivered at the Celebration Meeting of the Moscow Soviet on November 6, 1947 (London: Soviet News, 1947).

[28] Quoted in Rubenstein, Tangled Loyalties, 250. See also I. G. Ehrenburg, “Zaschitniki kul´tury,” Novoe vremia 46 (1947): 5–10.

[29] Levitt, Russian Literary Politics, 132.

[30] In one of the anniversary articles, the Pushkin heritage was presented as a “precious treasure, a powerful and terrible weapon [used] in the struggle for peace and democracy against the forces of reaction and misanthropy.” “Prazdnik russkoi i mirovoi kul´ tury,” Izvestiia, 8 June 1949, 1.

[31] “Vzgliad na russkuiu literaturu so smerti Pushkina,” in Apollon Grigor´ev, Sochineniia v dvukh tomakh, ed. B. F. Egorov and A. L. Ospovat (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1990), 2: 56–57. Embodied through the mass celebrations of Pushkin from the 1880s through the 1990s, the metaphor’s pathos was eventually replaced with an ironic and even sarcastic interpretation. See, for example: “Efir struit potok tsitat, / Vedushchii chush´ neset, / Poskol´ku dvesti let nazad / rodilos´ nashe vse!” Timur Kibirov, “1999,” in Stikhi o liubvi (Moscow: Vremia, 2009), 597.

[32] K. Korsakas, "Solntse mirovoi poezii," Izvestiia, 5 June 1949, 3.

[33] In 1880, Russkaia starina published an angry reply to these words by the Minister of People’s Education Sergei Uvarov: “But why such expressions! ‘The sun of poetry!’ Mercy on me, why such honor?” Vladimir Serov, Entsiklopedicheskii slovar´ krylatykh slov i vyrazhenii, accessed on 12 May 2011, http://bibliotekar.ru/encSlov/17/147.htm. Marcus Levitt quotes Katkov’s speech at the unveiling of the monument to Pushkin in Moscow, which ended with Pushkin’s “Let the sun shine forth, let the darkness cease!” Russian Literary Politics, 87.

[34] Zdenek Needly, "Velikaia nasha liubov′," Izvestiia, 5 June 1949, 3.

[35] Quoted in A. Gordin, Pushkinskii zapovednik (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1956), 18, with a reference to Vavilov, ed., A. S. Pushkin, 1799–1949.

[36] "Message to Siberia," trans. Alan Myers, in The Complete Works of Alexander Pushkin (Downham Market, UK: Milner, 1999), 3: 42.

[37] "Pushkinskie dni za rubezhom," Izvestiia, 7 June 1949, 3.

[38] “Torzhestvennoe zasedaniie v Bol´shom teatre Soiuza SSSR, posviashchennoe 150-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia A. S. Pushkina,” Izvestiia, 7 June 1949, 1.

[39] Ermilov, "Sovest′ chelovechestva," Izvestiia, 15 June 1945, 3.

[40] Ibid. Vladimir Ermilov was one of the most unscrupulous Soviet journalists. Benedikt Sarnov asserts that in 1939 and 1949, Ermilov wrote several articles condemning Dostoevsky as a “reactionary”: “Gor´kii i Dostoevskii,” “Protiv reaktsionnykh idei v tvorchestve Dostoevskogo.” In 1956, however, Ermilov published F. M. Dostoevskii, a book that lauded the Russian writer as a great “realist” and “humanist.” Benedikt Sarnov, Sluchai Erenburga (Moscow: Eksmo, 2006), 505.

[41] S. Artem´ev, “Pushkin i slaviane,” Novyi mir (June 1949): 216–26; K. N. Derzhavin, “Pushkin u slaviane,” Zvezda (June 1949): 171–75; K. N. Derzhavin, “Pushkin i zarubezhnye slaviane,” Slaviane (June 1949): 21–26.

[42] K. N. Derzhavin, “Pushkin v slavianskikh literaturakh,” Trudy Pervoi i Vtoroi Vsesoiuznykh pushkinskikh konferentsii, 25–27 aprelia 1949 g. i 6–8 iiunia 1950 g. (Moscow-Leningrad: Izd-vo Akademii nauk SSSR, 1952), 248.

[43] The Belinsky campaign of 1946 may be one example of such distortion. Izvestiia marked the 135th anniversary of Belinsky’s birth with an article peppered with quotations from the critic’s writings on Pushkin. The editors reconstructed some of Belinsky’s texts, turning them into nationalistic pronouncements. For example, a quotation from an essay of 1847 was introduced as among Belinsky’s “most cherished convictions.” In Izvestiia’s paraphrase, the idea sounded stark and simple: “Russia is the builder of the panhuman civilization.” But the actual quotation, published alongside the paraphrase, contained a compendium of far more complex and ambivalent notions: “We are called to say our own word to the world […] The Russian people are destined to express in their nation the richest and most varied subject matter.” N. Brodskii, “V. G. Belinskii,” Izvestiia, 13 June 1945, 2. The Soviet propaganda machine also used anniversaries of Aleksei Tolstoy and Mikhail Lermontov to reinterpret the idea of Russian writers’ patriotism as their support of Russia’s European expansion. See “Vydaiushchiisia russkii pisatel´-patriot (A. N. Tolstoi),” Smena, 26 February 1945, 3; “Velikii russkii poet-patriot. K 135-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia M. Iu. Lermontova,” Vechernii Leningrad, 15 October 1949, 4.

[44] Boris Efimov, “A. S. Pushkin, ‘Klevetnikam Rossii,’” Izvestiia, 7 June 1949, 3.

[45] “Torzhestvennoe zasedaniie...,” Izvestiia, 7 June 1949, 1.

[46] Ibid.

[47] “To My Russian Friends,” trans. Watson Kirkconnel, in Adam Mickiewicz, Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. Stanislaw Helsztynski (Warsaw: Polonia Publishing House, 1955), 110.

[48] Viazemsky’s letter to Pushkin of 11 September 1831, quoted in Boris Gasparov, Poeticheskii iazyk Pushkina kak fakt istorii russkogo literaturnogo iazyka (St. Petersburg: Akademicheskii proekt, 1999), 305. Compare this to Pushkin’s letter to Viazemsky of 1 July 1831: “they [the Poles] must be smothered, and our slowness is a torture. For us the uprising of Poland is a family business, an ancient, hereditary discord, we cannot judge it by the European impressions, no matter what our outlook can otherwise be.” A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobraniie sochinenii v 16-ti tomakh (Moscow-Leningrad: Izd-vo AN SSSR, 1941), 14: 169.

[49] The decision to let the rebels perish was motivated by Stalin’s desire to weaken Polish resistance and guarantee the transfer of power to the pro-Soviet Ljubljana Committee. See Robert Forczyk, Warsaw 1944: Poland’s Bid for Freedom (Oxford: Osprey, 2009).

[50] Felix Chuev, Molotov: Poluderzhavnyi vlastelin (Moscow: Olma-Press, 2000), 102.

[51] Karen Petrone, Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades: Celebrations in the Time of Stalin (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 129.

[52] Ibid., 128.

[53] Vladimir Veidle, “Pushkin i Evropa,” in Pushkin v emigratsii. 1937, ed. Vladimir Perelmuter (Moscow: Progress-Traditsiia, 1999), 268.

[54] Ibid., 259.

[55] During the war, some Pushkin sites, such as the Mikhailovskoe estate and the Lyceum in Tsarskoe Selo (Pushkin), were partially destroyed. The government allocated significant sums and manpower to restore these memorial places by the 150th anniversary of Pushkin’s birth. In 1949, the end of the restoration was celebrated along with the poet’s jubilee. Arkady Gordin wrote about the “resurrection” of the Mikhailovskoe reserve: “It became even more beautiful, even more Pushkinian [eshche bolee pushkinskim], than before the war” (Gordin, Pushkinskii zapovednik, 15). Photographs of destroyed Pushkin haunts were prominently
featured on exhibit in the restored museums.

[56] Pushkin’s description of the monument, “With an unruly head it soars, and in its shade it / Leaves Alexander’s Pillar low,” contained a cheeky reference to the fact that the face of the angel on top of the pillar was a sculptural portrait of Tsar Alexander. This detail and the ideological significance of the column is discussed, for example, in Andrew Baruch Wachtel and Ilya Vinitsky, “The Russian Idea: The Quest for National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Russian Culture,” chap. 4 in Russian Literature (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009), 89.

[57] Vasily Aksenov, Viktor Erofeev, Bulat Okudzhava, Aleksandr Galich, and scores of others referred to Pushkin as a writer who, deprived of his right to venture abroad, was able to cross the border in his imaginary and intertextual “travels.” Joseph Brodsky, like other poets of the Akhmatova circle, kept referring to Pushkin’s unattainable Europe in the poems written after he had been forced to emigrate. In “Performance” (“Predstavlenie”; 1986), his Pushkin in an aviator’s helmet, along with other grotesquely clad and semi-insane Russian writers, observes the destruction of Europe by the criminal, demoralized, and godless Russia. Andrei Siniavsky’s Strolls with Pushkin (Progulki s Pushkinym; 1966–68), which consists mostly of the author’s letters to his wife composed in a labor camp, promotes the idea of creative freedom that can arise and flourish under the conditions of spatial and ideological confinement.

[58] Sandler writes about the busts of Pushkin and Stalin placed side-by-side at the entrance to the newly opened Pushkin Museum on the Moika (Commemorating Pushkin, 108).

[59] Igor´ Shevelev, “Tragediia o rybake i rybke: Andrei Bitov o krizisakh Pushkina, teorii otnositel´ nosti i vsesoiuznoi perepisi tsarei,” Rossiiskaia gazeta, 5 April 2005, 7.

[60] The idea of correlation between Pushkin’s supremacy on the Russian literary Olympus and the Soviet “hierarchical model of order in all fields of endeavor” belongs to Karen Petrone, who, allegedly, follows Sheila Fitzpatrick’s line of thought. Petrone, Life has Become More Joyous, Comrades, 115; Fitzpatrick, The Cultural Front: Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992), 248–50.

[61] M. Ryl´skii, “V odnom riadu s nami,” Izvestiia, 5 June 1949, 2.

[62] Pushkin wrote “Bacchanal Song” (“Vakhicheskaia pesnia”) in September 1825 to commemorate the anniversary of his graduation from the Lyceum. As Sandler has noticed, the celebrations of 1937 quoted the poem’s last line, “Da zdravstvuet solntse, da skroetsia t´ma!” (Live, radiant day! Perish, darkness and night!), incessantly and defiantly, in complete denial of the dark experience of the Great Terror at hand (Commemorating Pushkin, 107–08.) Ryl´sky’s image of “the victory of light and reason” referred to that line as well as to the poem’s third stanza: “Hail, muses! Hail, reason!” (Da zdravstvuiut muzy, da zdravstvuet razum!). Pushkin, “Bacchanal Song,” trans. Irina Zheleznova, in The Complete Works of Alexander Pushkin, 1: 161.

[63] Mikhail L´vov, “Nash Pushkin,” Izvestiia, 5 June 1949, 2.

[64] “The Monument,” in The Complete Works of Alexander Pushkin, 251.

[65] George Gordon Byron, Don Juan (London: Kessinger Publishing, 2004), 498.

[66]Tikhimi, tiazhelymi shagami / V dom vstupaet Komandor…” “Shagi Komandora,” in Aleksandr Blok, Sobranie sochinenii v 6-ti tomakh (Leningrad: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1980), 2: 173.

[67]The Bronze Horseman, trans. Charles Johnston, in The Complete Works of Alexander Pushkin, 5: 309.

[68] Roman Jacobson, “The Statue in Pushkin Romantic Mythology,” in Language in Literature, ed. Krystyna Pomorska and Stephen Rudy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987), 326.

[69] Vsevolod Rozhdestvenskii, “Pushkinskii park,” Izvestiia, 26 April 1949, 3.

[70] “But fame has blown away like sand / Those dreams of secret satisfaction […].” “The Conversation of the Poet and the Bookseller,” trans. W. G. Cary, in The Complete Works of Alexander Pushkin, 2: 144.

[71] “Svetlana,” in Vasilii Zhukovskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem: V 20-ti tomakh (Moscow: Iazyki slavianskikh kul´tur, 2008), 3: 38.

[72] “They burned my toy town,” The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova, trans. Judith Hemschemeyer, ed. Roberta Reeder (Somerville, MA: Zephyr Press, 1990), 2: 286–87, 759. The two lines in parentheses are not included in Judith Hemschemeyer’s

[73] Denis Babichenko, “Stalin, Malenkov i delo leningradskikh zhurnalov,” Voprosy literatury, no. 3 (1993): 201–14.

[74] S. Petrov, “Blagorodnaia missiia sovetskoi literatury,” Sovetskoe studenchestvo, June–July 1946, 5, quoted in Anna Akhmatova, Requiem, ed. R. Timenchik (Moscow: MPI, 1989), 249.

[75] T. Trifonova, “Poeziia, vrednaia i chuzhdaia narodu,” in Akhmatova, Requiem, 249.

[76] Compare: “I my sokhranim tebia, russkaia rech´, velikoe russkoe slovo” (“Muzhestvo”); “Dlia nikh sotkala ia shirokii pokrov / Iz bednykh, u nikh zhe podslushannykh slov. / O nikh vspominaiu vsegda i vezde, / O nikh ne zabudu i v novoi bede, / I esli zazhmut moi izmuchennyi rot, / Kotorym krichit stomil´onnyi narod […]” (“Requiem”). In The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova, 2: 184–85.

[77] Pushkin, indeed, emblematized poetic posterity in the image of the poet’s “soul” outliving his “dust” (prakh): “Not all of me shall die! My secret lyre shall show it / And make my soul outlive the dust and fly decay. […] And every living tongue of man my name shall tell.” He did not, however, appeal in “The Monument” to future generations, as Pravda’s editorial of 10 February 1937, bluntly insisted (“In many of the poet’s works, it is possible to see his appeal to future generations. Simply recall, for instance, the striking poem ‘Monument.’”) The powerfulness of “The Monument” stemmed from its being an affirmation of, rather than a plea for, the poet’s immortality. “The Monument,” in The Complete Works of Alexander Pushkin, 3: 251; “The Glory of the Russian People,” Pravda, 10 February 1937, quoted in Epic Revisionism: Russian History and Literature as Stalinist Propaganda, ed. Kevin M. F. Platt and David Brandenberger (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006), 215–16.

[78] “The Glory of the Russian People,” in Platt and Brandenberger, eds., Epic Revisionism, 215.

[79] Elena Bragantseva, "Bratstvo," Izvestiia, 4 November 1945, 3.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Ibid.


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