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Soviet Union


Since the 1930s, the regime has regulated literary expression through socialist realism. In spite of the brief literary thaw during the late 1950s, throughout the Brezhnev period writers endured a reemphasis of Stalinist constraints over their works. Traditional ways of thinking and of viewing history no longer applied to many parts of literature, however, once Gorbachev assumed power.

The ferment inspired a creativity not witnessed since Khrushchev's literary thaw. Books began to treat conflicts faced by real human beings and to portray critical and poignant topics theretofore banned. Poets such as Evgenii Evtushenko and Andrei Voznesenskii, who had receded into the background from the mid1960s to the mid-1980s, were again able to espouse their desire for a more humane society, uncovering the truth about the past and seeking greater freedom for the arts. Previously banned themes began to appear for the first time since the 1920s. Conservative elements persisted in some literary circles, however, and in the late 1980s some bans on literary themes remained in effect.

A limited degree of freer expression on topics dealing with societal changes was permitted between Brezhnev's death and Gorbachev's rise to power. For example, in 1983 Andropov allowed the publication in book form of Chingiz Aitmatov's, The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years. In this novel, Aitmatov, a native of the Kirgiz Republic, confronts such historical themes as the brutal Stalinist period, social and moral turpitude, and nationality tensions in the Soviet Union. In the novel, he treats tensions between Russians and non-Russians from a Central Asian perspective. This book, however, stands alone.

Chernenko reintroduced strict bans on critical and innovative works. One example concerns Sergei Zalygin's (editor in chief of Novyi mir) novel After the Storm, which appeared shortly after Chernenko's death. During Chernenko's rule, the second half of the novel had been withheld from publication without explanation.

Under Gorbachev, literary treatment of such topics as alcohol and drug addiction, juvenile delinquency, religious subjects (including references to God), historical reassessments of previous leaders, and even harsh criticisms of past leaders have been approved, provided they contained the prescribed amount of support for the regime. Yet in the late 1980s, editors continued to uphold the party creed to prevent works containing unsanctioned views from reaching the public. In 1988 books almost never contained material on or made reference to "anti-Soviet émigrés" or defectors, anticommunist foreign literature, pornographic topics, or "underground" works--referred to as samizdat (see Glossary) if self-published in the country or tamizdat if published abroad.

Gorbachev's policy of openness also contributed to more lively discussions among members of the Union of Writers. Controversy erupted at the Eighth Congress of the Union of Writers during the summer of 1986, where the majority of speeches centered on hotly disputed topics. Speeches by Voznesenskii and Evtushenko criticized the neglect shown by the regime toward some of the Soviet Union's most talented writers, and they advocated support for publication of their works. Thus, by 1988 the journal Novyi mir had published Pasternak's novel Doctor Zhivago in four installments. In addition, at Voznesenskii's behest, the Union of Writers approved the selection of such nondelegates as the famous poet Bella Akhmadulina, the writer and balladeer Bulat Okudzhava, and the firebrand writer Iurii Chernichenko to membership on the union's administrative board. Finally, the writers' congress witnessed the changing of the guard as Vladimir Karpov, a survivor of Stalinist labor camps, replaced the conservative Georgii Markov as first secretary of the Union of Writers.

At the congress, ethnic confrontations also arose between Russian and non-Russian authors; opposition was voiced against bureaucratic publishing roadblocks; and vehement demands were made favoring a reevaluation of Soviet history. Conservative views, however, also appeared. Sergei Mikhalkov, the first secretary of the Russian Republic's writers' union and a declared opponent of Gorbachev's openness policy, cautioned against "parasites" who lack a direct relation to literature and others who espouse overly liberal views. In addition, Nikolai Gribachev, a conservative writer, advocated a return to "classic Soviet writers," especially Maksim Gor'kiy, associated with "proletarian populism," and Aleksei N. Tolstoi, a supporter of "Russian nationalism." The conservatives highlighted the importance of nationalism and the legacy of socialist realism's emphasis on the "positive hero." Nationalistic defenses prompted another conservative writer, Aleksandr Prokhanov, to criticize the emergence of the "new social type" of individual in literature, an ideologically apathetic citizen overly sympathetic to the West.

Nevertheless, at the Eighth Congress of the Union of Writers, the liberals gained ground and secured a number of dramatic changes. After much lobbying by prominent writers and poets, including Evtushenko and Voznesenskii, the liberal and conservative elements of the writers' union reached agreement in mid-1988 to turn Peredelkino, Pasternak's former home, into an official museum. The Eighth Congress also served as a harbinger for loosening the censorship restrictions on the publication of several politically charged novels. Among these works were Anatolii Rybakov's penetrating Children of the Arbat, which offered insights into the origins of Stalinism, and Vasilii Grossman's Life and Fate, which drew historical comparison between Stalinism and Nazism. The late 1980s ushered in the way for poet Tat'iana Tolstaia, the granddaughter of the Soviet writer Aleksei Tolstoi (1882-1945), to publish. Known for her dramatic realism about death in ordinary people's lives, Tolstaia saw her publications appear in Oktiabr' and Novyi mir and won great acclaim, even though the Union of Writers continued to exclude her.

Data as of May 1989

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