05.12.2006 | Ivan Ampilogov

Heritage of obedience and freedom


An attempt to extend the relation between time and space to consciousness would of course be incorrect, and would, in the final analysis, be a dubious muddle of ontology and anthropology against a background of epistemological issues. However when a person feels albeit partially that he has come to grips with his horizon, the realm of his contemporaries, he begins to look beyond it, - and more often below, onto the earth. History becomes more attractive than publicist writings, just as a thick tome with time becomes more interesting than any cursorily glanced over single page. One has the urge to look to forebears, to delve deeper.

“Time is a wave, and space a whale”, Brodsky wrote. It can be extremely absorbing to gaze into the faces of contemporaries, but you soon feel a sense of limitation, whereas gazing at the faces of previous generations – that really is an unlimited occupation, at once sad and uplifting. It often happens that you know some characters from literature between, say, than your own living relatives, and often these characters in their human authenticity can surpass those in flesh and blood – a strange mystery. Frequently the atmosphere of a book is more authentic than the atmosphere here and now.

Born towards the end of the Soviet period, I experienced this feeling reading the chronicles of investigations and trials taking place in Leningrad at the beginning of the 1970s. However dissimilar the Soviet reality of that time might appear to that of the present day, they are in their inner stile and structure identical.  This  is the main impression from the collection of articles and material on the “Heifets Case” published by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.

Is it possible to say that the dissident thinking of the Soviet era and basic honesty in contemporary Ukraine were the same essential human quality? Probably yes if you see them as some inner idealistic impulse, but if previously the price for that was a court trial or emigration, now it is being suspected by those around you of social naivety. A difference in the intensity of emotions and drama of the events, but no more. And therefore that freedom from the stark fear of the state which we now enjoy, is that not too little from the outwardly impressive chances of the last 20 years, if the main thing has remained unchanged?  The grip of the courts and political police a little weakened, no need to go on ceremonial processions in the pouring rain and the chance to print your articles without restriction, and not in conspiratorial samizdat. These are the small freedoms of the contemporary member of the intelligentsia. The difference is in strength of feeling and will: then it was drama, now everyday sketch.

Mkhail Heifets at the beginning of his article “Brodsky and our generation” prepared by him for the first samizdat anthology of the poet’s work, and the reason for Heifets receiving a four year sentence, wrote that only Russians could judge Russian culture of the time, the opinion of Europeans on that issue being more often then not from the outset faulty. Is it that which makes it possible for me, living in an apparently more European society, to read this book without any intellectual discomfort?  I see people I know in extremely similar situations to those described.  We are just as absorbed with questions like “Who needs this?”, we also quite frequently wonder who would rat on us, and who not, we only don’t go running off to talk on important issues to the bathroom. A Marxist should be surprised – production and all your other relations have changed, but consciousness not, or practically not. Soviet life and contemporary Ukrainian (we well leave Russia aside) are identical most of all in their style of the absurd dissolved in them. Having become inured, observing our bustling contemporaries, in the images of the Soviet Union you see only one thing that is new, the absurdity is on a vaster scale. The essence remains, just as the monument to Lenin continues to greet those arriving at Crimean stations.

My brief career as a school teacher left me with a few strong impressions, not of students but of the teachers. One of these was the following: in the staffroom an older geography teacher was lecturing the mother of a schoolboy for giving him too much money to spend in the school canteen. The teacher thought that the mother should herself bake buns [pirozhki] and give them to her son for lunch. “Yes, yes, buy a kilogram of flour, prepare the dough and bake them! Do you hear me, or do you need me to write you a recipe?” she yelled at the unhappy woman who was listening to her PASSIVELY and APOLOGETICALLY.  “And will you eat your mother’s buns, Seryozha? Yes?  So don’t let me see you in the canteen again!”  The boy look at his mother and fearfully nodded, also convinced of his wrongdoing and that of his mother’s, which he a minute before had never suspected. A lesson in submission to a pathetic school system, the idiocy of the reason for it, a lesson in humiliation of his family by a hysterical woman adopting the role of leader will surely always remain.

Is my memory, the memory of my new generation not also burdened with that kind of experience? We were still pioneers, our photographs still hung on reddish stands, our worthy teachers already gave us heart-to-heart talks about “telling about our comrades”. “So, pioneer Sergei, come to the front and tell the class why your mother didn’t iron your tie today? What is she thinking of? What can you say in her defence?”  Why is there such a small difference between the collective condemnation of a pioneer sinning by forgetting the patronymic of Marat Kazei which I remember distinctly and the idiotic contemporary “only mama’s buns”?

Why is the progress in ideas and views so pitiful? Why is parents’ obedience so easily passed on to their poor children? Why is this submissiveness so understandable to Russians, and seems so Russian that only we are allowed to discuss it?

Recommend this post

forgot the password




send me a new password

on top