Saving Baikal

As we’ve discovered in this course, Russia is a treasure trove of natural resources. Spanning nine time-zones and two continents, much of Russia’s wilderness was relatively untouched until the 20th century. Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake was surprisingly subject to decades of abuse, starting with the First Five Year Plan in 1928 and industrialization under Stalin. Russia struggled to catch up with the industrial revolution and Siberia with its’ wealth of natural resources was the starting point. However, “oil and mineral exploration, large-scale lumbering, military and prison populations all put the Siberian environment under stress. The assumption that a space so vast could absorb unlimited pollution eventually proved false.”

Ever Since They Built the Chemical Factory Here, All the Fish Have Been Giving Black Caviar
Source: I. P. Abramskii: Vragi i druz’ia v zerkale Krokodila, 1922-1972. Moscow: Pravda. 1972.

This large-scale destruction of Lake Baikal and the surrounding areas allowed environmentalists to protest the government’s actions directly without fear of persecution. The protection of the environment was not seen as a political issue by the government and was thus allowed to occur, “Local scientists, writers, fishermen, and ordinary citizens banded together to fight the Baikal plant, and ignited an environmental movement throughout the country. Environmentalism provided a forum for ideas that were otherwise unacceptable in Soviet discourse.” An article from 1977 shows how the relationship between the Russian State and Lake Baikal is a delicate one. Using the natural resources the lake can provide can easily turn into exploitation, which could have permanently damaged the environment and eventually the Russian economy.

Baikal Shoreline (1980)

“The protection of this cup of crystal-pure, amazingly transparent water, the deepest lake on the planet, is worth any expense. And the state is sparing none. V. Kalinichev, USSR Deputy Minister of Railroads and Chief of the BAM Board of Directors, cites an impressive fact. It had been planned to lay the rails of the Baikal-Amur Main Line right next to the lake shore. ‘Close proximity to the railroad will be dangerous for the lake,’ scientists warned. They were heeded. The route now passes through the mountains, far from the shore. The main line will be lengthened by dozens of kilometers, and four additional headland tunnels will have to be dug. Otherwise, the “glorious sea” will be in danger …”

After all of the years that Stalin destroyed the wilderness in the name of industrialization, scientists and environmentalists alike seemed to convince the government that the disappearance of Lake Baikal would be detrimental to the country as a whole. Russia depended on the natural resources that Siberia, and Lake Baikal in turn, had to offer. Luckily, the quick thinking of environmentalists made their voices heard and saved Baikal and the surrounding areas before too much permanent damage was done. This period in time was one of learning, one where the government had to balance the new practice of industrial planning and the traditional ways of living that Russians developed over hundreds of years.

Sources: –> Source: Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXX, No. 40 (1977), pp. 7-8; Vol. XXXII, No. 36, pp. 9-10.

Moral Code of the Builder of Communism

In class on Thursday, I was part of a group that was assigned an article written in 1966 by a G. Mirsky. Though it was a tough read at first, my group was able to pick out some really important facets that the author only skimmed over. One of the most interesting things we extracted from the article was that socialism is not a system that can be used in Russia, it can be universally relevant. When we were prompted to look on the Seventeen Moments modules, I was drawn immediately to the module titled “Moral Code of the Builder of Communism.” This simple document had 12 items that outlined all the principles that the government leaders believed would lead to a better society, “Communist morality was supposed to replace coercion as a means of ensuring political and social stability and economic growth; it required political loyalty, hard work, and the proper conduct of private life.” The first tenet reinforced their cause to spread socialism throughout the world, which was most widely received in growing African countries.

The text was presented at the 22nd Party Congress in 1961; here are the 12 tenets:

  • Devotion to the communist cause, love toward the socialist Motherland and to socialist countries
  • Conscientious labor for the good of society: he who does not work shall not eat
  • Concern of all for the preservation and growth of public property
  • High consciousness of public duty, intolerance towards the violation of public interests
  • Collectivism and comradely mutual aid; one for all and all for one
  • Humane relations and mutual respect among people; man is to man a friend, comrade, and brother
  • Honesty and truthfulness, moral purity, simplicity and modesty in social and personal life
  • Mutual respect in the family, concern for the upbringing of children.
  • Intolerance towards injustices, parasitism, dishonesty, careerism and money-grubbing.
  • Friendship and brotherhood of the peoples of the USSSR, intolerance towards national and racial hatred
  • Intolerance towards the enemies of communism, peace, and freedom of nations
  • Fraternal solidarity with the working people of all countries and with all peoples

From the Mirsky article, it seemed that there may have been a degree of hesitation to adapt to this system, but the creation of this code wanted to cement the fact that socialism under Khrushchev (or anyone else) was not Stalinism. Stalinism was an unfortunate period that really gave socialism a bad reputation on the international scene. However, socialist Russia wanted to reinforce that as the “socialist Motherland,” they would look out for all the younger countries that were testing the waters. The weight of Stalinism was slowly wearing off and the 22nd PC was the beginning of a new era, “it signalled a new and open offensive against Stalinsm.” The reconfiguration of this code had a huge impact on the way policies were conducted from then on.

Lack of private space in cramped apartments forced young people into public spaces to exchange their expressions of affection. Illustration from Aleksandr Vampilov’s “The Park Bench.”

However, the introduction goes on to mention that these new morals were sometimes only practiced in part or just disregarded completely. As always, the Soviet population rebelled in whatever way possible, twisting the words of the code to gain advantages as an individual rather than promoting the cause of the collective. The introduction of the code led to citizens gaining more privacy, something that was unheard of under Stalin. Some members of society saw this as a new chance and life and didn’t agree with this new code,

“Eager to shed the Stalinist doctrine of collectivism, we realized that each of us has a right to privacy.

That was the time of our awakening.

We had no leaders and no teachers. All we could do was learn from each other. To us, the thaw was the time to search for an alternative system of beliefs. Our new beliefs would be truly ours; having gone through Stalinism once, we could not stand for another “progressive” doctrine being imposed on us from above.”

It would prove difficult for the government to move away from such a structured system, especially when it had been in place for a number of decades. The code seemed to be a good starting point for Khrushchev and the party members.


Freeze, p. 426

To The (Literary) Limit

The years after Khrushchev’s Secret Speech at the 20th Party Congress not only opened up a literary void that needed to be filled, but also showed how the government was still defrosting from Stalin’s death just three years prior. While Khrushchev denounced all of the actions Stalin had taken in his years as a leader, writers began to see more opportunities to push the limits previously put in place under Stalin. This was a changing society and Boris Pasternak, a Soviet poet and novelist, took advantage of it and crafted one of his most famous (and infamous) works, Doctor Zhivago, that would make him known around the world. One important thing to take away from this post is that the Russian government still wasn’t entirely ready to let go of the rigid policies that Stalin enforced. These years after Stalin’s death were known as The Thaw, a (slow) reversal of Stalinism.

As Seventeen Moments notes, both before and after Stalin, Pasternak was forced to translate other great literary works in order to make a living, his genius consistently suppressed by  Stalinism. Pasternak’s novel was extremely controversial, one that he had been writing in secret for years, waiting only for the right moment to have it published.  The novel denounced many of the things that Stalin put in place during his reign, much like Khrushchev said in his Secret Speech. Doctor Zhivago was surprisingly rejected by the Novyi mir, a Russian Literary magazine. In order to get the novel published, Pasternak knew he would have to go outside of the Soviet Union. An Italian publisher agreed to do the job, despite Russian demands that the novel could be returned. The government wished to avoid any kind of scandal, but the publication of the novel in 1957 crushed any hopes of a peaceful resolution.

Unknown Source; Portrait of Poet Boris Pasternak by Iurii Annenkov, 1921

It seems that it was easy for the Russian population to hear a single speech denounce Stalin and his actions, but Khrushchev also made the speech knowing that these changes would not happen overnight: “… [he] made clear that the ‘thaw’ did not mean artistic freedom.” (Freeze, 429) Therefore, Pasternak was forced into seclusion, not wanting to alienate the Russian government any further, despite already being accused of treason. The anger reached such a fever pitch that he was forced to reject the Nobel Prize he rightly won in 1958. A telegram from 1959 discusses what Pasternak should do with money from the Norwegian publication of Doctor Zhivago: A D. Polikarpov says, “I think that Pasternak should refuse receipt of money from the Norwegian bank. I am asking for permission to express this point of view.” It’s later noted that Pasternak refused the money, which he originally intended to donate a portion to a fund that assists elderly writers. Pasternak could have be extremely influential in the cultivation of a new literary movement in Russia, but it seemed that a majority of government officials desperately clung to the rules they had known for decades. It’s a shame that Pasternak’s genius could not be celebrated during his life and that he had to reject one of the highest honors a poet can receive just because his country’s government wasn’t ready to see eye-to-eye.

His poem, Nobel Prizeis particularly moving. It shows how distressed and saddened he was to be caught up in these persecutions long after Stalin’s reign ended.

Like a beast in a pen, I’m cut off
From my friends, freedom, the sun,
But the hunters are gaining ground.
I’ve nowhere else to run.

Dark wood and the bank of a pond,
Trunk of a fallen tree.
There’s no way forward, no way back.
It’s all up with me.

Am I a gangster or murderer?
Of what crime do I stand
Condemned? I made the whole world weep
At the beauty of my land.

Even so, one step from my grave,
I believe that cruelty, spite,
The powers of darkness will in time
Be crushed by the spirit of light.

The beaters in a ring close in
With the wrong prey in view,
I’ve nobody at my right hand,
Nobody faithful and true.

And with such a noose on my throat
I should like for one second
My tears to be wiped away
By someone at my right hand.

Boris Pasternak



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Freeze, Gregory, Russia: A History, p. 429


Literary Life at a Crossroads, 1956: