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Little `openness' for Soviets in West. Glasnost and 'emigr'e writers

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ALONG with eager optimism in the West about the policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), a great deal of criticism has been leveled against them. Much of it has come from Soviet 'emigr'es. Recently, seven 'emigr'e writers spoke to the Monitor about glasnost. The interviews were conducted individually, by telephone; the writers spoke mostly from their homes. Joseph Brodsky, Yuz Aleshkovsky, Sergei Dovlatov, and Vassily Aksyonov live in the United States, Vladimir Voinovich makes his home in West Germany, and Edward Limonov and Dimitry Savitsky are in Paris.

The circumstances of their coming to the West differ as much as their degree of notoriety as writers. Wide gulfs separate them in style and subject matter as writers.

But they have one basic similarity: They have all left their homeland - usually under unfavorable, even scandalous circumstances - to start new lives as ideologically free writers.

In speaking, these writers were quick to point out that they feel that something very significant is happening in the Soviet Union today. Many, though, cite censorship and strict adherence to ideology as impediments to total openness. Their reactions to the subject ranged from apathy to concern, from humor to disgust. Their own prospects for publication and acceptance in their homeland, they see as dim. They are actively writing in the West, for their audiences here. Glasnost, so far, is not for 'emigr'es.

Widely recognized in the United States and in his native Russia as a leading modern poet, Joseph Brodsky commented that glasnost derives from the word golos, meaning voice. It literally means an announcement or publicity. Indeed, much fanfare has accompanied the publication of once-forbidden works. But about this excitement, Brodsky says, ``This literature belongs to the nation. It belongs to the people, and it was stolen. So the thief returns it. Why should I be grateful to the thief?''

In the Soviet Union, glasnost has meant the ``rehabilitation'' of dead writers and poets. They include Nabokov, Tsvetayeva, Khodasevich, Gumilyov, and Platonov. There is also the appearance in fiction of rarely seen themes such as corruption and social alienation. The recent publication of Rybakov's ``Children of the Arbat,'' about Stalin's terror, after many years was a breakthrough.


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