Russia ponders whether to turn its future over to the past

March 25, 1996|By WILLIAMS PFAFF

PARIS -- The power of myth over mind has caused a majority in Russia's parliament to denounce the 1991 agreement that dissolved the U.S.S.R. The action had no legal effect but expressed the popular, plausible, but perverse belief among Russians today that communist times were golden times.

The idea unites nationalist voters and the new Communists in Russia. The myth, and myth-making, that lie behind it provide a crucially interesting aspect of the affair.

It is an idea promoted by a book recently published by Vladimir Fedorovich Alliluyev, Stalin's youngest nephew (born in 1935). Called ''The Chronicle of a Family,'' the book offers an anecdotal description of the ruling family's life, together with the political message that Russia can regain greatness by a return to the Stalinist past.

In January, this book encountered an unexpected rebuttal -- from Stalin's own daughter, who wrote that her cousin's book inspired in her ''feelings of revulsion.'' In a long letter to the Russian literary paper Book Review, published on January 2, Svetlana Alliluyeva said that her cousin's ''loving idealization'' of her family amounted to ''a political tract whitewashing 70 years of Soviet history.''

A restless life

Miss Alliluyeva's denunciation of her cousin's book was of singular significance because of her personal history and the interpretation made of it in Russia today. She left Russia in 1967, a departure treated in the West as a sensational political defection. She subsequently settled and married in the United States, but was later divorced. She returned to Russia with her American-born daughter for two years, between 1984 and 1986, and now lives in England.

In Russia today, particularly in neo-Communist circles, the view dTC is widely put about that Miss Alliluyeva left the Soviet Union because she had fallen out of favor following her father's death. The claim is made that if the Soviet Union re-established a Stalinist-style regime, as her cousin wants, Svetlana would gladly come home. The cousin even approached her about helping him to get his book published in the West.

Her letter to Book Review said that she read her cousin's book ''with unbelieving eyes.'' She asks, ''Is this my young cousin whose father was arrested and died in prison -- only to be later rehabilitated? Is this the person whose mother spent six years -- I think it was -- in prison even though she was guilty of nothing -- was without political activity of any kind? Can this be the little Vladimir who grew up under the watch of Cheka, GPU, OGPU, NKVD, as did our whole long-suffering family?''

Vladimir Alliluyev's mother was the sister of Svetlana's mother. His father was a senior officer in the Cheka, the original Soviet secret police, and was a close associate of its founder, Felix Dzerzhinsky. He was involved in the brutal agricultural collectivization program of the late 1920s and early 1930s, when more than 5 million peasant households were eliminated, the survivors sent to forced labor in Siberia.

Mr. Alliluyev's father was purged by Stalin in 1938 and was shot. His mother was arrested by Stalin in 1949 and spent six years in solitary confinement. Nikita Khrushchev freed her after Stalin's death.

Svetlana Alliluyeva, in her letter, asks her cousin how he dares deny the existence of the suicide letter left behind ''by my innocent mother, who sacrificed her life to her husband's regime . . . . [Your] own mother, who was one of the first to see that letter, was the one who told me of its existence, and that it was full of horrible but true accusations against my father.'' She reproaches her cousin for repeating the official story that her mother's suicide (in 1932) resulted from mental illness.

She declares that Mr. Alliluyev's book is permeated with anti-Semitism and attacks his indifference to Jews who had been their friends, and for his venom toward individuals who had resisted the (anti-Semitic) ''anti-cosmopolitanism'' campaigns of the late 1940s.

''Horrible . . . nightmare''

She accuses her cousin -- an electronics technician -- of having provided family recollections and lent his name to an effort by others to create the conditions for taking power in Russia on the foundation of re-established Stalinist myths. ''What a horrible, frightening nightmare!''

Her letter was subsequently read in full on national radio in Russia, provoking a curious aftermath. At the beginning of February, The Times newspaper in London carried a report from Moscow saying that Miss Alliluyeva had become a Roman Catholic nun.

This is untrue, and the British press published a subsequent correction. The intent of the planted story was apparently to suggest that she was manipulated by enemies of the Russian Orthodox church, which in the country's current political confusion is illogically conflated with communism as an institution of the old, true Russia.

She is herself convinced that, as one of her friends in Russia has expressed it, ''a deadly battle is about to occur between those who want to reconstruct this country, and the supporters of the Soviet past . . . . It is difficult to say what the fate of various people will be, or how it will end, yet our lives depend on this. . . .''

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 3/25/96

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