Farewell to Yevtushenko

Dear Readers:

I have some very interesting posts for you coming up in the next week or so.  My colleague Lyttenburgh has written a fascinating essay on “Futurology”, which I will publish in 4 parts, starting tomorrow.  According to our plan, the sections will not be consecutive, however, but will be interspersed with other stories.  So, please stay tuned!

In the meantime, as I prepare myself to edit Lyt’s opus, just a quickie for today, but a very sad one.  The Russian poet Evgeny Yevtushenko has died, yesterday, from cancer, at the age of 85.

Yevtushenko as a young poet

The sombre news was communicated to the media by a family friend, Mikhail Morgulis.  If I have the correct person, then this Morgulis is a noted Russian-Ukrainian Christian theologian who lives in Chicago.  Yevtushenko has also resided in the U.S. since 1991.  It is not stated in this piece in which city or hospital he died; however, it is noted that his body will be returned to Moscow for burial, according to Yevtushenko’s own wishes.

According to Yevtushenko’s son, Evgeny Junior, the poet suffered from an incurable form of cancer.  He was diagnosed 6 years ago.  At that time, he had an operation, and part of one kidney was removed.  This allowed him to live a few more years until his latest relapse, on March 12, at which point he was hospitalized and diagnosed as a Stage IV.  This is the final stage before death.

A more elderly Yevtushenko

His doctors gave him 3 months to live, he was supposed to live at least until June; but he barely even made it even a third of that amount of time, and died yesterday, on April 1, 2017.

In spite of everything, the poet died quickly, peacefully, and almost painlessly.  His son was with him at his bedside and held his hand the whole time.  Memorials for Yevtushenko will be held, both in the U.S. and in Russia.  Hopefully the memorials will focus on the poet’s life and what he accomplished.  It must be a horrible thing to die of cancer, and nobody really wants to be remembered for that.

The Babiy Yar ravine, Kiev, Ukraine

A brief tribute from me:  People who know me and understand my political views, might find it odd that I respect one such as Yevtushenko.   I won’t say that I idolized him.  As a poet, he was a master technician, but there are other Russian and Soviet poets whose works I prefer.  My respect for Yevtushenko is for his craftsmanship, indeed; but mainly for his personal courage in raising uncomfortable issues.  At a period of time when it did actually take courage to speak out.  Not courage in the sense that anybody risked their actual lives or a stint in the Gulag.  But there was indeed some “professional” risk to their careers, just like in any society, when certain mavericks don’t just “go with the flow”, and they might not get the jobs or the publishing contracts that they need.

“But wasn’t he just one of those anti-Soviet liberasts?  A proto-kreakl like that idiot Makarevich?”  people ask.

Yes and no.  I will stipulate to the fact that Yevtushenko was a “liberal” in the Soviet period, although not going all the way to being a pro-Westie “dissident”.

“Isn’t it suspicious that he was lionized by Westies?  Is that by itself not sufficient to condemn him as a Westie collaborator?”

No and no.  He was a liberal, yes, but he wasn’t a collaborator.

“But what about the … er…. Jewish issue?  Didn’t he help the Westies, inadvertently or not, in their campaign to demonize the Soviet Union as an anti-Semitic hellhole and to promote Zionist geo-political interests?”

Again, no.  Some people including Zionists, may have used him for that purpose, but I do not believe this was the poet’s intent.  My reading of Yevtushenko’s most famous work is different from that of Westies.  For example, here is the typical Westie interpretation:

In 1961, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, a renowned Russian Soviet poet, published his own epic poet Babiy Yar in a leading Russian periodical, in part to protest the Soviet Union’s refusal to recognize Babi Yar as a Holocaust site. The anniversary of the massacre was still observed in the context of the Great Patriotic War throughout the 1950s and 60s; the code of silence about what it meant for the Jews was broken only in 1961, with the publication of Yevtushenko’s Babiyy Yar, in Literaturnaya Gazeta.  The poem was controversial because the poet denounced both Soviet historical revisionism and still-common anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union of 1961.  “[I]t spoke not only of the Nazi atrocities, but also of the Soviet government’s own persecution of Jewish people.”

The poet paying his respect to Jewish victims of the Holocaust

Just about every word in that wiki is a lie, including the words “the” and “a”.  For starters, there was no “official” anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union of 1961.  Informal “street” anti-Semitism, like people on the bus calling you names?  Sure.  Official anti-Semitism as in official discrimination?  No.  Not one bit.  I have debated this point many times with many people, and they cannot prove that I am wrong on this point.

But putting all of that aside, my own interpretation of the matter is this:  The official Soviet government had many reasons, some of them even good ones, to not harp on massacres such as Babiy Yar.  Otherwise, more people would learn the truth:  That it was not just foreign invaders, the Nazis, who murdered ordinary Soviet people who happened to be Jewish.  That the murderers were also Ukrainians, and other ethnic groups.  When they invaded the Soviet Union, the Germans were frankly surprised to encounter so many traitors and eager collaborators, and in such high numbers, that, in a way, one could almost — almost — describe this invasion as partially a civil war.  At least in certain regions, and among certain ethnic groups.  And all of these ethnic types were more than eager to help kill Jews.  There were many reasons for that, for which I have no time here.  Suffice it to say, that hating Jews is a huge part of what haters do.  Haters hated then, and they go on hating, to this very day.  And, once again, I’m talking about ordinary Jewish people.  I’m not talking about the State of Israel, which is a whole other ball of wax; and which didn’t even exist when the Babiy Yar haters were doing their thing.

After the war, Soviet people had to focus on rebuilding their families and communities.

Long story short:  Once the German invaders were driven out, the Soviet government was faced with the horrific facts on the ground:  That a sizable chunk of their own citizens helped the Nazis kill Jews in very large numbers.  What is a reasonable government supposed to do at the end of a brutal war that killed untold millions and destroyed the nation’s entire infrastructure?  Keep inflaming passions among the various ethnic groups?  Or try to smooth things over and pretend that certain things just didn’t happen?  It’s like in a dysfunctional family where the grown-ups decide to sweep the awkward skeletons under the rug.

But, as in every dysfunctional family, there is usually one maverick, usually a rebellious child, who steps up and demands that the truth be shoved into Mom and Dad’s faces.  Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?  It depends on your point of view.  Being a rebel myself, I tend to side with the rebel.  The truth-teller.  Although, as I get older and wiser, I can start to see the other side too.  The need to maintain social peace and social cohesion.  That not every social or political issue needs to be rammed down every person’s throat 24/7.  Some people aren’t even interested in any of that:  They just want to raise their families and live ordinary lives.

Над Бабьим Яром памятников нет.
Крутой обрыв, как грубое надгробье.
Мне страшно.
Мне сегодня столько лет,
как самому еврейскому народу….

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This entry was posted in Breaking News, Human Dignity, Russian History, Russian Literature and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Farewell to Yevtushenko

  1. Lyttenburgh says:

    I will be brief on Yevtushenko.

    One – he died in foreign country, not in Russia (Tulsa, Oklahoma according to the news, where his wife is a professor). Even Solzhenitsyn died here.

    Two – despite active efforts by our Powers That Be to re-introduce Yevtushenko into the mainstream cultural narrative he didn’t “catch on” in the poeple mentality. All his numerous (re)-appearances on central (obligatory – Kremlin owned(c)) TV channels resulted in nothing.

    Three – I have not beef with Yevtushenko for “Babi Yar” poem. No, I have nothing but disrespect for him for “Танки идут по Праге” (1968), verses about You Know What. He was a voiceful proponent of Perestroika, Yeltsin and de-Stalinization. He stupidly, unironicly was fighting “For Yours and Ours Freedom”. In the end he become reviled both by the dissidents and by the “Regime”.

    In the end – a poet died yesterday. Let the human memory be his judge.

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    • yalensis says:

      Yeah, I stipulated that Yevtushenko was a liberal in his bones. That was the reason why I never particularly cared for him.
      Full disclosure: my attitude towards this poet only warmed up in recent years when I started “debating” on internet blogs against reprehensible Jew-haters. At that time I developed my ALT-interpretation of Babiy Yar and how it could be used against the Ukrainians.
      My interpretation could be wrong — literary criticism is not an exact science — but I think it is valid.
      Also, I don’t see Yevtushenko as completely egregious unlike, say, Solzhenitsyn, who was basically a fascist. And I don’t give Solzh that many points for returning to Russia; nor do I subtract a lot of points from Yev for his choice of residence: He moved to the U.S. in 1991 when things were tough in Russia; and then he built a new life for himself in America. I would be a hypocrite to condemn him for that, since I myself live in the U.S. Yev had numerous opportunities to defect during the Soviet period — he could have been a poetic version of Baryshnikov, and the Westies would have lionized him for it. But he didn’t defect, he waited until the Titanic was actually sinking. So, I give him some extra points for that.
      Plus, at the end, Yev asked to be returned to Moscow for burial!

      Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why ordinary Russians don’t want to have this liberal poet crammed down their throats — he peaked in the 1960’s and long ago ceased being relevant for his intended purpose. That’s true.

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    • yalensis says:

      P.S. – I almost forgot to comment on the ТАНКИ ИДУТ ПО ПРАГЕ poem.

      Well, it’s typical Yevtushenko: A finely-calibrated criticism of the 1968 Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia. He’s angry, but doesn’t cross the line. The poem couldn’t find a publisher in regular media, so he had to circulate it in samizdat, and he didn’t get paid for it. Soviet poets usually got paid by the word, if I understand correctly.


      Что разбираться в мотивах
      моторизованной плетки?
      Чуешь, наивный Манилов,
      хватку Ноздрева на глотке?

      (…)

      Like

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