Currents of nationalism, dissent beneath crust of communist conformity
Between gilt mirrors and the glowing colors of priceless icons hung painting after oil painting of the czars: Catherine II looking like a latter-day Queen Victoria, beshawled and plump . . . a stern Alexander I in resplendent uniform . . . Paul I, Catherine's son, whose sensitive, wide-eyed look belied a passion for precise military drill by his Army . . . Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great. . . .Skip to next paragraph
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Down they stared from ornate frames topped by imperial crowns at a scene that itself looked like the painting: the drawing room of a Russian nobleman of the 19th century, perhaps, rich, disheveled, emotionally charged.
The room was crowded with French empire-style furniture fashioned in mottled birchwood from Karelia, on the Finnish border, embossed and decorated in brass. Antiques stood everywhere, from tall-legged occasional tables to massive sideboards.
There was hardly room for four people, let alone the eight squeezed around the circular table dominating the center of the room; the table was supported by a single pedestal adorned with Egyptian-like goddesses with brass wings.
Death masks of two Russian herois -- Gogol and Pushkins -- hung like icons. A life-size marble bust of pushkin stood on an inlaidd chest. Across the room was an oil painting of his predecessor, Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin, Russian's greatest 18th-century poet, who wept when hearing the younger man's verse for the first time. Candelabra glittered. MEtal icons in gold and silver reflected their light in a hundred facets. Bronze eagles, frozen in the moment of landing , spread their wings on the armrests of a huge empire couch.
All the room needed to complete the sense of Russian history and tradition was a black-robed Russian Orthodox priest . . . and no, in he came, his wife dressed in black a few paces behind. His name: Fr. Giorgy, from a city in the Urals. His robe, his long beard and shoulder- length gray hair, the heavy metal-and-glass cross dangling from his neck, blended into the outpouring of Russian cultural identity around him.
To a Western like me, to sit at that table, to listen to the priest expound on his family tree (he claimed to trace it back through 600 years of Russian nobility to Prince Dmitri Donskoi in the 14th century), to watch the owner of the apartment, the nonstop and controversially successful painter. Ilya Sergeyevich Glazunov, hurry in and out as he juggled three separate groups of guests in different rooms -- all this was to feel that Russians, Slavic history and tradition still lived amid the atheism and totalitarianism of the Soviet Union today.
Glazunov sees himself, his art, his supporters in and out of the Communist Party, and men like Alexander Solzhenitsyn who share his messianic belief in Russian, as opposed to Soviet ideals, as cutting edges of a revival of Slav patriotism and culture.
"Millions think as I do, and I speak for them," he says. While he may be exaggerating, he does seem to represent a growing phenomenon in the Soviet Union as it has evolved 63 years after the revolution of 1917: a search by Russians for Russian roots - a search that rejects the cold, angular brand of materialism represented by the Communist Party.
His own carrier is full of twists and turns, of both acceptance and rejection by the party, of valleys of despair and peaks of triumph. It is a nonstop roller coaster of tension, travel, and hard work. It mirrors the challenge he and his ideas pose to the ruling party Politburo, which is torn between its own pride in Russianness (10 of its 14 members are Russian nationals) and its rccognition that the powerful emotions unloosed by the pre-1917 past must be strictly controlled if they are not to lead to an undermining of the party and its monopoly on political, economic, and military power.
The Politburo moves first this way, then that, as it tries to harness pride in the Russian past to its own strategems. Its aim is to use the pride as a way of conferring legitimacy on itself to present the party and its sterile ideology as the heir to all that was good and progressive in the past.