Notes from the picket lines
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Grigory has written several articles on the history of Leningrad - articles that lay in his desk drawer at home until last year. Now they are published in the Leningrad papers. He is asked to give lectures and slide shows at civic organizations and in the assembly halls of industrial plants. In spite of the still-rigid controls on publishing, he has started a typescript magazine. If it is not yet allowed to benefit from a printing press or even a photocopy machine for its dissemination, it is at least now registered with the National Copyright Office. This is no underground affair. The five or 10 copies of every issue circulate rapidly across a whole network of Leningraders who share an avid interest in their city and devote an enormous amount of energy to maintaining it. Every Saturday afternoon they meet in the auditorium of a hydroelectric plant, under the auspices of the Center for Creative Initiative, to hear lectures and plan strategy.Skip to next paragraph
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The action to save Delvig's house from the subway coalesced this group in its wake. Next they protected the house where Dostoyevsky wrote the ``White Nights'' stories by staging two events. One was a tour of Dostoyevsky's St. Petersburg, leaving from the threatened house. It was led by a professor of Russian literature at Leningrad University who is lovingly familiar with the broad avenues, apartments, churches, and street corners that figured in Dosto-yevsky's life and in the lives of the characters he created. The second event was an exhibition of avant-garde art displayed in the courtyard of the ``White Nights'' house. Interested people from around the city came in 10-degree weather to look at the paintings, and neighboring residents served tea.
Despite their success so far, Grigory's group is anything but complacent. They are not satisfied, for example, with their handling of the press. The Muscovites did better. Although the Leningrad tour was televised and its organizer interviewed, the report did not mention his affiliation to any organized movement. He was identified only as an employee of the Leningrad museum.
THE Leningrad version of the televised debate with state architects was not so decisive as its Moscow prototype, either. Therefore, the group's aims now include publicizing its activities more effectively; also increased participation by factories and other industrial organizations, which have already donated assembly halls, spare construction materials, and the expertise of their employees. Tactics up to now have exploited the relaxed and exciting atmosphere of recent months. The group has written letters to the editors of newspapers criticizing various government agencies; members have met and argued with the directors of state and city Commissions for the Preservation of Historical Monuments; they have collected parishioners' names on a petition begging for permission to reconsecrate a neighborhood church. They have even sent letters and telegrams of protest to General Secretary Gorbachev.
Grigory and his friends look toward a new Soviet Union, where actions like these will not seem so extraordinary. Yet their aspirations are not simplistic: Several motifs are intertwined. This new Soviet Union, they say, cannot move forward divorced from its Russian past. What they most resent about the post-Revolutionary ferver of the '20s and '30s is its need to exorcise the past, to destroy, utterly, before creating. By contrast, they hope to restore while creating. So they search out churches and revere old poets, while writing rock-and-roll music and exhibiting avant-garde art.
They are not impervious to the words of older Soviets and Western wags: ``We have seen promise before. How long will it last this time?'' They know about short-lived reform. What they are trying to do, they say, is carry the changes to the point where some of them, anyway, will be irrevocable. They are trying to plant something that cannot be torn up.
Perhaps little is ever irrevocable in the Soviet Union; perhaps reform is always just cosmetic. Nevertheless, there is something impressive in this movement that unites a strategic analyst from Moscow and a chemical engineer from Leningrad in their passionate concern to recover their past for the future - to root their young plant in Russian culture and heritage. As I stood that night in the door of a Leningrad church, I was struck by the building's cool baroque exterior contrasted with its almost Byzantine interior; bronze plaques shaped like suns blazed from every pillar; votive candles illuminated every icon. A few rows of people were praying to the rich medieval harmony of a hidden chorus.