Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

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

By Marcia L. De Sanctis / October 2, 1987

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.

Skip to next paragraph

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.

Why not, then, publish Solzhenitsyn's ``Gulag Archipelago''? Or does he have any chance of being published because he is in the West?

I put this question to Sergei Dovlatov, author of several novels, including ``The Compromise'' and a soon-to-be published collection of short stories about his family called ``Nashi.'' Dovlatov wasn't sure about Solzhenitsyn's chances. ``I think,'' he said, ``that maybe they might publish Solzhenitsyn. For propaganda.''

DOVLATOV feels that prospects in general for 'emigr'e writers are not that good. Though he agrees that glasnost is significant - writers in the Soviet Union are enjoying some creative liberties - he explained that 'emigr'es living in the West are the enemy, a threatening and potentially dangerous symbol of the West. To publish them is not a risk the Soviets are ready to take.

Dovlatov believes that as long as the Soviet Union is a one-party state, with official censorship, total glasnost is impossible. ``Gorbachev thinks Stalin was a bad censor and that he is a better one,'' Dovlatov said. ``But the whole idea of a censor is criminal and against culture. I hate all of them.'' Dovlatov's dream is that one day he will be published in the Soviet Union. He is 55 and never has been.