Slavonic item of the month : June 2014

The subject for June 2014 is Iurii Andropov, the Soviet head of state in the wake of Brezhnev’s death, who was born 100 years ago in June 1914.  When Andropov died nearly 70 years later, in February 1984, he had been in power for only 15 months. We look at two fictional works about him.

Cover of Iurii Teshkin's /Andropov i drugie/(Andropov and others; 9003.d.1849 )

Cover of Iurii Teshkin’s Andropov i drugie (Andropov and others; 9003.d.1849

Although Iurii Vladimirovich Andropov led the Soviet Union for only a short time, his was already a well-known name when he took power in late 1982.  He had been linked to the repression of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 (Andropov was the Soviet ambassador to Hungary from 1953 to 1956) and to other international military interventions such as the putting down of the Prague Spring in February 1968.  By 1968, Andropov had become the head of the KGB, a position he was to hold for 15 years.

On the basis of Andropov’s pre-leadership career, then, he was seen as a Soviet hawk – and one with a KGB background to boot.  Stories from his leadership, though, suggest a possibly more liberal side.  A search for Andropov Gorbachev on our LibrarySearch+ catalogue of electronic resources, for example, comes up with a hit for a Guardian article from 1991 which reports a revelation by a government aide that Andropov saw the progressive Gorbachev as his successor and not the conservative Chernenko.

The uncertainty of what Andropov might have achieved had he not died so quickly after coming to power might, then, explain why two of the University Library’s holdings about Andropov are works of fiction.

Iurii Teshkin’s Andropov i drugie (Andropov and others; 9003.d.1849) is described in its colophon as a documentary-fictional publication (descriptions like these are quite standard in Russian publishing and will be the subject of a future blog post).  The publisher’s blurb says:

Iu.A. Teshkin’s novel Andropov and others is a documentary-fictional work in which an attempt is made to look at Iu.V. Andropov differently – as an unorthodox, tragic, and also mystical character, not only because that character was the last of a stellar group of leaders, but also because an epoch died with it, followed by a new and extremely difficult one for all Russians.

The caption for this is: Cover of I.A. Minutko's /Bezdna : mif o Iurii Andropove/ (Abyss : myth about Iurii Andropov; 9002.d.8340 )

Cover of I.A. Minutko’s Bezdna : mif o Iurii Andropove (Abyss : myth about Iurii Andropov; 9002.d.8340

I.A. Minutko’s book Bezdna : mif o Iurii Andropove (Abyss : myth about Iurii Andropov; 9002.d.8340) is one in a series of books called Vozhdi v romanakh ([Soviet] leaders in novels) and is described in its colophon as a fictional publication.   The publishers’ introduction explains that this novel is the first in the series, which they intend will also cover Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Chernenko, and Gorbachev (the last two appear to have remained unpublished).  The aim of the series is evidently also to show a different picture of these figures.

For our leaders, strong and weak, clever and not so clever, were not only statesmen.  Like all people on earth, they were husbands , lovers, fathers, and grandfathers [sic].  Before the readers’ eyes will pass episodes of [their] private lives.

Non-fiction books about Andropov are largely to be found on the open shelf, and all which are can be found within the main Russian history section, 586 (North Front 5).  Books by Andropov which are in the open-shelf collection are divided between two locations, even though their subject matter (Soviet Communism) is the same.  These two locations relate to the two elements of that subject – 586 for Russia (including the Soviet Union) and 231 for Communism.  In one case, the French translation of selected articles and speeches, Sur le chemin du socialisme (On the path of socialism; record here), both locations are used!  While the Library has for some years not been in a position to take material which duplicates its holdings, this was not always the case.  One copy of Sur le chemin is at 586:92.c.95.693, the second at 231.c.98.294.

Coverage of Andropov’s funeral can be found at this link (certainly at the time of writing).  Although non-Russian speakers might find the sober voiceover and Chernenko’s speech unrewarding, the first half in particular has got interesting footage.  It starts with footage of important mourners – major foreign Communists, foreign heads of state (Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, and George Bush Sr among them), Soviet Communist officials (with Gorbachev on Chernenko’s right), and Andropov’s family – before the coffin is taken to the Lenin mausoleum in Red Square.  According to a Russian news article published on the centenary of Andropov’s death, there was a hiccup during the Red Square ceremony (which the video linked to above does not show).  Unaware that the microphones were already on, Chernenko asked his neighbour, “Shall we take our hats off?” (they were all wearing fur hats) and then answered the question himself – “It is frosty” (the hats stayed on).  It is not hard to hear the evidence in Chernenko’s speech of a lifelong smoking habit.  His time in power was even short than that of his predecessor – 13 months after Andropov’s interment, Chernenko’s own funeral would take place.

The Slavonic item of the month feature aims to celebrate, through examination of particular pieces, the diversity and riches of Cambridge University Library’s Slavonic collections.  It has been running since April 2013.  Items featured in previous months can be found here on the Slavonic webpages.

Mel Bach

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