Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Lying in Winter

Sometimes, amid all the hue and cry over crushing of dissent, it's good to be reminded what real totalitarian leaders do to the voices of their subjects:

"I thank you comrade chairman ... I thought I had succeeded in developing a personal idiom that adhered to the wise demands of the Soviet people ... I now see I was mistaken and have underestimated my need for artistic correction. I acknowledge the rightness of the party's judgment. I shall work on the musical depiction of the heroic Soviet peoples, from the correct ideological standpoint. Equipped with the guidance of the Central Committee, I shall renew my efforts to create really good songs for collective singing."

Well, "history" may be an abstraction, but the Greeks made her a muse with a mind, and she does seem to enjoy flipping the tables. The man who forced the brilliant Shostakovich to make that groveling socialist recantation, Tikhon Khrennikov, head of the soviet composers union, finds himself on the wrong side of the table:

When I suggest he led the regime's repression of musical life, he becomes angry and yells at me that I am recounting lies and slander; he says the reason the Soviet Union needed to encourage positive socialist realism in music was because "you" (the west) had erected an iron curtain to threaten the USSR; the campaign against Jewish composers was regrettable, he says, "but don't forget there were many Jews in musical life and they launched unfair attacks on my compositions."

Khrennikov tells me he was simply told - forced - to read out the speech attacking Shostakovich and Prokofiev in 1948: "What else could I have done? If I'd refused, it could have been curtains ... death. They made me do it; and anyway, Shostakovich and Prokofiev were sympathetic to my plight - they knew I had no choice: I did everything I could to help them financially while they were banned and repressed ... and they were grateful to me."

But even now he is proud of the power he wielded under Stalin: "My word was law", he says. "People knew I was appointed personally by Stalin and they were afraid that ... I would go and tell Stalin about them. I was Stalin's Commissar. When I said No! (he shouts), it meant No."

Old commisars never get over it, do they? And leave it to the Guardian to end up finding Khrennikov's repression of the artists morally justifiable:

Khrennikov was certainly flattered by the power and influence Stalin conferred on him, and he did his master's bidding with a vengeance: his ruthless imposition of "socialist realism" dogged Soviet music for decades and tormented the greats like Shostakovich and Prokofiev. But he is right when he says it would have been someone else if he had turned it down. And it is undoubtedly true that composers and musicians avoided the mass arrests and executions that Stalin inflicted on the writers.

Yes, yes, and if Mengele hadn't been the doctor someone else would have been the doctor. And after all, he was just following orders.

In some depictions, she has the seen-it-all look of a girl who's heard, more than once, all the stories men tell to get their lying asses out of the doghouse.