Kontinent: The Alternative Voice of Russia

Kontinent 1: The Alternative Voice of Russia and Eastern Europe 180pp, published by Andre Deutsch 3.95

Since the Soviet authorities crush all forms of uncontrolled art and literature, it is not surprising to find that the best known of the country’s creative intelligentsia are emigrés.

As the only creative literature is samizdat, it was only natural that the emigré writers now living in Israel and the west should band together and publish their efforts.

This book is a translation of a selection of articles from the first two volumes of the Russian language periodical of the same name.

The first two contributions are a dialogue between the Soviet Union’s most prominent dissident: Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov.

In this dialogue, Sakharov takes issue with Solzhenitsyn’s mild nationalism. “History shows “that ideologies are always milder that the practical politicians who follow in their footsteps.

Among the Russian people and the country’s leaders are a good many who sympathise with Great Russian nationalism who are afraid of democratic reforms and of becoming dependant on the west. If they fall on such well-prepared soil, Solzhenitsyn’s misconceptions could become dangerous.

Yet even in his support for a tough interim government, Solzhenitsyn points out that immediate democracy would inevitably result in a bloodbath and a war between the nationalities. This has certainly been the fear of Jes in the USSR and caused them to be less sympathetic towards, for example, the Ukrainian nationalists than towards the human rights movement.

Moreover it is only Sakharov in his universalist approach to the Soviet Union’s problems, who calls for the freedom of emigration of Jews. He criticises Solzhenitsyn for mentioning only the sufferings of the Russian people – and no one else.

A number of Jewish contributors are to be found in this volume. Alexander Galich (Ginsberg) and Iosif Brodsky, two Russian poets, have published a cycle of their poems.

The two most interesting contributions by Igor Golomshtok and Andrei Sinyavsky are on unofficial art in literature. Golomshtok, editorial secretary of Kontinent, writes movingly of the mentality of unofficial Soviet artists such as Oscar Rabin who work at any occupation during the day to make ends meet.

In their own time, they explore an inner world and cast it onto canvas. They prefer to be citizens of world culture rather than privileged members of the Artists’ Union.

Sinyavsky, a non-Jew who writes under the Jewish pseudonym of Abram Tertz, describes the literary process in Russia. This is an enthralling essay by a non-political writer, describing in detail how the mere use of words has been utilised to draw a blind across anyone who tries to perceive things differently.

Sinyavsky devotes a number pages to Russian anti-Semites. He equates its existence with the inability of the Russian to come to terms with his faults.

Wreckers, spies and saboteurs are all Jews.

Even those in power who have caused many problems for the honest Russian are Jews. Lenin was a Jew. Stalin was a Georgian Jew and Tolstoy, too.

Sinyavsky writes about the existence of manuscripts and books from the USSR in parallel with the Jews. With the Jews goes individualism and creativity.

A Russia without Jews, Sinyavsky writes, will be boring “and who will be the scapegoat for our familiar sins?”

It is perhaps the writer who provides the reason for this publication of genuine Russian creativity. “If they now start killing Jews in Russia, the first people to be murdered will be writers and intellectuals of non-Jewish origin.”

Jewish Observer 14 May 1976

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.