Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Poetic CIA

RFE/RL has an interesting feature about how the CIA may have performed the inestimable service of arranging in 1958 for the first Russian-language publication of Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago. In the same year, Albert Camus had nominated Pasternak for the Nobel Prize, but the award could not be made unless the novel had been published in the original language - no Soviet publisher would do this, and the risks for the author of having the book published in a Western country were great.

According to RFE/RL’s Ivan Tolstoi, it was the CIA which ultimately managed to get the book put out in the West - and this may not only have secured the Nobel Prize for the poet and author, but also saved his life:

“Thanks to the fact that Pasternak won the Nobel Prize, Pasternak wasn’t arrested,” says Tolstoi. “This deed by the CIA served to ennoble and save Pasternak. The actions of American intelligence saved a great Russian poet.”

But, in a December 14 presentation in Moscow, Tolstoi said “Pasternak had absolutely nothing to do with” the operation. “The American intelligence community did and financed everything itself, in order that a famous novel from an ingenious writer and poet might receive recognition.”

Pasternak was forced to decline the award under pressure from Soviet authorities. But when he died two years later, in 1960, it was in his home in Peredelkino — not in prison or exile abroad. It was a better fate than those of many Russian writers of the time.

Tolstoi said America’s use of culture as a weapon in its ideological battle with the Soviet Union typifies what he calls “the drama of the Cold War.”

“American intelligence, American policy, in this story, battled Kremlin ideology and communism not with poison, or kidnappings, or some other unseemly actions, but with the help of Russian culture,” Tolstoi said. “They used Russian culture to fight against the Soviet state.”

(via M.L.)

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