I REMEMBER LIFE
INSTEAD OF A PREFACE
As long as I live I feel captivated by the corner of the
blessed Belarusian land that is so dear to my heart. The feeling of love
for the tiny spot of the universe is immense, plaintive and never ending.
Year after year the feeling grows stronger; the love is merely staggering,
all-absorbing and everlasting. The source of my creative work is the blessed
land and the people who live there. The whole of my mind is full of my
dear Motherland. I hear its forests singing, nightingales warbling and
frogs croaking, I can smell the scent of pine forests … All this is dear
to my heart and will belong to me forever; it brings about a unique state
of my mind. The land gifted to people by God is the greatest treasure.
It is their breadwinner. One should understand this and be taught love
for his land at his mother's knee, just like it was a century ago when
people were ready to sacrifice their lives for their land. Things have
changed a lot and now avidity and profit are rife and rampant. Very few
people think of their land as breadwinner. The only thing they strive
for is to take from it as much as possible and to give back little. Misunderstanding
of the role of the land and faith in a person's life is the greatest tragedy.
There has arisen a sharp question of what exactly love for land implies.
One can find a great many answers to this question. I seem to have found
the answer to this question for myself after deep meditation - one should
perform deeds that are pleasing to God. This is manifestation of human
love for God.
My land is my destiny!
MY BAREFOOTED CHILDHOOD
The mischievous river Naut that both romped about stones and turned into
little waterfalls that could turn mill-wheels or stood still in a blissful
manner when it emerged into a wide open area flew a hundred meters away
from the grandfather's house where Alexander was born and grew up. Its
water was so crystal clear you could easily see a small coin thrown onto
its sandy bottom. The young rascal would snatch a moment when his mother
who was doing the household chores relaxed her vigilance and run away
to his favorite place on the bank of the river Naut. There, among the
thickets of bird cherry trees and lilac, there was a narrow neck of water
that could be forded. Lying in the thick fragrant grass that covered him
almost up to his head Sasha would spend hours watching the wonderful underwater
world that staggered by its variety even in this small river; he would
listen to the shrill of the cicada and birds singing and admired butterflies
that never looked alike. After finding the runaway the mother would smack
him repeating kindly, 'Take that, and that! You are punished for running
away without permission. If you disobey once again, I will give you away
to Baba-Yaga!' Sasha would tear himself from his mother's tender hands,
run away at a safe distance and object from there jumping on his foot
and making funny faces, 'You won't! You won't!' -I will as I do not need
a naughty boy like you! -You won't because Baba-Yaga doesn't exist. -Well,
then, I will tell the father about everything. The mention of the father
always worked. Although Sasha was his father's pet, this never softened
the punishment for his pranks. The teenager remembered being strapped
by his father's army belt forever. His father strapped him quite often.
He did this without any good reason, just because he thought this to be
an integral part of upbringing. There was a sort of gradation of strapping
when the boy was punished by the leather part of the belt for minor pranks
and by the belt buckle for more serious ones. At times the father could
lose his self-control and strap his son on the back or fetch him a blow
on the head. Yet, this never influenced his love for his son, he was ready
to sacrifice his life for him. Once Sasha fell off the stove onto the
cogs of a saw that was leant against the wall and wounded his groin seriously.
Nikolai Rudnev mounted a horse, rushed to Zhitkovichy like an arrow and
brought the best district surgeon from there. He did not leave his son
for a moment during the operation. After that he went to see off the doctor
and did not come back for a long time. His wife who was very anxious found
him at the hayloft. He was crying there with his face buried in the sweet-scented
hay. He had not had nervous breakdown of the kind since he was at the
front… On the wall of the front room, as long as Sasha could remember,
there always hang the portrait of an officer in the uniform of the tsarist
army, with St. George's crosses on his chest. He was tall, stately, with
jet-black hair. The mother always answered her son's questions about this
man curtly, 'This is your grandfather Alexander. Both you and me were
named after him.' Then she would give a bitter sigh and add, 'Sasha, if
only you knew what kind of man he was!' For some reason the mother always
denied the urgent requests of her son to tell in more detail what sort
of man the grandfather had been. She used to say, 'When the time comes
you will find everything out.' The grandson unraveled the mystery of Alexander
Kirbay many years later, owing to some unforeseen circumstances… The Rudnev
family lived a poor life and did not stand out from the rest of the village
dwellers, though the father was chairman of the local kolkhoz 'Sovetskaya
Belorussia'. They could have built a house of their own a long time ago.
Yet, Nikolai Rudnev responded to all his wife's entreaties in an angry
way, 'Widows still live in huts and dugouts, while you want to live in
a palace!' Thus, they were squeezed together, the families of Alexander
and her sisters, in the house built by their father Alexander Kirbay.
When Rudnev finally made up his mind to build a house, he constructed
it in a new place, on sandy soil, where it was impossible to walk barefoot
in summer as the sand was extremely scorching. He did so because he did
not want to stand out from the rest of the villagers.
The beginning of school life stayed in Sasha Rudnev's memory due to the
event that shocked the whole of the village. It was March of 1953. The
spring was late. The river Naut was still covered by ice, though people
feared to walk on it as it could crack any moment. Bathing in ice-cold
water could bring good to no one. The village lived its unhurried life.
Machinery was being prepared for the sowing campaign in the kolkhoz repair
shops. They did not have much of it - just a track-type tractor and two
wheel tractors, a run-down 30-cwt lorry, a threshing machine, a winnowing
machine and some more agricultural implements. Horses still remained the
main draught force. Women were drying up and sorting grain. It was not
sufficient, as usual, so chairman went to district authorities every week
trying to get some more grain out of the reserve. The first secretary
of the district committee neither refused nor promised anything. -Rudnev,
you are a former front line soldier and you know quite well that just
like in wartime the reserve may be used only as a last resort and directed
there where there is a case of emergency. Your kolkhoz is quite solid,
and people there live quite well. Just scrape the bottom of the barrel!
-We have scraped everything completely. Mice cheep with hunger. People
will have nothing to sow their plots of land with. -Well, let them plant
potatoes, then. They will get grain for their workdays. Going away empty-handed
and upset, cursing his horse up hill and down dale, Nikolai Rudnev would
go back home. A week later he would go to district authorities once again,
following the unsophisticated worldly wisdom 'No pains, no gains'. On
Sundays men used to gather at the village shop. They hid out from their
wives, clubbed together to buy a bottle of wine to split it with each
other right there round the corner and discussed political news smoking
rolled cigarettes. Wired radio had not been installed in the village at
the time, though talks about it had been going on for a long time. No
one in the village had wireless radio sets as they were very expensive,
while batteries did not last out for long. But on the other hand, there
was a telephone in the Soviet of the village, which was a rare thing for
those times, though it operated erratically. Fitful wind tore fragile
wires as if they were threads. Telephone operators did not have any transport
and could depend only on their shoe leather. Even if they managed to find
the rupture it was almost impossible to repair it when it was 40 degrees
below zero or when the roads were bad. That is why news reached Rudna
with delay, although the village was in immediate proximity to the district
centre. It was March 7. It was still dark outside. The Rudnevs woke up
as somebody was knocking loudly at the window. -Chairman, wake up! -What
the hell! Who's over there at such an early hour? The father swore dirtily
and turned to the other side as he wanted to sleep badly. The knocking
at the window went on. Alexandra's heart sank as she had bad foreboding.
The year of 1938 and arrival of Black Maria came to her mind immediately.
The children started to move in their beds as they were woken up by the
noise. -Kolya, wake up! War must have begun! -What?! When he heard the
words the father jumped out of bed as if stung by a bee and rushed to
the door just as he was in his underwear. Vladimir Semenovich, a former
front-line soldier who was on friendly terms with Nikolay Rudnev and who
frequently took Sasha with him fishing, barged into the house in wreaths
of frosty exhalation breathing heavily. That night Semenov was on duty
in the village Soviet and received the message that shook him so much.
He was in such a hurry to let know the message that he was running in
the snow up to the very house of the chairman and now he couldn't get
his breath. He was breathing through the mouth and reminded of a stranded
fish. Rudnev was waiting patiently. At last Semenov recovered his breath
and uttered, 'Stalin has died…' Alexandra started wailing. The children
who didn't know what had happened but who were aware that it was something
terrible began howling. Rudnev dropped heavily at the bench that was near
the table without breathing a word. Semenov kept standing fiddling with
a shabby ear flapped fur hat. Alexandra was the first to come to her senses.
-Goodness me, what shall we do? How are we going to live? Rudnev didn't
say anything to her. He took a pack of cigarettes and offered it to Semenov
but the latter declined the offered cigarette. Instead, he took a tobacco
pouch and a thick pile of neatly cut news print out of the pocket of his
sheepskin jacket, took one leaf, sprinkled it lavishly with low-grade
homegrown tobacco, wetted the tip of the paper with saliva and rolled
a cigarette. They were smoking for some five minutes, filling the room
with the acrid smell of tobacco. Semenov was the first to break the silence.
-Shall we phone the district authorities? The phone works. -Do you think
they know more than we do? They must be waiting for directions from the
region authorities while the latter, in their turn, want some instructions
from Minsk. We shouldn't act without thinking under the circumstances.
Everything needs to be considered carefully. -I wonder if another war
might start. I am afraid the Americans might take occasion to wage a war
against us, just like the Germans did in 1941. -Comrade Stalin said a
war is unlikely in the nearest future. I read his interview to 'Pravda'.
Have no doubt, he won't tolerate this. -Kolya, but he is dead! It was
only at the time that they gradually began to be aware of the scale of
the misfortune that had fallen upon the country. Stalin, whose name they
had had in their minds when they fell asleep and woke up, whose advice
they had followed, whom they had pinned their hopes for the future with
and whom they had worshipped so much, was no more. Although they realized
he was far from being immortal and would die sooner or later they never
thought it would happen in a dull and simple way. The leader had died
as if he were an ordinary man! The thought made one shiver. Naturally,
neither Rudnev nor Semenov knew the twists and turns of the life in Kremlin.
This life was just as mysterious to them as the existence of God was.
They couldn't even imagine the struggle for power that was starting at
the time between Beriya, Khrushchev, Molotov and Malenkov. Each of them
considered himself to be Stalin's successor. Soviet people learnt about
these dramatic collisions much later. Nevertheless, the foreboding of
a fatal tragedy united them into a single million-strong crying crowd.
The village stood still in suspense. It seemed as if somebody invisible
stopped the Earth from revolving. The village inhabitants crowded at the
house of the chairman since morning till night hoping for some details,
but the chairman himself knew as much as they did. The district authorities
did not answer the phone. It was only several days later that a representative
of the district committee of the party came to Rudna. The village library
and reading room couldn't seat all village inhabitants as both young and
old gathered to listen to the high-ranking official so they decided to
hold the meeting outside. It was slushy but the people stood bare-headed
and listened in breathless suspense. The district representative spoke
slowly, picking his words. -Comrades, a great disaster has befallen our
country. Comrade Stalin, the leader of the Soviet people and the whole
of the world proletariat has passed away. This is an irretrievable loss
to our nation. Our sorrow is immeasurable and impossible to articulate.
Yet, the party appeals to you with the mandate to strengthen the unity
that Josef Vissarionovich left. Comrade Stalin left after himself the
grand plans of building socialism. His faithful comrades-in-arms will
continue his cause… The district representative went on talking, but nobody
listened to him any more. People continued to hope till the very last
moment that the news of Stalin's death was merely a provocation, a rumor
set by imperialists and their accomplices who were abundant at the time.
Even comrade Molotov's wife, Polina Zhemchuzhnikova who was standing trial
in Moscow at the time, turned out to be a traitor who had passed important
information to Israeli intelligence… Yet, the news was no rumor at all,
and comrade Stalin has really passed away… Women cried very loudly. Men
who were ashamed to cry in their presence brushed their tears away stealthily…
The sowing campaign and pressing matters to do with it gradually put Stalin's
death to the background. Men still went on gossiping about the coming
changes but the talks were less keen as life had its effect. Alexandra
puzzled her brains for a long time how to provide clothes for the elder
son to go to school. Finally, by her husband's consent, she decided to
make use of his front overcoat made of sturdy fabric that couldn't be
worn out. She carefully cut out the overcoat and sewed two small overcoats
that looked just like the father's. You should have seen Sasha who was
walking to school for the first time wearing the new overcoat and carrying
a map case over his shoulder. All eyes of his peers fixed on him, the
boy imagined himself to be a real soldier. The primary school was located
in Rudna, at a stone's throw, so the parents had no problems with children
during their first four years at school. The children did well at school.
Sasha astonished everyone by his good memory. He could repeat a poem almost
without a fumble after reading it once. He was an avid reader. Almost
every day he would bring a new book from the village library and devour
page after page sitting on the stove bench by the dim light of a lamp.
They happened to run out of kerosene as it was delivered to the village
shop quite rarely, and then he would read by the light of a splinter.
Alexandra doted on her elder son. He was growing old before her very eyes,
was becoming independent and adopted the very best qualities of his father.
He was just as active and principled. When he was in the third form he
was appointed chairperson of the school group council. Sasha Rudnev performed
his duties with responsibility. He patronized first formers, organized
collection of waste paper and scrap metal, held pioneers' meetings and
competitions in chess and draughts. He was so good at playing chess and
draughts that there would always gather a crowd of people around him in
the village library and reading hall whenever he got down to playing.
It was interesting to watch the boy, knee-high to a grasshopper, who beat
all grown-ups. At the same time, he never had his nose in the air and
valued justice most of all. Once a pupil who was naughty during a break
broke a device the teacher brought to carry out an experiment at the lesson.
The damage was petty but the one who did this might catch it from the
teacher. Sasha ordered his classmates, 'Don't tell anyone who did this'.
The teacher who was entering the class at the moment heard him saying
this. -Who do you cover, Rudnev? He should have been sent up the river
a long time ago. You should be a shamed of yourself. You are chairman
of the group council, so you should be an example for others to follow.
She seized Sasha's hand and tore off his stripes. -You do not deserve
to be a leader of young Leninists. You'll have to answer for your lie.
You and your father will have to go to the district committee of the party
tomorrow. The boy was crying bitterly. Squeezing in his fist the stripes
he took off the floor he made a step forward to the teacher and said,
'I will go if I have to, but don't punish Ivan.' There was so much resolution
in his words and posture that the teacher started back… After school Sasha
always helped his mother keep house without being reminded. Besides splitting
wood and seasonal work in the field his regular duties were to chop straw,
to bring water, to feed the animals while the parents were absent, to
milk the cow and to look after the younger brother. Alexandra always left
him at home with a light heart. It goes without saying that kids remained
kids. Sasha and Kolya liked to be naughty despite their strict upbringing.
It was especially in summer that one had to keep a constant eye on them.
The two-year difference in age at the juvenile period didn't prevent them
from being friends so the Rudnev brothers were like hand in glove. They
would go to the river Naut together without their mother's knowledge and
would go to pick pees secretly at the kolkhoz field. Every time they went
on their pees sortie they prepared carefully. First of all, they had to
snatch the moment when the father went to the district center as he always
kept his eye on the kolkhoz land so that even a mouse couldn't make off
with a small ear from the field. To get into the tenacious hands of the
father meant being beaten mercilessly. The team leader who was left responsible
for the farm while the chairman was away was also a danger. Their mother
could track them down, too. She never gave them away, of course, but she
could punch them for sure. Professional thieves are unlikely to prepare
so thoroughly for the job when they want to rob a bank, unlike the Rudnev
brothers who made a plan of their 'pees operation'. They would feverishly
stuff green pods in their bosoms and would keep looking around. Nevertheless,
to pick pees secretly was half the work. They had to deliver their loot
to the village unnoticed and hide it in a privy place as you wouldn't
regale yourself with pees in full view of the whole village because this
would mean giving yourself away lock, stock and barrel. The boys would
flunk at this point. Their father discovered their prank somehow and catching
them red-handed he punished them without beating about the bush. The brothers
endured the strapping and never betrayed one another. After their wounds
healed they would go to the field to pick pees. Pees sorties, though punished
mercilessly, worried the parents very little. The passion of teenagers
for arms collection was far more dangerous. After the war, there remained
whole arsenals of arms in the woods of Polesye where the operation 'Bagration'
was held. One could find not only a handgun or a rifle but even a submachine
gun, a machine gun, unexploded aerial bombs and shells. The places were
like a magnet to boys. Despite the warnings of grown-ups, they behaved
in an unconcerned manner and as a result many of them paid with their
lives or became crippled. After an accident of the kind the father warned
his sons, 'If I find out you have brought home at least a cartridge I
will punish you severely!' The warning worked. *** In 1956 the secret
of grandfather's death opened a little way to Sasha. Once Nikolai Rudnev
came from the district center deeply vexed. He kept silence, smoked one
cigarette after another and got irritated at a mere nothing, just as he
always did when he was vexed. The children knew their father's nature,
so they tried to make themselves scarce and were quiet as mice until the
threat of unplanned strapping was over. Alexandra who was bustling about
in the kitchen didn't hurry with her questions as well, and waited for
her husband to tell everything himself. At last, the father started talking.
-They are right saying don't trouble trouble until trouble troubles you!
He is really asking for trouble! -Who is, Kolya? -You don't know who is?
Nikita… -The one who works in the logging enterprise? -What a stupid thing
you are! Nikita Khrushchev… -Well, he can't be all things to all people.
But he's dirtied up Stalin's name. Communists were read out his secret
address at the XX party congress today. He talked a lot of rubbish there.
He claimed it was not Beriya but it was Stalin himself who killed millions
of people. He said there were no enemies of the people and that innocent
people were tried and executed. He also said it was Stalin who gave these
orders. -This might be true, I suppose. -I said you are a stupid thing!
It was Lavrentiy Beriya who was to blame for repressions. Khrushchev denounced
him himself. They wrote in 'Pravda' how he framed people up and how prisoners
were taunted at his command. They even aimed for Stalin himself. I think
if Stalin is to blame for anything it is for his faith in this vile creature.
It is impossible to look into everybody's heart. There are only 150 farmsteads
in the kolkhoz and everyone seems to be in the public eye but people start
behaving outrageously as soon as you stop watching them. Stalin was responsible
for a huge country and millions of people! -Kolya, I wonder if my father
was executed, too. Rudnev looked at his wife but didn't answer anything
to her. He took another cigarette out of the pack and started turning
it between his fingers thinking about something, and then he threw it
into the stove without lighting it up. It was clear that doubts began
to creep in his soul but he kept them off as he was a true Bolshevik.
-What did they answer to your inquiry? Your father died in 1942 a hero's
death. He really did. Why should they lie? Some more years passed. Newspapers
more and more often wrote about rehabilitation of victims of Stalin's
repressions. Alexandra accurately cut this information for some reason,
tied it with elastic and hid this archive into her trunk. Once the postman
brought the Rudnevs a letter from Moscow, as well as money order to the
sum of 900 rubles. Sasha remembered the way his parents conversed in excited
whispers, read some paper with a mysterious seal over and over again and
divided the money into several equal piles. The words 'the killed' and
'compensation' grated on Sasha's ears. News spread very quickly in the
village. Hardly had the postman closed the gate of the Rudnevs house when
the whole of Rudna gossiped that Kirbay's children received compensation
for their executed father. Some people sympathized with the family, some
envied the easy money. This time the mother didn't avoid Sasha's questions.
When she stayed at home one-to-one with her elder son, she asked him to
sit beside herself and took a photograph that turned yellow in the course
of time out of the trunk where family heirlooms were kept. Sasha had never
seen the photograph before. There was a big group of people in the picture.
The boy recognized Grandfather Alexander at once. Although he had civilian
attire on, he almost didn't differ from the man depicted in the picture
hanging on the wall. The only difference was that his jet-black hair was
beginning to go grey. Not far from the standing grandfather there sat
Stalin, Voroshilov, Kaganovich and others who were apparently important
people and whose names the boy didn't know. Sasha remembered his mother's
story for life… After World War I Alexander Kirbay returned home with
a party-membership card in his pocket and a shell splinter that got stuck
between the ribs. He built a house and settled down to married life. He
was a diligent and non-drinking man, which was uncommon even for those
days. Poor men in the village often drowned their sorrows in raw vodka.
Kirbay considered this to be a whim. He rose at cockcrow and went to bed
after midnight. Only a lazy bone has nothing to do in his household in
the village. Although there were five children in the family, four girls
and a boy, they were not extremely hard up. In the evening there were
village gatherings in the house of the Kirbays. Men gathered in one corner
and women in another. Each of the companies had a leisurely talk of their
own. Men would roll thick cigarettes and roll them, so the whole of the
room was full of blue-grey mist, and talked about politics. Alexander
Kirbay was an indisputable authority. He willingly shared the knowledge
he received at 'trench universities' and could speak about any question
that was of interest to village dwellers. Yet, when anyone mentioned Black
Maria wagons they heard rumors about in the village he interrupted the
one who talked, 'It's none of our business! Stalin knows about everything
and he will surely sort everything out.' The hostess was the center of
attention in the second corner. She usually sat at the spinning wheel
spinning thread and directing the talk in the proper course. They talked
purely about village matters. Somebody's cow calved and gave birth to
a she-calf which was bad as a bull-calf could be fed for a while and sold
later. Another man had his roof worn out and he had no money to roof it
over. Another person's children were going to start studies at school
so whether they liked it or not the parents had to fork out money for
footwear. The children couldn't wear bast shoes like they did under the
tsar… In fact there are a lot of matters in everyday village life that
have to be discussed. Both the companies didn't interfere into the talks
of each other. Sometimes it seemed they were absolutely indifferent to
what was going on in the opposite corner. Yet, one needed only to touch
upon somebody else's subject matter when a caustic remark followed immediately
… Once, Alexander Kirbay was called to go to Zhitkovichy's district party
committee. The assistant of the first secretary brought two faceted glasses
of tea and lump sugar on the saucer so the guest understood they were
going to have an important talk. -Have you heard about comrade Stalin's
instructions concerning collectivization? -I have. Methinks, we are literate
and read newspapers. -What's the opinion of collectivization in the village?
-It depends. The poor are glad as they hope to subsist at somebody else's
expense. Those who are well-off enough are discontented as nobody wants
to collectivize their own cow and horse. -Do you personally understand
that collectivization of agriculture is a way to the bright tomorrow?
-I do, but what is the use? You won't reach the tomorrow alone. -Well,
the thing is that you are a Bolshevik so you should take up organizing
a kolkhoz in Rudna. Gather the most conscious village dwellers, draw in
Komsomol members and explain what is what to them. The party relies on
you, comrade Kirbay! The authority of the Bolshevik Kirbay in Rudna was
so significant that organizing the kolkhoz was accompanied by practically
no excesses that were typical of collectivization everywhere. The inhabitants
of Rudna joined into an agricultural commune although they were not extremely
happy about it. The commune was called 'Sovetskaya Byelorussia'. They
unanimously charged Kirbay with managing the farm. -It was you who persuaded
us into joining so you should be at the head. After he became chairman,
Alexander Kirbay spent day and night in the kolkhoz. Wearing a soldier's
blouse and jodhpurs, carrying a map case, with a service cap in the manner
of Stalin on his head he would appear in his cart pulled by two horses
anywhere where there was some problem. Even the most thorough idlers snatched
at saws and axes when they saw him as they knew the chairman could make
short work of them. When words didn't work he could give a smack on the
jaw. Things went on smoothly in the kolkhoz; workdays were somehow paid
so the collective farmers didn't complain about the management style of
the kind. Yet, every family has its black sheep. There turned up some
people in Rudna who didn't quite like the rise of Alexander Kirbay. Whenever
they met the chairman, the self-employed farmers Yephim Semenov and Philip
Bondar spoke through their clenched teeth, 'Why do you keep fussing, Kirbay?
Do you want to gain favor? Take care, things could turn out badly.' The
chairmanship of Alexander Kirbay didn't affect economic conditions of
his own family. Things got even worse as Marpha had to shoulder all duties
about the household. God knows how she managed to work in the kolkhoz,
to look after the cattle and to bring up five children. She didn't expect
any indulgences from her husband as she knew his nature. Other women knew
his nature, too. That is why they warned Marpha when they came to ask
her to help grind grain at the mill as there was always a queue there,
'Will you secretly ask the miller to help? But God forbid telling anything
to Kirbay because he will fly off the handle.' The fame of the kolkhoz
'Sovetskaya Byelorussia' spread all over the republic. Even the first
secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Byelorussia
Nikolai Ghikalo came to visit the kolkhoz in late 20s. He was pleased
by what he saw there. He said at the meeting of the group of district
party activists, 'This is a truly Bolshevist approach to business. Comrade
Kirbay, I thank you in the name of the party!' Soon Alexander Kirbay was
transferred to the neighboring kolkhoz 'The Third International.' The
kolkhoz was bigger but the things there didn't get going. Chairmen were
appointed one after another but the things didn't get any better. The
approach to business can't have been Bolshevist there. Kirbay was leaving
with a heavy heart. Yet, he knew that assignments of the party, just as
the orders of the commander, were not to be discussed. On the skirts of
the village he met Philip Bondar. -Are you running away, Kirbay? Do you
want to escape from punishment? Nothing will come out of it. It's going
to happen very soon… Kirbay didn't respond to the threat. He glanced over
the self-employed farmer scornfully and whipped the horses. Some time
passed and the kolkhoz 'The Third International' started to be called
the leading farm and held up as an example. In February 1935 the Second
National Congress of collective farmers who were record-setters in work
productivity was held in Moscow. Alexander Kirbay was included into the
Byelorussian delegation. It was at the congress that some photographer
took his photo in company with comrade Stalin and other leaders of the
Soviet state. The photograph was kept as the most valuable treasure. The
whole of Rudna visited the house of the Kirbays to have a look at the
photo. -Alexander, you should not be afraid of anything now. The photo
is better than any safe conduct. Kirbay was of the same opinion BUT Lavrentiy
Beriya wasn't. One of September nights of 1938 when the gloom still didn't
disperse a covered car called Black Maria approached their house on the
skirts of the village. Marpha moved the curtain aside, looked out of the
window and felt her heart sink. There was a loud knock at the door. -Open
the door! -Just a moment! Let me get dressed. -Open, or we'll break off
the door. The knocks of iron-heeled boots at the door proved firm intentions
of the uninvited guests so Marpha hastily put a shawl on her shoulders
and threw the latch off the hook. Three armed men in leather jackets burst
into the house. -Are you Alexander Kirbay? -I am. -You are arrested. Marpha
began to wail. The kids rushed to their father screaming. One of the officers
threw them aside as if they were puppies. -There's no time to rattle on.
Marpha started to fuss around the house. -Will you wait for a while? Let
me collect some food for the road. -Do not worry. He will be fed to his
heart content. We have a good ration. The man who said this showed his
teeth giving a malicious smile. Alexander Kirbay didn't protest. He seemed
to have prepared himself for this turn of events a long time ago. Only
the unusual paleness of his face gave away his nervousness. -Do not worry,
mother. Everything is going to be all right. You know that I am not guilty
of anything. This is a mistake. Comrade Stalin will sort everything out.
Take care of the children. I will be back soon. The next morning the whole
village exchanged the news that Kirbay was the enemy of the people. The
house of the chairman who was often asked for help and advice was now
given a wide berth to. When fellow villagers encountered Martha unexpectedly
they hang their heads and tried to pass by as quickly as possible. This
was the most terrible thing about the situation. The days of expectation
dragged on. For a moment it seemed the sorrow called on their house merely
be accident. Marpha's brother Petr Kotsubinsky was a member of the revolutionary
executive committee. When he learnt about Kirbay's arrest he dropped in
at his sister's -Do not worry. I know that Alexander will be back soon.
The mistake has already been clarified so the only thing that remains
is to complete the formalities for the discharge. Marpha didn't quite
believe her brother's words. She started crying and drew her children
who crowded around her. Day after day passed but the husband never returned.
Kirbay's daughters all of whom were Komsomol members began to be called
to the regional committee. The secretary of the committee, a lean young
man of about twenty who was trying to look more imposing than he was,
spoke in a didactical manner, 'It turned out that your father is the enemy
of the people. He managed to of the chairman of the kolkhoz for quite
a long time. Yet, our security authorities can't be fooled. I understand
you are having a hard time at the moment. I even sympathize with you,
though I myself would never allow a traitor, even my own father, to harm
the interests of the state for a long time and with impunity. Do you remember
the way Pavlik Morozov acted? Komsomol members must be watchful, too.
This is what comrade Stalin teaches us to do… Nevertheless, we give you
a chance to correct your mistake. You must repudiate your father. Then
I think that Komsomol members will forgive your faint-heartedness.' Alexandra
could hardly hold back her tears. She wanted to say this plainly looking
guy who repeated dispassionately the words he must have said many times
before that her father was not an enemy, that his arrest was a silly mistake
and that comrade Stalin would surely put right officials of the People's
Commissariat for Home Affairs. This could not be otherwise as he was always
reported about everything and acts in a just manner. Still, the cold eyes
of the secretary of the district committee prevented her from uttering
the words. Alexandra looked into his eyes and understood the guy would
not believe her so she spoke in a barely audible whisper: -I won't repudiate
my father, he isn't an enemy. -What?! The secretary jumped up and started
to walk nervously round the spacious room. It was evident he wasn't used
to the obstinacy of the kind. -Do you mean you don't believe officials
of the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs? -I don't because they made
a mistake. The secretary looked around in a frightened manner. -Do you
understand what you are saying? You should be sent to prison for talking
slanderously about the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs! I will
surely report about. Now hand out your Komsomol membership card. The people
like you should not be members of the organization that bears the name
f Lenin. The talk to Alexandra's sisters proceeded in the same manner.
Lida was the only one who couldn't endure the psychological pressure.
She wrote a statement to the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs as
dictated by the secretary of the district committee where she denounced
her father and repudiated him. She was the only daughter of Alexander
Kirbay who was allowed to remain a Komsomol member though she was severely
reprimanded and warned for the displayed political shortsightedness. When
Marpha learnt this she didn't say anything to her daughter. She gave a
bitter sigh and wiped off tears by the edge of the shawl thrown onto her
shoulders. Marpha collected all eatables that could be found in the house
and sent Alexandra to Mozyr. The transit prison for political prisoners
was located in St. Michael's Church. Outside the prison there crowded
people with small bundles who didn't lose the hope to find at least anything
out about their relatives and to see them if they were lucky enough. There
was a Pioneer Palace across the road just opposite the church. The sounds
of the bugle, drum roll, and merry songs of children contrasted sharply
with the crying in the prison yard that never stopped. Alexandra was lucky
enough as she was allowed to visit her father. She interpreted this as
an encouraging sign. They met in front of an escort who was listening
very carefully to their talk. He could interrupt their meeting in case
he heard some unguarded word. I wonder what secrets they could hide from
their state. The father looked cheerful and tried to smile. -Wait for
a while. I have written an appeal to comrade Stalin. I will be released
any day now. Help the mother. Alexandra didn't say the father anything
about Lida's faint-heartedness. She decided not to upset him. She thought
he would find everything out himself after he returned home. Alexandra's
story that she repeated at the instance of her mother several times revived
the hope for successful outcome although nobody in the village had ever
seen those who were taken away by Black Maria come back home. Marpha consoled
herself that those people were really enemies of the people while her
husband had devoted himself to the kolkhoz and had never been anywhere
except the district center so he couldn't be an enemy. Again there were
days of painful waiting. Through Petr Kotsubinsky they found out that
Alexander Kirbay was accused of criminal connections with the Polish counter-intelligence.
Witnesses said they heard him contacting Pilsoudsky by means of a portable
radio transmitter. The accusation sounded absurd and ridiculous as even
not every military unit had a portable radio transmitter at the time.
Village inhabitants didn't have any idea as to the way it looked like,
not to mention using it to contact somebody. Moreover, what sort of state
secret could an ordinary kolkhoz chairman reveal to the leader of Poland?
Yet, officials of the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs didn't give
themselves any trouble to look for verisimilar proof. They perceived any
information as an established fact. Not every village inhabitant believed
that Kirbay was a traitor. The neighbors who sympathized with Marpha told
her Philip Bondar and Yephim Semenov had grassed on her husband. Common
human envy made them do this. They couldn't tolerate the fact that Kirbay
who was so similar to them when a child had suddenly made his way in the
world and had become a big boss who had even been given the honor to be
photographed with Stalin while they remained undereducated ragamuffins.
When Marpha learnt about this she visited both Bondar and Semenov. Bondar
met her in an aggressive manner. -Have you bossed around enough? You wanted
to be masters and Stalin's equals? Now let your Sashka break his back
at Kolyma. Marpha looked into his smacking eyes, crossed herself and left
without saying a word. Semenov behaved in an absolutely different way.
He saw Marpha from a distance, darted out to meet her, opened the gate
and tried to explain something in a confused manner. He couldn't stand
her straight look and sniffed, 'Marpha, it's not my fault... It just happened
this way… It's entirely his fault. This son of a bitch made me drunk.'
Yet, Marpha didn't listen to his explanations. She crossed herself, just
like she did in the house of Bondar, and went out. Semenov was mincing
immediately after. -I swear I didn't mean to. It just happened this way…
Marpha didn't stop. She passed by Semenov fearfully running before her
even without looking at him. She seemed to have hardened from intolerable
suffering. Some time afterwards the whole of the village found out that
Black Maria had carried away Yephim Semenov. It was much more difficult
to try to obtain another meeting with the father. At last Alexandra was
allowed to see the father. It was difficult to recognize him. He was crooked
with beating, emaciated, absolutely grey-haired, with lackluster eyes
and reminded very little the stately handsome Alexander Kirbay. His faith
was all in bruises that even the thick bristle couldn't hide. 'They beat
us very heavily here,' he whispered. Alexandra started telling about domestic
affairs and did her best to smile. She said they were looking forward
to seeing him and that nobody in the village doubts his forthcoming release
but the father didn't react to her words. It was the first time Alexandra
had seen tears in his eyes… Alexander Kirbay was sentenced by troika and
executed by shooting in November 1938. The same days his brothers Vatslav
and Nikolai, as well as Marpha's brothers Nikolai and Petr got their dose
of the lead from the watchful People's Commissariat for Home Affairs.
The five men were sacrificed on the altar of the struggle against the
'enemies of the people' by the related families of the Kirbays and the
Kotsubinskys. All in all, due to false denunciations and framed-up cases
42 inhabitants of Rudna were executed by shooting. You can multiply the
figure by the countless number of villages in Belarus and you will get
the objective picture of Stalin's repressions. Marpha Kirbay was not to
find out the true fate of the husband and the brothers as she died in
February 1950 in a state of blissful ignorance. The inquiries Alexandra
sent to different instances at her mother's request were responded in
the same manner, 'Your husband died a heath of hero in 1942. His burial
place is unknown.' In the last years of her life the old woman shifted
all her life to her grandson who was named after her grandfather and who
reminded of him very much. She constantly indulged the boy treating him
with candy cushions bought at the local shop, lumps of sugar or handfuls
of nuts. She frequently asked the boy to plant a fir tree at her grave
after her death so that a nightingale would fly at night and sing its
songs there. It was only after the personality cult of Stalin was condemned
that the executed inhabitants of Rudna, along with other victims of the
People's Commissariat for Home Affairs, were rehabilitated. Trying to
make amends to widows and children of the 'enemies of the people' at least
for appearances sake, the authorities paid little compensations to them.
This was the money Alexander Rudnev's parents talked secretly about. They
distributed the money equally among all brothers and sisters trying not
to treat anyone badly. At the time even this miserable pittance seemed
riches to collective farmers who were paid almost nothing for their work.
Yet, the evil the state tried to cover up by the scanty sum turned out
to be stronger. It seemed to Alexandra's brother who liked to hit the
bottle that they didn't allow him to have his fair share. He would get
a load on and make for the house of the Rudnevs crying loudly, 'Alexandra,
give back the father's money. I am his heir by law.' When he moved to
the father's house Sasha took the photo of his grandfather and hung it
in the place where everyone could see it. It still hangs there near the
icon. One can see a stately officer of the tsarist army with jet-black
hair and Jesus Christ side by side. The eyes of both display an inexpressible
anguish. Atheist Alexander Kirbay atoned for his lack of faith in God
by his suffering and tragic death. In time of hesitation and bitter thoughts
some irresistible force attracts Alexander Rudnev to the father's house
that has sunk to one side with age. He crosses himself at the homemade
iconostasis and feels a burst of energy. His physical pain disappears
and he feels warm and bright. It seems that his grandfather who was not
to see his grandson shares with him his unspent force from some mysterious
The man who grassed on Alexander Kirbay and who might have ratted on
other fellow villagers went on living in Rudna as if nothing had happened.
Along with other collective farmers he went to work, was paid some money
for his workdays, talked, laughed, spent holidays, went to church on Sundays,
in a word, he behaved just like everyone else did. Yet, the rest of the
people were honest while Philip Bondar was a criminal. Why wasn't he arrested
and sent to prison then after the people whose lives he had ruined were
rehabilitated? Why does he go on living even without repenting his deeds?
The questions of the kind didn't give Sasha Rudnev a moment's peace. Once
he tried to talk on the subject with the mother and suggested making a
statement to the militia. His mother got frightened and waved her hands
saying, 'Please, for God's sake, don't dare think about it! Your grandfather
wouldn't approve of the deed of the kind. It's not the rule in our family
to take vengeance. Besides, it's not part of the Christian way of life.
Only God has the right to punish and grant pardon. ' -What for do we have
the militia and the court, then? -They punish people for minor deeds.
There is no punishment of equal value on Earth for what the man did. -Why
won't God punish him, then? So many years have passed. -The ways of the
Lord are inscrutable. It's none of our business to judge. The twelve-year-old
teenager couldn't agree with this way of thinking as it fundamentally
ran counter to his ideas of justice. It seemed to him that his mother
was merely afraid of turning to the militia. Thus, the boy made up his
mind to act on his own. He decided not to let his brother Kolya into the
plan lest he should let the cat out of the bag. Without his parents' knowledge
he wrote a letter where he expounded everything he knew about the tragedy
of his family. He wasn't sure his deed would be properly understood so
he didn't state his surname. He seized the moment when there was nobody
near the postbox and dropped a letter with the address neatly written
on the envelope 'Zhitkovichy. For the attention of the head of militia.'
Several days passed. Sasha reckoned his letter must have been studied
and proper measures must have been taken. He attributed sluggishness of
the militia to the fact they must be waiting for reinforcement from Gomel.
Bondar wasn't a hooligan, a rowdy or drunkard that were abundant in the
village and that were dealt with easily by the district militia officer.
The matter was much more serious. Bondar must have prepared for the visit
of the militia men and may be hiding a gun somewhere in the attic. His
arrest should be carefully prepared. The boy spent all of his free time
close to the house of his victim to be. He either passed by the house
of Bondar as if by chance or made an ambush in the shrubs opposite the
house. This behavior couldn't but arrest attention. As a result, one day
Bondar seized him by the scruff of the neck and dragged to his yard. -Why
do you keep poking about my house? You must wish to rob me. Have you fallen
into the habit of stealing fruit from my orchard? It must have been you
who stole pears from my pear-tree the other day. -I don't need any pears
from your pear-tree! -What do you need, then? You either tell the truth
now or I will take you to the father. I know he beats you severely. Sasha
imagined very vividly Bondar dragging him home by the collar for everyone
in the village to see, his father taking his belt to punish him, and he
shivered. -Now you've got frightened, rascal! Bondar was very happy. -All
right, this time I forgive you, but if you happen to catch my eye once
again, you will have only yourself to blame! Bondar was never arrested,
while the reaction of Sasha's father followed very soon. One day he came
back from work and called his son up to him. -Well, hen, young avenger,
has your special operation failed? The boy stood with his eyes dropped.
-Do you hear, mother? Our son decided to revenge for his grandfather,
so he dashed off a statement to the militia. Alexandra was so much taken
aback that she dropped the buckets she was carrying to bring some water.
-Sasha, I asked you not to do this! -Oh, you must be in collusion! He
looked strictly at the wife and then at his son. They both stood stock-still
waiting for severe punishment. Their frightened faces mollified Nikolai
Rudnev's anger. He took his son by the hand, sat him onto his knees and
tousled his hair. -Do you think I don't want to punish the rascal? I really
do, but I don't have any right for this as I am a communist. Besides…
The point is that Bondar merely grassed on. It was other people who killed.
They killed by the order of … Saying the last phrase Nikolai Rudnev choked
over the word he pronounced by accident and fell silent. When a grown-up,
Alexander recollected the talk and realized what his father wanted to
say but never dared to. He was already beginning to see clearly the true
role of Stalin, although at first he was up in arms about the unmasking
speech of Khrushchev at XX Congress of the Party. He considered the speech
a bad political mistake and expected a lot of trouble to follow. For the
rest of his natural life he remained a staunch Bolshevik and atheist who
believed firmly the ideas of socialism. He flatly stopped any attempts
of his wife to hang an icon in the corner. His firm beliefs reminded very
much of Alexander Kirbay. After he became chairman of the kolkhoz 'Soivetskaya
Byelorussia' he even inherited his ways of management. He was as omnipresent
and exacting and he never gave anybody an easy time. There happened to
be times when there was not a thing in their house. Alexandra saw that
the children suffered from hunger and asked her husband, 'Kolya, will
you bring at least a handful of grain from the barn? It won't make the
kolkhoz come to ruin, while I could mill the grain and bake some cakes
for the kids!' Nikolai Rudnev reacted to his wife's requests by swearing.
He would slam the door and leave the house so that his wife remained one
on one with family troubles. Sasha did his best to substitute for the
father. He worked as a herds boy and chopped wood. The chairman ordered
to supply collective farmers for fuel that wasn't fit for building materials.
The logs were big, with many knots so it took a lot of effort to chop
them even to a grown-up. The axe would often get stuck in resiniferous
wood. The boy busied himself with every log for a long time until he finally
chopped it into billets and splinter that was used for kindling and lighting
when they ran out of kerosene. It was evident the forces were unequal
because in half an hour the boy's eyes were covered with sweat and his
hands got feeble. Alexandra pitied the son, 'You'd better have a rest!'
Nevertheless, Sasha took up the axe over and over again. It seemed to
him it wasn't a fir stub he was going to chop but the grinning Bondar,
so he would go for his sworn enemy so violently that chips flew both ways.
-Take that, and that, fascist spawn! Here! Take this! Sasha Rudnev considered
chopping wood to be a heavy obligation that he performed with a sense
of duty although without ant joy. The thing he really enjoyed was to earth
up potatoes. The teenager used a wooden plough with a sharp metal head
very confidently, just like grown-ups did. The furrows were very straight
as if he used a ruler. The horses Mukha and Malvina followed the boy's
orders implicitly as if they spotted him for a master. The widows who
lived nearby often asked Alexandra for help. -Let your Sasha help me earth
up potatoes. He is very good at it. -I have nothing against it. I can't
do without him myself. He may help if he has done his lessons. As a rule,
Sasha willingly responded to the requests of the kind. It was not for
the sake of earnings as these lonely women never in their lives had any
money as their workdays in the kolkhoz were paid in kind. The reason was
he knew how difficult it was without a male in the household. The widows,
in their turn, always gave him something for his work. This could be a
piece of lard, a jar of milk or a hunk of bread. They always rejoiced
at the food at home as they frequently lacked bread. At the same time,
potatoes were abundant. Potato is a very important crop in Belarus. No
wonder the Byelorussians are often referred to as 'potato eaters.' Toasted
mealy potato is still one of the main dishes in the village both on weekdays
and on high days and holidays. Among the great many potato dishes their
mother was so good at cooking the children preferred a simple one which
was draniki. Alexandra was aware of her sons' liking so she fried them
almost every day. She didn't go to bed after sending the cow to grass.
Instead, she kindled the Russian stove. When the billets the stove was
filled with burnt down so that brick walls turned almost red-hot she placed
cast-iron kettles and pots with an oven fork. After she had coped with
urgent matters she peeled potatoes, grated them, strained the liquid off,
added an egg and one or two spoons of flour to the thick light-yellow
dough, otherwise the dough would not rise and waited for the children
to wake up. Draniki should be eaten piping hot, or they turn hard and
tasteless. The smells in the kitchen worked better than an alarm-clock.
The boys jumped off their beds and got onto the stove bench just as they
were in their briefs and undershirts even without washing themselves.
It was very warm and cozy on the stove bench even when frost was biting
outside. Sasha snatched a steamy dranik out of his mother's hands, threw
it from palm to palm to cool off, them tore it into small pieces and got
down to the meal. His younger brother followed his example and did the
same. They ate draniki with cracklings and suet. Two or three thick draniki
were enough to satisfy the boys' hunger right up to the evening so it
took the mother a lot of efforts to persuade her sons to have a plate
of borsch or cabbage soup at dinner time. -You should eat a hot dish,
or you will spoil your stomachs, kids!.. Potato draniki still remain Alexander
Rudnev's favorite dish. When his mother was alive he frequently visited
her, and she always served up this national delicacy with cracklings.
Once, Alexander asked the mother to serve some suet. The mother responded,
'I don't have any. Today they sell at the shop whatever you wish, so nobody
wants any suet but if you wish we may slaughter a pig and I will put a
piece into the vat for you.' She kept her word. One day she served her
son draniki and cold suet. He ate his favorite dish like a dragon but
didn't feel the taste he remembered since childhood. Alexander stated
with unconcealed disappointment, 'You know, mum, the suet is not as tasty
as it used to be.' -It is, son. The thing is that you have become different…
Yet, it seems to him that he is just as he used to be! True, he is over
sixty and he's got grandchildren of his own. Still, whenever he visits
his native places Alexander Rudnev returns to his childhood over and over
again… At first sight Rudna seems to be the same as it was half a century
ago. The windows of the native house still overlook a mighty oak tree.
The tree is said to be over five hundred years old. If only he could question
him about what it had seen throughout its extremely long life! The river
Naut rolls on just as it used to. Nevertheless, Alexander notices regrettable
changes after he walks along the streets of his native village. The village
that had over 150 household before the war has become depopulated now.
Only lonely old people live out their days here. Some of the houses have
been sold off to summer residents; some have been pulled down for wood.
The windows of those that have escaped destruction but are abandoned by
their owners are boarded up. Lilac is growing wild at deserted yards.
In 1930s, owing to Alexander Kirbay's efforts, they built a hospital,
an outpatients' department, a village library and reading hall, a bathhouse
and several shops in Rudna. Today there is nothing of it left in Rudna.
The village has grown dumb and deaf. Loud cocks don't wake it up in the
mornings any more. One can't hear a herdsman driving a huge herd of cows,
sheep and goats and hastening the housewives who have overslept by his
stentorian cry 'Send the cattle to grass!' One can't hear any clear voices
of children. Alas, the younger generation of Rudna inhabitants considers
the land of their forefathers strange to them. They take their children
to Turkey for a rest rather than to their grandfathers and grandmothers.
The bus service to Zhitkovichy doesn't function any more. Eighty-year-old
people can't walk ten kilometers to the district center. The mobile shop
that appears here once a week and delivers the most necessary foodstuffs
and consumer goods is the only link to the rest of the world. The river
Naut has also changed beyond recognition. It doesn't roll on between its
steep banks any more. It chokes with oily dirty substance. In the past
no one dared dump litter into the river. Boys could be strapped even for
the stones they liked to throw so much into the water. Now people fearlessly
discharge refuge of the pig farm into the river. To betray your native
land is the worst sin! Yet, there is nobody to make people responsible
for this. The authorities have lost their prestige a long time ago and
have plunged into dissipation. Very few people have found their way to
church, the majority considers going to church to be merely fashion… Alexander
suppresses his sad thoughts. His memory is filled with painfully familiar
voices again. The pictures of the past revive as if in a black-and-white
film… *** After Sasha became a pupil of the fifth form his parents concerns
increased. The seven-year school was located in the village of Greben,
four kilometers away from Rudna. There was nobody to take the boy to school
so the mother had to let him walk on his own although she was quite uneasy
about it. The road went through the wood. There were wolf packs rambling
in the outskirts. It was rumored one could encounter even German shepherd
who had grown wild although where from they could come after so many years
when the war was over. Yet, fear takes molehills for mountains, so one
believed even the devilry like this. Alexandra crossed herself with a
sigh of relief every time her son came back from school. They had especially
hard time in winter. They were short of footwear so the rubber boots that
were patched all over were sometimes shared by the three of them. Sasha
wore them to school in the morning; Kolya wore the boots after midday,
while the mother who worked as a livestock breeder at a farm had them
on in the evening. Things became even harder after Sasha finished the
seventh form. Now he had to go to school in Zhitkovichy. He had to walk
the distance of twenty kilometers both ways! There was a school boarding
house there where children were supported by the state but Sasha refused
flatly to live away from home as he knew his mother was having hard times.
He always did his best to help her about the household when he came back
from school although he was literally ready to drop. The father had left
the kolkhoz by the time and worked as a secretary of the party organization
at a fishery so he only came home to spend the night. During the summer
holidays Sasha always did some seasonal work because he tried to earn
some money to buy clothes and footwear for both himself and his brother.
He worked as a water carrier at haymaking time. The land of the farm stretched
for many kilometers in the flood plain of the Prypiat so the teams of
haymakers were scattered all over the area. Haymakers even spent the night
there in specially put up shelters of branches till the haymaking season
was over as it was important not to miss early dew. They used a big barrel
to carry water that was very difficult to drive. Water spilled at the
slope, the horse was afraid of unfamiliar sounds and could bolt. It took
the driver who was sitting right on the barrel to control the animal.
One of the trips ended almost tragically. There was a team of haymakers
beyond a swamped log path. It was impossible to get there by horse so
Sasha had to deliver water there in a twenty-liter can. They attached
two breast bands to the can to carry it like a rucksack. The teenager
literally doubled up as the load was beyond his strength. The poles he
walked on caved in and creaked. He had to walk very carefully on them.
Once Sasha slipped over a wet pole and fell into the water. If he hadn't
had the can behind the back that dragged him down it wouldn't have been
very difficult to grip at the pole. The swamp just like a monster that
had awakened from hibernation felt the prey and hurried to swallow him.
Stinking bubbles rose from the depth gurgling. The boy's body was paralyzed
by fear. There was no one to help. The haymakers would never hear him
shouting. Even if they would, it would take some time before they understood
what had happened. The swamp would do its part before they reach the place.
It meant he had to count on himself only. Fortunately, when he went fishing
with Vladimir Semenovich Sasha often heard his stories about the war time
when soldiers had to work their way through lows. The retentive memory
of the boy kept the stories to the smallest detail. He managed to calm
down although with difficulty and began to think, 'Well, then First I
should try not to move and look around. It's dangerous to take off the
can when in water because it will involve abrupt movements. There is no
object in front that could be of help. What about behind?' Sasha turned
his head back slowly and saw a willow that bent near the water nearby.
One of its branches was very close to him. If he made an about-turn he
would be able to reach it. Fortunately, the branch hanging over the swamp
was thick enough so he gripped it and managed to pull himself to the log
path. After he reached the reliable support he took the can off the back
and climbed onto the poles. It took him less than five minutes to struggle
out of the tenacious arms of the swamp but it seemed to Sasha it had taken
ages. He sat on the poles for ten more minutes trying to come to his senses.
Then he continued his trip pushing the can in front of him as he didn't
risk carrying it behind the back again. He reached the haymakers smeared
in scum. They gently chided the boy for coming late, laughed at his looks
and none of them wondered what had happened… The next morning Sasha flatly
refused to work as a water carrier any more without explaining anything.
He asked his father to place him into the brigade that built locks at
the fishery. The work was hard. They had to unload cement, to mix concrete
and to bring it to builders. The good thing was they promised decent earnings.
Things turned out much worse than he imagined. The cement dust scattered
all over made it difficult to breathe. It goes without saying they were
not given out any gauze masks. Concrete had to be mixed by hand. By the
end of the day after carrying barrow with concrete the boy was dead on
his feet, his shoulders ached and his arms grew numb. It must have been
due to the backbreaking toil that he started to have stomachaches. Nevertheless,
the boy didn't confess to his parents and worked till the end of the stipulated
term. He imagined he would be able not only to provide both himself and
his brother with clothes and footwear but also to buy presents for his
parents after he was paid the money. He hoped he might have some money
left to buy a bicycle. He even saw in his dreams sometimes his mother
throwing a brightly colored shawl onto her shoulders, coming up to the
tiny mirror on the wall and smiling happily. He also imagined his father
pacing up and down the room in a dashing manner wearing box calf boots.
The boy was na?ve and gullible. He didn't realize that children were hired
willingly because it was easy to make a profit out of their work. A grown-up
is more difficult to deceive. When he sees a catch he may complain while
a teenager is unlikely to make a row as he's got not idea of what the
job rates are. When Sasha was paid sixteen rubles he almost fainted away.
Even according to the most conservative estimates he hoped to be paid
five times as much for three months of hard word. The manager of the works
saw the boy's state, realized he'd gone too far and panicked a little.
After all, the boy was the son of the secretary of the party organization.
If he complained to his father he might check the work orders, then the
lie will be revealed and he will be in for trouble. -Well, fellow, why
losing your heart? Of course the money is not particularly much. Anyway,
this is solid cash, unlike in the kolkhoz. You've gained some experience.
Next summer I'll give you some work that requires skill so you'll be paid
decent money. When Nikolai Rudnev learnt how much his son was paid he
realized everything but he didn't set up a clamor. He knew about the unusual
modesty of Stalin. He liked to re-read, when occasion offered, a press
clipping from 'Pravda' that was carefully kept in the trunk. It gave the
inventory of the leader's personal property that was made immediately
after his death. The list included single-breasted military jackets with
high collar of white, grey and dark-green color, ten trousers and some
underwear, five pipes with special gadgets and some tobacco. The list
included neither money nor jewels. The father said that Stalin's children
went to a common school and didn't enjoy any privileges. The father stressed
the fact and spoke in a didactic voice that modesty is the main virtue
of a person. He obeyed the rule and expected his sons to do the same.
He could have brought the manager of the works to book and even have hired
him for undisguised forgery of financial documents if another boy had
been in his son's place. As far as his own son was concerned what he tried
to do was to console him. -Never mind, Sasha. You've earned enough to
buy school uniform. As far as the presents are concerned the mother and
I appreciate the very fact you planned to buy them… School uniform wasn't
out of place, of course. Yet, the teenager who had already matured felt
quite awkward wearing it. The pubertal period began so Sasha admired girls
frequently though they didn't quite favor him for some reason despite
the fact the boy was really handsome. He was tall, muscular and could
defeat any boy of his age. Besides, he was notable for unusual keen-wittedness.
When he was a senior pupil he won school championships at chess and draughts.
Moreover, he never lost a game. Hi success couldn't remain unnoticed.
Nevertheless the girls he liked went out with other boys. It was his excessive
shyness that was to blame for this although Sasha himself attributed this
injustice to the poverty to his family and thus suffered a lot. To console
himself he read over and over again the scene from the story by Nikolai
Ostrovsky 'The way steel hardened' that imprinted itself on his soul.
His idol was Pavka Korchagin. When Sasha thought of the girl he had admired
for many year without any hope of winning her love he frequently repeated
the reproof of Pavka Korchagin to his sweetheart who preferred him to
a man whose parents were more prosperous. For a moment his anguish died
away. Yet when he saw the girl he liked embraced by another boy he was
tormented by jealousy. Once they held New Year party at school. The list
of entertainments at the party included a game of mail. Those who wished
could drop letters and greeting cards into a homemade mail box. When Sasha
learnt about this he was very glad as this was the chance to make a declaration
of love. He sweated over his declaration for many days before he found
appropriate words. When he finally managed to express his feelings he
didn't sign the letter as he was afraid of being mocked at. He thought,
'.If she loves she'll understand.' In the heart of hearts he hoped to
receive a reassuring line from his sweetheart. He anxiously watched the
'postman' who delivered the mail at the party. The postman failed to come
up to Sasha while his own letter was delivered. When the girl opened the
envelope Sasha's heart sank. He hoped the girl would read the letter and
find him in the crowd. Then he would come up to her and say, 'This is
my letter.' And he would whisper in her ear, 'I love you!' The girl read
his declaration with curiosity. Just as he expected, she ran her eyes
over the crowd. Sasha even made a step forward but the girl came up to
one of his rivals and asked playfully, 'Have you written this letter?'
His answer was, 'I might…' -Don't beat about the bush! I recognized your
handwriting! She took the guy by the hand and led him into a more privy
place. This was complete failure. Sasha rushed out of school without putting
on his coat and hat. He walked a safe distance off the school and started
crying bitterly. He was ashamed of his tears that rolled down his cheeks.
His face burnt… Never before had he thought about his appearance. He mocked
at the girls who could spend hours at the mirror. Now he was attracted
to the mirror by some mysterious force. He peered at himself for a long
time and came to a deplorable conclusion, 'Why should she love me? I am
so tall and skinny. No wonder they nickname me 'Wick'!' Sasha was at the
age when height leaves physical maturity behind. He grew as tall as 185
centimeters but weighed a little over sixty kilos. Nevertheless, the unflattering
fact didn't discourage him; rather it stirred him up, 'Wait! You will
be chasing after me!' He made up his mind to take good care of himself.
He heard that muscles could be developed but he didn't know what way this
could be done. He remembered that his godfather Uncle Albert lives in
Moscow so he wrote him a letter where he asked to give a hint on how to
exercise properly. Very soon he was sent a library of learner's guides.
Since that day he became a different person. He set up a horizontal bar
in the yard. He also dragged from the village smithy two iron pigs, joined
them with a jimmy and made a weight. He dug a hole for high jump and long
jump and filled it up with fresh sawdust. When he got out of bed in the
morning he ran outside instead of running to the stove, which made his
brother extremely discontented because the mother was not in a hurry to
feed him with pancakes. -Wait for a while, will you? You will have a meal
after Sasha does his exercises. It is easy to advise to wait! It usually
took more than an hour to wait until Sasha was through with his exercises.
Sasha would run round the village, and then he would exercise with parallel
bars and lift the homemade weight several times. After that he would pour
a bucket of very cold well water over himself. He sniffed and rubbed himself
with a towel. It was only then that he joined his brother. In winter the
exercises included rubbing his body with snow. Once he even risked diving
into an unfrozen patch of water in the river, which bewildered his fellow
villagers. Only Ivan Albinovich, who was called 'Albin' for short, who
was a strong man, could be so scornful about cold. He was extremely tall,
with long muscular arms. He always walked with his collar unfastened and
hairy chest covered with hoarfrost, even if it was forty degrees below
zero outside. Albin could behave like this because he was a sturdy fellow.
He could easily lift a haycock with a pitchfork and throw it onto a haystack.
When at a construction site he easily pushed a barrow that three grown-ups
couldn't get moving. They gossiped in the village, 'The elder son of Rudnev
has some problems with his head. He must have studied too much.' Alexander
didn't pay any attention to the village gossip and went on with his exercises.
He didn't acquire any body fat and remained as tall and skinny as he was.
Nevertheless, he developed his muscles and thus surprised very much Rudna
inhabitants who seemed to be used to anything. One of the favorite entertainments
in the village was tournaments of fighters held on Sundays. After having
some plonk bought at the village shop men gathered at the nearest lawn
and measured swords with each other. To tell the truth, they measured
swords just for effect. They rather watched the sixty-year-old Albin throwing
to the ground everyone who wished. The crowd started giggling when Alexander,
who was a little embarrassed, challenged one of grown-up fighters, 'Come
on, Sasha! Pin his ears back!' The challenged man began to turn down the
offer. -I don't feel like bothering with you, greenhorn! I'll just strike
you once and you won't stand up so I'll have to carry you home on my shoulders.
The men in the crowd, although they shared the opinion of the one who
talked, didn't accept the refusal. -Come on, Stepan! Do not hedge. You
should fight if you are challenged. You should teach him a lesson. -Are
you afraid, Uncle Stepa? The man couldn't disregard Sasha's remark. -Well
the, you have only yourself to blame! I have warned you! He came into
the middle of the circle, spread his arms wide and made a step forward
to the teenager smiling. He imagined flinging Sasha over his shoulder.
Yet, he found himself on the ground before he could bat an eye. First
the crowd stood rigid with surprise, and then they burst out laughing.
-Stiopa, have you drunk to excess? You seem to be falling from wind! Stepan
got red with shame and attacked Sasha resolutely. Again, he found himself
on the ground. After the third attempt he left the circle to the hooting
of the crowd. -He doesn't fight, he just manages by ruse. Anyone can do
this! The unusual debut of Rudnev's son as a fighter raised doubts with
other frequenters at the tournaments. There were some more people who
wanted to give Sasha an acid test but they also fell easy prey for the
teenager who used some simple methods borrowed from learner's guides that
were unfamiliar in the village. Nobody in Rudna mocked at his looks since
that day. Even women came to watch him swimming in the river in winter.
Sasha expected to see among them the girl he liked so much but she was
not keen on the show of the kind, unfortunately… Sasha Rudnev had another
passion that influenced his character. He took to hunting since he was
thirteen. He took his father's single-barreled gun, made small shot, filled
cartridges with powder and went to shoot ducks. Sometimes he could bring
home up to a dozen of them. They were a great help to his family. Nevertheless,
the father didn't approve of his son's passion. -Men in the village express
indignation. God forbid you wound somebody by a shot. You won't be prosecuted
as you are a young child. I will have to go to prison instead of you.
-Dad, I am very careful. -Watch that something bad doesn't happen! He
must have had second sight. One day Sasha came back from hunting and saw
a dog chasing their hens. Two of the hens were lying on the ground with
their throats gnawed through. He shouldered the loaded gun and shot without
aiming. He just wanted to scare the dog. The shot turned out to be aimed.
The dog whined and ran away from the yard. Half an hour later their distant
relative who was swearing called on the Rudnevs. -Was it you, lousy creature,
who wounded the dog by the shot? -Yes, but I only wanted to scare it.
Several small shots must have hit the dog. -What a rat you are! Several
small shots? Let's go and have a look! He grabbed Sasha's elbow and dragged
the boy along the village to his yard. The picture Sasha saw there was
engraved into his memory for life. The bleeding dog lay helpless on the
side. It didn't whine, only her eyes distorted by pain watched the teenager
reproachfully. He has never held a gun since the day. He has been expiating
his guilt towards quadrupeds all his life. *** The village is a peculiar
world with a way of life of its own, with its unwritten laws, customs
and traditions. The village is inhabited by peculiar people who remind
of city dwellers only outwardly. It should be cherished as the apple of
one's eye because the village is the source of Belarusian morality. Nevertheless,
the leaders of the state who were carried away by the idea of urbanization
were doing their best for many centuries to put the village on a par with
the city. They did this contrary to human reason, hence we see the result.
The village has lagged behind rather than caught up with the city as far
as living standards are concerned. But on the other hand, the village
adopted all of the city vices. Alexander Rudnev frequently told the daughter
about his childhood. She listened to him charmed by his stories. She was
familiar with almost every episode. Nevertheless, when he took some fairy
tales to read while putting her to bed the daughter always asked him,
'Dad, you'd better tell about your childhood.' Thus, he returned to his
childhood over and over again... The winters in 1950s and 1960s were snowy
and frosty. Sometimes village dwellers couldn't get out of the house in
the morning because the wind had drifted a lot of snow and buried their
door completely. The windows covered with complicated patterns. One had
to thaw the glass out for a long time with his breath and palms to look
out and size up the situation. Yet, this link to the world outside existed
for several minutes only, afterwards the frost restored its status quo
and the window was covered with new patterns. In such cases they relied
only on those whose houses the snowstorm had failed to reach. Sometimes
there was no one to help. The lucky ones who rescued themselves from the
snow prison shoveled away their neighbors and worked deep trenches to
the doors of their houses… Village morals and manners of the time should
be mentioned apart. Present day city dwellers are in most cases unfamiliar
with their neighbors. At best they greet each other, but usually they
pass by silently. On the contrary, in the village as big as Rudna with
over 500 inhabitants they knew every single person, moreover, not only
by their names. The life of every village dweller was in full view to
the smallest detail which was considered to be quite natural because the
village in fact was a commune with its unwritten laws equally binding
for all. They never locked the door of the house; they just latched it
or propped up with a stick when left the house so that a passer-by knew
the host was out. The theft they constantly warn us about in public transport
nowadays was a rare occasion. It was not because people lived in utter
poverty. The reason was they were afraid of public opinion. If there happened
to be a thief in the village he wouldn't bear the unspoken disdain of
his village fellows. But on the other hand, people shared the last with
each other. A complete stranger could ask to stay overnight and he was
never rejected. They even didn't ask him to show his passport. They invited
him to sit down to table, went halves with him in their supper while he
told them of his own free will who he was and where he headed for. When
they met a stranger in the street they always greeted him with a bow.
At nighttime they kept fire watch in turn. They walked round the village
carrying rattles watching for some insidious smoke appear over somebody's
roof. If there happened to be a fire those who had more spacious houses
voluntarily gave refuge to the homeless victims of the fire. In summer,
when it was time to gather gifts of the wood, those who were first to
go to the forest and to make sure that berries were ripe or first mushrooms
had already appeared, informed the rest of the village it was high time
they went there. They picked berries accurately trying not to trample
down berry fields. The villagers cut mushrooms with a knife trying not
to damage mushroom spawn. They collected little of birch and maple sap
in order not to weaken trees and carefully stopped up cuts to the trees.
Poverty unites people while wealth tends to separate them. The village
dwellers lacked money so they would go to the local shop and borrow the
necessary goods like bread, flour and kerosene. This was an unusual form
of commerce. The salesman Volodya sold things on credit implicitly. He
studiously wrote everything down into a thick soiled stock book. When
an audit was planned he informed all of the debtors and by some miracle
they obtained the money necessary to sink the debt. Then things were repeated
all over again. They gossiped in the village that the salesman made up
some profit on it. Yet, nobody took offence as the man risked and took
a lot of unnecessary trouble onto himself so he deserved some reward.
The same unanimity and mutual readiness to help could be observed with
home-distilled vodka. As soon as snow melted and the soil dried up a little
one could see a blue-grey smoke whirling over bushes near Rudna from morning
till night. They had only one distiller in the village while every family
required this liquid currency as it was impossible to sow and collect
the harvest without it. That is why they took the production of home-distilled
vodka as further away as possible from strangers' eyes. Every family made
home brew of its own. When their turn came they used twenty-liter milk
cans to deliver it to the place where raw vodka was produced. This went
on until the frost came in. For the winter they hid the distiller in a
safe place. If somebody ran out of his stock of home-distilled vodka they
knew where a bottle of it could be obtained. It was costly to buy vodka
in the village shop while a bottle of turbid raw vodka that was produced
for sale, as a rule, cost only tchervonets (ten rubles). The underground
distillery in Rudna was general knowledge for the district police officer.
He used to call on the place every week riding a horse. Every time he
expressed sincere wonder as if he had come across the distiller by chance.
He would knit his brows sternly and say, 'What's this? Who has permitted?
Take it away immediately!' He would allow and walk slowly to the cans
with home brew demonstrating by his looks he was going to do away with
the criminal business. The village dwellers understood this was merely
pretence and participated in the game willingly. Lamenting women would
fall to the feet of the militiaman. -Have mercy on us, comrade! We'll
have to harvest potatoes but we have no money to pay for the horse so
we have to make home-distilled vodka. Men didn't waste the time and poured
a faceted glass of 70-80 per cent alcohol strong fresh home-brewed vodka
prepared in advance. The militiaman would feign incorruptibility of authorities
and would interrogate the people severely for appearance's sake for some
time. -Well… That's true. I am quite aware of your needs. I am a native
myself, but I wonder if the stuff is healthy enough. God forbid somebody
dies, and then I would have to answer for it. They would say it's my fault
as I didn't take sufficient care, was off my guard and committed criminal
negligence! -Well, comrade, the stuff is absolutely healthy! It's as pure
as water. Kids could be given it when cured for cold. Just taste it yourself.
The militiaman would drink a glass of fresh home-brewed vodka at a gulp.
He would grunt with pleasure demonstrating he agreed the product was proper
quality. He was treated to a hunch of bread with thick pieces of meat.
He would have a bit, yet he declined a second glass. -I am not supposed
to do that. Men of foresight would give him two or three bottles of home-distilled
vodka and some homemade sausage. The inspection was over, as a rule. The
militiaman would climb onto his horse and warn at parting, 'This should
be the last time I warn you. If I catch you once again I will call you
to account.' Then he would head for the place where he supposed some breach
of the peace to take place… The command system established by the Soviet
state was eating away like rust the original way of village life. One
day they introduced taxes for fruit trees. The village that used to be
buried in orchards grew bare. The village dwellers were axing apples,
pears and plums that had been planted by their parents and could hardly
hold back their tears. As compared to their suffering, the anxiety of
Chekhov's young ladies concerning cutting down the cherry orchard looked
a whim. Of course, romanticism was not alien to the village inhabitants.
They could appreciate the beautiful in their own way. Despite this, the
orchard was a good help to the household. Access of fruit was fed to cattle
and used to make home-distilled vodka. Yet, there was no money to pay
the tax so extra fruit trees had to be cut down. Under Khrushchev who
announced the forthcoming victory of communism with free distribution
of all and sundry they imposed restrictions on the number of cattle in
the household. People were allowed to keep only one cow and one pig, thus
they were doomed to hunger, in fact. Almost every family realized this
and kept two or three piglets secretly. Families with many children also
kept a calf. When an inspection was rumored, people ferried the cattle
across the river to their relatives or acquaintances or hid it in the
forest for a while. Inspectors were sure to know about the tricks but
they were common people themselves with their vital problems. As a result,
inspection in most cases was nominal and they submitted fake reports to
district authorities saying that no breaches of keeping cattle were brought
to light. The district authorities, in their turn, piled the reports into
folders that no one ever looked into. True, some people happened to have
a stormy quarrel with their neighbors and to grass on them, and then the
violator was taken strict administrative measures to. A communist could
even be read out of the party. A village inhabitant was no more the master
of his life and turned into a meek worker who reminded very much of a
slave. Just like under feudalism he couldn't leave the village as he had
no passport. The things necessary to exist like wood to build a house,
a plot to plant potatoes and area for haymaking had to be begged for from
the chairperson of the kolkhoz or the village soviet who had to be pleased
by a bottle of home-brewed vodka and foodstuffs. The chairmen were very
little similar to Alexander Kirbay and Nikolai Rudnev. They realized collective
farmers were dependent on them completely so they maximized the dependence
for their own selfish ends. The authorities literally pushed people to
immoral deeds that frequently bordered on crime… At the height of winter
they ran out of hay. The cow didn't eat chopped straw mixed with flour
and was growing thin. The mother was beside herself with anxiety when
she looked at its hollow sides. -Our provider is going to die! How shall
we live then?! Once when the father stayed the night in the district center
where he had some urgent business she ventured a desperate step. She woke
up her elder son late at night, they took some homespun cloth and accompanied
by grandmother Varvara they headed for kolkhoz haystacks. They went in
silence and looked round fearfully giving a start at any rustles or bird
cries. When dogs started barking they fell onto the snow waiting for somebody
to turn up. It was full moon so one could see a mile away the people sneaking
along the field. Fortunately, the village was asleep. The team leader
who was to keep a close watch on kolkhoz field must have hit the bottle
already and be fast asleep. When they reached their destination they started
to pull hay out of the stack feverishly throwing it onto the cloth spread
out on the snow. The compressed hay was difficult to pull out. They had
to take off their mittens. Their hands stiffened with cold wind, the fingers
didn't bend and their faces became numb with cold. They had to stop quite
often to rub their ears to prevent them from becoming frozen. After they
pulled out as much hay as they could carry away they tied their cloths
in a knot, threw the heavy load behind their backs and dragged themselves
back. If they caught the eye of the team leader or the district militiaman
who was also charged with night watch they would be sent to prison. Although
after Stalin's death people were no more tried for an ear of rye or wheat
taken away from the field without permission those who stole hay that
was not abundant in the kolkhoz could be sentenced to lengthy terms in
prison. The mother hid the cloth with the hay under the straw safely as
they could miss the stolen hay in the morning and search all households.
She fed her cow at night only. Sasha looked at the cow gobbling the unexpected
treat and the mother tenderly stroking the cow and could hardly hold back
tears. His soul was full of contradictory feelings. The teenager was well
aware of the fact that he had become an accomplice of theft and thus he
was smitten with remorse. At the same time he realized that the step was
a forced one. If the cow died of hunger which was a frequent occasion
in the village their family would be left without bread and butter… The
care of daily bread accompanied village dwellers day and night. In the
first postwar years the government tried to keep up people's optimism
by announcing a cut in prices for food and consumer goods although the
campaign was of nominal nature for village dwellers. Their work days were
paid in kind. They managed to sell at the market things grown at plots
of land attached to their houses. Yet, the money was not enough even for
clothes and footwear. The Rudnevs' close relative who lived in Moscow
helped them to provide children with clothes. Every summer she came to
the village to store up for the winter mushrooms and berries that were
abundant in those parts. She lived there for two or three months. She
dried bilberries, mushrooms and herbs, collected nuts and prepared home-brewed
vodka from death caps and wormwood. Nikolai Rudnev once tasted the potion
she prepared and loathed for a long time afterwards. -It's not a vile
thing at all. On the contrary, this is a healing remedy. If you take it
regularly no illness will be passed on to you. You'll live to be a hundred!
These were the words Seraphima used to admonish him. Nobody knows whether
it was due to these tinctures or to the good health she inherited from
her parents that she lived over ninety and was never ill. She kept lucid
and sober mind to her last days. Seraphima brought castoff clothes she
collected from her neighbors as a sign of gratitude for hospitability.
When the mother was going over the clothes patched all over she was as
happy as present day women of fashion are when they buy things in expensive
boutiques. Yet, it was Sasha and Kolya who were looking forward to Seraphima
most of all. Among the things she presented her relatives with there was
horse meat sausage. Alexander still remembers its smell that cannot be
compared to anything. Once, Alexandra was sorting out the things of her
Moscow relative who headed for the forest right after she arrived even
without having a rest after her trip. She found a big tin with some unfamiliar
foodstuff. The red watery substance had the smell that seemed foul to
her. Sasha who was an inquisitive type wanted to taste it but the mother
grabbed him by the hand. -Do you want to have a food poisoning? Have a
smell! It stinks! The smell was really far from pleasant. 'Why did she
take it for the trip?' wondered Alexandra. After thinking for a while
she threw the content of the tin into a cast-iron pot where she had prepared
some feed for pigs. She decided, 'If they eat horse poop they won't get
poisoned by this!' To Alexandra's surprise the pigs didn't turn up their
noses at the unexpected treat, rather, gobbled it as if they had never
eaten anything tastier before. She surprised at this, washed the emptied
tin and put it into place. She thought the tin would come in handy. When
Seraphima returned from the forest for supper she made up her mind to
treat her hospitable relatives to the dainty she firmly believed they
had never eaten before. When she opened the tin she was surprised to find
it empty. 'Alya, where have you put the red caviar from?' she asked Alexandra
anxiously. 'What caviar?' Alexandra was none the less surprised. 'Well,
the one from the tin.' Alexandra threw up her hands. -Oh my God. I fed
the pigs. Seraphima almost fell off the bench with surprise. -Have you
given the caviar to pigs? -If only I had known it was caviar! I smelled
it. It stank of something so I threw it out… When Seraphima returned home
the whole of Moscow laughed at the feast Alexandra Rudneva made up for
her pigs… *** Culture has always been the weakest point of the village.
Until the middle of 1950s they didn't even have electricity in Rudna.
Once or twice a month, the people were shown a documentary or a feature
film. Boys willingly ran over the neighboring villages on behalf of the
projectionist and put up homemade bills prominently. If they managed to
find out what the film was going to be about they told village dwellers
about this displaying the pride of pioneers. They prepared for going to
the cinema just as they did for a holiday. Women fed and milked cows and
put little children to bed. Men coped with their duties. When dusk fell
they changed into clean clothes and headed for the village club together.
Some villages didn't have any public centers of culture, and then the
film was shown in the biggest house in the village with its owners' agreement.
The owners' children looked bright and happy. They climbed onto the stove
bench and cast glances at their peers who huddled on the floor with unconcealed
satisfaction. The film was shown for two or even three hours instead of
the prescribed three hours. The picture consisted of ten or twelve parts
kept in separate spools. The film tore quite often and the slide failed.
If the projectionist didn't manage to fix it at once all men came outside
to his help. They smoked and gave pieces of advice. Most frequently one
could hear an unfavorable verdict, 'The spark has sunk into the ground.'
It took quite a lot of time before they managed to draw it from there.
However, the people didn't grumble. They discussed the part of the film
they had already seen and shared their speculations concerning what was
going to happen. Sometimes the portable film projector was delayed. Then
sad news was passed from village to village, 'No film is going to be shown.'
Alexander Rudnev was right hand of the projectionist. He was a bright
and happy boy so he learnt all manipulations with the film projector quickly
and very soon he showed films on his own. It goes without saying he did
this on a voluntary basis. He still remembers to the smallest detail the
films he saw in his childhood, e.g. 'Chapayev', 'The deputy of the Baltic',
'A sailor from 'Kometa', 'Carnival night', 'Adventures of Mr. Pitkin',
'Tarzan' and many others, as if he had watched them yesterday. Yet, the
film 'The Kazaks from Kuban ' that the projectionist showed many times
at the request of the people was the most popular film with Rudna village
dwellers. The people's own life bore little resemblance to the happy everyday
life of collective farmers in the film. Yet, nobody claimed they show
lies in the film. The people were so much pressed down by their gloomy
life that they wanted some holiday. As far as they didn't have any in
their own life they wanted to observe it at least in the film. It was
much later, after his political universities that Alexander Rudnev realized
how deceitful the official ideology was. The Soviet power announced concern
for people's welfare to be its main goal in words only. One could encounter
posters with the words 'In the name of the people, for the benefit of
the people' everywhere. Newspapers wrote about it daily, radio and television
proclaimed this. In fact, the Soviet power was concerned about a comparatively
narrow cast of people that included top bureaucracy and people close to
them. It goes without saying the budget provided for social benefits to
the population. People were provided with free accommodation, they were
given out reduced-fare vouchers to sanatoriums, holiday centers and pioneer
camps. Free education and medicine were financed, as well. Nevertheless,
as compared to the revenue the state earned from ruthless exploitation
of its citizens all this seems to be hardly anything. The statements that
only under socialism the authorities take special care of the most underprivileged
population groups were not true to fact, too. Developed capitalist states
carry out their social schemes on a larger scale while their citizens
are given fare payment for their work… When no films were shown they organized
dancing that resembled very little present-day discoth?ques. There were
no disc jockeys in the village club. The show was run by the local accordion
player. They danced mainly quick dances such as waltz, folk love songs
and polka. In 1960s tango became popular. The most advanced dancers tried
their hand at twist and Charleston. On holidays so many youth packed into
the club that dancing turned into a crush, and then the most romantic
couples got to the bridge across the river Naut that was at a stone's
throw from the club. The sounds of an accordion were supplemented by the
splashing of fish in the river. Alexander was good at dancing. He had
no match at waltz in the village but he was disappointed in love so he
preferred to go fishing at night. He was an expert at it, too. He knew
habits of all fish and could choose bait for each of them. He skillfully
led the crucian, the carp, the pike or the perch that had swallowed the
bait. Every time he brought home several kilos of fish. Fishing until
daybreak was a real pleasure to him. Yet, he was fascinated more by talks
with Uncle Volodya who was an inveterate fisherman and Sasha's true companion.
Vladimir Semenovich was Nikolai Rudnev's peer. When they were eighteen
they volunteered for the front together and finished the war in Berlin.
Very few of those who were born in 1922 survived in the war. Vladimir
Semenovich and Nikolai Rudnev were lucky enough to return home safe though
with many marks on their bodies. Once, during a tank attack a fascist
'Tiger' moved over the trench where Semenov was. As a result, Semenov
became lop-sided; his head was turned to a side. It was many years later
that he gained his usual looks. Semenov didn't have a son of his own so
he treated Sasha in a fatherly way, displaying touching care and tenderness.
Yet, despite the age difference, their communication looked more like
friendship of peers. Their talks were frank and open. They enriched Rudnev
much more than the lectures of venerable professors… Sasha knew that Uncle
Volodya's father Yephim Semenov grassed on his grandfather Alexander Kirbay
so he tried not to touch this delicate subject but one day Semenov mentioned
the subject himself. 'Tell me, would you like to learn the truth about
your grandfather's death?' he asked one day quite unexpectedly while baiting
a worm. Alexander didn't expect the question and was a little confused.
Vladimir Semenovich came to his help. -You must do this. I don't know
when and how but you must… Fish stopped baiting as if intrigued by the
topic of their talk. The floats were swimming lazily along the unruffled
surface of the river and started with the ripple that ran along. When
the fishing was over and fish soup was cooked in the weather-beaten mess
tin Vladimir Semenovich went on with the talk. -A short time before he
was arrested my father told me that Philip Bondar had put him up to write
information against Alexander Kirbay. He made him drunk and persuaded
into signing a letter he had prepared in advance. My father regretted
having done this and asked Philip Bondar to recall the letter from the
People's Commissariat for Home Affairs. Bondar cried at him and threatened
to inform about his flabbiness that may discredit security bodies. He
must have done this because my father was arrested soon after their talk.
It may well be so that my father who was the informer and your grandfather
who was his victim met shortly before their death because they were executed
at approximately the same time. -Uncle Volodya, why did they believe every
piece of information in the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs? Why
didn't they check the facts properly? Didn't Stalin give them instructions?
-You must have heard about Stalin's personality cult. Stalin must have
been blinded by his limitless power and trusted Beriya too much. -Well,
it is rumored that Stalin himself signed execution orders though my father
doesn't believe this. He thinks Khrushchev revenges himself upon Stalin
for something. -This may be true although the authorities are clever enough
not to leave any traces of crimes behind. I am afraid we are never going
to find out the truth about what was going on in 1930s. Nevertheless,
the files with criminal cases of the enemies of the people continue to
be kept in the KGB archives. They may be declassified one day. I won't
live that long, of course, but you will have to see and study them… Alexander
Kirbay has been carrying the will with him for all of his life. He wrote
many letters to the Committee for State Security asking to permit him
to get acquainted with circumstances of Alexander Kirbay's death. He was
refused every time. Even after he volunteered for KGB service all his
inquiries were answered unfavorably. The persistence he displayed when
trying to have access to the criminal case of his grandfather finally
made angry officials from the pompous building with columns located in
Lenin Avenue. Once, he was called to a high-ranking official and literally
interrogated. An unfamiliar official offered him to take a seat and looked
through his personal records. -Did you volunteer to serve in the Committee
for State Security? -Yes, comrade! Alexander was surprised why he responded
in a military manner. The reason must have been the tense atmosphere in
the room that was not favorable for frank talks. -You are described as
politically aware and staunch man. There are several commendations for
immaculate service in your personal records. That is why we are surprised
at the persistence you display when trying to have access to secret information.
Why do you want to study the criminal case of Alexander Kirbay? - He was
my grandfather. I want to know how he died. -Your family was given an
official extract from the decision of Supreme Court concerning Alexander
Kirbay's rehabilitation. The state admitted its guilt and even paid some
compensation to his family. I realize that money cannot substitute a person.
Still, isn't it enough just to know the truth about the fate of your grandfather?
-It's not the whole of the truth. I want to know everything. -What for?
Maybe you intend to pass the secret information to the West with the aim
to receive a more substantial compensation? Unfortunately, the cases of
the kind occur sometimes … The last phrase of the security official and
his examining look embarrassed Alexander. He expected anything but accusation
of treason. This is what they suspect him of. His hands started to shiver
involuntarily. The security officer noticed this. -You… have misunderstood
… me… I am a communist myself; my father and grandfather were communists,
too. To trait the Motherland means to … trait them. Under no circumstances
will I do this! Alexander noticed to his horror that his tone had changed.
He came here sure of himself, with a strong intention to prove that to
know the truth about the grandfather's fate is the sacred right of his
family that no one dares deprive them of. Still, after some minutes he
turned into a humble applicant who was justifying himself of the crime
he had not committed. In the heart of hearts he was beginning to regret
he had ventured everything. -… I understand… If the documents haven't
been declassified I may not familiarize myself with them… I just wanted
to find out… -Well, Rudnev, what do you strive for - to obtain the documents
or merely to find out whether you have the right to do this? -To find
out… -Well, that changes the essence of the matter. Indeed, the documents
are secret. They still contain some information that may harm the Soviet
state when disclosed that is why we may not give them out to private individuals,
even to those who serve in the Committee for State Security… The security
officer paused meaningfully. He leniently glanced over Alexander who had
completely lost his head, stretched his hand out at parting and said didactically,
'Well, young man, you should value the very fact you serve here as not
everyone is done the honor like this, and resist any provocations …' When
he was reproducing this brief conversation in his memory afterwards Alexander
reproached himself for his cowardice. He was beginning to understand why
even strong-willed personalities slandered themselves and their friends
when they found themselves in KGB basement cells… Vladimir Semenovich
never found out the truth about Alexander Kirbay's death and the role
his father played in the tragedy. When he died Alexander Rudnev said at
his funeral in his parting word, 'I remember your mandate, Uncle Volodya,
and I will carry it out.' When he comes to Rudna Alexander always visits
the cemetery and puts two red carnations onto the graves of his grandmother,
father and Vladimir Semenovich. He has done just a little so far. He only
helped erect a monument to Uncle Volodya. He still remembers his promise.
There is time left…
A parting bell at school. A school-leaving party. A hundred grams of
vodka to pluck up courage. A farewell waltz with the favorite teacher…
Each of us experienced this once. When he was a senior pupil, Alexander
Rudnev imagined the scenes of parting with school more than once and hastened
time. Mature life attracted him imperiously, lured by its mystery and
anticipation of feelings he had never experienced before. Now when the
moment came he didn't experience any joy. He left the noisy company of
school-leavers who shared their plans for the future. He entered his former
classroom and sat at the school desk. Now it was all over! The sweet-voiced
summer would be over and somebody else would sit at his desk and scratch
the name of his sweetheart on it. A sweet nagging pain stung his heart.
His eyes filled with tears. He forced himself to keep off the unexpected
wave of sentimentality that swept over him. Ivan Yukhnevich was waiting
for Alexander in the school yard. They became close friends in senior
forms, spent their free time together, shared their inmost thoughts about
girls and dreamed about the future. The friends were making their way
through the forest slowly. They were not fully aware this was the last
time they were coming home from school. Some time would pass and they
would dream about the long road they walked along so many times and cursed
when the weather was foul. They would wish to return back to the past
at least for a day. Unfortunately, there are no tickets 'back to childhood'…
A nightingale was trilling zealously. The fresh morning wind was cooling
the face. Dewdrops were sparkling on their shoes. -So we are going to
enter the Kolomna artillery military school? -Yes, that's settled then.
The prospects to stay in the kolkhoz didn't entice both of the boys. They
liked farm work and were not willing to leave their native village. Nevertheless,
they were inspired by their parents since childhood that they should study
and go up in the world. When Alexander observed his mother sweating at
the stock-raising farm and his father making frequent trips to fields
day and night he realized the village was not his cup of tea. The boys
went over a number of professions and made up their minds that the career
of an officer was most preferable as it implied decent salary, authority
and romanticism. They were grown-up but they remained boys in their thoughts.
They imagined themselves arrive in Rudna wearing military uniform, shoulder
straps and numerous badges on their chests. They thought girls would admire
them while boys would follow them enviously with their eyes, so their
souls were filled with languor. They found information about Kolomna artillery
military school in a reference book for applicants and made up their minds
to submit papers there. Vladimir Semenovich was head of the registration
board in the village Soviet. He promised to help them complete the formalities
in the district military registration and enlistment office. Alexander's
parents didn't approve of his plans at first but after thinking for a
while they agreed their son deserves a better lot than leading a miserable
life in the kolkhoz. The occupation of a military man was considered to
be prestige at the time. At the height of summer Vladimir Semenovich called
Alexander Rudnev to the village Soviet. -They have called from the district
military registration and enlistment office. You and Ivan should go to
Zhitkovichy urgently. You will be given a letter of referral to Kolomna
artillery military school. This is almost a guarantee that you would enter
there. Alexander found Ivan Yukhnevich at one of haymaking areas. -Give
up everything. We are going to Zhitkovichy! -Why so? The district military
registration and enlistment office is giving us a letter of referral to
Kolomna. Uncle Volodya says that we may consider ourselves to be students
of the military school with the paper! His friend's reaction baffled Alexander.
He saw confusion on his face instead of joy. Ivan picked a blade of grass
and was examining it as if he had seen it for the first time. Then he
said trying to hide his embarrassment, 'You know… I've changed my mind…
Well, I've submitted my papers to Gomel Pedagogical Institute.' -What
about our plans? Why didn't you tell me anything? -Sorry… I have been
tied up with my affairs. You see it's haymaking time. It was a winder.
They dreamed and made plans but now… Alexander didn't was to believe his
friend. -You must be joking! -I am not. You see my parents are quite old.
Who is going to help them in the future? -But… You have betrayed me!..
Alexander waved his hand in despair as if cutting some invisible thread
that tied him to the friend and walked away quickly. Ivan was following
him with his eyes biting a blade of grass. The hopes for entering the
military school fell to the ground. He hasn't been anywhere as far as
Zhitkovichy and he didn't dare go at such a distant spot alone. He looked
through the reference book once again and decided in favor of History
Department of Grodno Pedagogical Institute… Perhaps it was only when he
got on a bus carrying a rucksack with his simple belongings and some food
for the first time that Alexander finally realized he was beginning a
new life. Joy and sorrow mixed in his soul into some new feeling he had
never experienced before. He even didn't understand whether it was the
wish to leave as soon as possible or the desire to stay that prevailed
in his soul. Alexander still remembers the smallest details of his childhood
and all friends in the village who were as naughty and carefree as he
was, who were always hungry and who were scared of being strapped by their
fathers. They all remain in his memory - Ivan Yukhnevich, Yuzik Kirbay,
Alexander Fedorov, Peter Yukhnevich, the brothers Bogdanovics and Kirbays,
Sasha Kirbay, Volodya Knigin, Volodya Degelevich, Sasha Matskevich, Kolya
Kazak and many others. Alexander recollects his uncles Vladimir Matskevich,
Ivan Tishchenko, Polinar Kirbay and undoubtedly Vladimir Semenovich, as
well as his dearly loved aunts Ledya and Lida who have gone to the next
world and aunt Venera who is still alive.
WEARING BOOTS AND A TRENCHCOAT IN YOUTH
Rudnev's fellow villagers Anatoly Bogdanovich and Vladimir
Degelevich came to Grodno to enter the institute. All applicants were
accommodated in the student hostel in Chapayev Street. The friends communicated
with the selection committee and found out that there were more than two
applicants for each student place. Yet, entrance terms were unequal. Military
men who served their last year and who were given short-term leave to
take their exams, as well as applicants who had some work experience had
a special contest to participate in. It meant significant increase in
the competition among ordinary applicants. A sergeant Alexei Semenyako
and a combine operator Vladimir Koulik shared the room with the guys from
Rudna. Once, Bogdanovich addressed them saying, 'I expect you to play
a dirty trick on us!' Semenyako reassured him, 'Come on, guys. You possess
knowledge while we forgot everything a long time ago.' Degelevich summed
up sadly, 'Well, but you have work experience.' The three of them passed
their exams quite well. Alexander had only two good marks ('fours'), in
composition and in German while their new acquaintances were completely
at sea even as to the simplest topics and left home with 'threes' in all
of their exams. The advantage of several marks seemed to guarantee his
entering the institute so Sasha calmed down. He spent the time left before
being called to the institute helping his parents about the house and
sometimes going to the farm with his mother. He went fishing one or two
times and brought home several kilos of carp. After walking round the
places familiar since childhood he was even sad, 'Should I really leave
for the city? I am not going to see the beauty like this there!' Then
he objected to himself by citing Pavka Korchagin, 'A human being may live
once only. He should live his life in such a way so that not to agonize
when thinking about the years spent aimlessly.' At the end of August he
received a registered letter from the institute which seemed suspiciously
thick. Indeed, instead of the information about acceptance to the institute
the envelope contained his school leaving certificate. They preferred
those who were mature enough to the chickens that had just finished school
The mother saw her son was upset about being returned his papers so she
tried to console him, 'Nothing can be done about this, my dear! We must
be out of luck to become a big boss. Still, you shouldn't be upset about
it. The father didn't graduate from any university but he is respected
by the district authorities.' Vladimir Semenovich didn't even conceal
his satisfaction. -The one who didn't serve in the army is not a man worthy
of that name. You will work for a year, then serve in the army and any
institute whether it is in Grodno or in Minsk will open wide its doors.
Stop being depressed and prepare some bait. Let's go fishing. They say
the biting is superb. It was Vladimir Semenovich who found Alexander a
job. They needed a teacher of physical training and labor at the eight-year
school in Greben. The tall and physically strong young men whose sporting
success was still remembered and who was also familiar with joiner's turned
out to be a real godsend for the district public education authority.
The headmaster met him enthusiastically, too. -At last we've got a real
physical training teacher! I remember you throwing locals onto the ground!..
Don't be afraid! I am sure you'll make it. There are many physically strong
and gifted children at school. When you catch a teenager in the lavatory
smoking he takes off like a shot from a gun so that even Olympic champions
won't be able to keep up with him. I just don't understand what becomes
of them when they appear at the distance. They aren't familiar even with
elementary techniques. I rely on you, Rudnev. It's a shame to take the
last place at the district sports contest. Alexander got down to any business
with enthusiasm. His mother used to say, 'You've inherited this from your
grandfather who always rushed to new work.' The talk with the headmaster
aroused in him the ambition that had always distinguished him from his
peers. Very soon everyone at school took a great interest in sports. The
young teacher was not content with conducting lessons only so he set up
several sports groups. The pupils hang on every word of the teacher, who
told captivating stories about the invincible fighter Ivan Poddubny, the
legendary runners such as brothers Znamenskiyes and Vladimir Kuts, as
well as the famous goalkeeper Lev Yashin. The pupils from the Greben school
puzzled everyone at the district sports contest as they took first and
second places time after time. They reckoned tentatively they were going
to win in the team event, too. Besides the challenge cup the winners were
supposed to be given a decent reward. The headmaster promised, 'If you
win the money will be spent on developing physical culture.' The young
sportsmen were already estimating what sporting equipment they were going
to buy. Of course, these should be balls, skies and a tennis table. They
also wanted to buy uniform for their football team but they wondered if
the money was going to be enough. When the arbiter announced the results
of the sports contest they couldn't believe their ears. The team of the
Greben school took only the fourth place! It turned out some results of
the team had been cancelled. -Alexander Nikolayevich, why so? We didn't
break any rules! It was affair victory! The teenagers who were insulted
to the innermost of their hearts looked at their teacher hopefully but
he couldn't understand what had happened. How would he know that the money
meant for the winner had been distributed during behind-the-scenes get-togethers
long before the sports contest? Greben school was not listed among the
winners so the results were slightly adjusted. In the heart of the moment
Rudnev wrote a protest and brought it to the district public education
authority. The inspector responsible for out-of-school activities listened
to him sympathetically and promised to sort everything out. -Don't be
upset. We'll check everything. If your information is confirmed we'll
take adequate measures. -When are you going to consider the appeal? -What
appeal? Young man, do you want us to hold the competitions once again?
That's impossible. Next year we'll nominate a new, more qualified referee
committee. I will personally see to it that there are no more problems
with that. Alexander flew into a passion, 'This is forgery, financial
fraud! What things do we teach the children?' The inspector rose from
his table slowly. The lenient smile on his face gave place to anger. -Young
man, you should be more careful with the opinions of the kind! You see
you are neither a public prosecutor nor a judge. As far as the teaching
process is concerned… We are going to see what things you teach your pupils
if they treat grown-ups with such disrespect! Alas, everyday knowledge
didn't always agree with the one Alexander acquired at school! He often
received bitter evidence that even teachers say one thing and do completely
another and that the ideals of kindness and justice are used for effect
only. Alexander spent the whole of his first salary which was 77 rubles
on the needs of his family. He bought his father and brother cowhide boots.
He bought a quilted coat for his mother. The rest of the money was spent
to put up a new fence. He gave all his monthly salaries to his parents
leaving only two or three rubles as pocket money. He pinned hopes on his
holiday pay but the money turned out not to be due to him as he had been
dismissed from school a month before the school year was over. He found
the headmaster at the plot of land attached to his house. It was a lovely
day so the teachers sent the pupils to help the kolkhoz and were in a
hurry to harvest their own potato. The headmaster was wearing blue tracksuit
trousers tucked into his boots that were dirty with wet soil and a linen
shirt worn outside trousers. He saw Alexander and feigned cordiality on
his face. -Well, Rudnev, come in. We are short of helpers. He tried to
forestall Rudnev's unpleasant question and added, 'You must have come
about your holiday pay. You see Ivan Antonovich was going to retire but
he didn't have enough workload. You were at the sports contest at the
time so I couldn't talk it over with you, then I got bound up in my affairs
and forgot completely. You know headmasters always have a lot of things
to do. As a result you worked for a month without being paid. Don't be
upset. It just happened this way. We'll give you a present before you
go to serve in the army to make up for the incident.' Alexander wanted
to say something in response but a lump came to his throat and he felt
tears were just about to fill his eyes. He didn't want to burst out crying
in front of the headmaster so he turned and walked away along the ploughed
field… The thoughts of the forthcoming service in the army depressed Alexander.
Naturally, he realized that service in the army was an honorable duty.
He was proud of his grandfather, his father and Uncle Volodya who had
served in the army. However, the failure to enter the artillery military
school discouraged him from mastering any military skills. In summer of
1965 Rudnev made another attempt to enter History Department of Grodno
Pedagogical Institute. This time he did this alone because his friends
lost faith in themselves and preferred to work in the kolkhoz. Again,
he fell short of just one mark. He was sent his papers from the institute
almost at the same time when he was delivered call-up papers from the
district military registration and enlistment office that obliged him
to report to the assembly place On November 3 with his personal effects.
*** The assembly place of the region's military registration and enlistment
office looked like a stirred up beehive. Hundreds of conscripts who had
been given a close crop were hanging around the yard. Almost all of them
were tipsy. They were drowning nostalgia for civilian life and hit the
bottle of home-brewed vodka every now and then taking no notice of the
officers passing by. A drunken accordion player played some cheerful music
that was followed by a sad tune. Somebody was trying to sing along with
it muddling the words and mistiming, 'This is the last time I am having
a good time with you, my friends!...' Mothers of conscripts were holding
handkerchiefs wet with tears and were trying to bring home to their sons,
'You should try to eat the patties I gave you on the fist day, or they
will get stale. I know you like only fresh ones…' -Don't go outside without
a scarf, or you will get a chill in your tonsils!.. -Be sure to write
every so often. If you happen to have some free time drop a line. The
father and I are interested… Men behaved in a more sedate manner. -Serve
honestly, son. Remember that your grandfather and father were military
men… -Obey the orders of your commanders, they don't mean anything wrong…
-Help those who are weaker; this is the first rule in the army… -Be careful
when using arms. We had an incident once when I served… The conscripts
listened to the admonitions and stories of their parents with half an
ear. They were far away from the place in their thoughts. The rumors about
where they were going to be sent were different every half an hour. Someone
informed after lounging about in the region's military registration and
enlistment office, 'We are going to the Far East. I heard the military
commissar whisper this to his acquaintances.' The prospect of their dear
sons to be so far away from home horrified mothers so their sobs turned
into crying. The conscripts, on the contrary, were happy about the long
journey. Most of them had never been further that Gomel and were familiar
with vast expanses of their country only through books. Now they had the
chance to see rapid rivers of Siberia and to walk along taiga! They did
their best to console their parents. -Why do you keep worrying? I am not
going to the other side of the world. Mail is delivered by planes in a
day or two to any place in the Union. I am not going to be a recruit.
The three years will pass very quickly. Another conscript brought contrary
news. -They say we are going to serve in Byelorussia. There command has
ordered not to waste money on long-distance journeys. Everything started
all over again. The eyes of the conscripts grew dim. What could they gain
by serving in Belarus? They would have nothing to tell about after the
service was over! Now the parents tried to reassure them hiding their
joy, 'The good point is that you are going to have leave more often. We
are going to be less worried' When the mother saw the arguments of the
kind didn't work she brought into play the one she seemed to be incontrovertible.
-You will see your girlfriend! Don't you know she is going to have hard
time while waiting for you for so long? The father who still remembered
how he was dying to serve as further away from home as possible started
reasoning, 'It's all rumors. Distribution of troops is a military secret.
No one will give it away like this. We didn't know to the last where we
were going to serve…' Alexander and his two classmates Andrew and Vasily
Zhogols were not seen off by anybody. Their parents couldn't leave their
households for a day. The three boys didn't have any girlfriends who would
swear loyalty to them. They looked at their reckless peers and kept silent.
They missed their childhood that was over so suddenly. They were trying
to imagine their future and envied a little those conscripts who were
embracing and kissing their girlfriends. -Why aren't you enjoying yourselves?
An unfamiliar captain wearing a trench coat stopped near them and was
curiously examining ridiculously dressed teenagers with linen bags in
their hands. -We don't drink. -That's good. A soldier should always have
a sober head. Are you sportsmen? Andrei Zhogol pointed at Alexander, 'He
is a sportsman while we are just amateurs.' The captain noted down Alexander's
surname and shook hands with him. -I am Dombrovsky. I advice you to choose
rocket forces as they are the future of the army. Moreover, you will serve
not far from home. The short talk predetermined the army fate of Alexander
Rudnev and his friends that he vowed not to part with. The 181st Guard's
rocket brigade was stationed in Osipovichi, in the southern part of the
town. The conscripts walked from the railway station to the unit lines
stepping awkwardly onto the road that had got frozen. The officers who
escorted the conscripts sometimes spurred them with the words, 'More evenly!
Go wider!' The orders sounded like a whip. Alexander looked round the
crowding peers and had a bitter thought, 'They lead us as if sheep sent
to slaughter!' The thought distressed him even more. They had to be in
three-month quarantine before taking the oath of allegiance. Vladimir
Semenovich once addressed Alexander with the words of encouragement, 'If
you endure the quarantine period you'll be able to endure anything!' He
didn't pay any attention to the words of Uncle Volodya at the time but
he recollected them later, in the very first hours of his service. The
sergeant major Dedunov formed up on the ground the battery he was entrusted
with right after the conscripts arrived at the brigade, reviewed the uneven
formation and looked everyone up and down scornfully. Alexander who was
as tall as a rake attracted his attention. -What's your surname? -Rudnev.
-You are not Rudnev. The answer should be 'private Rudnev'. Is it clear?
-It is. -The answer should be ''yes, sir!' Stand out! Alexander made two
steps forward. -Turn around! What is behind your back! -That's a rucksack,
comrade sergeant major. -I see myself it's not a cupboard. What's there
in the rucksack? -Food, comrade sergeant major! As if apologizing, he
added quietly, 'My mother gave some food for the road.' Each conscript
had a linen bag stuffed chock-full with some victuals behind his back.
The bags looked like humps. According to those who had already served
in the army they knew in the village that food was bad in the army so
every mother gave her son a piece of fat meat, a one-liter pot of butter,
a head of dried cheese and a dozen of hard-boiled eggs so that her son
ate well at least during his first days in the army. For some reason the
bags made Dedunov fly into a rage. -Rudnev, I order you after the command
'Fall out!' to collect all bags and clear them of unnecessary things.
Throw the grub into the john! -Comrade Sergeant major, this is food. It's
a sin to throw it away! -Rudnev, you are not in church. You are in the
army. Orders of your commander are not to be discussed. Is it clear? -Yes,
it is! Sorry! Yes, sir! -That's it! Fall in! Don't even try to cheat me!
I warn you the one who will keep some food in his bedside cupboard will
clean the john for a month. Dedunov walked slowly along the formation
casting angry looks at each conscript which made them funk and shiver
and taught them the elements of army service. -Remember once and forever.
Since that moment you are soldiers. A soldier is not a human being. Rather,
he is part of a military unit. I don't give a damn about your feelings.
Screams and whimpers remained in the past, in your civilian life. I am
not your mother to wipe up your noses. From now on you will obey all the
commands implicitly. Private Rudnev, repeat what I've said! Alexander
made two steps forward once again. -A soldier is not a human being. He
is part of a military unit and you don't give a damn about our feelings,
comrade sergeant major! The conscripts roared with laughter. The face
of the sergeant major was twisted with anger. -Stop laughing! Rudnev,
fall in… I will get even with you for the jokes, smart alec! For about
fifteen minutes Dedunov hammered into the heads of the conscripts the
postulates of army regulations that he formulated in a peculiar manner.
He didn't dare order to repeat them for fear of inviting new jokes. After
the order 'Fall out!' Alexander loaded himself up with knapsacks and dragged
them to the soldiers' toilet. Zhogols and some more conscripts offered
to help him. The sight of the food that had been accurately packed by
their mothers thrown into the john brought tears to their eyes. 'What
an idiocy!' Andrei Zhogol expressed his indignation. 'Our mother had to
mop up everything in the house. One could easily live on the food for
two weeks… Guys, why don't we hide at least the meat? I don't think he's
going to search under mattresses.' 'If you are willing to clean the john
you may but I won't as I am already watched by him closely,' Rudnev responded.
Platoon commanders treated the recruits almost in the same way the sergeant
major did. In 1960s there was no violence against younger conscripts in
the army that cripples lives of young soldiers nowadays. However, the
service in the army didn't seem a picnic at the time. The food was really
bad. There was no trace of the pound of meat that a soldier in the tsarist
army was supposed to be given daily. Boiled pearl barley with a little
of lard was the most frequent dish. One could also notice some small pieces
of tasteless fresh beef in it. With the food allowance of the kind drill
on the ground was really exhausting. When leaving the canteen the soldiers
tried to take along by stealth a piece of bread, a carrot or an onion
to keep their stomach till the next meal The frequent result was duty
out of the soldier's turn. Hunger can make one do anything so the soldiers
were driven to the fault over and over again. Orderlies had the hardest
time of all. They had to stand stock-still at the cupboard for two hours.
If they tried to relax a little and move their feet they were ordered
duty out of their turn. Most conscripts were not notable for their excellent
health so the service turned into real hell for them. It was only his
physical fitness that helped Alexander. When he was at school he mastered
various exercises with horizontal bars and parallel bars. He fulfilled
them with ease thus exciting undisguised envy of those who couldn't even
pull themselves up. Exercising with homemade weight turned out to be quite
to the point, too. Once senior lieutenant Uvarov who was in charge of
the quarantine dropped in at the smoking room where soldiers crowded.
-Are you smoking? -yes, we are comrade senior lieutenant. The army regulations
don't forbid this. -That's true but the army regulations require that
a soldier should be healthy, strong and capable of great endurance. Nicotine
doesn't favor these qualities. You'd better exercise with the weight.
Uvarov approached a two-pood weight and lifted it dashingly over his head
three times. Being pleased with himself he measured the soldiers with
a peering look. -Who will take a risk doing the same? The one who lifts
it at least one will be given twenty-four-hour leave. -What if I lift
you five times, comrade senior lieutenant? Uvarov looked leniently at
Rudnev who said this. -Private, you are unlikely to lift it at least once.
I know you are quite good at parallel bars but you haven't got the guts
to cope with the weight. Still, you may try if you wish. If you lift it
five times you'll be given three-day leave. -And what if I lift it more
than five times? Uvarov couldn't stand the impudence like this. -Private
Rudnev, save your jokes for girls you'll meet during your leave though
I think they will pine away before you finally have your leave. The soldiers
curiously followed the talk of their commander that was turning into a
wrangle. When Alexander walked unsteadily with emotion to the weight everyone
stood still anticipating his disgrace. There was no measuring of Rudnev
who was as toll as a beanpole against the stately senior lieutenant! What
followed looked like a miracle. Alexander grasped the weight and lifted
it over his head as if it was a phoney one. One, two, three times!.. The
weight went on soaring up upwards over Rudnev's head… Seven, eight, nine…
After lifting the weight twelve times, Alexander carefully put it onto
the floor. Dead silence fell in the smoking room. Now everybody looked
curiously at the commanding officer but he refrained from any comments.
Only his raised eyebrows gave away his surprise. -Private Rudnev, call
on my office! He pointed at the chair and offered him to sit down. -Indeed,
well done. You are going to be a calculator. -Comrade senior lieutenant,
we have made up our minds to be topographers. -What do you mean by 'we
have made up our minds'? A commanding officer decides in the army while
the soldier obeys. So I enter you as a calculator. He added in a more
quiet tone, 'A calculator is the brain of the rocket forces. You'll be
grateful to me afterwards…' He approached Alexander and squeezed his arm
slightly below the shoulder. -The muscles are almost not felt but you
lifted it twelve times! -It's all due to exercising, comrade senior lieutenant.
Since that day Uvarov took constant care of Rudnev. He exempted him from
side work that is abundant in the life of a recruit, left him in the data
processing classroom and taught him the intricacies of calculation. -Have
a look! This is topography of the area; these are coordinates of battery
linkage and coordinates of the aim. This is strength of wind. To calculate
flight path properly you should… Alexander unwittingly took a great interest
in calculus. All calculations were made by hand or with the help of simplest
adding machines. After several months he turned the handle of the adding
machine so skillfully as if he had been doing this all his life. He did
the complicated work that was usually trusted to soldiers of the second
or third year of service… Quarantine period seemed to be extremely long.
Hardly had the soldiers of the first year become estranged from lack of
restrictions at home when they had to get used to the unusual way of life
in the army. They drilled on the ground from morning till night. It was
winter but the eyes were clouded with sweat as if one had just left a
steam room. They wished they were back in the barracks and lay down for
at least five minutes but the sergeant major went on drilling them. Soldiers
took no heed of the meaning of the commands any more. They turned into
robots that marched, turned and froze as if rooted to the ground. The
marching never stopped… The sergeant major cried as if whipping you. The
only thing you want to do is to tell him to go to hell but this was extremely
dangerous to do even in thoughts. God forbid the secret thoughts could
be said aloud one day. Dedunov wouldn't forgive until the service was
over… Hunger was the thing that annoyed them most. Though Alexander was
quite accustomed to it as he often had to live off the land in his childhood
he wanted to gorge all the time. Thinking about food tired them out even
more than drilling. After retreat soldiers tortured themselves by memories.
'Well, I'd like to have a chuck of meat and a hunk of rye bread,' some
soldier would begin. The others joined eagerly. -I would tuck away a dozen
of draniki with cracklings! -Draniki is nothing! Trickled pastries! My
mom cooks so tasty trickled pastries with meat inside… -I would put away
a plate or two of rich cabbage soup! -Forget it! Draniki, trickled pastries!
I would agree to have potatoes in their jackets with an onion and meat…
-Ali baba, what would you like to eat? They nicknamed 'Ali baba' a conscript
Rzoyev from Azerbaijan. He was only a meter and a half tall and very thin.
He didn't understand Russian very well and fulfilled all commands with
delay. He was often confused which aroused everybody's mockery. Yet, he
didn't become embittered. In the evenings he quietly sang plaintive songs
in his native tongue that sounded like prayers. -Ali baba, why do you
keep silent? I guess you would spit upon your Koran and pack away a piece
of pork now! -Shut up! This was Rudnev. To mention pork to Muslims was
improper practice. Soldiers knew perfectly well that although the Azerbajanians
were Komsomol members they followed their faith strictly. The officers
tried not to take any notice of this. Alexander sympathized with Rzoyev
and protected him from mockery. Everyone in the unit knew about Rudnev's
strength so Ali baba was as safe as behind a stone wall. He returned Ruydnev
his devotion and was ready to indulge his every whim but Alexander tried
not to abuse the friendship. -Rudnich, they say you are going to be on
duty in the kitchen tomorrow. Alexander didn't take offence of the nickname
as every soldier had one. Career soldiers in the unit were called 'horse's
collars' and 'trunks'. The chief of staff was called 'bulldog' for his
huge mouth. Everyone including senior officers treated this as an inalienable
attribute of everyday life in the army. -Do you want to take my place?
-What the hell do I need for? Am I a fool? As far as Dedunov likes you
so much that you are constantly on duty in the kitchen, will you pinch
half a loaf of bread? We are very hungry. When things go on like this
we'll stop going to the john very soon. -Yes, we are going to ease ourselves
on the go. The rude joke amused everyone in the barracks. Even Rzoyev
got at its meaning and laughed softly. -OK, I'll try. Sergeant major Shupik
was in charge of the kitchen. The soldiers were rather afraid of this
career soldier from Ukraine. He was a stupid and impudent man who imitated
Dedunov about everything and demonstrated his power at every occasion.
As far as cruelty was concerned he had no match in the unit. He could
hit anyone with a fist or his boot for nothing at all. To steal bread
when Shupik was on duty was extremely dangerous. Still, when Rudnev imagined
the disappointment in the barracks after he returned empty-handed Rudnev
made up his mind to take a risk. He snatched a moment when the sergeant
major wasn't looking, grabbed a loaf of bread and slipped it into his
pea jacket. Shupik who had a practiced eye noticed that Alexander's hands
moved nervously and his face turned red so he realized everything at once.
-Stinker! You've taken it into your head to steal! The sergeant major
seized a huge scoop with a wooden handle over a meter and a half long
that was used to stir food in pots and made for Rudnev blocking the way
to the door. Rudnev had nowhere to run. The intentions of Shupik were
quite clear so Alexander rushed into the embrasure that was used for serving
food from the kitchen. If tiny Ali baba had been in his place he would
have easily got through the wall opening. Rudnev, who was a meter and
eighty five centimeters tall, couldn't fit into the opening and stroke
his head against the doorpost with all his might. He fainted and collapsed
onto the floor as if shot. A bright red pool appeared around him at once.
Shupik called the orderly, and then took the loaf of bread out of the
pea jacket of the bleeding soldier as if nothing had happened and threw
it onto the floor near Rudnev. This was material evidence. Let everyone
know that he had been protecting socialist property. The nurse bandaged
his head and he was urgently brought to sick quarters. Even now, after
so many years, it makes Alexander's flesh creep when he recollects how
they shaved off hair round the wound using a safety razor with a used
blade 'Sputnik', poured hydrogen peroxide onto his head which made blood
hiss and clot and put in numerous stitches. Alexander spent several days
in the sick quarters, then he had to be with his head bandaged about another
two weeks. The soldiers knew their friend suffered for a just cause. Nevertheless,
he couldn't make a single step without their mockery. The incident ended
only with reprimand. He wasn't taught any lesson. He never denied himself
the pleasure to deal a soldier who had made a slip a blow on the head
with a scoop. His friends advised Rudnev to write a report complaining
about cruel treatment but he remembered what Dedunov often said to them.
-You may complain anywhere, up to the undertaker's! Soon life came to
its normal. After he took the oath of allegiance Alexander began to serve
in the 3rd detached rocket Guard's battery. He was chosen for the committee
of Komsomol as the person responsible for sports activities. Until June
1966 their unit was stationed in Osipovichi. In spring there were rumors
their brigade was to be sent a long way off. This meant he had to forget
about leave and a trip home for a long time. Alexander had already got
used to the service in the army, he wasn't depressed any more. Still,
he felt nostalgia for civilian life and native places. Sometimes the nostalgia
died down, and then it flared up again. He often dreamed about his home,
the Naut and fishing at daybreak.
In June their brigade was redeployed to Astrakhan region
where instruction practice was held at the famous firing ground Kapustin
Yar. Besides the Soviet Army, our Warsaw Pact allies held war games there.
They traveled for several days. At one of the halts their train stopped
near the train that carried military men from Czechoslovakia. Alexander
was staggered by the difference in the attitude to soldiers. The Czechs
were wearing fashionable khaki service jackets while the Soviet soldiers
had common soldier's bloused with broad belts on. The Czechs were traveling
in comfortable carriages and drank beer. Our soldiers were traveling in
carriages where floors were covered with straw and they couldn't even
think about some drinks. When Alexander served in the GDR he found out
that soldiers in other socialist countries had a rather unrestricted life
that didn't differ much from civilian life. At weekends just like ordinary
employees they came home on leave and were back to their unit only towards
Sunday evening. Soldier's food allowance differed worlds apart, too. Neither
German nor Czech soldiers suffered from hunger. They were given even black
coffee. The service itself differed, too. The climate in the steppe is
continental. It's cold at night while during the day the temperature is
above forty. Soldiers whose bodies lacked in vitamins found it difficult
to get used to these drops. That is why our 'brothers in arms' had a sparing
regime. In the morning they limited themselves to some exercises. The
Soviet soldiers, on the contrary, had to take part in cross country races.
During day exercises one could often hear the command 'Gases!' It meant
soldiers had to put on gas masks and chemical protection suits. They literally
bathed in sweat wearing the suits. In the unit Rudnev was known to be
brave and to have a sharp tongue. This frequently brought about out-of-turn
duties. After day exercising of the kind he happened to blab, 'It is clear
even to a fool we are never going to need the skills. They drill us as
if we were cattle just for a show.' Unfortunately, the senior lieutenant
heard the words. -Private, call on my office! Alexander looked at the
senior lieutenant and realized the punishment is going to be more serious
than an out-of-turn duty at the kitchen. -How do you venture to demoralize
soldiers? If it was wartime you would be tried by a military tribunal.
I am going to inform the battery commander about your words. In the meanwhile,
take a can and bring some water from the barracks. In forty minutes you'll
have to report the order has been executed. -Comrade senior lieutenant.
I'll have to walk the distance several kilometers long. I won't manage
to keep within the time! -Silence! The orders of the commander are not
to be discussed! There's no time to be lost! He pressed the button of
the stopwatch confirming his words. It was no use arguing. The senior
lieutenant couldn't stand the soldiers who had a sharp tongue, he didn't
like any argument and when occasion offered he made those soldiers run
quick marches although water was delivered to the unit by a lorry. Those
who didn't manage to keep within the standard were given several out-of-turn
duties at the kitchen. Rudnev seized the can and speeded to the barracks.
Ground squirrels that were the aborigines of the steppe and were not afraid
to approach people dashed aside. He filled the can with water and looked
at the watch. He wouldn't have been able to be back on time even if he
had been light. Suddenly… What a stroke of luck! Alexander couldn't believe
his eyes. A lorry was driving along the steppe with barrels of water rumbling
in its body. Sergeant Krasovsky caught up with Rudnev and slowed down.
-Rudnich, what a good runner you are! I've been following you in half
an hour. You are covered with sweat all over, poor thing! Shall I treat
you to some water? Hey, I see you've got some water of your own. Have
you made a slip once again? You won't blab any more! -Bugger off, will
you? -Don't be offended, Sasha! I am joking. Get into. I'll give you a
lift… A hundred meters before the unit Rudnev got out of the car, waited
a little and appeared before the senior lieutenant on the dot pretending
he was out of breath. -Comrade senior lieutenant! Your order has been
fulfilled! The officer looked at the stopwatch with surprise. He lifted
the heavy can. He opened the lid. The can was full. -How did you manage?
That's impossible! I'll find out where you filled the can! Rudnev couldn't
conceal his triumph. He wanted to tell to the hot-tempered commanding
officer he had cut him down. Instead, he assumed a grave air and repeated
once again, 'Comrade senior lieutenant! Your order has been fulfilled!
May I be free?..' An important general, the former front line soldier
came from Moscow to inspect the firing practice. There was nothing unusual
about it. Launching a missile differs from firing cannon. It requires
careful preparations with even smallest detail not to be missed. Despite
its huge size, a missile is very sensitive even to the slightest exposure.
It takes only to drop a tiny object onto it and everything will come to
nothing. It goes without saying the accuracy of calculations was of special
importance. The senior lieutenant Uvarov was shocked when he was informed
that the third battery was entrusted with launching a missile. On the
one hand this was great honor but on the other hand it was responsibility.
The period when the missile is in the air may change your career drastically.
If it hits the target you may expect to be given the early next higher
rank. If you miss they are not going to degrade you but you are going
to stay captain until you retire. When the General arrived at the department
of data processing dead silence followed. -Well, sonnies, let's prove
we're worth out salt. The General was aware of the state of his subordinates
so he did his best to create a free and easy atmosphere. He joked, told
stories from his own service in the army. He did this intentionally. The
accuracy of calculations depended a lot on the psychological state of
the soldiers who made them. -Well then, who'll track our beauty? The General
called this the theatre-of war missile that could hit targets at the distance
of several hundred kilometers. Indeed, its menacing beauty aroused admiration.
The cigar-shaped missile hovered above the ground for several instants
during the launch, and then she flew high into the air as if it had torn
itself from embrace. It ascended and set the horizontal course leaving
a blazing trail behind. The calculators who were senior sergeant Kozlovsky
and corporal Boulanovich looked like pupils who hadn't learnt their lessons
and hoped that somebody else would be asked. The senior lieutenant Uvarov
didn't dare give somebody's name, too. -Well, sonnies, have you lost your
heads? During the war there's no time to hesitate. The enemy won't afford
you the luxury. The General walked round the tables looking closely at
the faces of calculators. He stopped near Rudnev. -Are you serving your
first year, sonny? -Yes, sir! -What's your name? -Guardsman private Rudnev,
sir! -Well, private, will you show what you've learnt in the army? The
title of the guardsman imposes a high responsibility. Make calculations
using the following data… -Allow me to start the urgent task! -You may!
They made calculations of flight path in two different ways - a graphic
and an analytical one. Each of them has its pros and cons. The graphic
way was simple. The standard time was five minutes. Mathematical calculations
required twice as much time but they gave more accurate results. Rudnev
had almost phenomenal memory and quick reaction. He made complicated calculations
even quicker than those who made use of the graphic way. -Comrade General,
private Rudnev has fulfilled the task. The general looked at the stopwatch
and raised his bushy eyebrows in surprise. -It's four minutes and a half.
Sonny, haven't you done a bad job by any chance? -No, sir! The general
looked at the calculations closely. The task had been properly solved.
He gave another data and was watching closely the soldier performing his
solemn calculations ritual at his table. This time it took Alexander five
minutes to calculate flight path of the missile. -Well done, sonny! The
general approached Rudnev and embraced him. -I've never met a calculator
like you in my life! Then he said addressing Uvarov, 'Thank you, senior
lieutenant, for the training of soldiers!' -I serve my country! The firing
practice was a success. The inspectors noted immaculate training and professionalism
of the third detached rocket battery. The theater-of war missile hit a
tiny target after the very first launch which was not a frequent occasion.
When commenting on the results of the firing practice at the evening formation,
the general didn't forget to mention the calculators and noted their contribution
to the success. He also announced, 'Private Rudnev should be given early
ten-day leave, as well as the rank of junior sergeant.' The calculators
who served their second and third year looked at Rudnev with undisguised
envy; some looked even with outright animosity… That evening Alexander
wrote letters home in an elated mood. The prospect of the forthcoming
leave portrayed the hardships of the military service in an entirely different
light. Even morning crosses seemed to be a harmless walk. He accurately
folded in two sheets from a notebook covered with neat handwriting and
put two photographs in which he was dressed in military uniform in between.
One was meant for his parents, the second for Vladimir Semenovich. ***
After firing practice in Kapustin Yar was over the rocket brigade was
redeployed to a small provincial town of Yuteborg in the Democratic Republic
of Germany. The journey there took several days. Unlike tanks and pieces
of ordnance that were covered with ordinary tarpaulin so that one could
easily make out their contours missiles were carried covered by awning
to rule out any chance of their being de-camouflaged. There stood a sentry
on every open goods truck. In Poland their train stopped at a small station.
An old rail man who was passing along the goods truck where Rudnev was
on the watch made a malicious remark, 'Why are you standing here like
a scarecrow? Do you think you are a soldier? You remained cattle. The
sling of your submachine gun is made of tarpaulin while a German soldier
has got a leather one. He is a true soldier while you are…' Hardly had
the Pole finished talking when Rudnev pointed his submachine gun at him.
-Move away from the goods truck. I have the order to shoot to kill! The
Pole realized the soldier wasn't joking so he made off hastily muttering
under his breath. The incident left a bitter feeling of resentment in
Rudnev's soul. 'We've liberated them from fascists, now we feed them.
They live better than we do and they are nevertheless displeased by something.'
He noticed the rail man glancing back and pointed his submachine gun at
him once again. He could hardly suppress his laugh when he saw the Pole
run away trotting. As they were approaching the border with Germany Alexander
was beginning to feel more and more uneasy. He learnt at his History lessons
there were hundreds of Soviet military graveyards in Germany. His father
shed his blood there. Now Rudnev had to serve there and communicate with
the Germans among whom there could be the ones who had tortured and shot
Soviet citizens. Yet, they were allies and were building socialism. Nevertheless,
they remained Germans. While he was serving in Germany Alexander couldn't
get rid of the thoughts that made him feel discomfort… The third rocket
division was deployed in the barracks where select fascist units were
quartered during the war. Rudnev noticed that in some places the coat
of paint was thicker. He decided those who had painted the walls were
not very experienced. Later on, the paint started to come off gradually
due to rains so that fascist slogans showed through the paint. Their rocket
unit belonged to secret elements. They were camouflaged as tank crew members
and were stationed not far from a tank battalion by intentional design.
Mornings and evenings the tanks filled the neighborhood with roaring thus
trying to persuade the locals that the tank battalion ran the show there.
However, it was an open secret what unit was deployed in Yuteborg. When
our officers came to the town barber's to have their hair cut an old German
pointed at their shoulder straps and asked in broken Russian in feigned
perplexity, 'Why a tank? You are not members of a tank crew. Gagarin!
Good!' It goes without saying that the command of the unit knew their
efforts to camouflage were vain but they nevertheless obeyed the order
although this made everyone's life more difficult. Soldiers had to spend
their leave in the unit. Only officers had the right to go into town.
Families of officers had an especially rough time as they had to be isolated
from the outside world for many months. Alexander wrote letters home almost
every day. He wrote to his parents that he still served not far from home.
They were strictly forbidden to inform about the exact position of their
unit. He promised to come on leave and asked his parents about news at
home. When h received a letter first he ran through it impatiently from
top to bottom in the hope to find in his mother's clumsy scribbles at
least some words about his sweetheart, then he read the letter more thoughtfully
savoring every phrase. The girl he loved never dropped him a line… Thoughts
about girls distressed soldiers. They were regularly given injections
that were supposed to suppress sexual stimulation but they almost didn't
work. Without relying on medics Rudnev found his own way to strangle hormones.
He devoted his free time to working out with weights. He used some hardwearing
fabric to sew a cap, attached laces to it and suspended dumbbells. To
alternate exercises he suspended dumbbells to his feet and exercised with
horizontal bar and parallel bars. After an hour of the exercises all sinful
thoughts faded away, at least until midnight. In autumn their battery
helped the nearest cooperative farm to harvest potatoes. German farmers
treated soldiers generously. Goose that must have been their favorite
dish was served on a tray with tiny glasses of schnapps. The soldiers
looked at their commanding officer and refused but Uvarov didn't pay attention
to the liberty. German potatoes weren't similar to those they grew in
Byelorussia. They were small and greenish and looked more like some overseas
fruit. When they were boiled soft, they turned into substance that smacked
of soap and was absolutely tasteless. -Sasha, you come from a peasant
family. What lousy breed is this? -I don't think the problem is about
the breed. -What's the problem, then? -There was a concentration camp
nearby. Fascists fertilized fields by the ash from gas furnaces. The soldiers
found this loathsome but they still went on eating as they had to have
something to fill their stomachs with. When they were having a short break
one day a team leader drove up to the soldiers on his bike. He walked
over the parcel where they had already collected potatoes, dug up with
his foot in some places, didn't find a tuber in the soil and approved
of their work. The soldiers crowded round the refined bright red 'Yava'.
They had never seen a bike like this before. The team leader noticed their
curiosity and offered, 'You may start up and have a drive. I allow you
to.' The soldiers looked at the German with distrust. Then some of them
tried to start the bike but they failed. The German laughed quietly. Then
Sasha approached the bike. It was the first time he had seen a 'Yava',
too, but he had ridden a 'Minsk' before. The engine started as if it had
felt Sasha was an expert. The German raised his eyebrows with surprise.
Alexander rode a couple of times round the field and returned the bike
to its owner. At the end of the day, when the work was over, the German
came up to the senior lieutenant and asked him to allow to treat the soldier
he liked so much to home supper. This was a serious violation of army
regulations but Uvarov didn't doubt Rudnev's political maturity and agreed
after thinking for a while. Still, he screwed up his eyes cunningly and
hinted, 'Take care and be worthy of the name of a Soviet tank screw member!'
-I will, comrade senior lieutenant! According to German custom, the supper
was not very substantial. They served beer, thin pieces of ham with white
bread, chocolate and coffee. They communicated without any special problems.
The host knew Russian quite well. Alexander remembered his school lessons
and put in German words into the talk. The team leader knew that politics
was forbidden ground with Russian soldiers so he tried not to touch upon
it. He only dropped a phrase as if by chance that the Berlin Wall erected
five years before divided into two not only the states but also German
families. After the words he took off his hand a posh golden watch and
threw it into his glass of beer. He waited a moment, brought his glass
to Alexander, showed that the hands were still going and said, 'West Germany!'
Rudnev went hot and cold all over. Without a moment's hesitation, mechanically,
he took off his old 'Mayak' his father had presented him before the service
in the army, threw it into his glass of beer and demonstrated the watch
still went. -The Soviet Union! The host didn't expect such a quick reaction.
He shook Sasha's hand. -Good! You are a true soldier. When Alexander returned
to the unit he noticed the watch had stopped. Moisture must have penetrated
through a crack in the watch dial. Nevertheless, the 'Mayak' stood the
political test properly… Even these incidental meetings with the local
populations were enough for Soviet soldiers to be convinced the Germans
lived a wealthier life that the Soviet people. The fact puzzled Rudnev
and invited sad thoughts. Alexander read quite often that socialist states
receive decent economic aid from the USSR. Both in Poland, when their
unit was redeployed and in Germany he came across slogans saying 'To learn
from the Soviet Union means to learn to win!' 'Why do they live better
than we do, then?' he pondered over the question quite often but failed
to find any answer. An encounter with his fellow countrymen who preferred
not to return to their home land after the war staggered him even more.
This happened during a march. A column of military lorries was in a 500-kilometer
march. The soldiers from their unit acted as traffic controllers. It fell
to Rudnev to be at the crossroads near some unobtrusive grey building.
Most of the lorries had already passed by, so he was fooling about. -Ivan,
come here. When he heard a woman's voice Alexander didn't understand immediately
that the woman addressed him. -Ivan, are you deaf? It was only then that
he noticed a girl who leant out of the window of the building and was
waving friendly at him. She spoke Russian with some odd accent. -Come
here, I'll treat you to some beer. The building turned out to be a brewery.
Alexander knew that unlike in the USSR where there were only a few brands
of beer for the whole of the country they brewed it in Germany in their
own way carefully preserving age-old formulation. German beer was much
better than Soviet one but Alexander didn't have any special liking for
it. The girl went on calling him persistently. Although he was not to
talk when on duty he said, 'I am not allowed to.' The stranger nodded
her head knowingly and disappeared. Rudnev who had missed communication
with fair sex was even sorry the talk was so short. Moreover, the girl
seemed to be Russian. That is why he was so glad he saw her approaching
him. -Ivan, have a drink of beer! It's very hot today… The girl placed
several small bottles of beer 330 grams each at his feet. -I am not Ivan,
I am Alexander. I am not supposed to drink beer when on duty. -Alexander?..
Still you are Ivan… A Russian… Have a drink! No one is going to find out.
He didn't specify his nationality. Moreover, his father was Russian. -How
did you find yourself here? The girl told her father was taken prisoner
and her mother was brought to Germany by fascists. When the war was over
they met in this town and made up their minds not to return home because
they feared to be sent to prison. She was born there and had never been
to the USSR though she considered herself Russian and would like to visit
her parents' Motherland. A military lorry came in sight at a distance.
The girl noticed Alexander got nervous and kissed him in the cheek which
made him blush with embarrassment. -Drink the beer, Ivan! I'll bring some
more. Alexander waved his signal flag pointing the lorry driver hi direction,
followed it with his eyes and took a bottle of beer. Trying to resist
the temptation he twirled it and looked around. He was really thirsty,
so he tore off the cork with his teeth and made several drinks. The beer
was cold and flavored. He unwittingly drank several bottles and was soon
very sorry about it. The beer worked as diuretic. He couldn't desert his
post because a column of lorries could appear any moment. Besides, there
weren't any bushes nearby where he could hide to relieve himself. He reckoned
the march was nearly over so traffic controllers were just about to be
withdrawn. However, his bladder didn't want to wait any longer. Alexander
couldn't endure any more so he rushed to the nearest house and relieved
himself looking around like a thief. About thirty minutes later a GAZ
car covered with tarpaulin arrived. Senior lieutenant Uvarov opened the
door. -Private, you may leave your post! Alexander looked back. The stranger
was waving her hand friendly. -See you, Ivan! Uvarov noticed this and
smiled. -I see, Rudnev, you've had time to have an affair. -No, comrade
senior lieutenant, it's just a … pure accident.-Well, well, take care!
After pure accidents children may be given birth to. The traffic controllers
in the car laughed quietly with content. *** Alexander was looking forward
to the leave granted by the general. After the bustle to do with redeployment
to Germany was over the battery commander captain Kvashenov called him.
-Rudnev, try to understand me, will you? I don't doubt the decision of
the general. Still, I advise you to wait a little with your leave. Most
of your service is still ahead. The journey home will only torment your
soul. Besides, what are the soldiers who serve their third year going
tot think about it? Most of them haven't had any leave. Alexander agreed
with the arguments, although unwillingly. Nevertheless, some months later
he reminded the captain about the gift granted by the general. Kvashewnov
balked a little, and then granted him the leave. After they celebrated
the new 1967 year, right before Christmas Alexander set out home. The
journey was long, and he imagined many times meeting his parents, walking
in the uniform along the village with all envious eyes fixed on him and
girls following him with their eyes. In the evening he would go dancing.
And who knows… At this point his thoughts came abruptly to an end. His
imagination refused flatly to depict the scene of meeting his sweetheart…
When Alexander arrived in Zhitkovichy, he decided to walk the painfully
familiar distance. It was early morning so he couldn't expect any passing
car. It was over twenty degrees below zero. Snow was crunching under his
boots. His cowhide boots shone despite the frost. No professional shoemaker
could achieve the same result. Enterprising soldiers applied a thick layer
of shoe polish onto the top of their boots and ironed it. Blacking nearly
ate into leather. It was enough to wipe dust off the boots with a piece
of cloth and they shone again. When Alexander was passing familiar places
he recollected school years. It was only a short time before that he and
Ivan Yukhnevich walked here with kersey bags behind their backs having
a harsh word to say about their teachers who had overloaded them with
homework. This seemed to have been a long time ago! He wished he could
sit at the school desk once again!.. Soon the Naut heaved in sight. The
locked river was waiting patiently for spring to come. Some more distance
to walk and there was his parents' home at the turn of the street. Alexander's
heart began to palpitate. Despite the dusk he noticed from a distance
his mother with an armful of wood. She heard boots creaking, gave a frightened
scream, the wood fell off her hands and she hurriedly returned to the
house. Nikolai Rudnev had already woken up and looked at his wife with
alarm. -What's the matter? -Shura… Over there… He's come on leave. -Where?
Have you seen him? -I haven't but I feel it's him. Several minutes later
Alexander entered the house. His mother rushed to his embrace and burst
out crying. -Mum, will you stop crying? You see I am safe and sound. He
stroked her hair tenderly and noticed it had grown greyer. The father
examined his son from head to foot and was pleased to see he had matured.
When his turn came he embraced the son tight. -Are you still a private?
Haven't you risen to the rank of General? -I haven't risen to the rank
of General but I have been promoted to the rank of junior sergeant by
order of a general. 'Oho! This is a rare occasion for the one who serves
the first year,' the father noticed with competence. 'How have you distinguished
yourself?' The talk made them forget about breakfast. The mother threw
up her hands and bustled around the kitchen. -Oh my God! What a fool I
am! You must have had nothing to eat for more than a day. Why do I stand
here with my mouth open? The leave flew by in an instant. During the first
days Alexander jumped out of bed at seven o'clock as if by order. The
biological watch worked better than an alarm clock. Then he remembered
he was at home so he luxuriated in bed as if he wanted to have his sleep
out until the service was over. Vladimir Semenovich heard about his arrival
and called on them in the evening. He looked at the stately figure of
his young friend with admiration. His eyes were radiant with genuine fatherly
love. However hard Alexander balked at first saying he didn't have time
to communicate with everyone he nevertheless dragged him out to winter
fishing. When Alexander was pulling perches from a hole he was extremely
delighted. It was very hard to part. There was no hope for a new leave.
That meant he wasn't going to see his native place for about two years.
Everything seemed to have been already discussed. Nevertheless, he couldn't
dismiss the thought he had failed to ask about something and say an important
thing to somebody. The captain turned out to be right. It was more difficult
to leave the parents for the second time. Alexander asked his parents
not to see him off in order not to aggravate the parting. He walked to
Zhitkovichi with his younger brother only…
Rudnev was promoted to the rank of junior sergeant before the Day of the
Soviet Army during the second year of his service. The rank gave him serious
disadvantages by army standards. The allowance of a private was fifteen
marks while a junior sergeant was given an allowance of thirty marks.
The money was nothing special. Nevertheless, they enabled one to buy some
food in the shop on the territory of their unit. Alexander usually bought
a long loaf, a can of man-made honey and a bottle of milk.
Soon after he had been promoted he was ordered to come to the battery
commander. There was Rudnev's personal record on the table before the
-Rudnev, I see that your grandfather and father were communists.
-Yes, comrade captain!
-have you ever thought about joining the party?
-Never, comrade captain!
Rudnev became confused. Frankly speaking, the thought had never occurred
to him. It was quite clear why his grandfather and father were Communists.
They both fought at the front line. He hadn't done anything in his life
that would enable him to enjoy the high title equally with them.
The battery commander apprehended Rudnev's confusion in his own way.
-Now look here, junior sergeant… It is a great honor to be a member of
the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The honor is done to the very
best. There are quite many old-timers in the unit who try to push their
way to the party by right and wrong. These careerists should not be party
members. You have shown yourself to good advantage. You are high achiever
in battle and political training. You are also deputy secretary of the
battery Komsomol organization. Think over my offer carefully. The senior
lieutenant Uvarov and I are ready to provide you with our recommendation.
I am sure the Komsomol committee will support us, too.
A month later the battery commander asked his question once again. He
heard the answer he had expected.
-Thank you for the trust, comrade battery commander! I will do my best
to keep the high title of the CPSU member.
I didn't doubt you, junior sergeant. Remember a Communist soldier enjoys
only one privilege, i.e. to be the first to march into the battle.
-I serve my Motherland!..
The fact he was accepted a probation member of the CPSU had a noticeable
impact on Alexander's behavior. He started to have a stricter attitude
to his actions as if someone invisible watched his every step. Before
lights-out, secretly from his friends who noticed the change he took the
probationary member's card from the pocket of his soldier's blouse and
studied it in the dim moonlight that struggled through the windows of
the barracks. This just seemed to be a piece of an ordinary cardboard
and several pieces of paper. Nevertheless, it possessed some magic force
that made his heart palpitate. Alexander experienced something of the
kind in front of an icon at home. He was brought up in the atmosphere
of militant atheism and never went to church but when he looked into the
eyes of Jesus he had an overwhelming desire to cross himself and to fall
onto his knees. Now he experienced the same. Involvement in the party
seemed to be similar to the faith in God so he carefully kept the feeling
in his soul. His commanding officers always made him make speeches. He
never had to search for words in everyday life and could spend hours telling
entertaining episodes from the history of different countries while in
public he was confused for some reason. Necessary words seemed to get
stuck in his throat and when he made efforts to force them out he sounded
primitive and insincere. He never learnt to make speeches and thus displeased
'Rudnev, you are a communist and the leader of youth. A leader should
be able to carry away by his words and to lead,' taught him the secretary
of the Komsomol committee of the battery senior lieutenant Tyushlyayev.
Alexander got irritated, 'Comrade senior lieutenant, don't make a sexton
out of me. I am already considered to be a careerist. Are there any complaints
as far as my service is concerned?'
-There aren't any. You learnt to work the computer very quickly.
The computer was placed on ZIL chassis and was created for military purposes.
When it was delivered, the command was shocked. The new technology of
data processing required re-training calculators. The calculators were
afraid of the bulky strange and dashed aside like the devil from holy
water doing their best by right or wrong to use more familiar methods.
Rudnev who had an excellent memory managed to know the computer and helped
his parents as much as he could. As a result his authority among the soldiers
increased even more. After Alexander saved the battery from inevitable
showdown once, he became quite untouchable and rid himself of duties in
the kitchen till the service was over.
An inspection came out of the blue. It was carried out by a colonel from
Moscow who was rumored not to forgive even slightest shortcomings. He
could make a mountain out of a mole hill so that the command didn't know
what to do about it afterwards. It was too late to improve the situation.
Fortunately, Rudnev caught the eyes of the colonel who was walking into
the battery with a ferocious look. When the inspector saw the junior sergeant
who had among other service decorations a badge of Kiev 'Dinamo' on his
chest he literally flew into a rage.
-What's your surname?
-Junior sergeant Rudnev, comrade colonel.
-What is the piece of tin you are wearing on your chest?
-That's a present from the team of Kiev 'Dinamo', comrade colonel.
-A present? How did you distinguish yourself that the USSR champion gave
you a present?
-I didn't do anything special, comrade colonel. I just played in reserves.
-Yes, sir! I didn't have time move up to the first team. Conscription
prevented me. However, when the service is over I will restore my shape
and play as outside rights.
The colonel was keen on football. Whenever a football match was broadcast
on TV he even left important meetings under different pretexts. Now he
was talking to the player of Kiev 'Dinamo'! Rudnev didn't realize himself
how the words escaped his lips but it was now too late to cut back so
he went on bluffing. It was only the fact that Alexander was a walking
football encyclopedia that saved him. He knew names of all championship
players, as well as their physicality, sports achievements, strong and
weak points. The fascinated colonel broke all army regulations, took Rudnev
by the arm and drew him aside. He showered him with questions about his
favorite team. Rudnev answered without a flub. Then the talk switched
over to fishing. They both turned out to be inveterate fishermen.
-Sergeant, will you be able to make fishing net for me?
-I will, comrade colonel!
That was going too far! He had never made any nets. He hadn't even seen
the way it was done. Yet, Khlestakov's syndrome kept on pushing Alexander
for big trouble. However, there was a lot of time before he was exposed.
It would take the colonel some time to obtain the necessary stuff, then
it would take some more time to make a net, at least he would say it was
made, so he could manage to think up something. The most important thing
was he managed to lull the vigilance of the inspector. The colonel lulled
by the talk with the dashing sergeant inspected the battery without the
captiousness that was so typical of him. The inspection results were favorable.
When it was over the senior lieutenant Uvarov couldn't conceal his surprise.
-I considered you to be a resourceful soldier but I should never have
thought you would be able to take the colonel in! You can pull a man's
leg but I wonder whether you'll be able to make a net?
-I won't, comrade senior lieutenant. I have never made a net in my life.
-OK, we'll think something up.
Uvarov didn't deceive him. He found a soldier in the unit who made a net
that was a lovely sight. The colonel was very pleased. He promised not
to miss a single match of Kiev 'Dinamo' with Alexander's participation…
In 1967 relations with China became extremely strained. Ceaseless provocations
of the Chinese on the border threatened to grow into large-scale hostility.
There were sinister rumors in the unit the Chinese threatened to begin
hostilities on the eve of 50th anniversary of the October Revolution.
A state of emergency was declared in the 181st rocket brigade. Soldiers'
knapsacks with the necessaries where placed at their beds in case of alert.
The pyramid with submachine guns was placed nearby. A real hysteria set
in the unit. Political workers gave daily talks reminding soldiers of
love to their Motherland and the need to be ready to protect its borders.
These admonitions could have sounded quite natural in time of war. The
father used to tell that feature stories by Constantine Semenov and Alexei
Tolstoy boosted soldiers' morale and the song 'In the dugout' warmed their
souls. Yet, that was the time of war against fascists. Now the country
that had quite recently been our ally turned out to be an enemy. During
political briefings at school they were frequently read newspaper articles
which asserted the USSR and China are brotherly countries forever. Alexander
understood the failure to obey the order of the commander was equal to
betrayal but he still couldn't imagine shooting people he didn't hate
at all. Fortunately, things turned out all right.
According to unwritten army laws soldiers who served their third year
started to count out the time left before the service was over. Every
evening before lights out a soldier who was serving his first year jumped
onto a stool and announced, 'There are … days left before the discharge!'
The barracks answered in a unanimous 'Hurrah!' Old-timers prepared for
return to civilian life in advance. They bought simile presents, photographed
for the album and made plans for the future civilian life.
Andrew and Vasiliy Zhogols whom Alexander was called up for military service
with served as topographers so Rudnev didn't see much of them. He made
friends with three battery soldiers who appreciably excelled other soldiers
in education and were nicknamed 'intellectuals'. Michael Goloshchapov
was conscripted from Tosno that was near Leningrad; Nikolay Grebenets
came from Novozybkovo district, while Alexander Samsonenko was called
up from Vedrich, Gomel region.
The less time was left before the service was over the more frequently
Alexander pondered over his future. His friends tried to persuade him
to enter a nautical school either in Odessa or Novorossiysk. The political
supervisor major Kanyuk praised highly the military and political school
-You've got a talent. After you graduate from Journalism Department you'll
have a chance to get to the editorial staff of 'Krasnaya Zvezda'. If you
don't want to study you may choose career military service and become
commander of a control platoon.
The suggestions seemed to be very tempting. However, Alexander longed
to go home and he frankly confessed to this.
His friend Michael was badly disappointed.
Rudnev put his arm round his friend's shoulder, 'Don't take any offence!
Sea is not my cup of tea. The service in the army has made me so sick
and tired that I'd better go to the kolkhoz.'
-You must be joking!
-I am. I'll risk entering History Department once again. If I fail then
I'll go to work in the kolkhoz.
-You won't fail. You are obstinate…
When there were several days left before the order of discharge their
unit was stirred by the news about events in Czechoslovakia. The neighboring
tank brigade marched to Prague quickly as a part of the Limited Contingent
of Soviet troops. They began to rumor their rocket brigade was going to
be redeployed there, too. No one wanted to believe this but everyone had
disquieting apprehensions so Rudnev made for the Komsomol committee of
the battery. Tyushlyayev met him with a worried look on his face.
-The order is secret. I would not tell anyone about it. You are my deputy,
though. It has been decided to demobilize only a part of non-commissioned
officers and other ranks whose service is over in autumn. The rest, including
you, will remain in the reserve until the situation clears up.
-Comrade senior lieutenant, how's that?
-Rudnev, I am surprised at you. You are a communist! In stead of volunteering
you moan like a soldier who serves his first year.
- Comrade senior lieutenant!..
-Stop talking! The order has been signed and I am unable to revoke it.
Rudnev rushed to Uvarov as there was no one else to rely on. Though he
knew Uvarov was going on leave Alexander hoped he might not have left
Uvarov was packing his suitcases diligently. Alexander saw him and gave
a sigh of relief.
-Rudnev, someone must have been at your heels.
- Comrade senior lieutenant! Thanks God you are still here. Help me to
be discharged! You know I have prepared a reliable substitute for myself,
Valery Groshev from Tyumen knows the computer none the worse than I do.
-Well, as far as 'none the worse' is concerned I doubt it strongly.
-Well, he lacks in experience but he has scrutinized the technology of
computer data processing. I have been coaching him several months. He
can keep within time limits now.
-Rudnev, you are crying for the moon. I am not a brigade commander.
-You can do anything, comrade senior lieutenant! Help me. I've never let
The last phrase impressed Uvarov. He was an ambitious person who always
assumed an independent air. He frequently ventured the liberties no one
else would be able to get away with while for him it was like water off
a duck's back. Once, Alexander was an unwitting accomplice of his squabble
with the brigade commander when some system failures came to light in
the work of the computer. The annoyed brigade commander started to tell
-You've made a mess of the computer, you are bloody fools! What shall
I do now?
Uvarov answered at a moment's notice.
-You may try to repair it, comrade colonel!
The impudence made the brigade commander choke with anger. He wanted to
say something but he saw Rudnev, so he waved his hand and went out.
Although he had a too high opinion of himself, the senior lieutenant could
value others. Rudnev appealed to him because he had mother wit and brilliant
school education. Sometimes Uvarov noticed he yielded to Rundev in some
respects. This upset him but never turned into a reason for discord. There
was no denying the truth he could always rely upon Rudnev just like upon
-OK, I'll try. Wait for me here.
He headed for the battery commander even without changing his clothes,
just as he was wearing blue tracksuit trousers and a light green shirt.
He was back in about fifteen minutes.
-You may go and pack your suitcase. You are in the list of those who are
to be discharged.
Rudnev almost choked with happiness. He had always kept at arm's length
and never called his commander by name, even during their friendly talks,
but now the words escaped his lips, 'Valery Pavlovich… Thank you! Honest
to God, I'll never forget your kindness!'
On June 22, 1968 at the formation they announced the names of those who
-Guardsman sergeant Rudnev!
-the command awards you by a letter of commendation for achievements in
military and political training and for immaculate service.
-I serve my Motherland!
The battery commander presented the letter of commendation to him and
shook his hand.
-Happy journey, sergeant! I wish you to enter the institute.
Several hours later followed by the envious looks of those who had been
struck off the list at the very last moment, they were driven by ZIL cars
to the brigade first where Alexander was struck off the party register
and then to Magdeburg where a troop train to Moscow was made up. There
were several hundred of demobilized soldiers there. They were divided
into companies and drilled several days on the ground preparing them for
the final review. Each of them was given new uniform and could optionally
take a set of winter wear and some underwear. Most soldiers refused to
take long underwear but the sergeant major who handed the things out didn't
want to stand any objections, 'I am ordered to hand everything out and
I will. You may do whatever you want with the things.'
Everyone had a free hand what to do with the imposed gift. Those soldiers
who were lazy to mess about with the unnecessary uniform just threw it
into the bushed at the check-point. Some jokers laid out the words 'Peace'
at the town gates on an embankment using long underwear.
The final review was traditionally completed by the march 'Slav farewell'.
Rudnev was sick and tired of military life. Nevertheless, he was excited
by the tune familiar since childhood. It was only now that he understood
both his father and Vladimir Ivanovich were right saying the army helps
a person grow mature. He gained in strength significantly. Before the
service in the army he weighed sixty five kilos, when the service was
over he weighed eighty five. His character had undergone significant changes,
too. There were no more traces left of the youth recklessness. Alexander
learnt to command himself. All his actions displayed confidence.
Almost the whole of the city gathered to see off the troop train. Bustle
reigned on the platform. Sergeants major were running up and down checking
the present staff and swearing on every occasion. Soldiers had managed
to obtain some alcoholic drinks, raised their spirits, told jokes and
jokes with the local girls who crowded near the carriages. Older women
many of whom had tears in their eyes slipped food into soldiers' hands.
Men kept aside and watched with curiosity everything that went on. Although,
unlike women, they were more reserved about expressing their emotions
they also wished well. When the train started off people began to throw
flowers into the open windows. Alexander didn't expect any seeing-off
as touching as this. He remembered his father's stories about how inhabitants
of liberated Prague met Soviet soldiers. Those people were Slavs, but
now they were seen off by Germans, the children of those who lost the
war. He looked into their faces and observed merely sincere cordiality.
That is why when a tipsy soldier threw a burning cigarette into the crowd
he grabbed him by the elbow.
-What are you doing, son of a bitch? You are disgracing the army!..
The journey home took about a week. Soldiers felt freedom and hastened
to celebrate it. At every stop of the train somebody managed to get some
alcohol. In the middle of their journey it was rumored the trainmaster
demands bribes from every passenger, allegedly for contingency provisions.
The tipsy soldiers were outraged to the innermost of their hearts.
-This rat wants to make a profit out of us!
A group of volunteers headed for the staff coach to settle the matter.
Rudnev realized that passions flared up and accompanied them. The trainmaster
saw a militant delegation and understood he had gone too far.
-How much do you demand from a person? We'll chip in on the square. The
money will be enough both for a funeral repast and a good monument to
The trainmaster was white as a sheet.
-That's … a mistake… You've misunderstood me! Please keep discipline or
I'll have to send for military patrol.
-Do you dear threaten us, son of a bitch? Chaps, let's throw him out of
Several intoxicated soldiers made for the trainmaster. Rudnev realized
they perceive the situation inadequately and stood between them and the
-Sasha, have you taken it into your head to protect him? Are you betraying
us? Step aside!
-I am protecting you, idiots. You may get even with him, he deserves it
but then you are going to spend the rest of your life in prison. Isn't
the price too high? Think of your mothers who may never wait for you.
The confident tone had a sobering effect on the soldiers.
-Sasha, you are right! Let's go and have booze! Sasha, are you going with
-Yes, I am!
-Let's go, then!
The Zhogols brothers and several guys from Zhitkovichy district traveled
in the same train. They got out in Minsk.
-Chaps, we've been sober as judges for the whole week. Now when it's all
over we may bend the elbow. I know there is a decent grocery near the
railway station. I can make a quick run over to the shop, - one of the
demobilized guys suggested.
-You may, but take care not to run up on the patrol, - Rudnev warned him.
-What do they have to do with us now? We are free people!
-As long as we wear the uniform we're not free. The patrol is fully entitled
to send us back to the unit for violation of army regulations.
They didn't risk going to a caf? in the uniform and cracked a bottle in
a public garden. Alexander didn't become used to drinking. Even a hundred
grams made him dizzy. He wanted to reach home as quickly as possible but
it was a lot of time left before the evening train so they loafed their
time away near the railway station for several hours trying not to catch
the eyes of the patrol…
The army service literally made us related with each other. Rudnev still
remembers his army friends Grishkevich Zbignev, Anatoly Mamed-zade, Alexander
Samsonenko, Nikolai Gribents, Michael Goloshchapov, Vasily Skarzhevsky,
Oleg Khmelevsky, Nikolai Tyupalo, Viktor Bondarenko, Murat Khoudaiberdiyev,
Dzhavliyev and many others.
The meeting with relatives went in just the same as when he came on leave.
The mother was fussing around the yard, as usual. When she saw the son
she didn't recognize him at once as the changes were too striking. She
saw off tot eh army a thin teenager. Now a stately man had come back.
When Alexander embraced his father and lifted him off the ground hands
down, the father grunted, 'You've made a real man!..'
In the evening they laid several tables in the yard under the shed and
placed wooden benches. Half of the village was Rudnev's relatives. All
of them, both close and distant, as well as friends and acquaintances
considered it their duty to call on the soldier who had just returned
from the army and to rejoice at his achievements together with his parents.
Alexander knew that about fifty people were going to gather so he said
to his mother, 'Don't worry, I've got the money to buy spirits. Do we
need anything else to buy? Nikolai and I will go to the shop.'
-Don't worry, sonny! I have prepared everything in advance. I bought a
bottle every time I was given my pay. If we don't have enough there's
some home-brewed vodka. Go and have a look under the sofa. I have piled
up a lot!
There hiding place turned out to be empty. The brothers decided their
mother had confused something so they carefully examined all privy places
in the house where spirits could be kept but they failed to find anything.
The perplexed brothers told this to their mother. She showed up her hands,
rushed to the sofa and then to her husband with her fists clenched.
-You lousy drunkard! Haven't I given you enough? You've guzzled everything
down to the last drop! How shall I look people in the face now?
Nikolai Rudnev meekly suffered the blows that were raining down onto him
and was trying to calm down his wife who had flown into a rage.
-Well, that's enough… Big deal! I had drunk everything because I worried
about the son.
-Look who's talking! You'd better keep silent. You worried about anything
but your son.
There was no time to settle the matter as guests had already arrived.
The tables burst with snacks. Although the village menu is far from being
notable for any special extravagance it is not inferior to the one in
town as far as variety is concerned. Village inhabitants don't give themselves
a lot of treats in everyday life but they always keep some village sausage
dried in the attic, bloated meat, and cheese for some special occasion.
Fried eggs with cracklings and pancakes stand high in people's esteem.
Cutlets, fish, hen or turkey served with boiled potatoes, salted cucumbers
and sauerkraut, pickled and salted mushrooms, fruit and vegetables - far
from every restaurant can offer the choice like this. Nevertheless, sad
as it may sound it is not bread but it is alcohol that runs the show at
a village feast. A guest who is not very squeamish may forgive the hosts
lack in snacks but he thinks vodka must flow like water.
Before his son's return Nikolai Rudnev started to hit the bottle quite
often. He didn't pay any attention to his wife's admonitions.
-People get just one bite at the cherry of human life. There may be some
life in the next world but we are sure not to have an occasion to clink
Sometimes they tanked up so much they even didn't feel the smell of alcohol
and drank mechanically one glass after another. One day Alexandra made
an experiment. When her husband asked to bring another portion of home-brewed
vodka she filled the kettle used as a bottle at unofficial feast with
common well water and warned Nikolai very strictly, 'I've poured the last
portion. The one I had kept for Easter. For the life of me, there's nothing
The drinking companions who were on the point to fall off the bench filled
their glasses, admired the transparence of their contents and gulped the
liquid. They screwed their eyes and opened their mouths with pleasure,
waved their hands, smelled salted cucumbers and grunted, 'That's real
fresh home-brewed vodka! Let's set fire to it and see how it burns!'
Traditionally, they found out the quality of home-brewed vodka by its
burning. One dipped in a piece of paper into the glass and set it to fire.
When the flame was violet and almost unnoticeable the spirit was forty
degrees strong. When the flame was red and white it testified to the fact
the glass contained raw vodka. For fear of being disclosed Alexandra hastened
to shame her husband, 'You're so full you can't make out what you are
The words of his wife worked. Nikolai lifted his forefinger upwards, waved
it from side to side and said in a strict manner, 'It's none of your business.'
Then he looked at his companion and specified, 'Is it fresh home-brewed
vodka?' The companion confirmed without any hesitation, 'It is…'
Fortunately, although struggle against alcoholism was announced in the
press from time to time it was mainly of propaganda nature. They wrote
about the need to watch over the quality of produced spirits and developing
the culture of drinking spirits. The quatrains of the poet Rasoul Gamzatov
from Dagestan that glorified medicinal properties of wine were very popular.
The poet asserted, 'Everyone may drink but the thing is that one should
know who with, why and how much he drinks!' His response to those few
who criticized him was, 'Those who drank are gone, and those who drink
will die but I wonder if teetotalers are immortal.' There was no lack
in spirits. Even village shops, besides vodka and fortified wine called
'plonk', offered cognac and dry wine. They were cheap, e.g. a bottle of
Ukrainian table wine 'Rkatsitely' was less than a ruble, a bottle of Moldavian
'Fetyaska' cost a ruble and a half while a bottle of Bulgarian 'Risling'
was two rubles ten kopeks. 'Gamsa' sold in three-liter bottles used as
a decanter later was especially popular. Nevertheless, these delicate
drinks were consumed only by intellectuals, common people preferred vodka
Rudnevs' quests didn't pay any special attention to the hitch about spirits.
They attributed it to the anxiety of the parents whose son had finally
returned from the army. The feast went on until daybreak. The questions
about the army were followed by talks about politics, and then they started
to discuss village matters. Even the staunchest adherents of village life
and agriculture advised the demobilized soldier, 'You should go to town,
Alexander. There is no future for you in Rudna.'
Unfortunately, the words had bitter truth. It was already at the time
that the first signs of problems Byelorussian villages faced emerged.
Youth received good education in cities but they couldn't find a proper
application for it in their native place, so they chose not to return
to their villages. Village population reduced, one could hear voices of
children in the street less and less often.
PERIOD OF HAPPINESS
Alexander was a night owl by nature so he often dreamed in the army,
'When I come back home I'll make up for lost sleep first of all. I'll
sleep all day long. If only you knew what mattresses my mother has. They
are stuffed with odorous hay and straw.'
His friends echoed him, 'Indeed, it would be a good idea to have a good
thirty-six hour sleep!'
However, when he came home he jumped out of bed like a wind-up toy at
seven every morning. He seemed to hear the sounds of a bugle. He poured
onto himself a bucket of cold well water, wiped himself red and went for
His mother would often say, 'Why don't you have some more sleep, sonny?
Why do you get up so early?'
'If you sleep all morning long it means the whole day is lost. If you
miss the spring the whole of your life goes down the tube,' Alexander
quoted some great personality in his own way. His mother followed him
with her eyes admiring the son's stately figure.
-Your spring is just beginning, sonny. God save you…
He didn't rack his brains over where to enter. Grodno didn't attract him
after two failures. He had to choose between the Belarusian State University
and the Pedagogical Institute named after Gorky. The university seemed
impossible to enter. Alexander thought only the elite studied there. A
peasant by birth, he didn't make the grade as one of the elite. His army
friend Alexander Samsonenko whom he encountered in Zhitkovichy suggested
taking the papers to Minsk. He planned to enter the Pedagogical Institute,
-My uncle lives in Minsk. He will complete the formalities properly.
The uncle turned out to be out of town. Samsonenko was busy with his family
matters as a result his neighbor took the papers. She handed them to the
selection committee of the University by mistake. When Rudnev learnt this
he was horrified. His mind was in turmoil.
Samsonenko regretted things had turned out this way but it was too late
to change anything.
Alexander was word-perfect on history. He spent all his free time in the
army reading the textbooks he took along with him after his leave. He
looked through the brochure with the exam program that was available at
any bookshop and got convinced he would be able to answer any question.
The essay and a foreign language were the causes for concern. A written
exam is always a lottery. If you put at least one comma in the wrong place
you should give it up for lost! His knowledge of German was quite average.
At the end of July his second cousin Ella who was Barbara's granddaughter
and her friend Yelena Lobova came from Moscow. The girls took Alexander
in hand at once.
-Stop hitting the books. Relax!
-I can't. If I fail my exams the third time my parents will think I'm
-Why enter the institute? After you receive a teacher's diploma you'll
be back to the village where you'll lead a dull life. If you don't ruin
yourself by drinking you'll turn into the man in the street who'll have
very limited interests. You're such a handsome guy! Let's go to Moscow.
We'll help you get a decent job. You'll earn some money and dress up.
Afterwards you'll make up your mind whether you want to study or not.
The girls' offer sounded tempting. The thought he would be able to attend
all football matches in Luzhniki fascinated him. However, Alexander became
cool quite quickly. He was scared even of going to Minsk, not to mention
Moscow, the capital of the USSR! He thought a bird in the hands is worth
two in the bush.
On weekdays the three of them walked beyond the village. The girls were
admiring nightingales singing in the twilight. 'You've never come across
anything like this in Moscow!' Alexander thought. He was full of pride
for his native place. At weekends he brought the girls to the local club
to dance. They didn't come back home till the first cockcrow. The parents
were glad their son wiped his mind clear of harassing thoughts at least
for a while and tried not to burden him with any household duties. Moreover,
the younger Nikolai had already finished school and was to be their help
before he was conscripted.
When Ella said goodbye she left them one-to-one as if by chance. Alexander
got confused and grumbled at the sister. This amused Yelena very much.
One day she looked at him steadily and asked, 'Sasha, tell me the truth,
have you ever kissed a girl?'
The blunt question of the girl made Alexander blush with embarrassment.
One couldn't say he scared easily. Besides, when his army service was
over he dismissed his na?ve ideas about relations between a man and a
woman. Nevertheless, he always felt awkward beside a more experienced
Yelena who seemed to be a society lioness to him. He was extremely embarrassed
by the fact she smoked. The women in the village never smoked any tobacco.
Yelena offered the way out of the awkward situation. She embraced the
guy by the neck and kissed his lips. Alexander almost choked with excitement.
His body shivered all over. Being embarrassed by the fact he was kissed
by the girl he tried to take over the initiative and embraced Yelena's
waist but he did this hastily and awkwardly.
'Sasha, you are a good guy but you're not quite my type,' Yelena said.
It seemed to him she pronounced the words with pity.
There seemed to be some humiliation of his dignity about what she did
so Alexander couldn't fall asleep for a long time after they parted reproducing
the inoffensive episode in his mind.
'How should I behave towards her now?' he thought. He fell asleep almost
The situation that seemed to be so complicated to Rudnev settled by itself.
The next day the girls were visited by their old friends, an assistant
professor and a postgraduate student of a higher education establishment
in the capital. The odds were evidently in their favor so Alexander gave
in to the intruders without any hesitation. Moreover, he had neither chances
nor time to win the girl. There was only one day left before the entrance
The Muscovites offered to see Alexander off and they accompanied him almost
as far as Zhitkovichy. At parting Ella said, 'I wish you to fail, brother.
Then you are sure to come to Moscow. You are not going to have any future
The guest echoed her and promised any possible assistance in the capital.
Yelena looked at him intently and asked him to come. Then she added with
meaning, 'I'll be glad…'
Alexander knew perfectly well the words meant nothing but ordinary woman's
coquetry. Nevertheless, he was excited by them just like by the unexpected
After he arrived at the railway station he made his way to the hostel
in Sverdlov Street. He found there Samsonenko and another two of his acquaintances.
One of them was Vladimir Yaroshevich who played in the reserves of Minsk
'Dinamo.' Alexander frequently saw his name in application lists for matches.
They were accommodated in the room where students of Geology Department
lived. In the morning they went to the selection committee. Alexander
was glad to find out he had to take history as the first exam. He knew
at subsequent exams examiners always pay attention to the first mark.
He was sure of his success. He carefully noted down the time of the exam.
He had to take it on August 9 at 15.00.
He came 15 minutes before the exam. He decided to be among the first five
applicants taking the exam. He expected to see a crowd of excited applicants
but when he arrived the corridor was almost empty. He was quite surprised
so he looked into the room. The only person he saw there was an examiner
who was filling in the exam sheet.
-Who are you looking for, young man?
-I have come… to take my exam.
-Let me have a look at your exam paper.
The examiner had a look at it, shifted his eyes to the exam sheet and
then glanced at Rudnev with surprise.
-I have to upset you as you have either overslept or missed your exam.
Have a look. I've put 'failed to come' opposite your name.
-Well, but I came at the appointed time!
-Well, I don't know. The exam started at 9.00. You may inquire at the
Alexander made sure he had confused the groups and dragged himself along
to the executive secretary of the selection committee thinking about how
he was going to have an explanation with his parents.
-I want to take back my papers.
-You haven't even taken your exam. Do you feel you aren't ready?
The dean of Biology Department, a former front-line soldier Professor
Petrovich was in charge of the selection committee. He was in the habit
of making decisions only when he was absolutely sure of their correctness.
He looked through Rudnev's papers and specified, 'Have you demobilized
-Yes, I have.
-Why aren't you wearing the uniform, then? This is a weighty argument
in favor of an applicant.
-I want to enter on a fair basis… Without enjoying any privileges.
-That deserves praise. Are you a Komsomol member?
-I'm a Bolshevik.
Alexander used the archaism absent-mindedly. His father always called
Petrovich looked at the unusual applicant with undisguised curiosity.
He made sure Rudnev had no intention to miss the exam, ordered him to
wait and walked away. He came back about ten minutes later. He handed
Rudnev an exam paper made out in Alexander's name.
-Now, sergeant, you may go and take the exam with the second group. Be
more careful in future.
This time Rudnev was met by an agitated crowd. His attempt to enter the
room was stamped on resolutely.
-Well, lad, though you seem to be a person with a pull you should nevertheless
observe elementary proprieties. Stop tanking through!
-Chaps, I'm not a man with a pull at all. I've missed my exam but my father
is never going to believe me. He'll beat me to death. I asked to give
me a chance to be given the two I deserve.
Everyone liked the joke.
-OK, come in. You don't have to queue to get a bad mark.
Alexander took his examination question card and looked at the questions.
The questions were 'The reasons for slump of the first revolution of 1905-1907'
and 'Revolutionary movement in Europe in the 19th century.' He stepped
aside from the examiners, and then he suddenly turned back to them again.
-May I answer right now?
The applicants were examined by associate professors Ignatenko and Sidortsov.
Rudnev knew from stories of students they were nicknames 'chastisers'
as they failed one applicant after another.
Judging by their faces the examiners were surprised by the impudence of
the applicant but they didn't contradict. Alexander rattled off readily
the answer to the first question and he used facts from historical literature
he was so keen on at that. After the phrase 'Gentlemen, saddle your horses.
A revolution has broken out in Hungary!' that the emperor Alexander I
pronounced at the ball Sidortsov started smiling. He must have liked the
erudition of the applicant. When Rudnev was answering the second question
he felt in his element again. The examiners asked him twelve more questions
to do with dates. They did this out of curiosity rather than with the
intention to fail. Alexander named all the dates without a flub.
'Well, old man, I thought you were an impudent person but you turned out
to know history really well. We need Komsomol members like you at the
department,' Sidortsev said.
-I am not a Komsomol member.
Sidortsev looked at Rudnev angrily.
-I am a member of the All-Russian Communist Party [Bolshevist].
-Well then. Will you tell me when the party was renamed the CPSU?
-In 1952 at the XIX party congress…
Rudnev was going for an interview in an easy mood. The considerable number
of marks he received was enough to accept even school leavers as students,
not to mention Alexander who had served in the army. The dean confirmed
he didn't need to worry about this and advised him to get ready to go
to agricultural sector to help gather potatoes…
The August was nearly over but Alexander didn't receive any summons. First
he attributed the delay to the sluggishness of the postal service. Gradually,
anxiety crept in. There were some grounds to worry. When Rudnev was transferred
to the reserve he wasn't given any reference so he had to enclose an old
one that was given three years before. The selection committee paid attention
to this. Alexander explained he had served in rocket forces and that papers
are sent from there only by official request. This might have been the
reason for refusal. No one feels like writing to the middle of nowhere.
Grandma Seraphima turned the situation to her profit.
-Let's go to Moscow, sonny. You'll help me to take preserves and pickles
This was enough to make Alexander cry. It would be one thing if he had
failed, but he had passed the exams almost on a par with those who finished
school with excellent marks. It couldn't be helped, anyway, so he began
to pack up his things to go to Moscow. They delivered the summons on August
30 when the trunks accurately packed by granny were put to the inner porch.
Seraphima couldn't conceal her disappointment while happy Alexander rushed
headlong to the shop and bought a bottle of his favorite 'Kagor'.
The next day he left for Minsk. He even didn't have time to buy some warm
clothes as he was afraid to be late. When he arrived at the university
he found out he had been appointed monitor of group five…
Assistance to agricultural sector to harvest potatoes was an indispensable
duty of every student, only fifth-year students were exempted from it.
This practice helped first-year students to get to know each other better.
Some students even fell in love. There were much more opportunities for
this than in the city. Students were accommodated in the houses of local
inhabitants. After work was over they had supper that was cooked by their
fellow students and organized dancing. Provident girl had dresses and
shoes for this occasion while most of the guys came to dance wearing work
wear. Somebody found Rudnev a frayed quilted coat that he sported at the
improvised dance ground. Nevertheless, village wear didn't spoil Alexander's
image. The tall and broad-shouldered guy attracted attention of many girls.
Even fourth-year students who were also assigned to the kolkhoz admired
him and tried to look after him in every possible way. Nevertheless, Alexander
didn't pay any serious attention to the fair sex although senior students
recommended him insistently to pay attention to the girl who was a daughter
of a famous scholar and who seemed to be indifferent about him.
-Get married, old chap! You'll make a wonderful career. You'll have residence
permit in Minsk, take postgraduate course and own a flat… What else do
The situation might have been settled by itself if they had had some sexual
affair. Yet, this couldn't have happened a priori. Those who don't have
any idea about the atmosphere of 1960s can't comprehend the reserve of
young people. Nowadays even teenagers hasten to pick the forbidden fruit
of love without a moment's hesitation. Their parents believed sincerely
there can be only one sexual partner and carefully looked for their only
Alexander didn't permit himself even to kiss the girl. It seemed to him
he would have to take some serious decision after the intimacy like this.
The thing was he was not sure the girl was the one destined for him by
God. Besides, he had five long years of studies ahead. He couldn't burden
himself with a family.
After the drill in the army lack of restrictions of student life captured
Alexander by its diversity. He had time to do everything. He attended
lectures, went to the gym and the library. True, he passed his first examinations
session with difficulty, though without any 'threes'. It was his meticulous
nature that did him a bad turn. He read primary sources in CPSU history
and philosophy trying to comprehend everything to a nicety and sometimes
sat over books until midnight. He could quote big pieces from the works
of Hegel, Feuerbach and Marx but he didn't have time to read textbooks
so his answers at the exam were not always as accurate as teachers wanted
them to be.
When Alexander's friends were going to the cinema or to dance they kidded
Alexander who was studying another classic, 'Sashok, you must be geared
up to become professor's son-in-law. Indeed, you need knowledge to become
a member of his family, a crib won't help. Yet, while you suffer over
Marxists somebody will lead the girl away from you!'
Rudnev just waved away, 'You'd better listen to what Lenin writes about
laws of historic development.'
Yet, his friends were more interested in entirely different matters.
-Rudnev, you'll be touched one day after reading so much of this 'Materialism!..'
Alexander still frequently recollects his room 86 in the hostel in Sverdlov
Street. It was a small room with five beds, three bedside tables and a
table squeezed into it with difficulty. All conveniences were in the corridor.
They had to take a shower according to a special timetable. He closes
his eyes and hears the voices of his friends Lionya Loiko. Petya Bozhko,
Lionya Khankevich and Kolya Cheliadyuk. They lived as a commune. They
pooled everything they brought from home. There were some students in
their hostel who locked their bedside tables and eat stealthily trying
to avoid reproachful looks of their friends. These people were treated
Home food was not out of place. The scholarship of 26 rubles and the 25
rubles sent by the parents monthly were enough only for scanty food while
they wanted to take a girl to the cinema and to treat her to some ice-cream.
They couldn't imagine themselves saying, 'You should pay for yourself.'
They visited home very rarely so there happened to be moments when there
was not a thing in their bedside tables and when only buts chinked in
their pockets. Then they chipped in everything they had and bought fried
sprat that cost less than a ruble a kilo or some brawn. They somehow managed
to last out till the next scholarship. At the most critical periods they
went to the railway station at night to unload goods vans. They carried
fifty-kilo sacks until morning. They went back to the hostel staggering.
They didn't enter their room; they literally crawled in on all fours.
But the, each of them had ten rubles in his pocket.
Scholarship was given to advanced students only. When a student received
at least one 'three' it meant he missed the boat. The meeting of the scholarship
committee that included a dean and group monitors went in a violent way.
Every monitor tried to wring as much as possible for his group. Yet, there
was a limit they were not allowed to exceed.
History Department was headed by associate professor Pyotr Zakharovich
Savochkin. During the war he served in counter-intelligence of a division.
There were legends going on about his heroic deeds. They even said he
was promoted to the rank of Hero of the Soviet Union twice but his documents
were lost as it usually happened at the time. He was an exceptionally
modest man so he never insisted on the document to be searched. Savochkin
who was a laconic and calm man never raised his voice. He treated students
in a fatherly way and tried to help them as much as he could but he didn't
like windbags. This must have been the reason why he marked out Rudnev
among other group monitors because Alexander was a man of few words and
he had reasonable nature. The deputy dean Alexander Petrovich Ignatenko
was polarity as compared to Savochkin. He always had a gloomy and sullen
look and he was not willing to communicate with students who didn't display
any warm feelings towards him in their turn.
Rudnev was quite well aware of economic conditions of all students in
his group. Most of them came from rural areas and were inferior to city
dwellers as far as their knowledge was concerned while they needed support
more than those who lived with their families. Alexander was good at finding
compelling arguments and often insisted on giving scholarship even to
those who had 'threes'. Other group monitors came down on him but Savochkin
always resumed their discussions by the phrase, 'Rudnev must be right.'
When he had to take an important decision Alexander always turned to Savochkin
and always followed his advice. When he was a third-year student the secretary
of the university party committee Michael Gorbachev offered Rudnev to
transfer to correspondence tuition and go to work as an instructor to
Minsk rural district party committee. They needed at the time an energetic
young man who had served in the army. The suggestion was very tempting.
It implied high salary, authority and a flat in the nearest future. Besides,
it meant prospects for career advancement. Yet, Savochkin cooled Alexander's
-I know you are not afraid of any hardships and you'll cope with the workload.
Nevertheless, it seems to me party work is not your vocation. You're a
man of principle who has his own view of everything and who values his
own opinion. They need obedient executives in the district committee.
There may be some conflicts because of this that may significantly complicate
your future life. I think science is more likely to be your cup of tea.
After you graduate from university you have every chance to enter full-time
postgraduate course. Besides, you may choose party career any time you
Rudnev agreed with the arguments of the dean. Yet, when some students
who had never even dreamed of party career learnt about his decision they
turned their forefinger near the temple and said, 'You must have lost
your wits, Sasha!'
Rudnev as a person with initiative was always busy. Besides being group
monitor, he was party bureau member of their Department and member of
the Komsomol committee of the University. Mikhail Tivo headed the University
Komsomol organization. He was a merry fellow and a great talker and he
was able to make inflammatory speeches. He was small so he could hardly
be seen when he stood at the platform but his voice rang all over the
assembly hall. After meetings of the Komsomol committee he frequently
praised Rudnev for adherence to his principles and prophesied Alexander
was going to have a big future.
It must have been at the suggestion of Mikhail that an event which raised
Alexander's authority to an unprecedented height occurred in his life.
In October 1970 an annual party conference was held at the university.
The party organization of the Byelorussian State University numbered over
a thousand people and enjoyed the rights similar to those of a district
committee. Rudnev and some more students who were communists were chosen
as delegates. His friends tried to talk Alexander into ignoring the event.
-Let's register ourselves and then take off. We'd better blow somewhere
to drink beer than listen to tedious speeches all day long.
Alexander liked the idea because he also didn't enjoy summary reports
about oneself that speeches at party conferences usually turned into.
There had never been any contentious debates to do with topical issues
of university life. The party committee requested texts of speeches to
be shown for preview and thoroughly eliminated any inappropriate idea
as they feared somebody's speech may be not to a point. Still, some gut
feeling prevented Rudnev from leaving the conference.
-Well, guys, I'd better stay. Anything may happen. You go and I'll cover
you up if necessary.
The conference went its usual way. The party committee secretary made
a report. He began his speech with Brezhnev quotations concerning the
tasks higher school was facing and told in detail how the university solved
them. The secretary emphasized some problems and named shortcomings. Front-office
directions ordered communists strictly not to tolerate success turning
their heads and to pay proper attention to self-criticism. Yet, the speaker
gave negative facts in brief as if they were some unfortunate misunderstanding.
Debates went in a similar vein. They were the same summary reports about
oneself and vows to do one's best to eliminate the shortcomings. Rudnev
settled in the gallery and was reading a detective following the example
of many others.
After Mikhail Gorbachev made a closing speech in which he thanked all
speakers for active participation in the discussion and the pieces of
advice that would help rise party work to a higher level they went over
to nominating candidates to be members of the party committee. This was
much more interesting. Moreover, the suggestions of the party committee
were read out by a corresponding member of the Academy for Pedagogical
Sciences of the USSR Lavrenty Semenovich Abetsedarsky.
Lavrenty Abetsedarsky was a legendary figure. He was a prominent historian
who belonged to the older generation of scientists who considered science
to be the purpose of their lives. He treated research work as carefully
as gold diggers did the process of washing gold dust. He never permitted
himself even the slightest negligence and was very exacting to others,
too. He was gentle and sympathetic by nature but he could dress one down
in such a way so that the unfortunate thing remembered this for the rest
of his or her life. He didn't admit any regalia, never hunted after any
titles and was alien to any pomposity. His office differed very little
from an ordinary auditorium. There was a big table crammed with manuscripts,
an ordinary chair and some bookcases. If only Lavrenty Abetsedarsky could
see the luxury his successors furnished their offices with he would have
decided he was in a royal palace instead of an educational institution!
When Lavrenty Semenovich came up to the platform dead silence fell. He
looked strictly over the assembly hall as if making up his mind whom to
call out and then took a list of the candidates. Rudnev, just like everyone
who was present at the conference, knew the list had been carefully prepared
in advance. They took into account everything including representation
of departments, average age, the number of professors and associate professors,
as well as the number of men and women. Every candidate was discussed
several times. If the slightest flaw or discrepancy to the model recommended
by the decision-making authority was revealed the candidate was substituted
by another one who was thought to be more appropriate. Discussion of candidates
at the party conference was of formal nature. Everyone knew this so when
people made speeches they limited themselves to stating good points only.
To pretend the procedure had democratic nature they didn't enter the names
of the rector and the party committee secretary in the original list.
They were entered additionally. The list was made in alphabetical order…
-Rudnev Alexander Nikolayevich, a third-year student of History Department…
If the ceiling in the assembly hall had collapsed Alexander would have
been surprised less. He didn't expect to be promoted to members of the
party committee. True, the principle of democratic centralism required
that ordinary communists were included in the board. However, there were
many students who were communists and Lenin's grant holders at university
and who deserved to be promoted. Besides, nobody had talked to him about
that while he knew decisions of the kind were never taken offhand. Could
this be some mistake? Could there be a person bearing the same family
name among the forty thousand university students? No, everything was
right. Rudnev who was an ordinary guy from the village and who was afraid
even to enter the university two years ago had been nominated to the board
of the republic's leading educational establishment!
The feelings Rudnev had at the moment could not be described as fear,
joy, or despair. To be more exact all of the feelings made some intricate
mixture in his soul that contained also pride for the given credence and
fear not to justify it.
Discussion of his candidacy went smoothly. Somebody asked him what assignments
he had executed before. Savochkin who sat on the panel confirmed Alexander
was a true communist. The voting was by secret ballot. When the ballots
were counted it turned out there were five votes against while other candidates
received more of these. This practice was a kind of an attempt to follow
party guidelines. If some decision was taken unanimously it was considered
it had been formally discussed.
Rudnev's friends pursued him in the hostel. Some of them congratulated
him sincerely while others harassed with their jokes that had a hint of
-Sasha, you're a big boss now. One can approach you only when giving you
a finger behind your back!..
-What will be your guidelines, comrade party committee member - to drink
or not to drink?
-Shall I bring your bag, please?
Alexander who was phlegmatic by nature didn't react to the agitation around
him. It was only his close friends that he confessed to he was confused.
-Why did they choose me? I didn't distinguish myself by anything special.
I'm not a straight A student. I'm far from being ideal as far as my behavior
is concerned… Now I'll have to think carefully over every step I make
and every word I say. It sounds like drudgery, guys!.. Will I be able
to shoulder the burden like this? It means huge responsibility! God forbid
I won't cope then I won't survive the disgrace.
Somewhere at heart his second 'self' persuaded him he would cope and shoulder
the burden. It whispered in a flattering manner, 'It you've been nominated
it means you deserve this! Let others envy you!' Alexander never suffered
from self-admiration. Rather, he always had a sort of inferiority complex
side by side with those who came from the city. The brand of a guy from
the village reduced a little but didn't disappear. This fact hurt his
pride. When he was alone he frequently repeated to himself, 'I'll get
round you anyway.' After classes he often dropped in to the Central Bookshop
in Lenin Avenue which was almost at a stone's throw from the main building.
He watched new books, especially poetry. Once he was lucky enough to buy
a book by Apollinaire. In 1960s this French poet was popular with advanced
youth. He stood at the window during the break and looked through the
-Can this be Apollinaire?
A student whose father took some important post in the sphere of culture
stopped by him. There were several like her among the students of their
year. They always kept aloof from other students and considered them to
be a mob.
-Yes. This is a book by Apollinaire.
-Sell it to me. You don't need it at all!
The girls emphasized her superiority over Alexander who came from a rural
area and who could only be the man in the street in her opinion. Alexander
didn't answer anything. He closed the book and went to the auditorium.
Alexander knew how difficult it was to his parents to fin 25 rubles monthly
so he tried to earn some money in summer. In 1960s and 1970s student construction
teams became very popular. The country lacked workforce badly. The means
assigned for construction couldn't be drawn so many construction projects
were closed down until better days to come. Assistance of students became
almost panacea for many enterprises and organizations. The Central Committee
of the National Leninist Communist Union of Youth took control of the
youth initiative. Construction teams that emerged in higher educational
establishments were included into the National Student Construction Team.
Each of them was assigned a special place for work. There was no region
on the USSR map where students didn't take their hands in. They helped
build accommodation and agricultural construction projects, schools and
clubs. They also helped gather the harvest. They gave political briefings
for the population and organized amateur concerts in their free time.
It was considered to be a point of honor to participate in the student
construction team. Students had special uniform. They were seen off and
met after the work term was over in a grand manner.
Rudnev who was a communist and group monitor couldn't stand aside the
patriotic youth movement. Yet, one could earn 300-400 rubles after two
months at the construction team while the money could be three or four
times more if a student had some unofficial construction job. Thus Alexander
tried by right or wrong to enter the construction team made of senior
students. Far from everyone was accepted. They listed only those who were
physically strong and reliable, who were not going to complain, shirk
work, dodge and cheat. It was also a good thing if a student had some
basic construction skills. Rudnev fitted in all respects so he was entered
the team that was to work in the Turukhan Area. The only matter to be
settled was practical training in geology.
Alexander postponed the talk to Savochkin long enough. He couldn't imagine
deceiving him but there was no other way to avoid the practical training
so he took a risk. He told the dean about hard economic conditions in
his family, that his parents have poor health so they would not be able
to store up forage for livestock without his help. All this was true,
though only partially. Alexander felt there was some insincerity about
his words so he involuntarily tried to avoid the straight look of the
dean. Savochkin was a shrewd psychologist by nature so he might have noticed
this unusual feature in Alexander's behavior. He must have guessed his
true intentions but he allowed him to miss the practical training. He
realized perfectly well there were some good reasons for Rudnev to long
to have some unofficial construction job.
Those who wished to go to the Turukhan Area were more than enough but
Leonid Lobkovich who was making up the team chose only eighteen students.
It was just enough to build the planned construction projects. He told
the rest frankly and openly, 'Don't take any offence, guys. You know we're
not going to have a holiday there; we're going to earn money. Extra people
mean we're going to lose money…'
It took them over a week to get to their destination. They went by plane
from Moscow via Gorky to Krasnoyarsk. Then they went by train to Abakan-Taishet.
Rudnev knew from books that the area was turned into gulag by the People's
Commissariat for Home Affairs. Millions of Soviet people served their
sentences here for the crimes they never committed. Most of them remained
here for ever. It seemed to Alexander there were some shadows of innocent
victims behind the mighty trees that darted past the window.
At the station of Yelniki they were met by a manager of the works. He
turned out to be their country fellow and a former sailor who always had
his pea jacket on. The man shook hands with the students.
-Well, guys, if we need we'll move mountains together.
Rudnev responded, 'Let them remain intact. They are beautiful.'
-It's true they are but we lack road metal badly so we're going to shatter
They liked the joke. Everyone wanted to get down to business as quickly
The work day started at seven in the morning. At two in the afternoon
at the very height of heat they made a short break and then they worked
hard until dusk fell. They worked 12-14 hours a day without any weekends.
They had to build a garage for twenty lorries. Alexander was appointed
team leader of concrete workers as he was the strongest. After dawdling
for half a day over a tiny concrete mixer Alexander spat out, 'Well, guys,
we're going to dawdle like this till doomsday. Let's repeat the exploit
of slaves from ancient Rome.'
'What shall we do?' one of the students specified with caution.
'You'll just wait and see,' Alexander responded pulling a huge board.
They knocked up a kind of a sandpit and began to mix concrete by hand
using heavy shovels. The team leader must have stretched the truth. Roman
slaves would not have coped with the work like this. By the end of the
day the concrete workers were exhausted. Their feet turned feeble. The
only thing they thought about was to crawl to their beds. Nevertheless,
it was lack of any equipment and construction materials supply stoppages
rather than the killing labor that annoyed them most. All calculations
were made by eye. They used fire hoses instead of ropes. The manager of
the works did his best. He spent hours at the office begging for a crane
and a lorry but the most frequent answer he was given was, 'They'll cope
anyway. They're contract laborers!'
The only argument that worked was money. They had to give a kickback for
every trifle from their future earnings no matter whether they wished
this or not.
In a week even the strongest students felt awfully tired. They had meals
at the workers' canteen. The food was far from being varied. They were
served mainly tinned stew meat and macaroni. The food didn't restore their
strength. When the season was over Alexander lost fifteen kilos. The rest
of the guys also had to make new holes in their belts. Nevertheless, no
one complained and tried to take to the bottle. Alcohol was prohibited
in their team. It was only on the Day of a builder that happened to be
in the second half of August when the work was nearly over that they drank
a barrel of beer.
The first journey ended almost tragically for Rudnev. One day he and his
friends went to the nearby mountain river at sunset. Alexander who enjoyed
some unparalleled bliss stood in the cold water ankle-deep for half an
hour. By morning he felt a sharp pain in his right leg that started to
swell quickly. First he didn't pay any attention to this. He thought he
might have got some splinter. The swelling turned bigger and the pain
got stronger. There wasn't any hospital in the village. When they took
medicines for the road they didn't remember to take any ointments. Moreover,
by all appearances, ointments would be useless. Alexander was downright
frightened. He made up his mind to return to Minsk. It was enough to make
anybody cry when he thought he was going to be back with his pockets empty.
Yet, the prospect of losing the leg didn't give him any time to hesitate.
Ivan Rousakov came to his help. He told his grandma could treat almost
any illness by spells. He found a woman who could do the same in the village.
Alexander balked at first but then he came to the woman because he was
The woman looked at his leg, nodded her head thoughtfully and uttered
in a peremptory tone, 'You've got erysipelas, my dear.'
Alexander had never heard the word before so he didn't go into detail.
He watched skeptically the old woman making some mysterious manipulations
with his leg. She closed her eyes, moved her hands round the leg, whispered
something and sprinkled it with water. When everything was over she ordered,
'Come to my place tomorrow once again before sunset!'
'Tomorrow I'll be far away from here,' Rudnev thought. The manager of
the works promised to give him a lift to the train very early in the morning.
Nevertheless, to his great surprise, the pain in the leg gradually abated,
so Alexander could even have some sleep. In the morning he saw the swelling
had receded significantly. Leonid Lobkovich who sympathized with the friend
advised him, 'Wait for another day. You never can tell!'
After the second session the strange illness finally abated so Alexander
could return to the ranks. It was only when he came back to Minsk that
he found out what terrible danger that even doctors were helpless about
When the weather-beaten manager of the logging enterprise visited the
garage and the storehouse for dispatching wood that were built by the
students he gave a whistle of surprise.
Nevertheless, when it came to closing work orders and reckoning he tried
by right or wrong to reduce the pay as much as he could. Yet, even after
all his manipulations with rates each of them was paid 1200 rubles. One
was not ashamed to be back with the money as this was the sum a BSU assistant
was paid a year.
In Minsk Rudnev called on to the dean and confessed to everything.
-Pyotr Zakharovich, it goes without saying I am to blame. I am very much
ashamed of having deceived you but you should believe me I had no other
way out. You would have forbidden the trip to the Turukhan Area. If I
hadn't come there I wouldn't be able to last out without the money.
Savochkin didn't tell him off.
-It's bad you haven't had your practical training but I hope you'll make
up for it during the year. The good thing is that you've confessed to
everything. It means I wasn't mistaken about you.
He thought for a while and added, 'Now you may go home instead of going
to the rural area to help collect potatoes. You didn't lie about having
to help your parants. You'll have some rest. You've grown too thin!'
Fellow villagers hardly recognized Alexander. He was wearing white trousers,
a tie, fashionable shoes and carrying 'Spidola' that was a cherished dream
of many local boys. He reminded very much someone who came from the city.
His father walked round him examining as if he were some strange museum
piece but didn't say a word. It was even difficult to understand whether
he liked this quick transformation of his son from a country guy into
an intellectual. The mother oohed and aahed over him and was never tired
of looking at her son. When Alexander gave her the money he planned to
buy presents to his parents on but changed his mind and decided to ask
for advice after finding out his parents were hard up the mother said,
'My dear sonny! We should help you instead. Keep the money. You might
buy yourself something!'
-Mum, will you take the money. This is not the last money I give you.
I have enough to last me out for the whole year so you don't need to send
me money any more.
When the mother heard the words she burst out crying.
Alexander began his second year in a good mood. He had had a good rest
in September. There were surprisingly many mushrooms that autumn. Almost
every day he walked to the wood to the places familiar to him since childhood.
He brought home about five hundred or even more ceps. Nowadays even a
dozen of porcini seems to be a piece of luck to those who like gathering
mushrooms. In 1960s mushrooms were abundant. There was no lack of cranberries,
cowberries and blackberries that are nowhere to be found at present. One
should not reproach nature as it is not to blame for anything. We've drained
marshes and upset the climate balance. Rains are brought only by cyclones
from the Baltic Sea at present. They are always cold. In the past the
climate was influenced by evaporations of marshes. Thunderstorms were
frequent. They poured the soil generously with warm water. The water evaporated
immediately and thus created favorable conditions for wood flora. No wonder
there is the saying, 'It mushrooms up' although the saying is outdated.
Another reason is barbaric attitude to forest reaches. They don't pick
up berries any more, they rake them with a specially designed metal device.
People don't cut mushrooms carefully. They uproot them destroying mushroom
spawn. If things go on like this very soon porcini could be found only
in pictures or in the museum…
Studies went on well. Owing to his diligence Rudnev quickly removed the
gap in knowledge typical of country school leavers as compared to those
from the city and took a solid lace in the student elite. Even his outward
appearance changed. He acquired some bearing. Now there were no traces
left of the awkward and a bit clumsy country guy who came to enter the
university. Fashionable clothes made him look like a respectable dandy.
Now Alexander could go to the most prestige parties without any uneasiness.
Still, he wasn't keen on dancing, just as before. This displeased many
girls of the same year. One of the girls who had an eye on him once told,
'Sasha, you might be going to live a lonely life. There would be no one
to give you some water before your death.'
-Are you sure I'm going to feel like drinking some water at the time?
Nevertheless, he was caught by love quite unexpectedly. One day he entered
a girls' room and was literally dumbfounded. He saw a girl of marvelous
beauty sitting on the bed at the window. Her appearance staggered Alexander
so much he got confused, turned red and even forgot the reason why he
came. The girls started to talk to him vying with each other while he
stood shifting from one foot to the other and didn't hear anything. He
caught his breath only after he came to his room. He had never experienced
anything of the kind before. Somewhere at heart there emerged a source
of unusual warmth. Languor spread all over his body. The problems that
had seized him recently moved somewhere far away. Alexander tried to pull
himself together and concentrate his attention on studies but his unruly
thoughts returned persistently to Tamara. This was the name of the girl
that fascinated him.
Tamara gladly agreed to a date. It was a gloomy autumn day. They roamed
about Gorky Park. They were so much carried away by their talk they didn't
notice nasty drizzle. It seemed to Alexander he had known the girl for
a long time. He made a declaration of love several days later. He was
happy to hear that Tamara had also fallen in love with him at first sight.
They got married several months later. Parents of both Alexander and Tamara
gave their blessing to the marriage though Tamara's mother who didn't
conceal that she liked Alexander very much said half in jest, 'You're
such a handsome man. You might have found yourself a better girl!'
Alexander was confused though he understood his would-be mother-in-law
was simple enhancing her daughter's reputation. No mother is likely to
acknowledge her daughter is worse than the bride groom. He returned the
compliment to please the woman, 'Even if I walked round the world I wouldn't
find a better girl!' This seemed to go down a treat…
Rudnev's authority at the university was so great that the local trade
union committee gave the young family a separate room at the hostel. The
room was tiny, about six square meters. There used to be a closet there.
Nevertheless, this was a separate room! It was beyond students' widest
dreams. Before they built a cooperative apartment the Rudnevs got on the
property ladder at the hostel twice.
Family life imposed additional troubles on Alexander. He was well aware
a new flat was not going to fall from heaven. There was also no counting
on parents' help so he made up his mind to do some unofficial construction
job every summer to have enough money for a cooperative apartment by the
time they graduated from university. A three-room flat cost six or seven
thousand rubles. It was also problematic to enter a cooperative. There
was a sort of underground business in Minsk when people had to give a
bribe to be put on the list. As far as this problem was concerned Alexander
had every reason to count on university's application…
After his second year was over Rudnev entered a team that headed for Karelia.
The team leader studied at another department. He found Alexander himself.
-They say you earned good money in Turukhan Area last year?
-Yes, it did happen.
-Let's go to Petrozavodsk. There's an agreement with a logging enterprise
to build a logging workshop. I have been there once. The people there
are very decent. We're going to earn about two thousand each.
-You must be joking!
-No, I'm not! You'll make sure yourself. I absolutely need the experienced
guys like you.
At the Petrozavodsk logging enterprise the students were put on the job
as Ukrainian collective farmers. A collective farm from Kirovograd region
logged wood there. It was unprofitable to bring workers from Ukraine so
contract laborers turned out to be most welcome. The situation promised
the students extra earnings.
They had to work in the conditions very much similar to those they had
in the Turukhan Area. Only the midnight sun period saved the situation.
They had a rest in the daytime when the heat was unbearable while at night
they sweat their guts out. The team leader turned out to be a real crook.
He was missing all the time. He came to the construction project under
the sauce, as a rule, and gave the students a dressing down.
-Why do you work like this? You're real idlers! Have a look at how you
He worked with a spade for a couple of minutes and then withdrew leaving
behind a trail of alcohol smell. Rudnev had to take upon himself responsibilities
of the leader unofficially. The students obeyed him implicitly. They saw
he knew his job and never posed as a boss.
They built the logging workshop on time. The kolkhoz representative liked
their work but he upset the students.
-Guys, you'll have to go to the kolkhoz to fetch the money by yourselves.
This can be done no other way.
Just think - to go by yourselves! Firstly, this was a long distance away.
Secondly, they had to fetch the sum that was over fifty thousand rubles.
One could buy a dozen of 'Moskvich' cars with the money. Even the smallest
sums were fetched from a bank under escort while they were to go across
the whole country carrying them literally in their pockets. Yet, nothing
could be done. The team leader made up his mind to go with Rudnev. The
rest of the team members had to finish the work and wait for their return.
They got to Kirovograd safe. They contacted the kolkhoz from there. When
they arrived at the kolkhoz all payrolls had already been prepared. They
loaded their bag with the money and started thinking how to get back.
There wasn't any bus service to the district center. It was beyond their
widest dreams to hire a taxi as there weren't any taxis to be found in
rural areas at the time. They tried to hire a private motorist and to
pay him good money but there turned out to be only two cars in the village
that weren't in running order. They had to get to the highway on foot.
They were making their way through the corn field looking around anxiously.
A lot of collective farmers saw them loading their bag with the money.
There were three guys among them that seemed suspicious to Rudnev. They
were real mugs! They watched the students and exchanged words with each
When they came to the farm road they saw 'Volga' raising dust at a distance.
They thumbed a lift. When the car slowed down near them they regretted
it. There were the three men in the car they were extremely unwilling
to see. What shall they do? Shall they run? They will be caught. Shall
they refuse? They'll be made to get into the car. They had to get into.
They drove in silence. Alexander squeezed the bag firmly.
-Well, chap, why do you keep embracing the bag as if it were your bride?
Relax. By the way, what are you carrying in the bag? Let me have a look!
-Guys, it's none of your business what we're carrying. We don't look into
your pockets. Just in case you display excessive curiosity I warn you
I've got something for you that you are sure to dislike.
The man who asked the question looked at Rudnev attentively. He must have
believed the undisguised threat so he didn't continue the talk. When they
got out of the car Rudnev could hardly contain shiver.
-Let's sit down for a while. The danger seems to be over! If there happened
to be criminals instead of the guys it would have turned out badly for
us. They would have hit us on the head with a pry bar and that would have
been the last that was ever seen of us.
In Kirovograd Rudnev had to experience some more moments of anxiety. There
turned out to be no free places in the waiting room of the airport. When
the traffic controller who was their country fellowman found out the students
were from Byelorussia he allowed them to stay the night in the flight
hall. Alexander took off his jacket with a sigh of relief, put it onto
the bag and hurried to the wash basin. He wanted to wash off the dust
quickly. The team leader remained to watch the bag. When Alexander was
over some minutes later he found only his jacket left. There was neither
the bag nor the team leader there. Rudnev felt a wave of cold. 'He must
have run away with the money! Now I should go on a wild-goose chase. He'll
pocket the money and will accuse me of stealing it. I won't be able to
prove anything!' He darted out into the corridor and looked around feverishly.
He saw the team leader who stood at the airport exit thinking about something.
Rudnev jumped to him and snatched the bag out of his hands.
'Have you gone crazy?' the team leader expressed his indignation.
-Well, lad, don't trifle with this any more. We agreed you were going
to wait for me. If you do this once again you'll have only yourself to
blame. I'll crush you like a bug. Your own mother wouldn't recognize you.'
-Do you suspect me of planning to steal the money? Me?
-Stop screaming. You won't impress me. Our guys entrusted us with bringing
the money so we should rule out even the slightest fortuity. Who knows,
someone might have snatched the bag out of your hands.
The cashiers were met with joy. The logging enterprise didn't let them
down. Every member of the team was paid 2200 rubles. The team leader tried
to ask for a bigger share but he was quickly brought down a peg or two.
On their way back to Minsk they had to stay the night in Leningrad once
again. It was dangerous to stay at the airport so Rudnev arranged to rent
a local restaurant for the night. When the manager of the restaurant learnt
the students are ready to pay a hundred rubles each he agreed at once
to hang out the doorplate saying the restaurant was closed for a special
event. He had never had any receipts of the kind. Alexander asked two
guys who were well familiar to him and who were not keen on alcohol not
to touch a drop and to guard…
Those who have never done any unofficial construction job will never be
able to understand how hard, backbreaking and dangerous the work was and
how difficult 'fast money' came to students. They could overstrain themselves,
remain cripples or even disappear without leaving a trace at the vast
expanses of the North. They were within a hairbreadth of death during
their journey beyond the Arctic Circle.
This happened in the fifth year. The classes were over. Alexander Rudnev
and four of his friends had had their pre-graduation practical training
and handed in the works to their scientific advisers in April so they
ventured to do a fifth unofficial construction job. They literally came
to the edge of the world, to the village of Zasheyek that was three hundred
kilometers away from Murmansk. The manager of the logging enterprise welcomed
-If you build a hostel I won't treat you badly. I have to warn you there
are no ready-made construction materials. There are old deserted barracks
on the opposite bank of the lake Imandra. You should take the barracks
to pieces, transport and built anew.
The barracks turned out to be about half a century old. Despite this,
the larch logs preserved by bitter frosts looked as if they had just been
The work turned out to be not as simple as they thought it to be at first.
It goes without saying it is easier to dismantle than to build. Still,
one should try to pull huge logs by hand without any auxiliaries. To build
the foundation in the permafrost is even more difficult. Concrete isn't
fit for this. They had to mark seventy points for consolidation marks,
to burn fires in the places to thaw out the ground and then to hollow
out holes almost a meter deep by crowbars and picks. Then they placed
round timber into the holes that were used as the base to put piles for
the first row of beams on.
In April frosts are infrequently over thirty degrees below zero in Zapolyarye.
The bright sun dazzled the eyes though its rays weren't warm. The only
thing that saved them was the fact it was always calm there.
They were hardly able to drag their feet along by evening. To ease up
they drank a glass of vodka and crashed out. Somebody started grumbling,
'Why should we go as far as this? Couldn't we find another place to earn
'We're going to be paid one thousand rubles each at the very least. Where
can you earn the money like this in three weeks?' Rudnev soothed his friends.
The trip to the place was his idea.
When they were taking the barracks to pieces one day they came across
a scrap of an old newspaper that had grown yellow with time.
-Guys, it is in Byelorussian!
-Will you show it?
They examined it as if it were a miracle, a piece of news from recent
past. Judging by the printed, it came out either in the late 1920s or
the early 1930s. It might have been 'Zvyazda' or 'Chirvonaya Zmena'. It
should have been brought by a dispossessed kulak who was exiled there.
Thousands of them were brought to the place during the collectivization
'I wish I knew what happened to the man. He might still be living here!'
'He must have become a hardened criminal. All of them finish their lives
this way,' someone specified.
Finally the day they had to be paid came. The head of the logging enterprise
was pleased with the work of the students but when they hinted they would
like to be paid a thousand rubles each he flew into a rage.
-Loggers who never budge from taiga and have dry rations are not paid
as much as this while you've lived in a warm place and had meals at the
Their timid objections infuriated him even more.
-You're Komsomol members. There must be some communists among you. Yet,
you behave as if you were some impudent self-seekers! I'll inform the
university about your behavior. Let them think who they train.
Rudnev finally managed to stifle the serious dispute. As a result, each
of them was paid 689 rubles. It was less than they expected but much more
they could earn at home even if working as hard as this. By the way, they
had to hurry. Their absence must have been noticed already. Their long
absence without a good cause could turn out badly!
They reached Kandalaksha quickly and safe but they had to get stuck there
for almost half a day as the train for Murmansk came only late at night.
They decided to have a meal at a restaurant. There were no spare places
there but they thrust ten rubles to the big guy at the door and entered
freely. There happened to be a spare table there. If only they had known
what kind of folks they were going to see at the restaurant they would
have done with a slice of sausage. One could easily detect former prisoners
by their red faces. There was a persistent stink of alcohol there and
the bluish smoke of cigarettes was curling like fog. The waiter ran around
the tables nonstop and didn't pay the slightest attention to the gestures
and remarks of the students.
-Guys, let's make off! I don't like the place at all. We may get into
a pretty mess here.
Alexander's apprehensions turned out to be just. They saw a big guy waddling
to their table.
-Chaps, don't they want to serve you? We'll put things in order right
The waiter ran up to the table.
-How may I serve you?
-Serve some food to the guys. Don't you see their mouths are watering?
They're our guests. Where are you from, lads?
-We're from Minsk.
The guy turned to the waiter, 'Is everything clear?'
-Yes, it is.
-Then hurry up.
The big guy eyed Rudnev from head to foot and said in a conspiratorial
voice, 'Do you see the girl over there, in the corner?'
-I do. Why?
-She's had an eye on you. She wants to communicate with you.
-I have no time left. The train is coming soon. Maybe some other time.
-Chap, I see you haven't understood anything. You'd better do what you're
told to, or you'll never leave the place.
He made a meaningful gesture holding his hand at his neck, and then he
left waddling being sure no one was going to disobey him. He approached
the table where the girl was sitting. She was about twenty five. She was
a beautiful and slim blonde. She kept staring at the students.
-What shall we o now?
-It would be a good idea to take to our heels!
-It's too late I'm afraid. He's warned us we're going to have troubles
-Well, Sasha, you should go. There's no other way out. You'll drink brotherhood
with her, and things might turn out well.
-Do you think she's calling me just to have a drink with her? I wonder
if she may ask something else.
-Well, then, why not please the lady. Did you read Maupassant's 'Dumpling'?
-I'm not Dumpling. My wife is near her time. How shall I look her in the
It was clear the sluggishness of the students began to bother the hosts.
The big guy half-rose to get to the table once again but the girl gestured
him to sit down. To all appearances, she must have been one of a kind.
It might well be so she was the leader of a local gang. Alexander realized
he had no other way out so he asked his friends not to take any actions
and came up to the insistent strangers.
The girl turned out to be more attractive than she seemed to be from a
distance. Her eyebrows were neatly penciled and her lips were covered
with expensive lipstick. She was a bit tipsy. Her eyes were caustic but
not malicious. She asked Alexander to take a sit and glanced over him
in an appraising manner, just like merchants do at the market when they
examine a horse that caught their fancy.
-Do you fancy me?
-Hmm… we aren't even acquainted.
-Let's, then… Tatyana.
She led Rudnev to a small room located near the restaurant. To all appearances,
the room was a kind of her den. There was a small sofa, two armchairs
and a coffee table with magazines on it there. A 'Playboy' with a very
outright photo on its cover caught Alexander's eyes. There were curtains
with frivolous patterns on the windows. This was a kind of a cozy net
where one could have a good time without bothering about drinks and snacks
as everything was quite near.
The girl took out of the cupboard two savings bank books neatly wrapped
up into a handkerchief.
-They say you're from Minsk. Are you a student?
-Yes, I'm going to graduate from university.
-I'm a graduate of Moscow Technological Institute. I was placed on a job
here. I got accustomed to the place. Are you married?
Rudnev hesitated. He didn't know what to answer. The girl took the lead
-I see you're not because you aren't wearing a wedding ring. All married
men wear them now because it's all the rage now. Yet, there must be a
girl who yielded to you on demand to keep you and who is afraid now, poor
thing, you may leave her. You surely will. The studs like you don't need
a sitting duck; they need a real woman… Just like me. I'm attractive and
I'm in the money. Have a look!
Rudnev stole a glance at the unfolded savings books. The sum of about
ten thousand rubles was deposited at each of them.
-You see, this is just the beginning. I am quite influential. Another
two or three years and I'm going to have a hundred thousand. Stay here!
I've fancied you. We'll live in perfect harmony. You'll never have any
regrets. We'll build a luxurious flat and buy a car. We'll have holidays
at resorts… Do you happen to know how these lords of the underworld woo
me? It's unbearable. It's enough to give them a wink and they will carry
me in their arms. However, I don't need any of these stinkers. They'll
never get me. Not for all the tea in China. I'm ready to put out to you
Rudnev had a reputation for being a handsome man among girls at university.
The term 'sex bomb' wasn't current at the time. Before he got married
some passionate damsels made rather transparent hints about sex to him
when they were at parties or at dance. He always laughed their suggestions
away. Now the situation turned out to be much more complicated. Alexander
thought feverishly how to avoid games with the woman who was imposing
her love on him. He regarded the thought of pleasing her as inconceivable.
When Rudnev returned to the restaurant arm in arm with the damsel his
friends gave a sigh of relief. They endured stress during the time he
Alexander chose the only possible way out of the dangerous situation where
he found himself against his own free will. He knew how to drink. He knew
how to drink a lot without losing control of himself. In case of emergency
he made use of this more that once.
Any time the unofficial construction job was over and some managers of
the works were unwilling to close the work order and were trying to rob
the students blind he made them drunk and signed all the necessary documents.
He winked at his friends who understood what his plan was, poured a faceted
glass of vodka and required others to follow his example. Then he rose
up and made a short inflammatory speech.
-I'm glad fate has thrown us together. Just like a ship that got caught
by a storm I might find a safe place here, too…
Rudnv glanced at Tatyana and made sure she was listening to him with bated
-All of us are sailors by nature. We're looking for a safe place where
loyal companions in life will be waiting for us, so let's drink to the
The genuine thoughts of former prisoners were as far away from the navy
as heaven and earth. Nevertheless, they liked Rundev's simple toast. Each
of them dreamed to find a safe place and a loyal companion in life. Their
brain clouded by alcohol drew tempting pictures they drank to.
About an hour and a half was left before the departure of the train. This
was not much time to make drunk the bulls like these. Alexander poured
one glass after another, drained them and took almost nothing with vodka.
He knew he would manage to drink two or even three bottles of vodka, though
any other student from his team would fall in a dead faint. Luckily, everybody's
attention was drawn to Alexander, so his friends didn't drink much.
'Isn't that super!' the big guy who threatened them admired. 'He's one
of us through and through. Let me give you a kiss!'
He reached to Rudnev over the table, overturned a bottle and spilled vodka
on Tatyana's skirt. She gave him a slap in the face.
-You're loaded, son of a bitch!
-Sasha, I'll be back in a minute.
The girl headed for the familiar room staggering.
Fortune evidently smiled on the students. One couldn't find a better moment
to escape. The train was to arrive at the station any time now. Rudnev
made another toast, gave his friends a sign and rose up.
'Where are you going?' the big guy became alerted.
'To take a leak!' Alexander whispered him in the ear.
'I see!' the big guy was glad for some strange reason. 'To take a leak!
Chop-chop!' his head collapsed suddenly into a plate of salad…
The students were relieved only when Kandalaksha was behind. Still, they
started every time the carriage door creaked. It seemed to them they were
chased. Rudnev was the only one who didn't pay any attention to this as
he slept the sleep of the innocent. The monstrous dose of alcohol did
its part. The guys who finally sobered up due to the stress looked at
him and joked, 'He's sleeping like a log while the poor damsel must be
tearing her hair. She let such a handsome man slip!'
-Do you think he had her or not?
-Have you gone mad? You say as if you didn't know Sashka and his principles!
They arrived in Minsk on May, 1 in the morning. There were several days
left before the study was over…
Just after the holidays were over Rudnev was called to the dean's office.
The first thing he thought about was the dean must have found out about
their trip. Although he knew Savochkin would understand everything and
forgive him he was still extremely uncomfortable. Yet, the talk turned
to completely different things.
-I have looked through your mark book. To be given degree with distinction
you have to retake one exam. I've arranged with the teacher who thinks
highly of you and doesn't object to your repeating the examination. You
deserve degree with distinction. The secretary of the party committee
is of the same opinion.
The dean saw Rudnev was a bit confused and he added, 'I understand you're
thinking about other things at the moment. Defense of your graduation
project is at hand. Besides, your baby is due any day. You shouldn't worry,
anyway. The exam will be formal.'
Rudnev was so excited he felt a lump in his throat.
-Pyotr Zakharovich… You can't imagine how much I appreciate the words.
I'll never forget your concern for me. But… I'm not going to repeat the
-It's not honest. How shall I look in the face of the students of the
same year after this?
Savochkin wanted to object but he was well aware Rudnev never acted against
his conscience so he approached Alexander and embraced his shoulders.
-I didn't have any doubts you were going to answer this way. I'm glad
for you… sonny…
Rudnev didn't hesitate for long what should be the theme of his graduation
paper. He had always been interested in the history of Comintern. There
were a lot of controversies between the parties though they professed
the same principles. Alexander who always liked to come to the truth looked
through the available literature and talked to the CPSU veterans who could
throw light on some mysterious facts. His scientific advisor was a secretary
for ideology of the Minsk party committee. During the first talk with
Rudnev he was sincerely surprised by Alexander's knowledge in the sphere
and the boldness the student displayed when he judged the conflicts between
Stalin, Jopseph Broz Tito and leaders of some other parties.
Your aspiration to eliminate white spots in the history of this international
organization appeals to me. Yet, even research institutions have been
unable to do this so far. That is why try to avoid any definite appraisals.
The warning of the scientific advisor was clear to Rudnev. Nevertheless,
his speech at the defense caused a commotion. Although graduation projects
are considered to be research work that should contain some new facts
and their authors have to draw their own conclusions in fact everything
boils down to committing to paper some familiar information, as a rule.
Both writers of university degree theses and scientific advisors are well
aware that debates with prominent scholars can be feigned. Yet, by some
tacit consent they follow the rules of the game and are content with formal
remarks. Rudnev resolutely did away with these conventions. He tore to
tatters the authors of some works who merely retold some generally known
facts. Moreover, he didn't do this on his bare word. He supported his
criticism by the information he obtained nobody knew where. They gossiped
about the extraordinary nature of his graduation project at the department
long before the defense. Even lecturers from other sub-departments came
to listen to him. They were amazed and whispered to each other waiting
for the verdict of the scientific advisor.
The secretary of the party committee found himself in a delicate situation.
As a scientific advisor he was responsible for the content of the graduation
project. To support the student meant to state he shared his views. To
dissociate himself meant to recognize he let things rip. However, as an
experienced party worker he managed to find the golden mean.
I am both delighted and upset by the speech of the student. I am glad
because he treated this complicated topic in a grave and thorough way
that is not typical of most students. This characterizes him as a communist
and member of the university party committee to his advantage. I also
don't reproach him for boldness he displays when reasoning about historic
facts we know little about. Adherence to their principles, honesty and
frankness of opinion has always distinguished true communists who serve
the party causes by the courage of their convictions from those who joined
the party for career reasons. Before the defense I asked for the personal
records of the communist Rudnev at the district party committee. I must
admit there was a line in his application to the party that won over me.
He wrote 'I would like to make use of the only privilege of a communist,
i.e. to be the first to march into battle.' Now I understand the words
were written in all sincerity. Yet, there was one thing that upset me
about the speech, namely, the recklessness Alexander Rudnev displayed
debating with his opponents. I attribute this to youthful maximalism.
I give the highest mark to the graduation project of Alexander Rudnev.
There were several days left before job placement. The member of the party
committee professor Mikhail Yephimovich Shklyar was the first to talk
about the matter.
-taking into account your inclination to research work I advise you to
remain at the sub-department as an assistant. Think this offer over.
This talk shaped Rudnev's further destiny. Shortly before this he had
been offered the position of a political supervisor in a military unit
abroad. There were several units to choose from. Yet, Alexander chose
a more difficult way, i.e. to lecture at the university.
He still remembers his study at university. Alexander recollects with
some reverential awe those professors and associate professors who exercised
strong influence over him as a scholar and a citizen, among them there
were L.S Abetsedarsky, V.M. Sikorsky, I.O. Tsaryuk, E.A. Vasilevskaya,
L.M. Shneyerson, M.G. Yeliseyev, G.S. Astashonok, V.Z. Protchenko, V.F.
Protsko, L.P. Maximova and others.
WE ARE ALL IN GOD'S HANDS
Alexander was sleeping the sleep of the innocent with his
arms spread wide on the bed. He dreamed about his native place Rudna.
It was a summer day. Thunderstorm had just been over but it was still
raining. There was a rainbow in the sky. The brightest of its layers rested
right against their house. Naughty boys rolled up trousers above their
knees and were running along puddles. His mother who was still young,
with a brightly colored kerchief on her head, stood on the porch and reprimanded
him gently, 'Sasha, you're grown up but you behave as if you were a boy!'
He laughed and responded, 'Mum, I'm not grown up. It just seems to you!'
He went on jumping in the puddle. Splashes flew to sides and fell onto
his mother's skirt that she usually wore on holidays. This made her angry.
She grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and started to slap on his
-Take this, and that!
Alexander opened his eyes. His wife was slapping him on his cheeks.
-Wake up, will you? It seems to me it has already begun!
He jumped out of bed and began to put on his trousers feverishly jumping
on his leg and unable to get into the trouser leg. -Just a moment… Wait
He rushed into the bathroom and rinsed his face with cold water. He imagined
taking his wife to maternity hospital more than once but now he lost his
head. He was shivering and his body was covered with perspiration.
-Just a moment. Everything will be all right… Wait a little!
He carefully took his wife by the arm, led her out of the front door and
headed for the tram stop absent-mindedly. His wife's moan brought him
to his senses.
-Oh my God, what a fool I am! Stay here, I'll be back in a moment.
He dashed to the street. As ill luck would have it there was no taxi in
sight. Cars swept past and nobody paid any attention to his desperate
gestures to stop. Finally, a car slowed down.
-Lad, will you give us a lift to the hospital? It's near here, in Orlovskaya
Street. I'll pay as much as you say. My wife is going to give birth to
When they arrived he carefully helped his wife to get out of the car and
gave the driver ten rubles. The driver looked into his purse anxiously.
-I have no change.
-Never mind the change. Thank you for coming to our help.
The driver removed his hand.
-I don't need money. This is just my present to you…
Alexander phoned to the maternity hospital every half an hour. He was
ready to stay day and night sitting on a stool at the door of his wife's
ward to be the first to here the cry of his child. Nowadays father's presence
in the ward in time of delivery is a common practice that is encouraged
in every possible way while at the time they chucked him out of hospital.
-Young man, this is maternity hospital. It's not a railway station.
The doctor looked at Alexander's face that was white with anxiety and
softened her tone.
-Is this your first child?
-Yes, it is.
-Don't worry. Pregnancy went its usual way. There should be no complications.
You'd better go home and have a good sleep. You're going to have more
worries now. Who do you expect?
The question he asked himself almost a thousand times embarrassed Rudnev.
-A boy… And a girl…
The doctor laughed.
-Your wife is a happy one. Some fathers almost give an ultimatum to their
wives. You either give birth to a son or don't be back home at all! They
make complaints to doctors why we didn't provide for the birth of an heir.
I see any child will be desired to you. I don't promise you any twins
as this is a rare occasion. However, you are sure to have either a boy
or a girl…
To be honest he also wanted to have a boy but he didn't confess his wife
to this. He was afraid she would be upset if she gave birth to a girl
and may have problems with feeding the child as a result.
Two days later, on June 21 1973 the nurse who recognized his voice said,
'Don't worry, Rudnev. Your wife has given birth to a child.'
-Is it a boy or a girl? How much does the baby weigh? How does my wife
feel? When can I come to see her?
He blurted out these questions without waiting for an answer. This made
the nurse angry.
-This isn't an information desk. Come here and find everything out!
A lot of people crowded at the information desk in the maternity hospital.
Alexander elbowed his way through the crowd, looked over somebody's shoulder
and asked, 'Will you have a look who Rudneva gave birth to?'
-Rudneva? Twins… Two boys.
Alexander couldn't believe his ears. Nothing had hinted they were going
to have twins. His wife gained usual weight. The doctor even thought they
were going to have a girl. Boys usually give more troubles to women in
childbirth. And now he is said they have two boys. His name was frequently
confused by ear, so Alexander got closer to the information desk and asked,
'Will you check once again, please? It seemed to me you've confused something.'
An old lady looked at his red face and moved her head in a reproachful
-You even don't know who's been born. You're drunk. What do you say your
name is? Ruzhnev?
-No, Rudnev… There's a'd' in the middle.
-Rudnev… Well, really! I have confused. You've got a daughter. She weighs
three kilos seven hundred and sixty grams and she's fifty six centimeters
A shadow ran over Alexander's face. The nurse noticed this and she said
reproachfully, 'What ungrateful folk men are!'
By the time his wife was discharged Rudnev managed to control his feelings.
He didn't hesitate long how to call his daughter. He liked the name 'Inessa'
very much. This was the name of Lenin's beloved - Inessa Armand.
After childbirth his wife developed some problems with health so he didn't
move a step away from her, guessed and anticipated her every wish. At
night he woke up even if he heard the slightest rustle in the pram. He
changed her diapers, warmed infant food, rocked the baby to sleep and
sang her lullabies. Alexander's coarse voice changed out of all recognition
at the moments. It turned so tender it reminded of a child's voice. In
the daytime he washed diapers, went to baby kitchen and to shops and tidied
up the house. When he had some spare moments he surrounded himself with
books in the kitchen that was used as a study and got ready for the coming
The birth of his daughter distracted Rudnev for a while from the thoughts
about his work but as September drew near his anxiety increased. An assistant
is charged with conducting seminars. To work full time he has to teach
at different departments after lectures of prominent scholars who are
professors and associate professors. Each of them has his own manner and
approach to giving information. One has to know all this as seminars should
continue lectures in a natural manner.
Rudnev didn't worry about his knowledge. He studied the CPSU history in
every detail. He even read Brief Survey of history of the National Communist
Party of Bolsheviks that came out under Stalin. In Khrushchev's epoch
the book was withdrawn from libraries as ideologically harmful. He managed
to swap it for some fashionable detective. Alexander's retentive memory
kept a lot of dates and facts so that even the trickiest questions couldn't
puzzle him. The only thing that embarrassed him was the fact there was
practically no age difference between him and most students. At the Department
of Journalism where they preferred those who had some work experience
some of his first-year students were even older than he was. Moreover,
they selected mainly ambitious and sharp-tongued people who didn't quail
at teachers and who could make young assistants, especially girls, hopping
mad by their jokes. Alexander knew a lot would depend on the first meeting
so he carefully prepared for it.
Everything happened just like in the popular TV film 'The Big Break.'
Rudnev entered the auditorium right after the bell and found a clamoring
crowd there. Although first year students had spent a month together at
farm work somewhere in the rural area they didn't know each other quite
well. They were not surprised at strangers. Children of high-ranking parents
that were quite many at the Department of Journalism managed to avoid
farm work so they joined only now. Rudnev must have been mistaken for
one of them. Only a guy in a soldier's blouse responded to his greeting.
'High! Chaps, our numbers have grown,' he cried addressing his fellow
students but they were busy with their matters and didn't react to the
-Haven't you been to farm work? Were you ill? Do you live in Minsk?
The talkative students showered him with questions without paying attention
that Rudnev didn't respond to them.
-Take a seat beside me, the place is vacant; we'll get to know each other
Rudnev kept standing at the board waiting for the students to calm down.
No one still paid any attention to him. Finally, one of the students remembered
the bell had gone a long time before.
-Well, lads, the teacher is late. Fifteen minutes are over so we may beat
'I'm here, by the way!' Rudnev said in a loud voice.
The students looked at him with surprise.
'Who are you?' asked a student who looked about thirty.
-I am the teacher who you think is late.
Somebody gave a whistle of amazement. They started to take their seats
noisily. Girls started to tidy their hair hastily and to put on lipstick
examining the new teacher.
-He's so young!
-And handsome at this!
-Excuse me, are you married?
Girls started giggling. In their opinion, the undisguised impudence like
this should have embarrassed the teacher. However, he only smiled.
-I am. And I have a daughter who's been born recently.
The student who asked the question sighed. 'Why do handsome men like these
get married so early?'
-There's nothing strange about this. They do so not to let slip the beautiful
girls like you…
The students liked Rudnev's reaction. The fact the young teacher hadn't
got embarrassed and hadn't flown off the handle indicated he could be
got along with.
Alexander was pleased to note he had successfully beaten off the first
psychological attack. He waited for the students to finally calm down
and laid out on the table materials he prepared for the seminar.
-Now, as far as you don't have any more questions to ask I suggest finishing
the press conference. If any questions happen to appear later you should
ask them in writing. Now let's get back to the subject.
A student who had been watching everything that went on in the classroom
apathetically didn't quite like Rudnev's tone and gasped with surprise.
-Do you consider us to be like mules?
The girl sitting at the first desk, a daughter of an outstanding journalist
who wrote for a central newspaper, who kept vanishing her nails with an
expensive vanish turned to the student, 'What yokel you are! The teacher
didn't mean to offend you.'
Rudnev approached the girl.
-Thank you for helping me. Now, Novitskaya, I ask you to be through with
vanishing your nails. Let's begin our seminar.
The student looked at Rudnev with surprise.
-Do you happen to know my father?
-I haven't had the honor to get acquainted with your father so far. I
just visited the office of the head of studies and looked through the
personal records of every student in the group there.
This was another shrewd move. Rudnev had to conduct seminars in fifteen
groups but he knew almost every of his three hundred students by sight
and unmistakably addressed them by name.
The skills of public social work Alexander has acquired in the army and
at university, as well as his sense of humor, enabled him to establish
good relations both with the so called gallery where mainly those who
were content with a 'three' belonged, as well as with the pretentious
elite. His students like the fact he avoided the lecturing manner many
young teacher are given to. When these teachers place a barrier between
themselves and their students they protect themselves from questions that
could reveal some gaps in their knowledge. Rudnev, on the contrary, welcomed
discussions and never positioned himself as the ultimate truth. He didn't
require any strict adherence to subordination. At the same time, he never
stooped to chummy manners. During the break he could treat a guy to a
cigarette in the smoking room but five or ten minutes later he would give
the same guy a good dressing down for his poor answer. Naturally, he looked
a chicken against the background of such lecturers like professors Ivan
Zhoukovsky and Vasiliy Protsko. Still, the students took him for an equal
to these men.
Rudnev's earnings as an assistant were scanty but he had to work wholeheartedly.
When teaching methods specialists planned lectures and seminars they tried
to create the most favorable conditions for teachers who had an academic
degree and work experience. Assistants usually had to conduct classes
in the morning. It took him forty minutes by public transport to get fro
Zelyony Loug where the Rudnevs rented a flat to Lenin Square. True, this
was in case buses and trolley buses went regularly. In winter due to traffic
jams the schedule almost always ruined. Alexander had to leave home long
before the classes in order not to be late. On the way to university he
took his daughter to day nursery. Sometimes he came back home after midnight.
The last class at the evening department that went to him, as a rule,
started at 21.40. He filled the gaps between lectures with work at the
When he was choosing the theme of his thesis he almost quarreled with
his scientific advisor professor Shklyar who flatly rejected Rudnev's
-It is beyond any doubts that Comintern's history is important to understanding
the nature of present-day relations in workers' and communist movement.
However, it is very remotely connected with Byelorussia. Our country's
history has so many white spots it would be a good idea to deal with them.
One day our descendants will bring us to book for our indifference. Will
you get down to research of Byelorussian Communist Party's activity concerning
developing heavy industry? Our country turned into an assembly shop in
an unprecedented time. I dare say this was the time of postwar economic
dislocation. One is unlikely to find in Europe any gigantic enterprises
similar to Minsk Tractor Plant and Minsk Automobile Plant.
-Mikhail Yephimovich! I am not the one with a background in engineering.
I'm not familiar with the subject. Besides, I think the subject to be
-No problem. You'll cope. As far as 'boring' is concerned… Scientific
research is not the same as flirtation with a girl. If you choose the
theme you'll defend with flying colors. It may well be so if you choose
the subject of Comintern you'll have to rewrite your work many times and
you may even fail. If you agree to my suggestion you'll speak well of
me many times afterwards.
It goes without saying the wise Shklyar turned out to be right. However,
for Rudnev to deal with the subject he was not interested in was the same
as to sleep with an unloved woman. He had to make himself make in archives,
copy thousands of pages of decrees by the Central Committee and the Council
of Ministers and to sift through newspapers that could help restore the
atmosphere of the time.
Exhausting work was aggravated by poor economic conditions of the young
family. His assistant salary was 105 rubles. His wife who was a postgraduate
student was paid scholarship of 75 rubles. Alexander managed to earn about
thirty or forty rubles teaching at preparation department. They had to
pay 53 rubles for the flat they rented. As a result they had a bit over
a hundred rubles left for everything altogether. One should remember he
had to be dressed properly. A lecturer can't enter an auditorium wearing
a suit with its sleeves patched. Besides, they had to provide for their
daughter's needs. Their parents did their best to help. Rudnev's mother
worked at a cattle farm until she was an extremely old age. Although her
work was backbreaking she was paid very little for it. His parents could
hardly make their ends meet. To support her son his mother grew her marvelous
hair, then cut it and sold for chignons that were becoming fashionable
at the time. Alexander found this out shortly before his mother's death.
Rudnev got on very well with his wife's parents. His mother-in-law admired
him and always admonished her daughter, 'You should obey Sasha and take
care of him!' However, Alexander resorted to their parents' help only
when they faced some stand-off. His pride prevented him from relying on
Both at the time he was young and now he is retired Alexander Rudnev bears
his cross meekly. He doesn't complain about anything and always sets hopes
upon God. When he hears students complaining about academic load that
seems excessive to them he likes telling them a parable that imprinted
itself on his soul in his childhood…
Two men walked side by side each of them bearing his own cross. The first
one endured all hardships silently; the second one kept complaining and
was always asking God, 'My Lord, you see it's more than I can bear. I
am about to fall down. May I saw at least a small piece off my cross?'
-You may if you wish.
For some time the burden was light, then it seemed to the second man his
cross turned too heavy to lift again, so he appealed to God over and over
again. The Lord didn't object so the traveler kept on sawing off his cross.
Finally, their path brought to a deep abyss. It was impossible both to
jump over it and to walk round. There was no way back as death waited
for them there. The first man threw his cross over the abyss and walked
over it to the opposite side. The cross of the second man turned out to
be too short…
A flat of their own was like an enticing star that flickered high in the
skies. At the university they provided him with references so Rudnev managed
to become a member of a housing cooperative. The receipt given after they
paid their first installment that amounted to 3650 rubles is still kept
in their home archives as if it was some holy relic. He collected the
money doing some unofficial construction jobs. Besides, his wife's parents
helped a bit.
It took a lot of time for their apartment to be built. The country suffered
from lack of workforce. Means assigned for building were drawn slowly.
Alexander came to Matusevicha Street where their block of flats was being
built almost every weekend. He was happy to see a new floor appeared.
When he saw the work was suspended he felt upset. Once, he risked his
life and made his way to a three-room flat walking along the stairs that
didn't even have any handrails. He looked inside the flat that seemed
to be a magic palace to him although it had neither interior finish nor
One day a former fellow student encountered Alexander in the street and
suggested dropping in at a cheap bar for a glass of beer.
-I wonder, Sasha, why you still lead a beggarly life? You were most promising
among the students of our year. You had an opportunity to make a party
career, to go abroad. You would now have a luxurious flat, a car and a
dacha in a good place. Instead, you can hardly make both ends meet. Why
do you need the thesis? After you defend it you'll be paid about two hundred
rubles. Is this decent money?
-One may think they grow somewhere in a tree. I've always dreamed about
research work, it's my vocation. That is why I refused to work at the
district party committee. As far as the army is concerned I was fed up
with it when I served there.
-Stop it! Vocation!.. You dreamed!.. I dreamed about entirely different
things, too. Luckily, I came to my senses just in time. I work for security
bodies and I don't regret my decision. I am paid good salary! I've got
a flat in the center of Minsk! Take identification papers alone! When
people see them they shudder. They are ready to fulfill ant request.
-I agree with you. The service is interesting. Yet, it requires a distinct
way of thinking and a proper training. They don't accept men in the street
-They don't, indeed, but I may recommend you to Personnel Department.
We need the people like you who are competent and intelligent. The only
thing I advise you to do is to get rid of your na?ve ideas. Service in
the state security system implies work with people, first of all. This
is important work that requires responsibility. Your experience and length
of service in the party suit in the best way possible. Shall I inform
them about you?
Rudnev started thinking. Indeed, he had an idea about service in the state
security system only from books and films. This was the time when the
film 'Dead season' starring Rolan Bykov and Donatas Banyonis was released.
It was followed by the TV serial 'Seventeen instants of spring' that caused
a true commotion. When the serial was broadcast the whole country watched
adventures of clever and charming Shtirlits with bated breath. Before
falling asleep Alexander often imagined himself as an intelligent agent
who carried out some important task abroad. This helped him forget about
everyday problems. Yet, the service seemed to be inaccessible to an ordinary
The offer of his friend gave rise to a number of conflicting feelings.
On the one hand, he was already aware of tragic fate of his grandfather
Alexander Kirbay and the involvement of the People's Commissariat for
Home Affairs in it. However, he didn't transfer the crimes committed by
Lavrenty Beriya and his accomplices to those who currently worked for
the Committee for State Security (the KGB). Every country has some gloomy
pages in its history. Just like birthmarks, they remain on its body forever.
They can't be stamped out. Germany plunged human kind into world war.
However, we don't blame the whole of the German nation for the crimes
committed by fascists. The same holds good as far as the KGB is concerned.
Once there was time when it was turned into a punitive body. Those who
worked for the organization then have hundreds of thousand or even millions
of ruined lives on their conscience. However, the true predestination
of the KGB was to protect interests of the state. Thus, how could service
for it be considered as dishonorable one?
Alexander couldn't find an unambiguous answer to the question. That is
why he asked his friend to give him some time to think.
The friend agreed, 'You may. Just don't think for too long. It may well
be so I may leave for Moscow for some years in the nearest future to study
there so I won't be able to help you then.'
A week later he phoned his friend and told he accepted his offer.
Week after week passed but he didn't receive any summons from the Personnel
Department. His former fellow student soon left for Moscow so there was
no one Rudnev could ask to make inquiries about the matter. Six months
later he gave up all thoughts about it. He decided he must have been rejected
by the Personnel Department.
They phoned him from the agency about a year later. A stranger suggested
meeting at the caf? of the House of Arts in Engel's Square. He was familiar
with the public catering place quite well since the time he was a student.
Meals were quite decent and rather inexpensive there. Among visitors in
the caf? one could frequently see famous poets and painters. Alexander
had always been attracted by creative people, so when he had money he
liked to drop in at the place to combine business with pleasure.
The stranger was already there. He noticed Alexander and gestured him
to join. He shook his hand and offered Rudnev a coffee and some pastry
as if he had guessed his liking for sweet stuff.
They talked for about an hour. The man didn't show any papers. He called
himself Sergey Petrovich. He explained the delay was due to screening.
'You understand there should be no come-and-go-people in the organization,'
The man's intent look embarrassed Alexander a little but he didn't look
'Yes… I see…' Rudnev confirmed he had some idea about the specific nature
of the work ahead.
He found out afterwards that when they were making a judgment whether
he was fit or not to serve for the security bodies they examined the whole
of the family tree of the Kirbays and Rudnevs and inquired about relatives
seven times removed who lived everywhere. They asked his acquaintances,
too. They were interested about absolutely everything, including his views,
likings, weaknesses, attitude to women and to alcohol, and other harmful
and good habits and hobbies. It goes without saying they paid special
attention to the fate of Alexander Kirbay. Only after they made sure Alexander
was clean as a pin from ideological and moral point of view they gave
the go-ahead to involve him in the work.
'You've been approved in Moscow. One of these days you'll be summoned
to the Personnel Department to complete the formalities. In the meanwhile,
you'd better not tell anyone about out talk,' the man warned him at the
end of their talk.
After he completed all formalities at the Personnel Department and had
all the interviews, Alexander Rudnev was received by head of the Department
where he was to work. The man congratulated Rudnev on being appointed
to the post and said, 'From now on you join the ranks of those who consider
interests of the state to be more important than their own and who are
even ready to sacrifice their lives when necessary. This is great honor
and huge responsibility. Far from everyone is done the honor. It requires
self-discipline because even the slightest blunder and thoughtlessness
in operations work may cause irreparable damage to the country and have
tragic influence upon the fate of your comrades. Your father…' The head
of the Department made a barely perceptible pause as if thinking whether
to say this or not and then he continued, '… and your grandfather were
true communists. We trust you, as well. However, you should reaffirm the
trust every day and every hour by your deeds. I hope you understand this.'
-I do, comrade general!
-Well, good luck, then!
Rudnev rose up, made a step and stopped hesitantly. The general noticed
-Do you want to ask something?
-You mentioned my grandfather Alexander Kirbay… I wonder if we could find
out what happened to him. You see the memory of him is very dear to my
A shadow ran over the general's face.
-You are free, Rudnev!
When Alexander was about to touch the door handle he added, 'I'll try
to help you. Yet, it's not quite the time for this now…Be sensible. Try
not to make a real mess of things!'
When his colleagues found out that Rudnev was building a cooperative apartment
they advised him to sell it as the committee solved housing problems of
its workers quickly. However, Rudnev chose not to do this. He had always
been extremely careful as far as these matters were concerned.
At first the work captivated Rudnev by its novelty. Economic conditions
of his family improved significantly. Stability and career advancement
were his prospects for the future. Nevertheless, he was a little bit worried
when they planned to send him to Leningrad to study there as he didn't
want his wife to shoulder all household problems. Luckily, heads of the
department came to the conclusion his professional standard was decent
enough so he didn't need any special training.
He sobered up quite quickly. His immediate duties reminded very little
of his romantic ideas about work for the state security system. He carefully
studies official materials to do with activities of the CIA, Mossad and
other intelligence services. He knew that thousands of Soviet intelligence
agents work abroad. They proudly mentioned their success without giving
their names at party meetings in the department. From time to time they
received sad news that some KGB and State Intelligence Service Department
agents who worked under the cover of one mission or another had been disclosed.
Yet, this had nothing to do with Rudnev's work. He was expected to observe
moods of people and to notice the slightest deviations of their views
from official ideology.
-You know university teachers quite well and you are considered to be
quite at home there. Try to meet them frequently in informal surroundings
for a cup of coffee or a glass of beer. Find those who'll inform you about
morbid moods of certain teachers and students. You should reflect this
in internal documents.
His colleagues who were more experienced gave him a tip about how to obtain
the necessary result.
-You see, chap, there are quite many people in our country who are displeased
with the Soviet public political system. Naturally, they're not going
to shout about this in the street and stage demonstrations of protest.
The lamebrains like these can be counted on the fingers of one hand. They
reveal themselves, as a rule, during some extraordinary events. We could
observe this in 1968 when Soviet troops entered Yugoslavia when a small
group of anti-Soviets tried to hold a demonstration in Red Square. Thanks
God, we don't have any dolts of the kind in Byelorussia.
From ideological point of view Byelorussia was considered one of the most
problem-free republics in the USSR in 1970s. Its economy was developing
steadily and people's welfare increased. Owing to adherence to his principles
of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Byelorussia first secretary
Pyotr Masherov all agricultural products left after the republic met the
Government Purchases Plan remained in the country. Meat and milk products
were abundant in shops. Moreover, these were of highest quality. Food
additives in sausage that are considered to be one of its main components
nowadays were a rare occasion at the time. They were used in exceptional
cases only when the government took the decision. The term 'deficit' was
used only as to fashionable imported clothes and footwear. Favorable social
and economic conditions ruled out any ground for disturbances. Emigration
of Jewish population was occasional feature at the time. Talks in kitchens,
as a rule, limited to harmless political anecdotes and complaints about
poor domestic service. However, the Committee of State Security couldn't
confine itself to statement of positive facts alone. They would not be
understood in Moscow. As a result, they had to deal with minor things
and fashion them into serious operations work. One of the examples could
be neutralization of morbid moods among students as far as the Byelorussian
language was concerned.
In fact, the events didn't have any political overtones. Some students
at the Department of Journalism most of whom came from rural areas where
teaching at schools was conducted mainly in Byelorussian preferred to
speak the language at the university, too. Nobody forbade this. Moreover,
Byelorussian took the same place in the educational package at the Department
as Russian did. Even those students who came to enter the BSU on target
admission basis from Russia, Moldova and Ukraine were made to study Byelorussia.
Professor Arkady Narkevich gave these students no quarter and made those
for whom Byelorussian wasn't their native tongue copy for every class
wordy articles from newspapers 'Zvyazda' and 'Chirvonaya Zmena'. As far
as most students at the department spoke Russian the minority showed off
their loyalty to 'the mother tongue'. Gifted students who had already
managed to publish their first selection of poetry in the magazines 'Maladost'
and 'Polymya' were especially notable for this. 'One day we'll arrive
in Kremlin riding a white horse and will make all of you speak Byelorussia,'
they used to address these jokes to their friends during the breaks. The
harmless idle talk of students brought about preventive talks with KGB
officials. The story could be over but some zealous officers at the department
turned a commonplace story into serious political action.
Ten years later the returns of the story revealed themselves in a more
dramatic way when students among whom were children of officials who were
members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus and
other high-ranking people organized a public organization 'Talaka' that
promoted studies of Byelorussian history. They had get-togethers where
they recited poetry, sang songs by Byelorussian authors and shared information
about the Great Duchy of Lithuania derived from foreign sources. The department
for propaganda of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus
headed by Saveliy Pavlov at the time considered the initiative of the
youth to be a sort of ideological infection. They published articles in
the media that denounced 'subversive activities of students disposed to
nationalism'. The publishing house 'Belarus' issued a book 'Fear the Greeks
bearing gifts' where they theoretically substantiated struggle against
nationalism. The Committee for the State Security of Byelorussia tried
not to exaggerate the danger of these phenomena. However, as far as they
faced double pressure, i.e. from their Moscow colleagues and the Central
Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus, they had to carry out all
types of preventive work and thus they infrequently they displayed real
state of affairs in an overblown way.
Rudnev found this work burdensome. He dreamed about work related to exposing
spies and carrying out risky tasks abroad. However, he actually had to
deal with nitpicking.
In spring of 1976 XXV CPSU congress was held in Moscow. Besides five thousand
delegates who represented all Soviet republics and most important regions
of the Soviet Union, leaders of Communist Parties of dozens of foreign
states participated in it. Shortly before the party forum Rudnev was called
by head of the department. 'Might he show me the materials to do with
my grandfather's criminal case?' the crazy thought flashed through his
mind. However, they talked on an entirely different subject.
-In the past few months you have shown yourself to good advantage so we
decided to send you to participate in the operations work at the party
congress. You should regard this both as an incentive and the opportunity
to get acquainted with the experience of your Moscow colleagues. When
you're back you should give a detailed report to your supervisors…
The congress went on without a hitch. The delegates had been selected
and instructed so thoroughly that even the smallest incidents were ruled
out. In their speeches that had been endorsed by the presidium beforehand
they reported about their progress and assumed new responsibilities. They
criticized only particular problems without touching foundations of the
state system. It would occur to no one of the thoroughly selected delegates
to disagree with party policy either openly or offstage. There could be
no come-and-go people in the Kremlin Palace as all delegates and guests
had their documents inspected three times.
Rudnev was not extremely busy with his duties so he observed with interest
how they made politics in the Soviet Union. He would understand afterwards
that CPSU congresses and sessions of the USSR Supreme Council in fact
only imitated making important decisions that determined social and economic
policy of the country. True politics wasn't made openly. It was made behind
thick Kremlin wall in the course of behind-the-scenes struggle between
different clans. Information from there never leaked out. Even secret
new round ups that were broadcast daily by TASS channels for a narrow
circle of executives made only casual mention of this.
Rudnev saw Leonid Brezhnev with his own eyes. The general secretary was
still spry although excessive flattery had already affected his psyche.
Speeches of delegated contained a lot of expressions like 'Leonid Ilyich
personally', 'our dear Leonid Ilyich', 'a true Leninist', 'a successor
to the cause of great Lenin', etc. He took the glorification for granted
and didn't even try to object to it. An anecdote said that it was only
once that he asked his companions-in-arms 'You may call me simply Ilyich'
thus stressing the fact he was close to Lenin. During the intervals Brezhnev
behaved in a natural manner. He willingly communicated with the delegates,
joked and told anecdotes although many of them were stale. Alexander once
witnessed an episode when Brezhnev told a funny story that had been circulating
in the country for many years during his talk with a regional leader when
they mentioned representation of workers and agriculturists who made the
majority at the congress. If he wished Rudnev could also approach the
general secretary, to greet him or to ask some question. Of course, bodyguards
were nearby. However, in those years guarding didn't have the all-out
nature we observe now when even aged women and little children are not
allowed to approach leaders within gunshot.
Politicians, statesmen, cosmonauts, famous front-rank workers, writers,
actors and sportsmen… Rudnev saw live most of these VIP-personalities
as they would put it now. This excited him and created an illusion of
being involved in major state affairs.
Leaders of Communist parties from abroad were of special interest to Alexander.
He unwittingly compared the atmosphere which reigned in Comintern with
the things that took place in the Kremlin Palace. The difference was evident.
Nobody doubted openly authority of the Soviet Union and the CPSU, as well
as their leading role in the international communist movement. However,
one could easily feel the touch of artificiality in speeches of distinguished
guests and in their behavior in informal atmosphere. They didn't any more
display the blind faith in messianism of the USSR that used to determine
attitude to the first state of workers and peasants abroad in pre-war
period and the first post-war years. There had been no traces left of
the atmosphere of universal love and awe that was so typical of 1959 when
International youth Festival was held in Moscow. Rudnev guessed the reason
for such striking changes by intuition but he didn't want to believe them.
He attributed doubts concerning advantages of socialist system to lack
The business trip to Moscow where he had enough time to think everything
over convinced him finally that work for the Committee for State Security
was not his cup of tea. The need to stretch the truth, to live and work
circumspectly, according to the plan outlined from above depressed Alexander
and contradicted his own principles. The talk to the officer who stopped
his attempts to have access to the archive documents connected with Alexander
Kirbay's death made extremely painful impression on him. He developed
the wish to delete this year from life and to turn his life back but he
didn't know how to do this.
Rudnev was well aware that the Committee was not a common organization.
True, to be accepted there is difficult but to leave is even more difficult.
One needs some good reasons. Otherwise, any further career should be given
up as a bad job at best. At worst… Alexander even didn't want to think
of it. He had to keep himself for his daughter and for his parents who
were growing old and needed his support badly.
The change of Rudnev's mood didn't remain unnoticed. He carried out the
tasks he was entrusted with without any enthusiasm. He began to refuse
to do public social work under plausible pretexts. The head of the department
tried to have a heart-to-heart talk with him.
-Have you developed any problems with health? Alexander Nikolayevich,
you seem to be a different person now.
That's it! How could he forget about it? Rudnev almost jumped off the
chair when he heard the unexpected hint of the head of the department.
The only reason that would enable him to resign office was health. There
was some problem he had, indeed. When he had his medical checkup before
being taken on the staff doctors paid attention he had strained sacrum
vertebrae. He was recommended to have an operation. Rudnev was operated
on twice but the operations didn't manage to eliminate the reasons for
pains that made themselves felt quite frequently. The thoughts swept past
Alexander's head like the wind. He realized how he should behave. He assumed
concerned air and said, 'I didn't want to mention it. I hoped it would
all come right in the end. My health has failed, indeed…'
Another medical checkup confirmed he had to be operated on, otherwise
his illness would aggravate. Alexander didn't agree to have an operation
and asked to dismiss him from office. The request displeased his supervisors
extremely because they felt it was not a matter of health problems. Moreover,
doctors proved there were specialists in Moscow who operated such patients
quite successfully. However, Alexander insisted he wanted to be dismissed
from office. He explained he couldn't be operated on for some domestic
reasons and he wanted to have a less stressful job. Finally they met his
request. The farewell talk with the head of the department they had when
Alexander brought the man his clearance chit to be signed left a bad taste
in his mouth.
-The Committee for State Security is not a yard with a through passage.
You're going to regret your carefree decision more than once…
The university rector received Rudnev with undisguised satisfaction.
-Have you come back, prodigal son? You wished to serve your country and
didn't want to cringe before somebody. I see… Well then, take back the
CPSU history course and get down to work. By all accounts you were quite
good at it. Make sure to use materials to do with resolutions of XXV party
congress during the seminars. Your own observations will be of extreme
interest to students.
It's easy to say 'Take back and get down to work'! He had forgotten a
lot in the previous year. The latest party resolutions, including those
made at the congress, needed profound comprehension. When he was in the
Kremlin Palace he watched only outward environment of the forum and didn't
trouble himself with studying its materials. However, nothing could be
done about it. If you pledge, don't hedge!
Rudnev got down to work like a maniac. He spent all nights long at books.
Besides, he managed to keep home and paid attention to his daughter. He
drove himself to complete exhaustion as if he was trying to erase from
his memory thoughts about the work for the organization where he was accepted
to through some misunderstanding.
When he worked over his thesis Alexander frequently had a harsh word to
say about his scientific advisor who recommended him the theme. It goes
without saying professor Shklyar did this out of kindness. As a result,
when other candidates for a degree wrote their theses without any particular
effort and infrequently confined themselves to compilation of available
monographs and articles he had to sift through piles of archive documents.
He couldn't miss a single document, even the one of regional party committees,
when it had to do with heavy industry facilities. Archives of regional
party committees of the Communist Party of Byelorussia were kept in the
field. Rudnev had to spend weeks there copying thousands of pages as no
one could dream of any copiers at the time. In some cases, to have a clear
idea about how certain resolutions of the Central Committee were implemented
he had to go to enterprises and study documentation there. It goes without
saying he might have done with open sources. It must be confessed that
unlike doctor's theses most candidate's ones remind of scientific research
in their form only. In fact they are nothing but generalization of some
familiar material accompanied by imitation of one's own conclusions. However,
Rudnev would never have agreed to do such careless work. This feature
has complicated his life more than once…
Work over the thesis went no as quickly as he wished it to. Empiric material
made up twenty thick notebooks covered with small handwriting. Even after
it was laid out by corresponding sections and headings it reminded very
much of some information gulf where he could easily drown. Alexander looked
through his notebooks and cursed both his scientific advisor who had drawn
him into this adventure and himself for agreeing to do the work he had
Professor Shklyar died when Alexander came to the most crucial point of
work at his thesis. Rudnev lost not only his scientific advisor who helped
him to look into nuances of the complicated matter but also the man who
could protect him from unfair attacks in case there were some complications
at the defense. The authority of this prominent scholar and brilliant
speaker in academic circles was so high that even his staunchest opponents
didn't dare challenge him openly. Just think, he was scientific advisor
of 150 candidates for a degree who had defended their theses.
Very soon Rudnev understood how serious the loss was. There appeared some
ill-wishers who began to spread rumors that his thesis was merely rendering
of party and government resolutions and that he was going to fail. Alexander
didn't doubt he would be able to refute this ridiculous gossip at his
defense. However, there was one feature about his work that could take
a bad turn.
Mikhail Yephimovich taught him to express his thoughts freely. He liked
to repeat, 'The one who quails before authorities is never going to rise
to their level.' Alexander was of the same opinion, this feature of his
revealed itself already at the time when he wrote his graduation paper.
He re-read his thesis and found many examples of abrupt opinions and thoughts
close to sedition.
He got afraid of his boldness. He developed a wish to re-write his work
anew. There was an obtrusive line from a song by Vladimir Vysotsky in
his head, 'Ride a bit slower, my horses, a bit slower!' However, the defense
was already in the work schedule of the specialized board, so a request
to call it off would bring about more false rumors. Alexander decided
to leave things as they were.
His fears turned out to be unfounded. The defense went in a surprisingly
smooth way. However, his opponents didn't fail to note that in some cases
wording of the thesis reminds more of political essays than of scientific
Long months of expectation dragged on. Decisions to confer academic doctoral
and candidate's degrees, as well as academic titles of professor and associate
professor were made by Supreme Certification Board in Moscow. They practiced
sample dispatch of theses for the so-called 'black' review when the fate
of a candidate for a degree was determined by a complete stranger. When
the review was unfavorable the decision of the specialized board was cancelled.
It usually took four months for the procedures to be over. Long before
the time expired Rudnev began to look into the mail box hoping to see
the cherished envelope there. Six months had passed but there was still
no answer from Moscow. His anxiety turned into panic. Now Alexander was
sure Shklyar's advice not to spare any authorities had played a mean trick
on him. Supreme Certification Board in Moscow was unlikely to allow ideological
liberties of the kind.
Several more months passed. Rudnev had lost any hope and stopped being
interested in the contents of the mailbox. Every day he just took out
a pile of newspapers and magazines from the box and left it on the coffee
table in the living room to read them shortly before going to bed. Evening
was the time Alexander reserved for reading the press.
On the eve of the new 1981 year Rudnev came back home in a bad mood. Those
who began their work at theses at the same time he did had already worked
as senior lecturers, some of them had even managed to become associate
professors. He was still a teacher who had the right to conduct seminars
only. Alexander gradually began to develop inferiority complex.
He glanced at envelopes and put them aside even without opening. He unfolded
the newspaper 'Pravda.' A letter fell onto the floor. Rudnev picked it
up and couldn't believe his eyes. There was his own handwriting on the
envelope just as Supreme Certification Board required. He tore the envelope
with his hands shaking and read, '… academic degree of a candidate of
historical sciences is conferred on you'…
One might think Rudnev's life would settle down after the candidate's
degree was conferred on him. Now he could give a course of lectures in
the CPSU history he had worked out before. He also elaborated two specialized
courses; they were 'Ideological confrontation of two world systems' and
'Economic competition between two world systems'. The courses turned out
to be quite timely. In November 1982 Brezhnev died. The former KGB chairman
Yuri Andropov who regarded propaganda of Soviet way of life and counter-propaganda
as of paramount importance for ideological activities was nominated the
General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee. The press, radio and
television in formed about advantages of socialism and persuaded that
capitalist system had exhausted itself and would not be long for this
world. Rudnev was invited to scientific conferences, asked to speak to
lecturers and to write articles for newspapers and magazines. He knew
the genuine information and he realized that real life was not as good
as propaganda put it. The decaying capitalist economy kept displaying
high labor efficiency and responded to market needs quickly. They didn't
have the notion 'shortage' in the West while this phenomenon made itself
felt quite clear in the USSR. Even little kids preferred to use the word
'obtain' rather than 'buy' when they asked their parents for some cherished
thing. However, Alexander could present the state of affairs from the
viewpoint of historic retrospective. His explanations that the gap between
socialist and capitalist living standards was temporary and that it was
due to war and discriminatory measures in trade sphere that were employed
against the USSR by the USA and its satellites sounded quite convincing.
Rudnev responded to every request, so he worked very hard. He tried to
replenish his domestic budget so he made some money on the side giving
lectures in different higher educational establishments though it wasn't
extremely necessary. It seemed to him his body could easily endure this
truly excessive overload. Even at the time his health started to fail,
e.g. he had pains in his heart, tiredness displayed itself quite often,
he didn't take it seriously and tried to console himself humming his favorite
songs, 'Old age is not going to find me at home. I am always on the go…'
The bravado played a mean trick on Rudnev. He had always tried to take
upon himself more than others did. When he was a child he always lifted
extremely heavy weights. When he earned money doing some unofficial construction
jobs as a student he used to pull two fifty-kilo sacks of cement trying
not to become similar to those weaklings who could hardly cope with one.
At mature age he slept two times less than was necessary to call his strength
There was one more habit that almost ruined Rudnev. He knew how to drink
and never yielded to anyone as far as drinking was concerned. He didn't
drink too often but when he did drink he followed the principle, 'A bottle
is too little, two bottles is too much, while three bottles is just enough!'
Even after he consumed the doses that could knock everyone else off their
feet he came home as if nothing had happened.
The internal stress that had been accumulating for years required an outlet
so he unwittingly took a great interest in spirits. Alcohol produced an
illusion of liberation. The amount he consumed increased each time, sometimes
it was as close to five bottles of vodka. Afterwards, he took a liking
for spirit. It was not difficult to obtain, as they sold it at the chemist's
for medical purposes. Besides, it was given out to research laboratories
for different jobs where only small amounts were used for industrial needs
with the rest being written off and consumed internally.
They couldn't but notice his new passion at the university where he worked.
However, he always conducted classes properly and never accomplished any
thoughtless actions. It could only be guessed what passions raged in his
soul. Nevertheless, there were some malignant people who pressed for him
being fired from the university.
Rudnev could endure strokes of misfortune with fortitude. Even when he
found himself face to face with the organization that crushed millions
of people's lives and dealt mercilessly with everyone who was suspected
of treason, he withstood and didn't give in. However, he turned out to
be helpless when hi faced his friends' disloyalty.
Alexander noticed there were some irreversible changes going on in his
body. Pains in the heart were followed by ache in joints. It was quite
a short time before that he could run several kilometers without any particular
effort while now he was short-winded even when he walked quickly. Once
he realized that his legs fail to obey him. His mind fixed the changes
but the brain region responsible for emotions didn't give any alarm signals
as if some invisible hand had switched it off.
Rudnev was aware he was dying slowly but he didn't feel any fear. He watched
himself lying on the bed helplessly as if from an outsider's viewpoint…
When ambulance men delivered him to hospital he was almost unconscious.
Hospital attendants carried him in a stretcher as Rudnev wasn't able to
make a single step on his own.
He remembered November 24, 1984 forever. This was the day when the two
forces that influence all things in existence on Earth, i.e. Life and
Death, met at his bed. Each of them had a claim on his body without pretending
to have his soul. The soul belongs to God and only the Lord has the right
to decide whether it should remain in the body or leave it and go to heaven
for purification and new incarnation. God decided in favor of Life. This
day became Alexander's second birthday…
Rudnev's illness didn't keep within the standard bounds of alcoholism.
There were some strange things about his tests that ran counter to medical
practice. His attending medical doctor reported this to the head doctor.
It was decided to have a council of physicians. Its conclusion was unfavorable.
They thought the patient was impossible to be saved.
Despite the fact his wife had already divorced to him she couldn't remain
indifferent to the fate of her daughter's father. It's difficult to say
whether she felt she was guilty for what had happened or not. Most probably,
she didn't. Nature proceeded from maternal essence of a woman and provided
her with various defense mechanisms that enable her to live longer than
a man does. Physical factors alone can't ensure longevity because human
health depends directly on his state of mind. That is why feminine logic
is directed entirely towards moderating the feeling of guilt. Most women,
even if they're absolutely wrong, accuse men of their own mistakes. This
phenomenon displays itself in the popular wisdom saying 'If you consider
a woman to be wrong you should beg her pardon!'
The attending medical doctor didn't venture to tell Rudnev's wife the
doctor's conclusion at once.
-We're doing our best. Unfortunately, medicine is not all-powerful. Your
husband has rare illness…
-Why do you call it 'rare', doctor? One man out of two nowadays is an
-Your husband is not an alcoholic.
-Isn't he? He has been drinking like a fish in the past several months.
He was brought to hospital after some protracted drinking bout.
-He was, indeed. However, it wasn't alcohol that brought him to the critical
condition. It wasn't alcohol that had such destructive influence on his
health. Your husband suffers from utmost nervous exhaustion. As a rule,
the depression like this is brought about by a number of reasons. Your
family relations could have been one of them… I have to warn you that
you should expect the worst. There's no objective evidence at the moment
that would let us hope for his recovery. However, miracles occur sometimes.
Your husband has got extremely vigorous constitution that is waiting for
an impulse from the nervous system. If only the patient could adjust it
to active mode! Unfortunately, he's almost unconscious now so we can't
rely on this…
They say a man turns back to his past before death reproducing in his
mind the most important events of his life. When Rudnev's mind cleared
up he was thinking about the future. He thought his little daughter was
going to have a hard time without him. In a half-conscious state he saw
his daughter stretching her hands for him. His immobilized body got strained
as if he was trying to rise. Then darkness fell again. He sank into it
as if into a hole and whispered, 'I'll be back!..'
His mind reminded of swing of the pendulum that disappeared and then came
back. During these borderline moments between life and death a supernatural
being appeared before him. It looked at him in a strict and attentive
way. It's going to remain a mystery beyond our comprehension whether these
were common hallucinations or God appeared before him to decide on his
destiny. Yet, Rudnev is convinced they were God and his daughter that
brought him back to life.
He stayed in hospital for about three months. His illness yielded gradually.
Even when crisis began to show his doctors didn't venture to make a final
conclusion as he could suffer a relapse any moment. However, he survived.
When Rudnev was discharged from hospital his attending medical; doctor
confessed to him, 'To tell you the truth, Alexander Nikolayevich, the
illness will have an impact on your psyche and that you'll become a disabled
person. I'm glad I was mistaken.'
-You weren't mistaken, doctor. Your forecast was correct. You just didn't
take into account I have a lot of things to do in my life…
Most of Rudnev's colleagues embraced his coming back to work with joy.
People sympathized with him. The head of the sub-department treated him
as if Rudnev had returned after a long business trip. He shook Alexander's
-Alexander Nikolayevich, a lot of things have piled up while you were
absent. Will you cope with them?
-I will. You may believe me I'll never let my colleagues down.
-I have never doubted it…
For the first time after so many months Rudnev felt alive again. Even
some slight pains in the heart made him glad. For some reason he remembered
the scene from 'Virgin Soil Upturned' by Sholokhov when Makar Nagulnov
who had been read out was returning home. He wanted to commit suicide
in a fit of despair. He was about to pull the trigger of the gun he held
at his temple but he imagined his enemies' joy at his death and overcome
the momentary hesitation. 'I'll never do you the pleasure, swine!' Alexander
echoed Makar Nagulnov in his thoughts…
Rudnev defeated his main enemy. Far from every great personality who fell
victim to alcohol managed to do this. Rudnev decided to consolidate his
disdain for alcohol by… collecting spirits. He bought rare brands of cognac,
vodka and wine, displayed this dangerous collection to his friends and
acquaintances and even treated them to some spirits. Nevertheless, he
has never touched alcohol in the past twenty-five years.
There's another unusual collection at his disposal. He has worn ties since
he was a student. He prefers wearing formal clothes even on hot summer
days. A friend of his even joked once, 'You must have been born wearing
a tie, Alexander Nikolayevich.'
Rudnev countered, 'That's highly unlikely, I think. I must have been born
with a silver spoon in my mouth. I've had too many fracture tests in my
life but I've never been broken!'
There are about four hundred (!) ties in his collection ranging from those
that were fashionable in 1960s - they were woven and had a fastener -
to the most fashionable ones that are long and are made from expensive
cloth. Most of them have been brought from abroad. People who know about
this uncommon liking prefer to give him ties as a birthday present. They
also choose a matching shirt for the present not to look too moderate.
His daughter once made an attempt to put his clothes in order but she
got mixed up and gave up.
-If you like the junk, daddy, let it jam your wardrobes.
'This junk will be sold at Sotheby's one day!' Rudnev joked.
LIFE GOES ON.
Gorbachev's perestroika stormed into Soviet people's lives
like vortex, destroyed their lifestyle and sowed bitter seeds of doubt
in their souls. It couldn't but affect Rudnev, too. Something he had been
suspecting for a long time, something they could talk only in their kitchens
about while watching the reaction of neighbors suddenly became a matter
of public debate. The mass media behaved just like mad propaganda dogs
on the loose and attainted party functionaries. They dug out some little
known facts from country's history and stunned people with sensations.
The loan translation of the Russian word 'glasnost' entered vocabulary
of foreign states firmly.
At fist Rudnev was happy to have so much information at his disposal.
It was a real Klondike for social scientists. Besides the newspaper 'Pravda'
that every communist had to subscribe to without fail he liked reading
'Komsomolskaya pravda', 'Literaturnaya gazeta', 'Moskovsky komsomolets',
'Moscow news' and the magazine 'Ogonek' that were notable for their acute
articles. He tried not to miss a single program of the TV Company 'Vzglyad'.
He made active use of this extensive material and made bold comments about
authorities and their actions. His course 'CPSU history', as well as his
specialized courses, enjoyed wide popularity.
The headings to do with glasnost in the media became the major means of
public education. The day before they broadcast live on TV a television
space bridge 'Moscow-New York' where USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev
participated. One could compare the significance of these extremely popular
programs to the 'window to Europe' cut through by Peter the Great. Soviet
people were now able to obtain information about life abroad from the
primary source. They had an opportunity to listen to both the leader of
their own country and to his opponents, as well as to participate in the
discussion. It was at the time that an average woman in Ostankino said
the words that turned into a catchphrase immediately, 'There's no sex
in the USSR!'
The television space bridge was hosted by Phil Donahue who was a popular
American commentator, and Vladimir Pozner. He had worked in the USA for
a long time and knew mentality of Americans quite well. The program took
longer than expected but the whole of the country kept watching it long
after midnight observing sharp polemics anxiously. The only thing that
annoyed everyone was some incomprehensible frequent stops that Pozner
who felt evidently uncomfortable tried to fill in with comments they had
heard on the air. One of the students asked Rudnev whether these insertions
were reasonable enough.
Rudnev responded frankly, 'They are necessary rather than reasonable.'
-Its majesty Advertising is the real proprietor of American television.
It is owing to incredible means invested by private companies to promote
their goods and services by means of TV that is the most effective means
of advertising that Western media exist. When live broadcast is interrupted
Americans viewers are shown commercials that are also broadcast on the
huge monitor screens place din the New York studio. The leadership of
our country fears that abundance of goods in the West against the background
of all-out shortage we observe in the USSR may have pernicious influence
over the mind of Soviet people and undermine the foundations of our ideology.
-Are you of the same opinion?
-No, I'm not. The truth however bitter it is does not weaken people. On
the contrary, it unites them, just like it did during the Great Patriotic
War. Lies undermine people's faith. This is the most terrible thing that
could happen. In my opinion, our propaganda does more harm than good by
concealing information about progress of capitalist economy and living
A storm of applause drowned the bell that let everyone know the class
was over. The students surrounded Rudnev and showered him with questions.
The head of the sub-department watched the scene, waved his head reproachfully
and left the auditorium. When the work day was over and everyone had gone
home he invited Rudnev to his office.
Rudnev realized the talk was going to be informal when he saw a tea pot,
a tin of good imported coffee, two cups and a sweet bowl on the table.
-Alexander Nikolayevich, I'm going to speak frankly to you. I'm fascinated
by your skills in giving lectures, just like students are. I didn't see
a bored face in the auditorium during the lecture! Very few venerable
professors succeed in doing this. You kept everyone in suspense and made
them look for answers to the topical issues. Yet… You should try to understand
me… What are you driving at? You don't seem to be giving a course of lectures
in the CPSU history. Rather, you give lectures about exposure of the CPSU
and act as a prosecutor. Who has entitled you to accuse the USSR leadership
of incompetence? Glasnost is a good thing but you can't carry out any
unauthorized revision of the past on your own. This is the task for research
institutions. It would take years or even decades to solve it… If party
bodies are going to find out about your arbitrariness I'll be removed
from my position and you'll be put to prison. Think it over until it's
Rudnev was ready for such assessment of his lectures by the head of the
sub-department. He was well aware that education system is characterized
by huge inertial power. This feature is both an advantage and a disadvantage.
It is bad if a lecturer who doesn't have an opinion of his own follows
blindfold public opinion that changes as if it were unpredictable weather.
It is typical of many people whose academic degrees were conferred on
them not for some research work but as a compensation for wearing out
the seat of their trousers in libraries. These people are easily influenced
by the media and transfer sedition from newspapers into subject courses.
Conservative nature of education system protects youth from adventurers.
At the same time it burns the way to genuine innovation. Vladimir Soukhomlinsky's
talent was appreciated only after his death. Inter vivo this distinguished
pedagogue whose talent may me compared to that of Yanoush Korchak or Anton
Makarenko was humiliated at teachers' conferences and defamed by the media.
It goes without saying Rudnev didn't rank himself among the leading pedagogues.
However, he felt hurt that his boss accused him without even trying to
grasp the essence of those changes Alexander was trying to introduce.
Frankly speaking, he was beginning to understand that the media were too
much carried away by denunciation. Instead of spearheading at bureaucrats
and corrupt officials who drowned economic reforms in their empty talk
and thus promoted collapse of the Soviet Union they earned cheap popularity
with society by soiling the past. If one took the information presented
by the media in all good faith it turned out to be utter nonsense. It
followed, for example, that all great projects of industrialization period
were entirely merit of prisoners, that collectivization was carried out
at gun point, that the Great Patriotic War was won by battalions of military
offenders and that the atomic bomb was created according to grafts stolen
from German scientist… In a word, there did not seem to be any outstanding
achievements of scientists, as well as there wasn't any unprecedented
work and moral enthusiasm. It seemed the only thing we could observe was
merciless exploitation of workers. The media also claimed that the Soviet
people as historic community are merely an invention of idea mongers.
Following the singer poet Boris Grebenshchikov's example the offensive
term 'sovok' meaning 'a person with ingrained Soviet mentality' spread
around in the country. Those who quite recently praised to the skies advantages
of Soviet way of life hastened to admit 'We're a nation of sovoks of humble
Attitude of these people whose ideological inspirers were the general
secretary of the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR president Mikhail
Gorbachev, Politburo members, CPSU Central Committee's secretary Alexander
Yakovlev and the minister for Foreign Affairs Edward Shevardnadze revolted
Rudnev. It goes without saying there was some truth in their statements.
When he gave his lectures Rudnev tried to separate the information wheat
from propaganda chaff, he compared genuine facts with their interpretation
and tried to explain the reasons why the USSR history had been misrepresented.
Unfortunately, very few people paid attention to this.
Gradually, Alexander developed disgust at television that had turned into
a means of mass confrontation. He also disapproved of the newspapers that
were full of gossip and undisguised libel. Even 'Komsomolskaya Pravda'
that used to be a model for morality slipped into the mire of the so-called
The media orgy intensified centrifugal processes that had been given rise
to by economic crisis, poor leadership and the psychological war waged
against the Soviet Union by Western intelligence services. Hot spots emerged
everywhere. Nations who had lived side by side peacefully began to take
up arms. Rudnev who had experience of working for the KGB understood the
things that were beyond comprehension of men in the street.
At different get-togethers his friends still admired glasnost and discussed
lively the most significant exposures. This produced painful impression
over Alexander. One day he interfered into a discussion like this.
-Don't you understand what we're heading at?
'To democracy and establishing civil society,' his friend who was an optimist
'The one who believes is blissful. Things are heading to the USSR collapse,
the CPSU prohibition totalitarianism,' Rudnev objected.
Everyone looked at him as if he was a leper.
-Well, chap, you exaggerate things!..
After long and agonizing hesitation Rudnev brought an application to the
university party committee, 'In view of the CPSU discredit and double-dealing
policy carried out by its leadership, as well as due to its leaders' inability
for self-purification I want to discontinue my CPSU membership.' The application
made the party committee secretary fly into a rage.
-Only rats desert a sinking ship. True communists consolidate round the
CPSU and its general secretary.
-You shouldn't find comfort in illusions. Mikhail Gorbachev betrayed the
party a long time ago. He's the one responsible for the fact the CPSU
ceased to be the governing force of the society and is driving the country
to appalling tragedy.
-Rudnev, how do you dare slander the man who's the USSR president and
the CPSU Central Committee's general secretary? I see this is far from
being a nervous breakdown that could be understood and forgiven. This
is a stance. I have been informed you spread anti-party propaganda during
your lectures. You'll answer for this!
The party committee secretary started crying. He didn't know what to do
next so he seized at the phone handset as if he was going to inform the
higher authority about an outrageous deed of the communist Rudnev, then
he jumped off the chair and walked around his room nervously.
'I will,' Rudnev said in cold blood as if this had been happening to somebody
else. 'I wonder if those who're responsible for the USSR collapse will
answer for this.'
The same day he wrote another application asking to relieve him of his
associate professor's position.
Several days later they found out about the putsch. The news confirmed
Rudnev's most gloomy prophesy.
After the Supreme Soviet made a hasty decision under the influence of
the group Byelorussian Popular Front to prohibit the Communist Party of
Byelorussia the Ministry of Justice was poured down with applications
to register new political parties and public organizations. The overwhelming
majority of these had neither ideas nor people who could embody them.
However, the Ministry rubber-stamped their basic instruments and didn't
even bother to analyze them. As a result, the Party of beer-fanciers turned
out to be almost the biggest organization. The rules of the party could
be conveyed in one phrase, 'If you like beer join our ranks!'
It was long before these events that Rudnev's old university friend drew
him in discussions organized by the deputy group 'Communists for democracy'
whose members were Dmitry Boulakhov, Vasily Dolgolev, Alexander Sosnov,
Viktor Gonchar, Leonid Sechko and other deputees who had already come
into the television spotlight. At the time live broadcasts of the Supreme
Soviet sessions were as popular as Mexican TV series.
The group 'Communists for democracy' was established in contrast to the
group 'Belarus' that had many deputies belonging to the Communist Party
of Belarus as its members. The Central Committee of the party tried to
oppose registration of this group and announced these people to be turncoats.
However, the orgy of democracy had already acquired such forms that nobody
paid attention to either party rules or any laws.
The main topic of such deputy meetings with activists participating was
to establish a party that would be able to unite politically mature body
of electors and to come to power. The Communist Party of Byelorussia was
losing its prestige. Its leaders turned out to be unable to take a sober
view of domestic political situation and were late to react to the changes
in the country. However, hatred of party functionaries didn't extend to
communists. That is why it was decided to use the brand and to unite it
with the popular term democracy.
The Byelorussian Popular Front was seen as the most serious rival. Owing
to charismatic and energetic Zenon Poznyak the group managed to attract
quickly a lot of supporters among workers and intellectuals.
Within the parliament the group of the Byelorussian Popular Front worked
as a well adjusted mechanism where all decisions were taken by consolidated
voting. They could resist it only by establishing a party that would have
the same efficient organization and tight discipline. However, when Rudnev
listened to emotional speeches of the deputies who belonged to the group
'Communists for democracy' he got more and more convinced they were not
much better than the Communist Party of Byelorussia. Their speech was
rich in the same hackneyed ideological stock-phrases; they were unable
to distinguish strategic goals from tactical tasks and displayed utter
confusion as far as organizational issues were concerned. One day Rudnev
couldn't stand any longer so he asked to speak.
-It seems to me that when we establish a new party we should first of
all define its social basis and distinguish our strong supporters from
those who are vacillating or just sympathize with us. Then, we should
transfer our propaganda center to regions. And in general, gentlemen,
you should turn to Lenin's works more often because they haven't lost
their topicality even at the present stage of historic development.
The mention of Lenin affected ambitious deputies like a red rag to a bull.
-To hell with Lenin. Stop feeding us the foul ideological porridge. We're
fed up with it! Don't imagine you're giving seminars in the CPSU history.
Rudnev tried to object but ran into undisguised hostility.
'Listen, lad, your remarks were out of place,' Leonidov tried to bring
home to him after the meeting. 'These people have an entirely different
way of thinking. They're too busy to deal with setting up a party. They
need power right now.'
-Things never happen this way. The situation in the republic is quite
tense but it's far from being critical one. The government of Vyacheslav
Kebich is trying to pursue competent economic policy. There's no trace
of the revolutionary situation in Belarus that according to Lenin could
bring about change of power. How do they plan to reach their goal?
-Why do you keep mentioning Lenin all the time? Times have changed. People
are entirely different now. Do you remember the slogan of Komsomol members?
It said 'Move on. We'll sort everything out afterwards!'
-Do you think these adventurers will be able to come to power?
-It's not that I believe it or not. Today these adventurers have seats
in parliament. They also have unlimited access to the media and they enjoy
support of the population. If they don't join us the party will be doomed
Leonidov had the same preventive talk with his opponents without informing
Rudnev of this.
-Why did you jump all over him? Alexander Rudnev is an intellectual and
a brilliant organizer who enjoys great authority at university. His name
will help us win round thousands of teachers and students. He should play
one of the leading roles in the party…
Rudnev was seized by the idea to set up a democratic party. He was thinking
over its name and structure and made its draft rules. 'The party of democratic
socialism' headed by a talented politician Gregory Gizzy who managed to
win over to his side numerous supporters of the Socialist united party
of Germany after the latter was out of the picture enjoyed great popularity
in the former Democratic Republic of Germany. Alexander managed to obtain
party's rules through his acquaintances and made use of some of its items
in his draft. However, he realized on second thoughts that the word socialism
would be a major butt for the Byelorussian Popular Front that was trying
to obtain monopoly to say for the Byelorussian people. 'We should deprive
nationalists of the opportunity to stack the deck,' Rudnev pondered.
Leonidov who resorted to shuttle diplomacy in relations between Rudnev
and the deputies brought him together with Gennady Karpenko who became
famous as a mayor of Molodechno. Karpenko, as well as his deputy Viktor
Gonchar made the best use of the media and presented the district center
Molodechno as a 'town of the sun'. They should be done justice as Molodechno
indeed had changed for the better. They repaired roadway covering of central
streets and made repairs of administrative buildings. Popular singers
and musicians became frequent visitors there. However, this was only appearances.
The economy of the town, just like all over the republic, was in a grip
of crisis, so living standards of Molodechno inhabitants weren't any better
than those in other district centers.
Gennady Karpenko made a very favorable impression in his outward appearance.
He was tall and broad as an ox. He was reserved and talked slowly as if
weighing every word. Unlike his colleagues he didn't seek to make speeches
unless it was necessary and he was good at listening to others. He was
similar to Rudnev in some respects so they were on friendly terms for
When they discussed party matters Gennady Karpenko offered to call it
the Party of accord.
'This is exactly what we lack badly now,' he persuaded Rudnev. 'The government
and the Supreme Soviet are unable to come to terms with each other. The
strike committee headed by Sergey Antonchik is fighting against them both.
Vyacheslav Kebich can't find any mutual understanding with Stanislav Shoushkevich.
The group 'Belarus' is squabbling with deputies of the Byelorussian Popular
Front. People have become tired of this muddle.'
'Quite so! People have become tired of this,' Rudnev agreed. 'Let's mention
this in the name and call it the Party of people's accord.'
The founding conference held in 1991 supported the suggestion unanimously.
Gennady Karpenko was elected chairman of the party council; Alexander
Rudnev headed its executive committee while Leonidov was responsible for
Unfortunately, it was only Rudnev out of the triumvirate who really dealt
with organization development. Gennady Karpenko settled for the role of
a figurehead who only made policy statements at different meetings while
Alexander had to shoulder many of Karpenko's responsibilities. An entrepreneur
gave the executive committee a 'Zhigouly' for temporary use so Rudnev
made frequent trips to different areas and didn't have a moment's rest.
He campaigned at industrial enterprises and had meetings with intellectuals
and students. Workers were reluctant to join the party.
-We're through with the CPSU. We were driven there like cattle. And now
you have to do the same!
'The CPSU was a party of officials while we want to establish a party
for people. You should understand no one is going to hand you happy life
on a silver platter. If you keep aloof from solving vital social problems
somebody else would reap where they had not sown while you would go on
the rocks,' Rudnev persuaded them.
Workers listened to him and agreed. However, very few of them applied
to the party. Most men escaped with promises, 'We'll wait and see how
things will go on. It's never late to wear the collar.'
Teachers and students turned out to be much more compliant. After almost
every trip to regions Rudnev came back with resolutions on establishing
primary and town party organizations. There were quite many officials
from security, defense and law enforcement agencies who took up his call
though these bodies claimed officially to be outside any politics. By
the end of 1992 the Party of people's accord had over 2.5 thousand members.
This was considerable number but they failed to deal with it properly.
Leonidov reduced relations with masses to formally informing newspapers
about different party activities. These illiterate items of news were
of little interest to the media so they were literally thrown away into
refuge bins. Meanwhile the media were free and open for co-operation after
they got rid of the Communist Party diktat. Alexander Lukashenko took
advantage of this. His articles and interviews were published by leading
newspapers. He frequently participated in various TV programs. Alexander
Lukashenko's Anticorruption Report published by 'Sovetskaya Byelorussia'
caused a genuine commotion. Rudnev showed it at one of the meetings of
the executive committee and spoke in an excited manner, 'Alexander Lukashenko
alone does more than the whole of our party. Leonidov, why isn't the Party
of people's accord given any media coverage? This is your immediate responsibility.'
-What can I do if newspapers fail to publish our materials?
-Have you met at least one editor-in-chief? The press is interested in
analytical information rather than the information little things you provide
them with. 'Narodnaya Gazeta' has even published an article by Zenon Poznyak
'On Russian imperialism' that is full of Russo phobia one can see from
a mile away… We must admit however bitter it might be that we have stayed
too long in our officers and are gradually turning into a party of bigheads
that won't be able to win over the masses to its side. You should understand
the democracy of meetings is good at critical moments while at the moment
its effect will be almost zero. People are tired of empty talk. They aren't
interested in slogans. Some specific matters are of interest to them,
namely, how reforms are going to be implemented and how they're going
to affect people's standards of living. We should discuss this in detail
when we meet employees of different enterprises. You should distribute
special issues of our newspaper 'Zgoda' at the meetings.
They listened to Rudnev but still had it their own way. Alexander was
gradually seized with despair. When he met Gennady Karpenko he tried to
convince him to get involved in more active work, to exert his influence
upon the executive committee and to shake up the council that was supreme
party body. Karpenko agreed and promised to support activities offered
by Alexander. However, a day or two later he could change his mind because
he believed intriguers who constantly whispered to him, 'Rudnev criticizes
others but he doesn't do anything himself. He behaves as if he were an
intellectual aristocrat. It is rumored he's looking to become a president
of the country.'
At the end of 1993 the media were filled with articles open to discussion
to do with constitution reform. The article about presidential government
became a stumbling block. People's opinions were almost equally divided.
The supporters asserted that lack of a presidential post didn't make it
possible to consolidate power, prevented economic reforms from being implemented
efficiently and placed Belarus at a disadvantage on the world arena. The
opponents with the Byelorussian Popular Front playing first fiddle threatened
with the possibility of power usurpation by a man who would be alien to
national interests. On March 15 1994 the Supreme Soviet passed a law declaring
Belarus to be a presidential republic. Hardly had the Belarusian people
managed to breathe in the air of freedom when they obediently offered
their necks for another yoke.
Rudnev thought more than once about proposing himself a candidate for
the presidential post. He compared himself with other prospective candidates
and noted without false modesty he wasn't second to none to any of them.
Moreover, he excelled them in some respects. However, he had to convince
of this at least members of his party at first.
The talk to Leonidov was far from being easy. When he found out about
Alexander's intentions he said, 'Sasha, the burden is too heavy for you
-I'm sorry to say this but you are a common teacher. There's no denying
the fact that you're an intellectual and a good organizer. I must admit
the Party of people's accord could establish itself owing to your hard
work. However, this is not enough. You've never worked in parliament and
in the executive sphere so you're completely unaware of morals and manners
of our officialdom. You lack knowledge that could become a decisive factor.
Power is primarily hidden struggle without any rules and principles. You're
a fastidious person who can't break his principles even when his life
is at stake. You'll fall prey in the very first skirmishes. We should
nominate Gennady Karpenko as our party candidate for presidency. If he
wins you'll be given an adequate post.
-Doesn't it seem to you that Karpenko is too spineless? People don't like
infantile politicians; forceful personalities are more to their liking.
He would make a good prime minister but I doubt if he could be a good
Leonidov didn't answer anything to this remark. Alexander understood his
friend was of the same opinion. However, to all appearances, he had engaged
himself to some obligation that he couldn't break. 'It means I can't rely
on any support within the Party of people's accord. It won't be reasonable
to run for presidency alone.' Rudnev felt sad at the thought. However,
there was some time to change the alignment of forces in his favor. He
was used to fighting to the last.
Meetings of the council of the Party of people's accord reminded more
of village get-togethers Alexander witnessed in his childhood. They didn't
speak about party activities. They discussed high-society news and made
guesses about when the election campaign would start. They also formed
power structure and argued about cabinet posts so curiously as if they
had already gained victory at the presidential elections. Rudnev got irritated.
-Why do you count your chickens before they are hatched? You'd better
think how we're going to organize our election campaign.
His remarks caused a stormy reaction. It turned out practically all activities
reduced to nothing and that chairperson of the executive committee was
Rudnev got more and more convinced he had got out of favor with the wing
of the party that unconditionally supported Gennady Karpenko. However,
these people were in the minority in the executive committee so it gave
him some hope of successful outcome of the skirmish that could happen
any moment. His misgivings turned out to be true. At the end of January
1994 Leonidov dropped in at his place.
-Let's go out and have a talk.
-You know I haven't taken any alcohol for ten years.
-Well, let's go and have a coffee then.
The caf? where Leonidov invited Rudnev turned out to be the one where
he had a meeting with the security official once. 'Is this merely an accident?'
Alexander thought. 'They might be making secret recordings of talks here.'
Although he didn't notice anything suspicious he couldn't get rid of the
impression there was somebody listening to their talk.
Leonidov decided not to drag out and took the bull by the horns.
-I have discussed with executive committee members your desire to stand
for presidency. I might upset you, Alexander, but the party won't support
-You shouldn't speak for the whole party. I think the executive committee
isn't as unanimous as it seems to you.
-We offer you a reasonable compromise, Alexander. You should voluntarily
resign your post of executive committee chairman. Instead, we guarantee
you a decent post in the government to be.
-This sounds like bargaining. What about principles and party interests?
-I have always thought you to be an idealist. No one thinks about principles
when it comes to struggle for power.
-Only people like you don't have any principles.
-You mean you don't agree.
-I do but only on condition that that I leave and organize a faction consisting
of those who hold the same point of view…
No one forced him to say this! Several days later at the time they held
a meeting of the executive committee Alexander got convinced he had made
a bad mistake when he voiced his plans. Gennady Karpenko's supporters
realized the faction Rudnev was going to establish would in fact be a
party of minority while they would have to be content with the poor role
of minority so they took some preventive steps. When he was opening the
meeting Alexander saw a dozen of complete strangers in the hall. He didn't
suspect what things were heading to so he handed presiding over the meeting
to Penkrat Malinovsky whose name was called out hastily by somebody from
the audience. Malinovsky slowly laid out some papers he must have prepared
in advance and said, 'Comrades! In view of the fact we're going to have
more work to do after the election campaign started there are suggestions
to co-opt a group of party activists onto the council.'
'This contradicts party rules that don't provide for any co-optation.
Council members are elected at the party congress,' Rudnev objected.
-Indeed, there's no provision like this in the rules. However, there's
also no item that bans co-optation. We consider this to be an urgent measure
and are sure the congress will support the council resolution.
Penkrat Malinovsky looked at Rudnev triumphantly.
The rest was a technical matter. The new members co-opted onto the council
ensured majority of votes for Gennady Karpenko's supporters who made a
decision about Rudnev's resignation and exclusion from the executive committee.
Thus they made way for Gennady Karpenko to stand for presidential post.
'You've reminded me of complacent Athenians who sentenced Socrates to
death because he irritated them by his caustic questions and who paid
for their self-assurance,' Alexander said when he was leaving the meeting.
He didn't even suspect his prophesy would come true very soon.
After Rudnev's resignation the Party of people's accord dispersed, in
fact. Gennady Karpenko who wasn't sure the party would be able to collect
a hundred thousand signatures of supporters chose not to waste time and
to use an alternative opportunity, namely, to enlist support of deputies.
One needed 70 votes at the very least. They managed to gain support of
78 deputies. However, just before the elections 14 deputies who were members
of the Socialist Democratic Party recalled their votes and gave them to
Stanislav Shushkevich. Although electoral law didn't have any provisions
for this the Central election committee thought this step to be quite
possible, so Gennady Karpenko was refused registration…
The March happened to be very warm.
Winters in Belarus now are nothing similar to those he remembered since
childhood with their huge snowdrifts of a man's height, with biting frosts
when one was chilled to the marrow and when the body turned into a solid
piece if ice. It was so cold that as soon as they ran into the house they
rushed to the stove and first leaned against it to warm their backs, then
embraced hot bricks with their arms and stood still in a perfect bliss.
Unlike the winters of his childhood, this one looked more like late autumn.
It was raining all December and January. The sun rays struggled their
way through dark grey leaden-colored clouds. They emerged for a while,
wondered at the unusual view and hid behind the thick curtain of clouds
once again. It started snowing at the end of March only, which made drivers
swear because they had already changed tires.
However, although March was very much similar to December and February
as if they were its brothers people were much happier because everything
around signaled spring had come! The trees were in full bud, cats were
screaming hysterically at night and birds were singing joyously at dawn.
When he walked his favorite sheep dog Fred early in the morning Alexander
Rudnev yielded involuntarily to overall euphoria caused by nature's awakening.
The troubles that didn't give a moment's piece as long ago as yesterday
vanished. Some inspiring anticipation filled his soul. The master's mood
passed on to the dog that despite its mature age jumped at him, yelped
joyously and tried to seize the flap of his sports coat.
'Well, stop it! Or you'll get it from me!' Rudnev warned. However, the
dog disregarded his words. It knew its master to a nicety, took his every
hint and was well aware he would never hurt it. They were tied by mutual
love. When Rudnev left home Fred was patiently waiting for him at the
door. If he was out late the dog jumped onto the windowsill and looked
out intensely. In some inconceivable way it felt Rudnev even at a great
distance. When Alexander was coming back from some business trip it took
him only to get out of the carriage onto the railway platform when the
dog started rushing about the corridor whining and jumping. In the same
way it unmistakably recognized the sound of his 'Audi' although a lot
of cars drove into their yard every moment.
To say that Alexander reciprocated his feelings would mean to say nothing.
He loved the dog in a tender and touching way parents love their children.
When he was away over a long period of time he rang home every evening
and asked, 'How're things with Fred?' When he came back home he would
open the door, take the dog by its neck, touch its soft hair with his
lips and kiss its cold nose.
Alexander's parents always kept dogs. Dogs are best helpers in the village.
They guard the house, scare away uninvited guests, help to pasture cattle
and look after a child when parents happen to leave him alone for a while.
Dogs kept in town have another way of life and another destiny. They're
usually taken as a child's play. However, far from every teenager wants
to carry the burden of looking after a dog, namely, to walk it several
times a day, to comb out hair in time of spring and autumn fall off, to
see there's always some water in the dog's cup and to tidy up after the
dog when necessary. Finally the four-footed creature that had recently
been admired by the whole of the family turns into a burden. Many people
solve the problem by taking the dog many kilometers away from home and
leaving it to the mercy of fate there or by putting their pet down.
After they hastily withdrew Soviet troops from the Democratic Republic
of Germany when the country was united hundreds of dogs in the town of
Vyunsdorf were abandoned overnight. At first they didn't believe their
masters had betrayed them so in the mornings they often gathered at the
railway station, carefully examined every passenger looking for their
masters and made for deserted houses at night. Their shrill whining could
be heard in the neighborhood. This shattered the peace and quiet of the
local inhabitants. Besides, the dogs that grew emaciated with undernourishment
and maddened with loneliness turned into a danger to kids so practical
Germans finished their brief and unhappy lives without a pang and pity.
Fred's life went a different way. Rudnev brought Fred as a birthday present
for his daughter. Every year on June 21 on his daughter's birthday he
got onto the earliest train, got out of it at the most distant exchange
and came back home before she woke up with a huge armful of wild flowers.
She opened her eyes and imagined she was at a meadow with a lot of flowers
growing there. The flowers were everywhere - on the table, on the windowsill,
on the wardrobe, on the floor. There were blue cornflowers, chamomiles,
buttercups, kiss-me-quicks and others. She didn't know the names of many
flowers. She had to think over her itinerary carefully not to trample
down this carpet of flowers.
When Inessa came of age Rudnev brought her a dog she had been dreaming
about since childhood as a birthday present. A friend of his had a pure-bred
sheep dog that had had ten puppies before. They were so cute Alexander
was at a loss which one to take. The would-be Fred attracted everybody's
attention. He awkwardly hobbled on his weak legs to Alexander, looked
into his eyes and thus resolved all doubts.
-Sonny, dear, come up here!
Fred remained a 'sonny' for Rudnev for the rest of its life. Even some
disagreements couldn't affect their touching relationship. One winter
the dog broke its hind leg above the knee joint when romping in the ice-coated
yard. The dog could remain crippled for the rest of his life. When Alexander
found this out he almost lost his consciousness.
At the pet hospital they refused to operate on the dog.
-The case is very serious. The dog is unlikely to survive after the operation.
An old vet they managed to find after inquiring all neighbors and acquaintances
waved his head sadly.
-You'd better put it down, dear. It's going to be a hard job nursing it
back to health.
However, when the vet saw tears in Rudnev's eyes he hastily changed his
-OK, OK, I'll operate on the dog but I don't guarantee anything.
Rudnev turned his kitchen into an operating theatre and treated it with
a quartz lamp for twenty-four hours just like the vet ordered. During
the operation he bit his lips to hold back his groan and stood at the
dog holding it and quieting it as if it were a child. When the anesthetic
stopped working Fred came to itself. They looked into each others' eyes
and it was difficult to say whom it hurt more.
The broken bone knitted for a long time. Throughout many months Rudnev
was nursing the dog back to health, carried it in his arms outside, woke
up at night whenever he heard some rustle and carefully treated its wound
because he didn't trust anybody with this. When the dog walked on the
hurt leg for the first time Rudnev was happy.
Alexander saved Fred's life. Fred, in its turn, once warned Alexander
about serious illness.
Rudnev had been feeling unwell for some time. He was tired even after
he had had a good sleep. It seemed as if he had been doing some hard physical
work. His heart lapsed into arrhythmia. He stuffed himself with different
tranquillizers and took heart drugs Validol and Valokordin. Nothing helped.
He should have gone to an outpatients' clinic to have a medical check-up
but when he imagined queuing for many hours Alexander put off the visit.
One day when Fred was playing with him it scratched his leg. The same
had happened before more than once. Rudnev never paid any attention to
his scratched legs and arms. This time there was a small wound that didn't
heal for a long time. He tried to apply different ointments but they didn't
work. Later his leg got swollen and turned violet blue. Alexander remembered
something of the kind had happened when he was young and got frightened.
They decided it was erysipelas and found some soothsayer. She took the
money muttered something over his leg, promised the illness would vanish
away by the morning as if by magic and withdrew. In the morning he felt
even worse. The ambulance man didn't hesitate a moment and took him urgently
to infectious diseases hospital. The tests showed supernormal blood sugar.
The word 'diabetes' sounded like a verdict.
When his attending medical doctor discharged Rudnev from hospital he said,
'You should thank your pet. If it hadn't been for its naughtiness you
would have neglected your case to a critical point…'
Psychic setup of dogs differs very little from human one. They both have
their mood swings, their joys and sorrows. As far as jealousy is concerned
dogs even excel their masters in this respect. They were aware of this
feature so they tried to keep the mature dog in the hall in order not
to provoke these fits. Inessa neglected this rule once. She forgot to
lead Fred out of the room when she was going to massage her father's neck.
Hardly had she approached Alexander who was lying flat on his back when
Fred jumped onto him. Rudnev defended himself by seizing its mouth to
prevent the dog from opening the jaws. He managed to rise off the bed,
to drag the growling dog into another room and lock him there. The dog
came to itself three days later. It rejected any food and didn't sleep
a wink in these three days. It was dangerous to walk into the room so
Alexander pushed a plate of Fred's favorite beef with a stick and begged
it, 'Have at least a piece, please. Don't be angry with me. We're friends…'
When Fred was ten years old it weakened significantly. Its hind legs failed
him, it could hardly walk itself. When they were coming back after a walk
Rudnev cheered up the dog, 'Well, make one more step… That's it… Well
done! Now another step…'
When the dog climbed the staircase it stopped to recover its breath and
looked back at the master as if seeking some approval.
One morning Fred couldn't get up. Rudnev asked his daughter or some of
the neighbors to help him carry the dog for a walk in a stretcher. This
continued for several months. The whole of the house watched these striking
scenes. Some people disapproved of Rudnev saying, 'Why should he torture
the dog?' Others, on the contrary, marveled at his care about the poor
When Fred died Rudnev fell into a trance for some days. He buried his
pet in a wooden coffin and put an icon at its head as if it were a human
being. Rudnev's relatives were concerned about his state of mind so they
did their best to distract him from his sad thoughts but in vain. Alexander
didn't keep up the talks that nothing is eternal on the Earth and that
Fred had lived a happy life. It was evident the fact didn't console him
at all. That is why when exhilarated Rudnev phoned his friend one day
and promised to come to his place in half an hour with some surprise the
man was glad that things were improving. When Alexander appeared he was
smiling mysteriously holding something behind his back. He made a step
aside and it seemed to his friend he saw … Fred who was safe and sound.
Of course this was another dog that looked just like the one that had
died. It turned out Rudnev had spent many hours visiting markets and thousands
of people who reared dogs until he found Fred's double…
After his failure in the political walk of life the question about what
to do next aroused in Rudnev's mind once again. It would be illogical
to get back to the university after he had left it voluntarily. Besides,
there were no more people there who appreciated his teaching talent. After
Abetsedarsky and Sikorsky had died the golden age of the Byelorussian
State University was declining slowly. Those people for whom furniture
in their offices was more important than the work done started to play
One of his acquaintances advised him, 'You should go into business. Have
a look at those who drive 'Mercedes 'and 'Volvo' cars. They're your former
students. They're ignoramus compared to you but they have managed to knock
up a fortune.'
The idea seemed to be quite good. Moreover, it reflected the spirit of
the times. Sometimes one had an impression the whole of the nation turned
into hucksters. Teachers, doctors and engineers who got convinced their
favorite jobs couldn't provide them with at least minimum of subsistence
registered themselves as individual entrepreneurs, set up limited liability
companies, bought cheap consumer goods in Belarus, brought them to Poland
where they were much more expensive and returned to Belarus with fashionable
clothes. Liberal laws and utter confusion created favorable conditions
for operators and profiteers. There mushroomed booths in the streets of
towns. The stadium 'Dinamo' where one could observe football passions
raging turned into a market.
There were not many options to choose from. Rudnev was too proud to deal
in shuttle trade like many of his acquaintances did. He didn't have any
faculty for financial profiteering; besides, he had distaste for it. There
were a lot of money rates owing to the acute shortage of hard currency
in Belarus. According to government's decision dollars were sold to major
enterprise forming company towns at the most favorable rate. Those that
made a less significant contribution to national budget acquired currency
necessary to purchase raw produce and materials abroad at much higher
rates; moreover, they had to queue for many months. The population that
realized it was dollar that could be considered national currency could
buy only some wretched fragments at an exorbitant rate. Enterprising young
people among whom Rudnev saw many of his former students made use of the
situation. In the mid-nineties one could see crowds of moneychangers hanging
about near markets and big shops who offered to buy Byelorussian rubles
for hard currency and vice versa at a more attractive rate than currency
exchange offices did. Militia carried out mop-ups from time to time but
financial swindlers didn't disappear. Moreover, they worked out security
system of their own. Clients phoned the number they got by through their
personal connections and arrived at an appointed time in a stipulated
place. After the moneychanger made sure the clients hadn't been put a
tail on they settled a mutually profitable bargain.
Rudnev pondered and registered scientific and technical company 'Zenit-91.'
It was necessary to refer to the year of registration because there was
another company that had the same name established by a former first secretary
of the Minsk city committee of the Communist Party of Byelorussia. This
was quite symbolic. Party bosses who cut the ground from under the feet
of business and who expelled communists from the party for a bunch of
carrots sold at a kolkhoz market turned into the new rich by pulling strings
and frequently by using public money. It goes without saying rumors about
'party gold' were exaggerated. Nevertheless, the fact party functionaries
made use of the money as initial capital and managed to seize leading
positions and even to become monopolists at the merging home market. Rudnev
got involved in the work some of his acquaintances who were university
teachers and published several guides for university applicants. The gains
were not up to much. However, they were enough for a living.
If it hadn't been for one encounter Rudnev could become one of national
major publishers as he had all intellectual and logistical prerequisites
for this. Besides, information market was quite free at the time. A former
acquaintance Alexander got on with invited him for a talk once. The man
worked for the KGB. They met in the country at the forest edge in secrecy.
The man complained the work was becoming more burdensome and dangerous
because deputies who belong to the Byelorussian Popular Front speak quite
openly about passing 'The law on disclosure of personal files' and asked
in a conspiratorial voice
-How do you think people make big money nowadays?
-Well, I don't know… Perhaps by selling drugs or weapons… This may lead
them straight to prison.
-That's it. However, there's another way to grow rich though it's not
absolutely safe. Moreover, what is at issue is tens and even hundreds
-Come on, I don't believe you1 Don't tell me tales! Although I'm not a
very big businessman I've learnt there's no easy money. The field of the
fools where one could bury a coin just like the fat cat did to grow a
tree with a lot of coins on it by the morning is only a fairy tale.
-Well, I'm not joking. I've been to Moscow recently. My friends introduced
me to some enterprising people who work for defense industry. These people
organized trade of rare-earth metals such as zirconium, indium and what
not. Scandium and red mercury are in especially great demand. Frankly
speaking I don't even know what kind of metals are these. The matter is
that people pay incredible money to buy them. A gram of 'red mercury',
for example, costs hundreds thousand dollars abroad. It goes without saying
we won't be able to force our way through to sell the marketable metals
abroad but we may do this with the help of resellers. We won't come off
the loser. To cut a long story short, you've got a company and I have
a way to contact Muscovites. I emphasize we speak about absolutely legal
deals that imply contracts, quality certificates and the like. At first
we'll take some harmless metals and check how it works. We'll find clients
and then we'll see.
The man saw Rudnev was in two minds so he started to paint bright prospects.
-Just think, we're going to be millionaires in a year. We'll open a bank
account in a Swiss bank. We may even keep money in cash. It's safe but
we won't yield any interest. We'll buy mansions somewhere in Nice and
we'll live in clover.
-It seems to me this is sheer adventurism.
-Well, doubting Thomas, I know some people who have fixed it up more than
-Well then, we may try but only on condition this is going to be a formal
-Well, chap, I'll take the issues upon myself. What you have to do is
to go to Moscow and bring the metals and the necessary documents from
there. I'll try to find you some clients. We take control of people like
-Aha, then you'll hook me, too!
-Don't be afraid. You're one of us. You still enjoy our trust though you
escaped. If necessary we'll protect you from cops…
Several weeks later Rudnev set out for Moscow. Everything was indeed organized
in an official way. He was received in some research laboratory and shown
the production. They showed him a license to trade rare-earth metals.
He was handed over a sealed contract. Alexander read it through carefully,
didn't notice any catches and signed it. Quality certificates that had
all necessary seals and requisites were available, too. All metals easily
went into a case.
'If the first transaction is a success you may expect to co-operate with
us,' Rudnev was assured by laboratory staff.
Alexander was coming back home with a light heart. Little by little he
was beginning to believe the bright prospects. You never can tell! There
had appeared so many millionaires before! Why couldn't he be one of their
numbers? It may well be so God might wish to make up to him for his suffering…
Selling metals went very slowly. The clients his acquaintance brought
turned out to be ordinary resellers. They bargained their commission charges
for hours but when it came to the point there emerged some complications
and unexpected developments. Rudnev didn't have the slightest idea about
the market. After a while they inquired from Moscow about the state of
things. When they found out he hadn't managed to work off the metal they
advised him to be in hurry. One could hear distinct metallic notes in
the voice of the man talking; there were no traces left of the former
politeness. There followed new calls and the situation was getting more
and more alarming.
Rudnev's companion got away with some lame excuses several times before
they finally met. He looked very anxious, too.
-Sasha, to tell the truth, I didn't think we were going to have such a
mess. I was told rare-earth metals sell like hot cakes.
-What shall we do now? You assured me I was going to be a messenger only
but it seems now I'll be the one left holding the baby. I see the people
aren't joking at all. Suppose they come here to have some show-down?
-I don't think so. You haven't robbed them. You just can't work off the
Rudnev's nerves were beginning to fail. He realized he was in for a big
trouble and that his friend was likely to prefer to try to get out of
the situation under some plausible pretext. Rudnev turned out to be quite
right apprehending this…
Some days later he had a long-distance call. A stranger asked who he was
talking to and warned, 'You should be on-site tomorrow. We're coming from
Moscow to you. We'll give you all details when we arrive in Minsk…'
Rudnev was no coward but this time he was really afraid. It wasn't very
difficult to understand what he was in for. He didn't doubt he was going
to meet chucker-outs hired by the people he had made an agreement with.
This had already become a sort of well-paid job that former militiamen
and sportsmen agreed to do willingly. These people were used to beating
up or even killing a person. This was a common practice when a businessman
who lost hope to be given back his money or goods had hired a group disguised
as some limited company. As a rule these people were paid half or a third
of the sum owed. The means of 'persuasion' were chosen by the executors
themselves depending on conditions. The newspapers carried screaming stories
on how obstinate debtors were punished.
There was no time left for reflection. Besides, what could he do under
the circumstances? It was useless to try to escape. They would find him
sooner or later and this would only aggravate the situation. There was
no use of going to militia and asking for protection. They could just
make fun of him there because there was no any direct threat. Even if
there was one who could prove this? Militia men turn their backs on written
requests like these even when danger is obvious because they need to see
real activities confirmed by documents and testimony of witnesses that
fall under the criminal code. The intentions to commit the actions can't
be made use of!
Rudnev's companion didn't answer his phone calls. He must have had some
caller ID device. Thanks God, Alexander knew his address.
The host opened the door. He was wearing a dressing gown and his hair
was messy. He must have been lying on the sofa in front of the television.
He saw Rudnev and pretended to be extremely surprised.
-Is that you?
He hesitated for a moment pondering whether to invite the guest in or
not and then reluctantly stepped aside.
-Come into the kitchen but don't make any noise because my wife's going
'Kolya, who's there?' they heard an imperious voice.
-That's a neighbor of ours. Go to bed, will you?
-Don't stay too long and make sure not to touch the bottle of vodka in
the fridge because I've laid it up for some other purposes.
-OK, OK… She's shepherding me as if I were a teenager. She doesn't let
me make a single step on my own. The host felt awkward about the weakness
he displayed, so he pointed at the fridge and whispered, 'Shall we have
a little drink? I'll add some water to vodka so she's not going to find
-You know I don't drink.
They kept silent. The awkward silence was becoming oppressive. The host
was tapping his fingers on the table waiting for Alexander's explanations.
One could easily see he regretted it wasn't his wife who opened Rudnev
the door. She could tell him he was out then and thus prevent this unpleasant
talk. Alexander was beginning to understand his coming here was senseless.
He didn't know what to begin the talk with.
'They're coming,' he finally said in a whisper.
They kept silent again.
-Will you accompany me to the meeting?
Rudnev looked at his companion hopefully.
-Kolya, are you going to be back soon?
The question of the host's wife was an escape to him.
-She won't give us a chance to talk! Listen let's discuss this tomorrow,
with a fresh head.
-When are we going to this tomorrow? They're coming early and they won't
be idling their time away in a hotel. Tell me frankly right now if you'll
go with me or not.
The face of the host was distorted with unfeigned pain. He took a misted
bottle of vodka out of the fridge, poured in half a glass and drank it
at a gulp glancing back at the door stealthily. He put the bottle back
and started chewing a piece of bread slowly to gain time.
-You see… I could accompany you… But I think it would only make matters
worse. Witnesses are undesirable when it comes to situations like these.
Have a heart-to-heart talk with them. Explain the situation. You are good
at doing this. As far as I'm concerned my involvement in the KGB shows
itself vividly. They will figure me out at once. Only God knows what's
on their minds!
-Aha, you're afraid for your own dear self so you're sending me to the
It was senseless to continue the talk. Rudnev rose up and left without
His flat was almost at the other end of the city. He didn't take a bus.
He was walking home without noticing people around and being aware what
time it was. When he came home he fell onto the sofa as of shot without
taking off his clothes and footwear.
He was woken up by a phone call in the morning. 'They've arrived,' Rudnev
-The hotel 'Belarus', room 315. We're meeting at midday sharp. Late arrival
will be regarded as an attempt to escape.
He didn't even have time to say a word. He heard short beeps at the other
end of the telephone…
'At least we aren't meeting in a motel,' Rudnev consoled himself when
he was approaching the hotel 'Belarus'. The country motel was unofficial
headquarters of the Minsk criminal group. Its leaders had gatherings with
visiting underworld leaders there. They also had it out with each other
and gave banquets in honor of each other's birthdays. To have an appointment
in the motel in the cases like Rudnev's meant a person was going to be
knifed. To all appearances, Muscovites were not going to kill him. Alexander
hoped they could settle the matter peacefully. Instead of the companion
who had let him down he asked an acquaintance of his to accompany him.
He didn't go into any details of the forthcoming rendezvous and merely
asked the man, 'Will you just wait for me in the hotel hall? If they ask
you what you are doing say you're waiting for a friend.'
It was a poor way to safeguard against trouble. Nevertheless, Rudnev supposed
the visitors wouldn't venture any radical measures in the presence of
A tall man opened the door of the room.
There were two more men in the room. One of them stood facing the window;
the second one was looking through a magazine. There was an open bottle
of 'Gzhelka' vodka on the table, a glass of vodka half full and covered
with a piece of brown bread just like they do at a funeral feast in memory
of a man who died. When Rudnev saw the glass everything went dark before
his eyes. His reaction was noticed.
-You understand everything right, pal. If we don't come to an agreement
we'll drink in your memory because we won't have time to bother ourselves
with this afterwards… Well, take a seat and tell us what you've come down
to. Would you like to brace up?
-I don't drink.
-That's a good thing. Only morons and aristocrats drink in the morning.
You don't look like a moron. They say you're an associate professor. However,
you fall a bit short of an aristocrat because they always keep their promise
while you've made up your mind to let down your accomplices.
Rudnev wasn't trained to be a psychologist but he knew people quite well
and he was good at predicting their behavior. His shock was over. He came
to himself and realized the guests are counting on his fear. According
to yardsticks of the underworld the amount he owed was not big so it didn't
imply any austerity measures. Now he considered the trick with a glass
of vodka to be rather primitive.
-Will you offer me at least to sit down?
The three men stared at him with curiosity.
-Well, take a seat if you feel tired. However, it's the wrong time for
us to stay with you too long. Just pay cash down and there's an end to
-First I'd like to explain…
The man who opened Rudnev the door interrupted him brusquely.
-You must have failed to get the situation, chap. We are here to receive
money rather than to listen to your explanations. Have you got the money
-I haven't but…
-We don't want to listen to any 'but'. As they say 'Your money or your
-Max, wait a little. Let's listen to what he's going to prattle. We'll
always have a chance to give him some hard time. There's a lot of time
left before the departure of our train.
The words belonged to the one standing at the window. Frankly speaking,
Alexander didn't know how to explain to these chucker-outs he had been
doing his best to meet the engagements and that it wasn't his fault there
were no buyers for expensive metals. He took the contract and the quality
certificate out of his case and began to look through them slowly thinking
feverishly about what to say. His eye suddenly caught at the indices.
My God, how did he fail to notice this before? The quality indices in
the contract and in the certificate differed. The figure in the contract
was 99.99 while the certificate gave the figure 98.99. The typist might
have made a misprint. The quality certificate was made up in the same
laboratory so anyone could include any figure in it. He had looked through
the papers many times but he had never found time for reading them carefully!
-Why are you keeping silent? You don't know how to get out of it, do you?
Don't even think of it! If you don't give the money right now you'll have
to give twice as much in a week. We don't give a damn about it where you'll
get the dough from. You may sell your flat, your car or even rob a bank…
The papers you're holding put down in black and white you had to pay back
the money a month ago. Is it true?
-What's up, then? Why do you try to appear as a virgin?
-The thing is that there's something else put down in the papers.
-What is it? Seriy, what he's mumbling about?
-The contract signed by those who had sent you here says that purity of
metals should be 99.99. Have a look… The quality certificate they gave
me gives the figure 98.99. Do you see? What's the problem then, guys?
They palmed off on me some rubbish and they want me to sell it as if it
were goods of full value.
The visitors were unlikely to expect the turnabout like this. They passed
the contract and the quality certificate to each other several times and
couldn't believe their eyes. Their reaction convinced Rudnev the danger
was past. God helped him out of the trouble.
-Well, chaps. Here's the metal. If you want you may weigh it. Tell you
clients that people who respect themselves don't behave like this. They
must have thought there were only gudgeons in Minsk who wouldn't be able
to distinguish pure metal from substitute!
After the adventure with selling rare-earth metals Rudnev took the pledge
never to deal in any trade. Now the question of what to do next faced
In early 1990s in Belarus they started to establish private educational
establishments. The state higher education system was difficult to reform.
Both Gorbachev's perestroika and the USSR collapse failed to influence
it significantly. Higher educational establishments went on chumming out
specialists according to old teaching methods with no account of both
labor market changes and motivation of applicants. They changed only formal
entourage. A wave of renaming educational establishments swept over the
country like flu epidemic. Institutes suddenly turned into academies and
universities, secondary schools became lyceums while vocational schools
and technical secondary schools started to be called colleges. The reformers
just blindly borrowed Western experience thinking the change of signboards
will improve the image of higher education in Belarus and make national
diplomas valid in the west. The changes did nothing but bring in confusion.
When applicants were looking through special guides they always specified
what name the establishments had had before.
The way to private education in Belarus was beaten by Professor of the
Byelorussian State University Alexander Shirokov. The Institute of contemporary
knowledge he established in 1990 gained popularity quickly. Although conditions
were much worse than those in state higher educational establishments
because the institute rented a building that used to be a kindergarten
the youth were attracted by new specialties, authentic educational package
and a new approach to giving material. Most of the teachers combined jobs
and gave lectures in their free time. However, when they were given freedom
of choice they treated their work not as an ordinary sideline but as a
way to show their worth. Instead of mechanical recounting information
and coaching for a result during hands-on training they started to apply
interactive methods and make students do some conscious independent work.
Both seminars and lectures turned into a captivating dialogue where everyone
was encouraged to participate in.
The example of Alexander Shirokov turned out to be catching. Many people
were attracted by financial prospects the sphere involved. Some people
staked entirely on this aspect. Some private higher educational establishments
remained on paper only while they actually were a multi-branch system
of primitive coaching. Founders registered some institute in Minsk they
opened its branches in regional centers and major towns. School-leavers
who had satisfactory marks in their school leaving certificates and who
could expect to be admitted only to vocational schools in Soviet times
flooded these pseudo-higher educational establishments trying to escape
the service in the army. Though it was uncommon for parents who still
lived according to Soviet concepts to pay for their children to be educated
they willingly forked out their money for the sake of the children. They
didn't realize they pour money down the drain for sham diplomas.
After they found out Alexander Rudnev didn't have any permanent job some
people offered him the post of a pro-rector at an institute registered
by a former minister of housing and communal services of Belarus. He was
a talented manager who had been given a number of USSR government awards
for his work and who had quite a vague idea about higher education system.
The man confided in his former driver, made him a co-founder and entrusted
him with all organizational issues. This very driver man got Rudnev involved
in the work because he hoped Alexander would help organize academic process
properly as he knew absolutely nothing about it.
Alexander got down the work enthusiastically just like he always did.
Very soon he got convinced he would have to turn a new leaf. The teaching
staff vacancies there were only partially filled. Due to the shortage
of specialists some teachers gave lectures in the courses that were not
their subject area. They didn't have any educational package. The schedule
was planned by eye. If a teacher arrived they put his subjects on the
schedule, if he was late for some reason they substituted it for another.
Classes never started on time and they were over earlier than it was necessary.
Students often loitered their time away in the institute's yard.
After Rudnev made a clear picture of how academic process was organized
there he came to founder's office.
-Saveliy Ksenophontovich, I understand you are a busy man and you didn't
have time to go to the root of the matter but I have to warn you your
institute is a forged one.
The founder was looking at Rudnev in a crazy way.
-The classes are organized in a primitive manner. The very first inspection
may end in your license being revoked. We're speaking about your head
institute now. I can just imagine what's happening in the branches. You
ran a great risk when you began the academic year. It will take at least
half a year to put things in order there… I hear you've announced opening
some more branches. May you suspend the process?
-The issue is outside your competence. You say there's no educational
package. You should work it out, then. The schedule isn't planned properly,
is it? Make it up! If you don't have enough qualified personnel you should
look for them! You've been hired to solve the matters. Let me settle other
problems on my own. I don't need anybody's advice. Every new branch means
additional money. Should I pour it down the drain, you think?
-Suppose an inspection comes out of the blue one day?
-It won't. We've got everybody in our pocket.
-Students or their parents might complain. I hear some of them are displeased.
-You should send all faultfinders to my office. I'll knock some sense
into their heads! How they dare be displeased when we help them to dodge
-People pay big money so they have the right to demand to be given full-fledged
-Why don't you organize it, then? Stop panicking. Our institute is not
worse than any other. We're going to develop…
The talk produced a painful impression over Rudnev. He was convinced the
founder is interested in money only. The man was none too clever but he
had a pronounced dealer's eye so he approached establishing the institute
from the viewpoint of the wild market that existed in Belarus at the time.
If people offer their money you should take it! You should do this by
any means without burdening yourself by any moral postulates. Life will
make all necessary amendments afterwards.
It goes without saying Alexander didn't approve of the approach to work
like this. He was used to doing a good job of everything. Though the enthusiasm
he displayed when he came to work at the institute was gradually dying
away he decided to get down to the work in earnest. He got standard educational
package at the university, distributed it among teachers and asked them
to prepare educational package of their own at the earliest possible date.
He nominated some new deans and heads of chair. He established tough work
schedule and reprimanded the staff severely for being late. He visited
lectures and made sure some of them were beneath any criticism. After
a staff meeting when Rudnev made a frank progress review and criticized
the staff some lectures voluntarily terminated their employment contracts.
When the founder learnt this he called Rudnev to his office.
-You are going to drive away all teachers! What did I ask you to do? I
asked you to organize the academic process and to introduce proper order
in papers. Personnel matters are none of your business! Now look here…
I have invited the teachers who handed in applications asking to terminate
their employment contracts. You should apologize to them.
-Why should I?
-Be cause your criticism was ungrounded.
-Why do you consider it to be ungrounded? I kept to the point and my speech
-It doesn't matter! All of then are respected people. They might fall
short of their target but you can't behave like this, anyway! You shouldn't
have criticized them in public. You should have had a heart-to-heart talk
with each of them and advised them what should be done…
-I won't go back on my words and I'm not going to apologize.
-Then I don't think there are any more sufficient reasons for you to work
-It's up to you to decide, Saveliy Ksenophontovich. Just bear in mind
that by indulging hack workers you cross up the institute. This is not
the end of the affair!..
After he had worked for three months Rudnev made sure the founder was
not going to change anything. Moreover, Alexander witnessed some wheeler-dealer
finance so he gave up his job at the institute. His predictions turned
out to come true. After the Ministry for Education resolved to apply single
state standards to all higher educational institutions some of them failed
to prove they were up to quality so their licenses were terminated, the
institute where Rudnev had worked was among them.
Several years after he graduated from university Alexander went to do
some seasonal construction job in summer. However, after he developed
some health problems the way of earning money became irrelevant.
Rudnev shifted his unspent love to his daughter. Every time he went somewhere
on business he came back with presents for his daughter. First these were
toys, then he brought fashionable clothes, footwear, perfume and jewelry.
Alexander knew women's wardrobe and make-up in their all minutest details.
When Inessa grew up he sent her to music school. Though his daughter wasn't
notable for any special abilities for music Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata'
performed by Inessa seemed to be the pink of perfection. In the evenings
they frequently sang their favorite songs together.
Every summer Rudnev who took care of his daughter's health brought her
to his parents who doted upon their granddaughter. Inessa became extremely
attached to her grandfather. They went to the hayfield together and carried
grass to the farm. Dairymaids got used to her and allowed her to step
in for them. By the beginning of school year Inessa came back home suntanned
and with some weight gained.
For some time his daughter was keen on figure skating and free calisthenics.
Then she suddenly lost interest in these activities. Then Alexander noticed
Inessa came home extremely preoccupied. Her attitude to studies had changed,
too. She was given marks that were not inline with her potential. Alexander
tried to have a frank talk with his daughter but she dodged alleging she
was tired. Alexander watched Inessa's behavior more closely and noticed
she was secretly taking money for some needs. Their common family fund
had never been under seven seals and each family member could take money
without asking. However, the rule was to tell what the money had been
spent on. This time Inessa didn't manage to keep silent. She confessed
to falling under the influence of some senior boys who blackmailed her
and demanded to steal money from her parents. The talk to the teenagers
took effect so they left Inessa alone.
However, the time had been missed. Alexander realized his daughter was
not going to finish school with distinction. If she did she would have
to take just one exam when entering university. The academic load was
so serious it almost ruled out any chance to prepare properly in all the
subjects. The daughter influenced by her father made up her mind to enter
Philosophy Department at the University. She had to take four exams, namely,
an essay, and exams in a foreign language, in social science and mathematics.
The last subject was his daughter's Achilles' heel. Rudnev was indignant
at heart because he didn't understand why philosophers and lawyers needed
mathematics. He even asked a selection committee the question once. They
answered, 'The officials at the Ministry for Education consider this to
be important to develop logical thinking.' Alexander ventured to take
quite a risky step. He transferred his daughter from day school to evening
school. The academic load was less there as they had to study ten years
instead of eleven. Inessa looked a leading figure against the background
of most pupils who didn't surpass her in knowledge and who received secondary
education perforce so she didn't find it too difficult to receive good
marks. She could now give her free time to reading for entrance exams
The daughter's mother gave a hostile reception to Alexander's decision.
-You're so selfish! You deprive your daughter of the most important celebration
in her life! I mean a school-leaving party…
'I might,' Rudnev agreed. 'Instead, I'm giving her some future and rule
out failure at the entrance exams. Do you think they will give good marks
at the exams only out of respect to you? Rather, they will try to fail
her. This runs in blood of our people. The worse is their neighbor's life
the better they feel! You know this perfectly well.'
Rudnev turned out to be right. As the topic for her composition Inessa
chose the most difficult one out of those suggested. In her essay she
analyzed the novel by Dostoyevsky 'Crime and Punishment.' Applicants usually
take up the familiar essay where they don't need to display any specific
knowledge. What they need is general education level and the ability to
articulate their ideas skillfully. The novel by Dostoyevsky with a lot
of notes in pencil made by the daughter is still kept in Rudnev's home
library. Members of the selection committee read her composition almost
to tatters and smudges but they failed to find any faults with it. It
turned out to be immaculate from the point of view of both its content
and its grammatical correctness. Inessa passed the rest of her exams,
except mathematics, with excellent marks. The only 'four' didn't prevent
her from entering university at the first try.
When his daughter graduated from university she left for Moscow where
she received another higher education. She became a qualified psychoanalyst.
The rare qualification is in great demand nowadays because the society
has been incurably ill for a long time. It may well be so that it would
be psychoanalysts rather than ideologists who could suggest the society
the way out of the ideological and moral deadlock and help the nation
to get back to the spiritual sources of their forefathers.
His daughter's early marriage upset Rudnev. However, his apprehensions
it would prevent his daughter to make a career didn't come true. She stayed
in Moscow, got a good job and seemed to be happy.
Another moment of happiness in Rudnev's dramatic life, apart from his
daughter's birth, was the birth of his grandson. Rudnev's authority in
the family is unshakeable. When Inessa got married she kept her maiden
name because she knew her father would be pleased. When he hinted he would
like to have one more Alexander in the family Inessa carried on the family
tradition and named the boy after her father although her mother offered
to name the grandson Mark after her father. Alexander the senior has got
a secret hope that when his grandson comes of age he would prefer to have
a double surname, that of his mother's and father's. However, he prefers
not to speak the idea out in order not to hurt his son-in-law's feelings.
Alexander the junior grows up clever and keen-witted. When he was a year
and a month he knew half the alphabet. A bit later he displayed abilities
in mathematics. Frankly speaking, Alexander the senior would like his
grandson to follow his path. However, the boy took after his father, so
Rudnev finally had to put up with this. Still, he keeps under tough control
his grandson's moral education. He's a believer; he begins and finishes
every day of his life with a prayer. He also addresses God before beginning
some important projects. There are icons in places of honor in all rooms
of his house. They're also an institution in his car.
The daughter follows her father's example and says prayers in the morning
and in the evening. She goes to church on religious holidays. Alexander
the junior is gradually familiarizing with this, too. Inessa told him
more than once, 'Your grandfather grew up in a very poor family but he
turned into an outstanding and respected man. Who do you think has helped
him to?' She answered the question herself, 'God did.'
The boy couldn't understand how somebody no one has ever seen could help
his 'big grandpa'. However, he believed his mother and willingly repeated
the words of a prayer.
Rudnev's attempt to cultivate in his grandson another family tradition
failed. In Polesye in 1940s and 1950s where he spent his childhood there
was a rule to address parents in a polite manner. This was a way to emphasize
respect of children to their father and mother. Nowadays the ancient Slavonic
tradition has almost disappeared. Rudnev considers this to be wrong and
he always brings home to his grandson that addressing grown-ups even if
they are relatives in a less polite way is a sign of bad manners. To train
Alexander the junior to the unusual form of the family etiquette he always
addresses him in a polite way. He used to phone to Moscow almost every
day and ask his grandson strictly, 'Well, Alexander, how are things with
you? Have you done any good cause today?'
The strict manner of the grandmother isn't to the eleven-year-old teenager's
liking. He tries to slip away from the questioning. However, it doesn't
affect their friendly relations. The boy loves his 'big grandpa' very
much and willingly lets him into his secrets. Some time ago Inessa's family
moved to Minsk from Moscow to reside here. Now Alexander has an opportunity
to see more of his grandson the granddaughter Katiusha who was given birth
to about three years ago…
Rudnev's faith in God differs significantly from usual forms of manifesting
religiousness. He considers it to be a great mystery that nobody can be
let into and that shouldn't be flaunted. He thinks going to church is
merely entourage because a prayer could be offered up at home. Besides,
some priests wallow in sin and treat church service as if it were some
ordinary secular ceremony. They have lost the right to be mediators between
God and His flock. However, undereducated people find it difficult to
understand so they still go to church on high days and holidays because
they think they could be heard there.
Rudnev considers the fact that building churches and temples has turned
into a fashion and that people whose intentions are far from being frank
and pure occupy themselves with this to be immoral. He is of the same
opinion of those priests who participate in secular activity and don't
find it disgraceful to be awarded by temporal power. The best gift for
a believer is the grace of God while orders, titles and ranks are despicable
When a child Alexander learnt his mother brought him to church to be baptized
secretly from the father who was a militant atheist but he never confessed
to it. He kept the secret when he was a Komsomol member and when he joined
the party. The faith in God and the faith in communist ideals were combined
in his mind because Rudnev was convinced of their identity.
He knew the Bible quite well so he noticed easily the Moral code of a
communism builder that could be found in every educational establishment
in the Soviet time was copied off from the Holy Book and modified a little
to suit the requirements of the time.
The news the church in Zhitkovichy had been burnt down was a heavy blow
to Rudnev. It was rumored it had been done by Communists. He visited his
home and made sure the fire didn't spare the building but the icons were
left intact by some miracle. Only their frames were burnt on the edges.
'How can you account for the miracle, father?' he asked the priest he
respected very much.
'God's creations and everything that represents him on the earth are imperishable,
my son,' father Leonid explained.
The words sank home. At the time he was head of the company 'Zenit 91'.
Although the money gained from selling teaching aids would have come in
handy for his family Alexander transferred most of it to the church bank
account without giving his name. However, the priest astonished by the
generous gift might have found out his name so one day he phoned Rudnev.
Alexander who was extremely embarrassed asked, 'Father Leonid, just because
I consider my donation to be extremely modest I'd like to find out how
much you would cope to do with the money?'
-The sum will be enough to roof the church. However, it's not the amount
you donate that is important but the fact it was an open-hearted donation.
Afterwards Rudnev frequently made donations to churches. He never rejected
requests of a priest in Lepel church where parents of his son-in-law lived.
He also donated to the church in Lelchitsy. Alexander considers the money
spent on the cause the wisest investment.
After he gave up work at the institute Alexander Rudnev
once again faced the agonizing question 'What to do next?' The question
had haunted him like a curse. Many of his university friends who found
themselves in a similar situation lost faith in themselves once and for
all, drifted, ruined themselves by drinking, lapsed and gradually turned
into people without any place of residence and work. He encountered one
of them in Nezavisimosty Avenue. The down-and-out overgrown with hair
was wearing a dirty shirt outside his worn patched jeans. He exhaled the
smell that even exhausts of cars passing by couldn't suppress. Rudnev
slipped a note into the stretched out hand and hastened to pass by. He
suddenly heard a familiar voice, 'Why do you have your nose in the air,
Sashok? You don't know your old friends?'
Rudnev who was taken aback stopped and looked into the face covered with
thick bristle. Indeed, the down-and-out reminded him of a students who
studied in the same year. He used to be one of the outstanding figures
at their department. He wasn't extremely good at studies but his clothes
were all the rage. He didn't use the traditional scents like 'Shipr' or
'Troinoi odekolon' that were an institution at any barber's. Instead,
he used some expensive French scent. He had a crocodile leather case where
he kept a Japanese holding umbrella in case it should rain. He behaved
in the hostel as if it were a palace of Arab sheikhs rather than a standardized
five-storey building of the Khrushchev era. He placed into the room without
any conveniences that could hardly accommodate six people a hired TV set
and a radio and record player and drew expensive blinds on the windows.
Unlike most guys who wore tracksuit trousers after their classes he had
a luxurious terry dressing gown on. It was impossible to obtain the things
even in the shops 'Beryozka' where goods could be obtained by checks.
Everything was brought by his relatives who held a contract in some exotic
After he graduated from university the dandy got married to a daughter
of an outstanding party functionary and made a swift career. He was editor-in-chief
of a popular youth newspaper, wrote some verses and even published a collection
of his poetry…
Horrified Rudnev looked at the former acquaintance and thought he would
be in his place if he hadn't been able to master sufficient strength to
give up alcohol.
-Sorry, I didn't recognize you. So much time has passed!
Rudnev tried to pass by but the man grabbed him by the flap of his jacket.
-I hear you've become a wealth man and make money hand over fist. Will
you lend a helping hand to the victim of perestroika? My life's a complete
failure. I was fired, my wife escaped to her love and my children repudiated
me. You're my only hope. I remember you struggled for our scholarship
when we were students.
-I even don't know what to say… I'm not a wealthy man at all. As a matter
of fact, I've been broke for a long time… Maybe when I settle my problems,
in due course…
The talk was unpleasant. Besides, they stood in the middle of the pavement
so passers-by looked back at the down-and-out. Some of them were curious
while others displayed undisguised disgust.
-I know you won't help me. All exploiters are equal. For the sake of surplus
value you're ready to put workers through the wringer. Karl Marks exposed
all of you!
The man looked at the note given by Rudnev contemptuously and began to
talk in a more peaceful manner, 'Will you give some more so that it is
enough to buy a bottle.'
When Rudnev heard reference to Marks in the lips of this down-and-out
in the inappropriate place he couldn't but smile. Though he was short
of funds he ransacked his purse and handed the man the money enough to
but two bottles of vodka and some modest snack. The down-and-out counted
the money, gave Rudnev a surprised look and said disproving himself, 'I
have always thought you to be a true friend!'
Rudnev walked away and then looked back. The man was still standing in
the same place holding the money as if he couldn't believe he was so lucky.
Rudnev has been convinced of the strange nature of everyday logic more
than once. The plans you nurture for months and don't doubt their reality
even a little frequently turn out to be disastrous while the craziest
ideas contrary to any logic often bring luck. When the idea to set up
an institute of his own came to his mind he considered it to be result
of his fevered imagination. How will he be able to do this alone, without
any money and connections? However, the idea didn't give him a moment's
How did they establish the International Humanitarian and Economic Institute
that is well-known all over the republic at present? The original cause
why it was set up, just like many new cutting-edge establishments in the
sphere of Belarus' public life were, should be considered to be collapse
of the USSR that was followed by the period of chaos, anarchy and confusion.
Society boiled up as people didn't wish and couldn't live in the old way.
The communist regime that seemed to be solid and stable turned out a complete
failure. In the public, economic and spiritual spheres one could observe
emerging elements of something new and radical as against the obsolete
The new trends couldn't but affect the humanitarian focus of education.
It is always the case in extreme situations that the science of society
suffers in the first place. At the times like this it faces deep crisis
because yesterday's dogmas become ridiculous at best or even dangerous
and seditious, while the new ones haven't been worked out and approved…
In early 1990s scholars and pedagogues who specialized in humanities faced
the problem of what information to give their students. They could only
envy physicists, mathematicians, chemists and those who specialized in
natural sciences because their formulae are stable and constant under
Traditional higher education with its imperfect ways of admitting students,
stiff techniques of teaching and taking exams couldn't meet the call of
the times in many respects. It was necessary to provide higher level of
training specialists. There also emerged a demand for new specialties.
It must be admitted that in this sphere just like in many others they
had to pattern their behavior on the West as far as the choice of specialties,
teaching methods educational package was concerned. Society was becoming
dependent on the system they used to consider to be hostile a short time
before and used to spend a lot of power and means to fight against it
in the Soviet epoch. Now they couldn't but borrow the best patterns, achievements
and examples of Western lifestyle.
One could enter a private higher educational establishment after passing
an exam, having an interview or undergoing substantial testing. In fact
those people who didn't venture to enter a state higher educational establishment
where favoritism still occurs come to our institute. We must admit the
phenomenon exists in state establishments. If it didn't they wouldn't
set up presidential commissions that are present at entrance exams in
all state higher educational establishments. As a result of favoritism
many gifted boys and girls can't enter a higher educational establishment
and get higher education due to a number of subjective and objective reasons.
What should they do, then? It is difficult to find a job even if you have
good education. Inexperienced young people who don't have any profession
are barred the way to find some decent work at all. The only prospect
they face is to join the ranks of the homeless and the unemployed… Most
students at private higher educational establishments are those applicants
who passed their exams but were not selected from among other candidates
at state educational establishments. Most of them are well-trained young
people who sometimes excel in their knowledge those who entered the educational
establishment but they failed to win the 'lottery'…
-The idea of Byelorussian Harvard is interesting in itself. However, it
is hardly possible to realize it acting alone without giving it a second
thought. Besides, huge capital investments will be necessary to construct
a building, to have additional infrastructure and to get involved in the
teaching process the most qualified academic staff. Can you imagine Harvard
renting some kindergarten? Today the ambitious project of the kind is
even beyond powers of the state. You should begin with more simple tasks
just like heads of other higher educational establishments did.
Rudnev's close friend Leonid Sechko accepted his idea enthusiastically.
This gave Rudnev some hope he would succeed. Sechko had enough hands-on
experience. He was a biologist and candidate of pedagogical sciences.
He had already gone through fire and water. After he graduated from university
he worked as a headmaster of a secondary school, a pro-rector of Gomel
State University and a chairman of Gomel's city Soviet of people's deputies.
In 1990s he was a deputy of the Supreme Soviet and of the House of Representatives.
He was one of the most prominent politicians in the country who did a
lot to form its party structures.
'Fortune favors the bold,' Sechko encouraged Rudnev.
-Do you really believe this isn't a bad case?
-I do. However, the main problem is not money. We'll scrape it up somehow.
Necessity is the mother of invention. It will be much more difficult to
get over red tape.
-Do you think bureaucrats will oppose our intention to establish the institute?
Do they fail to understand development of higher education system is in
the interest of the state?
-Alexander Nikolayevich, you've devoted yourself to academic work for
too long so you lag behind life now. Of course they do. However, officials
think charity begins at home. You will receive evidence of this more than
Sechko's warning turned out to be prophetic. Rudnev couldn't even imagine
he would be led up the garden path in such an open and cynical way. After
the very first days of haunting doorways of officials Rudnev got convinced
these people exist not to give assistance to realize the projects like
this but to hinder in every possible way. He spent hours in the offices
of third-rate officials who were unimportant, in fact, but whose signature
was necessary to move further. Sometimes he had to make sail without obtaining
the cherished signature.
The idea of people's academy was dismissed out of hand in the ministry.
'Do you want to set your miserable private institute above the state university?'
an official exclaimed after reading the first lines of the charter.
'Why do you call it miserable? Stop pinning labels,' Rudnev objected.
However, it was no use arguing, so he offered to substitute the words
'Byelorussian People's Academy' by 'Humanitarian and Economic Institute'.
'That's another thing,' the ministry official quieted down. 'Introduce
the changes and come next week.'
-Will you read the draft project till the end, please, just in case there
are some more remarks?
-I can't. Do you see the queue in the corridor? If I read from cover to
cover papers that are illiterate fro legal point of view I will have to
work twenty four hours a day.
The same things happened in other offices, too. When they finally sorted
out all matters with the charter they said a letter of intent granting
legal address and provisions of a lease were necessary. They hardly managed
to find the necessary building.
After examining the papers the official ordered to submit a plan of lecture
rooms to him. When the plan was submitted it turned out it was necessary
to specify metric area. When this was done numeration of room was required.
After this they asked to divide them into lecture halls and rooms for
seminars. When he offered to introduce the insignificant additions in
ink he heard an indignant exclamation, 'This is a document! Shall I submit
it to the minister for approval as it is?'
Weeks and months passed but the license was as distant as the moon. Rudnev
realized they were leading him up the garden path trying to frustrate
admission of students and thus remove the matter from the agenda. There
were periods when he was about to give up. However, Sechko always supported
him. As they say two heads are better than one so they always managed
to find a way out of any situation that seemed to be a dead-end. Afterwards
they were nicknamed at the institute as an 'inseparable duo'. Leonid Sechko
let Alexander have the role of a leader without reserve and did his best
to carry on his shoulders the work at the institute. He should be given
the credit for the fact that research work at the IHEI was on a level
with that at state higher educational establishments because he was pro-rector
for research work.
One morning Alexander woke up with a bad pain in his heart. He turned
to one of the most outstanding cardiologists for help. He was watching
the work of a luminary in medicine and waiting for his verdict with excitement.
The nurse who assisted the professor held out the cardiogram but the doctor
motioned he didn't need one. He didn't use any stethoscope. He brought
his ear close to Rudnev's chest and listened to his heart sounds carefully
tapping his finger on Alexander's chest. His face grew more and more worried.
When he finished the examination he took the cardiogram, cast a glance
at it and waved his head reproachfully.
-How did you come to pre-infarction angina? Do you have any quarrels with
-No, I don't. There's peace and quiet in our family life.
-Do you drink?
-Are you a smoker?
-Do you abuse relations with women?
-I don't avoid women, professor, but I try to communicate with them within
-Then you must engage yourself in self-disparagement. It has become fashionable
to criticize ourselves for any failure. People finish themselves off instead
of helping their body to cope with the increasing emotional load. They've
given up manual labor completely. They don't even have time to do morning
-Do you have to do anything with politics?
-No, I don't.
-Thanks God. When I watch endless wars of words in the parliament I can't
stop thinking people have degenerated so much. Our forefathers could speak
in signs only. They understood each other perfectly well and could always
come to an agreement. If they fought, the only reason was women. Still,
women are top creations of nature who are worth fighting for. I wonder
what politicians fight for? Well, old chap, to cut a long story short
you should sort out your problems and try to find some time for morning
exercises. However, jogging that is so fashionable at present is strictly
forbidden. Only fools who know nothing about laws of body functioning
may rush like mad thinking they're running away from heart attack…
Rudnev's papers were finally given the go-ahead. He received the cherished
license on September 23 1994. However, the academic year had already started.
The officials were sure it was ruined for Rudnev. One can imagine their
surprise when they found out that the Humanitarian and Economic Institute
existed de-facto and had over 300 students who studied at the Economic
Department and the Faculty of Law.
'How did you manage this?' his acquaintances wondered.
'Craftiness and no cheating,' Rudnev responded paraphrasing the famous
The thing was that Rudnev ventured a risky and illegal step that could
bring him a lot of trouble.
In August when admission to state higher educational establishments was
over and many applicants found out they hadn't been selected from among
other candidates Rudnev published an interview that had a pretentious
title 'Belarus is going to have Harvard of its own' in a popular national
periodical. Gullible people came in crowds to the address mentioned in
the article. To tell the truth, some meticulous parents asked to be shown
the license. Alexander convinced them the license was still being registered
and that they were going to be given it very soon. Most people believed
him, although a high-ranking mother of some applicant promised to make
inquiries at the ministry and to sue him if the information was not confirmed.
Luckily, things turned out well. Later on the license could be seen in
the hall of the Regional Institute of Advanced Studies for Teachers in
Glebki Street where Rudnev managed to rent several rooms. Now he could
breathe freely. The institute functioned and first sums had been transferred
to its account.
Frankly speaking, Alexander couldn't believe this himself. He often asked
himself a question, 'Would I be able to do this labor of Sisyphus alone,
without anybody's help?' He invariably answered, 'No, I wouldn't. I would
never have managed to establish the institute without the grace of God.'
Rudnev was frequently convinced it was God's invisible hand that pulled
him out of the quagmire of problems that were impossible to solve. It
may well be so, however, that salvation was possible due to the concentration
of physical and spiritual powers. This is the feature Alexander has always
been notable for. Still, this could have been hardly possible if he didn't
believe in God.
However, after the institute was registered the number of problems seemed
to increase. They emerged almost every day. They settled provisions of
a lease with the Regional Institute of Advanced Studies for Teachers in
compliance with all fine legal points. Moreover, the institute was headed
by an acquaintance of Rudnev. However, it happened quite frequently the
door of the institute turned out to be closed on Saturdays. It took a
lot of time to find out what was what while the students had to loiter
around the yard. Teachers grumbled because many of whom worked on a part-time
basis and hardly managed to find time to come. Parents made complaints
to the ministry. It didn't take long to face the trouble.
Two months after the academic year began were not over when a commission
visited the institute. Ministry officials checked educational package
and examined every carefully the academic staff. It must be admitted this
was Achilles' heel of the institute. There were only two men on the staff.
They were Rudnev himself and one retired lecturer. The majority of the
staff was part-time lecturers who were not interested in the image of
the institute. They gave their lectures and vanished into thin air immediately.
One couldn't even think at first about getting them involved in more active
work. Due to the shortage of the staff Rudnev had to teach the disciplines
that were not his subject area. The commission pointed to this and noted,
'You promised to establish a Harvard but you don't even make the grade
as a mean higher educational establishment!'
-Aren't you ashamed? A month and a half has passed since the institute
started working. Even a woman bears a child almost five times as much.
I promise I'll keep my word.
Rudnev understood the early inspection was the first wake-up call and
that some more were to follow. He realized the conclusions would be tougher.
His friends sympathized with him, 'Why did you get into this trouble?
They won't give you a moment's rest!'
-It's all right! We'll wait and see. It isn't over until it's over.
The beginning of the second term was more or less calm. Rudnev was thinking
about opening some more departments in the new academic year and was preparing
the necessary papers. Suddenly an acquaintance of his played a mea trick
on him. The journal 'Vysheyshaya Schkola' where he worked as deputy editor-in-chief
published an article where they gave rating of twelve Byelorussian higher
educational establishments where IHEI ranked last. Rudnev got indignant.
He happened to have visited other private institutes so he knew the things
there were none the better and even worse in some respects. This was especially
true of academic books. Those used in the training process in Soviet times
were badly behind the times. There weren't any new course books, either.
Students had to buy books in marketing, management and international law
in Russia. This gave rise to many unfavorable complaints. The Humanitarian
and Economic Institute was right as nails in this respect. Rudnev established
a publishing department, obtained a license and organized publishing learner's
guides and course books. Prominent scientists who knew it took too long
for course books to be published by state publishing houses drew contracts
with the publishing department. The deputy editor-in-chief saw this with
his own eyes and was surprised by its efficiency. However, he turned everything
upside down in his article.
-Leonid, I have nothing against the fact that the European Humanitarian
Institute that receives grants from abroad ranks high in the list. I agree
with the evaluation of the Institute of Contemporary Knowledge. I won't
reveal any secret when I say that both the Byelorussian State University
and the Ministry for Education rendered Alexander Shirokov their assistance.
At the same time I am convinced the IHEI is far from being the worst private
higher educational establishment.
'Listen, chap, I have nothing to do with this,' his friend said. 'This
is objective statistics that takes different factors into account. Besides…
Why did you become so nervous? This rating is merely an unimportant attempt
to follow fashion… '
-Don't try to muddle my brain. I know what this attempt to follow fashion
means. First you make up a rating, and then you raise the question about
He must have had second sight when he said this. Two weeks after the issue
of the journal that contained that contained the critical article was
published another commission visited the institute.
'It must be admitted things are quite bad with you!' the chairman of the
commission said before he started to examine papers.
It became evident one couldn't expect any objective analysis of the academic
process. The inspection must have been initiated from above with its verdict
When he summed results of the inspection the chairman of the commission
confirmed his prior conclusion, 'I am sorry to say, Alexander Nikolayevich,
but we have to submit a report to the ministry asking to close the institute
because it doesn't correspond to the basic criteria a higher educational
establishment should meet. Naturally, the matter will be decided by the
ministry board. You'll be invited to its meeting and given the opportunity
to raise your objections. However, I'm afraid the issue is prejudged.'
-Don't give up on me beforehand!
Nobody knows whether it was by mere coincidence or due to the fact they
realized there weren't any solid grounds to close the Humanitarian and
Economic Institute but the commission's report was put off from one meeting
to another. It was on the agenda in May last time. After this it was shelved.
After Rudnev beat off these bureaucratic attempts he had to solve another
problem that was none the less serious. To ensure further cooperation
with the lecturers who worked at the institute he had to pay them not
only their salary but also their holiday pay. The amount turned out to
be substantial. To make a loan was out of the question because they couldn't
suggest any sizeable deposit. The idea of how to settle the problem came
to his mind quite unexpectedly.
After the examination session was over Rudnev organized a meeting with
students. They gathered in the conference hall of the Regional Institute
of Advanced Studies for Teachers. The meeting was informal and friendly.
There were several samovars on the tables, as well as bowls full of bread
rings and biscuits. Everyone could help himself to some coffee or tea.
Rudnev was excited. He congratulated the students on finishing their first
year, wished them to have a good rest and made an unusual inquiry.
-The institute has made its first step. It didn't slip although I must
admit it was difficult to do. Officials put a lot of obstacles in our
way. They're doing their best to prevent the Humanitarian and Economic
Institute from turning into a Byelorussian Harvard one day. They want
stagnation of the state educational system to become evident. They use
economic leverage to achieve their goal. Banks accountable to the government
refused to issue a loan to the institute under some far-fetched pretexts
although financing education sphere is one of priorities all over the
civilized world. I have no one else to turn for help to but you. I ask
those who will find it possible to pay for their studies in the third
term right now. This will enable us to tackle some pressing material problems
and to supply the institute library with new books.
Rudnev was surprised to see that students and their parents responded
to his request willingly. This persuaded him once again he had made a
Alexander managed to think of a zest for his institute. IHEI became a
true Mecca for promising sportsmen. Rudnev released them from the need
to pay for their education. Moreover, he paid them scholarships. IHEI
was the only private higher educational establishment that practiced this
at the time. Much later some of the private educational establishment
followed his example and started to introduce differentiated payment system
that implied reductions for good studies and active participation in public
life. In due course the students of the Humanitarian and Economic Institute
began to prevail at national championships and won major international
competitions. Nineteen students of the IHEI became world champions; twenty
seven students won European championships. Two of the students, namely,
Alexei Medvedev and Vladimir Doubrovshchik won silver medals at the Olympics
in Atlanta. The national team of Belarus that consisted entirely of IHEI
students took the ninth place at the World Student Games leaving behind
the Ukrainian team.
Rudnev's rivals regarded his assistance to talented sportsmen and children
from low-income families to be a stab in their backs because students
from other private higher educational establishments started to transfer
to the Humanitarian and Economic Institute in large numbers.
'Alexander Nikolayevic, what you are doing is contrary to any rules,'
-Let each of you throw a stone at me if he hears at least one unflattering
word about your institutes. As far as charity is concerned… You should
turn to the Bible more frequently.
The news of Rudnev's responsiveness reached his native place. In summer
of 1995 Alexander came to Rudna for a short rest. He put up a shelter
of branches in the forest not far from his home and spent time there taking
pleasure in the nature. His mother was upset.
-Sonny, why don't you come to spend the night at home? Just think what
people are going to say! They'll say the mother doesn't even have a bed
for her son.
-Mum, I'd like to get back to my childhood for a short time at least in
my thoughts, to sleep on the grass, to listen to the chirr of insects
and to dream fishing at dawn!
'Let it be so!' his mother agreed. Every morning she milked the cow and
hurried to her son either with an earthenware pot of fresh milk or hot
'draniki' (pancakes made of potato) carefully wrapped up in an embroidered
towel to prevent them from getting cool.
Soon afterwards after they found out where his shelter was his distant
relatives and complete strangers started to drop in. Most frequently these
were women who brought small bundles with food. Some brought meat or domestic
sausages, others a jar of fresh honey. Alexander rejected these gifts
in every possible way. He begged the women and argued with them but nothing
helped. Women asked him to admit their son or daughter to the institute
and promised to provide him with foodstuffs in return. They told about
their lives full of hardships and cried…
Rudnev didn't have the front to reject their requests. The chief accountant
was often indignant, 'Alexander Nikolayevich, your charity is likely to
bankrupt the institute very soon. We waste a lot of money!'
However, he kept signing orders about free education or education at a
reduced rate. He returned all parcels with foodstuffs that grateful parents
sent to him from the bottom of their hearts.
When fellow villagers met Rudnev's mother they bowed low to her and thanked
her for bringing up the son.
Alexandra Rudneva worked hard all her life. Before the war she drove a
heavy timber lorry. In postwar time she worked from morning till night
at a cattle farm. She was always awarded letters of commendation and tangible
rewards for her work but she considered them to be less important than
gratitude of hard-working women like she was…
After he safely avoided the barriers bureaucrats had put in the way of
the Humanitarian and Economic Institute Alexander Rudnev didn't retire
on his laurels because he understood the attempts to hinder their work
were not going to stop. He remembered a funny incident from the life of
Mikhail Lomonosov. The prominent scientist and founder of the Russian
Academy of Sciences was constantly humiliated by semiliterate Germans
who enjoyed favor of Katherine II. In time of some reception a court official
pointed at the hole in Lomonosov's man's sleeveless jacket and giggled,
'Scholarship peeps out!'
'Now, this is foolishness that shows itself,' Lomonisov countered immediately.
When he was alone he couldn't hold back his anger and exclaimed, 'We'll
prove our competence by dissertations!'
Rudnev also had no other way out but to prove his competence to ministry
officials by 'dissertations', i.e. by organizing full-fledged training,
creating a solid resource base and by research work. The worst problem
was academic staff. According to the standards at least forty per cent
of staff teachers should have academic degrees. Alexander met hundreds
of people and always heard the same response, 'You see teachers are paid
higher salary at your institute but can you guarantee they won't close
it tomorrow? I'm afraid to remain unemployed. You know it's difficult
to find a new job nowadays.'
Unfortunately, this was true. Since the very first days private higher
educational establishments were set up the state was prejudiced against
them. When they realized in due course that private higher educational
system turned out to respond to changes in the market in a more flexible
way and was enjoying more popularity, their suspicion turned into undisguised
hostility. They didn't run the risk to do away with private institutes
for fear of negative public opinion. However, the ministry deliberately
offered unequal conditions to educational establishments and favored flight
of students from private educational establishments to those departments
of state establishments that provided services for a fee.
When Rudnev realized he wouldn't be able to attract to the institute teachers
from state higher educational establishments, not even for all the tea
in China, he remembered there were many retired teachers many of whom
found themselves to be out of the picture although they were willing to
go on working. The miserable pension they were paid couldn't secure them
any decent subsistence level. Their moral wound was even more serious
because they excelled many young teachers by far in their knowledge, experience
and skill. Very soon Alexander received evidence his expectations turned
out to be true. The fact he invited to give lectures such outstanding
personalities as the former secretary of the Supreme Soviet of Byelorussia
Yelizaveta Chagina helped both to do away with the teaching staff shortage
and to win the Humanitarian and Economic Institute more prestige. In order
to fill in the vacancies they invited professors and associate professors
from state higher educational establishments to work part-time.
It turned out to be none the less complicated to obtain the necessary
lecture room stock. The thing that prevented them from doing this was
ordinary pettifogging. This is a characteristic feature of our mentality.
There is hardly any other country in the world where people worship so
much the papers given out by bosses of all ranks. In time of October Revolution
they evicted people or even executed them with no investigation or trial
guided by the warrants with signatures of leaders scribbled on them. In
the XX century the whole of the civilized world turned to paperless office.
Natural and legal persons carry out all major financial and trade transactions,
including filing an income tax return, by means of electronic system.
They even introduced the term 'electronic government'. As far as our country
is concerned electronic signature is still invalid here. Officials treat
it with distrust so people have to haunt their doors to obtain the necessary
Aversion of the state to private business and to private higher educational
establishments in particular is difficult to explain. During the fourteen
years it existed the Humanitarian and Economic Institute has transferred
to the budget taxes and lease payments that amount to over 11 billion
dollars. The institute reminds of the goose that laid the golden egg.
Moreover, the goose didn't require any state expenses. Why do the authorities
keep trying to kill it with such maniacal persistence, then?
When accreditation of the Faculty of Law was held the commission noticed
shortage of staff teachers who gave lectures in core disciplines. Rudnev
was aware of the 'Achilles' heel' of the institute. However, all the attempts
to solve the problem failed. The prospect of the license to be suspended
seemed to be inevitable. The commission members didn't conceal this when
they started to make their final report. The report was based on the assumption
that drawing in specialists to give lectures on a part-time basis doesn't
enable the Faculty of Law to provide their students with deep knowledge
of the subjects. Alexander read the report and expressed his surprise.
-What grounds did you make the conclusion on?
It was now the turn of the commission members to be surprised.
-On the grounds of the staff lest you submitted.
-May I have a look at it?
Rudnev had seen the staff list many times before because he gave instructions
what papers to submit to the commission. However, he feigned violent indignation.
He called the personnel department manager and reprimanded her severely
-Why do you keep documentation so carelessly? Why did you give the commission
the outdated staff list?
The personnel department manager joined in the game.
-That's entirely my fault! I'm sorry I've overlooked it, Alexander Nikolayevich!
A moment later she brought in an ex post order that introduced internal
second employment. Every staff teacher was entitled to work part-time,
besides his main workload.
-Unfortunately, we haven't managed to transfer all teachers to this advanced
system that enable to increase significantly the teachers' payment rate,
just like the president of the country requires, but we're planning to
finish the work in the next few days.
The commission's chairman was an experienced official so he realized everything.
However, nothing could be said against that because formally everything
was perfect at the Faculty of Law as far as staff issue was concerned.
The man said in a fit of temper, 'Take care, Rudnev, or you'll run into
trouble one day!'
They say poverty is the mother of invention. Rudnev realized it would
be useless to be at law with officialdom so he preferred to beat them
in intellectual sphere.
Far from every private higher educational establishment faced the problems
similar to those Rudnev had to solve. There were also 'lucky ones' but
the luck was gained through bribes. Some experienced people advised Alexander
more than once, 'Why don't you go to this or that man and give them some
bribe. You won't have any problems for at least a year!'
'I wonder what God would say to this,' Rudnev responded.
-You still haven't got rid of your romantic ideas about life. Have a look
at what is going on around you. You can't take a step without giving somebody
a bribe. Why doesn't God punish the villains?
-God has a lot of other problems to solve. When time comes everyone will
be rewarded to his deserts…
Rudnev has something to be proud of. Ten thousand young people who graduated
from the IHEI work for the good of their country. Some of the graduates
came to work abroad.
THE SONG OF THE SOUL
There's hardly any person who didn't overgrow poetry in his childhood
and who didn't try to write verses. When love rages inside feelings gush
over. There emerges a burning wish to pour them out onto paper. People
write verses when they have a happy love or an unhappy one, when they
feel joy or when they suffer. A small number of people keep the need to
express their ideas in rhymes. This is the way poets are born. With the
majority of people who aren't marked with a God-given talent the passion
for poetry passes when they satisfy their intimacy needs after getting
married. Amorous volcanoes don't erupt frequently at mature age. Passions
are accompanied by poetry while cool judgment gives birth to prose only…
At the age of twelve Alexander Rudnev took a great interest in Sergey
Yesenin's lyric poetry. He came across a book of the poet's verses accidentally.
Every summer he went fishing with his friends. Their favorite place was
where the Pripyat and its small tributary Skripitsa flooded. Fish swam
with melt water into the area rich in grass and was unwilling to swim
back when the rivers returned to their usual banks as the feed there was
abundant and diverse. Fishermen always came back home with rich haul and
thus pleased their mothers. As far as Alexander was concerned it wasn't
his parents' praise that pleased him so much but enjoying the nature.
The neighborhood was especially beautiful at dawn or at sunset when everything
around acquired some mysterious color. The boy admired the fantastic pictures
created by some invisible artist and forgot about his fishing line. This
provoked his friends' ridicule.
'Take care not to fall into the water or will fish you out instead of
a crucian,' they often kidded.
One evening his friend Pavel, the son of the soldier killed near Warsaw,
took along with him a tattered collection of verses by Sergey Yesenin.
Pavel brought the book from Bratsk where he worked at the construction
of a hydroelectric power plant after signing a contract. He was ten years
Alexander's senior. However, the age difference didn't prevent their close
friendship. They put the pot of fish soup on the fire and minded their
own business. Alexander opened the book. He was charmed by the very first
lines. He knew from Sergey Yesenin's biography the poet had never been
to Belarus and that most of his poetry that had rural country as its motif
was devoted to his native Ryazan land. However, the likeness to the Polesye
land was so great he seemed to be reading description of the local places.
Alexander got the book out of his friend and has always had it with him
since then. He knew all verses by heart. Still, he read them turning over
pages of the book because the magic of the printed word was very strong.
He tried to write verses under Yesenin's influence but they weren't as
stirring as Yesenin's for some reason so he gave this pursuit up. Unlike
literary heroes who turned slaves of their feelings and were ready to
perform wild acts up to committing suicide through unanswered love Rudnev
tamed his passions by hard work and exercise rather than by poetry. The
characters like young romantic Child Harold do not take root in the village
where people get up with the lark and go to bed after midnight.
When he was over forty Alexander took a great interest in writing social
and political essays. His essays '… Tomorrow was not to come,' 'We are
people… XX century,' 'Reflections about my Motherland,' 'My land is my
destiny' enjoy great popularity. In fact Rudnev revived the analytical
genre that ranked high in the Russian literature of the XVIII-XIX centuries
owing to the creative work of Radishchev, Chernyshevsky, Dobrolyubov,
Belinsky and Pisarev. His sharp word gets over borders and finds a response
far beyond Belarus. The weekly 'Moskovsky Literator', the edition that
is notable for its fastidiousness as far as appraisal of creative work
of its foreign colleagues is concerned made a review of one of Rudnev's
books. It would be a good idea to publish the review of the critic Alexander
Vlasenko in full.
Modern literature sees unprecedented flourishing of publicist genres
up to anecdotes and tales. There's no hope for any other 'War and Peace'
to appear. Might the epic feature be compensated for by some profound
ideas? Can we expect to see new Belinskys, Chernyshevskys and Plekhanovs?
Alas, the present-day political atmosphere in Russia, just like at the
time of Brezhnev's 'Virgin Soil', is created by ordinary notes in the
form of autobiographies of the Duma and presidential circles…
That is why I had apprehension of some discovery when I opened a new book
by a Byelorussian academician, a doctor of political sciences Alexander
Rudnev '…Tomorrow was not to come.' I knew Rudnev as an author of research
works, as well as two collections of poetry. Perhaps…
I wasn't disappointed, indeed. It's been a long time since I came across
such a passionate and clever work where sermon and confession merge. In
most cases the author managed to combine naturally sharp political talk
and lyrical animation of everyday social phenomena.
A. Rudnev who is a historian sometimes displays academic strictness when
he reminds us about suffering and heroic deeds of the Byelorussian land
of partisans. Over and over again he gives the number of losses Belarus
suffered during the Great Patriotic War. The war claimed lives of 2.5
million Belarusian people. However, the author doesn't limit himself to
reminding us that 'every fourth inhabitant of Belarus was killed.' Just
like a true artist he makes us cry by his lifelike lyrical comparison
'…No wonder there're three birch trees growing in Khatyn with eternal
flame in the place of the fourth one.'
Like a true port he exclaims when ending the chapter 'Life of every human
being is an invaluable gift and great treasure… We won in spite of all
Moreover, the author intersperses his reflections with verses of his own
that are worth the immortal memory.
Although the theme of victory adds enthusiasm to the whole of the book
it doesn't smooth over its critical orientation as far as appraisal of
our depressing modern times is concerned. What is at issue is not only
the cowardly behavior in time the Chernobyl catastrophe of the then first
secretary of the Communist Party of Belarus Nikolay Slyunkov and Mikhail
Gorbachev who is characterized as a' man who wallowed in idle talk and
phrase-mongering' but also present-day bolshevist leaders like Zyuganov
who advocate communist ideals zealously. Indeed… 'We've had enough of
advice… We're tired of blood, red banners and lies…'
A. Rudnev sounds most competent and convincing when he expresses critical
opinions about the present-day economic state. He displays himself as
a witty interlocutor whose observations are full of humor. One cannot
but feel amazed when the author draws a picture with some bitter implications
to characterize the sorrowful state of affairs of agriculture in Belarus
'People gathered round a tractor that wouldn't start and consult each
other how to move it. An experienced machine operator approaches them
and these poor experts ask him if anything could be done under the circumstances.
The knowledgeable man advised them to buy a new tractor…'
Further the anecdote acquired another meaning because the author doesn't
merely speak about the tractor. He touches a wide range of problems. 'It
is easy to give a piece of advice but where should one get the money to
buy a new tractor, some spare parts for it and fuel to fill it u, not
to mention more important tasks and drastic changes… What we face ahead
of us is abyss.'
The author puts the blame for the destitution of the nation on communists
with his criticism being extremely drastic at this point, 'We'll always
be side by side with the Russian people and the Russia of Pushkin, Tolstoy,
Chekhov and Yesenin but we're not going to support the Russia of the communist
A. Rudnev gives a very convincing description of the severe ordeal and
heroism of the Byelorussian and Russian people displayed during the Great
Patriotic War and the need to right the wrong as far as its participants
are concerned. He gives a striking example of bureaucratic heartlessness
towards national heroes. The former colonel of the Red Army Ivan Andreyevich
Kolosovwas conferred the title of the Hero of Russia fifty years after
he was nominated for the high award by marshal Rokossovsky.
It is exactly in this book that we're acquainted with the figure of our
losses during the war. Our countries lost about 100 million people! The
author exclaims, 'These are ten states with the population Belarus has
A. Rudnev sounds very convincingly when he covers and criticizes modern
university education. As far as this problem is concerned he is guided
by his own experience. He resolutely opposes to leveling of knowledge
and disproves the popular thesis that any cook can be in charge of the
state. He also advocates humanization of science. Facts prove the truth
of his opinion that knowledge deprived of love and morality 'pose a threat
not only to a human being but to all living things on the Earth.'
The essay of A.N. Rudnev enriches significantly the modern aspect of our
literature.' (2001, February, #4)
After the October revolution the total rule of Marxist and Leninist ideology
was established so it gradually fizzled out. Party propaganda turned into
a national nurse that couldn't tolerate any objections and stuffed Soviet
people with chewed over facts. It was useless and even dangerous to ponder.
Search after the truth that nourishes our intellect lost any meaning.
Just like negligent pupils who immediately peep into the answer key when
they get down to solving some problem we looked for it in the Central
Committee guidelines and government decrees. Dissent moved to kitchens
and spilled over from there into streets and squares only in extreme cases
where it was mercilessly suppressed. The followers of Chatsky with his
credo 'It's high time to dare have our own opinion!' started to be regarded
mentally ill people by efforts of the official propaganda and were sent
to mental hospitals.
Rudnev's analytical writing is modern apocryphal writing in its nature.
In his writing he doesn't merely reconsider that past just like many present-day
researches do. He also expresses a critical opinion of the present and
makes attempts to anticipate things. Many of the ideas he uttered are
on the brink of breaking ideological rules. His friends have warned him
more than once, 'Take care, Sasha. You're going to bring disaster upon
yourself. If you can't hold back your feelings you shouldn't at least
make your works public.'
However, he thinks to follow their advice means letting his talent go
to waste. It's not in him. He has dreamt for a long time to write a course
book in the history of Belarus. We should see history depicted there to
be full of life and contradictory. It shouldn't be featureless and ideologically
decorated just as the one we see in the books of most modern authors whose
works were approved by the Ministry for education. He wants every politician
and statesman who came into the spotlight of history at least one to be
rewarded according to their deserts. It is rather difficult to repeat
the civil feat of such Russian historians as Karamzin, Klyuchevskoi, Solovyev
and Tarle in modern Belarus where ideology department watches very carefully
all publishing activity and suppresses the slightest dissent. Many primary
sources are still secret. However, there are archives in Lithuania, Russia
and other countries…
Craving for writing poetry returned to him quite unexpectedly. Once, Alexander
was awoken by the sounds of some unfamiliar charming tune. He couldn't
understand where the tune was flowing from. He went out to the balcony.
It was dark outside and the windows of his neighbors' flats were closed.
Everyone was asleep. The yard where young people usually get together
in the evening was empty, too. However, the tune went on sounding quite
distinctly. He thought he saw a dream and pinched his cheek. He felt pain
and got surprised even more. At last, he thought it was an ordinary auditory
hallucination. Several days later, however, the amazing experience repeated.
Then Rudnev realized the source of the unusual music was inside him. He
started to write some verses that fitted the tune.
He wrote his first verse in about half an hour. The words flew to paper
We should say it wasn't accidental that Rudnev preferred frivolous and
emotional poetry rather than dry and strict in its opinions social and
political writing. He found his own Muse who produced a revolution of
feelings inside him. These feelings spilled over and resulted in melodious
After he wrote down hastily his first verse Alexander felt a burning need
in poetry. He remembered about Yesenin's verses. There was a complete
set of poet's works in his home library. However, he rummaged through
all his books before he discovered in a lower drawer of a book case in
a disorderly pile of books meant either for dump or for commission shop
the tattered collection of poems with a picture of a birch tree on its
cover that inspired him so much in his childhood. He reread it from cover
to cover although he had a royal memory and remembered all verses by heart…
There is a popular opinion that verses grow out of garbage expressed by
some venerable modern poet. Rudnev's verses appear out of spindrift, out
of green flood plains and shady groves, out of the water of the Naut.
They grow in his parents' yard and arise through asphalt in the city in
some inconceivable way. They ring like a high string. He writes his verses
at different times of the day. The magical tune that always accompanies
Alexander might wake him up in the middle of the night or make him start
before midnight. It may require him to take up a pen during a lecture
or some formal meeting. He can never resist it so he gets out under some
plausible pretext for ten or five minutes to write down a new stanza.
The notebook with neatly copied verses was always kept in the drawer of
Alexander's table. He never locked it so it might well be so that his
relatives familiarized themselves with his lyric poetry in secret. Otherwise
it is difficult to explain how Vladimir Boudnik found out about his work.
Alexander wasn't acquainted with Boudnik in person. He only knew there
was a composer Boudnik in Belarus whose songs are performed at different
concerts and broadcast by radio and television. That is why Rudnev couldn't
conceal his surprise when Vladimir Boudnik phoned him one day and confessed
in a bit confused voice he had read some of his verses and now asked his
permission to try to set them to music.
-I am sorry to say but it seems to me you're mistaken. I have to admit
I write verses sometimes but it's merely a hobby. You must have confused
me with somebody else because I've never had any of my verses published.
Vladimir Boudnik responded him by reciting one of his poems.
-You won't be able to renounce the verses even for the purpose of secrecy,
Alexander Nikolayevich, because you've put your soul into them. People
sometimes sacrifice their bodies for the sake of either their Motherland
or their relatives. However, they never give up their souls voluntarily,
even for the sake of some good cause because when a person betrays his
soul it turns into its opposite and paves the way to hell. The story from
the Bible you are sure to be familiar with has been committed to paper
in many literary works and works of art.
I ask your permission to let me try. I cannot guarantee I'll cope with
the task. Your verses are written in an unusual manner. Fastidious critics
might even find some deviation from canonical norms and breach of rhyme
in them. In my opinion, however, this only increases merits of your poetry.
Your manner is original and almost impossible to copy. As a composer I'm
compelled to look for similarly original music style.
-How did you get by my decent verses?
-Alexander Nikolayevich, let it remain the secret that belongs to me and
the person who I feel extremely grateful to for the opportunity to enjoy
Rudnev didn't manage to make Boudnik confess and gave his consent to work
with the verses. Several days passed. Boudnik failed to phone so Rudnev
decided nothing came out of the poem. He wasn't upset but he took some
offence at the composer who didn't say anything to him. One evening his
daughter called him, 'Dad, have a look, one of the students of your institute
He reluctantly tore himself away from the manuscript and came to the living
room. One of his former students was performing the song 'Nights in August.'
The tune was tender and sincere; folk instruments were intertwined into
modern beat in a natural way. He had quite a good ear for music so he
listened to the song with delight without thinking over the sense. Only
when he heard the refrain he realized 'This is my poem!'
The first public performance of Alexander Rudnev's song could be considered
birth of one of the most original and popular lyricists in Belarus.
Is it the tune or the words that are more important in a song? The variety
art of the Soviet epoch considered the content of the song to be more
important. They carefully watched every song to be ideologically proofread.
If any doubts arose the author was required to change some word or to
rewrite the verse. There are many examples of the kind.
In 1950s the song performed by the actor Boris Chirkov in the film 'The
youth of Maksim' enjoyed great popularity. Some vigilant censor noticed
a kind of ideological lameness in the simple refrain saying, 'A blue scarf
is spinning and turning around, a blue scarf is spinning over the ground,
it is spinning, turning around and is about to fall onto the ground.'
The censor noted that Soviet girls wore red kerchiefs rather than blue
scarves. However, as far as the film depicted pre-revolutionary period
they decided to forgive the author. Nevertheless, the word 'scarf' alien
to the Soviet people was substituted by the word 'ball'. What they had
as a result was complete nonsense though from the point of view of ideology
there was nothing left hanging!
Similar incidents happened to many other famous verses when changes to
the text were introduced. They turned the word 'shoulder strap' into 'palm'
in the line of the poem that became a popular waltz, 'The arm of a stranger
is lying on my shoulder strap' because there were no shoulder straps in
the Soviet Army at the time. Sometimes a performer could ask to amend
a song. Mark Bernes, the idol of the youth in 1960s was rehearsing the
song set to the words of the famous Soviet poet Rasoul Gamzatov and offered
to use the word 'soldiers' instead of the word 'horsemen' in the line
'It seems to me at times that horsemen who never returned from battlefields
must have turned into a flock of cranes.' The poet agreed and even admitted
that both content and the rhyme gained.
It has become a sort of a tradition recently to give preference to the
composer while poets seem to be kept in the background. At their musical
evenings famous composers don't always invite a poet to the stage to share
the triumph by right. At best they might mention him in passing in order
not to hurt. Poets behave in a different way. Each of these people who
were lucky enough to write a poem that made a song hit with the public
is sure to mention the composer. They don't merely do justice to him.
They even note priority of music over the text although this is not quite
This has happened partly due to the fact that musicians have been given
complete control over modern pop music. Most frequently these musicians
work to cater for undemanding audience. Neither composers no their listeners
need any words. No wonder these are composers who write most texts to
be set to their music not thinking much over the sense and neglecting
elementary language norms. These ignorant songs are made fun of by the
public. They are ridiculed mercilessly by famous humorists on TV. However,
the shallow songs of the kind propagate in great numbers. Sometimes the
traditional Russian contest 'Golden Microphone' that is held annually
by the popular 'Russian Radio' turns out to consist entirely of superficial
or even commonplace songs. Behavior of the showmen at the contest matches
the content of the songs.
There are over a hundred songs to the words from Alexander Rudnev. All
of them were broadcast by radio or television. Each of the songs, whether
they are devoted to love to a woman or to Motherland have some underlying
message in them and lack any insincerity.
When he had his first recital at the Byelorussian Theatre of Musical Comedy
Rudnev felt as if a condemned man who was going to be executed or a student
who was going to face some terrible state commission that was going to
influence his future. He even made an attempt to talk organizers of the
concert out saying his poems hadn't taken any shape. However, the organizers
stood their ground.
Rudnev stood offstage and could hardly hold back his excitement. First
he feared the hall would be empty. He still couldn't believe the tickets
had been sold out long before. When he made sure the house was full he
started to look anxiously into the faces of the audience trying to understand
whether they would take his songs. By the time the first performer came
to stage one might as well call an ambulance because valerian tincture
wasn't of help any more.
Deafening applause made him come to himself. Alexander realized that just
like poisonous city smog couldn't erase from people's memory the intoxicating
fragrance of grasses wet with dew, in the same way the vulgarity that
had conquered variety art couldn't ruin people's taste for good lyrical
songs. What made him especially happy was the fact there were many students
of his institute in the hall who came there of their own free will because
he warned very strictly deans of all departments against any forced distribution
of tickets. He felt a wish to take up a pen and start writing at once…
The words asked to be put to paper.
When he heard an imperious request of the audience 'Let the author come
to stage!' he didn't even realize at first they mean him. He pushed Vladimir
Boudnik out to the front of the stage. However, the audience insisted
they wanted to see the author so he went on stage. He seemed to se a bit
awkward with embarrassment. He bowed to the audience holding his hand
at the chest where his heart was about to jump out. He was the happiest
person on Earth at the moment…
The debut of the lyricist Alexander Rudnev is the matter of the past.
Now his name is familiar to all fans of variety art. He has had several
recitals and concerts that were held in Minsk and other major cities of
the republic. His songs that are full of lyricism are well known and loved
both in Belarus and abroad. He was admitted to the Writers' Union of Russia.
The former presidents of Russia and Poland Vladimir Putin and Alexander
Kvasnevsky, as well as the current president of Slovakia Ivan Gashnerevich
sent the poet letters of commendation for the cycle devoted to victory
in the World War II. One can hear songs to words from Rudnev even at the
faraway Cyprus where many of fellow countrymen are settled. There are
several letters on Alexander's desktop that invite him to come to the
island, have a rest and meet admirers of his talent. Unfortunately, he
has no time for this!
Just as usual, Rudnev stays at the institute from morning till night.
Despite the fact the institute enjoys international status it still faces
the same problems like rental growing before the eyes, endless inspections,
a wave of reports and undisguised discrimination. In 2008 the Ministry
for Education communicated another piece of bad news to thousands of applicants
who wished to enter the International Humanitarian and Economic Institute
when it refused to increase the quota. Once again he had to haunt doorways
of offices and prove this was a gross violation of the Constitution and
that only applicants and their parents who paid for studies had the right
to decide what education was more preferable. However, nothing helped!
The Ministry suggested an extremely cynical argument 'Everything that
is an advantage to the institute is a disadvantage to the state.'
After trying experiences like these he returns home an automatic pilot.
He seems to be so exhausted he can't even wash himself. His supper is
traditionally a cup of fragrant English tea and diabetic crisp bread.
His illness failed to abate. It bides its time like a beast of prey waiting
to attack him when he makes some careless step. Sometimes when he is almost
asleep he hears the miraculous tune that makes him put new lyrical lines
A correspondent of a popular newspaper once asked him, 'What themes are
you inspired by when you work at your songs?'
Rudnev answered without a moment's hesitation, 'God and Women.'
'Are they comparable?' the journalist doubted.
'They are. After God created the matter He gave a Woman his right to give
life. In my opinion a Woman deserves to be put on a pedestal of life,'
This revelation never entered the newspaper feature story. The journalist
must have regarded it just as a beautiful metaphor. He didn't realize
the words express poetic and life credo of Alexander Rudnev and thread
Alexander Rudnev is kept by his admirers after every recital. The informal
third part turns into an excited talk about poetry and discussion about
the purpose of life. In fact this is continuation of the confession he
makes in his poems and songs. There were two meetings in his life that
have left an indelible mark in his memory…
After the concert devoted to the celebration of the Victory Day an old
grey-haired man with a cane approached Rudnev. The medal 'For bravery'
was shining on his neat jacket that had gone out of fashion a long time
before. He stood away because he didn't venture to interfere in the talk
of the poet with his admirers. He even tried to leave but then he waited
till Alexander stayed alone.
-Did you want to say anything, father?
-Yes… You see… The song… 'We gained Victory'…
-Didn't you like it?
-I did. The song is good and true. However…
…The old man stammered. One could see he could hardly talk. Big tears
suddenly started running down his cheeks. Rudnev was confused. He produced
a handkerchief out of his outside pocket and handed it to the old man.
The man didn't notice this and wiped off his tears by his sleeve.
-That is true… We gained Victory… However, it's not the whole of the truth…
He began his story hurriedly stammering at almost every word as if he
was afraid Rudnev wouldn't listen to the end of his story.
-…We were young lieutenants who graduated from military school after accelerated
training and were sent to the front. When we found ourselves in hell we
completely forgot all lessons in tactics that we had been taught at school.
Moreover, they were not suitable for real tactical situation. In a word…
Almost all soldiers of the company I was in command of were killed. I
survived by some miracle and was taken prisoner… It still remains a mystery
how I endured the atrocities of the concentration camp. In a word, I survived…
When fascists were going to exterminate the prisoners in the camp we understood
our troops were near. That meant some chance to survive so we decided
to escape. Although the Germans were covering up their tracks they nevertheless
organized chase… they caught everyone but me. I survived once again by
some accident… When I reached our troops I thought I was born one more
time. I remembered a Gipsy who told me when I was a child that some spell
had been cast over me so I would always stay safe and sound. However,
the major of the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs who interrogated
me didn't believe any accidents. He didn't beat me. He turned out to be
an educated man from a refined family because he used high-flown language
and even recited poetry. However, he reminded of a beast at the bottom.
'Keep your tales about a Gipsy and some spell cast over you to the archangel
who will meet you in heaven. Now confess when and how they won you over
to their side.' I heard the same questions day after day. The more I vowed
I hadn't betrayed my Motherland the less the major believed me. In the
end I was sent to the battalion of military offenders… We knew only condemned
men were sent there. It was enough to make everyone cry when we thought
we were going to die. There were several weeks left before the war end…
In a word, you understand the whole of the battalion was killed while
I survived once again. It turned out the Gipsy didn't lie…
The old man started crying again. Rudnev carefully touched his sleeve.
-Stop crying, father. You did your soldier's duty properly. You shouldn't
blame yourself that you survived. God must have protected you. I understand
what you want me to do. I will write a poem about a battalion of military
offenders and will invite you to the concert where this song is going
to be performed.
He accompanied the old man to the exit where his two grandsons were waiting
for him and wrote down his address and phone number. When he ca\me back
home he lived the talk over and over again. Indeed, the problem of battalions
of military offenders remained a white spot in the history of war. It
goes without saying some people touched the problem. For example, the
author of the book 'Icebreaker' Suvorov and the like asserted that cannon
fodder that the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs turned millions
of people into was a determinant of the victory over fascism rather than
heroism and bravery of Soviet soldiers. This was propaganda paid for by
the West that sought to complete victory over the USSR in the cold war
with moral decay of Soviet people. Rudnev who was a historian realized
this quite well.
Alexander who was excited by the story of the war veteran tried to sketch
a poem about his fate the same evening. He failed to do this, however.
This happened to him quite frequently because he had never been able to
write poems to request. He had to outgrow the theme before writing about
Rudnev wrote his poem 'The battalion of military offenders' approximately
half a year after the memorable meeting. He spent a sleepless night putting
lines down in semi-delirium.
Vladimir Boudnik immediately caught the tone of his new verse. He phoned
Rudnev the same day and invited him to his place.
Alexander realized the song turned out successfully.
They played back the tape several times. It seemed to Rudnev each time
that the tune was acquiring some new notes because the music composed
by Boudnik tirned out to be very deep and rich.
He wanted to phone the old man and to bring him to the place to listen
to the song together. However, Alexander drove off the thought at once.
The song 'A battalion of military offenders' wasn't meant for listening
to at home. One had to listen to it at stadiums and in big halls. He waited
till the time of the concert and phoned the man's number. Nobody answered.
The same happened an hour later. The old man couldn't go out for so long.
He told he lived alone and left home only to do some shopping. He must
have been taken to hospital. If only Rudnev knew which one. He would have
gone there and asked doctors to let the man leave the hospital for two
hours. However, he had no time left to call clinics because there were
a few hours left before the concert. He couldn't blame himself for anything
because Rudnev had kept his word. However, Alexander wanted the old man
to be present at the concert. He phoned many times before a young voice
finally answered the phone, 'The grandfather died. We buried him yesterday…'
The second meeting Alexander still remembers was in Rudna where he dropped
in at one summer evening. Neither his father nor his mother met him at
the door of the house because both of them had been lying at the churchyard.
Rudnev came there. He pulled up weeds and put a bunch of wild flowers
on the graves of his parents and his grandmother. He did the same at the
grave of Vladimir Semenovich and was pleased to see that the gravestone
they erected with his assistance turned out to be quite solid. There had
been several acts of vandalism when hooligans smeared gravestones of Soviet
soldiers with red paint and turned then over. The reason was the anti-Soviet
propaganda that reached even Belarus. The republic that lost every fourth
of its inhabitants during the Great Patriotic War was now facing the prospect
of emerging homebred fascists! Could his father and Uncle Vilodya imagine
anything like this? Luckily, there were no thugs of the kind in Rudna…
Rudnev closed the gate of the fence around the grave of Vladimir Semenovich
and headed for his parents' house. When he came to the village he saw
an old woman who hurried towards him. Her face seemed familiar to Alrxander.
Yet, a lot of time had passed since he left his native land so he had
forgotten some people's names. When the old woman came close to him she
gave him a bow. This was the usual way they greeted each other in Rudna.
She looked into his eyes.
-Are you the son of Alexandra and Nikolai Rudnevs?
-I am, grandma.
-I am Bondar… Philip's wife.
Rudnev couldn't realize at first who she was talking about.
-How old are you, then?
-I am over ninety. It's time I died but I still go on living and bearing
the heavy cross I inherited from him… From Philip.
-What cross is this, grandma?
The old woman gave him an intent look once again.
-I see you don't understand who I am.
It was only then that some vague guesses began to emerge in Alexander's
mind. He was talking to the widow of Philip Bondar who wrote information
against his grandfather Alexander Kirbay in 1937. When he visited Rudna
Alexander always tried to find a minute to come to the house of this vile
creature because he wanted to look into his eyes and ask him whether his
conscience pricked him for what he had done. However, Philip Bondar avoided
meeting him. Some years before Alexander found out the man had died and
was buried at the same graveyard where his parents lied. The very thought
that the informer was lying near the children of his victim didn't give
Rudnev a moment's rest. If he could he would dig out his remains and throw
them to latrine. Yet, he understood that neither law enforcement bodies
nor God would allow him to do this. Now the widow of the man Alexander
hated so much approached him for some reason. For a moment a wave of aversion
swept over him and he was about to say something rude. However, he controlled
himself and thought, 'As long as God allowed her to live to this advanced
age the old woman must be innocent.'
-I know that you hated Philip and I feel you hate me, too. You have every
right to do this. My husband's sin is on my conscience, too. I had to
stop him when he and Semenov were writing information against Alexander
Kirbay. I couldn't because I was afraid. My husband could beat me within
an inch of my life. I was pregnant at the time. I begged him more than
once afterwards, 'Go to church, repent your sins and ask God's forgiveness.
Don't transfer people's hatred to your descendants.' He didn't even want
to listen to me when I asked him to go to Marpha and ask her forgiveness.
He remained adamant until his death. When he was dying he looked malicious
as if these were people to blame for everything that had happened rather
-Don't be remorseful. You didn't drive your husband to this crime. I am
not to judge you. It is God that will judge everyone, including those
who committed the crime and those who didn't manage to prevent it.
-Nevertheless, I ask your forgiveness!
The old woman knelt down and crossed herself.
-You shouldn't! Get up, please!
Rudnev tried to raise her but the woman kept kneeling and looking into
-Get up at once! I forgive you…
Rudnev followed with his eyes the old woman who was walking barefoot stepping
slowly on the dusty road.
The burden he had inside when he was talking to the widow of Bondar disappeared
suddenly. It seemed to Alexander that Alexander Kirbay was watching the
scene and accepted the woman's apologies. He returned to the graveyard
haunted by the thought. Actually, the remains of Alexander Kirbay didn't
lie at this graveyard because the People's Commissariat for Home Affairs
never handed bodies of the executed men to their relatives to be buried.
The grandfather's grave was empty. Still, Rudnev believed his grandfather's
spirit was soaring somewhere nearby…
It was sultry. All living things came to a standstill in their midday
drowsiness. Even delicate spider's webs were hanging in the air motionless.
It was only loud rustle of grass near the graves that confirmed Alexander's
After Rudnev defended his candidate's thesis he got down
to writing the doctoral one at once. He followed advice of his research
adviser and decided to continue research of national industry although
the subject didn't inspire him very much. He didn't want to give up the
information he had collected before because it would save him a couple
of years. He didn't have the chance to escape from the institute on weekdays
so Alexander spent in archives and in the library almost all of his weekends
and sacrificed his holidays. He wrote the monograph surprisingly quickly.
One of his friends who read the five-hundred-page work deep in its content
and rich in original general conclusions asked him with distrusts, 'Sasha,
did you really do the work on your own?'
Rudnev suddenly flared up, 'No, I didn't. '
-Do not take any offence. One man is unable to cope with this amount of
work but a team of researchers can.
-I know what you're driving at. I consider it to be disgraceful when the
head of some institute makes his employees for himself and doesn't disdain
to put his name near the name of the real author of some research. I have
never resorted to the practice. As far as a team of researchers is concerned,
indeed, there were two of us. There were two Rudnevs. One of them worked
at day time, the second one worked nights.
The head of the publishing house of the Byelorussian State University
accepted the manuscript with undisguised happiness.
-Alexander Nikolayevich, your monograph seems to be very opportunely.
The ministry criticizes us for the shallow nature of the works we publish.
There aren't any serious research works. You know science doesn't earn
people money today so teachers prefer to have several part-time jobs instead
of doing research work. You've come to our help. I will send your manuscript
to be reviewed right now. Don't be afraid, the monograph isn't going to
lie too long in our publishing house. We'll publish it as soon as we proofread
it. By the end of the year you may expect to be given an advance copy.
The talk to the head of the publishing house made Rudnev happy. He had
already finished his work over the doctoral thesis; the only thing left
was to get it up properly. However, he couldn't offer it for defense without
a monograph, even though he had numerous publications in scientific journals.
The Supreme Certifying Commission watched the requirement to be followed.
A month later Rudnev asked the head of the publishing house how things
-Everything's all right, Alexander Nikolayevich. The manuscript has already
been composed. They're correcting the proofs now. We have a review that
is favorable. In a month you'll be given the first printer's proof.
Rudnev put down the receiver and rubbed his hands with excitement. He
remembered an episode from the film about Lomonosov.
'We'll counter you with dissertations!' Alexander cried out addressing
his invisible opponents.
Aliona Tsareva looked into his office anxiously.
-What's the matter, Alexander Nikolayevich?
Rudnev smiled, 'She must have thought goodness knows what!'
-That's OK, Aliona, thank you. I don't need anything. It's just emotions.
I thought I was talking to myself in a low voice but it turned out to
be too loud. Though… Will you bring a cup of tea, please? You know, make
yourself one, too. We'll have a chat for a while if you aren't in a hurry,
of course. The working day is over…
Rudnev paid attention to this diligent girl when she was a student at
his institute. The girl was notable for the unpretentious beauty that
is typical only of those who were born in the rural area. He face was
not spoilt by use of make-up. It always glowed with freshness and genuine
sincerity. When she graduated he offered her a job at the publishing department
of the institute. When Aliona was typing manuscripts of his books she
sometimes turned to him asking to decipher unfamiliar words in illegible
handwriting. Aliona was always careful and accurate. She noticed even
minor stylistic mistakes. When she pointed at his lame phrase one day
Rudnev got angry, 'You are to type the manuscript rather than edit it!'
When he saw the girl turned red and could hardly fight back tears Rudnev
was sorry he used these sharp words. Several days later he called her
to his office.
-Aliona, I'm sorry for the tactlessness I committed last time. I was wrong.
I didn't mean to hurt you. I did it by accident. I've taken account of
your hint. The phrase was lame, indeed, so I edited it. Thank you!
Aliona Tsareva got confused. Her face turned red once again.
-I didn't take any offence, Alexander Nikolayevich. I know you're having
hard times. All employees at the institute wonder how you cope with this
amount of work.
-Aliona, in future I ask you to read my manuscripts not as a proofreader
but as a stylist. You quite conform to the status so I will take account
of this when I pay you salary. In a word, I ask you to help me!..
Unlike other teachers who allowed chummy manners with students and flirted
with girls dropping transparent hints about their wish to have closer
relations with them Rudnev always addressed his employees in a polite
way and never allowed any liberties. However, this didn't prevent truly
friendly relations between him and the students. The rector was loved
at the institute for his honesty, plain dealing, care, democracy and sincerity.
He treated both professors and students in an equally careful way. Despite
age difference he easily came to terms with the youth. He willingly participated
in their cultural activities. There were legends about his physical strength
at the institute. One day Rudnev lifted a heavy thirty-kilo weight twenty
times in front of the curious students who gathered in the gym to have
a look at the rector. One of the students decided to put up a good show,
too. He seized the weight with both hands, hardly lifted it over his head
and almost dropped it swinging under the weight that was too heavy for
him. Alexander carefully took the weight out of the student's hands and
put it onto the floor.
-Don't ever try to do something you're not sure of!
Several months later Rudnev's secretary resigned her job so he offered
the position to Aliona Tsareva. The girl agreed though she was hesitating.
-Alexander Nikolayyevich, what will you do if I don't cope with the job?
Rudnev tried to look serious.
-If you don't cope I'll fire you without giving any severance pay.
He said this in s such a benevolent tone that the girl smiled.
Aliona blushed with embarrassment and ran out of the rector's office.
Rudnev's heart was palpitating. He felt some inexplicable joy inside.
He was about to take a pen and put down some new lines but the call from
the ministry poured cold water on the fire of his passion that flared
up so suddenly.
Alexander had an analytical mind so after he came home he tried to find
the reason for the sudden inspiration. He experienced something of the
kind in his youth. He had been living alone for quite a long time and
dealt with women at work only. Even the most attractive ones interested
him merely as teachers. He was sure no one was ever going to ignite in
his soul the feelings that died out a long time ago. He wasn't in the
least upset by this. Then suddenly he faced this outbreak of emotions.
'Have you fallen in live, old fellow?' Alexander addressed his inner self.
'Don't behave oddly! It's not your nature!' his invisible double objected.
'Besides… Can you fall in love with the girl who's young enough to be
your daughter? Indeed, she's beautiful and charming. However, you shouldn't
lose your head. You're merely tired of loneliness. It will be over one
Alexander had to agree with the last argument. He tried not to return
to the forbidden ground in his thoughts…
The door of the office opened and the secretary entered. She was holding
a tray with two cups of tea and a plate of finely cut sausage and cheese
on it. Rudnev jumped out of the table hurriedly.
-You should have told me! I would have helped you! Where from did you
get the delicacies?
-I made a quick run over to the coffee bar. Neither food nor drink had
passed your lips since morning. Your fridge at home must be empty. You'll
ruin your stomach and then you'll suffer all your life!
The sandwiches made by he secretary seemed to be extremely tasty. Alexander
remembered his childhood. He used to play outside with his friends from
morning till night. When he got hungry he dropped in at the house, grabbed
a piece of brown bread and rushed out of the house without listening to
his mother who asked him to sit down to the table and have the first course…
They talked for an hour and a half and didn't even notice it had grown
dark outside. Rudnev recollected suddenly and offered to give the girl
a lift but she refused flatly.
-No, thank you. It's not too late. The bus makes a stop right near my
house. Besides, I have to drop in at the grocer's because my mum asked
me to buy something for supper.
When Rudnev recollected the evening he failed to remember what they were
talking about. However, there was some warm feeling inside him…
Several months passed but there was no news from the publishing house.
The second reader also gave a favorable review of the dissertation and
recommended it to be published. However, they didn't publish the monograph.
At first the head of the publishing house alleged some urgent work ordered
from above, and then he started to avoid meeting Alexander. A year later
it turned out the manuscript had to be reduced by almost by half. It goes
without saying Rudnev objected to it.
-You should understand this is academic research. When you were accepting
my manuscript you said you face shortage of serious works. You weren't
confused by the size of my work at the time. If I make these reductions
many of my conclusions will hang poised in midair. By the way, neither
of the reviewers requires any reductions. Whose decision is this, then?
Do you mean you lack paper? I don't believe it! Last year you published
so much pseudoscientific literature that one might as well call you to
account for this wastefulness.
'Alexander Nikolayevich, I'm very sorry, but if you don't reduce the manuscript
we won't be able to publish your book,' the head of the publishing house
Whatever arguments Rudnev tried to give they didn't work. It was clear
the head of the publishing house delays publishing the monographs against
his own free will. Somebody from above must have required this.
Four years passed. The monograph was badly behind the times. The work
that took many years went down the tube through the arbitrary rule of
officials. If this had happened in some Western state Rudnev would have
made the officials pay him a round sum that would be enough for several
years of comfortable life. In our country, however, the court wouldn't
even consider the case.
However disappointing it might seem Rudnev decided to give his doctoral
thesis up as bad job. He dived into social and political writing. By the
time the Humanitarian and Economic Institute had been given a license
for publishing activities so no one could hinder his work any more. Rudnev's
works became known outside the country. Some foreign scholarly journals
of authority started to refer to them. Once, Rudnev was brought one of
the journals with his article on interdependence of economics and politics
during the period of transition from command economy to market economy.
Everything seemed to be quite correct at first sight. The publication
was signed by his name. However, the more carefully Alexander read the
familiar text the more horrified he was. The theoretical part of the article
remained unchanged. Some unfamiliar editor didn't even infringe on punctuation
marks though Rudnev sometimes may deviate from grammar rules consciously
when putting them to emphasize an important idea. All his examples, however,
were substituted by Ukrainian similar ones. Rudnev dialed one of the phone
number given in the journal and contacted the editor who prepared his
article for publishing. The man was a little bit confused.
-Alexander Nikolayevich, of course I'm to blame I didn't manage to find
you and to send you the manuscript for signature of endorsement. We needed
urgently a title article for our issue. I came across your work quite
by chance. When I read it I was staggered by the way you researched the
problem and by your original ideas. We face the same situation in Ukraine
just as you do in Belarus. It seemed to me it would be a good idea to
use other examples instead of yours. I guarantee the examples are reliable.
I hope you'll forgive my liberty and offer one of your most recent research
works to the international section of our journal.
Soon Alexander Rudnev was visited by a representative delegation from
the International Personnel Academy that had its headquarters in Kiev.
This authoritative research and educational establishment is famous all
over the world. There are its branches in dozens of countries that unite
altogether over fifty five thousand students and scientists, including
those who have worldwide reputation. They have a campus of 18 buildings
in Kiev. By the way, before Viktor Yushchenko was elected president of
Ukraine he headed Economic Department of the Academy.
-We've heard a lot about your research work and your institute so we wanted
to get acquainted with you.
The head of the delegation shook Rudnev's hand.
-Judging by your works we imagined you to be an academician of the classical
type who wears a thick beard and has otherworldly look. Now we see a young
and energetic man who looks more like a sportsman who has just retired
rather than an academician.
-I am neither an academician nor a professor.
The guest looked at Rudnev in embarrassment.
-Sorry, are you Alexander Nikolayevich Rudnev who is rector of the Humanitarian
and Economic Institute?
-You aren't an academician, are you?
The Ukrainians were extremely surprised. It couldn't even occur to them
that a scientist whose works are known in many countries of the world
is an ordinary candidate of sciences. They didn't even believe his story
about the misadventure with his monograph at first. In the course of their
talk that lasted for many hours they returned more than once to the fact
that had staggered them so much. When they were parting, the guests offered,
'Alexander Nikolayevich, we've contacted President of the International
Personnel Academy Georgy Vasilyevich Shchiokin and informed him about
the results of our trip to Minsk. Now on behalf of the president we ask
you to do us an honor and send one of your academic research works for
defense of your doctoral thesis.'
This unexpected meeting helped Rudnev restore his liking for science.
He got down to the work over a new thesis titled 'Trends of political
development under reforms of public life in the Republic of Belarus.'
He wrote the thesis in a burst of inspiration.
He was extremely nervous before his defense in Kiev. He was going to be
alone there without his friends' countenance. He wondered how his opponents
were going to behave. Public polemics is one thing and secret ballot is
just the other. He was standing on the platform and looked round automatically
hoping for some familiar face in the crowd. He was about to get into the
carriage when he saw a representative delegation of his employees who
were approaching him with bouquets of flowers.
-Alexander Nikolayevich, we wish you good luck. Get back with your shield!
The words pulled at his heartstrings. Alexander stood on the platform
with an armful of flowers and didn't know what to do. Conductors and passengers
watched the unusual seeing off with curiosity.
-Thank you, dear colleagues! I'm very much touched. I just wonder what
to do with all these flowers.
The conductors at the deluxe train 'Minsk-Kiev' might have never had a
more sweet-smelling trip.
The assembly hall of the Academy where the defense took place turned out
to be crowded out. The situation in the neighboring Belarus differed radically
from the political situation inside Ukraine. Social scientists wanted
to know the opinion of a competent man about this situation.
The defense lasted more than three hours and ended in triumph. Both the
reviewers and those who spoke in the debate noted unanimously acute political
nature of the issues raised and economic validity of answers to them.
When the chairman of the specialized Academic Senate was summing the debate
he couldn't conceal his surprise, 'We were presented research work that
is a big contribution to the political science. As far as its topicality
and depth is concerned this is research deserving attention of scientists.
In its nature this is a brilliant example of social and political writing.
I would like to make a special emphasis on this feature. It's not common
with scientists to use elevated style. Strict scholarly thought does not
tolerate any artistic features. However, this work is an example of the
work where figurativeness intersperses with the content so naturally that
we might as well speak about know-how.'
In accordance with the charter of the International Personnel Academy
Rudnev was handed his diploma of doctor of political sciences right after
the results of the voting of the members of the specialized Academic Senate
were announced. During the improvised banquet that was held after the
official defense ceremony was over Alexander heard a lot of compliments.
However, he was pleased much more by the appreciation of his institute
rather than by personal recognition. He was chosen a collective member
of the International Personnel Academy and acquired the right to give
his graduates diplomas of international standard. As provided by this
decision the Humanitarian and Economic Institute was renamed as the International
Humanitarian and Economic Institute. A bit later Alexander Rudnev was
conferred the title of professor on him and chosen an academician of the
International Personnel Academy…
When Alexander was approaching his flat after he returned from Kiev he
heard the phone ringing persistently behind the door. When he entered
the flat the phone stopped ringing. Several minutes later he heard another
call. There was silence in the receiver. He could hear somebody's distinct
interrupted breathing. Rudnev realized that some stranger didn't venture
to begin the talk for some reason. He was about to hang up the receiver
thinking some teenagers might be playing their tricks when he heard a
familiar voice, 'Alexander Niokolayevich, this is Aliona speaking. Sorry
for disturbing you… I just wanted to find out how are things with your
defense… I was worried so much…'
-Dear Aliona, thank you very much! Everything went on well… You even can't
imagine how happy I am to hear you talking. Thank you! Where are you?
Come here and we'll celebrate my doctoral thesis.
-No, I can't… Good bye!
Rudnev wanted to say something and to convince her there was nothing wrong
about drinking a glass of champagne but he heard frequent beeps in the
receiver. He was sorry he didn't know the home phone number of his secretary.
To tell the truth, however, he wasn't even sure she had any phone number
Soon after Tsareva's call his daughter phoned, as well as many of his
friends did. They congratulated him, expressed their admiration and wished
more success. The phone didn't stop ringing but he felt lonely for some
reason. Every time he picked up the receiver he caught himself at the
thought he would like to hear Aliona's voice once again. If he had known
her address he would have ventured to come to her place. In the meanwhile,
the phone was silent as if guarding him against any thoughtless actions.
The next day after Rudnev returned from Kiev turned into a nightmare.
His employees, students, friends and acquaintances came to his office
to congratulate him on the academic title of the doctor of political sciences
conferred on him. Very soon his office was buried in sweet-smelling flowers.
One of Rudnev's sham friends phoned
-I heard you're again in the saddle, old fellow?
-You and the others would like to see me upon my shield rather than with
-Don't get angry. I am really glad for you.
Rudnev has always been surprised by the ability of some people, especially
politicians, to change their masks. They were able to turn into bitter
enemies from bosom friends and then turn into friends again when it was
necessary. Moreover, they did this so skillfully that he couldn't but
believe involuntarily the likelihood of the transformations that took
place before his very eyes…
The Ministry of Justice confirmed the documents asserting the new status
of the institute surprisingly quickly. Giving a new license the official
who used to lead him up the garden path for months said, 'Now you're a
big shot, Alexander Nikolayevich. Don't forget, however, when rising beyond
the clouds that it hurts more when one falls from there.'
This might have been a commonplace joke but it seemed to Rudnnev there
was some warning in it. He turned out to be right later.
The news that graduates of the International Humanitarian and Economic
Institute would be given both state diplomas and diplomas of international
standard that enjoys recognition abroad improved its image even more.
There weren't any analogues in the country. Hundreds of students from
other private higher education establishments applied to be transferred
to the IHEI. They started to rumor that Rudnev was making use of unfair
competition practices. In time of a meeting of rectors when they tried
to obstruct him Alexander sustained all malicious attacks and remained
calm, 'Gentlemen, will you quiet down, please? We aren't at a market where
people may scratch each other's eyes out for a bunch of parsley sold cheaper
than theirs. I don't issue any visas to Ukraine. You should turn to the
corresponding bodies, go to Kiev and obtain the same right to give diplomas
of international standard. I'm ready to provide each of you with the contact
details to do with the International Personnel Academy.'
Alexander was curious to take a detached view at himself. He turned to
his inner self quite frequently of late.
-I'm afraid, old fellow, the girl has enchanted you by something.
-Nonsense. It's no love at all. These are merely tricks of crafty testosterone.
A man can't do without a woman at your age. You should pick up some cute
student. I see many girls admire you. Take her out to some bar and invite
her home for a cup of coffee. Should I teach you how things like these
must be done?
-What a vulgar man you are! How can you say things like this about girls?
-Oh! We're so pure and honest! It seems you don't live in the third millennium
but got stuck somewhere in the 20s of the past century. Your female students
must wear red kerchiefs and entreat each other, 'you should die rather
then kiss someone you don't love!' Look around! Everyone lives according
to market laws. Love is sold and bought in the same way as vegetables
at Komarovsky market. You should just watch the article is not rotten.
-No, I can't live like this!
-Then you should stop complaining. You should remember the present-day
common truth saying those who are clever and rich make others serve them
while those who are stupid and poor serve themselves.
If Rudnev could he would slap his double in the face for these dirty hints.
However, the latter realized what trouble it was in for, had his tail
between his legs and kept silent. Alexander had an inexorable wish to
put down some new lines that are usually born when one is young.
When he met Aliona the next morning he looked aside. It seemed to him
the girl had overheard his inner monologue and despised him for his frivolous
thoughts. It seemed to Aliona, in her turn, that she had broken some invisible
brink that always separates employees from their boss. That evening for
the first time in the last few weeks Rudnev didn't ask Aliona to bring
him a cup of tea. His secretary didn't remind him about this either. They
restored former distance by mutual silent consent…
Alexander began to have the blues though there were not any apparent causes
for this. He solved different matters at the institute as if he was doing
some painful duty. He got irritated at every trifle. He cursed his driver
who had just begun to work for him for no reason at all. The man was recommended
by his former colleagues. He seemed to be doing everything thoroughly.
He kept the car in perfect order. He tried to please Rudnev so he opened
and closed the door of the car for him running ahead hastily. He didn't
grumble when he had to stay at work after the working day was over. However,
the attentiveness of the driver seemed intentional to Rudnev. He couldn't
explain why he disliked the man.
Alexander broke the stable tradition of exercising in the gym he had equipped
to keep fit. The change of mood affected his poetry that was now full
of melancholic notes.
Vladimir Boudnik was delighted with his new verses.
-Alexander Nikolayevich, you're a born lyricist! Why did you conceal the
feelings for so long? So many songs could have been created!
'If all the children we conceive were given birth to the Earth would have
become overpopulated a long time ago,' Rudnev joked sadly.
He tried to explain his change of mood time after time and to discover
the origins of the unexpected melancholy but didn't manage to find any
apparent causes. There was some premonition inside that worried him.
In order to shake off the burden of the sad thoughts he offered his secretary
one day, 'Aliona Mikhailovna, will you do me a favor to keep my company
for supper. I don't even remember when I ate properly last time. I find
it a bit dull to have supper alone.'
The girl got lost. It was not proper to turn down the boss' offer. Moreover,
it seemed to her he had been displeased with her recently. Agreement implied
provoking gossip at the institute in case they met some acquaintance!
Rudnev read her mind and reassured her, 'We'll go to the country. There
are some cozy restaurants and cafes there. None of our institute employees
is likely to drop in at the place on this gloomy day.'
Aliona overcame her hesitation and agreed. When she was getting into the
car she caught a displeased look of the driver and regretted her decision
but it was too late to change her mind, anyway.
The rain was becoming stronger. Windscreen wipers hardly managed to clear
the windscreen. It was pitch-dark. However, Rudnev knew the restaurant
they were heading for quite well because he had had dinner with his friends
there several times. Unlike most public catering establishments scattered
along the highway 'Brest-Moscow' that didn't have any refined cuisine
the one they were going to had a good choice of dishes and good service.
They had already laid the table for two in a cozy corner of the restaurant
because Rudnev had seen to it in advance. The driver refused to have supper
-My wife gave me a snack. She'll be upset if I bring it back.
The shyness that fettered their talk during the first minutes of the supper
was over soon. An hour and a half slid unnoticed. Aliona was interested
how songs were created, where from he takes the theme and how words turn
into rhyming lines. She confessed she tried to write verses when a child
but she never wrote anything that could touch the heart. Alexander found
attentive audience so he went on talking. He recollected himself only
when he noticed Aliona had only taken a sip of wine and had eaten almost
-Don't you like the meal? Shall I order something else?
-No, you shouldn't. I was just listening spellbound to you.
He saw the girl was talking sincerely so Rudnev risked reciting her the
poem 'Destined to love' he had written several days before. Aliona's face
became redder and redder when she was listening to it. When Alexander
finished reciting she said to hide her embarrassment, 'What a wonderful
poem! I am excited by it. Only the one who's deep in love may write a
poem like this. I suppose the woman these lines are devoted to is every
'She is, indeed!' Alexander confirmed. Then he looked at Aliona's face
and added, 'Or rather, she's a girl…'
Aliona pretended she didn't hear the slip of the tongue.
When they left the restaurant Rudnev noticed the driver was talking to
someone on the mobile phone. When he saw them he interrupted the talk
and explained as if apologizing, 'My wife was worried the car might break
-Phone her to tell you'll be back home in half an hour.
-That's OK. I told her to have supper without waiting for me.
The rain had almost stopped. It was drizzling. It seemed to Rudnev the
driver was excited.
'Is anything the matter?' he asked the man.
-Everything is OK. I just had a look at the engine jacket while you were
having supper. I would like to ask you a day off to have the car serviced.
Something must be wrong with the engine. It doesn't work properly. Have
a look, the pointer of the tachometer is waving to and fro.
Rudnev knew cars quite well so he didn't see any problems with the engine.
He didn't pay any special attention to the words of the driver. Moreover,
he complimented him for his zeal in his mind. The previous driver had
to be constantly reminded about maintenance checkup.
When they were not far from the city Alexander noticed the driver was
turning to a country road.
-Why are you turning? We should go straight.
-Alexander Nikolayevich, I have always wanted to show you a unique corner
of the countryside. Imagine a small pond with willow trees growing around
and swans swimming in it. If you have a look at the miracle I'm sure you
will write a brilliant song. Aliona Mikhailovna is going to like the place,
too. It is close by. We'll be there in a couple of minutes!
-You'll show us the place next time. We're busy now.
-Let me do this now. When cold sets in the swans will fly away so you
won't be able to admire them.
-They'll be back next spring. Turn back!
-We've almost come. We'll have a look and drive back home. Five minutes
- I order you to turn back! Don't you understand me?
-Well, I'm trying my best…
The driver opened up the engine and the car rushed forward jumping on
the uneven road. Small stones were banging at the bottom of the car. Rudnev
understood there was some hidden design. The driver was trying to drive
them somewhere at all cost. Where to? He was unlikely to be willing to
show them swans. There must be no trace of any swans there. What were
they in for? He looked back. Aliona was numb with fear in her seat. Her
eyes were full of horror…
Once, Rudnev confessed to David Rotman he kept a carbine under his bed
just in case. The man didn't believe him. When he got convinced of this,
however, he gave a gasp of surprise, 'Sasha! Isn't that cute of you?'
Besides a carbine Rudnev had a handgun that he always kept in his pochette.
No one knew about this, including Aliona and the new driver who persisted
in driving forward quickly. Soon they saw two cars of foreign make at
the side of the road. Three men were talking briskly standing near one
of the cars.
'Pull up!' Rudnev cried.
The driver didn't react. The car slowed down a bit but went on driving.
Rudnev seized the gun out of the pochette and put it against the driver's
-If you don't turn back right now I'll smash your head!
The car made a steep turn, almost overturned and stopped. Alexander looked
at the rear-view mirror and noticed the strangers looked at each other
and headed for the car. There was about a hundred meters between them.
Rudnev got out of the car, opened the driver's door, grabbed the driver
by the collar and threw him out of the car. Then he took the driver's
place and accelerated. The powerful off-road vehicle roared, reared up
and started with a jerk. One of the cars followed them for some time but
fell behind soon. At the entrance to the city Rudnev almost flew past
the post of the road police. He noticed at the very last moment a militiaman
who was running to intercept his car waving his baton resolutely. He must
be expecting to see a drunken man driving the car. He examined Rudnev
and his traveling companion suspiciously and studied his certificate of
employment and driving license for a long time.
'Why did you break the speed limit? You were driving at a speed of over
one hundred kilometers!' Then the militia man softened his tone and joked,
'you must have been escaping from your wife, professor!'
'You won't be able to escape from your wife, comrade lieutenant even when
you drive at the speed of two hundred kilometers!' Alexander responded.
'That's true,' the pleased man hemmed. 'They haven't invented anything
yet to help the man caught in the act by his wife to help him escape from
the scene of the crime.'
-I am sorry. I'm ready to pay the fine.
The lieutenant scratched his head. He looked at the frightened Aliona
and said, 'OK. You may continue your journey. It's not proper for me as
a student of the Law Faculty who studies by correspondence courses to
fine a professor… '
Rudnev's hands shook after the stress they survived. The behavior of his
driver was a mystery he had to solve at any cost. Suddenly a guess flashed
in his mind like alighttning. He stopped at the side of the road.
'What's the matter?' Aliona asked him. She couldn't get rid of the feeling
they were still being pursued.
-Nothing is. I just want to check something.
Rudnev got out of the car and opened the boot. He stood there gazing inside.
Two minutes later the girl got out of the car and saw a terrible picture.
There was an axe similar to those used to cut carcasses at the butcher's
and two plastic bags that a person's body could fit into.
'Are these yours?' Aliona asked. She looked at Rudnev's face and realized
her question was foolish. She started shivering. 'Alexander Nikolayevich,
did they want to kill us?'
Rudnev kept silence. He didn't want to scare the girl. However, it was
too evident what the things he found in the boot were meant for. The driver
and the strangers who were waiting for them at the country road must have
acted in collusion. They must have planned to trap Rudnev and his traveling
companion to some abandoned place, to kill them, to cut their bodies,
to pack them into plastic bags and throw into some swamp.
The driver never arrived at work. The attempts to find him took Rudnev
nowhere. It seemed the man had vanished into thin air. It was clear he
had been hired by someone and now when the attempted murder failed he
had disappeared from anybody's view and could be hiding somewhere abroad.
Who were the people who wanted to kill Rudnev? The question hasn't still
After the terrible incident Rudnev wrote his poem 'The troika of life.'
Cooperation with the International Personnel Academy was developing increasingly.
Very soon several IHEI employees submitted their theses for defense in
Kiev. Aliona Tsareva became candidate of jurisprudence. In a short space
of time the girl made such a great progress that even Rudnev who was her
research advisor could hardly believe this. One day he told the girl,
'It seems to me, Aliona Mikhailovna, the position of the secretary doesn't
suit you any.'
'Do you want to dismiss me?' the girl asked anxiously. 'I must admit I
have neglected my work a bit because of the work over my thesis but I
promise to set things right. Just give me some time!'
-You have misunderstood me. I just meant it's too big a luxury to have
a candidate of sciences as a secretary. You're past the stage for the
post. I offer you the position of the deputy director general.
He saw unfeigned horror on Tsareva's face.
'Your deputy?' she specified. She couldn't believe here ears.
-But I won't cope, I'm afraid!
'If you don't I'll fire you without any severance payment,' Rudnev repeated
the joke he said once.
-What are other employees going to think? There are many scientists at
the institute who have a wealth of experience and who have every reason
to be given this position of responsibility.
'You are quite right. You don't have a lot of experience at the moment.
Nevertheless, when you worked as a secretary you went deep into details
of university activity and you know the employees quite well As far as
organizational skills are concerned you certainly don't want any. Besides,
you know…,' Rudnev made a pause thinking how to express his idea in a
more accurate way so that Aliona wouldn't misunderstand him. 'You see
I need an energetic and trustworthy assistant I can rely on. I've become
extremely tired. I'm not going to conceal I'd like to shift some of my
duties onto my deputy. Frankly speaking, I can't think of a more appropriate
person than you are…'
The news that Aliona Tsareva was nominated deputy director general swept
over the institute. Female employees keen on gossiping made a conclusion
there was some intimacy between her and the director general. Things started
moving! One woman said she saw Rudnev and Tsareva kissing. Another one
asserted they had lived together for a long time. The most 'competent'
ones whispered Aliona gave birth to a boy and that they were hiding the
baby from people at her mother's. They considered Rudnev's love lyrics
to be the most persuasive argument. His collection of poems 'It is Belarus
that I love' sold like hot cakes.
'It is impossible to think up unearthly love,' institute employees who
considered themselves to be good at psychology persuaded and recited Alexander's
Those who were skeptical objected to them, 'The poem says about love for
God rather than about love for a woman. You know Rudnev can't live a day
without a prayer. There are icons and the Bible on his desktop.'
'What does God have to do with this?' supporters of earthly supernatural
love defended their opinion. 'Just consider this line, 'Unearthly love
awakens passion in early spring…' Love for God is Platonic while these
words contain some sinful meaning!'
To confirm their guesses young female employees who used to be on friendly
terms with Aliona Tsareva's tried to learn the secret of Rudnev's soul
from her. They failed, however because Aliona started to treat friendly
relations in a stricter and more scrupulous way after she was appointed
deputy director general. No one could reproach her with arrogance that
many people display after they get promoted. Rather, she remained a natural
and open personality. However, she tabooed any talks about her private
life or the life of the director general. One of her friends persisted
in drawing her out.
-I don't understand why you hide your feelings!
- I am surprised at you. Both Alexander Nikolayevich and I are in the
public view all day long. Why should we hide from anyone?
The female employee went away empty-handed. The gossip about intimacy
between Rudnev and Tsareva were not proved and died away gradually…
The news that the International Personnel Academy was going to organize
an exposition devoted to the IHEI agitated everyone. Although the exposition
was not to affect the future of the institute in any particular way each
of the employees considered this to be a great honor. Departments at the
institute boiled up with ideas. This was the unity of people Alexander
Rudnev dreamt about when he established his institute. The institute was
on the brink of being closed more than once through opposition of officials.
Several generations of teachers changed throughout these years. Those
who were weak left after they faced difficulties while the strong ones
were only hardened by all hardships. As a result, the institute was similar
to flint that could be used to strike fire and that was impossible to
The exposition of the International Humanitarian and Economic Institute
aroused sincere interest with Kiev inhabitants. Teachers and students
of higher educational establishments as well as common people visited
it, asked their questions and marveled.
-I didn't think you have any private higher educational establishments
in Belarus. Ukrainian media write that you had Soviet system restored,
that students are sent to rural areas to help harvest potatoes every autumn
and that they are sent to work in some provinces without fail after they
Alexander Rudnev acknowledged some of this was true as far as state education
system was concerned. He pointed to the fact that besides stet establishments
there are also private higher education establishments.
People were most interested in education fees at the IHEI. When they found
out that parents whose children studied at the day department had to pay
only 700-800 dollars a year while those who had education by correspondence
paid only 450 dollars as fee people found this hard to believe as education
fees were much higher in Kiev.
'May I send my grandson to study at your institute? He's an orphan. I
am the only one to take care of him. I save some money every month. However,
when he enters some institute in Kiev my savings won't be enough to pay
for a year. My grandson is very clever…,' an old woman kept asking.
'He may enter our institute. It's not nationality that is important. The
main thing is he should do well in his studies,' Rudnev said.
One of the days the exposition was visited by Leonid Kravchuk. Rudnev
couldn't believe his eyes. He couldn't even imagine the president of the
country would visit this common event. At first he thought this was the
president's double because he didn't observe any agitation that accompanies
movement of the Byelorussian head of state. When a new cinema was opened
in Minsk security officials searched every corner in the district. It
was more difficult to get to the cinema that to Lenin's mausoleum.
After he watched the exposition Leonid Kravchul came up to Rudnev and
shook his hand.
-Well done! There aren't many institutes like yours in Ukraine…
When he was saying goodbye he asked Rudnev, 'Do you know Shushkevich?'
-Of course I do, Leonid Makarovich. We taught at the same university.
-Give him my best regards!
Rudnev made use of the right to supplement the list of disciplines approved
by the Ministry for Education with course at the institute's discretion
and experimented constantly displaying surprising insight. His innovations
were frequently treated by officials and his colleagues with skepticism
and even rejection. However, after a year or two passed the specialties
tested at the IHEI were included into educational package of other higher
educational establishments. They became extremely alerted at the Ministry
for Education when they found out the International Humanitarian and Economic
Institute rendered assistance to the school of catechists and introduced
a course of lectures 'The fundamentals of Christianity.'
'Alexander Nikolayevich, do you remember church is separated from state
in Belarus?' the head of the department expressed his anxiety. 'You'd
better render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. Let the Higher
Ecclesiastical Academy train priest while we train specialists in secular
-Gentlemen, when are we finally going to learn to think in a dialectical
way and to separate tops from roots? Christianity defined the spiritual
atmosphere our ancestors lived in for two thousand years. The faith in
God was transferred from generation to generation on genetic level. It
didn't die away even at the time of militant atheism when through thoughtlessness
of Bolsheviks they destroyed churches and temples and sent bells to be
melted. The difference was that people hid it deep inside rather than
flaunted it. The socialist state was well aware of this so it never depreciated
the role Christianity played in the development of civilization. The course
'Fundamentals of Christianity' is a section in the studies of our history.
I mean the history that was suppressed and distorted due to some ideological
reasons. Thanks God times have changed so our duty is to remove these
The new course caused a stir among students. Lectures were given by a
young priest who came to the institute in appropriate priestly vestments
that of interest to students in itself. Lectures were held in the assembly
hall that was always crowded. Teachers who gave others subjects complained
to Rudnev, 'Alexander Nikolayevich, will you shift the course 'Fundamentals
of Christianity' to evening time or to weekends. It's impossible to work
because students seem to disappear in a split second to listen to the
lectures. We wonder what this priest entices them with.'
Rudnev advised, 'You should go and listen to his lectures, too. It wouldn't
be a bad thing to learn elocution and the skill to reason your thoughts
from this man.'
One day the priest was accompanied by metropolitan Philaret to the institute.
The news swept over the corridors of the institute like a lightning. Rudnev
hastened to meet the distinguished guest. He congratulated the metropolitan
and said, 'Your Eminence, I deeply regret you haven't warned us about
your visit so that we could meet you properly.'
-You do an honor both to me and the Byelorussian Orthodox Church by paying
so much attention to studies of the history of religion. We're going through
hard times. After the tragic collapse of the great power and the change
of the social and political system that followed, millions of people lost
their moral guidelines. This may bring about spiritual discord. The frauds
who distort the teaching of Christ by preaching sectarianism make use
of this. People go to church because they follow fashion rather than dictates
of their souls. You're doing a virtuous cause helping lost sheep to follow
the straight and narrow. When officials from the Ministry for education
found out about the visit of the metropolitan to the International Humanitarian
and Economic Institute they reprimanded Rudnev, 'How did you venture to
neglect ideological guidelines. Your meeting with the metropolitan is
a challenge to authorities.'
-It's a hint rather than a challenge. One shouldn't assume attitude to
official ideology as a basis for state policy. Dissidents shouldn't be
prosecuted. Church does not alienate non-believers and those who doubt.
On the contrary, it tries to attract them and to bring them to their senses
by the teaching of Christ. Alexander Rudnev's forecast turned out to be
prophetical. Some years later the Ministry for Education made an agreement
about cooperation with the exarchate of the Byelorussian Orthodox Church.
The parties agreed on an extensive program of joint activities aimed at
spiritual education of the youth.
Rudnev was planning to celebrate his fiftieth anniversary privately. However,
the leadership of the institute talked him into timing the celebration
to the festive meeting devoted to the IHEI being admitted to the International
Personnel Academy. Alexander invited Philaret to the festive occasion.
-Dear Alexander Nikolayevich, I know about the anniversary and I am sure
to come to congratulate you and give my blessing to your future deeds
to the glory of God. Let me ask you where you are going to celebrate this
Rudnev was confused. It would be extremely awkward to receive such a distinguished
guest at home.
-Your Eminence, I was sure I was not worthy of the attention of the distinguished
person like you so I tried not to bother you with my everyday affairs.
Let me bring you the invitation in person. I'll be happy to see you at
this modest occasion.
They had to organize a stand-up party hastily. Several ambassadors, famous
scientists, deputies, businessmen and popular actors came to congratulate
Alexander. It wasn't a secret to anyone that the metropolitan was on the
list of guests. That is why the man's absence gave rise to whispering.
It runs in our people that even among those who're disposed favorably
towards you there's always someone who is be glad when you have some misfortune.
-When Rudnev invited Philaret he exposed himself. He is not the person
who is visited by the head of church without ceremony.
-Yes, that's an awkward situation, indeed.
-I say one gets what one deserves.
-Philaret may be delayed by some business.
-That's highly unlikely. I hear the metropolitan is forbidden to visit
-Have a look at Rudnev. He's looking around as if he still hopes for something.
What an odd fellow he is!
Suddenly everyone started whispering, 'Look, he's coming!'
The metropolitan was advancing the hall with measured step nodding to
greetings. He was followed by a young monk who carried a huge bouquet
of flowers. Philaret approached the table where Rudnev sat and presented
him the flowers.
-Dear Alexander Nikolayevich, let me congratulate you on your anniversary
and wish you to live a long life for the benefit of your relatives and
your Motherland. Your work aimed at educating youth in Christian traditions
deserves respect and support…
The congratulation of the metropolitan full of figures of speech and references
to the Bible turned into a brilliant sermon. Everyone listened to him
with bated breath and envied Rudnev. The behavior of Philaret whose every
step was in the public eye was hard to take in. The authorities didn't
display much consideration to Rudnev. On the contrary, he belonged to
those people who were prejudiced against. It goes without saying the metropolitan
was well aware of this. He also knew that his presence at the birthday
of the disgraced scientist would be reported to his leadership. Nevertheless,
he found it possible to come though he could confine to sending a letter
of congratulation and a bouquet of flowers.
When people come across some phenomena they fail to understand they're
frequently inclined the exaggerate them, to see some implication and presage
of events to come. Rudnev's guests were not the men in the street who
were unable to consider facts. Neither were they na?ve dreamers who believe
human life doesn't depend on external factors and who think each of us
may define their behavior. They patterned their behavior on the Scylla
and Charybdis of the order established in the country, on 'may' and 'must'.
Only outspoken fools or those who are allowed to break laws and unwritten
rules are guided by the saying, 'If you aren't allowed to do something
but you're eager to then you may do it.' The metropolitan belonged to
neither group so his behavior gave rise to incredible rumors.
Hardly had the guests discussed the visit of the metropolitan when delegations
from Orthodox parishes in Zhitkovichy and Kalinkovichy arrived. They presented
the hero of the occasion with huge round loaves of bread and bouquets
of flowers. They wished Alexander to live a long life and told about the
assistance he had rendered to them for many years. The fact convinced
the guests some serious changes were in the offing in Rudnev's life…
The thoughts of the hero of the occasion were far from the sinful Earth.
He even didn't guess about the gossip of the guests. He took faith in
God in with his mother's milk and kept it hiding carefully from his father's
anger who considered church to be the breeding ground for obscurantism.
He concealed his faith from party officials in the period of militant
atheism. At last, he acquired the freedom of spirit that enables one to
communicate with God freely. The value of this freedom is disproportionate
to any creature comforts. He came home after midnight and he couldn't
fall asleep until morning replaying in his mind the speeches of the metropolitan
and fathers superior that had excited him to the innermost of his heart.
In the morning one could see a piece of paper with a new poem on the table.
After he re-read the lines written without a single correction Alexander
couldn't even say for sure whether the poem had written by him or dictated
Rudnev wasn't surprised by the call from the TV Company 'Belsat'. The
day before several newspapers had published his interview and articles
to do with the education reform that had already made a proverb. Throughout
the period of state independence just about everyone got down to it. First
they introduced lycee classes at school, and then they cancelled them.
They argued for the ten-mark system of knowledge assessment only to require
getting back to the five-mark system they were accustomed to later. Some
considered knowledge of pupils and students could be estimated objectively
only by means of a hundred-mark system. There was no unanimity as far
as the length of education at secondary school was concerned. After they
rejected ten-year secondary school together they started arguing whether
they should introduce eleven-year or twelve year secondary school. Educational
package was amended almost every year. Liberal arts suffered most. Every
new minister considered his duty to conduct inspection of the literature
studied. When doing this they were guided by their tastes and likings.
It came to many outstanding writers being left out of the curriculum while
their place was taken by 'neo-classics' raised to the level by the authorities.
Ill-considered experiments of officials displeased pupils and their teachers
and had an adverse effect on the standard of knowledge. However, itching
for reforms incited the ministry to new adventures. Rudnev considered
the reform carried out as an impasse. Rudnev called to stop it and return
the best achievements of the Soviet school. He also suggested controversial
issues to be submitted for consideration of the general public. Well-reasoned
publications attracted attention of the presenter of the talk show 'Forum'.
He invited Rudnev to participate in the discussion on ways of reforming
Alexander was well aware that the TV Company 'Belsat' is considered to
be a hostile one by the Byelorussian authorities. The company was established
with the support of the European Union and the USA and was funded by the
government of Poland. Its aim was to ensure objective coverage of domestic
political situation in Belarus. The company didn't obtain any official
accreditation. Programs are broadcast from Warsaw via the satellite 'Sirius'.
When David Rotman found out about the offer he said, 'Sasha, you shouldn't
agree. It'll come to a bad end!'
-I'm not going to stick to any anti-Byelorussian position. On the contrary,
I want to warn the state against ill-considered borrowing of foreign experience.
By the way, the president is also concerned about the situation.
-This is fraught with serious consequences, anyway. Everyone who participates
in 'Belsat' programs is kept tabs on. You've been kept under close surveillance
for a long time.
-Well, I shouldn't be afraid, then.
The talk show was based on polemics between two teams. The team of the
International Humanitarian and Economic Institute with Alexander Rudnev,
Aliona Tsareva and the pro-rector of the institute was opposed to by the
team of the European Humanitarian University headed by pro-rector Vladimir
Dunayev. The team from Minsk defended the national system of higher education
with amendments stated in Rudnev's publications while the team from Vilnius
supported 'Bologna system' confirmed by all European Union states in 1999
as the single higher school pattern.
Figuratively speaking, IHEI representatives had to be a visiting team
playing the role of outsiders. The label 'preserve of socialism' pinned
on Belarus abroad was transferred automatically to its higher school.
Awkward reforms merely increased the negative public opinion about the
education system of Belarus. It was considered this education didn't meet
international standards and that graduates of Byelorussian higher educational
establishments had no future. 'Bologna system' with its emphasis on inducement
of students to study disciplines on their own and on creative perception
of the knowledge given by teachers was seen as an ideal. The EHU team
was a host at the programs. The university had worked in Vilnius for three
years and had business contacts with leadership of all European states.
Its rector Anatoly Mikhailov is by right considered to be an outstanding
philosopher of the present. When leaders of the European Union paid official
and business visits to Lithuania they considered it their duty to meet
students of the European Humanitarian University.
'You've been chosen to play the role pf a whipping boy,' his friend kept
talking Rudnev out. 'I have no doubts Vladimir Dunayev will choose offensive
tactics. Bear in mind that he is a great speaker.'
-I know Dunayev quite well. We used to be friends.
-Well, the audience is going to support the EHU. Emotional support is
very important when you have polemics. The presenter of the program is
a teacher of the EHU so he is sure to play up to his bosses. He is an
expert at this. You are quite experienced but I'm afraid your assistants
are going to lose their heads under stress.
Rudnev listened to Rotman very attentively and even agreed with him. It
was clear, nevertheless, he had his own view of the forthcoming discussion.
Still, he didn't show his cards even to his friend.
-Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
-Well, take care. I've warned you!
Everything Rudnev's friend cautioned him about came true. Vladimir Dunayev
and his assistants appeared in the studio with an air of victors. The
audience consisted solely of EHU students and lecturers who greeted their
leadership enthusiastically. Alexander and his colleagues were met as
if they were some provincials. The presenter was doing his best to display
impartiality. There was no doubt, however, he had submitted to Dunayev
all awkward questions for approval.
The unwritten rule ordering to give the guests the floor was broken. The
hosts were the first to speak. A refined intellectual Vladimir Dunayev
spoke very persuasively. It followed from his speech that the Byelorussian
higher school had taken a back seat a long time ago and that it was highly
unlikely to struggle out from there to follow the high road as long as
the current regime existed. After describing vividly advantages of the
'Bologna system' he decided not to deal the final blow to his rival. He
merely sympathized with his opponents who had to trade off 'old goods'
to their students.
Rudnev noticed the faces of the pro-rector and Tsareva strained. The audience
saw this, as well. Everyone expected to see a sort of corrida where the
part of the bull doomed to death was assigned to the guests.
After Vladimir Dunayev finished his speech the presenter made a pause
similar to those people make when they savor some good cognac and came
up to their table.
-Now let's listen to the team of the International Humanitarian and Economic
Institute. By the way, why is it called 'international'? Alexander Nikolayevich,
are there any foreign investors among the founders of your institute?
-Unfortunately, there aren't any. We're not so lucky as our colleagues
from the EHU that is financed by the whole of Europe. The IHEI is funded
solely by students. Moreover, education fees at our institute are much
lower than at the EHU and stet higher educational establishments. The
title 'international' was assigned to the institute for what Vladimir
Alexandrovich Dunayev called 'third-rate goods' - for knowledge we provide
our students with. The title was assigned to us by the International Personnel
Academy whose competence is undisputed here, I hope…
'Of course…,' the presenter agreed ineptly.
'We don' argue,' Rudnev continued, 'the 'Bologna system' to have a lot
of advantages. Moreover, we make an active use of many of its components
at our institute. We stake on creative ways of teaching. All teaching
aids the students are supplied with at the IHEI have their electronic
versions. This enables us to give classes by correspondence. The institute
hosted a number of international conferences to do with pressing problems
of foreign and domestic policy where leading scientists from different
The confidence Rudnev began his speech with was disliked by the opponents.
They began whispering to each other.
-… So you see that even though we had taken a back seat we do our best
not to leg behind progress despite the fact we're under the pressure of
the Ministry for Education that regulates every step of our institute…
After the exchange of views it became clear the discussion wasn't going
the direction the presenter planned. The man got nervous. He either sat
on the edge of the improvised stage and thus slipped out of the field
of vision of the TV cameras or walked over the stage making cameramen
chase him. They gestured him to calm down and to take the place stipulated
by the scenario but the presenter didn't notice their signals…
The EHU team was given the floor once again.
-We're glad our colleagues from Minsk are successful. They deserve every
respect. However, it cannot be denied that under the authoritarian regime
that is firmly established in Belarus they cannot make full use of their
creative potential. They are in the Procrustean bed of numerous restrictions
so they have to follow a strictly defined direction. Instead of independent
interpretation of the world processes students have to repeat the official
ideology of the Republic of Belarus parrot-fashion at their lectures.
I got acquainted with the book, gentlemen. The notorious Stalin's 'History
of the Communist Party' is the crown of the thought as compared to the
Vladimir Dunayev raised a course book in ideology over his head addressing
-As far as I'm concerned I don't read any books of the kind!
Rudnev's words made the audience burst out laughing. Some people started
-Yes, I follow the advice once given by the famous professor not to read
any Soviet newspapers before and after a meal.
-Are you going to deny the fact the course in stet ideology is included
into the educational package?
-It is, indeed. However, why do you think that our students repeat ideological
postulates from course books parrot-like? The skill of the teacher who
has to work under tough control reveals itself in his ability to help
the student look into the essence of some thesis without denying it openly.
This is the example of the creative method that you appreciate so highly.
-Do you mean you train oppositionists at your institute?
-God forbid! Colleague, I don't advise you to, either, although the EHU
is widely thought to be engaged in this.
The audience started to applaud again. People were evidently in favor
of the team of the International Humanitarian and Economic Institute.
-I appreciate our youth deeply. I am sure young people are able to come
to the point as far as the Time of Trouble they live in is concerned.
Students should have their universities of life neither in the squares
opposition parties push them to nor abroad where you invite them persistently.
They should stay in their own country and see life as it is…
-We've been driven out of Belarus!
-They did so because the EHU took the path of direct confrontation with
the authorities although even the European Union that funds your university
is more inclined to the need to have dialogue rather that to put forward
any ultimatums. You should read Lenin who wrote about the need to compromise.
Some dictators are cleverer than democrats!
-Gentlemen, you are becoming personal. Stop it!
The presenter tried to interrupt Rudnev. The latter protested.
-Why do you deny me the right to finish my thought?
-Because I'm the presenter.
-If you are a presenter than I must be a Zhirinovsky!
Now the whole of the audience applauded to Alexander Rudnev who took the
initiative from that moment onwards. The presenter did his best to turn
back the discussion but speeches of members of the IHEI team sounded much
more convincing than those of the EHU representatives. The talk show ended
in complete triumph of Rudnev's team.
It goes without saying the show was recorded so when it was edited the
director managed to smooth over the most critical moments. The program
that was broadcast later didn't depict clear superiority of the International
Humanitarian and Economic Institute over their rival. However, the organizers
of the show didn't manage to present any show flogging they planned to.
When David Rotman watched the debate on TV he admitted, 'I must confess
you were right, old fellow.'
Men and women treat their age in a different way. When women notice first
grey hairs they get terrified and panic thinking their life is nearly
over. Men, on the contrary, are glad when they go grey because they think
this makes them more imposing and attractive in women's eyes. Men aren't
scared by wrinkles on the bridge of their nose or by the weight they gain.
Only those men who belong to the celebrities of show business rejuvenate
themselves with the help of esthetic surgery. Most women of society who
have enough means available consider esthetic surgery to be a must. Even
numerous publications about the danger of competition with nature fail
to keep them off the aspiration to look younger. The attitude to intimacy
is just as contrary. The popular view that 'she's fresh and sporty on
the wrong side of forty' isn't frequently confirmed in practice. Most
women grow tired by the time. They find peace of mind to be much more
important than joys of the body. This frequently results in family dramas.
Even loving wives think they have completely fulfilled their function
of a lover so they devote themselves solely to the duties of a host and
a mother and thus make their husbands who go through the second peak of
sexual activity feel extremely displeased. Unlike women men try to escape
from their age in bed because potency for them is the best proof of their
second youth. The indifference of the wife who does her matrimonial duty
honestly but who doesn't display the former inventiveness pushes ordinary
men to find a mistress. Those who are more refined and inspired find satisfaction
in Platonic love.
Alexander Rudnev belonged to the second group. Although he was not indifferent
to sex he never put it first in his life. He was one of those few men
who acknowledge friendship between a man and a woman. This made their
relations with Aliona Tsareva harmonious and sincere.
Many employees of his institute whose speculations about the sexual affair
between Rudnev and Tsareva failed to be confirmed must be viewing him
as a somewhat eccentric Don Quixote who was devoted to his ladylove. Those
who knew Alexander better regarded his attitude to Aliona as the one of
the loving father to his only daughter. These people were closer to the
truth in their guesses. Outsiders who were not in their secret didn't
even notice anything suspicious about the behavior of the director general
and his charming deputy. The only thing that might betray him was the
special warmth his eyes radiated when he looked at Aliona.
What did he see in her eyes?
…Alexander left his car at the familiar edge of the forest and was making
his way along a shady lane. The October was nearly over but delayed Indian
summer had won some lovely days over from autumn. The sun was shining
brightly. Confused spiders were spinning their webs recklessly. If it
hadn't been for the leaves of the trees that had got thin and the thick
carpet of crimson and yellow leaves under his feet one might have thought
it was August…
Rudnev knew the phone in his office was ringing incessantly and that his
daughter was worried to hear the endless 'The subscriber's phone is switched
off or out of the coverage'. He was aware his employees and friends were
running off their legs to find him and that Aliona who was signing her
name under the received greeting messages was lost in guesses where he
had gone. Let them be worried. He wants to be on his own. It's a special
day today, both cheerful and disturbing. He is sixty!..
Some invisible projector is reviving memories of his life. He's a bare-footed
boy who's escaping from his mother to the river Naut… He's hiding in the
bushed near Bondar's house waiting to see for the mean creature to be
punished for the death of his grandfather… He's walking to school knee-deep
in snow… He's marching on the drill ground dripping with sweat… He's pulling
sacks with cement too heavy to lift… He's holding his daughter in his
hands shaking with excitement on the porch of the maternity hospital…
He's crying bitterly leaning over dying Fred…
The memories make him cry.
… Defense of the thesis… Hospital… The institute… His mother's funeral…
The first recital… Grandson… Aliona…
The invisible film is over. Some bird singing over his head makes him
come to himself…
He is sixty…
'Now you are a pensioner, old fellow!' his inner self made a venomous
remark. 'Life is almost over. You must be frightened.'
-Not in the least. Who gave you the right to give me up? I'm still alive.
I'm not older than my students at heart.
-You're still swaggering, aren't you? It has always been like you. Others
resigned themselves, drifted and lived by no means bad, I should say,
while you constantly got involved in numerous political adventures. What
have you gained, I wonder? What you may expect in the future is a knoll
on your grave that will be overgrown with weeds in due course. The epitaph
on your gravestone will become obliterated by age and people will forget
who Alexander Rudnev was.
-They won't! I'm not sure if I go to Heaven but my name won't disappear
under the cover of time. It will continue in my grandson and will be kept
in the memory of my close people, in my poems and songs. That is why I'm
not afraid of death.
-You are. I see you're clinging to life. You have a young girlfriend you
devote your poems to. If it were your decision you would have sold your
soul to the Devil to bring back youth!
Rudnev was so furious with the sacrilege of his double that he automatically
looked around as if he was trying to find him to give a slap in the face.
There was no one around. Only birds filled the forest with their charming
songs glorifying life. It seemed to Alexander for a moment these were
angels who congratulated him on entering the new stage of his life. Once
again he heard music inside. He found a comfortable stub, produced a notebook
out of his pocket and started writing.
INSTEAD OF AN EPILOGUE
In conclusion we'd like to draw attention of the readers
to another peculiar feature typical of Alexander Rudnev's generation.
These people became a kind of a buffer between the generation of the Soviet
people and the generation of those who were born and whose personality
was made up in independent Belarus that hasn't decided on its political
and moral preferences so far. Their saying goodbye to the past is an agonizing
process. They cannot fully accept the ideals alien to them in many respects.
The process of their spiritual acclimatization in the post-Soviet period
could go less painfully if it didn't affect their family relations. Alexander
Rudnev and people of the same age repeated the fate of their great grandfathers
who were born in pre-revolutionary Russia and who couldn't understand
and accept the ideals of their children who were Komsomol members in 1920s.
His daughter Inessa, his son-in-law Dmitry and his grandson Alexander
have an entirely different view of life. The thought that their spiritual
paths will separate one day and they will live in different epochs afterwards
can't but frighten Alexander Rudnev. He doesn't have any opportunity to
prevent this so he displays this in his verses.
This is not merely lyrical poetry caused by a surge of emotions. In fact
this is an entreaty and an appeal to his descendants…
However contradictory Alexander Rudnev may seem he is an integrated personality
who has a code of the community of people bearing the proud name 'Byelorussians'
imprinted in him.