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10-08-2015, 22:07

Cultural Expression

The reality in the post–World War II Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe was somewhat different. Under Stalin, the Soviet cultural scene was a wasteland. Beginning in 1946, a series of government decrees made all forms of literary and scientific expression dependent on the state. All Soviet culture was expected to follow the party line. Historians, philosophers, and social scientists all grew accustomed to quoting Marx, Lenin, and above all, Stalin as their chief authorities. Novels and plays, too, were supposed to portray Communist heroes and their efforts to create a better society. No criticism of existing social conditions was permitted. Even distinguished composers such as Dmitri Shostakovich were compelled to heed Stalin’s criticisms, including his view that contemporary Western music was nothing but a “mishmash.” Some areas of intellectual activity were virtually abolished; the science of genetics disappeared, and few movies were made during Stalin’s final years. Stalin’s death brought a modest respite from cultural repression. Writers and artists banned during Stalin’s years were again allowed to publish. Still, Soviet authorities, including Khrushchev, were reluctant to allow cultural freedom to move far beyond official Soviet ideology. These restrictions, however, did not prevent the emergence of some significant Soviet literature, although au- thors paid a heavy price if they alienated the Soviet authorities. Boris Pasternak (1890 –1960), who began his literary career as a poet, won the Nobel Prize in 1958 for his celebrated novel Doctor Zhivago, published in Italy in 1957. But the Soviet government condemned Pasternak’s anti-Soviet tendencies, banned the novel from the Soviet Union, and would not allow him to accept the prize. The author had alienated the authorities by describing a society scarred by the excesses of Bolshevik revolutionary zeal. Alexander Solzhenitsyn (b. 1918) caused an even greater furor than Pasternak. Solzhenitsyn had spent eight years in forced-labor camps for criticizing Stalin, and his One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which won him the Nobel Prize in 1970, was an account of life in those camps (see the box on p. 168). Later, Solzhenitsyn wrote The Gulag Archipelago, a detailed indictment of the whole system of Soviet oppression. Soviet authorities denounced Solzhenitsyn’s efforts to inform the world of Soviet crimes against humanity and arrested and expelled him from the Soviet Union after he published The Gulag Archipelago abroad in 1973. Exile abroad rather than imprisonment in forced-labor camps was perhaps a sign of modest progress. But even the limited freedom that had arisen during the Khrushchev years was rejected after his removal from power. Cultural controls were reimposed, destalinization was halted, and authors were again sent to labor camps for expressing outlawed ideas. These restrictive policies continued until the late 1980s. In the Eastern European satellites, cultural freedom varied considerably from country to country. In Poland, intellectuals had access to Western publications as well as greater freedom to travel to the West. Hungarian and Yugoslav Communists, too, tolerated a certain level of intellectual activity that was not liked but not prohibited. Elsewhere, intellectuals were forced to conform to the regime’s demands. After the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Czech Communists pursued a policy of strict cultural control. The socialist camp also experienced the many facets of modern popular culture. By the early 1970s, there were 28 million television sets in the Soviet Union, although state authorities controlled the content of the programs that the Soviet people watched. Tourism, too, made inroads into the Communist world as state-run industries provided vacation time and governments facilitated the establishment of resorts for workers on the coasts of the Black Sea and the Adriatic. In Poland, the number of vacationers who used holiday retreats increased from 700,000 in 1960 to 2.8 million in 1972. Spectator sports became a large industry and were also highly politicized as the result of Cold War divisions. Victory in international athletic events was viewed as proof of the superiority of the socialist system over its capitalist rival. Accordingly, the state provided money for the construction of gymnasiums and training camps and portrayed athletes as superheroes.

 

 

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