In Gorbachev’s Russia


“History should be honest and correct.”

—the historian Roy Medvedev, as written for the Moscow News

“History, like Leninist norms, should be honest and correct.”

—the historian Roy Medvedev, as rewritten by the Moscow News1

Moscow—There was a time not long since when the appearance of Roy Medvedev in the Moscow News would have clanged like the bells that signal revolutions. Moscow News is an official Soviet journal, and Roy Medvedev has until now been all by himself as an unofficial Soviet historian.

For more than two decades, he has been Russia’s main and perhaps only repository for critical studies of her history since the death of Lenin. He is the biographer of Nikolai Bukharin, whose short-order shrine as the one old Bolshevik immolated by Joseph Stalin is so far restored to official approval. Roy Medvedev and his twin brother, Zhores, collaborated on a study of the Khrushchev years, and he went on to write on Stalin and is now at work on Brezhnev.

Medvedev has always been barred from the state archives and has had to make do with the memories of survivors who had been allies or opponents or friends or family of his protagonists. He is to historians what Homer was to poets, the reservoir not of written but of oral tradition.

But now, suddenly, Roy Medvedev has found himself to his own small comfort articled to fashion by state decree. After the long years when his works were forbidden in Russia, Novisti, the state publishing monopoly, is offering to sponsor his Brezhnev, and Moscow News is soliciting his journalism.

And was his heart not warmed, a visitor wondered, to be free at last to speak to the fellow countrymen from whom he had so long been walled away?

“Not especially,” Roy Medvedev replied. He had submitted his article to Moscow News. “The first editor says he really likes it.” Then a second editor advised that several changes would be necessary. Twenty-seven lines were excised.

“Three days ago, a third editor came to show me the changes. It was not the article I’d written, and he reported that other members of the department said that they should change even more.”

The finished version was delivered last week; Roy Medvedev could examine the difference between what he had written and what had been printed. The process had consistently spared him all inconvenient labors with revisions in his own manuscript.

“It is difficult to understand why they make changes. Often it doesn’t make sense.”

The governance of tone still extends itself to excise the smallest suggestion of a deviant thought. There is every license to advocate the pursuit of truth so long as the race is run on Lenin’s track and Lenin’s rules.

Moscow News is one of the Politburo’s franchised expressions of the spirit of glasnost. Its editors are Soviet journalists who refused to swim with the brackish current of the Brezhnev years and rejoice in their new liberation.


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