MetrOpol Madness
An Independent Journal Explained
and Condemned
(with Exaggerations)


presented by
not literature!"

In 1979, Vassily AKSYONOV, Andrei BITOV, Viktor YEROFEEV, Fazil ISKANDER, and Evgeny POPOV edited and issued METROPOL, an independent literary almanac providing shelter for "homeless" Soviet literature, which could not find a place in offical organs. The lack of censorship and the wildcat nature of this venture provoked a firestorm of criticism from official sources.
Below we offer:

Introduction to Metropol
wherein the editors explain their project

Metropol Minutes
minutes of a Writers Union meeting
wherein the editors are hauled in and
raked over the coals

Pornography of the Soul
selection of official criticism of Metropol and its editors

Introduction to MetrOpol
The almanac Metropol represents all authors equally. All authors represent Metropol equally. The almanac Metropol is issued as a manuscript. It may be issued in print only in its current form. No additions or deletions are permitted.

The work of each author may be published separately with the permission of the given author, but no earlier than one year following the issuance of the almanac. Citation of the almanac is mandatory.

It may seem to some that the almanac Metropol arose against the background of a toothache. This is not so. The child is healthy, and all the authors are in a good mood.

Working in literature, we insist on this: there is nothing more pleasant or healthy for us than to create and to show off our creation; and the birth of a new almanac, one must suppose, is a holiday for everyone.

However, why has it arisen in precisely this form? This is a legitimate question coming from the lips of those not acquainted with certain peculiarities of our cultural life. It would not be too bold to say that this life suffers from something akin to a chronic ailment which might be described as either a "hostility to difference" or, simply, a "fear of literature". The dreary inertia which exists at journals and publishing houses leads to the appearance of an exaggerated sense of general responsibility for each "item" of literature, which is incapable of being not only what it should be, but even what it was yesterday. This general "responsibility" creates an atmosphere of stagnant, quiet fear, a tendency to make every "item" fit. Literature that doesn't fit is sometimes doomed to many years of homeless wandering. Only a blind man would fail to notice that the amount of such literature grows greater every year, and that it makes up an entire untapped, reserve layer of our native writing. (Our almanac consists, in the most part, of works well known to editors.)

The dream of the homeless is a roof overhead; and so "Metropol" is a cabin in the capital over the world's best "Metro". The authors of Metropol are writers who are independent (from one another). The sole thing that completely unites them under this roof is the recognition that only the author himself can answer for his work; the right to this responsibility seems sacred to us. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the strengthening of this feeling would be of benefit to all of our culture.

Metropol presents a clear, though not exhaustive, picture of the homeless layer of literature.

All who wish to read it are invited to do so with a pure heart.

We request that you refrain from sharp movements when turning the pages.
MetrOpol Minutes
Minutes of the Expanded Session of the
Secretariat of the Moscow Writers Organization
(22 January 1979)
to discuss the independent literary almanac "Metropol"

F. KUZNETSOV1reads the [almanac's] introduction, "appearing to be an agenda", and asks V. Aksyonov to say something about the almanac.

V. AKSYONOV in a calm voice speaks about the good intentions of the almanac's authors and compilers who, when they completed the almanac, took it to Stukalin2. He says: "The work by us, lazy people, went on sluggishly for the course of a year without any ruckus. But then we suddenly discovered the unbelievable attention being given our work by the leaders of the Moscow Writers Organization, and they forced events. On the next day, January 17, we brought one copy of the almanac. Our idea was to request publication of the almanac; we dreamed of a limited printing of, say 3,000 or even just 1,000 copies, and, of course, here, in our own country. If our request is refused, the almanac has already been published by us; it will remain published in the form of eight manuscript copies3 which people can read. It's kind of like a "jam session" among jazz musicians, when they play for themselves. But the point is that we want there finally to be an "unedited collection". You are all writers and you know what kinds of horrible demands publishers and editors often make. We have a single criterion--artistry, arising, of course, from our taste, which, naturally, cannot be irreproachable. The collection contains works by writers who have unjustifiably been left out of literature....We put together an almanac. We don't have a pile of paper, but an aesthetic product.
N. GRIBACHEV: Aksyonov thinks that aesthetics is connected to subjectivity?

F. ISKANDER5: He's saying that there are different tastes.

L. KARELIN6: And where are the other copies? Are people reading them?

V.AKSYONOV: Many people are reading them. We wanted to arrange a meeting of friends, a little literary party to announce the release of the almanac. But then all kinds of absurd rumors started to emerge. This is simply a meeting of friends. We invite you all to this--excuse the expression--drinking party. We're only afraid that there won't be enough appetizers for everyone.

F.KUZNETSOV: Who's going to be at this "party"?

V.AKSYONOV: I don't know. Our friends will come. In any case, we're not trying to make any kind of sensation out of it.

N.GRIBACHEV: What you're doing is the dissemination of samizdat.

E.POPOV7: Let me be clear. We wanted to take it to Stukalin, so what kind of samizdat is that?
M. BARYSHEV8: Is the text of the almanac in foreign counties?

V.AKYSONOV and all EDITORS (in unison): No!!!

M. BARYSHEV: You're sure that foreigners aren't sniffing around this?

V.AKSYONOV: There are 100,000 foreigners in Moscow. And already such a ruckus has been raised about it, but not by us...
F.KUZNETSOV (describes how he learned...about the almanac) This unusual thing and the form in which it was made worried us. This is not the NEP where you put out books by yourself. We decided to meet and talk with the comrades in a calm, friendly manner, since literature is politics. (He talks about the plots of the West, about the ideologic struggle, about the so-called "struggle for human rights".)

At first, Bitov and Popov advanced a formulation that I liked. About the struggle between conservatism and the new. This is a sacred matter, and there's the problem...And we invited them to work together. We said to them: come in under our roof and we'll make an excellent collection. This was at our first meeting. On the next day...we extended our hand to them and suggested that we work together, but Aksyonov refused.

V.AKSYONOV: You didn't suggest that we work together, but that we make [the almanac] together; but it's already done.

F.KUZNETSOV: And we saw that the comrades were sliding down a soap-covered slope. We presented them with four positions: (1) That their almanac contains a serious political error, bordering on a crime. Specifically, the contention that there is a group of persecuted writers in the USSR. (2) That jackal-journalists from the West shouldn't get involved. (3) That there be no dissidents in the collection. (4) That they don't make any ultimatum--either publish it or not.

We said all this before we'd even seen the almanac. And on the following day they brought the almanac.

Then two days later we found out--and about this they had kept silent--that they were planning their "meeting of friends" or "grand opening" for the 23rd. Erofeev9 said they were gathering the literary intelligentsia, directors, and writers so that they could officially announce the release of the almanac.

V.EROFEEV: I didn't say that.

F.KUZNETSOV: Or apparently read their ultimatum letter to Stukalin. That night I read the almanac and its ultimatum introduction.

V.AKSYONOV: You don't have to use the word "ultimatum".

F.KUZNETSOV: Fine. Already on the first page, in the introduction, it says: (1) That there exists a stratum of homeless literature; (2) That there's a copyright and collective guarantee; (3) And the addressee is obvious--the West. What, your "friends" don't know the peculiarities of our cultural life? Why did you write this sentence? We offered to work together with you. What kind of pit are you dragging us into? This is a political action with far-reaching goals. It's no accident that here in the almanac is the anti-Soviet Aleshkovsky10, who's left for Israel. Zhenya Popov...said that you were planning a breakfast for the 23rd, but Erofeev was talking about a "grand opening".

V.EROFEEV: I didn't say "grand opening".

F.KUZNETSOV: We couldn't reach agreement because we were talking different languages. Yes, there was pressure, but a friendly pressure, a pressure of persuasion. There was no screaming, insults, or threats. On the contrary, there were threats made to me....

It seems to me that in the almanac there are four leading tendencies: (1) criminality (Vysotsky); (2) boorishness; (3) altered consciousness; (4) sex.

We won't hide this from the people. The more people who read this, the worse it will be for them [the authors]. This is some kind of perverted literary mystification....Taken as a whole we don't get a picture of literary searchings, but a sinster picture.
N.GRIBACHEV: I'll tell you this as a veteran of Stalingrad. This is anti-Soviet propaganda. Blood is flowing in Iran, people are dying under Samosa, and here we are conducting conversations. Where's the innovation here?....This is politics. Because politics is life and literature is life. It's a whole complex. If this almanac is published in the West, we should make them face the people. Let them answer, and let their heads fly.
F.KUZNETSOV: (to Aksyonov) You should bring the eight copies to the Union.

V. AKSYONOV: We won't bring them, because then they'll disappear.

Y.ZHUKOV11: (Talks about "politics and literature" and about how some in the West want to split our society from within.) Maybe if the balance of forces in the world system were to change we could print this; then we would be strong and able to print any nonsense, including this. Aksyonov. I respect him as a writer, but I am constantly shocked by his indifference to the class struggle. Neutrality is not possible....This undoubtedly will be published in the West. A great harm has already been done. And who is to blame for this? This is a typical work of samizdat.

V.AKSYONOV: Doesn't it seem to you that if we expand our topics we will strengthen our culture and thereby knock a weapon out of the hands of our ideological opponent?

N.GRIBACHEV: There are writers who are expanding topics. Rasputin, Astafev.

V.AKSYONOV: This is one direction in our literature, and we're not fighting with it.
L.KARELIN: Taken all together, this is political diversion and a desire for a literary scandal. We gave you a chance to reconsider. We have no doubt that this will be published in the West. You were not honest with us. You didn't tell us that you had decided to gather together people and announce the almanac to them. A gathering of people is publicity; your gathering was necessary for publicity.
M.ALEKSEEV12: I'm not completely familiar with the almanac. But here's the situation. Construction a home, a good home where many different people are living. Then some writers came and described the cesspools and nothing else. Filth. Dirt oozes on the pages.....I reject [the authors'] sentence about the stagnation of literature. I was traveling across Russia with some writers and, honestly, without any propaganda, we were telling each other: how many good writers have grown up here where in general there was no written language before. Mustai Karim, Aitmatov. Take the State Prize for the past two years. Voznesensky, Astafev, Bondarev, Abramov. They are being printed, and well printed. And Aksyonov and Iskander. We are in a period of a successful, multifaceted development of literature. And our theater!...[Batkin13] was highly valued in the pages of Pravda recently. So where's the repression? We have a rich literature; and not everything that is written can be published. This has never and nowhere ever been the case.

V.AKSYONOV: So let us make our literature even richer.

BARYSHEV: ...This "literary cabin" was built under an extravagant title to hide a political diversion hostile to our nation, to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and to our policies. It's no accident that there is not a single Communist in the almanac.....The collection is aimed at the youth. This is ideologic heroin being palmed off as literature....I'm not sure that Moscow writers want to have you as colleagues in the Writers Union.
A. MIKHAILOV14: I want to support the note struck by Zhukov. The almanac should be read and widely discussed. Not so that there will be a "working over", but some comradely persuasion. Perhaps the compilers will listen to reasonable argument. (Mikhailov's modest words are met with some dissatisfaction on the part of the comrades.)
Y. KOZLOVSKY15: I am amazed at the benevolent atmosphere of this process. I respect Bitov, Aksyonov, and Iskander. Aksyonov is a great writer. And Voznesensky16 is a great poet. But how can he write a poem about the two-headed eagle if he's written about Lenin? He's a double-dealer. And Akhmadulina17 is a double-dealer. In My Geneology she wrote about a relative who worked in Lenin's apparatus.....I don't agree with the statement that there's nothing anti-Soviet in the collection. If an author writes that man is cattle and swine, this is profound anti-Sovietism, against which we, as citizens and Communists, will protest.
S.ZOLOTSEV18: I'm a young poet. At first I liked the idea of the almanac....But after opening the almanac I grew disenchanted...The cultural level of the poetry is low. This is a subculture, mass culture.
A. KULESHOV19: Literature has a very weak connection with this almanac...The introduction is a political manifesto, a political platform like in Western publications; and this almanac will definitely wind up in the West....We don't have to discuss [the authors] among writers, but we should do it at the factory. Let them face the workers. Their purpose is politics.
F.ISKANDR: The discussion started off in an atmosphere of good will. But it would be wrong to close our eyes to the situation actually existing in the editorial offices of journals and publishing houses. Mozhaev's book20 has been lying around for ten years. Books lie around for 10, 15, 20 years, and then the writer dies, and that's it. It's as if there never was anything...Here people are talking about the almanac's contents. But the essence of a writer lies in the fact that he is always dissatisfied. There is not a society in which things are fine for the writer, he is always searching.
Yu. DRUBINA21: Why do you have to drag naked pornography into literature? Why the sexual revolution?
F. KUZNETSOV: It would be naive to think that all is well in our Danish kingdom. But we are not complacent...We solve problems on different levels...I have a letter in which I. Zolotussky22 complains about the director of the Young Guard publishing house who made illiterate notations on his manuscript about Gogol. But is Soviet power to blame for this?...We have the best literature in the world in terms of honesty and the moral high ground....Here's my prediction: They'll have their "drinking party", then the "voices" will begin broadcasting, then the book will come out abroad, and we'll have a stern conversation with the authors, after which, they'll start crying about a cultural opposition, about the fact that there's no freedom, human rights, freedom of creation. But in fact, when you read the almanac, you see the progeny of hell. If you read the almanac, you get the sense of some type of Cambodia, not our country. We are demanding just one small step from you: don't hold your "grand opening party". Aksyonov has conducted himself not like a writer, but like a political leader. Everyone knows that you are not as transparent as glass, Vassily Petrovich.
(F. Kuznetsov reads the text of the Secretariat's decision):

A group of young Moscow authors under the leadership of V. Aksyonov prepared the almanac Metropol in an unhealthy circumstance. Well-known authors are presented in the almanac along with young writers and the anti-Soviet Aleshkovsky. The compilers have not hidden their intentions, publishing on the first page a manifesto-ultimatum. The compilers wanted to gather together literary and other circles in order to present their ultimatum about the publication of the almanac. They have firmly rejected all suggestions about cooperation. The Secretariat decrees:

1) To consider the almanac an impermissible, unprincipled matter contrary to the practice of Soviet literature in the character of its preparation, in its ultimatum character.

2) To require members of the Writers Union, the compilers and authors, to refrain from any personal or social activities leading to an enflaming [of the situation].

3) If the almanac is published abroad and the compilers or authors are responsible for these actions, to raise the question of their expulsion from the Writers Union.

4) To discuss and study the almanac at Party committee meeting as well as meetings of the creative sections.

5) To hold an open Party meeting on the topic "Ideological Work with Moscow Writers on the Example of the Almanac."

Voted on and passed unanimously.

1 Feliks Kuznetsov, 1st Secretary, Moscow Writers Organization.
2 Boris Ivanovich Stukalin, from 1978 to 1982 head of the State Committee for Publishing, Printing, and Book Sales
3 Actually, there were twelve.
4 Nikolai Gribachev, poet, prose writer, and editor of the journal Sovetskii Soiuz 1956-1991.
5 Fazil Iskandr, one of the editors and contributors to MetrOpol.
6 Lazar Karelin, prose and screen writer.
7 Evgeny Popov, MetrOpol contributor and editor.
8 Mikhail Baryshev, writer and chairman of the Moscow Writers Union Party organization.
9 Viktor Erofeev, Metropol editor and contributor.
10 Yuz (Iosif) Aleshkovsky, poet and prose writer who published works for children. He spent time in prison camps for a drunken brawl. His three poems in MetrOpol, including "Lesbian Song", are about camp life. He emigrated in 1979.
11 Yuri Zhukov, journalist, member of the Pravda editorial board.
12 Mikhail Alekseev, novelist and editor of the journal Moskva.
13 Leonid Batkin, Metropol contributor.
14 Aleksandr Mikhailov, literary critic and editor of the journal Literaturnaya ucheba.
15 Yakov Kazlovsky, poet and translator.
16 Andrei Voznesensky, poet and contributor to Metropol.
17 Bella Akhmadulina, Metropol contributor.
18 Stanislav Zolotsev, writer, critic, and translator.
19 A. Kuleshov, pseudonym of Aleksandr Nolle, childrens and science-fiction author.
20 Referring to History of the Village of Brekhovo, a series of satiric sketches written by Boris Mozhaev in 1968 but not published until 1990.
21 Yulia Drubina, poet and prose writer.
22 Igor Zolotussky, critic and writer.
Pornography of the Soul
Reviews of "MetrOpol"

"Trash, not literature; something
approaching graphomania."

(Rimma Kazakova, poet)

"...immoral doodlings...
...has no relation to literature."

(Grigorii Baklanov)

"The aestheticization of the criminal, vulgar lexicon of thieves,
this inside-out snobbism, and in fact the entire contents of the
almanac 'Metropol' contradict in principle the basic
humanitarian traditions of Russian Soviet literature...."

(Feliks Kuznetsov, 1st Secretary, Moscow Writers Organization)

"Pornography of the soul!"
Moskovskii literator

"We are not indifferent when a young writer writes about men's
and women's toilets...or about only drunkenness and sexual perversion...."

(Vladimir Gusev)

"A large part of the prose in the almanac creates a feeling
of shame, irritation, and a bitter awkwardness as regards its authors."

(Yuri Bondarev)

"The collection, judging from the style of its lead editorial,
was addressed to our ideological enemies abroad."

(Boris Polevoi)

"I think that a whole series of the almanac's authors...are simply
not writers and are incapable of producing professional literature."

(Sergei Zalygin)

"A good half of it is full of a type of criminal themes...
The rest of the material is a deviation from the work of professional writers."

(Sergei Narovchatov)

"I cannot imagine an American reader who would voluntarily
read this entire almanac. I couldn't do it."

(Grigorgii Baklanov)

"Metropol's sin is in the betrayal of the moral standard
which Soviet literature has achieved."

(Aleksandr Borshchagovsky)

"We don't intend to print it because it is not
a publication of an artistic level."

(Viktor Rozov)

"Clearly, unbelievable immoral behavior..."
(Rimma Kazakova)

"The almanac deserves the most decisive moral and ideological condemnation,
because the writers represented in it have played by the rules of a card-sharp,
not by the rules of a gentleman."

(E. Sidorov)

"...a hunk of sh*t."
(Yuri Verchenko, private conversation)

Translated by Eric Konkol

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