Dissidents are something of an easy target, I feel: marginalised by propaganda and repression for years, their emigration and ‘grandstanding’ alongside the democrats in the Nineties has not found the kindest response from those they purportedly serve. Guilty of spying, personal enrichment at the hands of the West, state treason, and the end of the Soviet Union (and all that entails), they have been denounced roundly, and are now the subject of parody (mocking imitation) and satire (social wittery).
Maksim Kantor’s Uchebnik risovaniia (2005) combines elements of both (on purpose?) through his ruthless vision of the post-Soviet liberal intelligentsia, and Vsevolod Benigsen attempts something similar on a smaller scale with his recent novels Genotsid (2008), Raiad (2010), andVITCH (2011). The latter, in particular, plays with ideas of emigration (interna/external) as Benigsen follows a middle-age liberal journalist as he traces what happened to friends involved in a samizdat magazine, who were forced to emigrate in 1979. The topos of emigration as the end of friendships and contacts/a new life is invoked as Tereshenko (the protagonist) realises that he still hasn’t heard from any of them despite how much time has passed. He eventually finds out that the KGB rerouted their plane from Berlin to a secret closed town in Central Russia, where they are still living to this day. Tereshenko is eventually used by some shadowy state bureaucrats to kick the dissidents out so the bureaucrats can build a luxury health resort. It is the painstakingly detailed imagining of dissident intelligentsia, however, that is the star of the show here. Benigsen’s use of stagnation cliches effectively recreates the dissidents into the sovok despised by the liberal intelligentsia. Unfortunately, much like Kantor’s mammoth 1500 page satire of the intelligentsia, Benigsen’s novel is sloppily worked out, contains far too many cliches and easy plot devices, to the point that it begins to smack more of literaturshchina than anything else
And on a related noted, several dissident ‘internet personalities’ have sprung up over the past year or so which are similar in this regard. The obvious one is a certain ‘Lev Sharansky’, whose name is loaned from Natan Shcharansky accompanied by an image of Solzhenitsyn. His LiveJournal and Twitter accounts are meme-tastic (in every sense of the word), and are biting parodies much like Benigsen.
Apparently run by pro-Kremlin bloggers, the LJ site has hosted the following: a ‘dissident’ pack of cards (the joker card is Berezovsky ‘Victim of the Regime); a music promotion video for Sharanksy’s diatribes which combines speedcore with the lyrics ‘Only Sharansky! Only hardcore!’ performed by an artist called ‘Cannibal Bonner’ (i.e. black metal band Cannibal Corpse/Elena Bonner) as indicative of Sharansky’s preference for American punk, hardcore, and death metal; announcements concerning Sharanksky’s political party, the ‘Konservativnaia Partiia Svobody Sovesti’ (KPSS ha-ha); the usual variety of internet racism and a fantastic breakdown of current images and ideas about dissidents (Solzhenitsyn’s changing positions on many issues are still far from the blog’s picture of him). It parodies intelligentsia customs by breaking the world down into an economy of ‘handshakes’ (rukopozhatie), which mocks the fractured and petty nature of the liberal opposition. A great breakdown of the subtleties in the recreation of Soviet dissidents can be found here. It has several ‘sister’ sites such as those of ‘Solomon Khaikin’ (the real-life Gennadii Struganov) and ‘Pravozashchitnye Izvestiia KPSS’, which contain similar material.