INT: Right. Can I just go back again to the Thaw and ask you another question, which is: did you genuinely feel that a liberalization was taking place, or were you always constrained? Were there always elements in the society which were constraining that glimpse of freedom that you got?
YY: Could you repeat the question?
INT: Yes. ... It's really a question of how far there was a thaw - whether it was only a little change or whether it was a major change, and whether there were always elements in the Soviet society trying to prevent that liberalization, to stamp on the liberalization. Were you aware of that at the time, in the Fifties and Sixties?
YY: You know, the soul, the Russian soul, it was... how to say?... Let me find words... (Pause) If you could explain the nature of Russian soul, the character of Russian soul, it's... I couldn't find definition better than Lenin's, which was given in the Twenties for one of his articles: "One step forward, two steps back." So, and it was inevitable dualism inside Khrushchev's character. He was a father of soul, according [to] all official sources, but it's not true. I think the real mother of the soul was Russian poetry; because Khrushchev attacked Stalin in 1956, but poets of our generation began to write poetry asking for liberalization, longing, openly longing for freedom even in 1953, 1954. Even in some of my poems written in 1952, under Stalin's Regime, you could find this nostalgie. So... but it was traditional in Russia: all revolutions were born first in the poetry; and unfortunately reality of revolution was distorting ideals of our intellectuals. According [to] Carlisle's expression, all revolutions are thought up by the utopians, realized by fanatics, and used by scoundrels. And one man, sometimes one politician, could, unfortunately, perfectly combine all these three qualities in himself, in different periods of time, like for instance in Yeltsin, Yeltsin's life.
INT: But... to take your poem Stalin's Heirs, the presence of Stalin within the people at the time or within the bureaucrats in particular - I mean, it wasn't a real freedom, was it, in the Thaw: you still had controls, you still had constraints, you still had censorship, you still had bureaucracies who were trying to hold back, presumably because they feared the possibility of what would happen if things became too free. ... Where were Stalin's heirs in society? How would you describe their presence?
YY: It's very... What happened with my poem Stalin's Heir(s) - it's a very typical story, because when I wrote it, I couldn't publish it, and even most progressive editor of our magazine Novy Mir, Tvardovsky, he, with the gloomy irony typical for him, he said to me: "I am not fool. If I'll publish this poem, they'll close my magazine immediately, so I give you good advice, boy: hide this poem as deep as you could; otherwise you'll [be] immediately accused of anti-Soviet activities." But I began to recite my poetry publicly, with some big... sometimes there's big scandals, because part of the audience were leaving the auditorium. And I sent it to Khrushchev or his assistant, and I was waiting about seven months, probably, and afterwards I just discovered, being in Cuba as a poetical journalist for Pravda, that poem was published just one day before Caribbean crisis [sic]. And they... without my knowledge, they changed my word, because I was using "my Motherland doesn't permit me to keep silence", and they changed "Motherland" for "Party", and they explained me that I was very far and they couldn't ask my permission. So what happened is the bureaucracy, they already felt necessity of the changes, but at the same time they were badly scared of these changes, because the changes, they began to overtake them, their minds, and sometimes even their fears, and so they were trying to use us during the liberalisa... we were trying to use them, because as a very clever said, "It's impossible to make progress without help of reactionary people," and this is true generally in history, it was true in Russia, because it is... whereas they were trying to use us, we were trying to use them, because in their hands were all newspapers, all mass media, and through official newspapers, through official magazine(s), Russian writers said so many things. For instance, One Day in [Life] of Ivan Denisovich was published, my Babi Yar was finally published - they were attacked, but they were publisand people had possibility to read it, and we had giant circulation of our magazines and our newspapers in that time. And so that's why influence of literature was absolutely great at that time.
INT: Can you describe the atmosphere at those poetry readings? Just give me a description of what it was like.
YY: You know, I remember very well, of course, these readings, because I created them, I was the first poet who after Stalin's death began to recite poetry open(ly) in the schools, in the factori(es), in the colleges, everywhere, in offices, in little café(s). Sometimes I recited more ... I had more readings than days in the year. And we organized a giant poetry reading in the Mayakovsky Square once; it was about 35- or 40,000 people. And what I feel, you know, I've seen... I feel that [the] audience, it's my co-author who is writing poetry together with me, and I just voice of this voiceless people, that what I recite is their thought, their hopes, in... But I remember also so many sparks, beautiful sparks of hopes in young eyes. And if... I mean, Gorbachev, for instance, he told me one story: when he went to Moscow... he was with his wife - he was flirting, he was not yet married Raisa, and he was sitting as a student, and he was a little bit Party apparatchik, young Party apparatchik, and he said... when he heard poetry of our generation, my poetry, it changed him; it was first time that he became... feel as a different man. So are many people who were born, reborn because of Russian poetry. That's why our generation, it's so powerful, the generation of Sixties. That's... Gagarin is our generation. Sakharov a little bit older, but he belongs to our generation. Best poets, best writers, many great scientists. So... and that's why even older people who didn't take us enough seriously during our first step, because some of our poetry readings were connected with very glamorous scandals, as Shostakovich, they began to respect us, support us. Shostakovich created two of his great opuses with my words, and we didn't have monument for Babi Yar [at] that time, but Shostakovich('s) symphony, 13th Symphony, was a really great monument for all Jewish victims. When... and this, mm, (unclear) or premiere of this symphony was not only event of art: it was a political event. It was a great day for all Russia.
INT: Can I actually ask you to repeat one little bit, because... I missed just a bit. When you were talking about the audience, you said you saw in the audience a great spark of hope in their eyes, and you were expressing their hopes. If you could just possibly repeat that for me, just...?
YY: You know I once I wrote that I'm writer of those who don't write, and when I was performing, I felt that they are co-authors of my poetry. But I feel also that I write not only poetry, I write them, so I create them. But it was a mutual process, because they were creating me, because in my eyes were the same sparks of hope which I've seen in their eyes. And who was the first author, I don't know - it doesn't matter. You know, sometimes the history... I'm just very happy man - I could not complain about any...thing, because his... I don't know why, probably I didn't deserved it, but history choose me to be a poet of not only people: poet of the Cold War, who during Cold War gave a common message, a little bit Whitmanish message, which was heard not only in Russia, it was heard in many countries - even in the United States when I recited during Cold War my poetry in Madison Square Garden, which as you know, Americans... there's no American poet who recited... this person was reading his poetry. And I was attacked in Russia and I was attacked here. In Russia I was attacked on the stage. They were pushing me in some (p.?.) in Minneapolis from the stage; they began to... 12 people jumped on the stage, they began to beat... kick me with their boots; they broke two of my ribs. It was the same in Russia, when anti-Semites were attacking me. People who were brought up in the hatred - they were not prepared to love; they couldn't imagine their love... their life without hatred. I was like representative of potential love between peoples, and this is a role, great role of poets of my generation.
INT: Can we talk a bit about Khrushchev? Because you met him frequently through your career. Do you think that he was genuinely a reformer, he genuinely wanted that liberalization? And do you think that he was restrained by other forces which limited the degree of liberalization that he would have liked?