I joined the Communist Party in 1966. This is how it happened. About a year after I started working in television, I was told, ''You are invited to be a guest of honor for the May Day celebration at the State Committee for Television and Radio on Pyatnitskaya Street.''
That was unimaginable. I did pretty good work, but an honor like that? I later learned the ulterior motive. Orders from higher up called for a young woman to represent the cinematographers who worked for television. There were three of us, and I was the youngest. I was selected.
I sat next to Georgy Ivanov, then deputy minister of television. He was a tough man and knew his work—he had worked in the Ministry of Culture before that. Everyone feared him. They knew that if he called them on the carpet, nothing but a few bones would be left. And there I was, sitting next to him.
There were speeches, people droning on and on. Suddenly he turned to me and said, ''Did you hear that Baskakov broke a leg?''
''The better question is whose.''
That joke swiftly made the rounds. Baskakov was the deputy chairman of Goskino, the state film committee and was known for his grim and harsh management style.
My time in the presidium with the big shots that day was the first—and, thank God, the last—involvement with these rarefied circles. But a few months later, the secretary of the Party approached me. He said, ''We've been given three spaces for new members in the Party. We want to propose your candidacy.''
''The Party? But I'm too young. I'm only twenty-five.''
''That's fine. They're trying to bring down the median age. They need young people. We've checked. You were always active in the Komsomol.'' That was true. At VGIK, I was the secretary for the Komsomol (Communist Youth League) in the cinematography department.
''Think about it,'' he went on. ''It's a serious step and a great honor.''
''They will. I've discussed your candidacy with the chairman of our Communist Party Committee. You're in graduate school. We need people like you.''
I came home and said, ''Papa, they asked me to join the Party.''
''I said that I'd consider it, but that, in general, I agreed.''
''Are you crazy? Why do you need to get involved in that shit?'' And he told me a joke, which works on a pun on the word vstupat, which means ''to join'' but literally ''to step in'': ''Rabinovich, did you step in the Party?'' ''Where?'' he replies, looking at the bottom of his shoe.
Father's reaction worried me a lot. He probably knew much more than me. At that time we knew little about the crimes of the Stalin regime, committed with the Party's participation. And we still had sweet hopes that Khrushchev's Thaw would build socialism with a human face.
''What do I do now? I sort of indicated that I accepted.''
To tell the truth, I myself sensed deep down that I was doing something wrong, but I didn't have the strength to say no. I knew that my refusal would have repercussions at work.
Father did not stand up for his opinion, and after a while he said, ''You know, maybe you're right. If you don't join, you won't get anywhere in television.''
At that time, I didn't know exactly what awaited me after I joined. I had always been a social animal and lived with the sense of belonging to the collective, to a common cause.
I was given the application form to fill out. They began preparing me. (Later they told me about an acquaintance who worked at a scientific institute. When he was told, ''We've decided to prepare you for the Party,'' he replied without a second's hesitation, ''Am I a pig that needs to be prepared?'' No one ever brought up the subject with him again.)
God, I had to get the approval from twelve levels of authority. I had to know all about dialectical and historical materialism, about the principles of democratic centralism, about the Communist Party leaders of other socialist countries, and other things I can't even remember now. After the eleventh test, I was accepted as a candidate for membership. That took a year. In late 1967, I was made a member. And in 1968, our tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia. I felt terrible.
I was a member of the Communist Party for twenty years. Should I have been? Or would it have been more honest not to join? Perhaps. I do know that otherwise I would not have gotten ahead in television. In an ideological organization like television, a camera operator who was not a Party member could never be promoted.
Joining the Party did not change me and did not keep me from understanding and evaluating what was going on or prevent me from acting on my own in the most important moments of life. I did not get muck on my shoes or anywhere else. Yes, of course, I watched the growing senility of the system, and I did not try to counter it or fight for it. In my wildest dreams, I could never have expected it to collapse on its own. We all felt that it would last forever or at least for our lifetime. I just tried to do my work well.
My job gave me a certain freedom. But freedom always has a price. My Party membership was my payment. Without it I would not have been able to work as a director. I probably would not have been allowed to defend my doctorate dissertation, and certainly I would not have been permitted to combine my television work with teaching at the Moscow State University School of Journalism for almost twenty years. That permission had to be renewed annually, and it was done grudgingly and had to be signed by the minister of television himself.
I was kept worrying that I would lose my Party card. The Party rules were stringent, especially in television. One of the cameramen was expelled from the Party for losing his card. Another one, however, was only chewed out for leaving his card behind on a beer barrel—he was the secretary of our Party organization. I couldn't understand why he was treated so leniently, but later I learned that he worked for the kgb. By then, I knew that practically every third person in the cinematography group worked for the secret police. In order to work for television, you had to have various clearances. I ended up having a clearance as well. I don't think I ever filmed anything that actually was secret or that I had information that might be of interest to potential spies. But I did often work in Star City, home of the cosmonauts; in the Kremlin; and in Baikonur, where the Russian spaceships were launched. A person needed clearance just to set foot in those places. I wouldn't have gotten that clearance without my Party membership.
Party meetings were routine, duller and more boring with every year. We treated them as inevitable events—medicine may taste bad, but if you want to live, you take it. If you want to work in TV, you go to the meetings. Almost everyone in the documentary studio was a member of the Communist Party.
The most difficult time in my Party life was the expulsion of Arkady Edidovich.
In 1981, Maxim Shostakovich, chief conductor of the Radio and Television
Symphony Orchestra and son of the great composer, stayed abroad instead of coming home to the ussr. News of his defection roared through the corridors of Ostankino like a bomb blast. In a totalitarian state, this kind of event had enormous ramifications. If a relative of a television staffer left the homeland (which was becoming more frequent in the 1970s), the person became a pariah—forced to accept a demotion or leave altogether. The person's coworkers also suffered: they had to demonstrate their moral condemnation in order to keep their own jobs. The Maxim Shostakovich incident made things much worse. From then on, if your relatives applied for immigration, you were in danger of being fired at any time—some people quit, some were dismissed. Natasha Dovgalyuk, whose daughter married the son of a Russian Orthodox priest in the United States, had to quit as department head and continue to work as an ordinary staffer.
And then lightning struck. Cameraman Arkady Edidovich's daughter was marrying an American. Arkady was deputy secretary of ideology of our local Party organization. What a nightmare! Everyone was whispering about it. I almost fainted when I heard, and I started imagining what would happen.
Misfortune rarely comes alone. Larissa, Arkady's wife, fell seriously ill. She also worked in TV and was a highly respected and creative editor in young people's programming. And Arkady himself had to go in for difficult surgery at the same time. They prepared almost three months for the Party meeting that would decide his fate. Party secretary Lev Dovgvillo spoke privately with all of us: ''Do you understand what this means! We have to fight back! This shames our entire studio!''
I knew that the question of expulsion would be raised at the meeting, and I was very worried about what to do. I couldn't vote against my comrade. My son, Seryozha, who was seventeen then, said, ''Just don't go! Get sick! You shouldn't be there.''
But I couldn't not go. At the meeting, I started to understand Stalin's Terror of the 1930s. Before, I used to think, ''How lucky I am! I was born when people no longer had to fear arrest, lie all the time, and betray their friends— all the horrors that my parents' generation had faced.'' And suddenly I myself had to experience pretty much the same thing, without threat of arrest or torture, of course.
I was flabbergasted to hear people who had worked with Arkady and me for twenty-five years demand him to condemn and denounce his daughter.
''American missiles are aimed at the Soviet Union and your daughter marries an American? How could you allow that?''
''How can I renounce my daughter?'' Arkady said. ''Her life worked out that way.'' (Incidentally, his daughter, Lena, and her husband, Carl, have a lovely family, now with two grown daughters. Lena is a lawyer, and they live in Los Angeles.)
There were four abstentions—I was one of them. The rest voted for expulsion. Dovgvillo, his eyes yellow with hatred, demanded, ''Let the ones who abstained explain their reasons.''
A representative of the Party Bureau of the State Committee for Television and Radio was present at the meeting. He had been my student in journalism school. He never worked as a journalist; he became a Party functionary instead. But there are all kinds of functionaries. ''No. That's their private business,'' this envoy of the higher-ups unexpectedly ruled.
When the meeting was over, no one came over to me. No one said a word, even though generally I was on very good terms with most of them and they had elected me chairman of the Cinematographers' Council.
I showed up at work the next day, and people avoided me, waiting to see how things would turn out. I expected a serious reprimand.
Natasha Yudina, a friend I could talk to, came up to me the next day and said, ''What have you done! Why did you do it? You didn't save him anyway. He was expelled—you knew that would happen. And now you won't be able to work here. You'll be fired.''
Why were we all so afraid? That fear must be contagious. We lived with it every single day, and there was no way to get rid of it.
For a while, my first husband and I lived in a communal flat. I was given a samizdat book—a manuscript of a banned book. I think it was Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward. I read all night, went on location in the morning, and forgot to lock the door. I was in a panic all day: what if one of the neighbors walked in and saw the banned literature? My mother always worried when we read samizdat (or tamizdat), which had been published abroad and then smuggled into the ussr.
Once one of Seryozha's friends made some silly amateur film joking about Lenin and Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the kgb. A fine topic indeed. His apartment was searched. Fortunately, he had managed to hide the film and then came to hide it in our place. I knew that the kgb could come at any time to search our place as well. So I took the film to a friend, and we flushed it down the toilet. It turns out there was a legal term, unitazirovanie, for our action. It meant ''destroying evidence by flushing it down the unitaz.''
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