The Myth of Pavlik Morozov, Stalin's Poster Boy for Patriotism, Unravels





Julius Strauss, writing in news.telegraph.co.uk (Dec. 27, 2003):

Even by the high-octane standards of Stalinist-era propaganda, the storyline was a powerful one.

Pavlik Morozov was a handsome 14-year-old schoolboy who lived in a tiny Siberian village, never played truant, always did his homework and was polite to his teachers. He loved communism so much that when his own father broke the law he informed on him to the authorities.

When Pavlik's vengeful relatives found out, they sneaked up on him as he was picking berries in the woods with his little brother and stabbed him to death.

For generations the story of Pavlik the boy martyr was taught to tens of millions of schoolchildren throughout the Soviet Union.

The embodiment of fierce Soviet patriotism, he was pronounced Pioneer-Hero No 1 and elevated to the rank of communism's untouchables.

But now, 70 years later and more than a decade after communism fell, a quiet debate is raging over Pavlik Morozov that runs right to the heart of Russia's post-Soviet identity.

It has pitted a handful of human rights advocates scattered in the regions against the monolithic power of the Russian state: the country's supreme court and the FSB, formerly the KGB.

Anna Pastukhova, who works with the Russian human rights group Memorial in the regional capital, Yekaterinburg, said:"Pavlik is one of the cornerstones of the entire Soviet foundation. If Pavlik was faked it means the whole myth of the Soviet Union was faked."

For the Stalinist propaganda machine of the 1930s the story of Pavlik was too good to miss.

From the day he was killed, Sept 3, 1932, he was built up as a paragon of virtue and a model for the Soviet youth.

Four relatives of Pavlik - his grandfather, grandmother, cousin and uncle - were rounded up for his murder, hauled in front of a hastily convened regional court and charged with terrorism.

As hundreds of telegrams flooded in from around the country demanding that they be shown no mercy, they were convicted and shot. After the trial, the propaganda offensive began. The communist regime dubbed him Pioneer-Hero No 1 and erected statues in his memory. A collective farm was named after him, songs were composed in his memory and an opera was written about him.

Pavlik's village, the dirt-poor, one-street settlement of Gerasimovka, a day's drive east of Yekaterinburg, became a shrine to his memory and his virtue.

For more than 50 years, hundreds of thousands of Soviet children from all over the country were taken to the tiny schoolroom where Pavlik studied and instructed to emulate him. They were taken to the spot where he apparently died, now marked with a plaque surrounded by a metal fence.

In winter there was even a three-day ski contest in the village and the winner would be awarded the Pavlik Morozov prize. Today the heroism of Pavlik has been quietly dropped from the school curriculum, the buses no longer line up and Gerasimovka is once again dirt-poor.

The road to the settlement is deserted and the huge concrete letters erected to mark the Pavlik Morozov Collective Farm are crumbling.

Irina Yevdokimova, the director of the region's museums, said:"We used to have Pioneers coming here from all over the Soviet Union. For the past 10 years there has been almost nobody, only a few academics." For decades anyone who questioned the official version of the Pavlik story would receive a knock on the door or a phone call from the KGB warning them off.

But during the past decade a few solitary individuals have set out to probe the myth. The sketchy picture that has emerged is very different from the official version.

They have concluded that far from being a model schoolboy, Pavlik was a poor student and a troublemaker.

Some people say he could barely read. The one surviving photograph of him shows a malnourished, almost feral, child, a far cry from the strapping lad of the statues and portraits. The explanation for his heroic deed has also been discredited. His father had walked out on his mother when the children were still young, leaving her to bring them up as best she could.

In revenge, Pavlik's mother urged her son to inform on his father for allegedly selling sought-after documents granting permission to travel.

As for the boy's murder, no proper investigation was carried out. A secret police officer simply arrived in the village and arrested those he decided were the culprits, claiming to have found a bloody knife in the home of one of them.

In 1932, Stalin's infamous forced collectivisation, which resulted in the death of millions of farmers, was just getting under way. In the terror and uncertainty of the time, legal process, even when it was applied, was pared back to a bare minimum.

When the truth began to emerge, Inokenty Khlebnikov, a local man, wrote to the courts and asked that Pavlik's alleged killers be rehabilitated like hundreds of thousands of other victims of Stalin's purges. But in 1999 the supreme court ruled that the conviction was safe. The FSB refused to release the files on the case.

In Gerasimovka many local people, who spent decades believing in the Pavlik myth, are confused and defiant.


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