Виталий Шенталинский

The Russian writer and poet Vitaly Shentalinsky was born in 1939 in Siberia. He is the Chairman of the Committee for the Literary Inheritance of Writers. He grew up in a small town in Tatarstan, he studied at the Арктическое Морское Училище [Arkticheskoe Morskoe Uchlishche] or the Arctic Maritime Institute in Leningrad and at the Faculty of Journalism. As Pole explorer he wintered at the Wrangel Island and took part in five expeditions.

But Shentalinsky was best known by how he spent more than twenty years on investigating on how a large number of Russian writers were persecuted during the Stalin era. In 1995 he wrote a voluminous book with the title of The Slaves of Freedom. It became a trilogy, because in 2001 he came up with The Denunciation of Socrates, and in 2007 with Crime without Punishment. The three books are illustrated with rare documents and photographs from the archives of the KGB. The first two were in French and English translation, the translations came on the market much earlier than the Russian originals. The Slaves of Freedom is translated in English as The KGB'S Literary Archive, and The Denunciation of Socrates as Arrested voices.

Shentalinsky carried out his work in the building at the infamous Lubyanka square, where the headquarters of the Cheka, later the GPU, NKVD, the KGB and nowthe FSB are located. In The Master and Margarita Bulgakov described this building as «a certain Moscow institution», with «its windows, shone with their full brightness». In 1988, it was difficult for Shentalinsky to get access to KGB archives. But in September 1991, just after the coup led by KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov was foiled, he could enter. «You're the first writer who comes here voluntarily,» joked a KGB colonel when Shentalinsky when he arrived the first time. «Where shall I put you?» They both laughed.

Shentalinsky found Mikhail Bulgakov's confiscated diary, excerpts from the unpublished Technical Novel by Andrey Platonov, and a apocalyptic, 4000-lines poem entitled Song of the Great Mother by the poet Nikolay Klyuev. He found a heart-rending letter from theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold, in which he writes how he was tortured during interrogation. He was told that the confiscated work of Isaac Babel (15 folders of manuscripts, 18 notebooks, 517 letters, postcards and telegrams and 254 loose pages) and Boris Pilnyak (a just finished novel) is untraceable.

Shentalinsky could also end the uncertainty about the dates of the deaths of the authors. The survivors were given, sometimes years later, totally random dates. In order to mask the execution order the dates were «moved» to the Second World War. The archives have given a definitive conclusion on this, as on the formal charges against the accused.

Officially Shentalinsky was doing searches, ordered by the Commission for the Literary Inheritance of Writers of the Russian Writers' Union, but in reality he had, even in the «open» days of the Yeltsin era, to struggle to maintain his room in the federal building. Shentalinsky said that, more than by the treatment of writers in the Stalin period, he was particularly shocked by the refusal of Russian politicians, writers and much of the audience to look back to what it was: «Stalin was a fascist, certainly not less as bad as Hitler. There is a real danger that we are going back to something similar. A recent opinion poll showed that a large majority of Russians would support the Bolsheviks if the Russian people had the same choices as in 1917».

Slaves of freedom was praised by many other famous Russian writers and historians when it was published. Writer and dissident Lev Kopelev than-ked Shentalinsky «for this bitter, but necessary book».   

Click here to watch a review of the French translation of Slaves of Freedom

Shentalinsky's trilogy

Рабы свободы
(Slaves of Freedom)
Publisher Progress Pleiade, 1995
620 pages
ISBN 978-5930060850

The KGB'S Literary Archive
Translator John Crowfoot
The Harvill Press, 1995
320 pages
ISBN 978-1860460722

Донос на Сократа
(Denunciation of Socrates)
Publisher Moeravej, 2001
459 pages
ISBN 978-5846300811

Arrested Voices
Translator John Crowfoot
Free Press, 1996
336 pages
ISBN 978-0684827766

Преступление без наказания
(Crime without Punishment)
Publisher Progress Pleiade, 2007
642 pages
ISBN 978-5930060331

Manuscripts Don't Burn

In 1997 the Dutch educational broadcasting company RVU ordered the making of a documentary based on Shentalinsky's findings, particularly the files on Mikhail Bulgakov, Andrey Platonov, Osip Mandelstam and Isaac Babel. The film was titled Manuscripts don't burn, after the famous statement of Woland in The Master and Margarita. The part about Bulgakov himself in the film was titled The Satanic Artist.

On December 3, 1997, it was on the Dutch television.

Click here to watch The Satanic Artist