Thursday, May 8, 2008

Window on Eurasia: ‘Remake’ of Fadeyev’s ‘Young Guard’ Has Islamist Radicals, Not Nazis, as Russia’s Main Enemy

Paul Goble

Baku, May 9 – A remake of the novel that defined the way many Soviet citizens viewed the second world war attempts to make the case that Russia’s main enemy is not Hitler and National Socialism but rather Islamist radicals, a view that may win the writer some sales among Russian nationalists but that has already drawn fire from Muslim commentators in that country.
For several generations, Aleksandr Fadeyev’s novel, The Young Guard (1946), summed up what many people in Soviet times believed about the war: it was not only a victory of the Russian people over the German invader but a triumph of Communist ideology over fascism, victory that Russians and many other former Soviet peoples mark today.
Now, Dmitry Ivanov, a writer best known for a screenplay, “This Happy Planet,” and a novel, Ballet Star, Female Banker, Hooker, has released a novel, The Command, which his publisher calls “a super remake” of Fadeyev’s classic novel, one with the pretension of defining what patriotism means for a new generation.
Wednesday’s Komsomol’skaya Pravda ( describes the new book, which is clearly directed at the same audience that bought Orthodox children’s writer Elena Chudinova’s dystopian fiction, The Moscow of Notre Dame de Paris (, and features an interview with its author.
The new novel, whose release has been timed to coincide with Victory Day, updates Fadeyev’s work, retaining its focus on a heroic group of young people (although in the new novel, they do not suffer as much) but changing the enemy from the Nazis to Islamist extremists and the fight from a German invasion to a terrorist seizure like that in Budennovsk,
For his part, Ivanov, 70, said that he had written the book to explore the question: “how would we, now, behave in an extreme situation, for example, in a war? Are we equal to the heroes of the past? We love to curse ourselves: we it seems are bad, inert and do not love our motherland.” But, he said, “I am convinced that in the depth of our soul, we aren’t that way.”
Fadeyev, he noted, “when he wrote The Young Guard put ideology in the first place: Of course, his heroes loved the motherland and suffered from its occupation, but inside them all was the teaching of the party and the Komsomol. But my heroes show themselves spontaneously without any directions from above.”
Moreover, he said, “my heroes are ordinary young men and women who never thought about the motherland and patriotism. But circumstances drove them to the wall, and suddenly they understood that around them are places and people they love. … And in them awakes patriotism.”
“ Not the official kind cultivated by the Komsomol and the party,” Ivanov says. “Not that which initially presupposed that people will fight for the USSR. But that which lives in each person in the depths of his soul and which comes out [only when he finds himself] in an extreme situation.”
Many Russians are likely to find Ivanov’s underlying idea attractive however much they may not like his playing games with one of the novels whose ideas have long informed their thinking. But at least one group is having none of what he writes: Muslim leaders who are furious at the appearance of yet another novel portraying their faith as the enemy.
Renat Bekkin, a scholar and Muslim publicist, denounced the book not only for its suggestion that Islamist terrorism now is the equivalent of Nazism 60 years ago but also for its exploitation of the real heroism of Fadeyev’s characters, whose willingness to suffer is not matched by that of the figures in Ivanov’s novel (
Moreover, he attacked as highly doubtful Ivanov’s claim that no one had asked him to write his book in this way and his self-serving effort to attract attention both by playing up the “Muslim” card and by releasing the book now, when so many Russian are thinking about the real war more than 60 years ago.
But Bekkin suggested that he wasn’t all that worried about the impact of the book whatever Ivanov and those behind him expected. “I myself do not read such books,” he said, “and I think that they do much less harm than yellow press outlets like Komsomol’skaya Pravda, because those marginals to whom Ivanov is appealing don’t read books.”
Unfortunately, the Muslim commentator continued, these marginal elements “do read newspapers” like Komsomol’skaya Pravda. And consequently, he said, those horrified by Ivanov’s ideas about Islam should be more worried about and “react” more sharply to the paper which pushed Ivanov’s book than to the book itself.

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