This pulp kitsch diary novel, spy and horror story comes replete with idealistic and hedonistic youths, politicians and agents, ideological battles and philosophic debate, real progress and false hopes, grandiosity and trivialties, or to put it briefly: full of life.
(Pulp fiction) Tarsim Mahmudovich Usmanbekov opened his eyes slowly as he lay on the livingroom couch in the Peredelkino dacha, contemplating the ceiling like Andrei Bolkonsky did the advancing clouds over the fields of Austerlitz, but also hearing seagulls and sea surf, his mouth undulating with acetone, the burnt stench of butt-ends shivering across the room, umpteen Marlboros, some only half-smoked in the ashtray, Ponomarenko had even smoked Belemorkanal for a laugh, he’d been relocated from the Dresden agency, he’d waited long for the bounce to Bonn where he won’t need to go to Intershop to pay Westmarks for his Marlboros because he’ll be paying Westmarks for everything. From the bathroom, Usmanbekov heard squeals from yesterday’s Georgian whores and for a minute there he felt himself in one of the Osetian or Azeri kolkhoz brothels. Littered everywhere were Crimean Shampanskoye and vodka bottles, prohibition be damned, while white noise flashed on the TV set, what would the time be, and what day? Usmanbekov was a Taskent hustler, vice-division manager at the Warsaw Pact Monitoring Bureau of the KGB, scratching his head; without meaning to be a rube, he felt compelled to spit and now that he did, he spat square in the middle of the cross-woven Samarkand Persian carpet, under the smoking table. Gherkins he thought, kvass he thought. Then a sharp light penetrated his brain, the notion he had tried to memorize every two minutes until two AM, namely that Snowy Owl had summoned him for the afternoon of January 1st to the Dzerzhinskiy ploshchad. A cruel notion even by Soviet secret serviceman standards, an unusually trying challenge: paying a visit to the head honcho on the first day of the year for his orders, transfer, demotion, whatever the fuck.
He jumped up in alarm, ushered Ninya, Tanya and the other two giggling Caucasian whores insistently out from the bathroom, and for hair of the dog bit into a long drag of vodka, then gherkin juice from a jar, and a bite of sturgeon on blackbread, called up Mishka Japonchik – the driver’s nickname: a hefty o-legged "Jap", kyrgyz-featured Frunzean – to fire up the Volga to get to Company headquarters by fifteen hundred, already after dark, nor will Snowy Owl tolerate tardiness; an old experienced hand reputed to have known Richard Sorge.
Tough words. The Lubyanka building carries stately weight, the unquestionable authority, the architectural aspect of unscrupulously applied force; the place which in its very form suggests there will be no argument or appellate, where tractor engines rev into the dawn, where in a blink of silence the firing squad reloads, here in the great story you are but a very fleeting mote indeed. A line of giants, Dzerzhinskij, Mensinskij, Jagoda, Jezhov, Berija (1938–41), Merkulov (1941 February – July), again Berija (1941–43), again Merkulov (1943–46), such polka, such tango! Then well-named Abakumov, gray Ignatyev, and Lavrentyij Pavlovits Berija persistently recurring, the mongoose from a mongoose-cobra match; then in ‘53, in March even proposed a plan that could have curbed the Cold War, demilitarizing both Germanies, but he shared the doom of Jagoda and Jezhov, overreaching, overinformed, too many fingers in too many pies, tractor engine revving into fenced-off courtyard dawn, firing squad.
Then Kruglov in transition, then Serov, Ivan Alexandrovich, first chief under this new designation (KGB) and such an important man for Usmanbekov’s new area of specialty (Hungary). Selepin ‘58 to ‘61, Vladimir Jefivovits Semichastnij to ‘67, then fifteen long years with Andropov, Friend of Hungarians and Czechoslovakians, eventual Father of the People. Another transition: Fedorchuk. A long moment: Chebrikov. And the new head chief of a couple of months, Vladimir Alexandrovich Kruchkov; a tough guy with a sharp brain. Usmanbekov liked Chebrikov, a mutual sentiment, but he also strove to live up to Kruchov’s demands. And this assumed great flexibility and an acute grasp of situations.
Mishka Japonchik steered the Volga to the entrance off the Furkasofskij pereulok, and Usmanbekov straightened his Hungarian brand shirt (the famous black tulip logo of Fékonpress) at the neck, and the black tie, swallowed some refluxed acetone and strode deliberately to see Snowy Owl. Snowy Owl – as forementioned – is an old hand whom Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev had found in Moldavia back in the groundbreaking days, his original name was Andrei Iosipovich Corlateanu and he organized a partizan offensive from the dungeons of Odessa against his fellow Romanians and the Germans controlling them. He also had a soft spot for punch cupcakes, and during his regional command at Kishinov had the interior of that sullen commissar-toned local KGB building painted pink and rolled in silver to evoke that rum-laced piquancy. Snowy Owl now led the Fifth Head Office – the bureau for artistic, political and religious deviation censorship and interior security, also handling those sattellite state affairs that reach as high as the Kremlin. From the checkpoint, Usmanbekov rushed quickstepping the red carpet covered marble steps, his footsteps echoing the length of opalesque corridors. Mop-faced dezurnaja and KGB-kitty Russian bimbos alternated at turns and various security checkpoints, and of course the security people with their hard stares, intimidating build, and bulging comradely armpits.
Verhovishchina, matron-in-chief to Snowy Owl, gave Usmanbekov a chilly nod, leading him straight to the top man. Andrei Iosipovich looked up from behind his shipdeck-sized desk, and pointed without greeting to the antique settee opposite beside the entrance, offering Usmanbekoy a seat and proceeding to stand and take a seat himself. He spoke out without niceties or preamble.
"Tarsim Mahmudovich, you’re a tried and valuable agent, you’ve performed well from Central Asia to Germany, and under the current restructuring a serious assignment now awaits you, please give me your attention!" the Snowy Owl said in that icy tone of his that many found threatening. "First of all, I inform you of the coming reorganization, the Fifth Head Office will continue its operation as Z Head Office, and beside interior and censorship issues will be responsible for upholding constitutional order. As you see, this will alleviate many biases and routines. Bogomolov’s people wrote up a report for Jakovlek on friendly socialist states, reevaluating our situation in several regards. Our analytic department dealt with the same issue recently, producing slightly different results. Let’s sum it up! The SCP CC PC and the First Secretary reckon that the need for peaceable coexistance precedes the need for proletariat internationalism. To make it plain: we’re not doing well in remote territories of our interest, Angola, Yemen, Ethiopia, we’ve failed in Afghanistan, this makes the situation in Central Asian SSR-s far from rosy, but you’re not someone I should inform on this matter, Tarsim Mahmudovich. The Baltic Peoples’ Fronts, those fucking Georgians, the Chechens, the Kabardino-Balgari, the Ingush, the Dagestanis, all security threats, and then there’s Nagorno-Karabach. On top of that, the issue of friendly socialist states, and the situation of their respective Communist Parties. Mikhail Sergeyevich paid a visit to Yugoslavia ten months ago and the YCP isn’t doing too well since Marshall Tito’s death, ethnic-nationalist, even separatist initiatives are gaining ground. Over here, Comrade Gorbachev has announced that the concept of a balance of world power must be superceded by a balance of interests, by an era of human values."
"May I comment, Andrei Iosipovich?" Usambekov interrupted abruptly, as if for Perestroika’s sake.
Snowy Owl drew his bushy, moustache-like brow: "Yes, go on!"
"Andrei Iosopovich, this must sound awkward, but let’s clear the air: the Americans have defeated us in the arms race, both conventional and nuclear, and in the space race, defeated us in generally every field, with the lucky exception of certain areas of women’s gymnastics, on account of them not being engaged in it!
"Tarsim Mahmudovich: fair enough! This damn Reagan and his Hungarian pal Edward Teller, they bore us down. It might have taken some serious heat to back them down, maybe back in 1980, but then Leonid Ilyich’s people at their age, couldn’t be counted on for agility. Perhaps the Polish affairs could have taken the weight. Back then the marshalls Ustinov and Ogarkov saw clearly over that matter of the interception of flight KAL 007, even back then we had no option. And right afterward a great generation left the theatre of history for good, Tarsim Mahmudovich. And the genius of Comrade Andropov, the moral standing of Comrade Chernenko couldn’t suffice. Reagan gives his farewell speech on the twentieth of this month, Bush is like him only softer. We have to announce troop withdrawals and also need to actually downsize the staff and arms supply of our central and southern military divisions, furthermore we must offer friendly socialist states an opportunity for free elections. Of course we must conserve as many of our positions as possible, and emphasize the need to establish a common European House where we shall occupy a prominent seat."
"I see," said a contemplative and meaningful Tarsim Mahmudovich Usmanbekov, black raven, falcon and dove of Taskent.
"The odd thing is though, already last March in Belgrade, Mikhail Sergeyevich had highlighted the principle of independence and sovereignty in the relations between the Soviet Union and its allies, stressing the inalienable right of all Communist Parties to define the line of their countries’ social-political progression. And on part of the Soviet Union, Mihail Sergeyevich had relinquished intervening into the internal affairs of other nations on any account whatsoever. And surely I mustn’t spell out the relevance of the scene of this announcement!"
"This is what George McBundy referred to in Foreign Affairs, or was it George Kennan? How Mikhail Sergeyevich had renounced the Brezhnyev doctrine. That cancelling the limitations of sovereignty for our friendly states, and the move toward complete sovereignty is becoming a political reality?!" Usmanbekov shouted.
"The irony of the matter, Tarsim Mahmudovich, is that the elderly – therefore less reality-savvy – leaders of the satellite states had taken a firm stand of mistrust toward Comrade Gorbachev all along. The academic material Jakolev ordered distinguishes two groups of socialist states, based on the nature of their crises. In group one – including Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia – "the crisis implies open and intense processes," while in the other – the report cites Czechoslovakia, the GDR, Bulgaria and Romania – "social and political conflict remains covert, though already clearly discernible". In the countries of group one, the opposition has gained the backing of the intelligentsia, they’re getting real eye-openers. On the other hand, leaders of group two countries still haven’t seen the writing on the wall. Some group two countries also have such cases, for example in Hungary, Comrade Grósz was threatening his audience with white terror only a month ago. We really have to keep our ear to the ground. Tarsim Mahmudovich, I surely mustn’t explain to you how in this present situation, if these changes were to remain unchecked, they may affect the geopolitical and geostrategic interests of the Soviet Union. According to the Academy’s analysis, while the Yugoslavian crisis’ outcome, be that as it may, will only marginally affect our society, consequences of the Hungarian events in progress and especially those of Poland would be immediate and painful."
"Andrei Iosipovich, I understand perfectly."
"Tarsim Mahmudovich, your credentials are excellent, you’ve done a spectacular job on the main front, at the Dresden agency. We are now relocating you to Hungary because the situation there is highly volatile, and of foremost importance to us, after Poland. Verhovishchina will supply the necessary directives, the list of agents. You’ll be received at the Embassy by Koryatov, he coordinates our people at the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior, successional to Chelyudov. Generals Horváth and Pallagi are the Hungarian officials engaged in your field, keep an eye on them, they have their own programme but they will cooperate with us to a certain extent. At Hungarian Intelligence HQ you’ll be received by "Boris", his relation to the Hungarian Comrade on his level is not too good, investigate why! Vodka and knout, never forget it, Tarsim Mahmudovich! Express your demand for information toward the Hungarians, and observe Western activities! You leave in a week’s time! Devote 80% of your energies toward the Hungarian issue, and the remaining 20% to the developments of the German, Central Asian and Far Eastern fronts!"
Translated by Dániel Dányi
Vágvölgyi B. András: 1989
Budapest: Nyitott Könyvmuhely, 2009