“One Lousy Sheep”: The 1958 Soviet Denunciation of Nobel Prize Winner Boris Pasternak

In an article in the June 30, 2014, edition of the Washington Post, columnist and editorial page editor Fred Hiatt discusses the harsh denunciation of Boris Pasternak in a 1958 speech. The criticism of Pasternak as a pig occurred toward the end of a long and turgid oration on the subject of the Komsomol’s glorious history and mission by its director, Vladimir Semichastny, who later came to head the KGB. 

The attack on Pasternak, who a week earlier had been named the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature for his novel Doctor Zhivago, was, as Hiatt notes, partially dictated by Nikita Khrushchev himself.  That Oct. 29, 1958, speech was broadcast on the Soviet Home Service, translated by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), and published the following day in the FBIS Daily Report. An excerpt from the 18-page FBIS translation appears below:

However, as the Russian saying goes: “Even in a good flock there may be one lousy sheep” (parshyvaya outsa). We have such a lousy sheep in our socialist society in the person of Pasternak, who has written his slanderous, so-called novel.  He has gladdened our enemies so much that they have bestowed on him—disregarding of course the artistic merits of his trashy book—a Nobel Prize. We have masters of writing, whose works are uncontestable in their artistic merit, but their authors have not been awarded a Noble (sic) Prize. However, for slander, for libelling the Soviet system, socialism, and Marxism, Pasternak has been awarded the Nobel Prize.

From FBIS Daily Reports. Click to open in PDF.Pasternak has lived in the socialist country for 41 years.  For 41 years he has fed on the bread and salt of the people, who have been building the new on the ruins of the old, who have endured hunger and cold, who have raised the former Russia to a new life, have created from the former Russia a mighty state, which astonishes the minds of all progressive people and strikes fear into the hearts of the enemies of socialism....

Now this man has decided to spit in the face of our people. What is one to say to this? Sometimes we say of a pig—and incidentally quite without justification—that it is a so and so (takaya syakaya i rpochaya.)  I must tell you that this is unfair to the pig.  A pig….never defiles the place where it eats, never defiles the place where it sleeps.  Therefore, if one is to compare Pasternak with a pig it will be obvious that the pig has not done what he (Pasternak—ed.) has done. (Applause)....

I would like to voice my own opinion on this matter: Why should not this internal emigre try the capitalist air for which he so longs and about which he has written in his work. (Applause) I am certain that our society would welcome this. (Applause) Let him become a real emigre and let him go to his capitalist paradise. I am sure that the society and government will not place any obstacles in his way, but would on the contrary consider that his departure thus from our midst would make our air fresher. (Applause)


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