A story of Russian reform politics and political satire…
A story for film by Alan Nafzger
The Russian taiga is the world’s largest terrestrial biome. There is plenty of space to become lost in, but fate has it that two political dissidents from different political systems meet there.
If you have no dog
Your neighbour will not poison him.
And you will not have a fight with your friend,
If you have no friend.
Pavel, wanted by the Soviet authorities, disappears into the taiga forest in 1984. He lives as a hermit undetected for 30 years. He is 99% self-sufficient living in the forests of Kolyma.
Ironically, this area of the taiga, Kolyma, was n1otorious for the Gulag labor camps. Strange that Pavel was nearly sent to a camp in the 1980s, he is living in and around them years after they have closed.
Tens of thousands or more people may have died en route to the area or in the Kolyma’s series of gold mining, road building, lumbering, and construction camps. However, much of this has been closed since the late 1950s and Pavel has salvaged much from the old camps and mines. While living in the taiga, if Pavel needs furniture, tools or cooking utensils, anything, he simply gathers them from the abandoned prison and forced labor (gold mine) camps.
Pavel occasionally, in the cover of night, travels from the taiga into a city to steal salt, food and books from the library. Wolves wound him and he needs penicillin and gets it from town. He steals paper. He has become a master thief. Pavel thinks about stealing newspapers from the library but passes them by; he wants nothing to do with Soviet politics.
One night he sneaks up near a house and hears the radio. This is one of the night Gorbachev is being held hostage. Media announces on state television that Gorbachev was very ill and would no longer be able to govern. Pravel gets the gist of the events and figures it is just a coup’ d’etat and he goes about his business of surviving in the taiga forest.
Pavel doesn’t realize that the Soviet Union has been dissolved. He can’t imagine this ever happening. And the next December he sees political propaganda piled up and burned in the street, he believes it is just a change in Soviet leadership. When he does hear a brief radio broadcast, he only hears “Yeltsin” and figures that is the new leader and nothing has changed. He returns to the taiga.
And then on a similar occasion, years later, he hears on the radio, “Putin a former KGB Colonel is the new president”, Pavel continues his solitary life in the taiga.
On the outskirts of the village, there is a near deaf woman who plays her radio very loud. Pavel always stops a few moments to listen before returning to the taiga.
By pure coincidence, Pavel hears news from the radio only four times over the years. The night of August 19 of 1991 (Ligachev’s Coup), December 25, 1991 (Gorbachev’s resignation), June 12 1991 (Yeltsin’s Election) and December 31, 1999 (Putin’s assuming power). Everything in between is unknown to Pavel. Other occasions he hears only music coming from the house’s radio.
Each visit to town, he listens to only short parts of radio broadcasts. He gets the idea there is a change in leadership but also information that things haven’t changed. Because of his experience in the Soviet Union, Pavel takes things out of context.
For example, when he hears Yeltsin say, “I want to beg forgiveness for your dreams that never came true. And also I would like to beg forgiveness not to have justified your hopes”, Pavel believes this is an apology for the failures of socialism. Pavel comments, “No wonder he is resigning. No communist would admit such a failure.”
In 1999 Pavel pictures in his mind, Yeltsin forced (with a gun at his head) to make this admission on the radio. Pavel sees in his mind, Putin in his KGB uniform taking power with all the Soviet symbols and ceremony. In the context of the Soviet Union, the radio broadcasts are misunderstood by Pavel.
Pavel sees the changes in Russia from a distance, peaking from behind trees, but can’t imagine anything ever changing so basically it is all ignored.
Pavel is surprised and demoralized in 1991 when suddenly finds more and more consumer goods in the city. He is demoralized and hates imagining socialism actually being successful and he continues living in the forest. Early in the film there isn’t much to steal from the grocery store. Over time, Pavel sees nicer and nicer automobiles and the grocery he breaks into slowly grows to abundance.
Aside from thinking socialism actually works, Pavel lives happily undisturbed with his books in the forest until he meets a young man on the run from the current Russian government.
Pavel assumes the young man, Yegor, is on the run from the same communist system that he is on the run from. After several political debates, philosophical discussions and self examinations, the men realize the awkward positions they are in.
RUSSIAN TAIGA FOREST LINKS
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