Soviet Giant

Moscow, March 12th, 2003 (from RIA Novosti observer Anatoly Korolev) - March 12th marks the 90th birthday of the patriarch of modern Russian literature and prominent cultural figure Sergei Mikhalkov (b.1913). His life strikes one as amazing and glorious, and ranks among the most interesting fates of the century.

Born into a noble family, Mikhalkov became a member of the Communist party in 1950, had a taste for beautiful life and was an exquisite gourmet. He grew into a grandiose figure of Soviet culture. Mikhalkov was the winner of all possible prizes, the author of the Soviet anthem (co-authored by Garold El-Registan) as well as of the other two versions of the national anthem, an academician of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences, an invariable secretary of the Writers' Union, chief editor of the once popular satirical programme called Fitil (Fuse) and so on and so forth. This enumeration can be continued for quite a while. Besides, he is the father of two well-known sons - directors and actors Nikita Mikhalkov and Andron Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky.

Finally, he was Stalin's favourite - something that considerably helped his career growth.

There is a popular tale in literary circles about how Mikhalkov managed to become the tyrant's favourite. One day Stalin gathered famous writers in his Kremlin study and asked them what they would like to get from the Soviet government. The writers asked for such benefits as an apartment, a country house, a car, a trip to Europe, etc. And only Mikhalkov took a small red volume of Stalin's autobiography out of his pocket and asked him to sign it. Stalin did so with pleasure and ordered to give him the rest (a country house and a car).

Sergei Mikhalkov spent his school years in a resort town, Pyatigorsk, and this self-indulgent atmosphere heavily influenced the teenager's soul. He early realised that the important peculiarity of the pompous Soviet style was to describe the Soviet lifestyle as sheer happiness.

Further, Mikhalkov moved to Moscow, graduated from the Literary Institute and opted for becoming a children's poet. His first pioneer verses were so skilful and full of magic that they immediately won the hearts of the reading public.

Most prominent among them are "And What Do You Have?" and "Uncle Styopa". The latter is an unsophisticated verse about a Soviet Giant, a "hypermetre", wearing a policeman uniform, that was recognised a brilliant instrument of political education of young souls. This feature was immediately noticed by the top officials and described by Fadeyev in Pravda as clear and attractive presentation of the basics of social education.

The debut of the earlier unknown children's writer praised by the Pravda newspaper then became the poet's laissez-passer for many years to come.

Mikhalkov continued to develop his gift for social poetry and began writing fables where his talent could finally demonstrate itself in full, though in the form of nursery rhymes, jokes and pitches. Mikhalkov's fables full of hidden sarcasm made part of the large-scale pro-Soviet propaganda, all the while retaining their unmistakable charm and comprehensiveness.

The poet's another step was dramaturgy - the moment when he finally became the main educator of the youth. Unlike Kornei Chukovsky, whose popularity with children hung heavy on him, or Marshak who considered children's verses only an episode of his life, Sergei Mikhalkov saw his high moral task in serving children. His theatre plays Thomas Canty, the Red Tie, Sombrero, Slick Hare, and others have become the crown jewel of the Soviet repertoire.

He won Stalin's prizes in 1941, 1942 and 1950. By that time, the circulation of his verses had exceeded millions. Noteworthy, Mikhalkov generously supported his friends, helped burgeoning talents, saved people from terror, received former prisoners in his house, lived in great style and was wisely upbringing his hard-bitten children who are now increasing the fame of his name.

According to his latest confessions, Mikhalkov was a straight-arrow parishioner and a devoted Orthodox believer despite the persecution. And this is not hypocrisy but his lifestyle, which runs in line with the Gospel covenant saying: Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.

Neither the war, nor Stalin's death, Khruschev's or Brezhnev's rule shattered his position in society. Conversely, Mikhalkov only gradually strengthened his positions. Russia came in need for an author of the anthem, like a great power needs an anthem. Only the perestroika period slightly overshadowed Mikhalkov's prominence for a while. However, the last years of the swift transition to capitalism dictated the need for returning the patriarch of patriotism, satire and humour to the foreground.

Mikhalkov authored the new version of the anthem and writers embittered by years of the reforms begged him to take the control over the devastated literature. Today, the patriarch is skilfully devising amendments to the legislation with the aim of recovering the former privileges to his impoverished colleagues.