ex-Soviet correspondent passes away

Farewell, My Friend, Melor Sturua

Melor Georgievich Sturua, the world-renowned Soviet-Russian Foreign Correspondent, died on June 1st, 2021, age 93 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He was an old school gentleman, the Last Magician of Soviet journalism epoch. He studied to become a diplomat and graduated a prestigious MGIMO University (Moscow State Institute of International Relations). Sadly, his career took a nosedive, unexpectedly, due to his illustrious father, Georgy Sturua. 

Georgy Sturua was a prominent apparatchik, a founder of the Social Democratic Party in Russia and the former Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Georgian SSR.  He and his son were born in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Names of purged friends

After writing his autobiography, he cleared the names of his purged friends, the victims of Stalin’s repressions. During the endless waves of them, Georgy Sturua was removed from his office, and Melor’s diplomatic aspirations were over.  That brought him to journalism with the help of a family friend, Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan.        

Sturua had his offices in the U.S. where he was the Deputy, then acting Foreign Editor and Bureau Chief in New York from 1976 till 1982, representing the Izvestia newspaper.  From 1982 to 1984 he was the Washington Bureau Chief, heading the Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Melor Sturua was the only Soviet political commentator to interview the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Like father like son, both men were notoriously funny with an exceptional sense of humor. Who else but Georgy could come up with the name for his son -- Melor, which stands for the words: Marx – Engels – Lenin – October Revolution. That’s how committed he was in his beliefs in socialism. 

A splendid surprise

My first meeting with Melor Sturua was a splendid surprise. I decided to baptize myself just after I turned 18. My parents were Christians, but their work in Science left me out of the ritual ceremony.  

For a month I studied old and new testament, while riding the crowded subways. The bible guaranteed me a seat on the train and a space around me. Riders scurried away from me as if I was a leper. Churches were not popular if not forbidden during the controversial Nikita Khrushchev era. Now the Russian people get back to their Christian roots. Many churches were rebuilt after Bolshevik’s Party demolished them to pieces. 

I selected my Godmother, Tamara, an Armenian mentor who supplied me with the reading materials. Each religious book looked like a weapon – large, heavy format with crosses all over. 

My Godfather, Alex was a dandy of Jewish origin on his father’s side and Russian on the mother’s side. His widowed mother and I grew into instant friends. He was a man in demand. Everyone wanted to hang out with Alex. 

Later he ripened into a journalist himself, having a position as a Senior Editor of “The Russian New Word” newspaper in New York City, where I had invited him years later upon his emigration from Europe. Therefore – I was officially his guarantor before he became an American citizen.   

The ceremony in the Russian Orthodox Church was pompous. The priest asked me to don sleepwear, then I was placed in the huge basin, from where I re-emerged a newly born Christian, free of sins and blissfully baptized. Prior, he pushed my head under the water three times with loud prayers and orders to kiss the cross, which hit my forehead first, before my lips touched it. The bump on my forehead was welcomed pain compared to Jesus who carried a heavy load to the Golgotha aforetime he was crucified for our sins, I pondered, hiding my merry satisfaction.    

We decided to celebrate this sacred event in the House of Kino in Moscow. Upon arrival, Melor Sturua was at the entrance -- a charming, elegant, tall and straight as an arrow dandy, as was Alex, his close pal. Melor made three crosses towards my direction and congratulated me smiling ear to ear. I was stunned. There were no cellphones at that time. How did he find out? “Did someone send a pigeon with the announcement?” I asked, smiling back. Soon the room was filled with mutual friends and we had a reserved table to fit us all. 

Between the two witty men, Melor Sturua and Alex, everyone had colic in their bellies from laughter. They never stopped competing with each other, creating their hysterical tales from thin air.

One story was especially remarkable! I cannot attest if Melor pulled our tails, but I remember it clearly word for word. 

An elderly woman tried to seduce a young Melor when he was in his mid-twenties. Her proposal was to marry her in exchange for a spot in the iconic Moscow cemetery - Novodevichi Convent, turned into a semi-museum. In response, bemused Melor replied to the old woman that he was not in a rash to die. He advised her to save that plot for a better candidate closer to her age.

Now that he is no longer with us, I want you to remember him as a beautiful man of honor and author of forty books. One of them “A View of Washington from the Watergate Hotel, Greenwich Mean Time and Essence.”

My dear friend, the writer and former Editor of Harper’s Magazine,` Lewis H. Lapham, who founded Lapham’s Quarterly in 2007, knew Melor well and spoke about him lovingly like everyone who crossed paths with the brilliant Melor Sturua. 

His son, Andrei Sturua, said that the date of farewell and burial is still unknown, as the correspondent died in the United States and the body is to be returned to Russia. 

Melor selected his eternal resting place in Moscow! Perhaps in the same iconic cemetery -- Novodevichi Convent, somewhere near that crafty seductress?

In a pandemic, it’s hard to say when it will be arranged. According to his son Andrei, at least his ashes will be transported from Minneapolis to Moscow, Russia -- the country he proudly represented and loved wholeheartedly!  

Tatiana V. Pahlen
June 4, 2021

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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey
Editor Dmitry Sudakov