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Chapter Fifteen— Three Men in a Boat: VOOP in the Early 1960s
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Chapter Fifteen—
Three Men in a Boat:
VOOP in the Early 1960s

The Khrushchëv years were quite a passage for the Soviet conservation movement. While the venerable All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature was colonized by Communist bureaucrats, the movement veterans migrated to the shelter of the less exposed Moscow Society of Naturalists and from that redoubt managed to nurture the emergent student movement, the druzhiny . And while the idealism of the Khrushchëv years for a time clouded perception of the intractable, oppressive features of the system, voluntary activism in the area of conservation proved to be a university for learning about the ways of power in the USSR.

In a humorous episode, the "Bochkarëv affair," the three nature protection cohorts converged around a common enemy, exposing Mikhail Mikhailovich Bochkarëv, the RSFSR minister of forestry and the president of VOOP, as a poacher. For Vladimir Georgievich Geptner and the old guard, the affair brought revenge for the Communists' takeover of VOOP and its conversion into a despicably corrupt business. For the scientists' student protégés in the Moscow Biofak druzhina , it was an opportunity to show public bravado and to hold a heady political mass meeting. Finally, for Vladimir Chivilikhin and the kedrogradtsy , it was revenge for Bochkarëv's central role in undermining the Altai forestry experiment. Although veterans of Kedrograd, the student movement, and the old professoriate each claim the lion's share of the credit for Bochkarëv's ultimate downfall, Bochkarëv must be given his due for his own weighty contribution to his political endgame.

From Khrushchëv to Brezhnev: Learning to Read the System

The "Bochkarëv affair" of 1964–1965 was a culmination of the natural process of decay set in motion by the colonization of VOOP a decade earlier.


The first scandal, involving complaints to Politburo members Molotov and Bulganin by one Vsevolod Georgievich Lakoshchënkov, an old VOOP activist, about corruption and commercial abuses by the Society's leadership, ended with his ouster from the Society in 1957. In July 1962 a second scandal broke, also involving commercial doings. This time, thirty-two VOOP retail outlets in its chain "Priroda" (Nature) were accused of "gross violations of the rules of trade" by the Russian Republic's State Trade Inspectorate. The stores, which were officially chartered by the RSFSR Council of Ministers on April 10, 1960 to provide gardening and animal-care supplies to VOOP's members, were found to exhibit "a brazenly commercial character." That is to say, they were in business to make healthy profits, which meant setting arbitrary purchase and sales prices for flowers, failing to display prices, and failing to provide receipts to customers. One store manager's wife in Northern Ossetia was doing a thriving business in black market pet fish. In neighboring Krasnodar oblast' "Priroda" staff were buying up flowers and plants and reselling them for over 30 percent more to Moscow municipal flower outlets. Nor did the Moscow branches of "Priroda" take a back seat to the provinces.[1]

Although such abuses were commonplace and, indeed, inevitable, even essential for the functioning of the system, other groups of bureaucratsin the state inspection system—also needed to justify their employment by periodically uncovering and disciplining these abuses. These imperatives drove the endless petty dramas of Soviet justice such as the inspection of VOOP's "commercial abuses." In this case, a conference of high apparatchiki in the RSFSR ministries of justice, trade, finance, and state control with a VOOP representative present recommended a disciplinary decree from the RSFSR Council of Ministers to demonstrate the state's concern and resolve, especially as the abuses "had already become widely known in the Society's branches."[2]

For depth of hypocrisy, not to mention appeal as journalistic copy, however, these prior scandals paled before the "Bochkarëv affair." Moreover, the affair floodlit the gap between "regime conservationism" and the environmental creed of the old guard.

Professor Vladimir Georgievich Geptner (see figure 24) of Moscow State University, a field zoologist trained in the grand tradition and still technically a "citizen's inspector for nature protection" of the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature, had been taking summer vacation trips to the Oka River near Izhevskaia pristan' in Riazan' oblast' for fifteen years. A stern man of German heritage, with a dry sense of humor, Geptner was a veteran of the zapovednik wars of the preceding four decades and counted among the closest scientific advisers of VOOP during its pre-Communist period (pre-1953). The zoologist had grown even bolder with age.

On August 22, 1964 at four in the afternoon it was bright and sunny on


Figure 24.
V ladimir Georgievich Geptner (1901–1975).

the Oka. Geptner had taken his wife and son, Mikhail, a budding marine biologist, along on the annual trip, and they were cruising upriver in their motor launch. It was to be a relaxed, intimate field trip for parents and son. The Geptners were on the lookout for osprey and other wildlife, which were common then on the Oka. They did not anticipate finding bigger game.

Unexpectedly, they saw two fishing boats up ahead, illegally suspending a homemade drift net between them. As he neared the first boat, the professor saw, with a shock of recognition, that one of the three men in the boat was none other than Mikhail Mikhailovich Bochkarëv, head of the Russian Republic's Main Forestry Administration, of Kedrograd notoriety, and president of the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature. If anyone em-


blemized the degradation of the once valorous and honorable All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature, it was this government minister and Party apparatchik now in control of the hijacked Society.

Lifelong habits of steely nerves and iron discipline while tracking wildlife now stood Geptner in good stead. With his son steering the boat up to the poaching president's vessel, Geptner demanded to know why Bochkarëv was fishing with an illegal net. Bochkarëv, according to Geptner, responded: "I have permission to do so." In the text of the complaint he filed with the Fishing Inspectorate, Geptner added that Bochkarëv claimed he was given oral permission from a fishing inspector "whose name [Bochkarëv] did not know." Sure of his own ground, Geptner asked Bochkarëv to pull in his net, which he did—a virtual admission of culpability. Geptner also managed to capture the whole scene on film. In a few days the photographs were developed; the aperture and shutter speed were perfectly set, and the excited professor's hands were steady. It was a masterpiece of cinema vérité. Back on shore, Geptner drew up a legal complaint, witnessed by his wife and son, and sent it to the Riazan' oblast' Fishing Inspectorate.[3]

Geptner's version of the story was not the only one presented. At a meeting of the Party fraction of the Presidium of the Executive Council of VOOP that met to discuss the matter on October 13, 1964, Bochkarëv provided his explanation. He had been in Riazan' oblast ' on a business trip, he began, and had gone to the river to go bathing. At that time, a group of fishermen with a net approached the shore. Bochkarëv claimed that he had asked them if they had permission to fish and that they answered in the affirmative. "Not a fisher myself," he continued, "out of curiosity I decided to watch and see how they used the net and what they would turn up in it." No sooner had the group set out to fish than a motorboat approached with Professor Geptner sitting in it, "pointing a camera at me," alleged the cornered president. Disputing Geptner's account, Bochkarëv argued that he had answered Geptner's question with a more general "There is permission to fish." After Geptner insisted that fishing with a dragnet was still poaching, Bochkarëv decided to check the locals' permits. When he discovered, to his surprise, that they had none, he himself demanded that they end their fishing and ordered that they immediately inform the Fishing Inspection about it and bring the ringleader to justice. Bochkarëv's self-portrait was that of good-natured innocence abused. Once alerted to the illegality, he had demonstrated his true civic conscience and conservation concerns. Bochkarëv did admit to one oversight: not having checked documents at the outset.[4]

The Party fraction meeting circled the wagons to protect an embattled bureaucratic colleague. L. V. Ross averred that he had known Bochkarëv for fifteen years and that it was "stupid" (nelepo ) to accuse him of poaching. Indeed, Geptner had acted badly in "raising such a ruckus," which ultimately


"did no benefit to the Society." Another member, G. I. Kulinskaia, accused Geptner of intentionally trying to nail Bochkarëv and of irresponsibility in writing to the press. This accusation jolted Bochkarëv's own further recollection of the incident; the VOOP president now remembered that Geptner threatened him on the river: "I'll bake you to a crisp! Just you wait!"

Not all the conservation bureaucrats believed that stonewalling was the best way to deal with an angry and wily zubr .[5] Already the rumors were flying all over Moscow, and anonymous letters were arriving at the Society's headquarters. As D. P. Proferansov added, someone might even raise the question at the forthcoming VOOP General Congress. He and V. E. Golovanov recommended doling out evenhanded criticism—of Bochkarëv for his carelessness and of Geptner for failing to turn over his evidence to the Presidium and going through channels. A slap on each wrist could allow the Society to put the matter behind it.

Biologist N. A. Gladkov was one of Geptner's few defenders, expressing his shock and regret at Bochkarëv's accusation that Geptner's actions were the result of a "personal grudge." Further, Gladkov rejected the notion that Geptner purposely delayed examination of his charges, noting that he was legitimately on vacation. More ominously for Bochkarëv, A. P. Kasparson, a politically congenial figure, began to worry aloud about the effect on the Society of exculpating the president. In particular, he was concerned that further facts might come to light in the press overturning an endorsement of Bochkarëv's claim of innocence.[6]

Kasparson's fears were countered by yet another loyalist, I. A. Khomiakov, who reassured his jittery colleague that, after all, they had official letters from the Fishing Inspectorate reaffirming Bochkarëv's innocence. Indeed, one letter went much further than Bochkarëv's own defense in embellishing his conduct:

Having seen the illegal poaching by [Andrei Fëdorovich] Frolkov, [Bochkarëv] forbade it, an order which Frolkov then obeyed. As he was leaving the district, Comrade M. M. Bochkarëv issued a directive to the director of the forestry collective enterprise, Comrade I. I. Krylov, to inform the Fishing Inspectorate so it could bring those guilty of poaching to justice. [This was done], which initiated [our] investigation. . . . Comrade M. M. Bochkarëv had no involvement in the poaching incident of August 22, 1964 . On the contrary, he contributed to putting it to an end.[7]

Unfortunately, Khomiakov's logic had a fatal flaw. The meticulous Geptner had kept copies both of the complaint he filed on August 22 and the response of the Fishing Inspectorate to him two days later, denying that anyone from their office had given Bochkarëv oral permission and acknowledging that Geptner's letter had served as the signal to initiate an investi-


gation into this affair. But Geptner was saving his most powerfll ammunition for the critical moment.

It was clear that the Party fraction had to come to some decision. Any course of action would be costly. The Party fraction believed that absolving Bochkarëv represented the lowest cost and called his presence amid unlawful fishing "accidental." To mollify the disgruntled elements who still took the Society's conservation mission seriously, VOOP's Party leaders unanimously adopted a resolution that chided Bochkarëv for being "excessively trusting," which by its wording almost effaced the censure to create a sympathetic portrait of a kindly, but uninformed, regular guy. Bochkarëv was urged to be more aware in the future. The Party regulars had put this latest embarrassment behind them. Or so they thought.

Even before taking this symbolic action, the leadership of VOOP had moved swiftly to limit the damage caused by Bochkarëv's slip up. As early as September 28 a letter went out to Literaturnaia gazeta and Izvestiia (to which Geptner had already written), denying charges of premeditated poaching by Bochkarëv. The letter was accompanied by the September 1 and September 26 reports of the State Fishing Inspectorate.[8] Those reports insisted that a local man, Andrei Fëdorovich Frolkov, was the chief instigator and that Frolkov himself, in his own confession of guilt, confirmed Bochkarëv's innocent participation. The hapless Frolkov was subjected to civil punishment, and his net was confiscated.[9] The system had delivered for its own, or so it seemed.

Events, however, overtook these bureaucratic efforts. One of the most widely read publications in the USSR during the 1960s and 1970s was the humor biweekly, Krokodil . Bitingly funny cartoons and rib-tickling satires made it one of the few outlets for exposure of the foibles and inefficiencies of the system. With the January 10, 1965 issue, Bochkarëv's luck ran out. The full-page exposé of Bochkarëv—"Get a Load of Those Goldfish!" (Vot kakie karasi! )—could not have been more embarrassing (see figure 25). Immediately attracting the reader's eye was the juxtaposition of two photographs of the VOOP president. At the upper left hand of the page, just under the magazine's logo of a devilish, smirking crocodile running at full tilt and aiming a pitchfork—this all perched over the feature's rubric "A Pitchfork in the Side"—was a photograph of a sententious, self-satisfied Bochkarëv in suit and tie, speechifying behind a lectern with a microphone. Immediately beneath the title of the article, which divided the page horizontally, was a second photograph of the proverbial three men in a boat. The man on the left, a corpulent middle-aged man in a white undershirt, was wielding an oar. On the right, judging by the one leg and arm visible, was a second, thinner oarsman. And in the center, also in a white tank top and clutching the handle of the homemade dragnet, was M. M. Bochkarëv. The


Figure 25.
"Vot kakie karasi!" ("Get a load of those goldfish!").


publication of Geptner's unflattering photo had stripped away the dignities of office, revealing a pathetic and banal lump of Soviet humanity.

Although this photo unquestionably did the most damage, the text was no less scathing. Through the vehicle of a fictitious reconstruction of Bochkarëv's subsequent "confrontation" with the local "instigator"—all done in the Chekhovian mode—Bochkarëv's claims of innocence were turned into a farcical mush. The piece also implicitly condemned the casting of the local patsy, Frolkov, as the sole villain.

Krokodil's pitchfork pierced the thick hide of the VOOP bureaucracy, and it proved almost impossible to dislodge.[10] Letters expressing worry (from VOOP officials) and betrayal (from members) flooded the Society's mailroom. One letter, signed by a number of members of the Society's Executive Council, including the satirist Natalia Il'ina and longtime member (since 1936) S. Nazarevskaia, noted that "we, just as many other members of our Society, expected that the Presidium of the Executive Council would immediately react to the publication of the satire. We expected, first of all, that the public would be informed about those conclusions or decisions reached by the Presidium as a whole and by Bochkarëv in particular."[11] The writers further noted that a full month had gone by since the feuilleton and a half-year since the incident itself, "while public opinion—we mean here the active membership of the Executive Council—has been given no information." That in itself was described as "abnormal."

Finally, the signatories of the letter did not omit the largest political issue of all: that a poacher remained at the helm of the nation's official nature protection society. "Under these circumstances the only correct course of action acceptable to broad public opinion is to remove Comrade Bochkarëv as president . . . and to publish that decision in the press," they insisted. Not only had Bochkarëv's own lapses become the subject of growing interest in the press and society, but also, as the letter's authors described it, the entire "thoroughly bureaucratized [kantseliarsko-biurokraticheskii ] style of operations, the gulf between the Society and scientific public opinion, the gulf between it and the broad masses of members, and the feebleness in solving the . . . pressing issues of conservation." To fail to address these problems "would be a violation of the elementary requirements of Soviet democracy," the letter warned. The three-page letter concluded with a call to elect a person of unimpeachable reputation as the new president; it urged full publication of materials about the "Bochkarëv affair," and called for "reinvigoration and perestroika of the entire activity" of VOOP aimed at converting the Society "into an authentic defender of natural resources in the interests of both the present and future generations."

Other letters mentioned Bochkarëv's poor conservation track record in forestry, recently spotlighted in the press. Perhaps exploiting political opportunities in light of Khrushchëv's recent fall, the reformist wing of the


Soviet press engaged in the closest analog there to a feeding frenzy. In the space of two weeks in late January and early February, Literaturnaia gazeta published two pieces—one by Vladimir Chivilikhin (a piece by him also appeared simultaneously in Komsomol'skaia pravda , a mass circulation daily) and one by Oleg Volkov—exposing Bochkarëv's role in dooming the idealistic attempt in 1957–1960 to manage sustainably the cedar forests of Eastern Siberia ("Kedrograd") and in degrading the woodlands around Lake Baikal in the same area. Konstantin Blagosklonov, a longtime member of VOOP and member of its Council, added from personal knowledge that Bochkarëv was the only member of the Council to "categorically reject" the proposal that the RSFSR, on the model of other republics, establish a ministry-level State Committee on Nature Protection.[12] Blagosklonov also independently noted that the "operational style of the Society had changed," now being marked by "a tendency to be cut off from scientific public opinion" and characterized by a "bureaucratic" flavor. "Scientists well-known for their scientific activism in conservation continue this work in complete isolation from the Society," confirmed Blagosklonov, "and it is precisely these folks that created the Society to begin with. The initiative for the break began with the Society," he observed, "and not with these scientists." The only comfort to be found in Blagosklonov's letter was that he did not favor legal proceedings against Bochkarëv for his poaching, since, after all, "that would doubtless . . . inflict [even more] harm . . . to the Society."

On February 24, 1965 the Presidium of VOOP met to deal with the unraveling crisis once again. First vice president N. G. Ovsiannikov led the discussion of how to respond to the Krokodil piece and its spreading, swirling aftershock. Once again, the official resolution generated by the meeting represented a decision to uphold Bochkarëv's version of the events. It was a last shot, averring that there were no profit motives involved and that the episode was a case of bad judgment, for which Bochkarëv had been suitably reprimanded.[13]

The noose around Bochkarëv's neck began to tighten, however, when his Communist cronies in the Society's leadership began to feel the pressure themselves. It was time to abandon the stonewall defense and move to "human sacrifice." Two influential members of the leadership, V. Zharikov, president of the Oversight Commission of the Central Executive Council, and his deputy, A. Kasparson, both Presidium members, demanded convocation of "an extraordinary session of the Central Executive Council of the Society" to resolve the issue—with Bochkarëv's resignation as the expected outcome.

Geptner, in the meantime, had been waging war on all fronts. A new enemy had emerged in the guise of the shamelessly complicit Fishing Inspectorate. With lawyerly acuity, Geptner responded to the cover-up with his own carefully crafted letter to the Fishing Inspector:


In particular, I believe that you have not fully assessed the strange contention of A. Frolkov that Bochkarëv ordered him to stop fishing with the dragnet. It was Bochkarëv himself who was personally holding the net. It was certainly an ambivalent position for the person giving the order to stop, and I assume that you will certainly not accept those kinds of "conclusions" that exculpate Bochkarëv.

I hope that you . . . uncover the identities of the other violators besides Frolkov. There were six of them, and I would be very appreciative if you would inform me about who they are and what steps you are taking to bring them to justice.[14]

Unable to bring the Baikal pulp and cellulose projects to an end or to mitigate any of the other growing environmental crises in the Soviet Union, conservation activists made the most of their moral victory. Outside VOOP, Geptner could count on the support of the student movement represented by the Moscow State University druzhina po okhrane prirody . The students convened a two-day conference on March 15 and 16, 1965, to discuss the piece in Krokodil . The highlight was Professor Geptner himself showing no fewer than ten photographs of Bochkarëv wielding the net. The conference went on record as rejecting Bochkarëv's explanation as an insult to intelligence. Nor did the dishonorable complicity of the Riazan' Fishing Inspectorate go without comment. Finally, the conference expressed its astonishment that the Presidium of VOOP's Central Executive Council could give any credence to the report of the Fishing Inspectorate. Rejecting the description of Bochkarëv's actions as "careless" and "overly trusting," the students boldly characterized them as "gross abuses of his social role," as "amoral," and as indicative of a "contemptuous [naplevatel'skoe ] attitude toward those who gave him a position of trust."

The great Russian painter Il'ia Repin had once brilliantly depicted the glee with which defiant Cossacks composed a presumably insulting response to an ultimatum of the Ottoman sultan. It is easy to imagine that same spirit of mirthful defiance as the students now set about crafting their official resolutions in the auditorium of the Biology and Soil Sciences Faculty. In all they proposed five:

1. To affirm that the account in Krokodil conformed to the facts of the case,

2. To thank the editorial board of Krokodil for subjecting Bochkarëv to the court of public opinion,

3. To censure the conduct of the poacher, M. M. Bochkarëv, and to demand his immediate removal as president of VOOP and his expulsion from the Society, . . .

4. To ask the authorities to identify all of the participants . . . , including those who perjured themselves, and bring them all to strict justice, and

5. To express our opposition to the decisions of the Presidium of VOOP.[15]


Copies of the resolution were circulated to Krokodil , the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of VOOP, the Science Section of the Committee for Party and State Auditing of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the USSR Council of Ministers, the Riazan' Fishing Inspectorate, the Commission on Party and State Auditing under the oblast' Committees of the Riazan' Communist Party and regional government, the Presidium of the Moscow Society of Naturalists, the Moscow branch of the Geographical Society of the USSR, Literaturnaia gazeta , and Professor Geptner. The seditious document was signed by the faculty sponsor (kuratur ) of the druzhina , then candidate of biological sciences Vadim Nikolaevich Tikhomirov, and by the leader (komandir ) of the student group, Sergei Nikolaevich Ivanov.

On July 20, 1965, again during the height of the summer field research season (to exclude largely dissident working naturalists), VOOP's Central Executive Committee held a plenary meeting at the clubhouse of the USSR State Committee on Problems of Labor and Wages. Chairing the meeting was acting president N. G. Ovsiannikov; Bochkarëv had recently "resigned" on April 13. The official agenda listed only three topics: preparing for the Fourth Congress of VOOP, awarding honorary membership in the Society, and "an organizational question."[16] The "organizational question" was none other than the Bochkarëv affair. As in 1955, a representative of the Russian Republic's government came to oversee the rectification of the Society's internal affairs. It was the RSFSR representative, P. V. Minin, who announced Bochkarëv's resignation as president to the eighty-six delegates in attendance. The official explanation, promulgated by Minin, was that Bochkarëv was already too overburdened by the press of his primary responsibilities as the manager of the republic's forests. The delegates unanimously ratified Bochkarëv's departure and just as unanimously endorsed the election of Ovsiannikov as the new president.

A few words are in order about how the civil degradation of Bochkarëv could have occurred. First, this episode occurred during a time of political transition. Khrushchëv had been removed in mid-October 1964 and all expectations (wrongly, it turned out) were that Brezhnev and Kosygin would continue, if not expand, Khrushchëv's liberalization policies while eliminating the capricious aspects of his rule. Indeed, in the late autumn of 1964 the new leaders had initiated the removal of Lysenko and turned to the community of elite biologists to organize the rehabilitation of classical genetics. It was that impression, evidently, that emboldened reformers in the press (Krokodil , Komsomol 'skaia pravda, Literaturnaia gazeta ) to publish the damaging articles about the high official Bochkarëv and permitted the extraordi-


nary spectacle of his public ridicule by the student assembly at Moscow State University. Although these propitious conditions were soon brought to an end by the new rulers, the memory of the episode persisted.

In the short term, very little of substance changed in the way that the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature did business or the way that natural resources and environmental amenities were managed in the Soviet Union. But in the long term, the scandal damaged the system's legitimacy.

Three important consequences flowed from the cumulative experience of the conservation movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The first was that this band of elite biologists and their followers in educated society and the student population came to an important realization: that they were almost unique in representing a reasonably autonomous, cohesive, self-actualized movement of a portion of the citizenry in opposition to important economic policies pursued by the regime such as the heedless prosecution of industrial and agricultural development in environmentally fragile areas.

The second important outcome was the conservation activists' improved grasp of the real workings of the system. Although these elite biologists, like other vast sections of the Soviet population, were moved by the spirit of idealism and hope that Nikita Khrushchëv stoked in the mid and late 1950s, their experiences of struggle for conservation values began to erode, and finally canceled out, these hopes. From the state-dictated removal of elected officers of VOOP in 1955 to Khrushchëv's anti-intellectual and ill-considered "second liquidation" of zapovedniki in 1961 (justified by an unanticipated attack on "useless field biology"), from the scandals involving the retail stores ("Priroda") of VOOP to the front-page civil disgrace of M. M. Bochkarëv, activists began to derive an understanding of how politics was played. They began to understand the game of Soviet justice, where, to legitimize the embezzlement, corruption, and black marketeering that was indispensable to economic performance and delivery of products, another set of bureaucrats—themselves dialectically dependent on this corruption to justify their jobs—provided the theater of investigation and auditing. Highly publicized slaps on the wrist and occasional scapegoating (such as the execution in the early 1960s of a number of Jewish "economic criminals") assuaged public anger at the system's uneven access to goods and power while altering nothing fundamental. Indeed, these staged scandals even served in a Darwinian way to reward the best players and weed out the weaker ones.

With respect to the Bochkarëv affair, although the system was unable to suppress public indignation or save Bochkarëv, its damage control measures were successful, and Bochkarëv was replaced with another politically reliable administrator. But this short-term victory was achieved at the price of exposing the corrupt network of Communist bureaucrats from the government of the Russian Republic to VOOP to the Fishing Inspectorate. It


also revealed that within the press were reform-minded elements that, given the proper conditions, would come to the activists' assistance. Indeed, in this episode the press played a critical role. Passionate and more serious attacks on Bochkarëv had appeared several years before the Geptner episode. Chivilikhin's articles on Kedrograd, for instance, had already drawn blood. Public opinion in the reform wing of the central press had already formed a negative perception of Bochkarëv that prepared the way for "Get a Load of Those Goldfish!" That stunning body blow set the stage for devastating articles two weeks later in Literaturnaia gazeta and Komsomol'skaia pravda . And although the pieces in the two papers "were not knowingly coordinated, neither was it a complete coincidence," in the words of Kedrograd leader Vitalii Fëdorovich Parfënov.[17] Of course, Semënov, editor of Krokodil , ran less of a risk; like a medieval court jester, his publication was a safety valve and was allowed a certain license to poke fun at the regime. But the editors of the other journals risked high personal stakes.[18]

Third, the experiences of the 1950s and the early 1960s proved to be a university for conservationists in the praxis of activism. Faced with the expropriation of their society, VOOP, by the regime, they found alternative, safe institutional protection in the Moscow Society of Naturalists and the Botanical Society, immune from direct regime pressure or interest, and then used those bases to expand their influence into the crucial student community in 1958–1960. They learned to use the press and to exploit the moral victory of Bochkarëv's resignation as a piece of activist folklore; memory of that symbolic victory was passed down as late as the 1980s. Nevertheless, they continued to see the solution in replacing uncouth bureaucrats with more cultured ones and in their own inclusion into policymaking. They understood the system better but could not part company with it.

Two years after the first scandal, in 1967, Bochkarëv was removed from his remaining government post for "personal abuses of power." A state dacha he had built (cutting corners) burned down. It is unknown whether he pleaded naïve ignorance of building codes in connection with this scandal.

Kedrograd Coda

Bochkarëv's other legacy was the disruption and evisceration of Kedrograd. In October 1966, with the experiment standing on one leg, Vitalii Parfënov received a telegram from Moscow with instructions to come quickly to the RSFSR Ministry of Forestry, then led by Ivan Emel'ianovich Voronov. With Chivilikhin present, Voronov offered Parfënov a job in the ministry. Still nourishing a belief in the ultimate reformability of the system, Chivilikhin urged Parfënov to accept, arguing that Kedrograd was thirty years


ahead of its time and that in Moscow Parfënov could help prepare the ground.

Parfënov, however, fell ill with tuberculosis and, thinking that he would not survive, wrote his book Kompleks v kedrovom lesu (Complex in the Stone Pine Forest), which was awarded a Komsomol Prize. Ultimately, he did accept a position in Moscow with the forestry authorities, but he could not prevent the disbanding of the experiment by 1976.

In 1981 longtime Tomsk Party first secretary Egor Kuz'mich Ligachëv, later second in command under Gorbachëv, revived the idea of Kedrograd in his own oblast' . A conference was held and a film on the original Kedrograd, shot by a studio in Novosibirsk, was shown. Parfënov warned Ligachëv, however, that everything depended on the quality of workers attracted to the project, explaining that the original Kedrograd was based on well trained and committed volunteers. Seeking a dramatic political success, the obdurate Ligachëv went ahead with his plans regardless, thinking that he could airlift a bunch of foresters into the taiga and the project would take care of itself. As Parfënov predicted, the project did not take off, and Kedrograd was not resurrected.[19]

Yet another conference on restoring Kedrograd was held in July 1987. However, the experiment was not restored, and in 1993 the new Russian forestry agency Rosleskhoz changed the plantation's name, "thus eras[ing] it from memory and [consigning it] to oblivion like the Church of Christ the Savior, like thousands of historical and cultural monuments of our people," in the embittered words of Parfënov. To Parfënov Kedrograd represented a gallant attempt to preserve national memory through the preservation of "native" landscape. "For myself," he wrote, "I believe that the authentic cause of the unexpected elimination of Kedrograd is rooted in something . . . very serious. Our society is increasingly ravaged by the disease of 'Ivanov, who cannot remember his ancestors,' which has arisen as a result of the flowering of selfish, individual interests and a lack of respect for the labors of previous generations, on the indifference to everything, including the future of our own children."[20] Foresters especially are supposed to look decades and hundreds of years ahead, and it is a particularly poignant evil when they betray this responsibility. "The unique cedar woods," Parfënov concluded, "are a national treasure and not an object for the vagaries of the anarchy of the market."[21]

If the Bochkarëv and Kedrograd affairs were learning experiences for those involved in those struggles, what participants learned about the system may have been similar, but the morals they drew varied. While there was a general agreement that self-interested bureaucrats were damaging the interests of the country, the remedies of the various activist camps were hardly identical. For the field naturalists and their druzhinniki protégés, what the


country needed was more input from the scientific and university communities; for the kedrogradtsy and their literary patrons, what was lacking was Russian patriotism, because "historical memory" had been ignored or even defiled. Each camp created its own mythology of these affairs. Where field naturalists remember Geptner's single-mindedness and civic courage, Parfënov sees the Krokodil piece as a sideshow, damaging for Bochkarëv, but no more than a farce. For him, it was obvious that Chivilikhin's polemical forays were the force that ultimately brought Bochkarëv low.[22]

Just as this grimly amusing episode shows that the various nature protection groups were drawn to some of the same issues and appeared to be working in tandem, it also shows that the same cause could have an entirely different resonance and meaning for each of the groups. This was also the case with the fight to prevent the pollution of Lake Baikal.


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Chapter Fifteen— Three Men in a Boat: VOOP in the Early 1960s
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