previous chapter
Chapter Six— The Deluge, 1951
next chapter

Chapter Six—
The Deluge, 1951

The research agenda promoted by Soviet ecologists was not readily comprehensible to ordinary folk or to Soviet bureaucrats. In an anthropological sense, we may speak of the biologist-activists and the bureaucrats as belonging to two separate cultures, trying to communicate across a wide gulf of language and values.

The conservation movement's marginal social position created two distinct political problems and dilemmas. In "normal" times the movement's obscurity had helped to save it from destruction, but that status remained a challenge to the scientists' own sense of their social identity and mission; their civic conscience and sense of entitlement to help shape public policy drove them to speak out, to try to become visible, like moths attracted to a flame. Yet their marginality left these scientist activists open to the charge of "irrelevance" and of being "cut off from life" at times of political and rhetorical-ideological mobilization. The movement activists, however, had developed an exquisite dance—flying close enough to the flame to feel the heat, yet being able to sense that threshold beyond which they would be incinerated and thus to turn back just in time. Flying close enabled them to feel as though they had risked, they had dared, they had satisfied the demands of their scientific—civic ethos and had preserved their professional dignity. Turning back was the triumph of common sense.

In the Kremlin, Merkulov and his team were busy sifting through the thousands of pages of descriptions, financial information, and denunciations regarding the Main Administrations of the various republics as well as the


sixty-odd zapovedniki personally visited by the agents of State Control. "Absurd, dreamt-up facts were collected by [the agents]," writes Boreiko, "designed to besmirch the zapovedniki . Thus, in the Khomutovskaia steppe zapovednik the administration, it turns out, did not take 'adequate steps to combat agricultural pests and weeds that represent a great threat both to the zapovednik as well as to the fields of [neighboring] kolkhozy .'"[1] Askania-Nova had an excess of "unreliable" workers. The Moscow oblast ' reserves were assessed as "superfluous" because they were located in the existing green-belt around Moscow.[2]

Some of the most lurid incriminations were contained in an eight-page report, "Notes on the Work of the State Zapovedniki for Comrade Stalin," which Merkulov sent off to the dictator immediately after everyone had recovered from the New Year's holiday.[3] Testifying to Stalin's personal involvement in the matter by the fall of 1950 is the notation from Merkulov at the head of the document of the copy preserved in the Party Archives: "In fulfillment of your order to investigate the work of the state zapovedniki ." (A second copy was sent to Malenkov.)[4] In Georgia, Merkulov charged, local authorities had improperly transferred to the Khevskii and Telavo-Kvarel'skii reserves 9,800 hectares of farmland and pasture that had been "eternally granted to kolkhozy ."[5] In fact, explained Merkulov, this was indicative of a more serious violation of Soviet law. According to the 1939 statute on zapovedniki , only Union republics had the right to organize reserves. However, noted Merkulov, "many zapovedniki have been organized by decisions of oblast' executive committees." One extreme example was the Dargan-Atinskii State zapovednik in Turkmenia, which had not even been organized by the oblast' authorities but by those in the raion![6] This was local political autonomy out of control.

Another of Merkulov's arguments was that some zapovedniki were too large for their staffs to manage effectively. In the giant Sikhote-Alinskii reserve in the Far East, for example, each ranger had to patrol an area of 1,800 square kilometers. For Merkulov it followed that the area of the reserve should be slashed.[7]

Other reserves, such as the Alma-Atinskii zapovednik , should be abolished because they had "lost their value for science" through illegal grazing of flocks.[8] Still others supported frivolous or "accidental" research topics "that flowed from the personal whims of the scientific researchers." "Contrived" (nadumannaia ) and "useless" themes included the Denezhkin kamen' reserve's study of "the feeding strategies of quail in Ural alpine-taiga habitats in a year of complete harvest failure for berries" and the Caucasus reserve's study of "the feeding habits of the lynx as a means of understanding its role of predator in the zapovednik ." One research project of the Tul'skie zaseki reserve tried to incorporate Lysenko's theory of staged plant


development and was included by Merkulov presumably as an example of a "contrived" theme.[9] Additional arguments included the alleged lack of economic application of research done in the reserves ("since 1945 the zapovedniki of the RSFSR have spent 20.9 million rubles on science but have not come up with one practical recommendation for the economy"), forest fires (207 in 1949 and 1950 with losses of 675,000 rubles of timber), poaching of timber by individuals (515,000 rubles stolen in Georgia from 1948–1950 alone), and timber simply going to waste because the reserves permitted no logging.[10]

Finally, reviving the charges heard during the First Five-Year Plan period and in Lepeshinskaia's report, Merkulov charged that the zapovedniki were havens for politically unreliable elements. This was particularly true of the deputy directors of the reserves for scientific research: those of the Altaiskii and Il'menskii zapovedniki served in institutions of the White regime during the Civil War, while the head of the Darvinskii (Darwin) reserve was a former noble had who served time for "counterrevolutionary agitation." The deputy director of the Main Administration itself, Makarov, the report charged, "is a former SR [Socialist Revolutionary]," while a senior scientific staff member, Georgii Gustavovich Bosse, was not only an SR but a member of the government of Kaledin (a White general in the Don Cossack Region). Of ten workers of the Main Administration and twenty leading administrators and scientists of the Ukrainian system, no fewer than twelve had been either prisoners of war or living in territory occupied by the Nazis.[11] Given the existing obligation of the Ministry of Forestry to protect Soviet forests and of hunting administration authorities to protect wildlife, Merkulov concluded that there was little reason to maintain the current elaborate network of nature reserves.[12]

Accompanying these notes in the archive is an extended memo, written partly in pencil, recording the results of consultations with the leaders of the Union republics about the proposed changes in the reserve system. On December 30, Kalashnikov met with Chernousov, who saw no choice but to go along with the recommendations.[13] On January 2 he spoke by phone with Secretary Mel'nikov of the Ukrainian Central Committee, who responded to Kalashnikov by hot line ("VCh") the next day. The Ukrainians wanted to save Askania-Nova, proposing to turn it over to the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, but otherwise went along. The Belorussian premier, Kleshchev, also on the hot line, tried to trade the life of one zapovednik for another. Betting all his chips on an effort to save the large Berezina zapovednik , which, he argued, held "great importance for our republic," Kleshchev only weakly defended the Vialovskii reserve, although he explained that it was one of the few places in the USSR where the rare, acclimatized Père Daniel's deer (originally from Manchuria) bred in the wild. In Georgia, Party secretary


Charkviani requested that the Lagodekhskii and Teberdinskii reserves be transferred to the Agricultural Division of Georgia's Academy of Sciences, the same stratagem used by the Ukrainian Party leader.[14]

Although hobbled by the presence of Lysenko and his allies in the Presidium of the USSR Academy of Sciences, President Sergei Ivanovich Vavilov and his scholarly secretary, A. V. Topchiev, were the first to protest officially, writing on January 15, 1951 to Malenkov in his capacity as a secretary of the Central Committee. Commenting on Merkulov's conclusions, the Academy leadership reported that its Presidium "considers the question of the reduction of the network of state zapovedniki to be insufficiently studied at the present time," an acceptable way of stating that it was a poor idea.[15]

Science leaders were more outspoken in Ukraine, where forces quickly mobilized to repel Merkulov's attack. On January 13, the Ukrainian republic's Council of Ministers convened a conference on the problem of zapovedniki . Ukrainian Academy vice president P. S. Pogrebniak spoke out sharply against the plans to cut the system, particularly in Ukraine. The conference had made such an impression on local leaders that premier D. Korotchenko sent a request to the Kremlin to leave the majority of Ukrainian reserves in place. As Boreiko demonstrates, despite the pressure exerted by Merkulov in response, Korotchenko and First Secretary Mel'nikov dragged their feet, haggled, and tried to save even small parcels of protected land.[16]

In desperation, conservation activists played their last card—their personal connections to Politburo of the Party. When Ivan Dmitrievich Papanin (see figure 7), hero of the Cheliuskin rescue, retired from the directorship of the Main Administration for the Northern Sea Route (Glavsevmorput') at the end of the war, the Central Committee department of cadres was challenged to find a suitable sinecure for the amiable but not intellectually stellar aviator. Someone hit on the idea of placing him at the head of the Moscow branch of the Geographical Society of the USSR. After all, Arctic aviation and exploration were only a step apart.

Papanin settled in to his new position with his customary conviviality and quickly became part of the circle of activists. The Moscow Society of Naturalists rented half its suite of four rooms in the Moscow State University Zoological Museum on Herzen Street to the Geographical Society's Moscow branch. The Zoological Museum (see figure 8) was one of the Moscow headquarters of the conservation movement, and the mainstays of MOIP and of VOOP were mostly the same people. Geptner, Formozov, and a whole series of others were even on the staff of the museum. Until Papanin and his secretary found a new building for the Geographical Society in the early 1960s opposite the Historical-Archival Institute, by force of geographical proximity Papanin became a member of the activists' social network.

Thus, when news about the Merkulov plan was received, Andrei Alek-


Figure 7.
Ivan Dmitrievich Papanin (1894–1986).

sandrovich Nasimovich and Eduard Makarovich Murzaev, nature protection activists in the Academy's Geographical Institute (having been fired by Malinovskii), went to Papanin in alarm. Papanin, who had come to understand some of their perspectives, agreed to use his political capital in a last attempt to prevent this donnybrook for the zapovedniki . He called his friend Kliment E. Voroshilov, a member of the Politburo. According to Nasimovich, Papanin "drew a vivid picture of the alarm experienced by scientific


Figure 8.
The Zoological Museum of Moscow State University.

public opinion." A longtime ally of nature protection as well, Voroshilov promised to help and indeed actually tried to intercede with Stalin. However, he was unable to achieve more than a reprieve of a few months. The scientists' last hopes evaporated.

The fate of the reserves was almost certainly sealed. One of Stalin's aides, Sukhanov, had written on the cover sheet of Merkulov's report: "The zapovednik question has been decided." The note was dated January 24, 1951.[17] Voroshilov, who, though a nominal member, had not been invited to a Politburo meeting in years, was not the person to stop this avalanche.

The spring of 1951 was a time of deceptive quiet. True, the Korean War was raging and tensions in Europe were still high following the end of the Berlin blockade. However, Beria's fall from favor, the Mingrelian Case, and the arrest of the Czech Communist leadership would not take place until the fall, and the Doctors' Plot and Stalin's final orgy of paranoia were still to come. Malinovskii sent Premier Chernousov a progress report in early May, setting out in reasonable detail his new, more practical initiatives in the zapovedniki . In the Astrakhan reserve, for instance, scientists determined the seasonal feeding patterns of predatory fish and then informed the Northern Caspian Fisheries Administration of the best time to release commercial stocks of fish fry. To the northeast, in the Il'menskii zapovednik , scientists designed a wind-powered aerator to mix oxygen in frozen lakes to prevent mas-


sive fish-kills from anoxia. In the European Russian Arctic, at the Pechoro-Ilych reserve, an instruktor of Military Unit no. 74390 attempted to train moose for use in military transport.

The number of European bison, Malinovskii reported, had risen to forty-one from thirty the year before, and six were transferred to zoos. The Main Administration's debt had been nearly eliminated; it was only 21,000 rubles, 18 percent of what it had been the year before. Finally, Malinovskii reported that he had addressed "a major shortcoming . . . the infiltration of our cadre by [previously] repressed individuals and by insufficiently qualified workers." No fewer than forty-four employees of the Main Administration had been replaced. Malinovskii's report was decidedly upbeat.[18]

The director chose not to make explicit his own view that the zapovednik system also needed to be pared drastically to become an optimally useful part of Soviet economy and society. Ironically, this was at odds with the position of his nominal superiors in the RSFSR government. Indeed, an independent audit conducted by the RSFSR Gosplan and Ministry of Finance revealed that Malinovskii had failed to spend 5.7 percent of the monies allocated to the Main Administration for capital construction in 1950. Reporting this information to Premier Chernousov on May 25, Deputy Premier Bessonov editorialized that this occurred "at the same time that many zapovedniki are experiencing an acute lack of residential housing" and other needs. However, as Bessonov pointed out, the whole question "is under review in the Presidium of the USSR Council of Ministers."[19] Actually, the "zapovednik affair" had made its way to the desk of Stalin's much-feared secretary, Poskrëbyshev.[20] Neither the RSFSR leaders nor Malinovskii would be able to exercise much influence on the final decision. Bessonov recommended that Chernousov not approve Malinovskii's report, as the situation was still not fully clear. However, he did suggest that the findings of the RSFSR Gosplan and Ministry of Finance report be sent to Malinovskii "so that he might take action to eliminate the existing deficiencies in the work of the zapovedniki " (in other words, that he should spend the monies allocated by his superiors to the reserves and not make policy on his own).[21] Up to the last, the RSFSR leaders were determined to try to act as much as possible like masters in their own house.

In the shadow of the months-long silence of the Presidium of the USSR Council of Ministers, which now had to act on the conclusions of the Merkulov report, the Main Administration's Scientific Council reconvened on May 21, 1951. Once again, Malinovskii attempted to tackle the big question first. "Before discussing [other] questions," the director began, "I wanted to remind those present that during 1950 the Main Administration went through a not exactly everyday experience," referring to the Ministry of State Control investigation.[22] "I consider it essential to briefly present the recommendations reached by the State Control commissions," he continued.


In the name of political realism, he argued, "the Main Administration, analyzing the past, considered it necessary to amend the statute on zapovedniki ," readily conceding that this was "an incredibly ticklish subject." With some justification, Malinovskii alluded to "a whole series of contradictions between separate classes of protected entities in the zapovedniki ." In the Crimean reserve, for example, there was the conflict between the ungulate population (mainly deer) and the goal of forest regeneration. In the Voronezh reserve, forests needed to be actively managed if they were to continue to support a growing beaver population.

"All of this taken together," he suggested, "demands a decisive shift from any fixation on inviolability to a concept of zapovednik management [zapovednoe khoziaistvo]– . . . the rational activity of humans aimed at the attainment of the basic goals set for the zapovedniki."[23] Although failing to inform the activists and council members of his own active role in truncating the system, Malinovskii displayed an unexpected forthrightness in setting out his positions and the logic behind them. In light of his closing appeal–"I ask you to pose your questions as sharply as possible, since by bringing them out into the open we enable ourselves to resolve them"[24] –we are left wondering about this Soviet bureaucrat: was he a consummate cynic or a straight-shooter who genuinely believed that his vision brought greater benefit to society? I suspect that the latter is closer to the truth.

In closing the conference Malinovskii made another revelation about the current crisis and his role in it. There were some, he recounted, who made the following argument during the sessions of the Ministry of State Control investigatory commission: "Let the Ministry of Forestry handle forest administration and the Ministry of the Fishing Industry handle fish stocking and breeding; let's turn all the zapovedniki over to them and there will be greater benefit that way." However, "After long debates I was able to demonstrate that no, that is not the case. . . . [T]he zapovedniki have their own job to do. And I must say that it was really shown to be the case and it is within this framework that we continue to do our work."[25]

Indicative of Malinovskii's pragmatic, task-based understanding of the functions of zapovedniki , so alien to the visions of the old field biologists, was his enthusiasm about the number of wolves shot in the reserves during his first year as director.[26] Other projects that reflected his personal sense of purpose included game censuses, the provision of salt licks and winter feeding stations for game animals, and the construction of artificial bird houses and refuges for wildlife during periods of river flooding. He considered bird banding and the nature log (letopis' pirody ) useful as well.[27] His was a rather commonplace conception of the general good; tangible, material, and attainable in a short period. In fact, it was much more a Soviet philistine (meshchanskii ) outlook than a heroic Stalinist vision of the massive transformation and transfiguration of the world. However, because it re-


quired the intrusion of the "profane" world of Soviet economics and power relations into the "sacral" realm of the zapovedniki , no meeting of minds was possible between Malinovskii and the old activist scientific intelligentsia.

Like Makarov twenty years earlier, Malinovskii pleaded for the chance to let the zapovedniki become bases for the transformation of nature in their own way, as research institutes for acclimatization, predator and pest control, and managed forest succession. The only difference between the two men was that Makarov was engaging in protective coloration. Malinovskii meant every word.

1951: Summer and Fall

As a decision about the fate of the system seemed to approach, malcontents in the reserves sensed opportunities to engage in denunciations against resident scientists while reserves' defenders made last-ditch appeals to political patrons and potential intercessors. In June, one disgruntled worker of the Lapland zapovednik sent up a donos (denunciation) of the reserve's director, Ivan Osipovich Chernenko, its scientific director, Oleg Izmailovich Semënov-tian-shanskii, and his wife, Maria Ivanovna Vladimirskaia.[28] Chernenko, it was alleged, was so "panicked by the State Control investigation" that he overworked the reindeer hauling the "guests" from Moscow and Leningrad. The Semënov-tian-shanskiis, after the reserve was cut off from the outside world for two months in late spring owing to the floods, used government nets to fish daily for food for their table, where they also fed the director and the bookkeeper and her husband. Oleg Izmailovich was further impugned with shooting "an unlimited amount of game birds" for the same purpose.[29]

There was no mistaking the class antagonism that pervaded this sullen letter. "Instead of sharing some of the fish with the hungry workers, the scientific director fed his three dogs until they were full," the writer complained. "It's time to put an end to this extended family [semeistvo ] of scientific idlers who receive government monies and live at the expense of the workers of the zapovednik ," the author protested. "Chernenko fires all those who try to introduce the Soviet way of doing things to the zapovednik , "concluded the writer, "and the Main Administration doesn't take any action."[30]

As the letter was sent to the RSFSR Council of Ministers for disposition, Malinovskii was asked to respond. That he was not opposed to scientists per se is reflected in his response of September 14 to Bessonov, following an investigation of the reserve in the interim. The charges, declared Malinovskii, were "utterly baseless." Indeed, he countered, there was no food deficit in the reserve, only "the absence of a full assortment of products," and the right to fish for personal need extended not only to the scientific staff


but to all workers of the reserve, including the complainant.[31] The new Main Administration head was not interested in inflicting surplus repression, especially at the instigation of freelance informers and vigilantes. But he was certainly not going to stand in the way of Stalin and Merkulov. Increasingly, his association with the liquidation of the reserves completely overshadowed his acts of decency toward individual scientists in the minds of the vast majority of conservation activists and field biologists of the USSR. Probably by fall 1951 a demonized perception of him had taken hold, which would persist in the scientific community until his death.

"Scientific public opinion" was expressed in unusually strong terms. For example, in the name of the Presidium of the Moscow Society of Naturalists (MOIP), president Nikolai Dmitrievich Zelinskii, a leading Academy chemist, and vice president Vera Aleksandrovna Varsonof'eva, professor of geology at MGU, sent an angry letter to the Main Administration regarding the threat to eliminate the Visim zapovednik . "The draft plan for liquidation . . . is eliciting the righteous protest of scientific public opinion in Sverdlovsk," they wrote, "which the Presidium of MOIP shares."[32]

Government authorities on various levels protested as well. One of the most interesting and emphatic protests was sent to Chernousov from the Executive Committee of Velikie Luki oblast' .[33] Pointing out the great importance of the scientific research done in the Tsentral'no-Lesnoi zapovednik of his oblast' , G. Kharin, chairman of the oblast' Executive Committee, added that there were a great many other scientific institutions that had a big stake in its continued existence, including the Academy of Sciences and Moscow University. "For some unknown reason the head of the Main Administration . . . Malinovskii has introduced a recommendation to the Council of Ministers about the liquidation of the zapovednik ," wrote Kharin, who may not have been aware of which Council of Ministers (the USSR's) was really making this decision. "Meanwhile," he indignantly complained, "this recommendation was not cleared" either with the relevant oblast' organi zations or with other oblast' organizations that had an interest in the continued existence of the zapovednik . "In light of the above," Kharin concluded, "the Velikie Luki oblast' Executive Committee . . . decisively voices its opposition to the recommendation of the Main Administration to liquidate the zapovednik and asks that it be rejected, for the Tsentral'no-Lesnoi zapovednik is the only scientific research institution not only in Velikie Luki oblast' , but in a whole number of oblasts of the northwestern region of the RSFSR, not to speak of its importance in regulating water flow."[34]

Another oblast ' chief who weighed in was V. Ivanov, chair of the Khabarovsk krai Executive Committee, whose letter spoke on behalf of the Kamchatka oblast' committee as well. "[Our committees] categorically oppose the liquidation of the Kronotskii zapovednik , the only one in the region, . . . and


call upon the RSFSR Council of Ministers to obligate the Main Zapovednik Administration to restore appropriate scientific research staff levels there."[35]

In Belorussia, the Party and government leadership collectively sent an urgent letter to no less than Malenkov, Stalin's first deputy on the USSR Council of Ministers. While agreeing to the elimination of the Vialovskii reserve, the Belorussian premier, A. Kleshchev, and that republic's first secretary, N. Patolichev, deemed it "beneficial to preserve the Berezinskii State zapovednik ." Not surprisingly, they opened with technical rather than cultural arguments to bolster their case, noting that the surrounding kolkhozy (to whom the forests would presumably be transferred) were already well enough endowed with woodlands and arguing that plowing the former woodlands would cause a catastrophic drop in ground-water levels over a large area, while the sandy-crumbly soils would not support crop cultivation. Navigable rivers would be placed in jeopardy, and the water regime of the fi-agile overworked soils of the farms surrounding the zapovednik would be disrupted.[36] Further, the elimination of the reserve would "deprive the republic of the possibility of the field station–based study of natural flora and fauna" in an area representative of most of the republic's natural features.[37]

Finally, a letter to the RSFSR Council of Ministers from M. Gorbunov, deputy chair of the Sverdlovsk oblast' Executive Committee, illuminates the patron-client relationship that the scientist activists succeeded in cementing over a period of years, if not decades. Championing the continued existence of the Denezhkin kamen' reserve, Gorbunov wrote:

There are no kolkhozy or sovkhozy [collective farms or state farms] that have any interest in obtaining lands of . . . Denezhkin kamen'. There are also no logging organizations with claims on the forests of the zapovednik . Even if such were the case, the status of the forests as watershed forests for the Volga basin would prohibit exploitation. If any part of the zapovednik should be turned over to the Ministry of Forestry, no savings or economic gains will result. . . . The entire territory is valuable for scientific research and the scientific societies and scientists of our oblast' have spoken out against any violation of the integrity of the territory of this zapovednik .[38]

The same arguments applied, continued Gorbunov, to preserving the Visim reserve. Having defended his dignity as a local political leader and the interests of his clients, Gorbunov was also realistic enough to know that his protest would carry little weight with those making the decisions Thus he concluded that "if, despite our opinion, the liquidation goes through," the Executive Committee requests that the Ministry of Forestry convert the entire area into a game preserve (zakaznik ) for beaver, which would at least minimize the disruption to the natural complex.[39]

It would be a mistake, though, to conclude that the opinions of the


republics and the localities counted for nothing in this substantial land transfer. Elaborate tables detailing the responses and reactions to all of the individual "liquidations" and truncations of reserves were compiled for Merkulov (and, ultimately, for the Presidium of the USSR Council of Ministers) on the eve of the issuance of the official decree.[40] Those dissenting were in the minority at the oblast' level, but the above examples were joined by the Central Committee of the Azerbaijan SSR (which sought to save both of its marked zapovedniki ), Turkmenia (which sought to spare most of the Dargan-Atin reserve), and Ukraine. The leaders of the RSFSR were silent this time.[41]

Had the regime not additionally employed strategies of deception, the number of protesting oblasts might have been greater yet. Five years later, at a conference of zapovednik directors and staff, Ivan Osipovich Chernenko related how a potential protest about the liquidation of the Laplandskii zapovednik was derailed. In August 1951, Chernenko recalled, he and Oleg Izmailovich Semënov-tian-shanskii, who were on the scientific staff of that reserve, made a trip to Murmansk, the oblast 'seat, to settle some questions about future projects and to raise the issue of the decline of fur-bearing game animals in the oblast' . When they arrived at the offices of the oblast' Executive Committee—the regional government—they were unexpectedly told that their zapovednik was slated to be liquidated. Immediately they sent a telegram to Malinovskii and quickly received a reply: "No one is intending to liquidate your zapovednik ." Chernenko and Semënov-tian-shanskii showed the telegram to the local authorities, correcting the rumors that they had heard, and, their anxiety put to rest, returned to the reserve. "A month had not passed," Chernenko continued, "when we received another telegram, in September, decreeing the liquidation of the zapovednik . . . . If it weren't for the [first] telegram, we could have raised this issue at the obkom [the regional Party headquarters] and in the oblispolkom [the regional government], presented our point of view, and without a doubt the Laplandskii zapovednik would have been saved. But we received notification of the liquidation when we already had no opportunity for appealing it."[42]

Stalin personally reviewed Merkulov's recommendations on July 25 and signed order no. 12535-r, which authorized a final drafting commission consisting of Khrushchëv, A. I. Kozlov, Benediktov, Skvortsov, Bovin, and Safronov (a deputy premier of the RSFSR) to prepare the final draft legislation. Stalin's order had two stipulations: that the materials be ready for presentation to the USSR Council of Ministers in two weeks, and that the rump zapovednik system be left with an aggregate area of no greater than 1.5 million hectares.[43] Cognizant, no doubt, of Malinovskii's sincere support for moderate cuts in the system, Stalin's secretary Poskrëbyshev called the Main Administration chief to remind him that Stalin, not he, called the shots.[44] The Kremlin was covering all possible contingencies.


The decree was published on August 29, 1951, one of the darkest days for nature protection in Soviet history. Simply called "O zapovednikakh" ("On Zapovedniki "), decree no. 3192 obliterated 88 of the 128 extant reserves, while the aggregate area of the reserves fell from 12.6 million hectares, or 0.6 percent of the overall area of the USSR, to 1.384 million hectares, or 0.06 percent. Of the forty reserves that survived, most were smaller–in some cases, unrecognizably smaller—versions of their former selves. Two provisions of the decree were on the activists' wish list: the unification, at long last, of all of the disparate republican systems into a centralized all-Union one, the USSR State Committee for Zapovedniki , with the status of a minor ministry; and the extension of pay scales of scientific researchers in agriculture holding degrees to research scientists in the zapovedniki . The Academy of Sciences was assigned methodological and scientific oversight and leadership of the new reserves system.[45]

Some local politicians such as P. I. Titov, secretary of the Crimean obkom , saw the decree as authorizing an open season on his oblast's Crimean zapovednik .[46] Writing to Malenkov, Titov posed as a defender of the reserve's forests, which were critical to erosion control on the southern slopes of the Crimean uplands. That worthy environmental goal, however, was being undermined by the protection of some 2,500 European red deer and 1,500 roe deer in the zapovednik itself, not to mention 6,500 of the assorted ungulates in the surrounding forests, which, he claimed, were eating the new forest growth. Although Titov had repeatedly raised the problem with the Main Administration, it was always deflected. Now, he sought Malenkov's sanction for a thinning of the herds as well as a provision for continual culling. He also asked Malenkov to initiate a review of the staff breakdowns in the reserve to insure that the reserve fulfilled its responsibilities in this area.[47] Further examination of the documents points to Titov's concern over surrounding forests' economic losses as the primary motivation for his letter.[48]

Malinovskii responded to Titov on September 20, reassuring him that the culling of the herd would begin shortly, subject to approval of the USSR Council of Ministers. A note of November 3, 1951 from Malinovskii to A. I. Kozlov, head of the Central Committee's agricultural department, confirmed that Malinovskii had given the zapovednik's director orders to organize the deer hunt. The final document of this episode was a note to Malenkov from the agricultural department informing him that a representative of the Main Administration was on his way to the Crimea to make sure Malinovskii's order was carried out and to determine the main direction for the scientific research of the zapovednik .[49] Malinovskii's solicitude for the Crimean forests was a harbinger of things to come.

With the elevation of the RSFSR Main Zapovednik Administration to all-Union status came a parting of the ways with the RSFSR administration. This was marked by a letter of Malinovskii to Chernousov in which, among


other things, Malinovskii informed the premier that the entire staff of the previous Main Administration, with the exception of two bookkeepers, had been let go. Makarov, who had served officially as deputy head of the system for seventeen years and had factually led it for twenty, was another casualty of the "restructuring."[50] Of the twenty-eight zapovednik directors of Malinovskii's new all-Union system, seven were fired as well.[51]

Like Russia, all of the other Union republics were forced to issue independent decrees abolishing their former systems of reserves and turning those territories and property over to the new Main Administration and the USSR Ministry of Forestry. Another decree of October 29, 1951 regulated the relatively small transfers of land to sovkhozy and kolkhozy .[52] Ukraine lost nineteen reserves, Georgia sixteen, Lithuania thirteen, Turkmenia four, and the other republics ten altogether. In Askania-Nova, where even the Lysenkoists had not touched 24,000 hectares of relatively undisturbed feathergrass steppe, 2,800 hectares were immediately sown to crops and an additional 20,600 passed to local farms.[53]

Protests were of no use at this point, but the republics began to look for ways to mitigate the damage. Lithuania cleverly managed to organize game preserves within its thirteen liquidated zapovedniki , with the former reserves' forests declared category 1, that is, exempt from commercial cutting.[54]

To understand the emotional impact of these decrees on the activist biologists of the Soviet nature protection movement, it is necessary to recall how bound up zapovedniki were with the scientists' sense of identity and mission. They were the priests, the interpreters, and ultimately the keepers of these sacred territories, which they thought they had saved from the profane Stalinist mire. Zapovedniki were the last tangible remains of prerevolutionary civil society, the ideal of obshchestvennost' . Now, that mire had burst through the invisible gates of the reserves and would cover them too. The activists' own "archipelago of freedom" was being wiped off the map. "In scientific and educated circles this truncation [of the reserves] is regarded as a catastrophe," wrote longtime VOOP Presidium member A. P. Protopopov to I. I. Puzanov, zoologist activist and friend. "Personally, I cannot reconcile myself to this state of affairs," he averred.[55]

Protopopov called attention to the exquisite irony that the "Geografgiz" Publishing House had just issued the "marvelous two-volume Zapovedniki SSSR " (Zapovedniki of the USSR ), a beautifully illustrated and richly detailed guidebook to the reserve system as it existed on the eve of its destruction. Its poetic and inspiring introductory chapter was written by the tragic standard-bearer of the reserves' cause, V. N. Makarov; it was to be his last publication. "In Moscow," Protopopov continued, "they are already impossible to get a hold of; they sold out in three days. I look upon this publication as a literary monument on the grave of the zapovedniki described in its pages. But I do


not intend to weep over this grave because the monument upon it is calling us to battle."[56]

Death and Rebirth

Now equivalent to an all-Union minister, Malinovskii spent the autumn months of 1951 preparing the new statute that would govern the operations of the reserves. It was approved by the USSR Council of Ministers on October 27.[57] On March 19, 1952, it was finally published in a brochure whose copies were numbered in a restricted print run to insure security.[58] What was new was the emphasis: the first priority of scientific research in the zapovedniki was "the solution of practical tasks of agriculture and forestry, the fishing industry, and commercial hunting" (3.b). A number of separate articles reiterated the control over logging and the oversight of forest management by the USSR Ministry of Forestry.

Also by October 1951 Malinovskii had prepared for the forestry ministry totals of the amount of forested land area projected to be under active management in 1952 in the reserves. Of a total area of 1,307,750 hectares, managed lands already accounted for 853,600 hectares; only 257,400 hectares, mostly in steppe or arid regions, were exempted, but of this territory, 163,800 hectares were to be under other kinds of management. In other words, fewer than 100,000 hectares were to be left "wild."[59]

If the zapovedniki were stripped of almost all of the economically attractive lands and therefore were no longer objects of predation by the economic ministries, Malinovskii's presence did little to stop the almost constant stream of security checks and investigations that the "organs" continued to carry out. On February 12, 1952, Beria himself ordered Deputy Minister Pavel'ev of the USSR Ministry of State Control to investigate a denunciation made on New Year's Day by Darvinskii zapovednik director P. A. Petrov and to report back to him and to the Bureau of the Presidium of the USSR Council of Ministers no later than February 25. For emphasis, perhaps, Beria signed his instructions in red ink.[60]

Petrov's denunciation opened with a general critique of the zapovednik system, using much the same language as Merkulov and even Malinovskii had done. Even after Malinovskii's cuts, claimed Petrov, the system was still grossly overstaffed; in his own reserve the deputy director, head of warden patrol, three heads of laboratories, and one of the two hydrologist-technicians should all be fired. The two chauffeurs should also be let go, since there were no roads to drive on; the cars should go to neighboring collective farms. By far the most sensational accusations were directed against Malinovskii. The new chief had prevented Petrov from firing four crew


members of the reserve's motorized launches whom Petrov described as "malingerers." "For your information," Petrov wrote, "the majority of these people are under the little roof of the head of the Main Administration, Comrade Malinovskii." Malinovskii was protecting those who had served time for violations of Article 58, those who had allegedly been translators for the Germans, and other politically reprehensible types. "As strange as it seems," Petrov continued, "such people are in Malinovskii's immediate working entourage." Petrov singled out Iu. A. Isakov, who had served from 1934 to 1937 on the Baltic–White Sea Canal complex. Not only did Malinovskii keep him on, he even wrote in support of Isakov's petition to have his conviction reversed. Similarly, Malinovskii repeatedly attempted to have senior researcher E. N. Preobrazhenskaia released from her eight-year sentence and was ultimately successful. Malinovskii gave her work in another zapovednik . Other former political prisoners and ethnic Germans were named in this ugly irruption of envy and resentment.[61]

"Knowing Comrade Malinovskii well as someone who is politically illiterate, who has never worked in positions of responsibility, uninformed in his field, a careerist and a vengeful person (irrespective of the fact that he himself brought me over with him to work)," concluded Petrov, "I with all my Bolshevik vigilance and straightforwardness decided to inform you and the Vologda oblast 'executive committee. . . . The improper attitude of Comrade Malinovskii toward our zapovednik as well as his firing of . . . administrative workers who were members of the VKP(b) [the Communist Party], while at the same time surrounding himself with people who do not inspire trust, all this raises questions about his future tenure as head of the Administration."[62]

By February 13 an on-site investigation was carried out by the USSR Ministry of State Control. The team of three, the now familiar Kalashnikov plus K. P. Ivanov and V. A. Vinogradov, found Malinovskii's letter on Isakov to be "objective; we cannot find anything reprehensible."[63] More than that, they were able to turn the tables on Petrov, learning that "in his official forms Comrade Petrov hid the fact that he was excluded from the VKP(b) in 1938. With an education of only two grades of primary school, he also wrote on his official forms that he graduated from the Leningrad Technical Forestry Institute. . . . In his attempts to explain all this before the bureau of the raikom of the Party, Comrade Petrov announced that he had done these things by mistake."[64] Malinovskii retained his position, and the matter apparently ended there.

The Question of Causality

According to Aleksandr Leonidovich Ianshin, who was an active member of MOIP at the time, Lysenko was central to the process of the liquida-


tion. First, he emphasizes, the actual liquidation was planned after the August 1948 Session. Many of those whom Lysenko persecuted had been extended a welcome to work in the zapovedniki , which gave him one reason to exact revenge on those institutions. Second, the slogan Lysenko loved to repeat, allegedly drawn from the writings of the plant breeder Ivan Michurin ("We cannot wait for kindnesses from nature; our task is to wrest them from her"), ran exactly counter to the continued existence of zapovedniki , with their regime of inviolability and their celebration of "pristine" nature. Third, Lysenko and I. I. Prezent, his close associate, had had their start in the early 1930s with attacks on the zapovedniki and their "contemplative" approach to transforming nature. The fight against genetics had distracted Lysenko and Prezent before they could wipe out this nest of enemies of socialist construction, so the argument goes, and unfortunately no one else noticed it until Lysenko returned to finish the task after the mop-up of the geneticists in late 1948. Ianshin believes that the initiative rested with Stalin himself, probably as a result of discussions with Lysenko, who then had relatively easy access to the dictator.[65]

Nasimovich, who was more of an insider in the Main Administration than Ianshin, believed that Beria's hand guided the whole process of liquidation. Reputedly the secret police chief saw the heavily wooded zapovedniki near the borders of the USSR as hideouts for foreign spies. Moreover, he allegedly served with Khrushchëv on a Party commission charged with increasing the area of arable land and commercial logging.[66] Nasimovich regards the appointment of Malinovskii as heavily influenced by Beria, who employed the forester as his hatchet man.[67]

Shtil'mark and Heptner, although they remain formally agnostic about the ultimate initiator, find no difference between the positions of Malinovskii and those of Bovin or Stalin. There is considerable merit in their judgment that, although "we have no knowledge about the details of the appointment of A. V. Malinovskii to his new post, there is no doubt that the recommendation came specifically from the forestry organs where he formerly worked and was well known." Contacts between Malinovskii and Bovin and other forestry leaders, they speculate, could have been strengthened in the realm of leisure, where interest in hunting was an attribute of being socialized into forestry.[68] Taking issue with Boreiko's reticence to characterize Malinovskii as a full supporter of the evisceration of the system at the outset, Shtil'mark and Heptner argue that

he was nevertheless hardly an accidental and unwilling executor. . . . A professional economic-oriented forester and lumberman, . . . he had already also been "anointed" with an academic degree and a previous directorship of an institute . . . This gave him the opportunity to present himself not as a primitive liquidator of the zapovednik system, but as a kind of "theoretician,"


which carried great weight with his superiors, often men with only average education. For that reason the opinions held by Malinovskii, "our own scientist," carried particular weight for them in disputes with professors, members of the Scientific Council of the Main Administration, and scientific public opinion. Malinovskii came out against these groups with the slogan of "zapovednik economic management" [zapovednoe khoziaistvo] , an "alternative" of sorts, but in actual fact a prospectus for a pogrom against the zapovedniki , which suited the administrative-party elite just fine, disguising its chiefly consumerist goals. Not by chance during the next phase of his career, already in the USSR Ministry of Agriculture, . . . did Malinovskii arrange the transformation of the best of the remaining zapovedniki  .  .  . into so-called "zapovednikgame management economies" [zapovedno -okhotnich'ia khoziaistva ]—factually, into imperial hunting preserves.[69]

Suggesting at least some complicity on Malinovskii's part in the evolving plans for the liquidation is evidence that Merkulov entrusted him, together with Koz'iakov, with the task of composing the memorandum outlining the proposed future use of the territories of those zapovedniki slated to be liquidated. (Curiously, Malinovskii sought the permission of his nominal superiors in the Russian Republic premier's office to release his memorandum back to Merkulov for use the next day, August 18, 1951, at the meeting of the Presidium of the USSR Council of Ministers, which was to ratify the liquidation decree.)[70]

On the other hand, Shtil'mark and Heptner do acknowledge features of Malinovskii's public persona—his "drive" and his "complete conviction in the rightness of his own positions"—that accord with a less cynical assessment of his activity, an assessment that Vladimir (Volodymyr) Boreiko seems to prefer. It is to this more nuanced view of Malinovskii as a sincere believer in voluntarist, experimental forestry schemes to enhance and augment nature's own productivity and utility—as contrasted with the cynicism of the Party apex by the late 1940s—that I now lean. At this point nothing can be proved. However, one piece of indirect evidence from the archives makes this view more plausible.

A little over one year after the truncation of the reserve network, Party secretary Malenkov passed along to A. I. Bovin, still USSR forestry minister, a very long complaint against Bovin he had received from . . . A. V. Malinovskii. At issue were Malinovskii's objections to the forest management instructions issued by Bovin's ministry, which Malinovskii had set out in a thirty-six-page treatise with a twelve-page addendum, entitled "On the Basic Principles of Forest Management." Malenkov additionally signaled A. I. Kozlov, head of the Central Committee's agricultural department, and asked him to figure out what the disputation was about and take appropriate measures.[71]

Malinovskii castigated Bovin's 1952 forest management instructions pre-


cisely for their "conservative character," for acting "as a brake on the development of forest management." Specifically, Malinovskii had two major objections to Bovin's approach. First, Bovin continued to employ the old system of bonitet , whereby trees were classified by quality and features of the wood as a basis for managing forested tracts. Thus, underwatered and over-watered pine groves would be managed similarly because they were in the same bonitet, and therefore management, category. Malinovskii sought instead a transition to Georgii F. Morozov's idea of "forest types" (tipy lesa ).

Second, Malinovskii reproached Bovin with using an incorrect—capitalist—model in the practice of the engineering of forest plantations:

The history of forest engineering tells us that when they composed their plans, forest planners took as a point of departure the idea of a normal forest, that is, they directed the entire force of their activities to bringing the forest to a normal condition. . . . They understood the term normal forest to mean that condition in which all planting must, as a rule, be of purely the same [species] composition, meet a certain density of plantings, and maintain a uniform area for specified age groups of trees. On this idea of the normal forest the capitalist theory of continual and uninterrupted income [from uninterrupted cropping] was based.[72]

However, argued Malinovskii, the idea of the "normal forest" completely failed to correspond to conditions of Soviet forestry and, "quite naturally, was thrown overboard." Regrettably, though, "neither forestry engineers nor workers in forestry have determined the character and structure of the forest that best suits the corresponding purposes and utilities that should determine each category of forest. In the new instructions . . . there are no indications of how to solve this problem." Malinovskii himself had hoped that the regeneration and/or engineering of commercially desirable "forest types" would be one of the central new objectives of research in his zapovednik system, but he was dismayed to see that there was no echo of support of this from Bovin and the ministry.

Additionally, Malinovskii sought to base logging strategy on waiting for trees to achieve their maximum growth rates before being logged, which would be adjusted by taking into account information about size requirements of logs in demand.[73] Malinovskii asked that "forest types" be officially instituted as a framework of thinking about forests, and that the Institute of Forests of the Academy be involved along with institutes of Bovin's ministry in developing these profiles for different regions.[74] He believed that science could optimize forestry: "for each forest type establish the desired composition, optimal density, and age distribution of the plantation depending on the purpose of the forest and the forest group to which it belongs."[75]

Bovin sent a reply to Malenkov on January 5, 1953, defending his instructions as approved at a conference of 150 experts on February 14–17,


1951, and later approved by the Collegium of his ministry. However, he promised to call a conference in two to three months to discuss, again before experts, Malinovskii's proposals. Thwarting later historians, the conference was postponed, with Malinovskii's concurrence, to December 1953 owing to the reorganization of the USSR Ministry of Forestry in early April 1953, and thereafter the issue apparently faded.[76]

This not terribly coherent exchange on forest structure and exploitation, although by no means conclusive, strongly suggests that Malinovskii held strong ideas and convictions about forest management—strong enough to compel him to take on a higher-ranking minister and even to take his case to Malenkov, the second most powerful politician in the country. If he had been Bovin's creature completely in 1950–1951, why were his original proposals rejected as insufficiently far–reaching and the matter turned over to Merkulov in State Control? If he had been Lysenko's or Stalin's creature entirely, then how do we explain his protection of "formerly repressed" scientists, such as Iu. A. Isakov, or his support of the RSFSR Council of Ministers' defense of the Sredne-Sakhalinskii zapovednik in April 1950, then individually threatened with elimination?[77] Indeed, Malinovskii took science seriously, and he is credited by none other than his bitter political foe Nasimovich with developing an important method of conducting censuses of fauna under snow cover.[78] We must take him seriously as well. Following Boreiko's line of thinking, it makes more sense to regard Malinovskii as an authentic forestry visionary, an idealistic utilitarian, particularly when viewed against cynical politicians such as the land-grabber Bovin, the faux visionary Lysenko, the evidence-manufacturer Merkulov, or the supreme boss, Stalin. This picture is strengthened by Malinovskii's decent behavior toward such scientists as Isakov, Preobrazhenskaia, and others.

Amid conjecture and disagreement about the personal responsibility borne by various individuals in this episode, Shtil'mark and Heptner have advanced an indisputable conclusion:

The tragedy of Soviet zapovedniki depended not only on who was the hangman, who held the ax; it is more important to understand . . . who handed down the sentence and why such punishment was inevitable. There is a paradox in the fact that the zapovedniki were the creations and pride of Soviet power and were sentenced by that very power to their demise. The inevitability of their purge was sealed by the vulgar materialist principles that inescapably shaped the destructive consumerist attitudes toward nature [of the regime], sugarcoated in a demagogic ideology about its transformation in the interests of people (in its next phase, they became slogans about the enrichment and improvement of nature).[79]

It is this Soviet-style production orientation (it is difficult to call it consumerist except with respect to natural resources) that conservation activists rightly understood was at the core of the system's values and vision.


previous chapter
Chapter Six— The Deluge, 1951
next chapter