Love in a Young Pioneer’s Tie

The cover of “A Summer in a Young Pioneer’s Tie,” as designed by Adams Carvalho

Katerina Silvanova was born and raised in Kharkiv, but moved to Russia at the age of twenty-two. She majored in forestry engineering, but never finished her studies. She has worked in sales all her life. Elena Malisova is a Muscovite and married, and works in IT. The girls [sic] had never been associated with literature, but both have had a passion for writing since childhood. One day, chatting on the internet after a hard day’s work, the friends agreed that they had to do something together. So, the idea of the novel A Summer in a Young Pioneer’s Tie was born.

Musician Yuri Konev arrives at the abandoned Swallow Young Pioneer Camp in the Kharkiv region to encounter the ghosts of his past. Something happened there that turned his life upside down, changing it forever. There he met the camp counselor Volodya, who became more than a friend to the teenager.

Walking through streets of the camp, overgrown with grass, Yura recalls how rapidly and stormily his relationship with Volodya developed, how they had been afraid of what was happening between them. And yet, they had gravitated to each other. The trip to the camp is a new revelation for Yura. He was sure he had buried the past there, that its rebellious echo would never again disturb him . And yet, Konev will have to come face to face again with what already turned his life around once. Apparently, not all the ghosts of the past are willing to hide in memory’s back alleys forever.

Why should you read A Summer in a Young Pioneer’s Tie?

  1. It’s a new extraordinary look at the late Soviet period of history.
  2. It’s a novel about sincere first feelings, cloaked in mystery and shame, condemnation and doubts.
  3. It’s an absolute bestseller, one of the year’s most anticipated and controversial books.

Book Description
Yura returns to the Young Pioneer camp of his youth after twenty years. In the ruins of the past, he hopes to find a path back to the present, to the person he once loved. This story is about the fact that not everything in the USSR was smooth, straight-laced, and impersonal, that there were experiences, passions, drives, and feelings that did not fit into the moral framework leading to the “bright future,” and that this future was not so bright.

Source: LitRes. Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader


Leto v pionerskom galstuke (LVPG) [A Summer in a Young Pioneer’s Tie] is a novel co-written by Elena Malisova and Katerina Silvanova. The book deals with the relationship between two young men, the Young Pioneer [sic] Yura and Volodya, who meet at Young Pioneer camp in the summer of 1986.

[…]

Twenty years later, the musician Yuri Konev returns to the place where the Swallow Young Pioneer Camp was once located, recalling the summer of 1986, which spent there, and his love for the MGIMO student and camp counselor Vladimir Davydov. Yura and Volodya were jointly involved in staging a play, and a strong friendship arose between them, which gradually developed into teenage love. Throughout the book, Volodya refuses to accept his homosexual orientation, periodically insisting on ending the relationship and explaining that he is trying to “steer Yura off the right path” and that he is homophobic himself. At the end of the their stay at the camp, the young men bury a kind of time capsule under a willow tree, agreeing to dig it up in ten years. After parting, Yura and Volodya continue to communicate by correspondence for some time, but after a while they lose touch with each other. In 2006, after finding the time capsule, Yura learns in a letter that Volodya sends him that he had failed to “overcome” his orientation and still loves Yura.

The novel, which was originally posted on the website Ficbook.net, was published by Popcorn Books in 2021. By the end of May 2022, the book had sold more than 200,000 copies, not counting electronic sales. The novel took second place in the list of the most popular books among Russians in the first half of 2022, compiled by the Russian Book Union, and sales of the book amounted to about 50 million rubles. August 2022 saw the release of a sequel, What the Swallow Won’t Say, which takes place twenty years after the events described in A Summer in a Young Pioneer’s Tie.

[…]

Critic Galina Yuzefovich gave a generally positive review of the novel, noting that “life in the Soviet Union differed little from life today, and emotions, relationships, and the desire to love and be loved do not depend on ideology.” Book blogger Anthony Yulai (Anton Ulyanov) rated the novel positively on the whole, noting that the authors keep the reader “in a state of emotional shock due to the alternation of sweet moments with sad ones and an abrupt change in the tone of the narrative towards the novel’s end.”

Zakhar Prilepin harshly condemned the book and its publishers on his Telegram channel: “Popcorn Books (which inevitably suggests “porn books”) is are celebrating their triumph and counting their profits. They will regard this post as good fortune, too. That’s what they were counting on. I won’t hide it: I’d burn down your whole office while you’re sleeping at home!” A video featuring a negative review of the book was released by Nikita Mikhalkov. He read aloud an excerpt from the novel and deems its publication a “violation of the Constitution.” He also noted that the abbreviation “LVPG,” as the novel is known among fans, is very similar to “LGBT.”

N.A. Ostanina, chair of the State Duma Committee on Family, Women and Children, sent a request to Roskomnadzor to examine the contents of the book to determine whether a criminal case could be launched against it in the future. A similar request was sent by the news agency RIA Ivan-Chai, but received a negative response.

Source: Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader


A map of the Zina Portnova Memorial Swallow Young Pioneer Camp in 1986, as featured in the novel’s front matter.

“Aren’t you exaggerating?”

Seeing Volodya’s slightly condescending smile, Yurka was embarrassed. He probably thought that Yurka remembered their dance too well and was still jealous, so he was ready to accuse Masha of anything. And if Volodya really thought so, then he was right. Yurka’s ardent desire to jump out of the bushes and catch the spy red-handed was caused precisely by jealousy. But Yurka also had arguments in defense of his theory.

“It’s not the first time she’s been out at night. Do you remember when Ira came to the theater and attacked me, asking me what I’d been doing with Masha and where I’d been walking? And it’s true, no matter where we are, she’s always there. Volodya, we have to tell them about her walks!”

“Deal with Irina first.”

Yurka did go find her almost immediately. All the same, his mood was spoiled, and Volodya was paranoid again, and he constantly froze, listening and looking around and not even letting him touch his hand. And the evening was already coming to an end.

After hastily saying goodbye to Volodya, Yurka returned to his unit and found the counselor. He expected her to frown and scream at him as soon as he walked in. He was already ready to babble excuses, but Ira stared at him in surprise.

“Actually, no, I wasn’t looking for you,” she said. Yurka had already put his hands up to stop his jaw from dropping, when Ira yelled.

“Where have you been, by the way?”

“With Volodya.”

“Did you even notice what time it is?! Yura, who are they playing lights out for?! If you’re going to be late, you have to warn me!”

Yurka fell asleep, struggling with mixed feelings full of anxiety. Volodya was constantly surrounded by girls, but it seemed to Yurka that Masha popped up too often. It must be jealousy after all. And to top it all off, he apparently had been infected with Volodya’s paranoia.

Source: Elena Malisova and Katerina Silvanova, A Summer in a Young Pioneer’s Tie (Popcorn Books, 2021), p. 155, as chosen by the True Random Number Generator. Translated by the Russian Reader


In an industrial block in northeastern Moscow on a recent Friday night, organizers of an L.G.B.T.Q.-friendly art festival were assiduously checking IDs. No one under 18 allowed. They were trying to comply with a 2013 Russian law that bans exposing minors to anything that could be considered “gay propaganda.”

The organizers had good reason to be wary: Life has been challenging for gay Russians since the law passed, as the government has treated gay life as a Western import that is harmful to traditional Russian values and society.

Now Russia’s Parliament is set to pass a legislative package that would ban all “gay propaganda,” signaling an even more difficult period ahead for a stigmatized segment of society.

The laws would prohibit representation of L.G.B.T.Q. relationships in any media — streaming services, social platforms, books, music, posters, billboards and films — and, activists fear, in any public space as well. That’s a daunting prospect for queer people searching for community, validation or an audience.

“I’m afraid for my future, because with these kinds of developments, it won’t be as bright as I would like it to be,” said a drag artist who uses the stage name Taylor. Taylor’s performance on Friday before a small but enthusiastic crowd tackled themes of domestic violence, mental health and AIDS.

The proposed laws are part of an intensifying effort by President Vladimir V. Putin to cast Russia as fighting a civilizational struggle against the West, which he accuses of trying to export corrosive values.

The Kremlin is coupling the crackdown on L.G.B.T.Q. expression with its rationale for the war in Ukraine, insisting that Russia is fighting not just Ukraine but all of NATO, a Western alliance that represents a threat to the motherland.

[…]

Source: Valerie Hopkins and Valeriya Safronova, “‘I’m Afraid for My Future’: Proposed Laws Threaten Gay Life in Russia,” New York Times, 4 November 2022

Sergei Volkov on Being a Teacher in Russia after the Anti-Gay Law

In the Zone of Silence
How to talk with teens after passage of the law banning gay propaganda
Sergei Volkov
New Times
June 17, 2013

On June 11, the State Duma passed in its third reading a law banning promotion of homosexuality. Complex problems are being driven underground, where teenagers will be left one on one with their questions.

The law banning “gay propaganda” has passed. And although the much broader notion of “non-traditional sexual relations” figures in its wording, this is exactly how it will be referred to for short.

What does the law have to do with me, the father of a quite traditional family (from the viewpoint of the people who drafted the law)? Everything. I’m a schoolteacher. I’m a university lecturer. I’m the editor of a journal for teachers and university lecturers. I’m a member of the Public Chamber. And more than two thousand people, including teenagers, read my Facebook page. When I say or write something, it ceases to be private: with the right will, it can be regarded as propaganda. You see, I’m already one small step closer to falling under this law. Also, I mainly work with teenagers, with minors and with people who work with them. That’s another small step. And I’d like to clear up some of the law’s nuances so as not to fall into its trap.

The law says that dissemination of information aimed at forming non-traditional sexual attitudes among children, presenting non-traditional sexual relations as attractive, giving a distorted view of the social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional relations, or imposing information that provokes interest in such relations will be considered “promotion” [or “propaganda”] and as such deemed punishable. Okay.

Does this mean that if I consider a pupil with a non-traditional sexual orientation (I have had experience with such pupils, and, as I know firsthand, so have many other educators) normal and want him to realize himself in the future as he likes, I’m coming dangerously close to breaking the law? I still haven’t engaged in propaganda, but in my own mind I think of this person as ordinary and “legal,” and I think the same thing about the relations he will have with other people like him. I haven’t opened my mouth yet, but I’m no longer so pure before the law.

And if I do open my mouth—because, for example, a pupil comes to have a heart to heart talk with me (I’ve had experience with such conversations, like many other educators, believe you me) or sends a message to my inbox or shares his problems in an essay? Should I tell him what I think or should I tell him what the law requires? The law requires I don’t give a distorted view of the equivalence of traditional and non-traditional relations. So if a female pupil comes to talk to me about her sufferings over a boy, I can hear her out, comfort her, and give her advice. But what if the sufferings of another female pupil are over a girl? Do I have to tell her it’s disgusting and perverted? If I talk to her and comfort her the way I did the first female pupil, will I thus be affirming the equivalence of such relations? Will that come under the law? Or will it not be considered propaganda because it’s one on one, not intentional or systematic?

But what if the conversation happens in the classroom—because, for example, I need to intervene in a conflict involving a student who is “different,” or because we’re discussing a book, a film, an incident, or the law itself? (Teenagers aren’t blind: many of them are interested in politics and what is happening in society.) Or, say, what if I’m asked about the project Children 404, a Facebook page where children of non-traditional orientation talk about what it is like for them in the adult world, a world of homophobes? In these cases, I’ll have to talk in public. So what? What should I say? Or should I hand them the text of the law while shaking my head and mumbling something unintelligible by way of saying, “You see, I can’t do it: the fines are so steep. What if someone suddenly takes what I say the wrong way or files a complaint? You can’t be too cautious”?

Or, for example, the publisher Samokat has just released the book Fool’s Cap, by Darya Wilke. It’s a poignant and beautifully written book about a boy who lives in a puppet theater (his parents are actors), a book about the world of theatrical workshops, a book about puppets—and a book about love. The boy becomes aware of his unconventionality, his sexual specialness. And so as not to be found out he pretends by playing the role of jester, which is his favorite puppet. He gradually grows up emotionally and realizes a jester is not someone who plays the fool, lets everyone take a whack at him, and hides under the fool’s cap. Real jesters are freer and stronger than kings. So he decides to do his own little coming out. And he wins.

I often tell teenagers about new books, because we read a lot of stuff that is not on the curriculum. I want to tell them, among other things, about this book as well. But will I be able to do it now without fear of being accused of gay propaganda? What guarantee is there that some parent won’t come running into the school screaming that their child has had a book about “faggots” rammed down his throat? The parent won’t even bother to open the book, but he will be certain I’ve committed a crime just by introducing it to my students. Remember how quickly parental opinion turned against Ilya Kolmanovsky: they demanded their children be protected from a gay teacher, who wasn’t really gay but had only gone to the State Duma to support the protest against passage of the law and explain to people that if a person is homosexual, they are that way by nature. Of course, not all parents were against Kolmanovsky, only a minority, but in our business one unhinged parent is enough to ruin a teacher and a school forever. Believe me when I say I know what I’m talking about.

The law has been passed, but the controversy over it has not died down. I’ve noticed that problems not addressed by the law often get mixed up into the debate. For example, can a same-sex couple be considered a family? Can the marriage be registered, or must the union be tagged with a different label? Can same-sex couples adopt children? These issues are exacerbated by the fact that such things are more and more permitted in Europe. For many, this is a sign it’s time we in Russia should ban these things. Unfortunately, the confusion and tension around these issues makes it impossible to get to the bottom of them.

Aggression comes pouring out of many people when discussing same-sex relationships (and the new law in particular), revealing an inner fear. Talking through the problem could be a remedy for fear, but the law drives it into the zone of silence and presents people working with adolescents with a difficult choice.

Silence is detrimental to teenagers who have discovered their own specialness. They need to talk about it with someone. I am very grateful to my fellow educators who replied to my question on Facebook by writing that nothing would change for them after passage of the law and that as before they would try and help any pupil with any problem, because all pupils are equal to them.

My last point has to do with the fact that homophobically minded people make the following move as one of the strongest arguments in their favor. They ask whether I would want my own son to be seduced by a gay. My answer is that I don’t want my son to be seduced, and it doesn’t matter whether the seducer is a woman or a man. I would want my son to figure out what he wanted, and for things to happen as they should, the way he wants. Or the way he wants with the person or persons with whom they’re going to happen. And I want for him to know that I’m ready at any moment to talk with him and accept him. And that there are other adults ready to do the same.

What I very much do not want is for him to break himself to satisfy the majority and its laws and not have the chance to be himself, or for him to be left without help by people who could give him help but prefer to keep quiet on pain of punishment.

Sergei Volkov teaches Russian language and literature at School No. 57 in Moscow. He is also editor-in-chief of the journal Literature, an associate professor of philology at the Higher School of Economics, a lecturer at the Moscow Art Theater Studio School, and a member of the Russian Federal Public Chamber and the Ministry of Education’s Public Council.

Original article in Russian