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

A Completely Different Country

Would-be Young Pioneers in Novosibirsk. Gorky Palace of Culture in Novosibirsk/vk.com. Courtesy of the Moscow Times

This is a completely different country

This social media post about life in the late USSR helps to better understand where we find ourselves today.

The latest insane campaign to create some kind of children’s organization has everyone and their mother cursing their childhoods as Young Pioneers. I won’t do it. There was all kinds of stuff back then, both good and disgusting. 

All these conversations about how the USSR is being reincarnated right now are utter horseshit. There’s almost nothing now that resembles what I witnessed from my birth to 1991. This is a completely different country with a completely different state ideology.

Many of us were naive and lived a life of illusions. We were dazed and confused, sometimes dreadfully so, but we cheerfully scorned the authorities. Not in our wildest nightmares could we have imagined the insane public statements of support you see nowadays. Today’s archaic cannibals were mostly hiding out in their caves back then. And there wasn’t anything like today’s monstrous inequality. Although the costs were terrible, there was actual social mobility in many respects.

Yes, we lived much more poorly than now. The economy was a ridiculous mess, and the whole country worked for the defense industry, and there was all kinds of insanity. But people wanted a peaceful life, not a great empire at any cost.

I wouldn’t want to go back to the USSR for anything in the world. But what’s been built over the past thirty years is worse, way worse.

Source: Nevoina (“No(t)war”), Telegram, 20 May 2022. Translated by the Fabulous AM


Students in Siberia have opened a 50-year-old time capsule containing a wish for peace and international friendship from their Soviet peers, local media reported Thursday.

The Soviet students’ message of hope for a peaceful future was unearthed as Russia faces unprecedented economic and political isolation in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine. 

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s founding, members of the Pioneers youth organization in the city of Novosibirsk sealed a time capsule in their school’s walls in May 1972 — to be opened by future students after another 50 years.

Those same Soviet students, now well into adulthood, helped open the time capsule at a ceremony Thursday.


										 					Gorky Palace of Culture in Novosibirsk / vk.com
Photo: Gorky Palace of Culture in Novosibirsk/vk.com. Courtesy of the Moscow Times

In a letter placed inside the time capsule, the Soviet middle schoolers recite the history of the Young Pioneers and boast of the engineering achievements of the U.S.S.R. before wishing their descendants peace and international cooperation.

“Life is so beautiful and amazing, and you have to make it even more wonderful, so don’t waste your time. […] Live your life the same way that the bright sun shines on everyone, so that your thoughts and deeds warm and delight everyone,” the message reads.

“May you have friends all over the world. May there always be peace!” 

The letter’s now-elderly authors read the message themselves on stage, Sibir Media reported

Russia celebrated Thursday the one hundredth anniversary of the Young Pioneers — the Soviet youth organization whose members ranged from age 9 to 15 — with events including costumed parades and speeches at schools.

Source: “Siberian Students Uncover Soviet Peers’ Wish for Peace in 50-Year-Old Time Capsule,” Moscow Times, 20 May 2022.

Defenders of the Fatherland: Yunarmiya and the Personality Cult

Russia Has Surpassed the Soviet Union: I Would Only Learn German Because Putin Spoke It
Liana Turpakova
Vechorka
February 24, 2017

Russian TV channels were dominated by the February 23 holiday yesterday. The topic of war and patriotism was off the scale at a concert held to mark the holiday, as broacast on Channel One.

Yunarmiya performing during Defender of the Fatherland Day concert, 23 February 2017, Moscow. Still from youtube.com
I watched Flight Crew, but switched to NTV during the advertising breaks. NTV was showing a film about a cop. The ad breaks on RTR and NTV would coinicide sometimes, and I would switch to Channel One. I switched one too many times and ended up watching a performance by the Katyusha Children’s Center for Aesthetics and Beauty and the patriotic organization Yunarmiya (“Youth Army”). I never did figure which was which. They are like the Young Pioneers, apparently. The kids were reciting poems with feeling and a sense of meaning, and pausing at all the right spots,  adoration beaming from their faces.

One girl recited a poem in the style of Mayakovsky, which ended as follows: “And though I were an old man getting on in years, really, in fact, basically, I would learn to speak German only because Putin had spoken it.”

The audience applauded, of course, and the camera switched to a shot of VVP and Defense Minister Shoigu, seated in the first row. They didn’t smile, but looked on seriously. Shoigu said something to Putin.

I was a Young Pioneer during the Brezhnev era. We recited lots of poems with a patriotic filling, and if they mentioned the names of Soviet leaders, those leaders were dead. I am talking about Lenin. At the time, there were no panegyric verses about the then-General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. Words of gratitude were spoken, and there were slogans, but children, at least at my school, did not memorize anything of the sort. Odes to the living leader of the country were composed and declaimed only under Stalin. The parallels are obvious. And they say that insanity flourished in the Soviet Union.

I’ll take another potshot at this ecstatic orgy. How do you like the idea of building a mock-up of the Reichstag, in Patriot Park in Kubinka, for the Yunarmiya kids to storm? As Shoigu noted, they would thus have “a specific location to storm, not just any old place.” We’re talking about the same Yunarmiya kids who performed the doggerel about Putin. I am sure they fought it amongst themselves over how who would get to recite the punchline about the country’s biggest VIP. It was the girl who gets straight A’s at school and whose comportment is impeccable.

The Reichstag in Berlin. Photo courtesy of dw.com

I’m not against promoting love for one’s country. But this business about German and Putin is clearly overkill. By the way, it used to be a joke. Now it’s a patriotic poem. The times have changed.

Holiday Concert in Celebration of Defender of the Fatherland Day, 23 February 2017, in its entirety. Originally broadcast on Channel One in Russia

Translated by the Russian Reader