13 March 2013, 16:12

Sergei Mikhalkov: a symbol of the Soviet era

Sergei Mikhalkov: a symbol of the Soviet era

The opening of a memorial plaque, a commemorative concert at the Bolshoi Theater, the presentation of a book of memoirs – Russia is remembering the outstanding Soviet-era writer and poet Sergei Mikhalkov on his birth centennial. His poems are still admired by children just as they were by their parents and grandparents decades ago. And, of course, every Russian knows that Sergei Mikhalkov was the author of lyrics for the Soviet and now Russian national anthem.

He lived a very long life of about 97 years. Much-lauded and lavished with awards during Soviet times, Mikhakov regarded himself as blessed and lucky. He was spared the purges and repressions of the 1930s; during World War II, he was a frontline correspondent, and came back alive. He was blissfully happy with his wife Natalya Konchalovskaya, a writer and poetess. They had lived together for 53 years and raised two sons, Andrei Konchalovsky and Nikita Mikhalkov. Both are world renowned film directors.

Sergei Mikhalkov’s grandchildren have also made names in culture and the arts, particularly his elder grandson Yegor Konchalovsky. “Grandpa possessed a trait that I would call ‘healthy adventurism’, and it helped him a lot,” Yegor recalls.

"For all his diplomacy and caution, he was adventure-minded. As far as I know, he was not among those asked to write an anthem in 1943, because he was nothing more than a children’s poet. When he and El-Registan, the anthem’s co-author, sent their version, it was sort of chance-taking. But the text was noticed and that’s how it all worked out."

The Soviet anthem with lyrics by Mikhalkov was first played on the national radio on the night of January 1, 1944. And 55 years later, on January 1, 2005, Russians heard the first performance of the post-Soviet version of the anthem, also reworked by Mikhalkov.

He was a prolific writer, and despite being burdened by social responsibilities of all kinds, he still managed to publish 3-4 books a year. His works have sold a total of half a billion copies. He wrote plays too. One of them, titled “Crawfish”, has survived 5,000 shows. And he wrote scripts for 40 films. Moviemaker Alexander Stefanovich recalls:

"I was lucky to have a chance to work with him. We made three films together – “Residence Permit”, “Foam” – a satirical comedy, and “Dear Boy” – the first Soviet musical film with music by David Tukhmanov. We treated each other as equals and we were even equally paid, which is hard to imagine now."

Sergei Mikhalkov would use his indubitable authority to support and intercede for talented young authors. Dementyev, a well-known poet and former chief editor of the popular Youth magazine, keeps grateful reminiscences of that facet of Mikhalkov’s personality.

"Once, during a writers’ forum in Moscow, a poet, let his name not be mentioned, was criticized by Mikhalkov. The poet, who was sitting next to me, jumped up and said: “Comrade Mikhalkov, in former times you would have been challenged to a duel for that”. Mikhalkov retorted without a moment’s hesitation: “I am, by the way, a nobleman and don’t fight duels with no matter who”."

That happened in the 1970s. And during Stalin’s rule, he kept his noble origin secret, of course, and had even changed his last name from the original Mikha’lkov (the accent on the second syllable) to Mikhalkov’ (the accent on the last syllable). Later, however, he traced his family history 18 generations back. And yet, he remained a Soviet citizen through and through. Yegor Konchalovsky:

"I made a short documentary about Grandpa in the 1990s. I asked him how he would wish me to call it, and he said: “I was a Soviet writer, and let it be the title”. And that’s what he really was: a Soviet writer and a Soviet citizen…"

A monument to Sergei Mikhalkov will be erected in Moscow near the house where he lived.

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