It took justice only 10 years to triumph. Ten years ago I drove my newly acquired Omega through the California desert. A new arrival to the United States, I still had a Soviet driver's license. Suddenly, in the middle of the desert, I was stopped and fined for speeding. I told my wife: "Wait for another piece of muck. They always come up in pairs; you'll see we get it before this day is over."
Almost immediately after arrival at a hospitable house on the Pacific Palisades, we got a call from Craig Whitney of The New York Times. He said that the Soviet government had just published Leonid Brezhnev's decree depriving me of Soviet citizenship "for systematic hostile activity damaging the prestige of the U.S.S.R."
"To hell with them!" was my first reaction. Craig guffawed, and next morning I found my interjection printed in The Times.
In point of fact, I just tried to keep a stiff upper lip. It wasn't a to-hell-with-them matter for me. I felt deeply insulted and frustrated.
The great poet of revolution, Vladimir Mayakovsky, once wrote a poem dedicated to the Soviet passport. I've never shared his admiration of Soviet reality. On the contrary I always derided his attempt to make a fetish out of a simple item of police control. But ... but ... all of a sudden I was struck by an acute sense of alienation. Does it really mean that my homeland rejected me forever? Does it really mean that I lost all my 48 years in Russia, all the humiliations and all the enchantments I experienced there? And why do those bloody apparatchiks do such a cruel thing to me? Had my novels upset them so much? Had I ever encroached on their thrones or their privileges? They could choke themselves on their privileges, stick their backsides to their chairs for good.
Vladimir Lenin once said, in a certain departure from his favorite way of educating the masses, that ideological enemies should be punished by a more severe method than shooting -- by expulsion from the homeland. In a way, he was right: it is, probably, more severe. The firing squad robs an enemy of his life, whereas expulsion robs him of his only indispensable right of birth, the right of belonging to the land where he was born. Hence it puts his very birth under a question mark. Not quite a comfortable feeling even if you prefer not to think about what would have happened if the Bolsheviks had softened their stand on you one grade down.
Well, for whatever the reason, in 1981 I joined the exclusive club of Soviet deprivees led by Mstislav Rostropovich and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Then perestroika began. Day by day Mikhail Gorbachev's leadership showed more desire to dissociate itself from Brezhnev's filthy deeds. Head-spinning changes swept the country. Informal groups and parties now run the gamut of the political spectrum from anarchists to monarchists, but the small group of expelled writers and artists had still been stigmatized, at least ostensibly, as "the enemies of the people." For unknown reason Gorbachev was reluctant to undertake an action that looked so simple on the surface of it -- just to cross out the decrees of Brezhnev, a man who was himself -- as my fellow deprivee, novelist Vladmir Voinovish, put it -- the most efficient wrecker of Soviet prestige. It is a matter of conjecture, indeed, but I believe the delay was caused by the obstinacy of some reactionary elements in the KGB who were personally responsible for carrying out those shameful actions.
Now Gorbachev has stepped forward and lawfully repealed the illegal edicts. There is some speculation that he did it in order to be ahead of Boris Yeltsin on the route of liberal reform. It doesn't matter to me; it is really none of my business. I accept it as an action of formal apology on the part of those who at the moment represent my formerly not-so-apologetic homeland.
As expected, the decision created a substantial ambiguity. Neither country allows dual citizenship. A year ago, after so long a time of being a "stateless person," I pledged allegiance to the stars and stripes, and I do not have any desire to give up my American citizenship. The U.S.A. is not my homeland, but this is a land of my home. I'm grateful to this country for giving me a shelter at the most dramatic period of my life. Here I have my publishers and literary affairs, a tenured professorship at the George Mason University, my dragging movie and theater projects, lots of friends, lots of newly acquired habits and the vague emotions that have something to do with the American nostalgia. My dog Ushik, by the way, is a born American. Besides all that, I can't even think of leaving this country for good until my mortgages are paid off.
Nonetheless, against all odds, I love my ungracious motherland. Last fall, 9 1/2 years since expulsion, I took a first trip back. I didn't want to apply for a visa to the Soviet authority -- that is, to people who still considered me a non-person -- but the personal invitation of American Ambassador Jack Matlock was a great chance to see Mother Russia and Sister Tatar-land again. Now as practically all my previously barred fiction, plays and essays are coming out in the U.S.S.R., I hope for future unrestricted and prolonged travels through Russia to restore the close ties with its reality and with my readers. Inasmuch as I am a popular writer over there, I have neither the right nor the desire to miss the exciting moments of the great culture's awakening.
Well, in the long run and as Leo Tolstoy put in his diary every day, "We're still alive." I can't wave aside a vision of a certain retiree in checked polo slacks on a slope of a Crimean mountain saluting with a golf club: Hello, the new and honest Soviet constitution!
The writer is a Russian-born novelist whose Soviet citizenship, taken from him by the Brezhnev government, has just been restored by the Gorbachev government.