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Childhood in Russia 1890-1991 : A Social and Cultural History


Pavlik Morozov: Soviet Boy Hero


Anyone who knows even a little about Soviet history is likely to have heard of Pavlik Morozov. He is widely infamous as the boy who betrayed his father to the authorities, and became a model for all Soviet children, meant to inculcate loyalty to the state. However, Pavlik Morozov’s legend began as a murder story, when he and his brother Fyodor, aged thirteen and nine respectively, were found dead in the woods near the village of Gerasimovka, on the borders of the Urals and Western Siberia. The boys were killed in 1932; the local authorities in Tavda district, into which Gerasimovka fell, immediately concluded that they had been slaughtered by kulaks, the enemies of collectivisation. The story was first reported in the press on 17 September; by the beginning of October, it had filtered through to Moscow, and to Pioneer Pravda, the official newspaper of the Young Pioneers, the Soviet Communist organisation for children between ten and fifteen. Over the next two years, Pavlik was to become nationally renowned, his biography rewritten to make it suitable for a child hero who stood for juvenile activism and for the capacity of the young to transform the Soviet countryside, and Soviet society in general.  

Comrade Pavlik: The Life and Legend of a Soviet Boy Hero is the first fully-documented study of the legend of Pavlik Morozov – of its evolution, and its changing significance at different phases of Soviet power. Created when revolutionary, ‘Bolshevik’, values were still strong, particularly among activists in the Soviet provinces, it had, by the mid 1930s, become something of an embarrassment: what to do with a hero who betrayed his father, when strengthening family values had become a priority? All the same, the need to emphasise continuity with the principles celebrated in the first years of Soviet power in order to avoid charges of ‘selling out’ meant that Pavlik continued to be regarded as a hero – though with many of his radical characteristics played down – right up to the late 1980s. Though incidental details of Pavlik’s appearance, family circumstances, and character kept on changing, he was always represented as the victim of traitors to the Soviet state, and as a heroic example of self-sacrifice.


Children of different generations and temperaments reacted to him differently, but in the 1930s, particularly, he did inspire awe as a manifestation of supreme commitment to the general good. Children wrote letters demanding vengeance on Pavlik’s murderers and vowing to live up to his example. They also penned stories and poems about Pavlik, and produced drawings of suitable memorials for him.





Друг (Костя Гулин, 16 лет)                             Friend (By Kostya Gulin, Aged 16)


Он был ребятам друг великий,                    He was a great friend to children,

Которых в мире мало есть,                            There are few such in the world.

За то ему большая слава,                                All praise to him for it,

И многотысячная честь.                                  And glory for thousands of years.


К нему прислушивался школьник,              The schoolboy paid attention to him,

Любил душевно, как отца,                              Loved him as warmly as a father,

За мощные в работе сдвиги,                           For his great achievements in work,

Которым не было б конца                            Which would have had no end!


И пусть не мыслит вражья свора,                  And let the enemy horde not think

Что наши дрогнули умы. –                              That our minds have trembled:

Оберегать его успехи                                        We will defend his successes

Своею грудью будем мы..                                With our own breasts.

(Тавдинский рабочий, 30 ноября 1939).            (Tavda Worker, 30 November 1939).


In order to tell the story of Pavlik’s elevation to all-Soviet fame Comrade Pavlik draws on contemporary newspaper records, oral history, and archival documentation – including material from the local archives in Sverdlovsk province, the Pavlik Morozov Museum in Gerasimovka (see below), and the formerly secret file on the Morozov murders case, now held in the Central Archive of the Federal Security Service in Moscow (the successor organisation to the OGPU, NKVD, and KGB) . (Description of the secret file is available here in pdf. To ensure the correct viewing of the Russian Cyrillic we recommend that you download the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader.) What seems to have been an arbitrary and squalid killing almost instantly acquired symbolic resonance, standing for the brutality of which a group of socially marginal adults were believed capable. The case shows how child murder, in circumstances of violent social upheaval, became the focus for enmity against those who were believed to threaten the Soviet nation’s very existence, who became inheritors of the fears about ritual murders formerly directed against Jews.


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The Pavlik Morozov Museum was set up in 1941 under the aegis of the Museum of the Revolution in Sverdlovsk. During the Second World War, it fell into disrepair, but once the war was over, the museum was revived, and in the 1960s and 1970s, it underwent significant expansion. It was the destination for coach-parties of Young Pioneers from all over the Soviet Union, many of whom brought gifts, such as the box displayed here. It also contained a mock-up of Pavlik’s school classroom (anachronistically decorated with ergonomic desks and a portrait of Stalin), and many photographs of Pavlik’s family and of cult events in Gerasimovka and elsewhere. A small amount of documentary material – a school photograph in which Pavlik appears in the back row, photographs of the defendants at his murder trial – was on display as well. As a memorial site, Gerasimovka itself was also turned into something resembling an outdoor museum. The simple wooden house in which the Morozov boys were brought up was re-created, and the village was given a splendid tarmac road (to allow the buses to get there easily). It was decorated with several memorials, including a statue of Pavlik (set up in 1954), ornamental enclosures at the burial sites of Pavlik and Fyodor, and a geometrical concrete structure bearing the words of Maxim Gorky, ‘The memory of him must never vanish’.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the demise of the Pioneer Organisation as a national mass movement, the Pavlik Morozov museum lost its raison d’être. The coach parties stopped coming, and with the publication of material from Yury Druzhnikov’s debunking biography Voznesenie Pavlika Morozova (the book first appeared in the West in 1988; the English translation goes under the title Informer 001), a totally different version of Pavlik’s life gained currency: he had made his denunciation as an act of revenge after his father deserted the family, and he had been murdered, not by his relations, but by agents provocateurs from the secret police force. Increasingly, Pavlik was regarded with contempt, pity, or at best indifference: his life started to be forgotten. However, in 2003, the ‘Otkrytoe obshchestvo’ foundation, sponsored by George Soros, awarded a grant of $7000 to finance the reopening of the museum, this time with a display placing the life of Pavlik in the context of the collectivisation campaign, and of the political repression that it represented.



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