March 01, 2007

Running from Stalin

Autumn, 1984. The prestigious English-language spetsshkola [special school] where I, a recent college graduate, had just started to teach history was abuzz. In the teachers’ lounge there was only one topic of conversation – our director had received a phone call “requesting” that he speak with Svetlana Alliluyeva, who was interested in arranging admission for her daughter. 

Of course, all the teachers knew who Alliluyeva was. Her name had long since disappeared from the pages of Soviet newspapers and she was rarely recalled. But the older generation could well remember photographs showing Comrade Stalin with his daughter Svetlana – the very picture of family happiness. In 1956, after the 20th Congress of the CPSU (when Nikita Khrushchev delivered his famous “secret speech” denouncing Stalin), Svetlana Stalina became Svetlana Alliluyeva (taking her mother’s last name). By then, she was no longer associated with familial bliss, but with romantic escapades. 

The thing that our generation most remembered was the scandal that took place during the spring of 1967, when Stalin’s beloved daughter ran off to India. In 1963, while recuperating in Kuntsevskaya Hospital from having her tonsils removed, she had become acquainted with an Indian Communist named Brajesh Singh, a man 15 years her elder, and married him. This appears to have been the only more or less tranquil period of this unfortunate woman’s life. With her husband’s death in 1966 it came to an end. Alliluyeva was permitted to travel to India to scatter Singh’s ashes. 

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