Are you hinting he’s not immortal?

Jake Barnes, the Oilfield Expat, wonders if Russia will descend into chaos with Putin’s demise. I’m not sure I can contemplate that coldly and dispassionately at the moment so I’ll follow up with an anecdote from Dovlatov’s A Typewriter Solo (strictly speaking, An Underwood Solo). I told a different version of the story in the comments because I didn’t remember the source and the exact logic but here’s the original.

There was a poetess named Grudinina. Once she wrote a poem with these lines, among others:

…And it is Stalin’s dream to live
To see the lights of communism…

Grudinina was summoned to a Communist party meeting and asked:

“What did you mean, ‘to live to see’? Are you hinting, in this manner, that Stalin can die?”

Grudinina replied:

“It goes without saying that as a Marxist theorist, a leader and teacher of nations, Stalin is immortal. But as a living human being and a materialist, he is mortal. He can die physically — but spiritually, never!”

Grudinina was immediately kicked out of the party.


  1. We can see where the Kim dynasty got their ideas from. Kim Il Sung is still the “Eternal President of the Republic” in North Korea.

    Putin has made little attempt to establish his own dynasty though. Apparently, it was Khrushchev & Co.’s “disloyal” treatment of their dead master Stalin that encouraged the Kims and others to go down the dynastic route. If your heir owes his position purely to the fact of being your son then he is unlikely to badmouth you or knock down your statues after your death. The Aliyevs have successfully pulled off the dynastic trick in Azerbaijan and it looks like Lukashenko wants to follow suit in Belarus, even though his illegitimate son Kolya is only 9 or 10. Putin seems to have left it a bit late, even if he does go on to have a son by his new gymnast squeeze.

    • “Illegitimate” sounds a bit off in a Soviet/post-Soviet context – say незаконнорожденный and people will think it’s something out of the 19th century. There’s been no difference in the legal status of children regardless of the marital status of their parents since about 1918 and I think this rule applies in all the three post-Soviet Slavic states. Out-of-wedlock children have the same inheritance rights as “regular” kids so Kolya’s position as heir is secure from that side.

      A Belarusian joke: “Доколе? – До Коли!”

      Turkmenbashi is an interesting case – is Gurbanguly his natural son, or is it a legitimacy-boosting rumor? Nazarbayev seems to be facing a major succession problem – his sons-in-law have failed to impress and his son needs another decade to mature.

  2. “Illegitimate” sounds a bit off in a Soviet/post-Soviet context

    My fault for being lazy and using Wikipedia. I doubt any kind of legality will play a role in the Belarusian succession though. If Daddy wants Kolya to succeed him, he’ll win those elections.

    The recent death of Baby Doc Duvalier is a reminder that these “non-royal monarchies” tend to be short-lived. I can’t think of one that’s lasted more than three generations. The Somozas managed that feat in Nicaragua before they were overthrown. Kim Jong Un is looking pretty dicey nowadays. Even if Bashar survives, the Assads will be a dynasty ruling over nothing but a pile of rubble.

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