Article of the month: January

Agent 001: The Myth called Pavlik Morozov

Article of the month

An article with picture from Pionerskaya pravda published ten days after his death. Pavlik's portrait is based on his only existing photography from 1930 and unlike highly retouched or made up portraits from later years, this one is at least close to the truth.

When I was eight years old, I sang in a children's choir. The conductor would announce proudly, “And now, with lyrics by the famous children's poet Sergei Mikhalkov and music by Hungarian Communist Ferentz Sabo — a song about Pavlik Morozov!” Ours were not the only voices lifted in honor of the heroic Pavlik Morozov. For half a century, the whole country lauded this brave teenage boy.

What was the deed that made him a hero? In 1932 Pavlik Morozov exposed his father Trofim Morozov as an “enemy of the People.” He informed the OGPU (as the KGB, or Soviet secret police, was then called) that his father was helping the kulaks, successful peasants who refused to relinquish their land and livestock to the State as was required by the Collectivization Plan, and was therefore branded as an enemy of Socialism. Pavlik's father was arrested, tried, and sent to a concentration camp, never to be seen again. Soon after his father's trial, Pavlik was murdered by “enemies of the State.” After his death, he was hailed as a hero of the people, and every child in the Soviet Union was required to learn his story and be prepared to follow his example. His official title was Hero-Pioneer of the Soviet Union Number 001.

In 1982, on the fiftieth anniversary of the heroic death of Pavlik Morozov, the press called the boy “an ideological martyr.” The place of his death was described as a sanctuary and the child as a saint. This was remarkable language for the atheistic Soviet press and revealed the theological nature of Communist ideology. In a thousand years of Russian history, such glory had never before been bestowed on a child.

I became curious about Pavlik Morozov's story and decided to investigate this child-hero.

I began by reading book after book. Remarkably, there was no agreement about even the simplest historical facts. For example, Pavlik Morozov's age at the time of his heroic death was reported as anything from eleven to fifteen. As for the village of his birth, Gerasimovka, sources placed it variously in the provinces of Tobolsk, Obsko-Irtishsk, and Omsk (in Siberia), as well as in Sverdlovsk in the Northern Urals. The photographs of the hero that were printed in various publications appeared to be of completely different people. In addition, I found as many as ten different persons identified as his murderer. Still another thing puzzled me. It was sometimes mentioned that Pavlik's younger brother, Fedya, also an informer, was murdered along with him, but it was never explained why he did not become a hero.

I finally managed to locate Gerasimovka in Western Siberia. Boarding a train for the 36-hour ride, I headed for the boy-hero's home. But even there, in the Pavlik Morozov State Memorial Museum, there was not a single personal item, not a page from his school notebook, not one family relic to be found. I visited other Pavlik Morozov museums and instead of original documents found only sketches of the boy, books, and newspaper clippings. Relics from saints of a thousand years ago are sometimes still extant, but I could find no traces of this twentieth-century saint. I began to wonder if the boy ever existed other than as a fictional character in Soviet literature.

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