Victor in Trouble


Valeriy Chekhov dusted off his Academy Award. “Moy dorogoy Oskar,” he said, as he caressed his dear golden statue. He displayed his most prized possession on a shelf above his desk at Lubyanka, the headquarters of the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, one of Russia’s intelligence agencies. He laughed, placing the Oscar back in its prominent position. None of his predecessors at the KGB had managed to win an Academy Award from America. They had released several films over the years, but their propaganda had appealed more to a domestic audience. An American film award had been elusive.

The 1956 film A Cabbage Utopia had been a triumph, of course. Even in the heady days of perestroika, when Valeriy had first seen it as a high schooler thirty years after its release, its message reverberated among him and his comrades. It followed a hard-working crop laborer named Aleksei, who joyously tilled the soil in the name of the proletarian revolution. His beautiful wife, Katya, spent the film concocting an array of delicious cabbage-based dishes, which she would deliver with a smile to her rugged, dirt-smudged husband as he returned from a productive day in the field. As she pranced out to greet him, she sang a moving rendition of the title song—“Cabbages from our motherland’s womb, protect us from a capitalist doom,” Valeriy sang, remembering—and twirled her skirt as her red hair cascaded out from under her kerchief. The film, and the red-haired Katya specifically, had stirred yearnings in Valeriy’s teenage mind years ago, compelling him to protect the revolution and ultimately setting him on his path up through the ranks of his beloved country’s spy service.

But the film had not excelled internationally. The United States and its allies—“the West,” Valeriy sneered—was deep in its red scare at the time, fearful of any notion of Bolsheviks, revolution, and dependence on cabbage. Other leftist revolutionary groups around the world, who, Valeriy was sure, would have loved A Cabbage Utopia, were unable to enjoy its message of perseverance, as they most often found themselves without access to a functioning film projector or a reliable supply of electricity. Such was the struggle in those days. [End of Excerpt]

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