Monday, September 28, 2020

Mologa, a Real Life Matyora, Recalled

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 26 – Valentin Rasputin’s 1976 novel, Farewell to Matyora, about the disappearance of a village and village life because of flooding behind a new hydro-electric dam struck a chord with most Russians because of its lament about the destruction of village life by Soviet-era modernization and its echoes of Atlantis and Kitezh.

            While the story Rasputin told was entirely fictional, it was based on fact. Numerous Russian villages were wiped out in Soviet times by the construction of reservoirs and electric power dams. Now that the Soviet system is no more, Russians are increasingly talking about these small apocalypses and their meaning for Russian life.

            Yandex’s Subjective Guide page provides a portrait of one such town, Mologa, which was destroyed when the Soviets built the Rybinsk hydro-electric dam in Tver, Vologda and Yaroslavl oblasts in central Russia (

            The page does two things. It traces the history of the city back centuries, and, more intriguingly, it considers which architectural features of Mologa would have survived Soviet times had the city not been flooded, which would have been put to new uses such as churches, and which would simply have been torn down.

            Such a consideration suggests how residents of other cities not drowned in reservoirs might approach their own pasts, considering what was destroyed, what wasn’t, and what has been repurposed, the kind of immediate re-examination of the Soviet period that has the potential to make more Russians angry about the losses they suffered during that time.

            Given Vladimir Putin’s neo-Sovietism and efforts to whitewash many Soviet crimes, this article invites a move in other directions. As such, it and others like it if they appear in response may very well have an impact like Rasputin’s novel, leading people to rethink not only modernization but Sovietization as well.

            As the page puts it, Mologa considered as a city that has been sunk below the waves is much more intriguing than it would have been had the flooding never happened. 

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