Respected Russian literature professor Yuri Druzhnikov passed away May 14 after almost a year of illness. He was 75 years old and left behind a legacy unique to UC Davis through his lectures, writings, critiques and historic testimony.
“Yuri was the most gentlemanly and the most amiable colleague you could possibly imagine,” said Winder McConnell, director of the German and Russian departments. “I don’t think there’s been anyone … [who has] done more in the department.”
Before his 19 years as a professor at UC Davis, Druzhnikov was an individualist and a dissident in Soviet-era Moscow. He denied allegiance to Stalin throughout high school and as a result was not accepted into Russian universities, McConnell said.
He then studied at a school in Latvia, pursuing various careers in the arts and social sciences.
Druzhnikov, author of 11 books, was also nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature by two Polish universities in 2001.
His work, however, often got him into trouble.
Druzhnikov was repeatedly investigated by the KGB because of his writings and anti-communist sentiments. In 1985, the KGB threatened to banish him to a prison camp or take him off to a psychiatric ward, which is how they often dealt with their dissidents, McConnell said.
Fortunately, several prominent western writers, including Kurt Vonnegut, Eli Weisel and Arthur Miller, and various human rights organizations rallied to his defense, McConnell said.
Druzhnivkov was eventually banished from the USSR in 1987, after which he came to the United States.
McConnell said Druzhnikov’s most famous work is Angels on the Head of a Pin, detailing the lives of employees at a Czechoslovakian newspaper during Prague Spring in 1968, a series of liberal reforms.
Druzhnikov researched and disbanded the myth one of the USSR’s most important heroes, Pavlik Morozov, who supposedly turned his father in to the Communist government as a traitor in his work Informer 001, or the Myth of Pavlik Morozov.
“Yuri should be given every respect for writing this much needed book,” said Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a fellow Russian émigré writer commenting on Informer 001 in 1987. “It is through books such as his that many Soviet lies will eventually be revealed.”
Druzhnikov’s colleagues primarily noted the large impact he had on his students.
“He had students in his office all the time. He always went the extra mile,” said Carlee Arnett, associate professor in the Russian and German department and close friend of Druzhnikov. “I feel like our floor is worse for his passing.”
“He knew a lot. With the amount of passion he had, he was amazing,” said Julie Raynova, a student of Druzhnikov’s who graduated last year with degrees in international relations and Russian. “He made you want you want to learn more and more.”
Druzhnikov’s life was commemorated Tuesday at the University Club Lounge, said Arnett, who attended the event.
“They’ll hire a replacement but you can’t replace someone with the life history that Yuri had,” Arnett said. “The gentleman has left us.”
LAUREN STEUSSEY and ANNA OPALKA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.XXX