(E-E) Ev.g.e.n.i.j ..K.o.z.l.o.     Berlin                                                  


      (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov: Leningrad 80s • No.116 >>

Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Special Collection • Harvard University

USA-CCCP. Points of Contact.
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov – Catherine Mannick
Correspondence 1979 – 1990

Letter E (May 1983) – Saigon

Letter E is a short note dated 29 May 83, that is, written towards the end of Catherine Mannick’s studies in the USSR, which lasted from October 1982 to early June 1983. The American student had received a stipend to study at Moscow State University, in the first place at the Law Faculty, but she also engaged herself in Russia’s cultural and intellectual history. During these months, Kozlov received seven letters he numbered 14a to 14ж; I renumbered them 14a to 14g, using Latin letters. Kozlov’s answers to those letters no longer exist, but a number of references in his diaries help reconstruct their encounters during that period.

Mannick had spoken of her wish to study for a semester in the Soviet Union already in December 1981 (Letter 12). She had also mentioned the possibility of a stipend “abroad” in June 1982 (Letter 13), but had not confirmed it in the letter preceding her arrival (Letter 14, August 1982) – because, as she remembers:

    We were both aware that our correspondence was likely being read, and I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I would be in Russia at a specific time and would meet with Evgenij there. Therefore, while hinting at the possibility of a visit, I never confirmed until I actually arrived. There was also the concern that at the last minute I might not get a visa.[1]

Soon after her arrival, she informed her friend that she was now in Moscow (Letter 14a). He immediately called her and decided to travel to Moscow for her birthday, at the end of October – which required gathering money for the train-ticket and other expenses (Diary III, p-3-40, p. 3-43 more>>). He stayed for three days, bringing along his birthday presents, the wooden bust of a “Wizard of Halloween” and “Таинственный свет Америки / The Mystic Light of America”, a drawing on a page from a “book of hours” (see Letter D more>> and Diary III, pp 3-40-44 more>>).

Mannick and Kozlov hadn’t seen each other for more than three years, since the summer of 1979, when they had first met in Leningrad. Although they both again felt close to each other, their relationship remained somewhat ambiguous.

It is highly plausible that Kozlov, after their encounter, wrote Mannick what their friendship meant to him, or perhaps what he had been hoping it could be to him, because in her answer from December 1982, Mannick replied that she felt unable to support him in the “long and tortuous path” to his “deepest and truest capabilities as an artist.” Towards the end of January 1983, Kozlov noted in his diary

    K. is in Moscow. I haven't heard from her for a month. We don’t yearn for each other. After the explanation, almost everything almost fell into place. I think that only my poverty and obscurity are the reason for our estrangement. We are open as friends, and this is not enough for my art. (Diary III, p.3-77)[2]

On the other hand, neither of them wanted to give up their friendship, as it was significant to both of them, and they continued exchanging letters. In March 1983, Mannick announced a study trip to Leningrad for the following month, where she was able to visit the opening of the second general exhibition of the Society for Experimental Visual Art (ТЭИИ  / TEII) on 5 April 1983. It included works by more than forty mostly “unofficial” artists[3] and was, in all likelihood, Kozlov’s first public display of his art. At the end of 1982, he had started experimenting with a new, more international style, and he took great care in selecting his works. Mannick documented Kozlov’s section with a number of slides.[4] Kozlov’s seven works from 1981 to 1983, each year presenting a different style, made a mini-retrospective of his early artwork.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov with two of his works from 1981 at the opening of the Second TEII Exhibition. Leningrad, Palace of the Youth, 5 April 1983. more>>  Photo: Catherine Mannick.  Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Special Collection, Harvard University

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov with two of his works from 1981 at the opening of the Second TEII Exhibition.
Leningrad, Palace of the Youth, 5 April 1983. more>>

Photo: Catherine Mannick.

Digitised slide image: Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Special Collection, Harvard University




 Invitation to the Second Exhibition of the Society for Experimental Visual Art (ТЭИИ  / TEII), Leningrad, Palace of the Youth, 5 April 1983 Palace of the Youth. The document doesn't mention the TEiI as the organising body since it had no official status.

Invitation to the Second Exhibition of the Society for Experimental Visual Art (ТЭИИ  / TEII), Leningrad, Palace of the Youth, 5 April 1983 Palace of the Youth.
The document doesn't mention the TEiI as the organising body since it had no official status.

 Invitation to the exhibition (inside) Уважаемый товарищ! Катерина Манник Приглашаем Вас на выставку произведений изобразительного искусства (живопись, графика, скульптура). Открытие выставки состоится 5 апреля в 14 часов. Dear Comrade! Catherine Mannick We invite you to the exhibition of works of visual art (painting, graphics, sculpture). The opening of the exhibition will take place on April 5 at 14 o'clock. Note: E-E Kozlov added Catherine Mannick's name himself to make it a personal invitation.  Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Special Collection, Harvard University

Invitation to the exhibition (inside)
Уважаемый товарищ! Катерина Манник
Приглашаем Вас на выставку произведений изобразительного искусства (живопись, графика, скульптура). Открытие выставки состоится 5 апреля в 14 часов.
Dear Comrade! Catherine Mannick
We invite you to the exhibition of works of visual art (painting, graphics, sculpture).
The opening of the exhibition will take place on April 5 at 14 o'clock.
Note: E-E Kozlov added Catherine Mannick's name himself to make it a personal invitation.

Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Special Collection, Harvard University



Mannick again visited Leningrad in the second half of May, shortly before she left the Soviet Union. Kozlov’s note from 29 May 1983 refers to this visit. Except for the two names Katя (Katia) and Женя (Zhenya, short for Evgenij), he wrote it in English.

    29/V/83
    Dear Katя,
    May we see each other on the 30th of May at 6 p.m in “Saigon”
    Good Night, Женя. 8 p.m.
(E-E) EvgenijKozlov Message to Catherine Mannick, 1983 29/V/83 (Letter E) Dear Katя, May we see each other on the 30th of May at 6 p.m in “Saigon” Good Night, Женя. 8 p.m.  Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Special Collection, Harvard University

(E-E) EvgenijKozlov
Message to Catherine Mannick, 1983 (Letter E)
    29/V/83
    Dear Katя,
    May we see each other on the 30th of May at 6 p.m in “Saigon”
    Good Night, Женя. 8 p.m.


Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Special Collection, Harvard University




I assume that Kozlov had spent the day in Leningrad and left the note at the hotel or student’s dorm where Mannick was staying, perhaps after calling her in vain. In those days, arranging a meeting was difficult, especially when time was running short. Kozlov had no telephone in his flat, and the number of properly functioning telephone booths was rather limited. One the other hand, to just “drop by” was no option, since he lived in Peterhof, 30 kms from the centre of Leningrad, or one and a half hours in terms of commuting.

(E-E) Evgenj Kozlov. Two young women Leningrad and telephone booth, 1984/1985. Reproduction of a 35 mm Svema negative film. E-E archival number: E-E-KO41

(E-E) Evgenj Kozlov
Two young Leningrad women and telephone booth, 1984/1985. Reproduction of a 35 mm Svema negative film.
More about Svema and other Soviet black and white negative films >>

E-E archival number: E-E-KO41



Catherine Mannick recalls the difficulties of passing on messages:

    There was a whole art around arranging communications.  We foreign students avoided using phones in dorms or tourist hotels as they were very likely bugged. The best option was a phone booth in a heavily trafficked area, such as a Metro station.  However, the dvushki [two-kopek coins] that the pay phones required were hard to come by.[5] We found that an American dime, as well as a Soviet 10 kopeck coin, worked just as well. The meeting place was often in the Metro – „let us meet at such and such a time by the first car coming from the direction of ____.“ Another way of communicating, especially if the person you were trying to reach didn’t have a phone, was to send a telegram indicating the time and place of meeting (“I’ll wait for you at 2 pm on such and such a date in front of Dom knigi”).[6]

The meeting place Kozlov proposed was Leningrad’s legendary Saigon, or Café Saigon. “Saigon” was the unofficial name of an otherwise unnamed self-service cafeteria with stand-up tables, located on Nevsky prospect 49 on the corner Vladimirsky prospect, and one of the few places in the city that served good coffee.

Igor Verichev, Paquita Escofet-Miro and (E-E) Evgenj Kozlov, Nevsky Prospekt, Leningrad, 1986/1987. Photo: Georgy Guryanov, pattern scratching by E-E. E-E archival number: E-E-BZ51  Behind the zebra crossing is the intersection of Nevksy prospect with Liteyney prospekt (left) and Vladimirskiy prospect (right). Café Saigon is on the ground floor of the building to the very right, with the entrance door on the corner with Vladimirsky prospect, where a car is just passing by.

Igor Verichev, Paquita Escofet-Miro and (E-E) Evgenj Kozlov, Nevsky Prospekt, Leningrad, 1986/1987.
Photo: Georgy Guryanov, pattern scratching by E-E. Scan from 35 mm Svema negative film contact sheet.
More about Svema and other Soviet black and white negative films >>

E-E archival number: E-E-BZ51

Behind the zebra crossing is the intersection of Nevksy prospect with Liteyney prospekt (left) and Vladimirskiy prospect (right). Café Saigon is on the ground floor of the building to the very right, with the entrance door on the corner with Vladimirsky prospect, where a car is just passing by.



Kozlov’s note doesn’t mention the address, since Mannick was familiar with the place.

    I visited Saigon fairly regularly during the spring of 1983. Some other people I had met in Leningrad introduced me to it. I told Evgenij that I liked going to Saigon and that may be why he arranged our meeting there.[7]

Looking back, Kozlov says that it was the most natural place to meet like-minded people from Yerevan, Volgograd, Riga – or a young American, for that matter, because at the Saigon, they didn’t feel strange as strangers.

Café Saigon

Strolling along Nevsky prospect in the summer of 1987 – my first visit to Leningrad, where I attended a language course at Leningrad University – I went into one of those many cafés lining the city’s main boulevard. On the face of it, there was nothing special about it; the interior was as uninviting as most others. I didn’t know it was the Saigon, a place famous throughout the Soviet Union. Soon one of the regular visitors involved me in a conversation. Saigon folk were curious and easily talked to foreigners, and I didn’t look like a local. He invited me for a walk to Sofia Perovskaya street, a side street of Nevsky Prospekt (today once more Malaya Konyushennaya street and a pedestrian zone).

It turned out he was a roommate of Boris Grebenshikov,[8] sharing the same communal flat in the attic of Sofia Perovskaya street no. 5, a building that belonged to Saint Peter's School, the German Petrischule on Nevsky Prospekt founded in 1709. At that time, the staircase was covered with graffiti dedicated to Grebenshikov’s already legendary band Aquarium (Аквариум / Akvarium), a name with which I was familiar. To my regret, Grebenshikov had left for the summer, but climbing through the kitchen window to the rooftop, I had a chance to enjoy a spectacular view on the city.

I actually knew some of Grebenshikov’s songs, but not the one with the line “I spent my childhood at the Saigon”.[9] According to Russian Wikipedia, it is one three of Grebenshikov’s songs mentioning the place, of a total of nineteen songs referring to it – which illustrates the importance the Saigon played in the cultural history of Leningrad.

The Saigon was opened in 1964 on the ground floor of a large turn of the century building, formerly Hotel Moscow and today the Radisson Royal Hotel. Situated in the very heart of Leningrad, it soon became a hot spot for Leningrad’s bohemia, initially for writers, poets and artists and later, in the eighties, also for musicians and punks, until it was closed in March 1989[10] or December 1991.[11]

In recent years, many books, articles and exhibitions have been dedicated to this place. Quotes In this article are mainly from three different sources. The October 1996 edition of пчела / www.pchela.ru, focusing on Nevsky Prospekt, has several articles and interviews about the Saigon.[12] In 2003, Elena Zdravomyslova, who wrote the introduction to this pchela edition, published a sociological analysis of its history: The Cafe 'Saigon' Tusovka.[13] The third source, Сумерки «Сайгона» /The Twilight of the “Saigon” from 2009 is a vast compilation of interviews, personal accounts, poetry, and photographs. With an index of approximately one thousand names, it appears to be the most extensive documentation on this place.[14]

Сумерки «Сайгона» /The Twilight of the “Saigon” , edited by Юлия Валиева / Yulia Valieva, Saint Petersburg: Zamizdat, 2009, cover. Second edition 2019

Сумерки «Сайгона» /The Twilight of the “Saigon” , edited by Юлия Валиева / Yulia Valieva, Saint Petersburg: Zamizdat, 2009, cover. Second edition 2019



The Saigon had three sections. Next to the entrance, alcohol and snacks were sold, while the second, larger room was for coffee lovers. Not only was the coffee rather cheap, at least in comparison to the alcoholic drinks sold in the entrance area, but also quite tasty. According to poet Viktor Krivulin, one of the Saigon’s main figures, the room was equipped with seven or eight coffee machines where people were always queuing.[15] Writer Evgeniy Belodubrovskiy remembers that these machines were given a “(dissident) brand name”: ESPRESSO ITALIJANO NAPOLI.[16] I suppose that the letter J in “italjiano” was a “dissident” misprint. In Sergey Chubraev's collection, there are some artefacts from the Saigon, including parts of a coffee machine and its label from the late 1980s, which, however, displays a Hungarian company.

Budapest Lupes (?) coffee machine label from the cafeteria of restaurant "Moscow" aka “Saigon”.  The Sergey Chubraev Collection

Budapest Lupes (?) coffee machine label from the cafeteria of restaurant "Moscow" aka “Saigon”, late 1980s
The Sergey Chubraev Collection

Part of a “Saigon” coffee machine, late 1980s The Sergey Chubraev Collection Parts of a “Saigon” coffee machine, late 1980s The Sergey Chubraev Collection Part of a “Saigon” coffee machine, late 1980s The Sergey Chubraev Collection



Part of a “Saigon” coffee machine, late 1980s
The Sergey Chubraev Collection
Parts of a “Saigon” coffee machine, late 1980s
The Sergey Chubraev Collection
Part of a “Saigon” coffee machine, late 1980s
The Sergey Chubraev Collection



A picture in The Twilight of the “Saigon” shows the installation of these machines prior to the Saigon’s opening, in what was called “the cafeteria of the restaurant Moscow”. Finally, there was a third section with a buffet for cheap hot meals.[17]

Workers install equipment in the cafeteria of restaurant "Moscow"  (called “Saigon”). Photo taken from Сумерки «Сайгона» /The Twilight of the “Saigon”, edited by Юлия Валиева / Yulia Valieva, Saint Petersburg: Zamizdat, 2009, p. 57

Workers install equipment in the cafeteria of restaurant "Moscow" (called “Saigon”)
Photo taken from Сумерки «Сайгона» /The Twilight of the “Saigon”, edited by Юлия Валиева / Yulia Valieva, Saint Petersburg: Zamizdat, 2009, p. 57




Cups from the Café “Saigon”, late 1980s. The Sergey Chubraev Collection

Cups from the Café “Saigon”, late 1980s.
The Sergey Chubraev Collection



Belodubrovskiy also refers to poet Mark Mazya (Марк Мазья) as the person who came up with the name Saigon, but without giving further explanations.[18] There are various explanations to its origin. Journalist Olga Starovoytova tells a rather charming story about her friend Natasha.

    Naturally, Natasha also showed us “Saigon”. We asked her — why “Saigon”? […]The answer was — it's because American guys drink in Saigon. Natasha didn't know the word “Vietnam”, nor that there was a war. Natasha somehow knew that they were drinking there. And I knew something about the war, but I couldn't figure out what connected them.[19]

Viktor Toporov offers a more elaborate version:

    The story goes that, at times, smoking was allowed inside and at times, it was forbidden. Once, while it was forbidden, some girls stood there and smoked, and a policeman approached them and said, “Why are you smoking here, what a disgrace, you are staging some kind of ‘Saigon’ here.” It was during the war in Vietnam …[20]

Be that as it may, everybody agrees that the name expressed a protest against the official Soviet doctrine of anti-Americanism. Olga Starovoytova resumes the situation:

    I never thought about the origin of the name “Saigon” later. But, of course, like almost everything semi-secret, it was connected with America. Even then there was, on the one hand, the most powerful stupid anti-Americanism, and on the other, of course, an irresistible craving for something American.
    “Good bye America, ohh …where I will never be... we have been taught for so long to love your forbidden fruit...”[21]

Besides, the naming of places was not restricted to the Saigon, as Zdravomyslova notes:

    The counterculturalists marked their territory by giving names to and labelling the places they inhabited. They thus symbolically defined the territory as belonging to them. These informal names never appeared as street signs although they were known throughout the city. Certain collective sentiments were articulated in the folklore and symbolism of folk-naming. The cafe names were indicative: 'Ulster', 'Rome', 'Аbbеу Road', 'Saigon', 'Воmbау'. The 'Ulster' and 'Аbbеу Road' were situated downtown; 'Rome' and 'Воmbау' were situated in other parts of the city. Each cafe attracted а different kind of habitué.[22]

Saigon visitors fell into different categories – regular, occasional and accidental visitors. The regular visitors were the сайгонщики, saigonshchiki or Saigonites,[23]. Kozlov was a regular visitor insofar as whenever he was in town – which wasn’t too often – he had a cup of coffee at the Saigon. It was only a short walk from other places he visited, like the antiquarian bookshop Bukinist and Timur Novikov’s place more>>, both on Liteyney prospect, or the Rock club on Rubinshtein street more>>.

Catherine Mannick confirms that visiting the Saigon had no absolute priority to him:

    Evgenij’s tusovka [24]was elsewhere – in the apartments of friends and fellow artists. I didn’t get the sense that he spent much time in Saigon during the time I was in Leningrad in the spring of 1983.

Since Kozlov often took pictures of places he visited, I looked through his photo archive in search of images of the Saigon’s interior, but was surprised that I couldn’t find any. What is even stranger is that I couldn’t find any in the internet nor among those 157 pictures published in “The Twilight of the ‘Saigon’”, with the exception of the one mentioned earlier, presenting the Saigon prior to its opening.

Kozlov explained me that taking pictures inside the Saigon would have been моветон – mauvais ton. Everybody knew that the Saigon was packed with KGB people in plainclothes and that every other visitor was an informer. Therefore, taking pictures would have raised the suspicion of the other guests. Besides, the KGB was not only interested in young intellectuals, perhaps not even in the first place, because, as Viktor Krivulin stated:

    In addition to the bohemians, there gathered black marketeers, “book lovers” (the city’s main black market was very close, at Liteyney prospekt), and criminals of various kinds.[25]

As Catherine Mannick notes, “book lovers”, or simply book sellers, made an important contribution to Saigon’s literary period:

    I remember the booksellers and the circulation of samizdat copies of works by Nikolai Berdiaev and other late 19th, early 20th century Russian philosophers. Without the booksellers, a lot of people wouldn’t have had access to “forbidden” and other hard-to-find literature. As far as I can remember, the Saigon of this period – first months of Andropov - was more literary and less associated with rock music, which came a little later.

In an article for pchela.ru (October 1996), Grebenshikov stresses the uniqueness of the Saigon, arguing that a similar concentration of the young intelligentsia in one place couldn’t be found in Moscow – basically because in Leningrad, they had nowhere else to go.

    It is also important to take into account the specific situation of Leningrad, where there were many intelligent young people, yet there were many times fewer decent jobs for them than in Moscow. The Saigon was a purely Leningrad phenomenon.[26]

In the same edition of pchela, film critic Mikhail Trofimenkov defines the young intelligentsia that frequented the Saigon as a more or less homogenous social group, one among several others defining Leningrad’s cultural life. Trofimenkov gives the examples of Gosfilmfond’s international art-house screenings:  

    These noisy film screenings were a substitute for social life. Everyone met there, as it were. The Hermitage, the Russian Museum, the Pushkin House, the “Saigon”… A paradoxical situation: on the one hand - a ghetto, a form of exile and dissidence, on the other - a form of secular life. [27]

Philosopher and theologian Tatiana Goricheva sets the Saigon in an international context and equates the place’s function with that of the Saint-Jacques Tower in Paris: 

    Pascale sat inside it, Huysmans lived in its vicinity and Breton strolled nearby – Eternity, so to speak.[28]

The fundamental difference with France was that Russia had cut its ties to the past

    […] culture, morality, religion did not exist in our country at that time – the tradition was absolutely destroyed, the Russian tradition, the European tradition, the world tradition. A generation without God… When I wrote Heidegger a letter, he was shocked by it, because he thought that in Russia everyone lives either in a madhouse or in prison. And suddenly, madness, the holy madness of the Saigon breaks out of this madhouse. The Saigon embodied all that was going on in the country. [29]

In a conversation with Nikolai Beliak from 1988, poet and translator Arkadi Dragomoshenko offers a sociological definition of this group of people:

    The “Saigon” became the focus of those people who (inwardly or for some other reason) could not accept the scale of values, those hierarchies of subordination offered by society that could have provided them with a comfortable and peaceful existence.[30]

Despite the fact that Soviet society propagated the value of heroic deeds, when it came to everyday life, the scale of values offered was rather unpretentious and didn’t include eccentric behaviour. Soviet role models, like Gagarin, were presented as simple Soviet people – the narod, unspoiled folk leading a modest life-style.[31] Political scientist Vladimir Pastukhov goes even further and describes late Soviet society as dominated by “petty bourgeois” or philistine values.

    And a philistine in such a late Soviet understanding is a person who lives in his own small, closed, self-centred world, while feeling a certain flexibility. Unlike the peasant, he is already self-sufficient enough, he is deprived of this subordination to the collective and communal consciousness, he already does not have this. He is fixated very much on pragmatism, on purely material values, but at the same time he is not alien to the desire for such a compensatory consciousness ... he needs greatness very often, he is very greedy for the spectacle…[32]

Seen in this light, Saigonites refused not only hierarchies, but also the kind of pragmatism that promised a comfortable, philistine life.  

Elena Zdravomyslova underlines the devastating consequences of such a choice – self-destruction through heavy drinking and drugs, sometimes leading to suicide attempts[33] – and concludes:

    А Saigonee was an autonomous individual who rejected the normative social bonds of the Soviet collectives. On the other hand, this protest was combined with long-term experience of marginality and self-destruction. The longer а person of the Saigon tusovka was engaged in their marginal lifestyle, the more complete was their self-destruction, and the fewer the opportunities they had to exploit the new opportunities opened up by the reforms. [34]

Dragomoshenko also sees the shortcomings of choosing freedom instead of pragmatism:

    [This generation] was granted some semblance of freedom, independence of existence in return for a low position on the hierarchical ladder, and this independence, in fact, became an end in itself for them, and all this romantic idealism led only to one result: the inability to work.[35]

What Dragomoshenko’s calls “the inability to work” is, in his understanding, a lack of target-oriented productivity, which, in turn, is due to the lack of any prospect to intervene in the course of history. Put differently, just discussing philosophy or reading one’s poetry to others doesn’t lead to a revolution.

    The mindset of the “Saigon” people did not differ much from the mindset of those in the West, in America, in France. Only in the end, in 1968, there was a student revolution in France, and nothing happened here… Regardless of what aspirations this generation had, it was an alternative generation. And an alternative generation is negative by itself.[36]

It may well be true that, on the whole, Saigonites were no political dissidents. In this respect, the Saigon can be seen as a very peculiar form of a salon – a salon without a host, set in the public sphere.

Yet concerning their impact on society, things weren’t as bad as Dragomoshenko’s statement suggests. In spite of their “romantic idealism”, a number of Saigonites were actually quite successful in academic and cultural institutions. Later, perestroika provided new possibilities, and Dragomoshenko himself was able to teach at several American universities.[37]

But new possibilities also brought new risks. Olga Starovoytova’s recalls her sister Galina Starovoytova, another regular visitor to the Saigon. Galina Starovoytova, an anthropologist and human rights activist who started her political career in 1989, became the leader of Democratic Russia party in 1998, and was assassinated in a political murder not long thereafter.[38]

With regard to Leningrad’s cultural scene, another one of Dragomoshenko observations seems noteworthy to me:

    The scariest thing is the irony that the Saigon has produced. The individual, the subject, is aware of their being thrown out of society, and the only thing left for them is to get rid of this situation through irony.[39]

When irony becomes a habitual practise, a “postmodernist” manner of behaviour, it brings in an element of obsessiveness into an artist’s means of expression, for better or worse. I discussed this aspect with musician and composer Sergey Kuryokhin, one of the central figures of the Leningrad underground of the 1980s and, of course, a Saigonite.[40] Yet irony was by no means a concept purely of the Saigon intelligentsia. Rather, it was a Soviet phenomenon known as “styob” — “a new, dissecting way of thinking and a new oppositional-destructive way of being”[41] that appeared in the 1970s and 1980s among young Soviet intellectuals. It was a trademark of many Soviet (rooted) artists, especially of Moscow conceptualists, like the group Inspection Medical Hermeneutics. Others, such as Komar and Melamid, Ilya Kabakov, and Erik Bulatov, became very successful in the West, which – ironically – featured those “being thrown out of society” as the true representatives of the Zeitgeist – Soviet pop art.

If Café Saigon was a product of its time, it is logical that it couldn’t survive the resurgence of capitalism – and of individual freedom. Put differently, even if the place hadn’t closed in 1989/1991 to be reopened as a shop selling Italian bathroom equipment, it wouldn’t have kept its spirit as a refuge for free people in an unfree country. Artists and musicians now created their own art centres, like Fontanka 145 more>> or Pushkinskaya 10. Many departed to western countries – some for good, while others returned disenchanted.

The Saigon became a myth. In Tatiana Goricheva’s words:

    Later, when I travelled with my lectures around the world, I searched everywhere for a “Saigon” – but couldn’t find any. There are, of course, wonderful cafés in Paris, but where once Modigliani, Akhmatova, or Gumiliev sat (for instance, at La Coupole), today there are only wealthy tourists. Emigrants go to other cafés – they are certainly poor, but they don't read anything, they are not interested in anything… Nowhere in the world was there a combination of poverty with spiritual wealth, only in Russia.[42]

Speaking of “a combination of poverty with spiritual wealth” Goricheva, intentionally or intentionally, brings to mind Russian Orthodox asceticism with its concept of sacrificing worldly goods for a higher purpose. It isn’t that Goricheva insists on poverty being a condition for spiritual wealth; it’s just not clear whether she thinks material wealth precludes the spiritual. In Russia, rich people (in general) and “the West” (in particular) are often accused of materialism on this basis.

Whatever the case, regarding the Saigonites, I would make a distinction between “having no money” and “being poor”. People had no money, which they surely experienced as a trial. Yet their “poverty” was unlike the misery of a deprived class. They participated in the city’s rich cultural life and, to a degree, even shaped it. If there was any relation between the pilgrims attracted by a remote hermitage and Leningrad’s young urban intelligentsia attracted by the Saigon, it was their quest for meaning:

    I lie down thinking about what I haven’t done and wake up thinking about how it ought to be done.
    I carry this through in the periods between when I am asleep.
    (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, Diary I, p.1-33, 19 March 1980

Hannelore Fobo, 21 April 2023



[1] Private note from April 2023. I am grateful to Catherine Mannick for her comments on Letter E which I included in the final version of my text.

[2] К. в Москве. Уже месяц ничего не слышно о ней. Мы не стремимся друг к другу. После объяснения все почти встало на свои места. Думаю, что только моя бедность и безызвестность – причина нашего отдаления, мы открыты как друзья, а этого мало для моего искусства. (Diary III, p.3-77 more>>)

[3] The TEII (1981-1991) was a newly founded Leningrad art society which was to become an important platform for artists who were, for one reason or another, not members of Union of Artists – “unofficial” artists.

[4] When Catherine Mannick sent me the scans of these slides in 2021, I was able to reconstruct Kozlov’s section. more>>

[5] Ordinary telephone booths (таксофон / taksofon) for local phone-calls worked with двушки / dvushki, those hard-to-get two-kopek coins that often just disappeared in the telephone slot without establishing a connection. Besides, only few telephones allowed distance calls to other Soviet towns.  

[6] See footnote 1

[7] See footnote 1

[8] A better transliteration of Гребенщиков is Grebenshchikov, but Grebenshikov is more common, chosen by the musician himself.

See also: Alexis Ipatovtsev about Aquarium's Leningrad Period An interview with Hannelore Fobo
Introduction: Soviet Rock – From Reel-to-Reel to Vinyl. Saint Petersburg 31 March, 2019. more>>

In February 2022, Boris Grebenshikov was one of the first public figures to speak out against Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. He cancelled all Russian concerts commemorating Aquarium’s fiftieth anniversary – just before he found his name on a blacklist banning musicians and their songs from public performances. In the summer of 2022, he left his home-town to settle in London.

[9] Детство прошло в Сайгоне, from the song Будь для меня как банка / Be for me as a pot from 1994.

https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Сайгон_(кафе)

Web. 21 April 2023

[10] Russian Wikipedia (no source indicated) https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Сайгон_(кафе)

Web. 21 April 2023

Юлия Валиева / Yulia Valieva dates Café Saigon to 1964-1989. Сумерки «Сайгона» / The Twilight of the Saigon, edited by Юлия Валиева / Yulia Valieva, Saint Petersburg: Zamizdat 2009, p. 7

[11] Elena Zdravomyslova. “The Café Saigon Tusovka: Оnе Segment of the Informal public Sphere of Late-Sоviеt Society.” In Biographical Research in Eastern Europe. Altered Lives and Broken Biographies, edited by R. Miller, R. Humphrey, E. Zdravomyslova, pp. 141-177, Ashgate, 2003, p. 145

[13] See footnote 11

[14] The 832-pages book  Сумерки «Сайгона» / The Twilight of the Saigon (see footnote 10) includes a slightly different Russian version of E. Zdravomyslova‘s article “The Café Saigon Tusovka”. Unfortunately, interviews and articles are not dated, and original sources are not indicated.

A second edition of this book was published in 2019 with some minor amendments. See interview with Yulia Valieva in COLTA 22 November 2019.

https://www.colta.ru/articles/literature/23003-pereizdana-legendarnaya-kniga-sumerki-saygona

Web. 21 April 2023

[15] Виктор Кривулин / Viktor Krivulin. “Невский до и после великой кофейной революции” / Nevsky Prospekt before and after the Great Coffee Revolution. Ibid, p. 16 and pchela #6 (October 1996) https://web.archive.org/web/20071030220302/http://www.pchela.ru/podshiv/6/coffee.htm

[16] “C фирменной (диссидентской) надписью.” Евгений Белодубровский / Evgeniy Belodubrovskiy Ibid. p. 73

[17] The Café Saigon Tusovka, p. 151

[18] Сумерки / Twilight, p. 72

[19] Естественно, Наташа показала нам и «Сайгон». Мы спрашивали — почему «Сайгон»? […] Ответ был — это потому что американские парни в Сайгоне пьют. Слова «Вьетнам» Наташа не знала. Что шла война — тоже. Наташа откуда-то знала, что они там пьют. А я что-то знала про войну, но не могла понять, какая тут может быть связь.

Ольга Старовойтова. “Мой «Сайгон»” / Olga Starovoytova. “My ‘Saigon’”, ibid., p. 82

[20] …была история такая, что там то разрешали, то запрещали курить внутри, и когда там было запрещено курить, стояли девушки и курили, к ним подошел милиционер и сказал: "Что вы тут курите, безобразие, какой-то "Сайгон" устроили". Тогда шла вьетнамская война и все такое...

Мы выпивали каждый день. Интервью с Виктором Топоровым / We drank every day. An interview with Viktor Toporov. Pchela #6 (October 1996),

https://web.archive.org/web/20071030220244/http://www.pchela.ru/podshiv/6/drink.htm

Web. 21 April 2023

[21] Я никогда позже не думала о происхождении названия «Сайгон». Но оно, конечно, – как и почти всё такое, полузапретное, – было связано с Америкой. Уже тогда был, с одной стороны, мощнейший тупой антиамериканизм, а с другой, естественно, неодолимая тяга к чему американскому.

«Гуд бай Америка, оуа…где я не буду никогда…нас так долго учили любить твои запретные черты…»

Сумерки / Twilight, Starovoytova, p. 82

[22] The Café Saigon Tusovka, p. 148

[23] Сумерки / Twilight, p. 61. Zdravomyslova uses the term Saigonee, The Café Saigon Tusovka p. 154. Other proper names are сайгонавт / Saigonaut, Сумерки / Twilight, p. 9 and сайгоновец / Saigonovets, ibid., p.369.

[24] Zdravomyslova gives the following definition of a tusovka person: Tusovka presumes а certain type of individual: а liberal individual from the Soviet period, integrated to а minor extent into the life of Soviet officialdom and its kollektivy. The Café Saigon Tusovka, P. 144.

In a larger sense, tusovka refers to the circle of friends and acquaintances considered as “Kindred by Choice”, to quote the title of one of Goethe’s novels.

[25] Там, кроме богемы, собирались фарцовщики, «книжники» (совсем рядом, на Литейном, находился главный городской черный рынок), уголовники разного рода.

Сумерки / Twilight, p. 16

[26] Важно учесть и особенности Ленинграда, где интеллигентной молодежи было много, а достойных рабочих мест для нее - во много раз меньше, чем в Москве. Сайгон - чисто ленинградский феномен.

Сайгон. Борис Гребенщиков / Saigon. Boris Grebenshikov

https://web.archive.org/web/20080328153811/http://www.pchela.ru/podshiv/6/saigon.htm

Web. 21 April 2023

[27] Эти шумные кинопоказы были заменой светской жизни. Там встречались как бы все. Эрмитаж, Русский музей, Пушкинский дом, "Сайгон"... Парадоксальная ситуация: с одной стороны - гетто, форма изгнания и диссидентства, с другой - форма светской жизни.

Кино на Невском. Интервью с Михаилом Трофименковым / Cinema on Nevsky. An interview with Mikhail Trofimenkov

 https://web.archive.org/web/20080731044212/http://www.pchela.ru/podshiv/6/film.htm

Web. 21 April 2023

According to Trofimenkov, Gosfilmfond’s Leningrad screenings took place at the Kirov House of Culture until 1982 and at the Spartak Movie Theatre thereafter. See also: (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, Diary I, note to title page 2 more>>.

[28] внутри её сидел Паскаль, рядом жил Гюисманс, бродил Бретон – там творилась, так сказать, Вечность.

Татьяна Горичева. Сумерки «Сайгона» / Tatiana Goricheva. The Twilight of the “Saigon”.  

Сумерки / Twilight, p. 61. The book’s title Сумерки «Сайгона» / The Twilight of the “Saigon” is taken from her interview.

[29] […] культуры, нравственности, религии не существовало у нас в то время - традиция была абсолютно разрушена, русская традиция, европейская традиция, мировая традиция. Поколения без Бога ... Когда я написала Хайдеггеру письмо, он был им потрясен, так как думал, что в России все живут либо в сумасшедшем доме, либо в тюрьме. И вдруг из этого сумасшедшего дома вырывается на волю безумие, святое безумие сайгонское. «Сайгон» воплощал все то, что происходило в стране ... «Сайгон» воплощал все то, что происходило в стране…

Ibid., p. 61.

[30] «Сайгон» стал средоточием тех людей, которые (внутренне или

по каким-то другим причинам) не могли принять ту шкалу ценностей, те иерархии подчинения, предлагаемые обществом, которые могли бы обеспечить им безбедное и спокойное существование.

Аркадий Драгомощенко / Arkadi Dragomoshenko, ibid., p. 146

[31] I discussed the concept of “the simple Soviet guy” in 2020:
The New Artists. Timur Novikov: Roots – E-E Kozlov: Cosmos. Chapter 9. Narodnost’: quite simply the people. more>>

[32] А мещанин в таком позднесоветском понимании, это есть человек, живущий своим маленьким замкнутым, сконцентрированным на себе мирком, при этом чувствующий некую подвижность. Он в отличие от крестьянина достаточно уже самодостаточен, он лишен этой подчиненности коллективно-общинному сознанию, у него уже этого нету. Он зациклен очень сильно на прагматизм, на сугубо материальные ценности, но при этом не чужд желания такого компенсаторного сознания… ему величия надо очень часто, он очень падок на зрелище…

«Пастуховские четверги» Владимир Пастухов – Алексей Венедиктов

Pastukhov’s Thursday. Vladimir Pastukhov, Aleksey Venediktov. 20 April 2023.

https://echofm.online/programs/pastuhovskie-chetvergi/pastuhovskie-chetvergi-45

Web. 21 April 2023

[33] The Café Saigon Tusovka, p. 164/165

[34] Ibid., p. 175

[35] [этому поколению] было даровано некое подобие свободы, независимости существования в уплату за низкое положение на иерархической лестнице, и эта независимость, в сущности, и стала для него самоцелью, а весь этот романтический идеализм дал только один результат: неумение работать.

Сумерки / Twilight, p. 147.

[36] Умонастроения «Сайгона» особо не отличалось от умонастроений западных: в Америке, во Франции. Только в итоге в 1968 году во Франции случилась студенческая революция, а здесь ничего не случилось ... Независимо от того, какие были устремления у этого поколения, - оно было альтернативным поколением. А альтернативное поколение - это негатив.

Ibid., p. 147.

[39] Самая страшная вещь - та ирония, которую выработал «Сайгон». Индивидуум, субъект осознает свою выброшенность из общества, и единственное, что ему остается, - это изживание этой ситуации путем иронии.

Сумерки / Twilight, p. 148

[40] Kuryokhin was best known for his chaotic Pop Mekhanika performances.

See also: Hannelore Fobo. Pop Mekhanika in the West. The three principles of Kuryokhin’s “action on a totally global scale” more>>

[41] Стеб стал домом новой, препарирующей мысли и нового, опозиционно-деструктивного бытия.

18.12. 2007 Yu. L. Vorotnikov, О некоторых особенностях языка средств массовой информации [About some linguistic features of media language]

http://gramota.ru/biblio/magazines/gramota/ruspress/28_606 Retrieved 17 December, 2017

[42] ... Потом, когда я путешествовала с докладами по всему миру, я везде искала «Сайгон» И не могла найти. Есть, конечно, прекрасные кафе в Париже, но там, где раньше бывали Модильяни, Ахматова, Гумилев (в «Coupole», например), сейчас сидят только богатые туристы. В других собираются эмигранты - они, конечно, бедные, но они ничего не читают, ни о чем не хотят знать ... А соединение нищеты с духовным богатством - этого нигде в мире нет, только в России.

Сумерки / Twilight, p. 63.

Because of her engagement in women’s right, Tatiana Goricheva spent eight years in forced exile before she was allowed to return to Leningrad in 1988. She continued travelling to the West thereafter.

https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Горичева,_Татьяна_Михайловна

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USA-CCCP. Points of Contact.
Part 1: Introduction
Synopsis • Preliminary Remarks
1. From Leningrad to Boston and Back
2. Let’s Talk About Art. New Wave, New Artists, and B(L)ack art
3. Perestroika Emissaries
4. The End of Censorship
5. “It Seems I Need a Manager.” The Impact of Getting Popular
6. Leningrad Artists and Musicians in E-E Kozlov's Pictures
— The River of Forgetfulness, 1988 —
Part 2: Letters
Letter A (1979) – Halloween
Letter B (1980) – To Be at Peace with Yourself
Letter C (1980) – Harlequin
Letter D (1982) – The Sea and the Countryside
Letter E (1983) – Saigon
Letter F (1983) – Moscow
Letter G (1984) – New Wave
Letter H (1985) – New Composers
Letter I (1986) – Happy New Year at the Leningrad Rock Club
Letter J (1986) – CCCP-USA
Letter K (1986) – The Price of Art
Letter L (1986) – B (L)ack art • PoPs from the USSSR
Letter M (1986) – A Taste for Colours
Letter N (1987) – Part 1: Changes and Challenges
Letter N (1987) – Part 2: ASSA
Letter O (1988) – Joanna Stingray's Wedding
Letter P (1989) – Perestroika Hot News
Letter Q (1989) – Russkoee Polee • The Russian Field
Letter R (1990) – New Classicals
Epilogue: USA-CCCP. Points of Contact (Forthcoming)

see also
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, Catherine Mannick, and Hannelore Fobo papers, 1979-2022 (inclusive)
Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Special Collection Harvard University >>

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Published 24 April 2023
Last updated 7 June 2024