For me, a particularly fascinating case of conflicting loyalties is that of Pavlik Morozov, a boy in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Young Pavlik, at least according to the official story, was a model citizen, an ardent flag-waver and fervent patriot. In 1932, he chose state over family, denouncing his father for supposed black-marketeering. Pavlik’s father was arrested and executed, but that wasn’t the end of the story. Soon after, the boy was killed, allegedly by relatives who felt his loyalties were misplaced.
The regime’s propagandists embraced the story. Statues were erected to the young martyr who did his duty to the revolution. Poems and songs were written; schools were named for him. An opera was composed, a hagiographic movie was made about his life, and he became an icon for schoolchildren, a lesson about what constitutes the right choice.
But what counts as a correct choice can look very different in different cultures, or even to different people in the same culture.
As Pavlik’s story emerged, Stalin was told about the boy. And what was the response of the man most benefiting from such fealty to the state? Was it, “If only all my citizens were that righteous; this lad gives me hope for our nation’s future”?
No. According to historian Vejas Liulevicius of the University of Tennessee, when told about Pavlik, Stalin snorted derisively and said, “What a little pig to have done such a thing to his own family.” And then he turned the propagandists loose.