Speech by Anastasia Gordeeva about Bulgakov and Batumi

29 October 2021

For the first time, Bulgakov visited Batumi in 1921. It was when he was going to emigrate to Turkey, but then he realized that he could not live far from his homeland.

The second visit took place in 1928 when Bulgakov arrived in Batumi with his wife Tatyana Belozerskaya. They walked for hours around the city and surrounding places. Bulgakov fantasized a lot and was in a state of creative inspiration and decided to write the novel The Master and Margarita.

So, in 1921, Mikhail Bulgakov travelled from Vladikavkaz through Baku and Tiflis (now Tbilisi) and reaches Batumi, which in the early 1920s was a “window from Russia”, the last hope for those who wanted to leave the country. Then it was very easy to leave Batumi – this was the only chance to reach Constantinople (now Istanbul), and from there to Paris, where Bulgakov dreamed of escaping Russia to. He worked out an escape plan with his wife, Tatiana Lappa. And several times, he negotiated with the captains of small boats. However, at the last moment he refused to escape. After long and painful reflections, he chose a different path – to stay in his homeland. And along with this, Bulgakov makes the main decision of his life – to become a writer.

Being in Batumi in 1921 was the most difficult period in Bulgakov’s life: poverty and complete uncertainty of the future. But paradoxically, it is here that the fateful meeting for the aspiring writer takes place. The meeting, which was predetermined from above, and later gave the name to the main novel of his life.

Bulgakov walks around Batumi poorly dressed, and one day, when he went to the market to sell a kerosene stove, on Mariininsky Prospect, he saw a woman of amazing beauty, in a dress that looked like an antique toga. It was Margarita Petrovna Arkhangelskaya, who was accompanied by her husband and his brother. Glancing at the stranger, Bulgakov realized that she was from another, past life. And intuitively he felt that this woman was intended only for him, and such meetings happen only once in a lifetime. She walked past him without even looking, the arrogance in all her appearance did not leave any hope for the young writer. But Bulgakov thought and felt paradoxical, and he decided that this was the final reason not to leave Russia. After all, then there will be an opportunity to meet her once again – his ideal, his muse. Already at the end of September 1921, the writer returned to Moscow. And only 10 years later, in Moscow, Bulgakov collides on the street with a woman who so struck his imagination in his youth. The Batumi vision mysteriously appeared through the years in the guise of a woman from Moscow with yellow flowers….

From the memoirs of Margarita Petrovna:

We started talking about the sea, the Caucasus. I said that in the summer of 1921, I was on a trip to the Caucasus with my husband. Mikhail said that during these years he also worked in the south. Suddenly he stepped back a step, lit up all over and shouted:

– “Margarita Petrovna, so I saw you!”

– At these words, laughter made me out: “Well, you are a master of glasses to rub!”.

– “How, how did you say?” – asked Bulgakov, – “Master, that’s the Master!”

– “Well, yes,” I replied, “masterfully you can speak your teeth. Maybe it wasn’t me at all. “

– He looked into my eyes very seriously and said in a whisper: “Margarita Petrovna, don’t you know that you cannot be forgotten ever?”

And he remembered and immortalized it in his brilliant work “The Master and Margarita”.

So, Batumi becomes a fatal city for Bulgakov. Here the first spiritual intersection of the destinies of two great people of the 20th century – Mikhail Bulgakov and Joseph Stalin – took place.

At this point, Bulgakov decides to devote his life to literature and cultivated a creative impulse for writing a great novel. For Stalin, Batumi is a place of maturation and transformation from a romantic young man into a strong-willed fighter. Here he defines his life path – to become a professional revolutionary.

A mystery lies in the fact that in this city, both of them made the most important decisions that determined the course of not only their lives but also had a huge impact on the course of the entire human civilization. Bulgakov became a great writer, Stalin – a great dictator. One described the Devil, the second became one of the devil`s incarnations in real human life. One described the devil in theory with his brilliant novel showed that good and evil are inextricably linked and this is one of the laws of the universe, the second confirmed this in practice: having reared Russia, turning it from a poor backward country into an industrially developed power through monstrous violence and blood.

In light of this, it comes as no surprise that Bulgakov’s last work is called “Batumi” (written in 1939). Stalin strictly forbade the production of the play. Although the writer had previously experienced difficulties with the release of his works, this time he could not survive such a blow. The nervous shock was so powerful that less than six months after the completion of the play, Bulgakov dies. But before the ban, everyone was delighted with this play, both party workers and theatrical figures. The play was a tremendous success.

But, perhaps, it was in this work that Stalin saw that Bulgakov came as close as possible to understanding the true essence of the leader with his inner complexes and fears. And this frightened Stalin. What one has understood, others will also understand and may begin to rethink the phenomenon of his greatness. And this is unacceptable for the “leader of all peoples”!

And here is the result – the creative life that began in Batumi, describing a dizzying trajectory, ends with the play “Batumi”. What is it? Mysticism and magic or coincidence – you decide.

The point set in the play “Batumi” became the symbolic finale of both the creative and physical life of the writer.

Anastasia Gordeeva