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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Writers' Union Accepts Korzhakov

Former presidential bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov has probably called journalists many different names, at least under his breath. But he came up with an unexpected epithet last week: "colleagues."

It emerges that Korzhakov, whose day job is serving as a deputy in the State Duma, is one of the newest members of Russia's Writers' Union - a revelation that drew sour comment about the hawkish former KGB operative from several liberal authors.

The ex-KGB general is not generally mentioned alongside names like Boris Pasternak or Alexander Solzhenitsyn - both of whom were expelled from the Soviet-era Writers' Union. Yet Korzhakov's book, "Boris Yeltsin: From Dawn to Dusk," was a commercial smash, topping last year's bestseller list in the nonfiction paperback category by selling several hundred thousand copies.

"Now I can call you all my colleagues," Korzhakov said Thursday with a grin at a news conference he convened to criticize his former Kremlin rival, tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

Korzhakov was recently accepted by the Moscow chapter of the Writers' Union of Russia, according to officials there. It is one of several different writers' organizations that splintered from the Soviet Writers' Union in the wake of the fall of communist rule.

Korzhakov thus joins fellow Duma Deputy Anatoly Lukyanov, one of the leaders of the 1991 coup to preserve the Soviet Union. He got in to the Moscow union for his slender red book of sonnets written while he was in prison on treason charges after the coup failed.

To get in, Korzhakov needed three recommendations from writers in good standing, said Yury Konoplyannikov, a writer and a member of the union. Two union members then read the applicant's book and report to the membership committee, which takes a secret ballot.

Konoplyannikov said joining - the key to a literary career in Soviet days - did not exactly carry extravagant benefits. "Privileges? These days, practically none," he said.

Members have access to a polyclinic and get a 50 percent discount on their first visit each year to the two writers' retreats in the Moscow region, at Maleyevka and Peredelkino. After that, they pay full price.

Small though the perks might be, the news of Korzhakov's membership rubbed some people the wrong way. Izvestia correspondent Yury Bogomolov wrote that the union had already accepted more than one "shuffler, whisperer, lackey and informer. ... The Writers' Union of the U.S.S.R. was full of them, and so is the current union."

Poet Alexander Tkachenko, general secretary of the Russian PEN Center writers' group, called it "shameful."

"We should organize a new writers' union for former bureaucrats and presidential bodyguards," said Tkachenko, noting the increasingly popular genre of tell-alls by former aides.

During his stint in the Kremlin, Korzhakov was one of the most influential people in Russian due to his closeness to President Boris Yeltsin, at whose side he served for 11 years. He was widely reviled as one of the Kremlin hawks who advocated war in separatist Chechnya.

It is difficult to estimate book sales in Russia because publishers tend to fudge the numbers for tax reasons. But Korzhakov's book, which had an initial print run of 50,000 that sold out almost immediately, has probably sold several hundred thousand copies. It was acknowledged as the top-selling nonfiction paperback in Russia last year.