Part 32: The Politics of Conversion
Chapter 32: The Politics of Conversion
In conquering the hearts and minds of many Berezinan workers with their unionizing and subsersive literature, the Novistranan Coalition had the resources and people necessary to hold a national strike, but they still needed two things: the spark to set off the people's tensions, and more loyal inner circle members to impose their will on the city.
Piotr Prokofiev, for the first time in his career, would directly order an attack on their future recruits to make them more likely to join his faction. At the time he justified it by stating the ends justified the means, but today fans of Maxim Nazerov and Rostislav Petrov's involvement in the movement believed Prokofiev had overreached and been extremely Machiavellian in his politics and attempts to overthrow Karasov.
There are those who argue that this kind of politicking was exactly what was needed in the first place. Whatever the case, it was clear that Prokofiev's strategy worked. Their resolves shaken, the comforting voice of a man who claimed to be their friend would lead Nazerov and Petrov to join the Coalition and put their considerable talents to good use...
* * *
Piotr Prokofiev's Diary - Hundred-twentieth Entry: 14/04/1996
This afternoon was busy. Tresori and Churnyeav discussed with me the possible choices of our future candidates. We were still discussing it by the time Josef returned from his canvassing, and then he wanted to voice his own take on things, restarting the entire discussion again and making us go around in circles with nearly-endless arguments.
We finally managed to settle on two very promising men who would likely join us if I persuaded them properly: a steel worker-turned-politician by the name of Maxim Nazerov, and Rostislav Petrov, a big-name priest whose charitable actions would be greatly congruent with our history of charity in Pugachev.
I wasn't expecting an easy recruitment, however. Both men had not survived long in Berezina without moderate views on politics at best. The fear of Karasov's secret police and jeopardizing all they had worked for would make both Petrov and Nazerov quite fearful of joining any faction. I am running scenarios in my head where their fear of Karasov beats my persuasive abilities, and all lie around convincing them that my idea for a national strike is one worth fighting for.
I briefly considered sending in Churnyeav to crack some heads and rough them up a little, but that probably wouldn't work out. What I could do is use either Josef or Tresori's talents in discrediting to make these two men desperate for a little friendship, but then again... what happens if they would find out we were the ones who tried to harm them in the first place? Tresori would probably refuse to do it.
Screw it. I'm going to do what I must on these two men in order to make them join us. Chances are they'll be more... malleable.
* * *
: Josef, Comrade Churnyeav, this will be quick.
: What is it, Piotr? Do you want me to call Mr. Vilnov?
: No. I don't want him to know of this. I thought about it, and I need to take a... distasteful route to bring in better men to our side.
: We're listening, sir.
: I need you two to do what you can to make Maxim Nazerov and Rostislav Petrov join us in any way possible. They're a little too secure in their beliefs and dare not risk Karasov's wrath.
: Wait, what do you want us to do?
: Like I said, Josef: whatever you can. Trap them with a prostitute, hire some men to work them over, whatever. I need those two men on our side, and they will be a lot friendlier if they think we're rescuing them from a campaign of harassment.
: Sir... That's pretty creepy of you.
: I don't care, Churnyeav. Now do it by tonight. I'm going to have to do what I must to make Karasov fall.
: All... all right, Piotr. If you say so...
* * *
In the following Berezina morning, Prokofiev walked down the street with a lump in his throat. This was the only protest his body was giving to the revulsion he was feeling to having to rely on dirty tactics to get who he wanted on his side. His brain was similarly set against him, but he was able to shut out all thoughts of guilt and focused his mind on the arguments he had prepared.
He had contacted both Nazerov and Petrov late in the night, telling them he was aware of the harassment both men had suddenly been facing. Whatever Nasarov and Churnyeav had been doing apparently had worked. Both men seemed to be relieved to hear a friendly voice who was preparing to take them into a place of safety. What they said had surprised Prokofiev, though: Nazerov and Petrov both revealed that Karasov had been targeting them before, but recently they had been facing harsher harassment. Whatever had happened in the night was both extreme and sudden, they admitted, and they feared Karasov was trying to take them out of the equation for good.
Simultaneously thanking both Nasarov and Churnyeav and feeling shocked at how they had been so well-versed in Karasov's tactics, Prokofiev convinced Nazerov and Petrov to meet him and to join his faction to get back at Karasov. Both men were willing to hear him out, but Nazerov had been quite clear in pointing out that he wouldn't have considered hearing Prokofiev out if he hadn't been a target of physical and media attacks. Clearly, he hadn't heard of what Prokofiev was planning... and Prokofiev could probably convince him his intentions were noble.
As he approached the designated meeting spot, an alleyway next to the Samovar tea shop in Stepanova Village, he gave a sidelong glance at a nervous-looking Nazerov's back, then walked down the alley, rounding on the politician with a calculated step. When he got into Nazerov's sight, the politician actually jumped back in surprise.
"Easy, comrade," Prokofiev told him as Nazerov backed away a step, "I'm Piotr Prokofiev of the Novistranan Coalition. I'm here to meet with you."
"Oh... oh yes," the politician forced a smile, wiping his brow. "I just thought you were... you know..."
"One of your previous attackers, yes," Prokofiev said, nodding understanding. "Don't worry, you may just be in luck if you hear me out."
"So what is it you want to talk about, exactly?" asked Nazerov, relaxing a bit and risking sounding skeptical. "It's not every day I get a phone call from someone who knows exactly what kind of harassment I've had to endure."
"Just because I'm in a political faction doesn't mean I don't keep an eye on people that matter," stated Prokofiev, seeking to boost the politician's ego a bit. "Your... recent run-ins with Karasov were pretty clear from what I've seen and asked around."
"Yeah, Karasov's been really wild lately," Nazerov said, casting a few worried glances over his shoulder. The alleyway was relatively out in the open, but there was so much activity going on that nobody was bothering to watch two men talk business. "I dunno what happened last night, it was just... sudden, you know?"
"Well, let's talk something more important," Prokofiev said, then checked himself. "I'm sorry, I don't mean what you experienced is any less deserving of attention, but what I'm offering you would help this little pickle of yours."
"No offense taken," smiled Nazerov. "I suppose you're offering me a chance to join your faction?"
"That's right," Prokofiev said, steepling his fingers. "I've seen your past, comrade. A former steel worker who now serves on his local council... Can I ask why you gave up working in the factories?"
"It has nothing to do with giving up, Mr. Prokofiev, quite the opposite," corrected Nazerov with a hint of hostility. "I was never big on the unions and always felt that I had more brains than brawn. I felt that my talents would be put to better use helping the people in politics."
"But it can't be easy being a politician these days, not with Karasov in power," pointed out Prokofiev. "Exactly how do you work?"
"Look, Mr. Prokofiev, I believe in compassion for the plight of the masses," said Nazerov sharply, showing a little of his steel-working self. "I just want to help my fellow countrymen. I actually managed to help quite a bit in the council, even as censored as it is."
"Well, I managed to give people a little bit of privacy concerning their phone calls and mail being opened," Nazerov replied, looking proud of himself. "I may not have brought about liberation, but that's what I'm trying to work for: a new Novistrana where people don't have to fear their government."
"Okay then, tell me exactly how you plan to do that with Karasov in power," Prokofiev demanded. "Why haven't you stood up for what you believe in?"
"Now hold on, dammit," Nazerov said, again getting angry. "You think it's easy trying to play this game of politics? If I tried to do exactly what I wanted, I'd disappear. I don't want that to happen, so I need to be moderate."
"So if you've been careful and neutral, why is Karasov targeting you?" asked the revolutionary, now curious about the real harassment the politician had suffered. "You said you were moderate."
"It's not easy these days," sighed Nazerov and looking down at the ground. "I blame you, actually."
"Yeah, you," Nazerov said, suddenly enraged. "You and your Coalition have been causing a lot of trouble lately, and now that you're here, Karasov is cracking down on anyone who's not a sycophant!"
"So why didn't you do it to save your own skin?" sneered Prokofiev, thinking he knew the answer.
"Because I am not going to sell out my beliefs in the face of a threat," Nazerov said. "I may not go out and cause trouble, but there's a line I won't cross, and that's to go back on what I believe in!"
Prokofiev gave a large smile. It seemed he was right about this worker-turned-councilor... and he liked what he was hearing.
"All right, I think you will do," the visionary said. "What say you-"
"Now hold on," interrupted the politician, raising his hand. "I may have passed your litmus test, but I need to know what your deal is. I don't want to throw away all I've built up in the name of revolution without a damn good reason. How do I know you're the real deal?"
"You've heard of what we've done for Ekaterine and Pugachev, right?" Prokofiev answered without worries. "Freeing a political prisoner, destroying a crime syndicate, starting a charity... I think you can say we have a pretty good reputation."
"Not enough for Berezina," answered Nazerov critically. "You're in the belly of the beast, comrade, and being nice is not going to win you any points here. What are you planning?"
Prokofiev nodded. "I am sure that as an ex-union member, you must have seen our pamphlets calling out for a national strike."
Nazerov's eyes widened. "A national strike?" he repeated.
"That's right," nodded Prokofiev again, looking up at the sky and emoting. "My Coalition has gotten quite a following with the workers. They're ready to support us and we're ready to start a nation-wide strike all over. We're going to show how little power Karasov has over them, especially now that he wants to scrap the unions."
"Wow," whistled Nazerov. "Tell me more."
"That's basically it for now," Prokofiev said. "It's only a small step from a national strike to proving revolution is possible, comrade. And it will be a lot more possible if I had a man like you at my side. What do you say, Comrade Nazerov? Are you ready to do your duty as a politician and represent the people?"
The excited Nazerov gave two thumbs up and Prokofiev immediately began giving him a pep talk on the Coalition's expectations, but then guided the man to the nearby teashop. He would only reveal the details on who Nazerov would be working with and how to access the secret headquarters in complete secrecy.
* * *
Novistranan Coalition Dossier - Maxim Nazerov: Politician
Maxim Nazerov is a well-respected figure in the community. A former steel worker, he has worked hard to become a local councilor and wants a better country for his people.
* * *
Just around the corner from the Tsar's Hunt, a restaurant popular with businessmen for its good food and speedy service, was a small alleyway next to a blue marble-sided house. The homes in the Molniya Mansions district were well-deserving of the name: even the smallest home could be considered a mansion worthy of the rich and wealthy.
Prokofiev always felt disturbed and uncomfortable around such ostentatious displays of wealth, having gone so far as to rob the previous mayor of Ekaterine's home when he held a lavish party for the elite of his hometown. What a charitable man like Rostislav Petrov was doing living in one such mansion was beyond him, and suddenly Prokofiev didn't feel so bad about having set his hounds on the priest.
Just as he was thinking these thoughts, Petrov himself was approaching him with a calculating look in his eyes. The two men greeted each other calmly, and Prokofiev looked over the priest's attire. Oddly enough, he appeared to be dressed as humbly as Father Oleg Baturin, with no rings or any jewelry to betray signs of wealth.
"I've nothing worth stealing," the priest said suddenly, and Prokofiev's face went red with embarrassment. "I live here on the Church's dime, Brother, and nothing more."
"I wasn't about to ask you about that," Prokofiev replied glumly.
"Hmm, and you were looking at my fingers and clothes for any other reason?" observed Petrov, shaking his head. "Don't try to fool a priest, Brother. We're well-trained to read people. It helps after years of confession."
"I see," Prokofiev said quickly, glancing away and trying to save face. "You must be Father Petrov?"
"Yes, Rostislav Petrov, at your service," the priest said, bowing slightly. "And of course, you are Brother Piotr Prokofiev of the Novistranan Coalition?"
"I'm that easy to read, huh?"
"No, you told me who you were just now," Petrov said, now smiling slightly. Prokofiev couldn't help it and laughed, but Petrov became serious again and continued. "You wanted to meet me, Brother. What is it?"
"Very well, I'll go straight to business," Prokofiev said, seeing the priest's searching eyes. "I want you to lend your support to the Novistranan Coalition and join us as a member of my inner circle."
"That is quite a bit to ask," Petrov said, rubbing his chin in thought. "I've tried to remain neutral in secular politics, Brother. My concerns are with the Church."
"Fair enough, but my movement seeks to address the Church too," Prokofiev was already saying before Petrov put his hand up.
"Stop, Brother, stop. I have spent quite a bit of my time seeing the situation here in Novistrana, and your Coalition seeks to oust the President, is that right?"
"Yes, that's right," Prokofiev said, puzzled. "Don't tell me you have a problem with that, Father?"
"I don't, I have quite a few problems with Karasov," admitted Petrov, "but right now my worries lie with corruption in the Church and the moral decay of many of its priests. Karasov is dangerous, but so is a church he may be able to corrupt further."
"It's no use fighting the symptom when you ought to be fighting the disease, Father," Prokofiev pointed out, thinking quickly. "You can try to heal the Church, but as long as Karasov and his men are in power, you'll be fighting a losing battle."
"Listen, Brother, I agree that liberation for our beloved Novistrana is of the essence," Petrov said, almost annoyed with Prokofiev, "but I've been trying to stay out of Karasov's sights. I've got a reputation for charity and for being a man of pure mind. I'm already considered a radical, and I don't want to further drag my name into the political mud when it means I cannot help those who believe in God."
"How much do you know of the Novistranan Coalition, Father Petrov?" asked Prokofiev, again preparing to share his tales of Pugachev.
"Enough to know you are no small-time revolutionaries," stated Petrov. "I've seen what you're capable of. I keep hearing workers coming into the church and small praying circles talk of how you wish to be holding a national strike."
"That's one of our goals in Berezina," replied Prokofiev, "but have you heard of what we have done in Pugachev?"
"I haven't heard from there lately, what with butting heads with priests here," Petrov shrugged. "Should I have?"
"I'm not sure if you've heard of Father Oleg Baturin before," Prokofiev began, "but with his help, the Novistranan Coalition was able to start a very strong charity trust in that city."
"...Impossible," Petrov said after a few moments. "Your efforts would have been crushed. That city is-"
"Rife with crime and lacking churches, yes," interrupted Prokofiev, nodding somberly. "I'm glad to say that is being corrected. The charity is still running strong, and it is being overseen by one of the most virtuous men of the cloth I've ever had the pleasure to work with."
"Ah, you've worked with a priest before?" Petrov said, impressed. "It's not often that a political faction tries to... play the religious angle. Too many seek to twist the words of God for self-profit."
"I understand that God is a need a lot of Novistranans need to fulfill," shrugged Prokofiev, deciding to be honest. "I do not believe in Him myself, but-"
"You're not a believer?" snapped Petrov, now angry. "You've worked with a fellow priest and you still deny the glory of our Lord?"
Damn it, what did I do, thought Prokofiev as Petrov continued to rant angrily at him, suddenly incensed by the horrible truth.
"Now hold on, listen to me," Prokofiev stepped in when Petrov paused to suck in breath, "I don't want to discuss matters of faith with you, Father, I want to talk about your inclusion in the Novistranan Coalition."
"I cannot work with a man who is not a Catholic by choice!" Petrov continued, personally offended and pointing at Prokofiev accusingly. "The Church is not yours to manipulate for political reasons, and certainly not if you do not believe what it stands for!"
"Karasov is a bigger threat than the divide between believers and doubters, Father," countered Prokofiev, wishing to avoid the discussion altogether. "If it makes matters any better, I work alongside Catholics, and devoted ones."
"Hmph, then I suppose that one day you'll come to see the light," snorted Petrov, deciding to drop the matter for the moment. "I must say that I do not feel comfortable with the idea of working for a man like yourself."
"If you'd like, you can sermonize for me when we have some free time, Father," Prokofiev offered, trying to placate the priest. "Look, your work in rooting out corruption made you stand out for me, and I understand just how men like you help the people. All I want is to give you a chance to spread the word and to join us in making Novistrana a better place."
"Brother, I've already told you my place is with the Church," Petrov repeated. "I cannot abandon it in its direst hour."
"We can work on the Church as we fight Karasov," appealed Prokofiev, and then turned to his secret plan. "Please, Father, I understand that Karasov has been targeting you as of late. He clearly sees a problem with you focusing on the churches."
This actually gave Petrov pause. The priest stopped being fidgety and considered Prokofiev's words, and the revolutionary continued to press the advantage.
"Karasov sees you as a threat, Father. Clearly, you're doing the right thing by helping the Church... and Karasov wants like all Hell to avoid any change that would threaten his power."
"...What you say makes sense, Brother," Petrov muttered, scratching his head in deep thought and feeling that familiar bubble of religious fervor. "What happened last night and this morning was quite... extreme. Karasov clearly wants me out of the picture..."
"Then it's time to join us, Father Petrov," concluded Prokofiev, sensing the tipping point. "Help us hold the national strike. One of our plans is to take over the Cathedral here and show the people that religion is not a tool of oppression, but one of liberation!"
"Yes... Yes, you are right!" Petrov replied with sudden righteousness, now in his full religious intensity. "The demon in the palace has been poisoning the Church and the people far too long, turning them away from God and towards sin and devilry! Brother Prokofiev, we shall talk of your disturbing lack of faith in the future, but you have convinced me. For the sake of our Lord and for Novistrana, Karasov must be stopped!"
Quite the firebrand, this one, thought Prokofiev as he allowed Petrov to finish his sermon, and then enthusiastically repeated his speech he had given to Nazerov earlier in the day, much in the same manner as Petrov had been. I wonder what Baturin would say about him...
As they walked to the rear doors of the Tsar's Hunt to discuss the delicate details of the Novistranan Coalition, Petrov continued to preach that the flaming sword would soon fall on the corrupt Church and Karasov's enabling of terror. Prokofiev only listened, bemused.
* * *
Novistranan Coalition Dossier - Rostislav Petrov: Priest
Rostislav began his career in the Church as a missionary, traveling to the poorer parts of the world, spreading the word and feeding hungry mouths. He is quite a radical and rallies against corruption in organized religion.
* * *
That night, Prokofiev brought in Maxim Nazerov and Rostislav Petrov to the underground headquarters of the Novistranan Coalition. Tresori Vilnov, Josef Nasarov, and Boris Churnyeav were all there already: Vilnov was busy poring over a new treatise he had been penning for the past month, Nasarov was talking about a planned minor union strike to get the people's attention with his subordinates, and Churnyeav was barking orders over a telephone, asking for a headcount on the newest draftees to the army (all credited to the Novistranan Coalition, of course).
When Prokofiev cleared his throat to get their attention, he was happy to see that his three comrades, three men he would consider brothers, had immediately stopped and turned to attention to hear from their leader. He stepped aside and jokingly made a gesture to show off Nazerov and Petrov as if they were the newest cars on the market.
"Gentlemen, I present to you Maxim Nazerov and Rostislav Petrov," Prokofiev said, still showing the two new members of the inner circle off. "They are now a part of the Novistranan Coalition, and on the same level as yourselves."
Vilnov, Nasarov, and Churnyeav walked forward as one towards the entrance, eying over the new recruits and nodding, liking what they saw. Nazerov and Petrov shuffled nervously, even though both were centers of attention in their own ways and jobs. Vilnov, being the closest, was the first to greet them properly.
"Welcome to the Novistranan Coalition, comrades," he said, giving a wide smile and shaking both of their hands firmly with his free hand, as under his left arm he was clutching the large book he had absentmindedly taken with him from the table. Suddenly taking notice of the volume, he looked at it in surprise then gave a sheepish laugh. "Pardon me, you've caught me in one of my writing moods. My name is Tresori Vilnov."
"Tresori Vilnov?" Nazerov said in delighted surprise. "You wrote A Primer for Liberty, didn't you?"
"One of my most well-known treatises, influenced heavily by Kropotkin and Marx," Vilnov said educationally, taking an immediate liking to the prim-looking politician. "I take it you've read it?"
"More than once," Nazerov said with a goofy smile, shaking Vilnov's hand again. "Your book... I mean, wow, I can't believe I'm gushing like this... I think you're a genius, Mr. Vilnov, and it's a pleasure to meet you in person!"
"Hah, thank you, young Nazerov, always glad to meet a fan of my work," Vilnov said genially. He then turned to Petrov, who had been looking at Vilnov with a mixture of distrust and caution. "And you must be the priest Rostislav Petrov?"
"I am, but unlike my brother here, I don't share his enthusiasm," Petrov stated and crossed his arms disapprovingly. "You wrote quite... anti-religious tracts."
"Ah, well, I hope that won't dampen our efforts at friendship," Vilnov shrugged, making no apologies.
"Hmph, I suppose it will take a long while before we can call ourselves friends," said Petrov with a slight sneer, "but as long as we are together, I suppose I can be civil with you."
"That's all I ask for," Vilnov nodded with a small bow, then stepped aside to allow Nasarov to greet the two new men.
"I am Josef Nasarov," began the unionizer, gripping Nazerov's hand in his firm grip. "I'm Piotr's right-hand man and proud to call myself a worker. I'm glad you two could join us. We need all the help we can get for our strike."
"I like you already," laughed Nazerov. "I used to work in a steel mill myself before going into politics."
"A steel mill? Fascinating!" Nasarov said with a smile. "Before I joined Piotr I was working as a canner and food packer back in Ekaterine. I think we're going to have a lot to talk about, comrade."
"Tell me, Brother Nasarov, are you a religious man?" asked Petrov when Nasarov turned to shake his hand firmly.
"Born, raised, and still going to church," smiled Naserov, eliciting an approving smile from Petrov.
"Then I will do what I can to help your efforts at a strike," Petrov stated with a smart nod.
"Name's Boris Churnyeav, sirs," saluted Churnyeav before shaking their hands himself. "Veteran of the Grodnistan War, and before you ask, yeah, I'm a religious guy, at least I like to think so."
"I'm glad to greet a patriot and defender of Novistrana," Nazarov said, bowing his head respectfully in Churnyeav's direction. "Are you still enlisted?"
"Not anymore, comrade, but I still have contacts in the army," Churnyeav said, then continued to describe his philosophy in life as if it were a debriefing. "I want to make sure Karasov goes down in flames. This government business needs to be scrapped and given back to the people!"
"I... uh. Hmm," Nazarov said, suddenly taken aback by a pause. He wasn't sure if Churnyeav was directly attacking his profession as a politician, but he didn't try to pursue the matter.
"We can discuss the details of the people later, Brother Churnyeav," Petrov said, bowing slightly. "I am glad to meet another believer, although I do not claim to understand how such varying beliefs can live alongside each other."
"We grow on each other," laughed Churnyeav, "at least, most of us do!"
"Comrades, I must take a moment to write something in my journal," Prokofiev said, not wishing to interrupt the greetings. "We need to have a long talk about our future plans, but for now, let's get to know each other a little better... especially considering we are now all in the same goal of revolution."
With that somber reminded, Nazerov and Petrov became serious. Churnyeav, Naserov, and Vilnov each gave a quick nod, then guided the two new lieutenants to the central table hidden away in a side room while Prokofiev left them to write down his thoughts.
* * *
Piotr Prokofiev's Diary - Hundred-twenty-second Entry: 15/04/1996
Talking Comrades Nazerov and Petrov to my side worked out, but just barely. The two men were shaken by what they thought was Karasov subtly working them over for the recent activities I've caused, but it seems they had already been targeted before. I wish I could take credit for this, but Josef and Churnyeav proved that they can be very good at manipulation when they put their minds to it. I only hope neither of our new men finds out we had a hand in this.
At any rate, Nazerov and Petrov appear to be quite loyal to us now. I respect Nazerov for what he represents: a man in politics whose past lies in the factories and industry. In many ways he reminds me of Semyon Titov with his intelligence, plain honesty, and simple desires to just help the people. I actually feel guilty for doing what I did to him. Maybe someday I'll reveal the truth of what I did... but only after Karasov is out of power.
Father Petrov, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast from Father Baturin. He is quite vocal about religion and takes corruption in the Church very, very seriously. He is quite intense: where the patient Baturin attempted to convert through peaceful words and appealing to the better nature of Novistranans, Petrov whips the people into a political frenzy using religion as a springboard. He can be quite fire-and-brimstone about his evangelizing, too, and seems to take personal offense at my atheism, but I can look past that. If he's so willing to free the Church from corruption, then he can help me overthrow Karasov. That should solve quite a bit of the problem.
Now, the next stage of the plan. The national strike has the people and it has the resources, but not the driving force of true rage, of pure anger and raw emotion. I was puzzling over how to drive the people to this bursting point, and I think I've got it: vodka.
Vodka is a stabilizing and much needed lubricant in these troubled times. Many people drink a bottle of cheap vodka every evening just to take the edge off life under Karasov. If the price of vodka were to increase by even a small amount many people would not be able to afford it. Terrible things could happen if the people don't have their vodka.
I must try this idea out, as ridiculous as it may sound. I need to take over the vodka distillery in the Chekhov Indusrial Estate and convince them to raise the price of vodka by a few roubles. This should be enough to drive people over the edge...