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- September 30, 2011 — Contents
- EDITORIAL: We Told you So
- EDITORIAL: Estonia Whips Russian Butt
- EDITORIAL: The Russian Economy is Collapsing
- Viking Russia, Land of Barbarians
- Andrei Zubov, Russophobe
- Kara-Murza on Putin’s Return
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- SPECIAL EXTRA EDITORIAL: Putin, President for Life
- September 23, 2011 — Contents
- EDITORIAL: Prokhorov in the Woodshed
- EDITORIAL: Drunken Russian Killers
- EDITORIAL: Does Britain still Remember Chamberlain?
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Daily Archives: July 24, 2007
TUESDAY JULY 24 CONTENTS
Between 1847 and 1851, a series of short stories by Ivan Turgenev was published in a Russian journal called The Contemporary. The following year the stories were collected in a single volume and published as a book called Notes from the Hunt. Almost immediately after the publication, Turgenev was arrested and exiled to his family estate called Spasskoye in the Oryol region. Apparently, what he was “hunting” for in Notes was not something the Tsar wished him to find.
The lead story in the translation of Notes from the Hunt by is called “Hor and Kalinitch.” The two title characters are serfs and the story involves their interaction with the Narrator, a visiting nobleman who has come to hunt with his local friend, their lord and master.
At one point, the Narrator says this about Hor:
We discussed the sowing, the crops, the peasant’s life…. He always seemed to agree with me; only afterwards I had a sense of awkwardness and felt I was talking foolishly…. In this way our conversation was rather curious. Hor, doubtless through caution, expressed himself very obscurely at times…. Here is a specimen of our talk.
“Tell me, Hor,” I said to him, “why don’t you buy your freedom from your master?”
“And what would I buy my freedom for? Now I know my master, and I know my rent…. We have a good master.”
‘It’s always better to be free,’ I remarked. Hor gave me a dubious look.
‘Surely,’ he said.
‘Well, then, why don’t you buy your freedom?’ Hor shook his head.
‘What would you have me buy it with, your honour?’
‘Oh, come, now, old man!’
‘If Hor were thrown among free men,’ he continued in an undertone, as though to himself, ‘everyone without a beard would be a better man than Hor.’
‘Then shave your beard.’
‘What is a beard? a beard is grass: one can cut it.’
‘But Hor will be a merchant straight away; and merchants have a fine life, and they have beards.’
‘Why, do you do a little trading too?’ I asked him.
‘We trade a little in a little butter and a little tar…. Would your honour like the cart put to?’
‘You’re a close man and keep a tight rein on your tongue,’ I thought to myself. ‘No,’ I said aloud, ‘I don’t want the cart; I shall want to be near your homestead to-morrow, and if you will let me, I will stay the night in your hay-barn.’
In an odd contrast, Khor and Kalinitch then have their own related discussion about their owner, Polutikin:
It was specially curious to hear Hor and Kalinitch dispute whenever Mr. Polutikin was touched upon. ‘There, Hor, do let him alone,’ Kalinitch would say. ‘But why doesn’t he order some boots for you?’ Hor retorted. ‘Eh? boots!… what do I want with boots? I am a peasant.’ ‘Well, so am I a peasant, but look!’ And Hor lifted up his leg and showed Kalinitch a boot which looked as if it had been cut out of a mammoth’s hide. ‘As if you were like one of us!’ replied Kalinitch. ‘Well, at least he might pay for your bast shoes; you go out hunting with him; you must use a pair a day.’ ‘He does give me something for bast shoes.’ ‘Yes, he gave you two coppers last year.’ Kalinitch turned away in vexation, but Hor went off into a chuckle, during which his little eyes completely disappeared.
So, when the two serfs speak together about their master Khor, better-off one points out how the master abuses Kalinitch, the worse-off one (the Narrator says: “At supper I began again to talk of Hor and Kalinitch. ‘Kalinitch is a good peasant,’ Mr. Polutikin told me; ‘he is a willing and useful peasant; he can’t farm his land properly; I am always taking him away from it. He goes out hunting every day with me…. You can judge for yourself how his farming must fare.’), and in a manner of speaking urges him to rebellion. Khor seems infuriated by the careless attitude of his oppressed brother Kalinitch But when Khor speaks to a noble, and the noble points out how he is being kept in a condition on slavery, Khor takes a very different view. He indicates he has no wish to become free and his response degenerates into what might be called classic Russian gibberish.
Little wonder that Turgenev was arrested for writing this story and sent into exile. His obvious point is that the level of a person’s education and sophistication determines his appetite for freedom. Russian peasants, kept in a deep state of ignorance not unlike that of the current residents of Russia are kept in to this day relative to the outside world, simply had no idea of what “freedom” even meant, nor did they understand how their lives might be different if they lived another way. And indeed, there is a darker side to the problem. Turgenev writes:
Thanks to his exceptional position, his practical independence, Hor told me a great deal which you could not screw or—as the peasants say—grind with a grindstone, out of any other man. He did, in fact, understand his position. Talking with Hor, I for the first time listened to the simple, wise discourse of the Russian peasant. His acquirements were, in his own opinion, wide enough; but he could not read, though Kalinitch could. ‘That ne’er-do-weel has school-learning,’ observed Hor, ‘and his bees never die in the winter.’ ‘But haven’t you had your children taught to read?’ Hor was silent a minute. ‘Fedya can read.’ ‘And the others?’ ‘The others can’t.’ ‘And why?’ The old man made no answer, and changed the subject.
At some point, Hor realized that he needed to keep his own inferiors in the same state that his masters kept him, the better to exercise control over them. Hor states, talking about himself in the third person: “‘If Hor were thrown among free men,’ he continued in an undertone, as though to himself, ‘everyone without a beard would be a better man than Hor.’” In other words, instead of using his relatively privileged status to obtain his freedom, he chooses to become complicit in the system of slavery. Many Russians took the same attitude in dealing with Stalin, and many take the same attitude today in dealing with the dictator Vladimir Putin.
This is the tragedy of Russia.
The senior British official was unequivocal. The murder of the former KGB man Alexander Litvinenko was “undeniably state-sponsored terrorism on Moscow’s part. That is the view at the highest levels of the British government”. This official had access to the latest police and intelligence findings, and he was reflecting the views of senior Home Office counter-terrorism officials, Scotland Yard detectives and others with close knowledge of the murder investigation. All confirmed last week that they believe the plot to poison Litvinenko in London last year was ordered by the Russian secret service, the FSB. After a police investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service wanted to charge Andrei Lugovoi, a former FSB officer, with the murder; and it was Moscow’s refusal to allow his extradition for trial, once the scandal had become an affair of state, that led to the expulsions. Now, however, British officials are saying that the police investigation implicates the FSB itself. They point to the estimated £4.5m cost of the radio-active polonium210 used to kill Litvinenko. They confirm it has been traced back to Russia – probably to the nuclear centre at the closed city of Sarov. They also point out that last summer the Russian parliament gave Putin the right to order the FSB to carry out assassinations of “enemies of the Russian state”. They are careful to refrain from claiming he actually ordered the killing. “Yes, the road leads to the FSB, but where the road goes once it’s inside the FSB is not something the police are really aware of,” said one of the officials.
The Times of London, July 22nd.
The Moscow Times reports:
Masked attackers armed with metal rods and baseball bats raided a camp of environmental protesters near an east Siberian uranium enrichment plant over the weekend, beating one person to death and injuring several others.
The attack appeared to be linked to simmering hostilities between local nationalist and anti-fascist groups. But it is bound to stoke worries about a resurgence of nationalist groups, as well as the work of nongovernmental organizations critical of the government.
About 15 darkly dressed attackers stormed the camp of 25 activists in a woodland clearing near the Angarsk Electrolysis Chemical Complex at about 5 a.m. Saturday, said one of activists who was on night patrol at the time. “I tried to wake everybody up so we could start a coordinated defense,” said the activist, Maxim, 21, who refused to give his last name because he said police had asked the activists not to speak to the media.
Shouting nationalist slogans, the attackers knocked down tents and dragged out activists before beating them with metal rods, baseball bats and sticks, Maxim said, speaking on a friend’s cell phone because the attackers stole his. One activist, Ilya Borodayenko, 26, died of severe head injuries in a hospital a few hours later. “I saw blood coming out of his mouth and ears,” Maxim said. “The doctors told me he had a punctured lung as well as a cracked skull.” He said another activist — whom he only identified as Marina, 25 — suffered multiple fractures to her right arm after being beaten on the face and arms. He sent a reporter several photographs of the woman being treated by a white-coated doctor at the camp shortly after the attack. Blood is seen glistening through the woman’s matted hair, and her right arm is bound in a makeshift splint. “In between the blows, they shouted, ‘Anti-Antifa!’ and, ‘Do you like being in Antifa now?'” Maxim said.
Several of the activists are also members of a vocal anti-fascist group called Antifa, and this probably motivated Saturday’s attack, Maxim said. The activists represented three environmental organizations, including Defending the Rainbow and Autonomous Action. Two activists remained hospitalized in stable condition Sunday, Maxim said. Eight suspects, aged 18 to 22, were in custody Sunday, Interior Ministry spokesman Valery Gribakin said. He suggested that the motive for the attack might have been theft, saying one of the suspects had been detained carrying a backpack with several cell phones. The suspects will be charged with hooliganism and intentional grievous bodily harm resulting in death, Gribakin said. A hooliganism conviction carries a maximum punishment of seven years in prison, while the second, more serious charge has a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Gribakin promised to bring all the attackers to justice. “Work will not stop even for one minute,” he said, Interfax reported.
Irkutsk regional police, however, are reluctant to classify the attack as a nationalist-related crime, the activists said. “The local police want to present the attack as ordinary hooliganism. They very grudgingly wrote down that we told them the attackers shouted slogans against anti-fascists,” said Igor Kozlov, a member of Autonomous Action, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. “Many people flatly deny the existence of neo-Nazis in their city,” Kozlov said. Authorities were keeping an eye on the camp before the attack, and several police officers stopped by the day before the attack to search the tents, Maxim said. Police suspected that one or more of the activists was involved in spraying graffiti on municipal buildings calling for a halt to nuclear waste processing, he said. Several members of the camp refused to present their documents because police failed to produce a search warrant, Maxim said. No one was charged and the police left, he said.
Repeated calls to local police and the hospital went unanswered Sunday.
Mikhail Kreindlin, head of Greenpeace in Russia, and Alexander Brod, director of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, said it was too early to start pointing fingers in Saturday’s attack. But Brod said authorities in the past have hired local criminal groups to silence dissent and write it off as hooliganism. Brod said he had asked associates in Irkutsk to make sure the police investigation is conducted properly and is not allowed to fizzle out.
Despite the attack, the activists were hoping to renew their protest with a new camp Thursday. They accuse authorities of illegally making money at the Angarsk Electrolysis Chemical Complex by allowing foreign companies to send spent fuel there for reprocessing. In addition to reprocessing, the plant has been enriching uranium for the past 50 years for use in nuclear power plants. Officials deny importing spent fuel, even though a law that came into force in 2001 allows it. The plant is right outside Angarsk, a city of 260,000 located 100 kilometers west of the southern tip of Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake and a symbol of Russia’s environmental heritage.
Why are Russians such cowards? Writing in Transitions Online, St. Petersburg Times staff writer Galina Stolyarova tries to answer:
I was standing at the Levashovo cemetery for the victims of political repression when I felt my cheeks burning with shame. I was at a late-June ceremony to unveil a monument to more than 1,000 Italians who perished in the Soviet gulags. It was attended by prominent Italian politicians.
My deep embarrassment came halfway through the speeches, when I realized that no Russian official had turned up to utter a word. The St. Petersburg vice governor, scheduled to attend, never showed.
Speaking at the ceremony, Piero Fassino, head of Italy’s Left Democrats, compared the unveiling of the monument with the lifting of a thick cloud of hypocrisy that for many decades covered shameful parts of Russian history.
The Russian officials who ignored the event apparently prefer to continue hiding behind that cloud. And their absence was just a symptom of their overall unwillingness to admit the mistakes of the communist period.
For a nation to develop an immunity to totalitarian rule, the majority of people need to understand it. They must at once feel a connection to it and be able to assess this historical period critically. But understanding is lacking in the country. And the connection for many Russians is still missing.
SEE NO EVIL
Despite Russia’s bloody Bolshevik legacy, there is still no museum devoted to the political repression it inflicted on our country. And the nation’s only gulag museum is a remote, former prison camp in the Perm region of the Ural mountains.
And what Russia’s schoolchildren get to learn about gulags is confined to a few controversial paragraphs in a history textbook.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, himself a former secret service officer, once publicly likened Joseph Stalin to the 14th-century Central Asian despot Timur, or Tamerlane. Although Putin has conceded that Stalin was a dictator, he often repeats that Stalin’s role was instrumental in defeating Nazi Germany and that it should not be ignored.
Polls conducted in the country over the past eight years show that 30 to 40 percent of Russians believe that Stalin played a positive role in history. Almost as many say his role was negative.
Similar polls are held every year around the time of Stalin’s birthday or on important Communist anniversaries, yet the figures hardly change. Surely this is because no effort at the government level is made to open people’s eyes to what really happened in that shameful part of our history. Instead, the majority of people continue to turn a blind eye.
If their own leaders will not inform them, they should listen to democrats from abroad – people like Fassino, the Italian politician who attended the Levashovo ceremony.
“Stalin’s repressions were the most brutal manifestation of the Communist regime, with its deeply flawed dictatorial philosophy of creating a just and equal society without liberty,” Fassino said. “Equality and justice can exist only in a free society.”
Fassino’s words echoed the kind of criticism that today’s Kremlin attracts on a regular basis from liberal politicians and human rights advocates.
Most probably, the problem comes down to a wrong perception of the nature of national pride. One of Putin’s favorite phrases is that Russia must become a strong state. Another is that “the weak are always beaten.”
In his view, apology is a sign of weakness. The Soviet Union was a strong state, and it never apologized for what it did. And for that reason, like his predecessors, Putin has offered no apologies to the foreign victims of Stalin’s crimes.
The president sees his political mission as restoring Russia’s status as a superpower. And the model of greatness he is using seems to be the Soviet Union, whose collapse he has famously described as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.
If the country continues in that mindset, the new Russia could suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union It will induce not respect but merely fear. And eventually will suffer inevitable collapse.
I would not start by adding extra paragraphs to the history books. Russia is already notorious for rewriting its history and replacing facts with ideology.
What could be done in Russian schools does not take any financial investment at all. It just takes some volunteers and a bit of effort. The effort to tell our young people more about the not-so-distant past.
Many are now chillingly ignorant of it. In June, I attended a roundtable discussion organized by the Memorial human rights group following the Russia-Estonia spat over the moving of a bronze Soviet soldier monument in Tallinn.
Memorial invited a large group of students, who were all very vocal about condemning the Estonians but who could not explain the roots of what they called “hatred of Russia.”
One girl stood up to say that she had only very recently learned about Stalin’s repressions but said she “can’t bear thinking about it because it is too difficult” and added that she had no definite opinion about it.
Back in the last years of the Soviet Union we had “war lessons,” when World War II veterans went to classes to recount how they survived, how they suffered, how their lives were turned upside-down by conflict. The intention was that young people should learn and feel connected to those events.
To organize such lessons – this time on the subject of political repression – would take only political will. It would help people to make the connection. Thereafter it would be up to them to form the desire to stand up against terror in their own lives.
I find it hard to imagine that Benito Mussolini’s popularity in modern Italy would be anywhere near the level of approval Stalin continues to enjoy in Russian polls.
The difference? Italy was willing to admit its mistakes and learn from them.
“We are here to say we will remember the bitter lesson,” Piero Fassino said that day in Levashovo.
The Italians came to commemorate 1,000 dead. But the Russian victims of Stalin’s purges run into many millions. And plenty of them also lie in Levashovo cemetery.
Yet to our lasting disgrace their vast numbers are not sufficient to induce the Russian government even today to confront our own past, to tell the truth about it, or to mark the lives of our countless victims with a fitting official memorial.