EDITORIAL: Gontmakher Strikes Back


Gontmakher Strikes Back

In November of last year, Russian economist Yevgeny Gontmakher published an op-ed item in the Russian newspaper Vedemosti in which he warned of, as the Carnegie Center’s Nikolai Petrov wrote recently in the Moscow Times “unrest if factories in one-industry towns shut down as a result of the crisis.”  Petrov remembers:  “At the time, the government accused both Gontmakher and Vedomosti of inciting social unrest. But government leaders did nothing to prevent such a scenario from playing out or to at least develop an effective contingency plan in case it did.”

In fact, the Putin regime did more than just “accuse” Gontmakher, it tried to silence him, threatening the paper with closure and Gontmakher with prosecution. 

Now, Gontmakher has been utterly vindicated.  The recent protest action in the town of Pikalyovo proves that was exactly right while the Kremlin was absolutely wrong. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the Kremlin to apologize and make amends.

Petrov warns:

There is a real danger that Pikalyovo will set off a chain reaction in other depressed, one-industry towns — for example, in Nizhny Tagil with its ailing Uralvagonzavod, in Baikalsk with its paper and pulp mill closing its doors, in Zlatoust with its bankrupt metals plant. By failing to provide an overall solution and opting to extinguish fires on an ad hoc basis, Putin is effectively provoking many other cities to repeat the scenario playing out in Pikalyovo

That is exactly what Gontmakher was talking about when the Kremlin accused him of being unpatriotic and demanded that he shut up.  If instead of doing that the Kremlin had taken immediate action to deal with the problem,  the Pikalyovo protest might never have been necessary.

But it didn’t, of course.  Instead, it followed the classic pattern Russians adopt when dealing with criticism — attack the critic, and make him shut up.  If she won’t, as was the case with Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, then either kill them or drive them out of the country.

Hard to believe, but Russians actually still see this as a way of “solving” a problem. If you don’t hear about it any more, it’s been resolved!  The USSR adopted this tactic, the Tsar adopted it, and just look where they are now:  The dustbin of history.  And the regime of Vladimir Putin, which is in a real sense nothing more than a blend of both Tsar and Politburo, is following the pattern to a “T.”

Mr. Gontmakher is a true Russian patriot, and he deserves a medal.  Politkovskaya and Solzhenitsyn were the same.  Yet, Russia persecutes them, and elevates to glory those like Putin whose action only undermine and destroy the country. Little wonder, then, that the government of Russia has collapsed three times in the past century.

3 responses to “EDITORIAL: Gontmakher Strikes Back

  1. Eeeh, Russia will never change. Unless somebody kicks this evil in the Kremlin hard enough…

  2. One of the most striking characteristics of the best literature produced under the Soviet regime is how much of it was written in secret. “To plunge underground,” wrote Solzhenitsyn, “to make it your concern not to win the world’s recognition— Heaven forbid!—but on the contrary to shun it: this variant of the writer’s lot is peculiarly our own, purely Russian, Russian and Soviet!” Between the wars Mikhail Bulgakov had spent twelve years writing The Master and Margarita, one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, knowing that it could not be published in his lifetime and fearing that it might never appear at all. His widow later recalled how, just before his death in 1940, Bulgakov “made me get out of bed and then, leaning on my arm, he walked through all the rooms, barefoot and in his dressing gown, to make sure that the manuscript of The Master was still there” in its hiding place. Though Bulgakov’s great work survived, it was not published until a quarter of a century after his death. As late as 1978, it was denounced in a KGB memorandum to Andropov as “a dangerous weapon in the hands of [Western] ideological centers engaged in ideological sabotage against the Soviet Union.”
    When Solzhenitsyn began writing in the 1950s, he told himself he had “entered into the inheritance of every modern writer intent on the truth”:

    I must write simply to ensure that it was not forgotten, that posterity might some day come to know of it. Publication in my own lifetime I must shut out of my mind, out of my dreams.

    Just as Mitrokhin’s first notes were hidden in a milk-churn beneath his dacha, so Solzhenitsyn’s earliest writings, in minuscule handwriting, were squeezed into an empty champagne bottle and buried in his garden. After the brief thaw in the early years of “de-Stalinization” which made possible the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s story of life in the gulag, One Day in the Lift of Ivan Denisovich, he waged a time-consuming struggle to try to prevent the KGB from seizing his other manuscripts until he was finally forced into exile in 1974. It did not occur to Mitrokhin to compare himself with such literary giants as Bulgakov and Solzhenitsyn. But, like them, he began assembling his archive “to ensure that the truth was not forgotten, that posterity might some day come to know of it.”


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