Posts Tagged ‘Anne Applebaum’

R.I.P. Russia’s Arseny Roginsky: “one of the great warriors against forgetting.”

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017
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Arseny Roginsky, 1946-2017: “what decency itself sounds like.” (Photo: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)

Every year I have waited for the Nobel Peace Prize, wondering if at last Russia’s Memorial will be honored for its formidable work of retrieving memory of what Russia chooses to forget: the massacres and persecutions of the Soviet era. Memorial has fostered research on the arrests, imprisonments, murders and exiles, and commemorated them, while campaigning for human rights in modern Russia.

If it happens, whenever it happens, the Swedish honor will come too late for its founder, the historian and dissident Arseny Roginsky, who died on Monday at the age of 71. I was preparing to write something on this death for a man whose name too few in the West will recognize, but David Remnick, who knew Roginsky personally, beat me to it. He wrote an excellent tribute in the New Yorker yesterday, and I can do no better than to cite it:

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” The line comes from one of Milan Kundera’s novels about the totalitarian experience in the twentieth century, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. Now, in the twenty-first century, as the forces allied against democratic institutions employ historical falsehoods once more as a kind of distorting mirror, it is especially painful to lose Arseny Roginsky, one of the great warriors against forgetting.

Roginsky, who died on Monday, at the age of seventy-one, was a Soviet and Russian dissident in the tradition of Andrei Sakharov, Andrei Sinyavsky, and Nadezhda Mandelstam. He was pure of heart but hardly sanctimonious. And his achievement was immense. In the late eighties, Roginsky helped found Memorial, an organization determined to uncover the truths of Soviet history in defiance of the forces of censorship and repression. He was as brave as any human-rights campaigner I’ve known, but he was also funny, ironic, eternally bemused even in the face of what he had endured and, more, his country’s dark history and forbidding present. When I lived in Moscow, and for years after, I looked forward to our frequent meetings and his expansive monologues; as a blue-gray nimbus of cigarette smoke accumulated around him, he gave seminars not only in matters of historical fact but in what decency itself sounds like.

For that, this unassuming warrior – whose father died in a gulag when Roginsky was nine years old – was harassed, bugged, arrested, and eventually incarcerated, moving from camp to camp for years to keep him from “infecting” other inmates:

In younger, colder days…

When Roginsky finally returned home, in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev was coming to power with reform in mind. Sensing opportunity on an unprecedented scale, Roginsky joined forces, in 1988 and 1989, with a range of urban intellectuals and pro-democracy forces to start Memorial, one of the most important “informal” organizations in a nascent civil-society movement. Memorial put historical truth-telling at the top of its agenda, but it also served as a free-floating forum for discussion about the future of the intelligentsia and the country itself. On weekend mornings, I often went to meetings of Memorial to listen to speeches, meet with its leaders and younger followers, and, generally, to get a sense of where the movement was headed. Because where Memorial went, Gorbachev was often apt to follow. One of Gorbachev’s most important achievements was to insist that the future depended on an honest assessment of the past; this was the guiding principle of Memorial and Arseny Roginsky.

Here’s what he was working against, in an article, “The Gulag: Lest We Forget,” written by Anne Applebaum a dozen years ago, which illustrates the enormous importance of his work:

And yet in Russia, a country accustomed to grandiose war memorials and vast, solemn state funerals, these local efforts and private initiatives seem meager, scattered, and incomplete. The majority of Russians are probably not even aware of them. And no wonder: Ten years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia—the country that has inherited the Soviet Union’s diplomatic and foreign policies, its embassies, its debts, and its seat at the United Nations—continues to act as if it has not inherited the Soviet Union’s history. Russia does not have a national museum dedicated to the history of repression. Neither does Russia have a national place of mourning, a monument officially recognizing the suffering of victims and their families.
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More notable than the missing monuments, however, is the missing public awareness. Sometimes it seems as if the enormous emotions and passions raised by the wide-ranging discussions of the Gorbachev era simply vanished, along with the Soviet Union itself. The bitter debate about justice for the victims disappeared just as abruptly. Although there was much talk about it at the end of the 1980s, the Russian government never did examine or try the perpetrators of torture or mass murder, even those who were identifiable.

Why should it have gotten the Nobel? One reason: the future of Memorial is up for grabs in Putin’s Russia, and it work desperately needs the international recognition that will protect its work:

Under the Putin regime, Memorial has done invaluable research and advocacy work on abuses in the North Caucasus and other troubled regions of Russia. It remains a human-rights organization, despite heavy pressure from the Kremlin, which has little interest in human rights and regards Memorial as a “foreign agent.” Periodically, Russian politicians have threatened to close Memorial entirely. As Memorial’s chairman, Roginsky was always preternaturally calm yet unyielding.

Read the whole Remnick piece here.

“Thank you, Arseny Borisovich, you will always be with us,” Memorial said in the statement on its website.

Another reason why we need an independent Ukraine: Anne Applebaum’s grim new book on the Holodomor

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017
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The starving on the streets of Kharkiv, 1933.

Everyone knows the crimes of Hitler. Why is it that the crimes of Stalin, with an even bigger body count (should that be the measure) are still too little known? In particular, the Holodomor, the state-sanctioned murder by starvation of millions of Ukrainians, still draws blank stares from otherwise informed people.

That’s why we have the excellent, Pulitzer prizewinning Anne Applebaum, who is among the cognoscenti of this too little known chapter in the Annals of Atrocity.

The warning signs were ample. By the early spring of 1932 the peasants of Ukraine were beginning to starve. Secret police reports and letters from the grain-growing districts all across the Soviet Union spoke of children swollen with hunger, of families eating grass and acorns and of peasants fleeing home in search of food. In March a medical commission found corpses lying on the street in a village near Odessa. No one was strong enough to bury them.

It was avoidable. The Soviet government could have called for international relief, for example, as it had in 1921 (we wrote about that here). As she writes in “Stalin’s starved millions: Anne Applebaum uncovers full horror of Ukraine famine,” in today’s Sunday Times of London:

Instead, in the autumn of 1932, the Soviet politburo, the elite leadership of the Communist Party, decided to use the famine to crush Ukraine’s sovereignty and block any future peasant rebellion. They took a series of decisions that deepened the famine in the Ukrainian countryside, blacklisting villages and blocking escape. At the height of the crisis, organised teams of policemen and local party activists, motivated by hunger, fear and a decade of hateful propaganda, entered peasant households and took everything edible: potatoes, beets, squash, beans, peas, farm animals and even pets. Immediately afterwards, they banned anyone from leaving Ukraine and set up cordons around the cities so that peasants could not get help.

The result was a catastrophe: at least 5m people perished of hunger between 1931 and 1934 all across the Soviet Union. Among them were nearly 4m Ukrainians who died not because of neglect or crop failure but from collectivisation and being deliberately deprived of food.

First they were hungry, then they went mad, then they resorted to murder, infanticide, and cannibalism.

Hanna Tsivka knew of a woman who killed her niece for stealing a loaf of bread. Mykola Basha’s older brother was caught looking for spoilt potatoes in the kitchen garden of a neighbour, who then grabbed him and put him in a cellar filled with waist-high water.

The horror, the exhaustion and the anger eventually produced, in the Ukrainian countryside, a very rare form of madness: by the late spring and summer cannibalism was widespread. Larysa Venzhyk, from Kyiv province, remembered that at first there were just rumours, stories “that children disappear somewhere, that degenerate parents eat their children. It turned out not to be rumours but horrible truth.”

Tell it.

On her street two girls, the daughters of neighbours, disappeared. Their brother Misha, aged six, ran away from home. He roamed the village, begging and stealing. When asked why he had left home he said he was afraid: “Father will cut me up.” The police searched the house, found the evidence and arrested the parents. As for their remaining son, “Misha was left to his fate.”

Police also arrested a man in Mariia Davydenko’s village in Sumy province. After his wife died, he had gone mad from hunger and eaten first his daughter and then his son. A neighbour noticed that the father was less swollen from hunger than others and asked him why. “I have eaten my children,” he replied, “and if you talk too much, I will eat you.” Backing away, shouting that he was a monster, the neighbour went to the police, who arrested and sentenced the father.

And then people wonder why the Ukrainians resist Russian incursions on their land.

If you have a strong stomach, read the rest of her article today in the Times of London. Be warned: this story makes Dante‘s Ugolino sound like a Boy Scout. Curiously, the Times article doesn’t include the title of  the new book, or show the cover. So go here.

Women of the Gulag: help finish the film. Putin won’t like it.

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
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marianna3

Marianna Yarovskaya on location

Paul Gregory, author of Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin’s Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina (Hoover Institution Press, 2010), is passing the hat. It’s for a good cause.

Filmmaker Marianna

He and Muscovite documentary filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya are in the final stages of filming his 2013 book, Women of the Gulag. (Marcel Krüger has an interview with Yarovskaya here.) They’re nearly a quarter of the way to the $25,000 they need to complete final editing, sound mix, and music. Want to help? Go to Indiegogo here.

From the introduction to Women of the Gulag:

A remark often attributed to Stalin is, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”

This is the story of five such tragedies. They are stories about women because, as in so many cases, it was the wives and daughters who survived to tell what happened.

These five women put a human face on the terror of Stalin’s purges and the Gulag in the Soviet Union of the 1930s.  They show how the impersonal orders emanating from the Kremlin office of “the Master” brought tragedy to their lives. They cover the gamut of victims. Two are wives and daughters in ordinary families unable to comprehend why such misfortune has overtaken them. A third is a young bride living in the household of a high party official. The last two are wives of the Master’s executioners. These stories are based on their memoirs—some written by themselves, others by close friends or by their children.

putin

Nyet.

“Why film a bunch of old babushkas?” Marianna is asked.  According to Washington Post‘s Pulitzer-prizewinning Anne Applebaum, who appears in the film,  “What had happened since the year 2000 is that history has been gradually re-politicized. And the Russians started treating history that way. And that means that they’ve become more sensitive again about discussing this sort of crimes of their past. For the Russians, understanding the history of the gulag is absolutely crucial.”

She tells us that Russia still lacks “that defining moment, that big monument” that will help the Russian people come to terms with their past.

“I wish to express my support for Dr. Paul Gregory’s and Marianna Yarovskaya’s documentary project, Women of the Gulag. Although there have been a number of excellent Gulag documentaries, this film is intended to tell the personal stories of just a few former prisoners in greater detail. It will also focus on the stories of women, which differed in a number of ways from that of their male counterparts. Rape, pregnancy and motherhood were a part of the Gulag experience, too.”

The film below gives a preview of their work.  I hope you find it as riveting as I do – and please do pony up whatever you can over at Indiegogo here. Putin won’t thank you. That’s one reason to do it.

Applebaum and Shore: life under communism and its long, bitter aftertaste

Friday, August 2nd, 2013
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Yalta_summit_1945_with_Churchill,_Roosevelt,_Stalin

Decisions, decisions…

I listened to my mother.

I listened to Mummy.

My political education began very young.  When people would praise FDR in my family home, my mother would hiss “Yalta” between her teeth.  The 1945 photograph of Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin D. Roosevelt sitting side by side at the Crimean resort elicited the muttered remark, “a bunch of criminals” (although she read Churchill’s multi-volume series on the war).  “Poor Neville Chamberlain believed he could trust Hitler. He was wrong. But I don’t think I’m wrong about Stalin,” Churchill naively opined.

Having a mother who was 100% Magyar was a good antidote to political correctness.  And she never forgot nor forgave the conference that forked over most of Eastern Europe to Stalinist rule.  (Perhaps it’s no coincidence that her daughter writes so much about Cold War-era writers from Poland and Russia.)

So I read with interest the Christopher Caldwells discussion of two impressive and recent books in the New Republic, Anne Applebaum‘s Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56 and Marci Shore‘s The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe.  I have endless admiration for both women.  You can read the article, “When Evil Was a Social System: The Moral Burdens of Living under Communist Rule in Eastern Europe,” here.

applebaumbookI pulled out piles of excerpts to cite, but this humble blog post quickly became top-heavy, and I felt the ominous presence of the copyright cops outside my door.  Let me settle instead for citing Caldwell’s concluding paragraphs:

“These two books are a sign that something is changing in our understanding of the twentieth century. Applebaum and Shore, while close in age, are on opposite sides of a generational razor’s edge. Applebaum, born in the 1960s, has adult memories of the Cold War; Shore, born in the 1970s, does not. Applebaum speaks to, and in the idiom of, those who survived totalitarianism. She dedicates her book to ‘those Eastern Europeans who refused to live within a lie.’ Her big, resolute book gives us the most authoritative knowledge we have about communism, and only the most authoritative knowledge.

marci“Shore is engaged in a different project. Her book shows what erudition looks like in the Internet Age. Like a blog string, it records every false step she makes on her way to understanding. Shore almost never writes about important matters in her own voice. This means a loss of authority compared with Applebaum’s more classical style, but it allows her to share more with the reader. It frees her of the historian’s superego. The question of whether the reader can handle certain of the explosive things she has to say about Jews and communism appears not to have occurred to her.  …

“Reasonable historians may differ about whether this sort of history-through-memoir is more honest (transparent) or more cowardly (non-
committal) than the standard kind. But it will be clear to any reader of good faith that Shore has chosen historical guilt as her subject in order to deepen our understanding, not to sow discord or rile anyone up. She has found a way to illuminate certain Polish and Jewish ideas about the worst episodes of the twentieth century that is frank, fresh, and gripping. Guilt, after all, is not just self-inflicted injury but productive moral work. At any time, “guilty” will describe almost any conscience functioning as it should.”

Read the whole article here.

milosz

Right on.

Meanwhile, a final anecdote lingers:  “Applebaum mentions a girl sent home from school for saying, ‘my grandfather says Stalin is already burning in Hell’—sent home not because the teacher disapproved, but to protect the girl, her friends, her grandfather, her school, and the people who ran it. In such circumstances, propaganda can be a balm. It provides a way for men to lie to themselves, to rationalize submission to the strong, to save face. ‘I don’t like everything Stalin says,’ you could mutter (quietly!) to your wife, ‘but someone has to do something about the illiterate.’” Do I detect a whiff of Czesław Miłosz‘s  ketman here?

 

Terror’s human face: Women of the Gulag – the book and the movie. Help make it happen.

Saturday, October 27th, 2012
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Marianna Yarovskaya on location

I met Paul Gregory a couple years back, when his Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin’s Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina (Hoover Institution Press, 2010) was just out.  I wrote about it, with a video of Paul, here) … well, “writing” might be too strong a word.  His noontime presentation at Stanford was so tight and so compelling that I pretty much presented what he said, as he said it.  I didn’t have to do much more.  (I’ve written about his Lenin’s Brain and Other Tales from the Secret Soviet Archives here).  Since meeting him, he’s become a high-powered economics blogger at Forbes 

Filmmaker Marianna

The Bukharin book was such a great story, I kept seeing it as a film.  Instead, he’s saved the film for his newest book, Women of the Gulag.  He’s teamed with Muscovite documentary filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya.  Paul told me some time ago about his newest effort: I was against several deadlines and didn’t have the extra brain cells to process it then, but given his previous book, I had little doubt that it would be stellar.

It is.  From his introduction:

A remark often attributed to Stalin is, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”

This is the story of five such tragedies. They are stories about women because, as in so many cases, it was the wives and daughters who survived to tell what happened.

These five women put a human face on the terror of Stalin’s purges and the Gulag in the Soviet Union of the 1930s.  They show how the impersonal orders emanating from the Kremlin office of “the Master” brought tragedy to their lives. They cover the gamut of victims. Two are wives and daughters in ordinary families unable to comprehend why such misfortune has overtaken them. A third is a young bride living in the household of a high party official. The last two are wives of the Master’s executioners. These stories are based on their memoirs—some written by themselves, others by close friends or by their children.

Writer Gregory

Here’s the deal.  The book will be out early next year with Hoover Institution Press.  But the movie is in limbo until you pitch in over at kickstarter here.  The filmmaker is trying to raise $30,000 to finish the film, and she has 57 more days to raise the money on the kickstarter deal, which ends December 23.  Think of it as a Christmas present to Russia … or better yet, to mankind, because this history is important to record.

Applebaum at Stanford

“Why film a bunch of old babushkas?” Marianna is asked.  According to Washington Post‘s Pulitzer-prizewinning Anne Applebaum, who appears in the film, “Aside from its historic value, a project like this one has special significance in the light of contemporary Russian politics. In recent years, under President Putin, Soviet and Russian history have been re-politicized, and the Stalin period has come to be viewed with ambiguity by politicians, writers, film makers, and regrettably the public. The stories of the victims of the gulag, told by simple people who had little or no understanding of why this was happening to them, make an excellent antidote to creeping historical amnesia. This project is also urgent, of course, because most of their subjects are in their advanced years, and their stories have to be recorded now.”

Filmmaker Marianna explains why she’s passing the hat:  “We are now continuing the campaign and the project and are in post-production. We are also interviewing more women in other parts of Russia. We already have almost 40 hours of footage. These funds will go towards recording more testimonies on HD video and towards editing the footage we have gathered. Clearly the timing is urgent as the survivors and the heroines of the original Stalin gulag are getting very old. This is “the last chance.” (Marcel Krüger has an interview with her here.)

The film below gives a preview of their work.  I hope you find it as riveting as I do – and please do pony up whatever you can over at Kickstarter here.  Time is of the essence.  As always.

Something you didn’t know about WaPo’s Anne Applebaum

Friday, September 16th, 2011
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Last July at Hoover (Photo: My Droid)

Anne Applebaum, author of the Pulitzer prizewinning Gulag: A History and Washington Post columnist, fascinated me a few months ago with her talk during the Hoover Archives Summer Workshop.  She described how the Communist Party coopted and squashed small civic organizations in Eastern Europe as a way to undermine the whole of its society – but who in the West would have given much importance to the suppression of, say, the Boy Scouts?

Applebaum, an American journalist based in London and Warsaw, has been in the limelight for years – she’s married to Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s minister of foreign affairs.

But I didn’t know this about her:  she has donated some of the fruits  of her research to Stanford’s Hoover Institution. It’s the aptly titled Anne Applebaum Collection.

Anne’s collection consists of one box and contains original documents from one of the Gulag camps. The collection is from the Kedrovyi Shor camp, a part of the Vorkutpechlag, a system of camps in Vorkuta-Pechora area in Siberia. The documents include office paper, correspondence memoranda, accounting documents, correspondence, directives, instructions, etc., mostly relating to food and clothing supplies and rations for inmates, as well as the details of  their daily routine.

Now that’s kind of cool.

Applebaum has been a Hoover media fellow.  Her affinity with the institution is obvious, given the institution’s “longstanding interest in the history of totalitarianism.”

“The range and quantity of the material at Hoover is really astonishing, and compares almost to nothing else,” she told me.

While digging through the online material about her, I found this article, “Lest We Forget,” in the Hoover Digest.  The whole piece is worth a read; it ends with this amazing paragraph:

“The more we are able to understand how different societies have transformed their neighbors and fellow citizens from people into objects, the more we know of the specific circumstances that led to each episode of mass torture and mass murder, the better we will understand the darker side of our own human nature. Totalitarian philosophies have had, and will continue to have, a profound appeal to many millions of people. Destruction of the “objective enemy,” as Hannah Arendt once put it, remains a fundamental object of many dictatorships. We need to know why—and each story, each memoir, each document in the history of the Gulag is a piece of the puzzle, a part of the explanation. Without them, we will wake up one day and realize that we do not know who we are.”