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It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past Kindle Edition
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"Satter grapples with an elemental failing of Russia’s leaders and people. . . . Russia, he argues, refuses to face the fundamental moral depravity of its Soviet past. . . . Expansive and brilliantly explored . . . compelling."—Foreign Affairs
"Highly successful in shedding light on both the nature of the Soviet system and the post-Communist period, this is a lucid, illuminating portrait of the outlook and attitudes of Russians. This book is one of the best I have ever read about the Soviet system and what it left behind."—Paul Hollander, author ofPolitical Will and Personal Belief: The Decline and Fall of Soviet Communism
"The central message of this important new book—that Russia cannot reverse its current decline without first coming to terms with the crimes of its Soviet past—is both sobering and absolutely compelling."—Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy
"In this penetrating analysis of Russia today, David Satter demonstrates how terror, ideology and mass murder were integrated and institutionalized in the Soviet Union, then dismantled in economic collapse, and are now resurrected in a modern, lighter authoritarian regime, minus the ideology. 'It Never Happened' gives the reader original insights and analysis by a Russian expert par excellence, and one exceptionally well written."—Richard V. Allen, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution and former National Security Advisor to Ronald Reagan
"Many of our finest journalists have grappled with the moral legacy of Soviet communism. This book is a reminder that no one has stayed with the issue longer, dug deeper, or thought harder about it than David Satter."—Stephen Sestanovich, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for the former Soviet Union, 1997-2001
--This text refers to the paperback edition.
- File Size : 938 KB
- Publication Date : December 13, 2011
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 398 pages
- Publisher : Yale University Press (December 13, 2011)
- ASIN : B006OZ4JZW
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Language: : English
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Best Sellers Rank: #957,440 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Confining his calculations solely to victims who died as a direct consequence of the regime's actions, David Satter still estimates twenty million for the Soviet era. Add the victims of the early 1920s famine and those military personnel who perished unnecessarily in WWII, through the leadership's bloody-mindedness and incompetence, and the total soars still higher.
Not all of the communist leadership was Russian. Dzerzhinsky himself was Polish and Stalin, of course, was Georgian, although he set out to be more Russian than the Russians, but the Soviet Union was always, in truth, Russia's empire, as can be seen from the way in which the Bolsheviks granted independence to non-Russian countries during the Civil War, but immediately re-conquered them (apart from Finland and Poland), once the emergency had passed. It is, however, important to distinguish between Russia's empire and Russia itself.
The initial determination to be open about the crimes of the Soviet Union did not last long. As Satter shows, the motivation among the politicians was nearly always solely political; there was no general sense that a true account of the Soviet past was itself a moral imperative in its own right. Once a policy of silence and obstruction became more useful, that was the one that was adopted. That policy has gradually morphed into a practice of justifying and even glorifying the Soviet tyranny. ("Stalin won the war!" Without Stalin's pact with Hitler, it wouldn't have happened in the first place.) There was even a campaign to put Dzerzhinsky's statue back on its pedestal; it's interesting to note that it had been carefully preserved, presumably with just such an eventuality in mind
Another reviewer has expressed the view that it's up to the Russians if they want to be open about the past. The trouble is that that viewpoint is hopelessly wrong-headed. Firstly, the "Soviet Union" is not Russia; why should Russia alone get to decide matters that concern Estonia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan etc. just as much?
Secondly, although numerous polls suggest that Russians do now favour sweeping Soviet history under the carpet, they don't, in fact, have any say in the matter. If the polls went the other way, the FSB's files would still remain closed, sine die.
Thirdly, there is the fact that the Soviet Union had a disastrous impact on near neighbours. North Koreans continue to suffer the direct effects of Stalinism and every country from the Baltic to the Black Sea has been held back by the Soviet occupation. Ethnic Poles were among Stalin's most numerous victims. Russia finally came clean on the Katyn massacres, during that brief window of opportunistic honesty in 1991. Russians have not been able to squeeze that genie back into the bottle, but they have now resorted to the classic Soviet tactic of pretending moral equivalence.
Fourthly, Satter shows how this arrogant, sometimes murderous, attitude towards neighbouring countries is characteristic of a society which is convinced, against all the evidence, that it is special. Only the Russians could inhabit an area of six million square miles (into which the island of Great Britain would fit more than seventy times over) and breed a paranoid notion that they are surrounded. Only the Russians, too, could look back on their catastrophic history and imagine that Russia is somehow "holy". Yet the paranoia and the belief in Russia's uniqueness are both used to excuse a failure to address the past.
Fifthly, since the true history of the Soviet Union is being deliberately sidelined, it follows that an untrue version of that history holds sway, to the extent of forming the basis of school textbooks and television documentaries. Historians should always allow for differences of opinion and interpretation, but what we see in Russia is a wilful denial of solid fact.
Sixthly, because Russia has now usurped the mantle of the Soviet Union, criticism of the departed regime now is held to equate to criticism of Russia. That's not very healthy, for Russians, or for her neighbours.
Satter also shows how Russia's traditional subordination of the individual to the state has contributed to this willingness to conceal the past. No Russian regime has ever felt the slightest shame over sacrificing vast numbers of people, whatever the objective and regardless of whether or not the objective has even been achieved. Think of the Battle of Kiev, 1941. Soviet soldiers were sent to face a German offensive despite having no weapons, which would make them civilians, by most people's definition. The result: huge losses, including two-thirds of a million men sent pointlessly into brutal German captivity. The few who survived random murder and German slave labour were immediately sent into Soviet slave labour in 1945.
This concept of responsibilities without rights has had a predictable effect on the Russian psyche. The state has all the rights, including the right to demand that people outside the nomenklatura lay down their lives, however pointlessly, when ordered to do so. When the state arrogates this kind of power to itself, there seems no particularly compelling reason to assume that the relative freedoms of today's Russians couldn't quickly evaporate, at the whim of the state. Naturally, when you think that Stalin 2.0 could be just around the corner, you're not going to be too voluble in your criticism of the leadership.
Then there is the way, as Satter documents, in which the Russian authorities refuse to rehabilitate, posthumously, victims of Soviet terror who, we can plainly see, were guilty of no crime (e.g. people who were shot simply in order to fulfil NKVD quotas). Again, this attitude shows the assumption that the Soviet Union and Russia are one and the same, since many of these victims were not Russian. Satter quotes the son of a victim who acidly suggests that the good people of Russia all died under Soviet repression; the Russians of today are the children and grandchildren of the informants and of the executioners. It's an exaggeration, of course, but the stigma of being a descendant of an "enemy of the people" still adheres.
This is a very good book and well-written. On the Kindle (Kindle HD, in my case), there are a few oddities about the presentation. Some words contain superfluous hyphens. Elsewhere, there is a repeated problem with the reproduction of the letter "F". For instance, "official", "office" and "difficult" are rendered as "oicial", "oice" and "diicult", respectively. This is irritating, but it doesn't detract from the quality of the writing and, especially, the strength of the argument.